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Editor, The Konformist
Orwellian Double-Speak Quote of the Week:
"Our purpose is, and has always been, to ensure a civil and safe
environment where the many types of campus activities and open
discourse can occur."
Probe Finds Taser Use on Student Was OK
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) University of Florida police were justified
in using a Taser against a student who refused to stop questioning
Sen. John Kerry on campus last month, according to a state
investigation released Wednesday.
Some had questioned the use of force in using the stun gun against
Andrew Meyer, leading to the investigation by the Florida Department
of Law Enforcement. A summary of the agency's report was released
"In short, the FDLE determined that our officers acted well within
state guidelines," university President Bernie Machen said in a
letter to students, faculty and staff members.
Two officers who were placed on administrative leave pending the
outcome of the investigation were reinstated Wednesday, Machen said.
Rob Griscti, Meyer's attorney, said he couldn't comment on the
report with a criminal case still pending. He said he'd respond
after examining the report.
Meyer, a journalism major, is known for posting practical jokes on
his Web site, but Griscti said his client's questions for Kerry were
"He raised questions about voter disenfranchisement and other
matters about American voting rights, which cut to the heart of our
Democracy," Griscti said in a written statement. "These questions
deserve the media's attention and full public discourse."
The scuffle between Meyer and police started during the Sept. 17
speech by Kerry when Meyer refused to leave the microphone after his
allotted time was up, police said. The videotaped altercation and
Meyer's cries of "Don't Tase me bro!" were played frequently on the
The report says the officers' intent was to escort Meyer from the
auditorium, but he broke away and refused to follow the officers'
"Officers decide not to escalate to hard empty hand strikes, kicks,
knees or baton ... (it) would have looked like the officers were
beating Meyer into submission," the report said.
The report, which has Meyer's name and that of other students
blacked out, said the officers did what was necessary to control the
"Our purpose is, and has always been, to ensure a civil and safe
environment where the many types of campus activities and open
discourse can occur," said Police Chief Linda Stump.
Meyer has been charged by police for resisting an officer and
disturbing the peace, but the State Attorney's Office has not yet
decided whether to file formal charges.
Spencer Mann, a spokesman for the State Attorney's Office, said the
decision may be made some time next week.
Wilson released after two years behind bars for teen sex conviction
Genarlow Wilson leaves prison
Georgia high court in 4-3 ruling found sentence cruel and unusual
Wilson's 10-year sentence already had been reduced by a lower court
Case compelled a change in Georgia law
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Genarlow Wilson was released from prison
Friday, after spending more than two years behind bars for a teen
"At times I dealt with adversity ... my family and myself, we
finally get to deal with happiness now," Wilson said, with his
mother and sister at his side.
The Georgia Supreme Court earlier Friday ordered that he be
released, ruling 4-3 that his sentence was cruel and unusual
Wilson, 21, was convicted in 2005 of having oral sex with a
consenting 15-year-old girl when he was 17.
Wilson said he first heard about the possibility he'd be freed
Friday when someone told him word was out on the radio.
"I'd seen it coming, but I didn't exactly know when," he said. "I'd
just stopped trying to figure the courts out and stopped trying to
put a date on it."
Wilson said he was looking forward to spending time with his family
and plans to enroll in college to study sociology.
"You will not be disappointed," he told his supporters. "I plan on
succeeding in life."
Wilson also said he doesn't regret rejecting a plea offer that could
have freed him from prison months ago -- but would have required him
to register as a sex offender.
"I'm glad I stayed down for my cause," he said. "I accepted the
situation that I got myself into, but I never accepted that label."
Wilson's attorney, B.J. Bernstein, said earlier Friday she was
working to gain his quick release.
She said Wilson's mother, Juannessa Bennett, was "overjoyed" at the
A spokesman for Georgia Attorney General Thurbert E. Baker said
there will be no further appeals.
Friday's decision came after a protracted legal battle that has
galvanized international attention and drawn the involvement of
civil rights leaders. Partly as a result of Wilson's conviction,
state legislators changed the law to make such consensual conduct
between minors a misdemeanor, rather than a felony.
"The release of Genarlow Wilson by the Georgia Supreme Court is a
significant victory in redressing the reckless and biased behavior
of the criminal justice system that now operates in many states
across the union," the Rev. Al Sharpton said.
"The bad news is that his young life was so unfairly interrupted
with time that no state court can recover for him," Sharpton
added. "This is why the Justice Department and federal government
must review state courts that willfully and almost without pause
violate the civil rights of people, particularly young black men
around this country."
Wilson was an honor student, a football star and his high school's
homecoming king before his conviction.
At the time of Wilson's conviction, Georgia law made the crime
punishable by 10 years in prison. Changes in the law made such
conduct "punishable by no more than a year in prison and no sex
offender registration," the Georgia high court noted.
But those changes were not made retroactive, so they did not apply
The high court upheld the decision of a Monroe County judge. In a 48-
page opinion, the court said the "severe" punishment Wilson received
and his mandated sex offender registration make "no measurable
contribution to acceptable goals of punishment."
The case revolves around a 2003 New Year's Eve party outside Atlanta
when Wilson engaged in the sex act with the girl.
Under the now-changed Georgia law, Wilson was convicted of felony
aggravated child molestation. He was acquitted on a second charge of
raping a 17-year-old girl -- who prosecutors maintained was too
intoxicated at the party to consent.
The 10-year sentence was mandatory under the law.
In the decision, Chief Justice Leah Ward Sears wrote that changes in
the law "represent a seismic shift in the legislature's view of the
gravity of oral sex between two willing teenage participants."
"Although society has a significant interest in protecting children
from premature sexual activity, we must acknowledge that Wilson's
crime does not rise to the level of culpability of adults who prey
on children," the court's majority found.
"For the law to punish Wilson as it would an adult, with the
extraordinarily harsh punishment of 10 years in prison without the
possibility of probation or parole, appears to be grossly
disproportionate to his crime," the majority opinion concluded.
The dissent noted that the Georgia Legislature had made clear that
the changes in the law were not to be applied retroactively.
Writing for the dissenting justices, Justice George Carley
said, "The General Assembly made the express decision that he cannot
benefit from the subsequent legislative determination to reduce the
sentence for commission of that crime from felony to misdemeanor
The majority countered that it was not applying the 2006 amendment
retroactively, but instead factoring that "into its determination
that Wilson's punishment is cruel and unusual," the court said in a
The court said this kind of decision is unusual: "The majority
opinion points out that this court rarely overturns a sentence on
cruel and unusual grounds. But twice before, it did so following a
The Monroe County Superior Court judge also ruled that Wilson's
punishment was cruel and unusual and voided it on constitutional
The judge reduced the sentence to one year and said Wilson should
not be put on Georgia's sex offender registry, as the old law
Wilson's jubilant attorneys had hoped that ruling would free him
from state prison. But shortly after it was handed down, Georgia's
attorney general announced he would appeal that decision, a move
that kept Wilson behind bars.
The Georgia high court said unanimously that the decision to deny
Wilson bail was correct.
Wilson's plight drew pleas for his release, including from former
President Carter, himself an ex-Georgia governor, and even some
jurors who convicted him.
Legislation that would make the change in Georgia's child
molestation law retroactive to free Wilson failed to win approval
earlier this year.
CNN's Mary Lynn Ryan contributed to this report.
FEMA Meets the Press, Which Happens to Be . . . FEMA
By Al Kamen
Friday, October 26, 2007; A19
FEMA has truly learned the lessons of Katrina. Even its handling of
the media has improved dramatically. For example, as the California
wildfires raged Tuesday, Vice Adm. Harvey E. Johnson, the deputy
administrator, had a 1 p.m. news briefing.
Reporters were given only 15 minutes' notice of the briefing, making
it unlikely many could show up at FEMA's Southwest D.C. offices.
They were given an 800 number to call in, though it was a "listen
only" line, the notice said -- no questions. Parts of the briefing
were carried live on Fox News (see the Fox News video of the news
conference carried on the Think Progress Web site), MSNBC and other
Johnson stood behind a lectern and began with an overview before
saying he would take a few questions. The first questions were about
the "commodities" being shipped to Southern California and how
officials are dealing with people who refuse to evacuate. He
He was apparently quite familiar with the reporters -- in one case,
he appears to say "Mike" and points to a reporter -- and was asked
an oddly in-house question about "what it means to have an emergency
declaration as opposed to a major disaster declaration" signed by
the president. He once again explained smoothly.
FEMA press secretary Aaron Walker interrupted at one point to
caution he'd allow just "two more questions." Later, he called for
a "last question."
"Are you happy with FEMA's response so far?" a reporter asked.
Another asked about "lessons learned from Katrina."
"I'm very happy with FEMA's response so far," Johnson said,
hailing "a very smoothly, very efficiently performing team."
"And so I think what you're really seeing here is the benefit of
experience, the benefit of good leadership and the benefit of good
partnership," Johnson said, "none of which were present in Katrina."
(Wasn't Michael Chertoff DHS chief then?) Very smooth, very
professional. But something didn't seem right. The reporters were
lobbing too many softballs. No one asked about trailers with
formaldehyde for those made homeless by the fires. And the media
seemed to be giving Johnson all day to wax on and on about FEMA's
Of course, that could be because the questions were asked by FEMA
staffers playing reporters. We're told the questions were asked by
Cindy Taylor, FEMA's deputy director of external affairs, and
by "Mike" Widomski, the deputy director of public affairs. Director
of External Affairs John "Pat" Philbin asked a question, and another
came, we understand, from someone who sounds like press aide Ali
Asked about this, Widomski said: "We had been getting mobbed with
phone calls from reporters, and this was thrown together at the last
But the staff did not make up the questions, he said, and Johnson
did not know what was going to be asked. "We pulled questions from
those we had been getting from reporters earlier in the day."
Despite the very short notice, "we were expecting the press to
come," he said, but they didn't. So the staff played reporters for
what on TV looked just like the real thing.
"If the worst thing that happens to me in this disaster is that we
had staff in the chairs to ask questions that reporters had been
asking all day, Widomski said, "trust me, I'll be happy."
Heck of a job, Harvey.
Philippine Ex-President Estrada Freed
By PAUL ALEXANDER
MANILA, Philippines (AP) Free for the first time in 6 1/2 years,
ousted President Joseph Estrada thanked his successor for pardoning
him and vowed Friday to stay out of "dirty politics" while
dedicating the rest of his life to helping the poor.
The former action star's first hours of freedom played out live in
national television like a scene from one of his old films, which
won him legions of fans for his portrayals of underdog heroes.
Estrada's joyous release from house arrest was followed by a speech
to thousands of cheering supporters in Manila's San Juan district,
where he once served as mayor, then a bedside visit to his ailing
102-year-old mother and a dinner of his favorite foods. His wife
said she was making rice cake and paella.
The question is: Will the man who won the biggest election landslide
in Philippine history be able to avoid the temptation of being
drafted back into politics by a disjointed opposition desperate for
someone popular to rally around?
For a day at least, Estrada was happy to bask in adulation and
follow the lead of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who has
shrugged off allegations of political opportunism and touted the
pardon as a move toward reconciliation that was in the public's best
"There is no substitute for freedom," the 70-year-old Estrada said
before leaving his villa east of Manila, where he has spent most of
his time in detention since his arrest three months after being
forced out by the country's second "people power" revolt in January
Estrada was convicted last month on graft charges and given a life
sentence. Arroyo pardoned him Thursday.
The pardon was greeted with a heavy dose of cynicism because of the
timing Arroyo is fighting a third impeachment attempt and calls
for her resignation. State prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio said the
pardon, especially so soon after the hard-fought conviction,
amounted to a license to break the law.
Estrada, who has been one of Arroyo's chief critics over the past
six years, sounded conciliatory for the first time since his ouster.
He thanked Arroyo, reiterated his wish to live the life of a "plain
citizen" and, in a turnaround from previous attacks on the
administration, urged his supporters to back Arroyo's programs to
combat poverty and hunger.
"I am aware of the agonizing times and tough choices that Mrs.
Arroyo has had to wade through before arriving at this executive
decision," Estrada said.
Arroyo admitted that her decision was controversial, but said the
pardon was aimed at ending "the single most significant cause of
political noise and controversy" during her tumultuous time in
office. She cited the pardons of former U.S. and South Korean
presidents as precedents.
"In the end, we had to make a decision that was bound to please and
displease, impress and confound, unite and divide," Arroyo said in a
speech to businessmen.
Arroyo's spokesman, Ignacio Bunye, said the pardon restored
Estrada's civil and political rights. However, a court ruling that
confiscated Estrada's villa and more than $15.5 million in savings
remained in effect.
More than 2,000 supporters, family and friends prepared a fiesta for
Estrada's homecoming. Balloons and ribbons in orange Estrada's
campaign color festooned the route of his lengthy motorcade, and
he was mobbed as he got out of his vehicle.
While he admitted he made mistakes in office, Estrada denied
corruption was among them. He claimed he twice turned down offers
that he could avoid being charged if he left the country. Despite
his conviction in court, he said he felt he had been acquitted by
"I have no plan to rejoin dirty politics," he told the crowd
chanting his name. "My remaining time will be offered in the service
of our people."
Associated Press writers Oliver Teves, Teresa Cerojano, Jim Gomez
and Hrvoje Hranjski contributed to this report.
Published on Sunday, October 21, 2007 by the Sunday Gazette-Mail
(Charleston, West Virginia)
Nobel Prize Sees What Market-Fundamentalists Don't
by Rick Wilson
The reality-based community got a little boost recently with the
announcement of the 2007 Nobel Prize in economics.
Three Americans, Eric Maskin, Roger Myerson and Leonid Hurwicz,
shared the honor for their work in mechanism design theory, which
studies under what conditions markets work well or don't. Sneak
preview: They do better with private than with public goods.
The very idea that markets are imperfect at some things may come as
a shock - or even sacrilege -to true believers in the cult of the
According to this cult, the market is like an all-wise and all-good
but jealous god which becomes exceedingly wrathful when interfered
with by things like coal mine or workplace safety laws, minimum wage
protections, or taxes that pay for health, education or other
services. Its ways are not our ways, nor are its thoughts our
thoughts. And if it demands an occasional human sacrifice, we just
have to deal with it.
In the real world, however, markets work better for some things than
others. They are at their best when they distribute private goods in
a situation which isn't dominated by any one or few industries and
where sellers and buyers have adequate information. They have
problems in cases of monopolies or oligopolies, imperfectly informed
consumers, or where exchanges create public costs and social
As the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences put it, "Adam Smith's
classical metaphor of the invisible hand refers to how the market,
under ideal conditions, ensures an efficient allocation of scarce
resources. But in practice conditions are usually not ideal; for
example, competition is not completely free, consumers are not
perfectly informed and privately desirable production and
consumption may generate social costs and benefits."
Many transactions, according to the Academy, don't take place in
open markets but occur within firms, under special arrangements, or
under the influence of political or other powerful interest groups.
Think Halliburton or Blackwater.
Maskin, Hurwicz, and Myerson's mechanism design theory studies what
kinds of arrangements make for an optimal allocation of resources.
Here's the short version of a key finding: Markets work well with
what economists call private goods, like refrigerators or cars, but
not for public goods, such as a clean environment or public health.
According to Maskin in an article in Bloomberg.com, "There are some
things we want that are never going to be attainable by markets," he
said in a telephone interview. "If we are going to get them at all
we have to find alternative ways of delivering them. That's where
mechanism design comes in."
A Reuters report on the prize noted, "Societies should not rely on
market forces to protect the environment or provide quality health
care for all citizens "
In such cases, public investments and policies should promote and
protect public goods.
None of this would have come as a surprise to Adam Smith, who wrote
in 1776 that there was a need of government support for "public
institutions and those public works, which, though they may be in
the highest degree advantageous to a great society, are, however, of
such a nature that the profit could never repay the expense to any
individual or small number of individuals, and which it therefore
cannot be expected that any individual or small number of
individuals should erect or maintain."
If some people want to worship the market god, that's fine with me,
as long as they don't try to make it the state religion.
In reality, markets are goods, not gods. What we need to do is
figure out how to let them do what they do well, while also
protecting the very important things they don't.
Wilson is director of the American Friends Service Committee WV
Economic Justice Project and publishes The Goat Rope, a daily public
affairs blog: www.goatrope.blogspot.com.