Saturday, March 09, 2002

I’ve never been to Zimbabwe, or, indeed, to any of sub-sahran Africa. What I know about Africa is scant; it’s certainly less than what I don’t know about the continent.

Even so, however, something struck me as wrong with this article from the LA Times today, Resettled and Happy in Zimbabwe. The title portrays the spirit of this piece on the day of Zimbabwean national elections.

Somehow, the LA Times seems to have glossed over points made in this story U.S. Assails Zimbabwe Ruling Party ....On the eve of elections in Zimbabwe, the State Department accused the country's ruling party of resorting to violence, intimidation and manipulation to ensure President Robert Mugabe's re-election.. Then there's Thousands Can't Vote in Zimbabwe. Let's not forget this, HUNGER BECOMES THE GRIM REALITY FOR MANY, and Mugabe facing unrest over food shortages, probably caused by this:Zimbabwe farmers flee, start over. Then there's this: Blair calls behavior of Zimbabwe's leader outrageous .

I could go on for pages, but the point is made. I think. Based strictly on the sheer volume and variety of stories about how Zimbabwe is descending into a violent, hungry dictatorship, I have serious doubts about the LA Times version. That leads me to wonder: why is the LA Times propping up the US image of a brutal dictator? What could they possibly have to gain? Does anyone out there know?

Update: LittleGreenFootballs has an interesting post on further LA Times perfidy.

Tuesday, March 05, 2002

Surprise, surprise, the most horrible example of prosecutorial misconduct comes from the fair city of Chicago. William Heirens, then a bright high school student, and since the first prisoner in Illinois to get a college degree behind bars, was charged with triple murder in 1946. He was injected with sodium pentothal, and, WHILE UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF THE PENTOTHAL made a “confession” that eventually led to his conviction. There were “inconsistencies” in the physical evidence presented, and prosecutors admitted that they would have had a hard time convicting him without the “confessions.” Though another man had already confessed to the murders, Heirens is still in prison, now 78 years old.

For those of you who haven’t seen someone injected with sodium pentothal, let me try to explain the problem here. Sodium pentothal, aka “truth serum” makes people tell the truth only in the comic book world. Here in the real world, it does NOT make people tell the truth. In low doses, sodium pentothal can make people babble incoherently, and frequently repeat whatever they are told (an event called "echolalia"). Imagine being bone-tired, drunk, and stoned, all at once. What someone says under the influence of sodium pentothal has as much relation to the truth as what you would expect to come out of the mouth of someone who’s been awake for 48 hours, just finished with a fifth of scotch, and on his tenth doobie.

To convict someone on the basis of a “confession” extracted under sodium pentothal is something that I would have associated with the Spanish inquisition, or the Salem witch courts, had they known about barbiturates back then. Even though I grew up in Chicago, it still surprises me that the Chicago PD and district attorney was, and continues to be, so depraved.

Oh no. This sort of thing is still going on. I don't know what drugs Charles Thomas Sell is going to be put on, but whatever drug it is an "antipsychotic" in just about the same way sodium penothal is a "truth serum." Another name for most classes of antipsychotic drugs is "major depressants." These drugs basically slow you down. Yes, some people function better when they are slowed down, but to pretend that injecting criminial defendants with these drugs won't have an effect on their ability to defend themselves .... well, history will be the judge, I suppose.

UPDATE 2: It's worse. Dr. Sell isn't being medicated because he's a danger to self or others, but because he's "delusional." The court below held that Dr. Sell was “delusional” because he:
(i) thought there was a government plot to cover up illegal behavior by corrupt individuals to spread HIV worldwide;
(ii) thought there was a government effort to cover up defendant’s knowledge of the government’s culpability in the Waco deaths, where defendant was summoned to serve at that time as an Army Reservist; and
(iii) thought he should go to Bosnia, and that if he was prevented from going there then somebody wanted a lot of American boys dead.

So, he's being medicated because he doesn't trust the government.

Monday, March 04, 2002

Nonuniformed FBI agent in an unmarked car stops an innocent eagle scout and shoots him in the face. FBI claims this was in the process of hunting down a bank robber who happened to be driving the same kind of car, though the FBI has yet to identify exactly what bank was robbed, what kind of car the “robber” was driving, or anything else. FBI agents on the scene don’t call for medical help, but wait for the eagle scout to die (according to a WBAL Ron Smith Show radio interview with the father of the driver of the car; can’t find a link right now); when he doesn't oblige, they finally call for help from local paramedics.

It is evident from the story that the eagle scout and his girlfriend were trapped by the FBI, and that some FBI agent felt safe enough to WALK to their car and shoot the eagle scout.

The FBI has released no information about the shooting, including any corroborative evidence concerning the existence of the “bank robber,” the name of the shooter, the reason for the shooting, the reason for not calling paramedics right away, the reason for leaving cover to approach the car with the supposed dangerous “bank robber” in it, the reason the license plate of the car was not run to determine if the car was likely involved in a bank robbery, or the disciplinary actions taken or contemplated against the shooter. A government official wounded or killed someone, and the first instinct of the FBI is to cover up for him.

At the very least, this shooting was negligent discharge of a firearm, which is a crime. It’s too early to tell, but for all we know, this might wind up being a case of murder in the first degree (yes, I know murder requires malice aforethought; the lack of information supplied by the FBI implies, to me, that such malice might have existed. And yes, I know the eagle scout is still alive; that, too, might change). Even though it is clear the FBI agent committed a crime, it is certain that no criminal prosecutions will be forthcoming against him or her.

I generally welcome emails to help me make sense of the things I write about. I don’t need any such emails about this case. We live in a police state, where our very lives are at the mercy of government officials, and it’s only through fortuitous circumstances (like the eagle scout not dying as he lay on the sidewalk without medical attention, and the responsible FBI agent hesitating to put a “throwdown” in the car) that the true nature of the police state is documented.

The shooter is FBI Special Agent Christopher Braga. Agent Braga is on paid administrative leave, at his request, since the shooting March 1 of Joseph C. Schultz. Note: paid admin leave, not suspension.

Sunday, March 03, 2002

The practitioners of what we call “high risk” medical specialties, such as cardiology, trauma surgery, and obstetrics, regularly create more value than almost any other professionals. For example, a good trauma surgeon, at the expense of a knife, some string, needles, and OR time, can create, for his patient, the opportunity to live for decades longer than fate might have otherwise decreed. Whatever such a saved patient creates for the rest of his life is possible only because of the work done by the surgeon. Multiply that by a few cases a night for forty years, and the value created by each surgeon really adds up.

Specialty physicians give away to their patients most of the value they create, asking only a few thousand dollars in exchange for making continued life possible, but enough value remains that specialists have traditionally been able to make a comfortable living. Even the small sums medical specialists charge, however, are now overshadowed by the amounts they pay to lawyers (via insurance companies).

It makes sense that lawyers would want to get a share of the value created by physicians. Who wouldn’t? Medical specialists make not-inconsiderable salaries. On the other hand, medical school is long, intense, and expensive. Practicing specialty medicine correctly is a difficult skill that requires constant updating of a physician’s knowledge. So it really doesn’t surprise me that lawyers would want to capture that value without having to go through medical school.

The part that saddens me is that our laws and procedures are becoming more and more arranged to make that possible. Huge jury awards for “malpractice” don’t punish bad physicians so much as they are a lawyer tax, collected on occasions dictated by the unavoidable vagaries of fate, on working doctors.

Some surgeons have noticed this, and have retired or gone into other fields. That’s a documentable result of lawyers claiming for themselves value that they didn’t create. What’s not so obvious, however, is the talented, intelligent people who would have been surgeons who have, instead, become tort lawyers or other parasites. The number of US medical school applications has dropped by 10% a year for half a decade now, and anecdotal evidence suggests that the quality of applicants has dropped even more precipitously.

Fifteen years from now, the young person who is starting medical school this September may be the surgeon you need after you get hit by a bus. Money is only part of the motivation to be a doctor, but does it make sense to reduce the expected income of that future surgeon, in order to pay a lawyer who will contribute nothing to the chance you survive that impact with the bus? Aren’t you just a little bit concerned that such a practice will reduce the chances that the very strongest potential medical students will become trauma surgeons in the first place? Reducing the lawyer tax might be a first step to saving your life.