Category Archives: Links to theagitator

Posts that link to a topic on theagitator (HuffPo) primarily to invite local discussion.

Real forensic “science” ain’t like they show it on TV

Radley Balko posted a two part investigative article over at HuffPo that tells the story of  self-proclaimed forensic specialists Steven Hayne and Michael West of Mississippi who helped convict and ruin the lives of numerous innocent people, while the real perpetrators remained at large to victimize more people.  No one can relate his story better than Balko, since he has been investigating these two characters for years.

When I channel hop, I am always amazed at how many TV shows I stumble across that are based on crime investigation and prosecution.  There can be no profession more glorified by Hollywood than law enforcement.  It’s no wonder jurors walk into a court room ready to convict on the word of a forensic expert.  And yet, many forensic methods and conclusions are not based on real science but rather the mere fact that expert witnesses have been making the same claims for so long that they are now treated as indisputable fact.  But, thanks to people like Radley Balko, those claims are coming under more scrutiny and incompetent practitioners like West and Hayne are finally being exposed.

Prosecutors: Judge, Jury, and Executioner

If you read the news at all, you have probably read about the death of Internet activist Aaron Swartz.who committed suicide after an overzealous federal prosecutor targeted with a crusade of arbitrary intimidation and prosecutorial recklessness. Why do prosecutors do this?  The answer is simple: Because they can.

Radley Balko explains why:

Prosecutors have enormous power. Even investigations that don’t result in any charges can ruin lives, ruin reputations, and drive their targets into bankruptcy. It has become an overtly political position — in general, but particularly at the federal level. If a prosecutor wants to ruin your life, he or she can. Even if you’ve done nothing wrong, there isn’t a whole lot you can do about it.

Balko goes on to list, item by item, the circumstances in our justice system that make this kind of abuse not only possible, but inevitable.  And brace yourselves, because it is going to continue to get worse.   Unfortunately most people don’t care about it until it happens to them and they are suddenly  confronted by the fact that they are all alone, because no one cares until it happens to them.


Glenn Greenwald comes down hard on these prosecutors today as well with this concise characterization of the Federal government’s twisted sense of justice:

The US has become a society in which political and financial elites systematically evade accountability for their bad acts, no matter how destructive. Those who torture, illegally eavesdrop, commit systemic financial fraud, even launder money for designated terrorists and drug dealers are all protected from criminal liability, while those who are powerless – or especially, as in Swartz’s case, those who challenge power – are mercilessly punished for trivial transgressions.

It’s not always the federal government.  There is probably no better example of prosecutors whose ambition for political fame and fortune have left a swath of destroyed lives in their wake than the daycare sex abuse debacle  of the 80s and 90s.  The state attorneys leveraged off of people’s natural emotion toward children to create a panic that they then used to catapult their careers into positions at the highest levels of the state and federal justice system.  Unfortunately, many of the victims of their self-serving campaign still languish in prison. While many of the convictions were ultimately over-turned or commuted, there were never any serious repercussions for the calamitous abuse of power by the prosecutors.

Radley Balko talks about collective self-interest

Over at The Agitator, Radley Balko offers an exceptional commentary on the work of the late Noble Prize-winning economist, James Buchanan on public choice theory.

While people seem to have no trouble identifying the self-serving nature of almost any entity they disagree with, they dismiss that attribute as being a factor in causes they agree with and very commonly believe that government is above self-interest. The call for government control over our behavior is almost always predicated on the idea that the government is inherently neutral, fair, and acts in the interest of the public. And yet, it takes almost no effort to see that the foremost mission of every government agency is to protect and expand its own existence.

I have a sign on my door at work that says:

There are no bad people. There are only people with a greater capacity for rationalization.

This is true. People, as individuals or as a part of an organization, rarely think of themselves as bad no matter how corrupt, violent, or dishonest they are. While American’s have no problem recognizing political corruption and police state tactics in other countries, they are blind to it when it’s happening in their own back yard because they seem to believe (after having had it drilled into them by the education system) that the American system of government is immune to such influences, aside from the few exceptions they hear about on the news.

The bottom line is that government agencies are no less self-interested than any major corporation (and they often partner with Showbox Download corporations to advance their own interests over those of the public they are supposed to serve). While they would never admit it. the FBI serves the FBI. The EPA serves the EPA. the DEA serves the DEA. While they may dress up the rhetoric with lofty claims, the public facade never characterizes their true nature. But, the power of rationalization allows those who run these agencies to believe their own words. And because they seem sincere, they are believed.

From the article:

The idea behind public choice is not that public employees are terrible, selfish, horrible people. Or at least uniquely so. It’s that they’re merely human, like the rest of us. We all like to think we put the public good ahead of our own interests, but when the two come into conflict, we usually do what’s best for ourselves, our families, our friends, or businesses, and our immediate community. That’s true whether you’re the CEO of an oil company, a Chicago cop, a truck driver, the president of a teacher’s union, or a journalist.

This concept should inform our understanding of government just as it does our view of commercial enterprises. We understand that a business operates in its own best interest and we make them prove they are trustworthy or we don’t continue to shop there. With government, we have no other choice. They are the only game in town. Why would we want to put them in charge of any aspect of our lives if we didn’t have to?

This is at the core of libertarian small-government philosophy. Congress (republican or democrat) doesn’t make laws that serve the interests of the public. They pass laws that serve the government and their corporate friends. To believe otherwise is incredibly naive. And, to think one party is less corrupt in this regard than the other, is also naive.


Radley Balko talks about crime lab ineptitude

So, the justice department has discovered defects in the way it has been representing “scientific” evidence affecting thousands, if not tens of thousands, of cases. Luckily, the government is taking aggressive steps to correct past mistakes and help the innocent people whose lives it may have helped to destroy. Hahahaha! Just kidding about that last part. The government doesn’t give a shit about innocence or guilt. What matters to them is keeping the prisons full and not doing anything that might embarrass politicians or throw doubt on America’s belief that once you’re arrested, you must be guilty.

A Massive Mess of Forensics

Why is this likely to continue? Because the government does not recognize as illegal any activity that benefits them, so these kinds of abuses will continue to go unpunished and uncorrected. What incentive do they have to change things when there really is very little down side? And, as long as it doesn’t interrupt Dancing with the Stars, the public essentially couldn’t care less.

The Agitator’s Morning links for Friday, 12/21/12

In response to complaints about the draconian comment screening at HuffPo, I am going to post links to The Agitator and allow the posting of comments here. If you like the idea, tell your friends so we get enough people for a worthwhile discussion.

Morning Links: Troops In Schools, Cell Phones And Crime, Racing Through The Streets Of North Korea

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