Friday, February 28, 2014

Watch What You Wear

So now we have it. The law of the land says you can burn the American flag but you can’t wear it to school.

That’s the essence of a ruling this week by the U.S. Court of Appeals in California -- wouldn’t you know it.

The quick background is as follows.

In 2010 a few white students at Live Oak High School in Morgan Hill, California wore T-shirts emblazoned with the American flag on Cinco de Mayo, where Mexican students planned a school-sanctioned celebration of Mexico’s Independence Day. While there was a school policeman on duty, officials feared campus violence because there had been racially charged problems on Cinco de Mayo the previous year. Thus, officials ordered the white boys to turn their flag shirts inside out or go home. Some left school, and for two days their parents kept them home because rumors flew that Mexican gangbangers from San Jose were going “to take care” of them.

As a result, parents of the white teens sued the school district, contending violation of constitutional guarantees of expression, due process and equal protection. But, a district court dismissed their civil suit before trial. The parents appealed to the Ninth Circuit federal appellate court in San Francisco, which released its decision February 27th, upholding the dismissal. The case is now dead for all intents and purposes.

I fully understand the rationale belying the decision.

Public school officials must protect children from violence and have wide legal leeway to do so, including limiting speech, enforcing dress codes (good reason for school uniforms) and setting aside search and seizure rights to accomplish it. Safety is the basis of this ruling. “School officials’ actions were tailored to avert violence and focused on student safety,” the three federal judges who ruled in the case stated. But, there were other avenues available, with a little forethought. Even the judges mentioned, in passing: “Our role is not to second-guess the decision to have a Cinco de Mayo celebration or the precautions put in place to avoid violence.”

If such culture-specific events stir passions toward violence in our schools, and in this case the troubles at the same school the year before showed this to be the case, the Cinco de Mayo event should never have been held. Indeed, such social events should be jettisoned from schools, leaving them for afterschool Facebook chat. Schools should focus on teaching kids to read, add and subtract and think critically. (Celebrating Cinco de Mayo, St. Patrick’s Day, or Oktoberfest isn’t a skill employers covet in the current cutthroat jobs market.)

While I think this ruling is a constitutional precedent that needs further review, I also have a patriotic objection to its (unintended?) spillover.

San Francisco’s Ninth Circuit is notorious for ignoring facts in support of its decades-long war for social justice. In this case these jihadist judges who are paid as much as $184,000 a year from the federal treasury and who retire at full pay, have jammed their collective thumb up Uncle Sam’s arse. In essence they’ve added shirts overtly displaying the flag of the United States of America to clothing that can be legally banned from being worn in our public schools, joining such clothing as gang colors, the Confederate flag, and other court-sanctioned “inappropriate symbolism.” Yeah. The American flag? Inappropriate symbolism!
Tell that to our nation’s heroes of all races who have fought and died to defend it.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Big Black Dog

The big black dog that attacked me and ripped my leg to shreds, causing me to receive 29 stitches, wasn’t a “vicious animal.”

It was a big black dog.

I wasn’t really bitten. It’s an analogy, and the essence of a ruling by a California appeals court in a significant arson case in which the arsonist was sentenced to 25 years in the slammer, and then let go.

Yes, as a result of the legal precedent last month, the guy earned a “get out of jail free” card, as a Monopoly-minded dissenting appeals justice on the case put it.

Here’s what happened.

In 2009 a man and his girlfriend lived in a motor home parked with several other empty motor homes on a lot. After an argument, the man parked an empty motor home next to theirs -- in which she slept -- and used gasoline to ignite it. Before theirs caught fire, the woman saved herself by fleeing their motor home, with her dogs. (I don’t know if they were big black ones.) A jury later convicted him of arson of an inhabited structure, his third serious felony conviction under the state’s three-strikes law. Therefore, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

In the appeal, his attorney contended “evidence was insufficient to show that the motor home in which he and (his girlfriend) were then living was a structure.” California arson law defines “structure” as “any building, or commercial or public tent, bridge, tunnel, or power plant.” (Sometimes you just want to grab legal definitions by the throat and squeeze.)

Two of three appellate court justices hearing the appeal bought the defense lawyer's line. “Evidence that he set fire to or caused that motor home to burn does not support the jury’s verdict finding him guilty of arson of an inhabited structure,” they ruled. They glibly if not smugly added, “In short and simply stated, the motor home at issue in this appeal is not a structure, as that term is defined in the arson statutes.”

Thereby they dismissed the arson charges.

They said that to be a structure under arson definitions, the motor home, which of course has wheels, would have to be tied down like a stationary mobile home. Under that reasoning, an outhouse is a structure, provided it has a foundation worth a crap.

However, in giving an inch, the judges agreed a motor home is “property” for purposes of arson in California.

Even at the man’s trial, the commonsensical jury considered and agreed that the motor home was a “dwelling.” You know, where people live. And yes, their motor home was the man’s and his girlfriend’s residence. While the girlfriend escaped injury in the fire that destroyed their motor home, had she been a sounder sleeper the outcome could have been much, much worse for her -- and her dogs. So while she comes under threat of death by fire, the justices fiddle with semantics. Yes, the two legal bumpkins who decided this appeal looked at the big black dog, snarling at them, its bloodthirsty fangs bared for ripping human flesh apart, globs of sticky drool dripping from its teeth, and white foam covering its snout, and they judiciously concluded it wasn’t a vicious animal at all. Just, well, a big old black dog.

Lawmakers should listen to the barking, and review the state’s criminal definitions of arson now. I mean, come on, they include a “public tent”! Intentionally igniting a public tent is arson. Dare I argue there are many more motor homes than public tents.

But hold on, this case gets inaner if not insaner.

After the two judges yanked the legal rug from under the arson conviction, these paragons of pillared places seemed to like the feeling of it. What they did next is inexcusable. They added insult to injury by handcuffing prosecutors from charging the man with arson again, including simple arson of property. This even though these same meatheads had agreed the motor home was “property.” Weed-whacking through the legal underbrush they said law barred recharging him and using the same evidence.

Bottom line: a convicted arsonist is walking, maybe while arrogantly striking matches to light his path.

Agreeing motor homes aren’t “structures” in her dissent, a female member of the three-judge panel, wrote, sanely: “I respectfully dissent from the majority’s conclusion that defendant is now entitled to a ‘get out of jail free’ card. I am willing to assume, without deciding, that we cannot simply reduce the offense from arson of an inhabited structure . . . to arson of property. But even if so, defendant could lawfully be retried for arson of property.”

And he should be. But, thanks to this ruling, he won’t be.

I’m aware of the old saying: “dissent means you lose.” But, I think the dissenting justice is correct. Her colleagues stretched case law to fit the four corners of their far-fetched conclusion. (Did they privately cringed at the prospect of a simple property arson conviction sending this guy to prison for 25 years under three strikes?)

The state’s High Court should look at this one. It shouldn’t stand as precedent.

Monday, February 3, 2014

A Stinky Business

Newspapers have fallen on hard times. Thousands of reporters and editors have lost jobs, and it really shows in the quality of the newspapers still being published, nationwide. Years ago when larger papers had several levels of editing, the photo caption below never would have been published. An editor would have caught and killed it before being printed. Not so these days. Bloopers like this are published frequently. Today we not only read the newspaper, we laugh at it. Take a look at the caption for the photo below, and have a good laugh. It appeared in The Riverside (CA) Press-Enterprise, which was recently bought by the Orange County (CA) Register, after years of wasting away at the hands of The Dallas Morning News.

Here is what the caption published Jan. 30, 2014 actually says:

"While interviewing Sondra Berg, Santa Ana Police Animal Services supervisor, television reporters Bobby DeCastro (Fox 11) and Wendy Burch (KTLA 5) hold their noses to avoid the stench."

Did the animal services supervisor forget to shower before doing the interview? (What the caption-writer neglected to include was the "stench" emanated from a house where police found hundreds of dead snakes. I hope Sondra Berg, the police animal services supervisor, asked for a clarification.)