Monthly Archives: February 2009

Responding to Tom McKenna on the Frederick Verdict

Virginia prosecutor Tom McKenna and I never seem to agree on anything (except maybe guns) and my previous post in response to a police officer’s complaint about the verdict in the Ryan Frederick case is no exception:

A blogging police officer complains of a manslaughter conviction for a dope dealer who killed a police officer attempting to serve a search warrant at his Chesapeake, Virginia house. (lots of the backstory here).

“Dope dealer” is kind of a stretchy term. Since drugs are illegal, there aren’t any approved stores or mailorder suppliers. Everybody who has drugs is usually willing to sell to some to their friends. Technically, that makes them drug dealers. But in reality, there’s a big difference between someone who sells to his friends, and someone who sells drugs as his job.

Since Frederick got up every morning for his job driving a delivery truck, I’m guessing he wasn’t exactly raking in the cash from his tiny grow operation.

Now, this pot head, Ryan Frederick, has been written up cloyingly in Reason and has become somewhat of a poster child for the 420-loving crowd, who see this drug bust gone awry as more evidence of the failure of the drug war and the evils of the supposedly gestapo-like tactics used by police to persecute these peace-loving pot smokers.

That’s because it is more evidence of the failure of the drug war and the evils of the methods used by police to persecute peaceful drug users. Obviously, Tom doesn’t see it that way, and I’m not going to convince him.

Example: Windypundit in turn getting upset with the blogging officer, says this:

Alright Scott, here’s something for you to think about: All this happened because Ryan Frederick was suspected of growing marijuana, a crime which has no victims. The next time you or your police buddies decide to do an armed home invasion because you think there might be evil plants inside, remember that there are hundreds of thousands of potential jurors out here who won’t mind too much if you get your ass killed. Maybe that will make you stop and think about what you’re doing.

Right. So on one side we have an angry officer, upset that a jury in Chesapeake, Va. (a very conservative community) did not find Frederick guilty of murder. On the other side, we have the dope heads and their ideological friends trying to make a Joan of Arc out of this Tidewater Toker.

Alright, I have to admit that the part where he quotes me sounds a bit harsh. On the other hand, I was responding in kind to the blogging officer’s vaguely threatening suggestion that the jurors should stop and think about what would happen next time they called the police if the responding officers knew they had voted to acquit. I wanted him—or people who agree with him—to understand what it sounds like coming back at them.

While it appears that the police might have been more cautious about using the particular informant in this case, there was evidence presented that Frederick, despite denials, knew the police were coming to his house, and indeed had been operating a grow room in the preceding weeks (not to mention the trivial fact that police knocked and yelled “Chesapeake police–search warrant” five times before having to force entry).

If I remember right, the evidence that Frederick knew the cops were coming was from informants of questionable reliability. In fact, among the parade of jailhouse snitches was one who was such a notorious liar that a prosecutor from a neighboring county felt obligated to speak up about it in the middle of the trial.

Whether the police yelled anything loudly enough for Frederick to hear is also disputed. The police say they did, but the prosecutor couldn’t find any neighbors who heard them yelling, and the defense found seven who said they didn’t.

(The situation was confusing and happening fast, so maybe the neighbors weren’t very alert and all seven of them missed the police yelling, but even if the police announced the warrant properly, that’s not the important issue. What matters is whether Frederick knew they were police. So if all seven neighbors missed the yelling, maybe he did too.)

At one point, the prosecutor even tried to imply that Frederick’s prison weight-gain showed he was unremorseful for killing a cop. I’m no lawyer, but it sounds like he was really reaching to try to prove his murder case.

And the bottom line is that the jury clearly rejected his claim that he was acting in self-defense from an unknown intruder– self-defense is an absolute defense, if believed, to the offense they convicted him of manslaughter. By the same token, the jury apparently was hesitant to condone the way the police investigated this case and chose to execute the search warrant.

I think the jury also clearly rejected the claim that Frederick was intentionally trying to kill someone he knew to be a cop. He did something reckless that got a cop killed, but it’s not like he was trying to do that. It’s kind of like he drove too fast through an intersection and accidentally struck a cop directing traffic. He probably wouldn’t get a murder conviction for that either.

A modest suggestion: if the police work in the case was less than optimal, it can hardly excuse the Tidewater Toker, who had no justification to fire a shotgun at a Chesapeake police officer.

Yes, but one of the things both Tom and the blogging cop are both glossing over is that Ryan Frederick did not get a walk on the shooting. He’s been sentenced to 10 years in prison on the manslaughter conviction. He’s going to pay for the death of officer Shivers. He’s just not going to pay with his life.

That neither “side” is entirely happy probably means the jury got it just about right.

Could be. Press accounts of the details of shootings are always sketchy, but it sounds like Frederick shot at someone without identifying his target properly as a threat. If so, the resulting verdict sounds reasonable.

By the way, the fascist Nazi drug cop who “got his ass killed” was Jerrod Shivers, a Navy vet and a decorated police officer with a wife and three children.

Hey Tom, I think calling Officer Shivers a “fascist Nazi” is uncalled for, and you should apologize. At least, I assume that you think he’s a “fascist Nazi” since I sure as hell didn’t call him that.

Officer Shivers is yet another casualty of our stupid war on drugs, and although he was part of the police operation that initiated this violent mess, it’s unfair to hold him responsible. He was just doing his job. If the Chesapeake police department hadn’t gotten it into their head to conduct an armed home invasion to nab a guy growing a few pot plants, none of this would have happened. Ryan Frederick wouldn’t be in jail, and officer Jerrod Shivers would still be alive and taking care of his family.

May he rest in peace.

On this we agree.

A Response to Scott’s Comments on the Frederick Conviction

A police officer named Scott in Hampton Roads has this to say about the Ryan Frederick verdict:

Ryan Frederick will forever be known as a cop killer.  He shot and killed Detective Jerrod Shivers in January 2008 while the Chesapeake Police Department was serving a search warrant at his house.  He is a cold blooded killer.

Our justice system, however, has seen fit to convict this…  Frederick of Manslaughter and recommended a sentence of 10 years, the maximum.  Frederick faced capital murder.

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury?  You have FAILED MISERABLY.  You have failed the family of Detective Shivers, police officers, the City of Chesapeake, Commonwealth of Virginia and this nation.  Failed.  Failures each and every one of you.

Scott, you just don’t get it. Frederick was convicted of manslaughter because that is what he did.

Yes, Frederick killed a cop. That’s undisputed. But there is no reason to believe he intended to kill a cop at the time he pulled the trigger. The only testimony that disputes this comes from a bunch of snitches.

(Here’s a quick test for any police officer who claims the snitches were credible: If you were interviewing one of these guys at the police station, and he asked you if he could examine your duty pistol—hold your loaded gun in his hands for just a minute—would you let him? If not, if you’re not willing to let him have a deadly weapon, then you damned well shouldn’t let them kill Frederick with their words.)

According to the jury, Frederick behaved stupidly—he shot without identifying his target—and Jerrod Shivers is dead. It was a tragic mistake, but a mistake he should have been able to avoid. And for that mistake, he will lose 10 years of his freedom.

The next time you need police, please be sure to tell them you were on the Frederick jury.  While that is an emotional statement, I do know that no matter what, the officers will still be professional.  But I bet it made you stop and think didn’t it?

Just like all the people who have voted in the polls on PilotOnline.  Voting for acquittal.  The next time YOU need police, be sure to tell them you think that Frederick should have been let off for killing a cop.

Alright Scott, here’s something for you to think about: All this happened because Ryan Frederick was suspected of growing marijuana, a crime which has no victims. The next time you or your police buddies decide to do an armed home invasion because you think there might be evil plants inside, remember that there are hundreds of thousands of potential jurors out here who won’t mind too much if you get your ass killed. Maybe that will make you stop and think about what you’re doing.

If the tables were turned, and it was a cop who shot blindly through a door, killing a civilian, I wonder how that would have turned out at a trial?

Well, Sgt. Joseph Chavalia of the Lima, Ohio SWAT team was on a raid when he heard other members of his SWAT team firing at a dog on the floor below. He misinterpred this as gunfire coming from a nearby room and fired into the room blindly, killing an unarmed woman named Tarika Wilson and mutilating her infant son’s hand. Officer Chavalia was acquitted.

Even if he’d been convicted, he wouldn’t have had to do more than eight months in jail because the prosecutor only filed misdemeanor charges. Once released, Chavalia could have gone right back onto the SWAT team.

Then there are the three Atlanta police officers—Gregg Junnier, Jason R. Smith, and Arthur Bruce Tesler—who stole drug evidence from one of their cases and planted the drugs on a suspected drug dealer in order to coerce him into giving them information about other drug dealers. He pointed out a house where he claimed to have bought drugs. The officers then used that information plus a few lies to get a no-knock search warrant.

The house turned out to belong to 92-year old Kathryn Johnston, who was a grandmother, not a drug dealer.

The crooked cops botched the no-knock entry, giving Johnston just enough time to get her gun to defend herself against what she must have assumed were a bunch of thugs breaking down her door. The police shot her to death (wounding each other in the panic fire) and then, finding no drugs, they tried planting some to frame her.

Officers Junnier, Smith, and Tesler were convicted, but only one of them got a sentence as long as Frederick’s, and with good behavior he’ll be out sooner.

So, since you asked, if “the tables were turned” and a cop shot blindly through a door and killed someone, I would expect the blue wall of silence to close comfortably around him. He’d get a light sentence. Assuming it even reached the trial stage.

About Joel Rosenberg

Joel Rosenberg has been a co-blogger here on Windypundit for a few months, so I think it’s time to give him an “About” page. I asked him if he wanted to write it, but he told me to write it myself. So I did.

Actually, the page is not so much about Joel as it is about my attempt to write something about Joel. I’ve managed to turn his “About” page into yet another post about me. I think he deserves that for being too lazy to write it himself.

Anyway, here it is, the “About Joel Rosenberg” page [revised 2013]. I’ll put the link in the sidebar when I’ve heard what Joel has to say about it’s accuracy…especially about those years he spent in Afghanistan smuggling heroin and guns for the mujahideen. (Just making sure he reads it.)

Thinking About the Stimulus: Spending

In the two previous posts in my amateur exploration of the stimulus (GDP, and then Recession), I explained what a recession is and what many economists think causes one. Now I’m going to try to explain my understanding of what a solution has to do, and why some people think a stimulus package is a good idea.

(This series of posts is my first attempt to write anything about macroeconomics, so if I’ve screwed this up, let me know in the comments.)

The problem, as you may remember, is that the population has a whole is trying to save money and is therefore not spending any. This reduction in aggregate demand leads to a decline in production and therefore in employment, causing much misery.

(There are some other theories about how recessions happen, but this theory is the one that seems to be behind the current stimulus package.)

The solution, in general, is to find a way to push aggregate demand back up to the normal level. This will happen naturally as struggling people and firms bid down wages and prices. With the same amount of money chasing lower priced production, consumption will eventually rise again.

But “eventually” is a long time. Is there something we can do to speed things up?

The best solution would be to have the CIA fire up their mind control machines and force all Americans to increase their consumption purchases back to the level they would have consumed at if there wasn’t a recession. Since everyone’s spending will support everyone else’s income, we should skate right over the recession.

There are two problems with this approach. First, there’s no such thing as CIA mind control (or so they told me to say). Second, people should only resume normal consumption to the extent that they reduced consumption due to fear of a systemic economic problem. To the extent that people reduced consumption due to fear of an actual personal economic problem—losing a big client, working on a product that has gone out of style, getting too old to star in porno films, etc.—they should continue the prudent path of reducing their consumption. This second problem also affects every other approach we will explore.

If we can’t use CIA mind control to force consumers to spend more, perhaps we can simply persuade them, either by talking up the economy or by directly asking people to consume more. I’m pretty sure that President George W. Bush had this in mind when shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attack he clumsily urged Americans to “go shopping.”

It seems doubtful that talking up the economy will actually work. When an elected official or one of his minions starts talking about how great things are, we tend to assume that he’s just campaigning for re-election.

On the other hand, we seem to respond fairly predictably to fear, so I think our leaders can really hurt the economy by talking it down. It can’t have helped consumer confidence in their economic future when Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson practically wet himself over the bank crisis.

If we can’t force people to spend more, and we can’t talk them into it, maybe we can trick them into it by making them feel richer. Crank up the presses at the Bureau of Printing and Engraving, print up $1 trillion in hundred-dollar bills, and send about $3000 in cold hard cash to every man, woman, and child in America.

It won’t make anyone any richer—printed money has no intrinsic value, and printing a lot of it has no immediate effect on GDP—but maybe it will make people feel richer. They’ll become more free with their money and buy more stuff, aggregate demand will rise, and people will go back to work to produce all the stuff we’re buying. The recession will be over.

With a few tweaks, this is actually the first workable idea I’ve described. In fact, we already have the Federal Reserve working on it. Rather than mailing out packages of cash, the Fed manipulates the money supply through large-scale transactions in goverment securities, loans to member banks, and adjustments to certain banking regulations, with the goal of driving down the interest rates banks charge each other for short-term loans of cash. This has the same effect on the money supply as sending out piles of cash, but it’s far easier to do.

In fact, the Federal Reserve has been doing this for decades, lowering interest rates to fend off a recession, and then raising them to fend off crippling levels of inflation. (Increasing the money supply doesn’t directly increase GDP, so if there’s more money chasing after the same amount of stuff, it drives up prices.)

The problem is, the Fed has nowhere to go. The current target interest rate is essentially 0%, meaning the Fed is happily pumping up the money supply whenever it can. This has never happened before. Clearly, while manipulating the money supply—monetary policy—is a workable idea, it’s not enough to fend off the current recession.

(Some people think the real problem is that having the Federal Reserve manipulate the money supply is not a workable idea, and that any appearance of success is just blind luck. This seems unlikely to me, but it’s not something I’m confident about.)

The failure of the Fed to fix the problem with monetary policy leads us to reconsider one of the ideas I mentioned earlier: Forcing people to spend money.

The good news is that even the crazy people in Washington realize they can’t create a Department of Spending to send out men with guns to force us all to spend money. The bad news is that they don’t need to. They have the IRS.

Recall my line diagram:

Stimlus-GDP-Recession.gif

Instead of encouraging us to spend more money, the government can simply take the money from us and spend it directly. If we won’t push our spending up from the red line to the blue line, they’ll take our money and do the necessary spending on our behalf.

This doesn’t require quite as much spending as you’d think, because the same multiplier effect that helped speed the crash will also help with the recovery. The people who benefit directly from the government spending will go on to spend some of the money they receive, which will add to somebody else’s income, who will go on to spend more money, and so on. This allows a relatively small amount of spending to make a difference.

The multiplier effect also adds a complication, because different ways of spending the money will likely have different multipliers. Pundits are discussing whether government spending has a better multiplier than private spending, whether poor people have a better multiplier than wealthier people, and whether you get a better multiplier from one quick burst of spending or from a long-term spending program.

Next: Problems with the stimulus.

Shooting, Scanning, Geeking, Modeling

Too busy to write much, but here are a few random shots around the web:

  • Radley Balko has a way with headlines. The whole post is worth reading.
  • When you go through the TSA checkpoints at some airports, body image scanners can now check you for weapons…and see you naked through your clothes. If we put up with this just to fly a plane, is there any limit to how much the government can demand to invade our privacy?
  • If you’re a computer geek, you’ll probably appeciate this. If you’re geeky enough to understand what SQL injection is, you’ll laugh at this. If you’re a super-geek with knowledge of non-discretionary computer security standards and covert channels, you’ll gape in wonder at this.
  • To balance out the computer geekiness, here are a few amateur model portfolios that came up at random: AmyLeslie, and Bunny.

I’ll try to post something I actually wrote a little later. Take that as a promise or a threat.

Apple’s Knowledge Navigator – 1987

I first saw this technology concept video about 20 years ago at a presentation at the National Center for Supercomputer Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Part of NCSA’s mission was to explore personal computing applications that required supercomputer-level processing at the time, but which would make sense in the future when everyone has a supercomputer on their desk.

I vaguely remember my impressions at the time:

  • I was skeptical about the voice recognition and natural-language in the interface. That seemed like an awful hard thing to do back then, and it still seems pretty hard to do. Modern voice recognition is a lot better, but it’s still hard to get a computer to understand the structure of natural languages.
  • I was also skeptical about the document searching capability shown in the video. I wouldn’t have thought it was possible to do useful searches of millions of documents without natural language processing to understand what the documents were about, but it turns out you can do a useful amount of information retrieval using relatively simple keyword algorithms. We even have some form of the video’s query completion.
  • I thought the talking-head to represent the computer was excessive and pointless. I think the world-wide hatred for Microsoft’s “Clippy” proves I was right.
  • I thought the streaming video conferencing was excessive too. I was mostly wrong about that. The technology is well within reach, and we could have it whenever we want, but we don’t seem to want it very much. Phone calls are intrusive enough without having to worry about how we look.

The most interesting part for me was the computing technology behind the real-time climate simulation. The NCSA had one of the most powerful computers available—a multi-million dollar liquid-cooled Cray-2 supercomputer—and it would take thousands of them running in parallel to perform that kind of climate simulation at the speed shown in the video.

The capability shown in the video implied some sort of computing utility—the term “grid computing” would later become fashionable—that could quickly and cheaply provide massive amounts of computing from a shared resource pool, much the same way you can quickly grab a few kilowatts of electricity off the power grid whenever you need it.

We are tantalizingly close to reality here:

  • Making some rough assumptions about relative computing power and speed two decades ago and now, think I could rent the modern equivalent of 1000 Cray-2 computers from the Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud service for about $40/hour. It’s not quite like the video yet because it would take about 10 minutes to bring them all online and get them running a particular program.
  • Every time you do a Google search, you probably grab that much computing power for the split-second it takes to do the search. Google’s datacenter has their search software pre-installed on pre-provisioned hardware, so you couldn’t do that with an arbitrary computer program of your own design like in the video.
  • A 3D graphics gaming card for a personal computer uses specialized graphics processing units. Although optimized for shading computer-generated images, modern GPUs are becoming complex enough to perform general purpose computing. A top-end gaming card for under $500 is probably comparable to hundreds of Cray-2 computers for solving certain specialized problems.

It won’t be much longer.

I found this video at Google Blogoscoped, which also has some interesting examples of more recent concept videos from other companies.

Manufacturing Guilt in Louisiana

The amazing Radley Balko has just posted a story he uncovered about a couple of forensic experts working on a case for the state of Lousiana who apparently mutiliated a child’s corpse in order to frame a man for murder.

Really. There’s video. The images are disturbing.

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