Monthly Archives: September 2007

Not a Great Time For the Chicago Police…

Chicago cops complain a lot about the way they’re treated in the local media, which seems to give voice to every complaint about the police. If a neighborhood has a high crime rate, the newspapers publish stories about inadequate policing. When an officer shoots someone, the media is full of family members’ allegations that the shooting was unnecessary or racially motivated. On the police blogs, officers are full of outrage at what they see as unfair treatment.

But that’s not to say there aren’t real problems within the department:

[Chicago Police Officer Jerome] Finnigan, 44, already at the center of a widening probe of corruption, kidnapping and robbery in the Police Department’s Special Operations Section, was charged Wednesday with plotting the murder-for-hire of a former police officer.

In telephone recordings made last week, Finnigan and the officer discussed whether they should hire a member of a Hispanic street gang or a “professional hit man” to kill the officer, referring to the planned hit as a “paint job,” authorities said.

The recordings also captured the officers talking about the possibility of killing an additional officer, who they believed was also cooperating with authorities, according to the charges.

Authorities said Finnigan and the other officer discussed killing up to four fellow cops.

Fortunately for everyone except Finnigan, according to the story, the officer he was talking to was wearing a wire for the FBI.

Bad stories like this one have been coming out of the Special Operations Section for the last year. The excellant Chicago Tribune article by David Heinzmann and Todd Lighty gives a recap of some of the ugliness.

Meet The New Blog – Same As The Old Blog

[Update: ARG!!!  Lots of problems! Working on it…]

[Update: Okay, I think I fixed the problem by reloading the templates.]

[Update: Put back author names under the titles. Rebuilt static web pages.]

Windypundit has now been upgraded to run on Movable Type 4.

I started the process of porting Windypundit to the new software several weeks ago by building a test system. I rented space on another shared server and duplicated the whole Windypundit site on it.  I upgraded the blogging software on the test site from MT 3.34 (I think) to MT 4.  It was completely automated and went very smoothly.  Naturally, that wasn’t good enough.

The templates for Windypundit are based on the templates released with one of the early MT 3 implementations.  I’ve tweaked them to work with the newer versions of Movable Type, but it hasn’t always been smooth.  (Some of my regular visitors are familiar with all the problems with the comment pages.)  To fix that, I decided to re-implement all the templates based on the new template design that came with MT 4.

It took about two weeks.

Powered by Movable Type 4

By that time, the folks at Six Apart had announce the beta version of MT 4.01.  They were planning to fix a lot of little problems, so I decided to wait until they officially released the new version.

They did that last week.  So last night I backed up the live site and installed the upgrade.  Then I copied over all the PHP plugins I had written and all of the stylesheets.  Finally, I painstakingly cut and pasted all the templates from the test site to the live site (there were about 50 of them).  I just finished.

There are still a whole bunch of things I have to do, but the bulk of the site is working correctly.  The interface that us blog authors see is very different, but those of you who just read Windypundit shouldn’t notice many changes.

That bothered me.  I did all this work, and there was almost nothing different that anyone could see, except for a few minor format changes.  That’s how I wanted it to be, of course, but I still wished there was something on the site to show that everything had changed.  So I added a little dashboard menu bar across the top of the blog.  It doesn’t do anything that couldn’t be done before (in fact, all the old links are still in the sidebars) but the visual design echos the new look of MovableType.

I’ll be making more changes to Windypundit in the weeks and months to come.  I still need to move all the CSS files into the templating system so I can manage them through the Movable Type interface.  I also want to re-implement all the static pages (such as the About page) using MT 4’s new Page mechanism instead of as separate templates.

And I’m willing to bet that the comments system still isn’t working smoothly…

Bionic Woman – An Early Review

This is a considerably darker and less kitschy version than the original 70’s incarnation, ala the recently re-envisioned Battlestar Galactica. Exec producer David Eick even hails from Galactica.

It stars Michelle Ryan as Jaime Sommers (natch), the recipient of some unexpected biological replacement parts. She then becomes the target of both the agency that created her and her rogue predecessor, played by Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff. Ryan is pretty, but doesn’t have quite the appeal for me that Lindsay Wagner had in the original.

It’s a dark re-telling of the story, with such heavy themes as – should we really be messing around in God’s territory? And – a woman’s decision on what she should do with her own body. Tackling these topics is ambitious, but could potentially drag the show down. I just want to see her kick some bad guy ass, is all.

I want to like this show, but it seems a bit distant and cold. It’s trying hard and is technically well done, but like the bionic rogue, it seems to be plaintively begging, “Tell me you love me!” Well, this was just our first date. Give me a little time and we’ll see.

Bionic Woman premieres Wednesday, September 26th at 9:00 pm / 8:00 Central on NBC.

Evil Lawmaking: Administrative Punishment

Continuing my somewhat interrupted series of articles on bad, sloppy, or downright evil lawmaking, I’d like to talk about administrative punishment.

If you commit a crime and get caught, one way or another you eventually end up in court, where if you’re convicted, a judge decides your punishment. So then you serve your time, pay your debt to society, and get on with your life, right?

Not so fast. In addition to the punishment the judge gives you, you face other punishments as well. For example, Virginia drivers are subject to huge fines for traffic violations, but some of the fines are implemented as part of the tax law. That is, if you are caught going more than 15 miles per hour over the limit, in addition to all the other fines and penalties, you become subject to a tax of $1050.

I’m not entirely sure why state legislatures do things like this, but I have some theories. For one thing, I think they figure that if they don’t hit you with the fine all at once, you’re more likely to go quietly. If you go to court on a speeding ticket and the judge fines you $1000, you’ll probably scream bloody murder. But if the judge gives you a $250 fine, and then five months later you get a tax bill for three annual payments of $250, maybe you won’t make so much of a fuss.

I think the more important reason for these kinds of administrative punishments is to cut the judge out of the process. A judge might be tempted to go easy on someone who doesn’t appear to be a repeat offender. He could cut $250 fine down to just $100 or even eliminate it altogether, but he can’t make the special $750 tax go away, because he has no control over the state’s tax policy.

Sometime the administrative punishments leave out the judge entirely. Here’s one example, drawn from some MADD propaganda:

Administrative license revocation (ALR) is the removal of a DUI/DWI offender’s driver’s license at the time of an arrest upon the failure or refusal of a chemical test. This distinction is important – administrative revocations are immediate in nature and, because of this, ALR is one of the most effective ways to deter people from driving under the influence of alcohol.

“Immediate in nature” appears to be MADD’s euphemism for punishment without a trial. This seems like a blatantly unconstitutional violation of due process and—since there’s an additional punishment when the judge finds someone guilty—double jeopardy. You’d think judges would be angry at the legislature’s blatant attempt to usurp the powers of the courts, but so far the courts have been bending over backwards to allow administrative revocations. They’re the law in 41 out of 50 states.

If I understand this correctly, states get around the due process requirements on these kinds of punishments because calling them “administrative” implies that they are not criminal punishments, but rather are like late filing fee on your taxes. In this way, the government waves its hands and your punishment magically turns into a simple little fee. Or into a revocation of the paperwork that allows you to drive.

In addition, I’m pretty sure that if you do manage to get around all the administrative barriers and drag the government into court—despite your legal costs exceeding the amount of the fee—the government doesn’t have to meet the reasonable doubt standard to win their case. That’s only for criminal trials.

It’s not unusual these days for the administrative fees and other non-criminal non-penalties to far exceed the amount of any criminal fines.

I must admit that these legal issues exceed my layman’s knowledge of how the law works, so I may have just made a lot of mistakes. (If so, I hope some of my more knowledgeable readers will correct me.) But I’m still pretty sure administrative fees for crimes are an example of evil lawmaking.

Question: As I wrote this, one other thing occurred to me. Perhaps some of my legal readers can answer this. (I’m looking at you, Gideon!) Can indigent defendants get help from the public defender (or a court-appointed lawyer) on administrative or civil fees? Or, since these are non-criminal matters, are people facing $3000 administrative fees denied the right to counsel?

Update: In the comments, Gideon confirms that—at least where he’s from—public defenders can’t help with administrative proceedings.

Virginia Postrel…

…just got some bad news. She’s been diagnosed with breast cancer. She worked it into this list of 8 Random Facts about her.


Virginia is an author, a speaker, and a past editor of Reason magazine. My thoughts and writing on many issues have been influenced by her strong advocacy of classical liberal values such as freedom, creativity, enterprise, and respect for the desire of people to control their own lives.

Let’s all wish her well.

Richard Paey Is Free!

Terrific news today.

Richard Paey, one of the worst victims of the War on Drugs, has just been pardoned.

The state’s parole commission recommended denying clemency for Paey, who was only seeking to have his prison sentence commuted. But after his lawyer, wife and four children wept and pleaded for Paey’s release, [Florida Governor Charlie] Crist and the Cabinet went further than Paey expected by unanimously agreeing to grant him a full pardon — meaning he’ll have the right to vote and carry firearms.

There are even signs that the Florida justice system’s cruel treatment of Paey will lead to some reforms in the state’s drug laws and criminal procedures.

The state’s parole commission recommended denying clemency for Paey, who was only seeking to have his prison sentence commuted. But after his lawyer, wife and four children wept and pleaded for Paey’s release, Crist and the Cabinet went further than Paey expected by unanimously agreeing to grant him a full pardon — meaning he’ll have the right to vote and carry firearms.

They also acknowledged that the state’s drug laws might be unfair.

”This is not a pleasant case,” said Attorney General Bill McCollum, who noted that he supported mandatory-minimum sentences when he was in Congress. “Our laws are very much to blame.”

If you’re unfamiliar with Paey’s situation, I summarized the whole awful mess here.