— Crime —

February 23, 2013

What to Make of Chris Dorner's Admirers

Carroll Andrew Morse

Last weekend, a small number of people turned out at Los Angeles Police Department headquarters, in some combination of protest and memorial for former LAPD officer Chris Dorner, who killed four people in Southern California, before killing himself during a standoff with law enforcement. Meanwhile, in the virtual world, a Facebook tribute describing Dorner as "a man who is willing to die for something instead of living for nothing" has received over 20,000 likes, while the Occupy Los Angeles Facebook site has offered a wish of condolence that Dorner "rest in power". While the number of admirers that Dorner has should not be exaggerated, he does have them.

It is obviously not simply Chris Dorner's grievances or the content of his "manifesto" that won him whatever number of admirers he has. Dorner was not the first to accuse the Los Angeles police department of corruption or racism, and he would have very likely remained mostly unknown had he not taken to murder. Dorner has become the focus of a fringe mini-movement because there are people who believe that his claims against the LAPD are more deserving of attention than they would otherwise be because he started killing individuals not directly related to his "issues".

During an interview on CNN, Columbia University Professor Marc Lamont Hill opined that Dorner had "been like a real life superhero to many people" who could find watching him "kind of exciting". Dorner supporters are certainly more excited by his violence than they would be by the details of an administrative and judicial grievance procedure minus the murders. And while many of Dorner's supporters will explicitly disclaim that murdering innocent people is bad, it is the murder spree that has elevated him to the status of a cause, with the celebration of "action" trumping concerns about its justification or consequences.

There have been times in the past when the idea of the pathway to social change following behind a violent superhero might generate support beyond that of a weekend protest and some Facebook likes; we don't have to go very far back into history to find such times. Thoroughly modern ideologies with substantial followings from the first half of the twentieth century, e.g. various fascisms and some (but not all) forms of anarchism, regarded the individual acting on his will-to-power, with total disregard for societal norms that might impede ego-determined ends, as the example to be emulated and the natural leader of society.

The admiration expressed for Chris Dorner makes evident that impulses in humanity that drive people to idolize the violent superman still exist. It is not impossible to imagine that such admiration and idolization can be turned into a willingness to follow, if the superhero had an interest in doing so.

* * *

This is a very important reason why thinking about the possible forms of political ideology and political philosophy, what they look like and where they might lead, one version of which Justin posted a few weeks ago, is important.


The philosophies/ideologies that Justin placed in the ring represent, roughly, the post-World War II Euro/Atlantic consensus about what's legitimate, running roughly from various forms of soft-socialism to various forms of welfare-state capitalism. The cross-bar holds forms of "extremism" that don't fit neatly into that consensus. One idea that differentiates the ring from the cross-bar (though not necessarily the only one) is that the will-to-power of a violent superhero can be accepted as a legitimate political force in the cross-bar, but not in the ring. (Some of the best work I am aware of about how to appropriately separate extremism from its mainstream political relatives was done by a young Jerry Pournelle, back in the 1960s; I am of the opinion that 2 dimensions for political classification which he defined, and a third that he proposed, are still very relevant today)

What throws a society into a state of extremism, i.e. from the ring to the cross-bar, isn't wholly understood, making it all the more imperative to think a bit about what the beginnings of a slide into extremism might look like and what its warning signals are, so that folks who favor a more peaceful system can be ready to challenge and defeat any movement towards the social and political institutionalization of the barbaric side of human nature.

December 16, 2012

Shooting Monster Felt No Physical Pain?

Monique Chartier

Usually, I look through news sites (a couple of times per day) for the latest developments in politics and, especially, for news on Rhode Island politics and gov't. For the last couple of days, however, it's been stories about the horrendous Connecticut shooting that I've been compelled to click on.

Some information is now coming out about the twenty year old shooter - not from the police, who are still very much conducting their investigation, but from the people who interacted with him first hand and who are, naturally, communicating some of their experiences with the press.

Well into the second page of a CBS News report this morning, we learn about one such piece of new information - a chilling one.

Richard Novia, the school district's head of security until 2008, who also served as adviser for the school technology club, of which Lanza was a member, said he clearly "had some disabilities."

"If that boy would've burned himself, he would not have known it or felt it physically," Novia said in a phone interview. "It was my job to pay close attention to that."

A Telegraph (UK) article also references this condition (?).

"A few years ago when he was on the baseball team, everyone had to be careful that he didn't fall because he could get hurt and not feel it," said the friend.

Don't misunderstand me. Nothing that comes out, confirmation of no mental handicap or physical condition, will change my view that the shooter was and acted out of pure evil when he entered that school. If true, however, the revelation that, for whatever physical or psychological reason, the shooter did not notice physical pain when he himself experienced it is a scary and disturbing piece of information to emerge.


Joe Bernstein, whom I'm going to make my unofficial spokesperson (only half kidding), says that I am way off base.

Monique-the condition you describe is dysautonomia and is very dangerous because people who have it cannot recognize symptoms accompanied by pain and they can be unaware of a serious injury. It doesn't correlate with violent behavior in any way.

August 3, 2012

Mistaking Community Self-Protection with Street Justice

Justin Katz

Fresh on the heals of more murders in one Providence neighborhood, residents in another provided an example of one way to cut down on crime:

The suspects fled empty-handed from the house ... and found a gathering crowd, said Randy Figueroa, 20, one of the neighbors. One of the suspects pulled out a gun and shot at a neighbor, Figueroa said. The man dropped to the ground, realized he wasn’t hit ––and then everyone went after them, Figueroa said.

Police officers in the area heard the gunshot and saw a swarm of people chasing one man. The officers joined in, pursuing the man into a cemetery at the end of the street, where they arrested him.

One of the suspects has already been in and out of the Adult Correctional Institution (ACI) and was currently being sought for failure to appear in court after posting bail on subsequent offenses.

Continue reading on the Ocean State Current...

May 10, 2012

New York Times Editorial Board Says that When the Likely Outcome is Good Enough for our Sensibilities, the Law Should Be Ignored

Carroll Andrew Morse

Reacting to the decision made by the First Circuit Court of Appeals that Jason Pleau must be turned over to the Federal government to answer the indictment for the murder of David Main and potentially face the death penalty (though that is far from certain), the New York Times editorial board wrote that the court "was wrong to insist on the prisoner transfer".

The reasoning in the editorial was not that the court misapplied the Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act, the interstate compact that mandates that Pleau be turned over. Nor did the editorial argue that the IDA itself is unconstitutional. Instead, to reach the outcome that anti-death penalty advocates favor in spite of the law, the Times' editorial board skipped over legal reasoning altogether and asserted that, since it's been awhile since anyone received a Federal death sentence and juries more frequently choose life sentences over death when given the option, the court should have just ignored the law...

It’s been nine years since anyone was executed for a federal crime. In the last decade when federal juries have had a choice between imposing a life sentence and the death penalty, they have chosen a life sentence by better than two to one. The government is turning this case into a pointless state-federal clash. The First Circuit was wrong to insist on the prisoner transfer.
We all understand that Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee opposes the death penalty in all cases. If the Governor wishes to take a "principled stand" on his policy preference, then the proper way for him to do so is to work for the repeal of Federal death penalty statutes, and not to demand that the state government -- whose laws he is charged with faithfully executing -- and the Federal courts ignore the law.

And the New York Times editorial board should try to show an understanding of the rule of law that extends beyond the attitude of "whatever we like is legal" that this editorial shows.

May 7, 2012

First Circuit Court Rules the State of Rhode Island Cannot Prevent Federal Prosecution of Jason Pleau from Going Forward

Carroll Andrew Morse

The First Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled 3-2 that the state of Rhode Island cannot refuse to deliver Jason Pleau "into federal custody to answer the federal indictment" resulting from his alleged role in the murder of David Main in Woonsocket (h/t Katie Mulvaney).

The court's opinion touches on a number of technical issues in the law, in particular, the nature of interstate compacts and the obligations of states under the "Interstate Agreement on Detainers Act", ultimately reaching the conclusion that state prison cannot be used as a sanctuary from Federal charges...

Were Pleau and Governor Chafee to prevail, Pleau could be permanently immune from federal prosecution, and the use of the efficient detainer system badly compromised. He is currently serving an 18-year term in Rhode Island prison and, if the writ were denied, might agree to a state sentence of life in Rhode Island for the robbery and murder. Footnote Even if Pleau served only his current 18-year term, needed witnesses for federal prosecution could be unavailable two decades from now. Instead of a place of confinement, the state prison would become a refuge against federal charges.
Comments from people familiar with criminal law are, of course, welcome.

December 30, 2011

Police Not Doing Their Job, Blame the Property Owner

Patrick Laverty

I know this is a Rhode Island focused blog and sometimes we touch on national issues that affect Rhode Island. This story is neither, but it is an example of the level of lunacy that our federal government and law enforcement has gone to.

Today's Providence Journal contains a story1 about a motel in Tewksbury, MA that is being seized by the federal government because of an alleged prevalence of drug dealing at the motel.

In its petition, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston describes eight drug arrests made at the motel between 2001 and 2008
"Police records show there has been a long history of criminal activity at that location," said Christina DiIorio-Sterling, a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz, whose office brought the forfeiture complaint in federal court on behalf of the Department of Justice.
So wait a minute. The Justice Department is going to seize an entire motel business from someone who
In Caswell’s case, the government is not claiming that Caswell committed any crimes, but says the motel should be shut down because of the drug-dealing that goes on among its guests.
The police there make one arrest a year and now the US Justice department wants to seize the property? There's got to be more to this story.
If the government wins, under a provision of the law known as "equitable sharing," the Tewksbury police department could collect up to 80 percent of the proceeds from the sale of the motel. That would amount to more than $1 million, if the motel sells for the most recent town assessment of just over $1.5 million.
So why this guy and not one of the other thousands of motels around the country where this kind of activity takes place?
the Motel Caswell was seen as an easier candidate for forfeiture because it is not part of a large chain. It’s also family-owned and mortgage-free
Maybe this is one of those situations where the owner is turning a blind eye to the activity in order to rent out his rooms. Maybe?
He keeps a "do not rent" list at the front desk to notify his clerks of guests he has had problems with in the past. But he says he has no way of predicting what other guests will cause trouble.
Hmm, ok, well then it would seem he's trying to keep the "bad people" out, but maybe he's not willing to work with the police on deterring the crimes.
Caswell said he has tried repeatedly to get information from police about drug activity, but they always tell him they can’t talk about investigations.
So here we have a private businessman with a six-decade family business that seems to be trying to keep the undesirables away and the Justice Department sees a gold mine and payday.

One of the parts that I don't understand is why is this happening when it seems that it is the city's police department who isn't doing their job. It seems the hotel owner is doing all he legally can to cut down on the illegal activity. Usually in places where there is a heavy police presence, the drug dealers go elsewhere. If this is a place where drugs are frequently peddled, then the peddlers must not feel very threatened by the police.

Another part is how can you just seize a $1.5 million property due to one arrest a year. Here in Rhode Island, our own state legislature has had what, about four arrests in the last year? So what's next, does the Justice Department come in and seize our State House?

1 You can actually find the AP article in the online Boston Herald or in the Providence Journal's e-Edition. I really have no idea what the Journal is thinking with this whole online mess. In their radio commercials, they talk about how they have to report the news before bloggers can comment on it. Yeah, sometimes that's true but when we do comment on it, it sure would be nice to be able to give you a direct attribution and link back. But I can't. Because the story isn't on your web site and your e-edition is unlinkable!

October 13, 2011

Primitive Rhode Island, Primitive World

Carroll Andrew Morse

Not to be too much of a stereotypical conservative, but I'm not 100% convinced that there's actually any such thing as modernity. By this, I mean that I think there's a good case to be made that the social forces and pressures experienced by the average schlub trying to live his or her life are pretty much the same today as they've been for the last 2,500 years or so. People go along with some stuff because it's the way it's always been done, try to change other stuff when it becomes obvious to them that there are better options, work together with some folks to get ahead, and try to minimize the influence of other folks whom they believe would drag the community in the wrong direction.

There have definitely been changes over the centuries, as the scales that people are willing and able to work cooperatively across have enlarged and some of the more extreme methods of human interaction have been ruled out, but the ideas upon which those changes have been based -- think of a concept like "thou shall not kill" -- are not uniquely modern. The difference between now and the past lies largely in how boundaries have been expanded, so that we try to treat many of the other people we encounter as well as we are naturally inclined to treat members of our clan then tribe. This is a continuing struggle that has always existed and always will.

I bring this up on this particular day, because of the advocacy by filmmaker Michael Corrente and others on behalf of reputed New England mobster Luigi Manocchio, which is one of the clearest examples casting doubt on the existence of a distinct age of modernity that I have ever encountered. It is difficult to find much daylight between Corrente and his fellow advocates' insistence that a mob chieftan whom they are familiar with be treated with special concern and the attitudes of early Middle-Ages Barbarian clans (using the term in its proper historical context) who took veneration of the local warlord to be a central virtue in life. Sometimes, both as individuals and as a society, we are better at resisting this impulse than at other times, but the temptation never entirely goes away.

July 23, 2011

There is No Explanation

Monique Chartier

... for an act of pure evil.

A gunman who opened fire on an island teeming with young people kept shooting for 90 minutes before surrendering to a SWAT team, police said Saturday. ...

At least 85 people were killed on the island ...

Andresen, the acting police chief, said the suspect was talking to police.

"He is clear on the point that he wants to explain himself," he told reporters at a news conference.

September 12, 2010

Keeping Murder in the Family

Justin Katz

Ancient mythology proves that parricide isn't anything new. Lizzie Borden proves that it isn't new to our region. But Joel Beaulieu's alleged patricide and attempted matricide in Tiverton has come mere months after the sentencing of James Soares across the bay in Warren for the same crime, and a mere two years after the act itself.

Both are men in their twenties still living with their parents. Both are described as showing little emotion. Soares's case involves drugs and a live-in girlfriend. Details on Beaulieu are still sparse. Two unusual murders of this sort does not necessarily a trend make, even when they occur in such proximity. But it is eerie and should make us wonder whether we're witnessing further evidence that something grievous in our culture needs correcting.

July 16, 2010

Bomb Scares in Suburbia

Justin Katz

I've no doubt that there were policies and protocols in play, but I'd really like to know whether, in the near-decade since 9/11, there have been any instances in which this sort of heavy response has actually prevented anything:

At 9:03 Thursday morning the call came in to 911 from a Pocasset Cemetery worker. He had spotted a suspicious red duffel-sized gym bag near some bushes about 10 yards north of the road through the cemetery. ...

At one point, two engine trucks, two command vehicles, and a rescue truck were all parked curbside on Main Road, lights flashing. About a dozen fire fighters, two fire chiefs (Chief Lloyd and his counterpart from Portsmouth, Jeffrey Lynch), and a single police officer had all gathered behind a wall on the Main Road sidewalk, a respectful distance (about 100 yards) from the barely visible red bag up in the cemetery.

Authorities closed the nearby post office briefly and blocked the drive-through windows to a Bank Newport branch. After (as the Newport Daily News reports) deployment of a bomb squad robot and use of a mineral-water bomb to explode the bag, its contents turned out to be about what one would expect: clothes and a DVD.

I haven't yet heard it said, but the slogan of our times may be becoming "common sense kills." It wouldn't apply, of course, to the residents of the threatened cemetery.

June 18, 2010

State Senator Christopher Maselli (D-Johnston) Indicted for Bank Fraud

Carroll Andrew Morse

From Amanda Milkovits of the Projo 7-to-7 blog...

State Sen. Christopher B. Maselli, D-Johnston, was federally indicted Thursday on seven counts of bank fraud.

A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Peter Neronha confirmed the indictment Friday morning.

October 16, 2009

If Not the Law, the Culture

Justin Katz

Two well-placed articles — by virtue of their proximity to each other — in the September 21 National Review point to a necessary conclusion for a modern conservative political philosophy. The first item is an interior quotation by American Medical Association lobbyist William Woodward within a book review by Kyle Smith (emphasis added):

The trouble is that we are looking on narcotic addiction solely as a vice. It is a vice, but like all vices, it is based on human nature. The use of narcotics ... represents an effort on the part of the individual to adjust himself to some difficult situation in his life. He will take one thing to stimulate him, another to quiet him.... And until we develop young men and young women who are able to suffer a little and exercise a certain amount of control, even though it may be inconvenient and unpleasant to do so, we are going to have a considerable amount of addiction to narcotics and addiction to other drugs.

The solution, in short, is cultural. Rather than struggling to stop our fellow Americans from doing something that they've decided they want to do, we should address that which sparks the desire. That point in itself could be the beginning of an extensive prudential and practical tangent, but let's take it as given on principle and move on to the second item: Ross Douthat's review of Quentin Tarantino's latest gorefest, Inglourious Basterds. Douthat's core dilemma is whether Tarantino's film-making talent makes up for the characteristic violence:

As for whether the many pleasures of this counterfactual fantasia are sufficient to justify enduring the interludes of sophomoric and debasing violence, well, I'm still wrestling with that one. But it's clear that where the wildly talented, permanently adolescent Quentin Tarantino is concerned, we're unlikely ever to get the one without the other.

If, for item 1, we're going to arrive at a solution along the conservative-libertarian compromise, then the conservative's answer to Douthat must be "no." It's not impossible for violence to be redeemed within a work of art, but then it ceases to be sophomoric and debasing, because it isn't gratuitous — much like the violence that God allows in life. But if the scale houses, on one side, a continued cultural desensitization to violence and pollution of the individual's conscience, then placing aesthetic pleasure on the other side will hardly move the needle.

(Note for libertarians: I'm not, here, proposing a ban — just a posture for conservatives.)

September 17, 2009

Oh Happy Commerce, or, "I felt like I was forcing myself on a 40+ year old fat sex slave"

Justin Katz
"Where the hell else is a middle aged man gonna hook up with a young sexy hot sex slave in real life? Like the old saying goes, we want a ***** [whore] in the bedroom but a lady in the kitchen. Just don't expect you gf [girlfriend] to be as whory as the real whores. You'll be disappointed. Even though we have plenty of sex, I still crave that AMP [Asian Spa] experience just for the fun of it, and I doubt if I'll ever get over it. So beware what you're getting into, it can be very addicting."

Thus do the patrons of Rhode Island's prostitution industry speak of their experience, as related by Melanie Shapiro in a Citizens Against Trafficking review of johns' online commentary (PDF). Note that the misogyny extends even to personal relationships.

Advocates for legalized prostitution like to present the image of a clean-cut client looking for a little release by turning to a fully self-aware young woman using the occupation as a stepping stone to build a better life. That's a fantasy. The objectification of the prostitute and the corruption of the culture is the reality.

September 16, 2009

The Fallacy of Victimless Prostitution

Marc Comtois

My last post on "Pro-Prostitution Progressivism" generated a debate on the conservative/libertarian side. Justin entered the fray and, after some back-and-forth in the comments, expanded his thoughts, touching on political philosophy, ideology and making assumptions about those with whom you disagree. Those were his thoughts.

As for me, my opposition to indoor prostitution doesn't stem from some overarching political ideology. Call me old-fashioned (!), but I have the funny notion that people selling their bodies for money is neither empowering nor can it be sufficiently sanitized as an economic transaction to remove the emotional and physical scars said "entrepreneurs" will undoubtedly suffer. Face it: this isn't a profession that most would choose. Little Suzie or Joey don't put "Prostitute" at the top of their "What do I want to do when I grow up" list.

Prostitution is most often a last, desperate means to an end. It's a way to make money to support a habit. Or it's a "career path" people "choose" when under the thumb of those looking to exploit them for financial gain. It may not be particularly incisive or sufficiently philosophical, but my gut tells me that legalizing prostitution isn't going to clean up the "industry" or save us money in law enforcement dollars or provide a great new business opportunity for young entrepreneurs.

Until recently, I didn't know that Australia had legalized prostitution a decade ago. Now it offers a cautionary tale that shows that legalization is no panacea and that human trafficking goes up when prostitution is legalized:

Ten years ago, Australia made a risky policy move it thought would help protect women and children: it legalized prostitution. Today, only 10% of the prostitution industry operates in Australia's legal brothels. The other 90% takes place in underground, illegal sex markets thick with forced prostitution and human trafficking victims.

The University of Queensland Working Group on Human Trafficking recently released a report stating that the prostitution laws in Australia had failed. Since 1999, women in Australia have had the option of working legally in licensed brothels or on their own. The hope was that women with an entrepreneurial spirit and a passion for commercial sex would set up their own businesses, and make everything safe, legal, and regulated. That hasn't happened.

What has happened, instead, is entrepreneurial pimps have lured and trafficked Asian women to Australia and set up illegal brothels with lower prices....And as legal brothels try and compete with the trafficking boom, they cut costs, which often involves cutting freedom and benefits for women. Even in the legal, licensed brothels of Queensland, women have reported being coerced into working under unfair conditions or against their will. {It's not a stretch to suppose that some would think this last could be alleviated via unionization, no?}

Unintended consequences. There are other examples and others have studied the issue and concluded:
There are two major consequences of the legalization of prostitution. First, the institutional officialization (legalization) of sex markets strengthens the activities of organized pimping and organized crime. Secondly, such strengthening, accompanied by a significant increase in prostitution-related activities and in trafficking, brings with it a deterioration not only in the general condition of women and children, but also, in particular, that of prostituted people and the victims of trafficking for the purpose of prostitution.
A victimless crime entrepreneurial activity?

June 1, 2009

An Oblique Way of Asking If it Makes Sense to Regionalize, If the Regions Will Be Governed By the Same People Who Made the Original Mess

Carroll Andrew Morse

Lynn Arditi has an excellent article in today's Projo on the evolution of prostitution law in Rhode Island, challenging the notion that the loophole in state law allowing indoor prostitution was somehow created by accident. Apparently, pro-legalization activists in the late 70s were active in many states…

Margo St. James, the former prostitute who challenged the prostitution law in the 1970s, hopes Rhode Island keeps the law the way it is….Even now, she’s proud of the change she helped bring about in Rhode Island.

“We tried Massachusetts. California. Hawaii. Florida,” she recalls. “Most of them didn’t get anywhere.”

…but only one state (this one) had a legislature dumb enough to rewrite its law to legalize prostitution without realizing it…
“We probably vote on 500 bills a year,” Sen. John F. McBurney III, the only member of the General Assembly who served in 1980, said recently. McBurney says he can think of only one explanation for why a bill that decriminalized prostitution would win unanimous approval by the General Assembly: “They didn’t know what they were voting for.”

John C. Revens Jr., a former Senate Majority leader and a lawyer who served in the General Assembly for nearly four decades, agrees.

“They would never sponsor a bill decriminalizing prostitution if they knew what it was,” Revens said. “No way. Not in a million years.”

Besides the obvious direct relevance to the legalized prostitution debate in RI, I am also bringing this up in the context of the "regionalization" topic that seems to be on many minds. Are Rhode Island residents really, really sure that this idea of moving more and more government decisions away from local communities is a guaranteed formula for improvement? Of anything? I find it hard to believe, for example, that most Rhode Island city and town governments would have legalized prostitution without realizing it. And there's no obvious reason to believe that more remote, more centralized government is going to do better in other areas of governance than it has done in this one.

April 28, 2009

The Nature of the Prostitution Business

Justin Katz

The other afternoon, Dan Yorke was discussing, on 630AM/99.7FM WPRO, the human trafficking side of Rhode Island's legal prostitution business, and several callers put forward the argument maintaining the occupation's legality in Rhode Island prevents a slide down the slippery slope of interference in our bedrooms. The obvious response that came to mind was that the slope seems otherwise no better preserved in Rhode Island than in the 48 states that explicitly outlaw whore-biz.

Until I'd read a recent story about an intervention program in Chicago to help women escape that life, a larger point lingered just beyond the edge of articulation. Here's the key statement:

Over the years, the department has discovered, more than 40 percent of the women in the jail have worked as prostitutes at some point in their lives. Prostitution was not a choice but rather a consequence of all the other failures in their lives, the staff says.

Selling sex, in other words, is an industry that tends toward depravity and abuse. It draws in and destroys the vulnerable.

What the ratio might be of such women to those who take up the trade as an economic calculation — the old "put myself through college" claim — I won't hazard to guess. As a matter of morality, I'd suggest that all who perform such acts are behaving immorally, but our pluralistic society ought at least to be sufficiently confident to declare it illegal to profit directly from this particular moral failing in our fellow human beings.

April 22, 2009

Bringing the Anti-Prostitution Bill to the House Floor

Carroll Andrew Morse

I’m not sure if the leadership of the state House of Representatives intends to take action on the bill submitted by Representative Joanne Giannini (D – Providence) and others that would make indoor prostitution illegal in Rhode Island; the last action on the bill listed on the RI Legislature's website is "held for further study" dated April 8. One question worth asking, however, is whether supporters of this particular bill really need to wait for the leadership to act.

The rules of the Rhode Island House of Representatives provide a time-honored American legislative process, called a "discharge petition", for bringing bills stuck in committee directly to the House floor without the approval of a committee, a committee chair, or the House Speaker. Rule #22 lays out the relevant procedures for the RI House...

(22) On any day the prime sponsor of a bill or resolution may present a petition in writing to discharge a committee from further consideration of a public bill or resolution which has been referred to a committee, and by no other procedure, but only one petition may be presented for a public bill or resolution during the course of a session. The petition shall be placed in the custody of the recording clerk of the House who shall arrange some convenient place for the signatures of the members to be placed thereon in the presence of said clerk. A signature may be withdrawn by a member at any time before the petition receives sufficient signatures to become effective, and such petitions shall become effective, and shall serve to discharge a committee from further consideration of the public bill or resolution and shall cause said public bill or resolution to be placed upon the calendar for action, when any thirty-eight (38) representatives shall have affixed their signatures thereto, provided, however, that if, after the bill or resolution is calendared but before it is taken up, enough signatures are withdrawn so that the number of effective signatures falls below thirty-eight (38), the bill or resolution shall pass off the calendar. No such petition shall be presented for signatures to discharge a public bill or resolution unless the same shall have been in the possession of the committee for no less than sixteen (16) legislative days, and in no event until after the fiftieth (50th) legislative day. During House consideration of any discharged public bill or resolution, no motion to recommit or lay on the table shall be entertained by the Speaker until every member desiring to be heard has been recognized.
According to the RI legislature’s official site, the prostitution bill was referred to House Judiciary on January 8, so the 16-day requirement is easily met. We are currently on day 39 of the legislative session, so we’ll hit day 50 sometime in early May.

The only thing somewhat ambiguous about Rule 22 is the meaning of "and by no other procedure" in this context -- does that possibly create some limitation on the bills that are eligible for discharge? Perhaps the best way to find out -- especially if there are 38 members of the Rhode Island House who believe that the anti-prostitution bill should be moved from House Judiciary committee to the House Floor -- is to have Rep. Giannini exercise her right to begin a discharge procedure.

FBI Seeks Actual Domestic Terrorist

Justin Katz

Within a week of a Department of Homeland Security's report on the abstract potential of escalating domestic right-wing terrorism, the FBI has added an American to its Most Wanted Terrorists list:

A fugitive animal rights activist believed to be hiding outside the United States has become the first domestic terror suspect named to the FBI's list of "Most Wanted" terrorists.

Daniel Andreas San Diego, a 31-year-old computer specialist from Berkeley, Calif., is wanted for the 2003 bombings of two corporate offices in California.

Authorities say San Diego has unusual tattoos, including one that shows a burning field and proclaims, "It only takes a spark."

The FBI, at least, has not shifted to escalation of suspicion of people who share an ideology currently out of power.

It's worth mentioning, by the way, that DHS's April anti-conservative report (PDF) had somewhat of a corresponding left-wing release, mentioning the likes of Mr. San Diego (PDF), but a comparison of the two documents' titles is almost parodic:

"Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment"


"Leftwing Extremists Likely to Increase Use of Cyber Attacks over the Coming Decade"

February 19, 2009

Station Nightclub Fire: How Attorney General Patrick Lynch Shielded the Guiltiest Party

Monique Chartier

[February 20, 2009 is the sixth anniversary of the fire at the Station nightclub.]

Attorney General Patrick Lynch has given two principal excuses for his refusal to prosecute Denis LaRocque, the man who repeatedly inspected the Station nightclub in his capacity as a West Warwick Fire Inspector. Let us examine them.

1.) "Without malice or bad faith, criminal capability cannot attach to fire marshals"

With these words, the Attorney General cites the two exceptions to sovereign immunity specified by Rhode Island law and the reason that he purports to believe that West Warwick Fire Inspector Denis LaRocque was not criminally responsible in the matter of the fire. To assess this conclusion, we need to review LaRocque's actions. In carrying out his official duties with regard to the Station nightclub, did West Warwick Fire Inspector Denis LaRocque act in good faith and without malice?

During repeated inspections, he

> Failed to enforce fire safety laws for existing conditions in the club

LaRocque failed to order the abatement of the foam covering the doors, walls and ceilings - foam whose flammable qualities have been described as akin to gasoline.

> Actually violated fire safety laws himself in repeatedly increasing the occupancy level of the club

Have you noticed that public establishments post a sign announcing their legal capacity? The fire authority is required to furnish such a sign after inspecting. LaRocque did not put up such a sign at the Station nightclub; the number he had reached was so high and far-fetched, he knew he wouldn't have been able to explain or defend his calculation.

The result of these actions and failures was devastating. The foam supplied a fast-acting fuel to Great White's pyrotechnics. And because the Derderians, aided by Denis LaRocque, had packed far too many people in the club, once the fire had started, it was physically impossible for hundreds of people to leave in time.

Returning to the Attorney General and the two exceptions to sovereign immunity, there is no evidence that Denis LaRocque undertook his official actions out of malice. That leaves the second exception: the requirement to act in good faith. Do his deliberate and repeated failures to enforce critical fire prevention laws and his ... creativity in calculating capacity constitute a lack of good faith?

That's what a Grand Jury tried to determine.

Responding to the Grand Jury's request for a definition of "bad faith," after waffling, both Assistant Attorney General William Ferland and prosecutor Michael Stone provide one that incorrectly incorporates "malice," mix in some innuendo that LaRocque might have been a volunteer firefighter, and then conclude that, in any case, "bad faith" does not apply to Denis LaRocque. (Wasn't it the Grand Jury's job to determine that?)

The Grand Jury also asked Denis LaRocque himself questions about the two critical matters of the foam and his calculation of capacity. Patrick Lynch's prosecutors took it upon themselves to deflect their questions: at various points, changing the subject, calling for a break and even answering for LaRocque.

After persisting in some damn good questions, the Grand Jury finally gave up. (What else could they do in the face of such shuffling and misinformation?) Patrick Lynch's prosecutors had successfully blocked the Grand Jury from examining Denis LaRocque as a potential guilt party.

Now to the second excuse of Attorney General Lynch.

2.) It is up to the Grand Jury to indict. My office lacks the power to indict.

And on another occasion, when asked why Fire Inspector LaRocque was not indicted, Attorney General Lynch stated, "That's what the grand jury returned. I can only do what they say."

These statements are completely false.

Firstly, the Attorney General refused to even submit Denis LaRocque as a defendant to the Grand Jury, saying "no reasonable person could find that LaRocque had acted in bad faith or with malice." If it was up to the Grand Jury, why not, in fact, submit Mr. LaRocque and let the Grand Jury do their job?

Secondly, short of a capital crime, the Attorney General assuredly does have the power to indict. See page nine of this information sheet from the Web site of Rhode Island Superior Court. Patrick Lynch did not lack such a power, he deliberately chose not to exercise it.

In sum:

If Denis LaRocque did not act in "bad faith," why didn't Patrick Lynch's prosecutors supply a definition of the term?

If there was an innocent explanation for Mr. LaRocque's handling of the foam and the occupancy level, why didn't Patrick Lynch's prosecutors let him supply it?

If Patrick Lynch disagreed with his prosecutors' handling of the case and their "successful" steering of the Grand Jury, why didn't he simply indict Denis LaRocque himself?

Most observers strongly suspect that Denis LaRocque is the party most responsible by far for the terrible fire of February 20, 2003. Count Rhode Island's chief law enforcement officer decidedly among their ranks. Why else would he use all of the considerable power of his office to abstain Fire Inspector Denis LaRocque from the process of justice?

December 21, 2008

Semi-Random Thoughts About Bernard Madoff

Monique Chartier


Fifty billion is missing and presumed lost or stolen. Lacking a clear picture of how much of that is lost and how much is stolen, is $10,000,000 really an adequate bail amount? Madoff needed to send only an equal amount offshore during the course of his scheme to be ready for a sudden need to disembark from the shores of the United States. Further, while I understand that bail, if set, has to be somewhat achievable by the defendant and that presumably, Madoff's domestic assets are now frozen and unavailable for things like bail, in view of the magnitude of the crime and the corresponding impetus to flee, two one hundredths of a percent of the amount of the alleged crime seems an absurdly disproportionate bail amount.

His Accomplice

Bloomburg columnist Jonathan Weil wonders what other slightly more legal "Ponzi" schemes government regulators are deliberately looking away from. In fact, he correctly points to this as yet another reason that government should not bail out any company, any industry, any time.

So why have other Ponzi-esque operators emerged scot-free (so far) with taxpayer bailouts, while Madoff gets pinched?

* * *

Yet perhaps the best explanation can be found in a Dec. 4 speech by SEC Chairman Christopher Cox on why the government needs an exit strategy to unwind its myriad bailout commitments.

"From the standpoint of the SEC, the most obvious problem with breaking down the arm’s-length relationship between government, as the regulator, and business, as the regulated, is that it threatens to undermine our enforcement and regulatory regime,” Cox said.

When the government becomes both referee and player, the game changes rather dramatically for every other participant. Rules that might be rigorously applied to private-sector competitors will not necessarily be applied in the same way to the sovereign who makes the rules.

* * *

He’s right. The government can’t live up to the task, even if it wanted to.

Madoff probably wasn’t the biggest Ponzi-scheme artist out there. He’s just the first of his size to get nailed during the current bear market.

He also knew he was fair game for the government. The people running companies with taxpayer bailout money know there’s an excellent chance they won’t be. As long as that remains true, this crisis of confidence isn’t over by a long shot.

An Erroneous Knee-Jerk Reaction

Meanwhile, President-Elect Barack Obama has vowed to implement tougher regulations "to ensure that a crisis like this can never happen again". Is there one action that Bernard Madoff took as he carried out his Ponzi scheme that was legal? Even one? Respectfully, the President-Elect is off base. As with the Station Night Club fire, what faciliated this crime was not a lack of regulation but an absence of will to enforce existing laws. The only question now is what evoked such an extreme laissez-faire attitude on the part of the regulators.

December 10, 2008

Anyone Need a State Contract? How about a Senate Seat?

Monique Chartier

Hopefully, the conduct of the next Governor of Illinois will be guided by his or her observations of the fate of the current and prior occupants of the office.

The allegations against Blagojevich provide a sharp contrast to a Democratic governor who campaigned for office promising reforms in the wake of disgraced, scandal-tainted Republican chief executive George Ryan. The complaint against Blagojevich comes little more than two years after Ryan was sentenced to 61/2 years in prison on federal corruption charges.

It's hard not to conclude that someone is keenly interested in the goings-on of the office, which may not make it the best place for funny business.

Progressive magazine compiled some ... er, highlights of Governor Blagojevich "In His Own Words" from the FBI wiretaps. They make it clear that Blagojevich viewed his appointment power vis a vis the empty Senate seat pretty much like an ATM card. From the tapes, we also learned that the gov ... well, really didn't want to be gov for the balance of his term. During a conference call (that his wife attended):

ROD BLAGOJEVICH asked whether there is something that could be done with his wife’s “series 7" license in terms of working out a deal for the Senate seat. ROD BLAGOJEVICH stated that he is “struggling” financially and does “not want to be Governor for the next two years.”

November 13, 2008

And Off They Go

Justin Katz

A mistrial and a plea agreement, and two child-molesting gay prostitutes are free and gone:

Two Bristol men charged with multiple molestation and child solicitation counts went to court last week and received a mistrial, nearly nine months after they were arrested by Bristol police following a Bristol and state investigation into crimes against children that had allegedly occurred over a three-year period. They are now free men, whereabouts unknown.

The trial of Sedonio Rodriques, 58, and Raymond Grenier, 54, who lived together at 26 Sampson St. in Bristol but were held without bail since their February arrests, started last Monday in Providence Superior Court and ended four days later on Thursday, Nov. 6, with the mistrial.

In a plea agreement, both men admitted guilt to two counts each of second-degree child molestation and received 13 years suspended with probation and eight months to serve, already served. They must now register as sex offenders and have no contact with the victim, conditions of the plea agreement. ...

The men, who ran an internet-based massage business out of their home, previously worked as bus drivers for the Bristol Warren Regional School District before being fired for undisclosed reasons last year. Police records had shown a long list of complaints centered around their modest mustard-colored home off Mt. Hope Avenue, from wayward children to family disputes and problems with neighbors.

Whereabouts unknown. Not for long, I'd wager.

August 1, 2008

Crime in the Northeast

Carroll Andrew Morse

Is anyone else surprised by State Police Superintendent Brendan Doherty's assessment of the regional crime situation, as reported in today's Projo by Richard Dujardin

Doherty said he believes [the joint local/state/federal task force operating in Providence] has become necessary now more than ever because “crime in the Northeast is out of control.”
This is the first mention I've heard of a region-wide crime wave; are there other indicators out there pointing in the same direction?

May 30, 2008

"Dollar Bill" Death Knell?

Marc Comtois

Looks like Bob Corrente is going to need a lot more than the "word" of John Celona to help him with Operation Dollar Bill....

Former CVS executives John R. "Jack" Kramer and Carlos Ortiz have been cleared of charges that they tried bribing former state Sen. John Celona to win favor in the State House for the Woonsocket-based drugstore chain.

The jury of eight men and four women reached their verdict in less than two hours, clearing them of all 23 charges lodged against each defendant. Jurors got the case at 10:35 this morning after receiving instructs from Chief U.S. District Judge Mary M. Lisi.

After the verdict, CVS issued a statement this afternoon, saying the company "believes that the judicial process has produced a fair and just outcome.

"Today’s verdict is consistent with the company’s long-held view that Mr. Kramer and Mr. Ortiz had not engaged in criminal conduct. We are pleased for these two men and their families that this long and painful ordeal has ended," the statement said.

Corrente said his office would continue with its investigation into corruption at the State House, "Operation Dollar Bill."

"If anyone thinks were going away, we're not," Corrente said.

Is Bill Irons next? Or someone else? Or is that about it?

April 27, 2008

A Kinder, Gentler Nation

Justin Katz

Just after headlines concerning the large American prison population and my slap-dash finding that Americans don't like criminals and feel very safe comes an interesting editorial report from BBC North America Editor Justin Webb:

What surprises the British tourists is that, in areas of the US that look and feel like suburban Britain, there is simply less crime and much less violent crime.

Doors are left unlocked, public telephones unbroken.

One reason - perhaps the overriding reason - is that there is no public drunkenness in polite America, simply none.

I have never seen a group of drunk young people in the entire six years I have lived here. I travel a lot and not always to the better parts of town.

It is an odd fact that a nation we associate - quite properly - with violence is also so serene, so unscarred by petty crime, so innocent of brawling.

Glenn Reynolds credits our high level of gun ownership, but I'd suggest that the cause and effect relationships are more intricate.

April 24, 2008

Locking Up the "American Temperament"

Justin Katz

This bit of tsk-tsking is floating among newspapers:

... the United States leads the world in producing prisoners, a reflection of a relatively recent and now entirely distinctive American approach to crime and punishment. Americans are locked up for crimes — from writing bad checks to using drugs — that would rarely produce prison sentences in other countries. And in particular they are kept incarcerated far longer than prisoners in other nations.

Criminologists and legal scholars in other industrialized nations say they are mystified and appalled by the number and length of American prison sentences. ...

Criminologists and legal experts here and abroad point to a tangle of factors to explain America's extraordinary incarceration rate: higher levels of violent crime, harsher sentencing laws, a legacy of racial turmoil, a special fervor in combating illegal drugs, the American temperament, and the lack of a social safety net. Even democracy plays a role, as judges — many of whom are elected, another American anomaly — yield to populist demands for tough justice.

Although I'm not sure what the author means by "the American temperament," I was curious enough about context that I thought to poke around on NationMaster.com (of whose listings I'm generally skeptical for more than general impressions), with the following findings:

  • The U.S.A. doesn't make the top 48 list for number of police per capita.
  • Nor does it make the top 56 for people convicted of crimes per capita.
  • But it's number 8 for total crimes committed per capita.
  • We're more likely than residents of any other nation to think that folks with criminal records make bad neighbors.
  • Although Japan edges us out when it comes to not wanting druggies next door.
  • At the end of it all, we feel safe:

So I guess "the American temperament" blends a feeling of safety in our communities with a dislike of criminals and a preference for low-profile law enforcement. Tsk.

July 12, 2007

Welfare Queen Crack Ring Busted

Marc Comtois

Your tax dollars at work (double entendre intended).

The police say that Joanna “Rosa” Gonzalez, a 28-year-old mother of two in Wanskuck, was employing dozens of people including her mother, her sister, their boyfriends, and their children in a crack-cocaine enterprise that covered the city from the North End to the West Side.

The operation was run as efficiently as if Gonzalez had taken a page out of a business-management textbook — so lucrative, the police said, that she and several other welfare recipients working for her drove expensive luxury cars and made thousands of dollars. It was a family business, said Lt. Thomas Verdi, head of the Providence police narcotics unit, where even the young children were involved as lookouts and drug runners with drugs stashed in their backpacks for delivery.

But the business closed last week, when the police locked up 17 people, charging Gonzalez, her family and other alleged top managers under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act. The Providence police and Drug Enforcement Agency announced the outcome of “Operation Rosa” yesterday.

Gonzalez, who is 8½ months pregnant, is being held without bail at the Adult Correctional Institutions, along with her alleged drug supplier, “enforcer,” “banker,” “managers” and “distributors,” said Assistant Attorney General Bethany Macktaz. Her two children, ages 9 and 12, are now in the custody of the Department of Children, Youth and Families. “It’s just sickening,” Verdi said yesterday. “[Gonzalez] was pretty much grooming them to do what she does.”

The police searched five residences and four bank accounts, seizing $52,000 and a loaded .32-caliber pistol that was stolen.

They also seized vehicles worth a total of $300,000 that were owned by some of the drug operators claiming welfare checks, according to Providence Detective Sgt. Patrick McNulty.

That included Gonzalez, who had a Porsche, 2002 Kawasaki motorcycle and Nissan Maxima, McNulty said. Her alleged “banker,” Virgen Chadheen, 40, who the police said was on welfare, had a Cadillac Escalade. Her alleged “supplier,” John Delarosa, 33, whose wife receives state assistance, had a Mazda MPV and a Mercedes S550. And police said welfare recipient Henry Grullon, 36, an alleged business “associate” and boyfriend of Gonzalez’s sister, owned a Lincoln Navigator, BMW 745i, Suzuki and Honda motorcycles — and a rundown Dodge minivan.