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O.J. Nostalgia

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Last night, I watched a TV special recounting the O.J. Simpson Murder Case.  Those two people he killed were killed twenty years ago yesterday and an awful lot in this country changed because of that.  One thing that hasn't changed is that there are still absolutely no suspects or even semi-credible theories as to who dunnit if he didn't.

The documentary was composed of news footage offered without comment…or any visible agenda in the selection or editing.  Watching all that tape now, I was struck by how flimsy the case for Simpson was from Day One.  I was also fascinated by the video of people who celebrated when he was acquitted.  They were mostly black and I absolutely understand the joy you might have over such a verdict if you believed that the legal system in this country is rigged against People of Color.  I also understand how you could believe that.  I would love to know how many of those folks really thought he was innocent and if any still do.  I seem to recall some of the jurors later admitting they now had doubts and at least one declaring, "He probably did it but we were supposed to judge the case put before us and that case was not proven."

I started to write a piece for the blog here today about all this, then realized I already did.  Here's what I wrote here in 2010

Today marks fifteen years since O.J. Simpson was found Not Guilty of two murders that most of us think he committed. There's no doubt whatsoever in my mind. I got hooked on the case and read most of the books and watched most of the shows, though my mind has since jettisoned much of what I learned. I have a terrific memory but every so often, it thinks the way you do when you go to your Public Storage locker and you look at some crates and go, "Why am I saving that crap?" And out it goes. I'm kinda fascinated by how little I now recall of a story that I used to know so well, I could informally but authoritatively debate it at length with friends. I don't think I could have some of those debates today…but I do remember vividly winning every argument with someone who thought O.J. hadn't done it. My opponents didn't always admit I was right, of course…but you could tell they knew.

The folks who didn't think Simpson had hacked two human beings to death generally didn't know much about the case and 0% of them had an alternate theory supported by any evidence whatsoever. You'd say to them, "Well, if he didn't do it, who did?" And they'd mutter something about, well, maybe it was Colombian Drug Lords. Any evidence of that? Well, no. At the time of Simpson's acquittal, some of his lawyers and defenders promised a huge book would be forthcoming that would tell what really happened, who really killed Nicole and Ron.

You seen that book? Me neither and it's been fifteen years.

It isn't just that no one involved in the case can prove who really killed them if it wasn't Simpson. It's that no one involved in the case seems to be able to even make up a possible scenario as to who killed them if it wasn't Simpson. They can't even fabricate a story that sounds remotely plausible and isn't disproven by half the evidence. At least with the Kennedy Assassination, those who didn't want to accept the official explanation managed to offer some alternate names and narratives. I've never even heard anyone who believes the kind of vague, evidence-deprived theories that Simpson himself has put out there.

I do understand how some people just plain don't want to believe what everyone else believes. Questioning the Conventional Wisdom is usually a good thing…but refusing to ever believe the Conventional Wisdom just because others do is a great way to be wrong a lot of the time. I have this friend who buys into every single conspiracy theory about everything. It's automatic. I've said to her, "You know, if I pulled out a gun right now and shot you and you saw me do it and you survived…and if the police came and asked who'd shot you, you'd say, 'It could have been anyone except Mark Evanier!'" Some of those who don't think O.J. dunnit are in that category. Some also have such a deep, perhaps justified distrust of police that they automatically assume all arrests are false and all evidence is fabricated. And you also have those who sort of like the idea of a black guy getting away with murder and seeing so many white folks sputter about the injustice. These are the "taste of your own medicine" people.

I've talked to a number of these people, though not lately. There was a time I couldn't go to a party or other gathering without meeting one and having the subject erupt. I also met a number of people who took the wishy-washy, safe-from-all-directions position. They thought O.J. did it but that the police framed him anyway, either because they knew he'd done it and wanted to enhance the case…or because they (wrongly) didn't think he did it and just wanted to nail that uppity you-know-what. For what little it's now worth, I came to the conclusion that none of that happened except the part about Simpson killing those two people. I think all of the evidence of "framing" was either out of the whole cloth or built on some innocent mistake made by the police or prosecutors. And I suspect that if you turned a bright-enough spotlight on most major arrests in this country, you could find similar mistakes.

Something changed in this country the morning of the verdicts. We suddenly had a lot less faith in our judicial system. Everyone did or should have. I mean, if you thought Simpson was guilty, then the system had failed because it let a double-murderer go off to play golf. If you thought he was innocent, then the system had failed in a different way. An innocent man had spent a long time behind bars and had to spend his life's savings to hire skilled-enough lawyers (lawyers you could never afford) to prove that innocence. It's interesting how some opinions on the Death Penalty have changed since then. Before that verdict, those who championed the frying of convicted murderers were fierce in their insistence that no innocent person had ever been executed in these United States. I think the Simpson verdict caused a lot of them to drop that argument from their arsenal. After all, if a murderer could be acquitted, that makes it pretty credible that an innocent guy could be convicted. The widespread use of DNA testing since then has further weakened the belief that anyone who's found guilty is undeniably guilty…and of course, there's that irony there. The Simpson case is where most people learned of DNA testing…and now they believe it even though the jury in the Simpson case didn't.

That morning fifteen years ago, I was having a brick patio built in my backyard. I made a deal with a contractor and he brought in a crew of gentlemen I suspect were all or mostly undocumented aliens. I can admit this because I'm unlikely to ever run for governor of California. They were the kind of men you see hanging around outside Home Depot or a Public Storage facility hoping to get a day's work. The contractor may have gotten them from one of those places.

I invited the crew in to watch the verdict when it was announced on TV. I thought they shouldn't miss that moment of history and I guess I was curious about their reaction, whichever way it went.

When Simpson was declared Not Guilty, they all kind of shrugged. They were grateful I'd let them see it but I don't think the actual verdict mattered much to them. One said, "That's good." And then he explained that his neighborhood had been decimated by rioting during the not-that-long-ago Rodney King verdict in Los Angeles. He was afraid that if Simpson was convicted, it would prompt another such riot but beyond that, he didn't care. None of them cared. None of them thought the courts and police were fair to people in their ethnic group and income level, undocumented or not. To them, Simpson wasn't even a minority. He was just another guy with more money and more success than any of them would ever see…and what happened in his world did not relate to theirs. They assumed the guy was guilty and that that's how The System processes a guilty guy who's rich 'n' famous.

I said something like, "Well, maybe this will wake some people up to the problem." I was the only one in the room who thought that was remotely possible. The workers all thanked me and went back to laying bricks.

I think they were wrong. I told you up above what I think did change. It hasn't necessarily trickled down from folks recognizing a problem to anyone actually fixing that problem…but I don't think we're so quick now to assume that when the police say "We got the guy" that they got the guy or that a jury verdict settles the question. I know I'm not.

Okay, now we're back in real time and I'll add one more thing.  Today, Orenthal James Simpson lives at the Lovelock Correctional Center near Reno, Nevada.  He's eligible for parole in 2017 and there's a "buzz" that he may get out then.  I hope not.  Not only would it be a miscarriage of justice for that guy to be roaming the streets and the golf courses again but I'm just plain sick of him.  I don't even want to think about him again until the 25th anniversary…and then only for long enough to consider what, if anything, has changed in the world.  That's about all he's good for.  I do know that there still won't be an alternate theory of who killed those people if he didn't.

Birther the Blues

John McCain, doing a feeble impression of the old and reasonable John McCain, says that Barack Obama's name will definitely appear on the ballot in Arizona. He's stating the obvious but it's nice to hear him say it.

David Weigel explains about all the "Birther" lawsuits and beliefs. By the way, the McCain campaign lawyer he quotes in there, Trevor Potter, is the gent you've seen occasionally on The Colbert Report advising Stephen Colbert about his Super PAC.

While we're on this subject: Dennis Donohoe wrote me to say…

I also am confused by what the Arizona Secretary of State is doing. However, I beg to differ when you say that people who questioned Bush's victory over Gore in Florida have dropped the matter. Many public figures (Democrats) still complain about and question the results of that election. I also seem to recall you referring to Bush's "alleged" victory over Gore. However, it may have been a joke or my memory may be bad. Just this past weekend we had a barbecue with friends and one of them brought up the Florida issue and still didn't accept that Bush had won and clearly has not dropped the matter.

You're right. There are Democrats who still moan about Bush/Gore but it's not the mainstream. You never saw Democratic leaders fanning the flames to anger their base the way many elected Republicans still do about Obama's citizenship. I also think there's more to complain about there, not about the count itself but about five Supreme Court Justices who many of us think threw the law and logic aside to just install the guy they wanted.

My own feeling for what it's worth is that we do a sloppy job of counting votes in this country. The banking system would collapse if it was as bad at counting your money as the election system is at counting your vote. I don't think people are stuffing ballot boxes. I think the folks opening them are doing a clumsy job at tallying what's in them. That bothers me as does this mindset of "If we won, the election was fair." I didn't see one Republican who said, "I'm glad Bush won but I'm real uncomfortable with how the counting was done…and how it was stopped."

But getting back to what I said: I should have remembered the Internet Rule that I made up long ago, which is that you need to avoid most absolute statements and stick in a "most" or other qualifier. If I write here that "No one in the world believes that John Quincy Adams is alive and running an Arby's on the planet Neptune," I'll eventually hear from someone who'll write, "That's not so. My uncle believes he has proof of that!" I should have just said that Democrats were more accepting of the loss to Bush than Republicans have been of the loss to Obama.

Birth Marks

This is another one of those "I don't get this" matters. The Secretary of State in Arizona, a man named Ken Bennett, is now saying he might not allow the name of Barack Obama on the ballot in the upcoming presidential election; not unless he has some solid proof that Obama was indeed born where he says he was born. I don't get why he's making a public issue of this.

Bennett says he's not a "birther." Well, of course not. He can't afford to be because he's going to have to accept proof.

We all know who the birthers are. They're people who desperately want to believe that Barack Obama was never really President of the United States. They're not like those of us who didn't like George W. Bush. We liked the idea of Bush not getting a second term but we only briefly indulged our fantasy that proof would come out that Gore had gotten more votes in Florida. Once it was apparent that no such proof would be forthcoming — not that Bush had won fairly but that it couldn't be proven he had — we dropped the matter. Birthers are still demanding recounts of the recounts of the recounts.

Birthers never give up. No matter what proof comes out that indicates Obama was born where he says he was born, they just say "It's an obvious forgery" and it emboldens them to demand something else they can claim is fake. They demand Obama play their game while at the same time fixing the rules so he can never prove what they demand he prove.

Mr. Bennett doesn't have that luxury. At some point, his opposite number in Hawaii is going to send him the kind of affirmation that Secretaries of State always accept from each other. He'll be told Hawaii stands behind Obama's birth certificate and what's Bennett going to do then? Challenge the right of Hawaii to verify its own documents? Argue that the Secretary of State there really isn't the Secretary of State there?

So what I don't get is why he went public with his "Obama might not be on the ballot" thing. He may earn some points from the Birthers in his state today but before long, he's going to disappoint them and be condemned as a sell-out who's joined the conspiracy to keep a Kommie Kenyan in the White House. Not one of them is going to say, "Well, I guess if Ken Bennett accepts Hawaii's word for it, we ought to."

Maybe we oughta start a movement claiming that Ken Bennett isn't eligible to be Secretary of State. And whatever proof he provides of birthplace or residency, we'll just say it was obviously created last Tuesday in Photoshop…probably by the same group that's trying to convince us that Jan Brewer is governor there.

Recommended Reading

Mitt Romney's plan for Medicare is vague, probably deliberately so. The less you divulge of a plan some people won't like, the less likely you are to lose the votes of those people.

Patrick Caldwell summarizes what we know of it. It pretty much comes down to privatizing the system so that the government-run system loses strength and the funding it would get goes to privately-owned, for-profit insurance plans. And the elderly would have to pay a lot more out of their own pockets to get comparable care and coverage. Okay, so Grandma might not be able to afford all her prescriptions but we do have to help the insurance companies make more money and keep taxes low for the wealthy.

Ellen Twain

I didn't think to mention one nice thing about Ellen DeGeneres getting that Mark Twain Award: It reminds us that groups like that so-called "One Million Moms" can stomp their considerably-less-than-two-million feet and denounce someone as a bad person…and fail spectacularly to hurt that person. They demanded J.C. Penney fire her as spokesperson. J.C. Penney said no. J.C. Penney sales went up. One Million Moms crawled away from a confrontation that proved how little power they had. And now Ellen's receiving one of the biggest honors she could possibly receive. I still think they should be honoring folks who have a larger body of work but it never hurts to point out that groups like that are all bark and no bite…unless someone panics at the barking.

Innocence Lost

So did Texas execute an innocent man despite clear-cut evidence that he was innocent? Some folks at Columbia University think they have solid proof that Carlos DeLuna, who died via lethal injection in 1989, was the wrong guy. Why do I have the feeling this will get swept under the rug and never properly addressed?

Recommended Reading

Norm Ornstein used to be one of those talking heads you saw all the time on TV newstalk shows, especially the Sunday morning kind. Now, they don't want him.

What did he do? Well, it might be this book he co-authored that advances the theory that contrary to the frequent consensus on those shows, it is not just a matter of "Both parties are to blame for our problems." Ornstein and his collaborator Thomas Mann have been arguing that the Republican Party is more to blame and is in doing a great many destructive things to America. And now Ornstein can't get on CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN or some of the others to say this.

Hmm. If he was on all those channels a lot, some would say it was proof of Liberal Bias and how the mainstream media is controlled by Democrats. What does it indicate if they're not welcoming him to their guest chairs?

Recommended Reading

Here's a long portrait of Arizona's Joe Arpaio, the self-described "America's Toughest Sheriff." In his case, "tough" seems to include a heavy dose of racism and a presumption that anyone who gets arrested for anything is surely guilty and should be treated like dirt. The whole thing is interesting if not appalling but I was especially struck by this…

Meals [for prisoners] were cut to two a day, and Arpaio got the cost down, he says, to thirty cents per meal. "It costs more to feed the dogs than it does the inmates," he told me. Jail, Arpaio likes to say, is not a spa — it's punishment. He wants inmates whose keenest wish is never to get locked up again. He limits their television, he told me, to the Weather Channel, C-SPAN, and, just to aggravate their hunger, the Food Network. For a while, he showed them Newt Gingrich speeches.

The bad meals and physical abuse are bad enough. But don't the Gingrich speeches qualify as cruel and unusual punishment?

Recommended Reading

David Frum on what this election will be about. He thinks it's not the economy, stupid.

And hey, I haven't seen anybody mention this but is this the first U.S. Presidential Election — or at least the first in a very long time — when neither candidate of the major parties had any military experience whatsoever? A lot of voters who once thought you weren't a Good American or even a Good Human Being if you hadn't served are going to vote for a guy who didn't.

Today's Political Comment

These articles about Mitt Romney's alleged bullying annoy me. I want Romney to lose but I don't think anything that's dredged up that might cost him votes is fair game or even fair, period. Even assuming the past behavior is accurately described — which it may not be — people change. They outgrow past assholishness. If a long-ago anecdote reminds you so much of the current guy as to seem like a "life pattern," then all the evidence you need is the way the current guy is acting.

I do think Romney has what some call an "empathy problem." I don't get that he thinks government exists for much purpose beyond serving the needs of people like him. A question I would love to see someone put to him is this…

You've been around wealthy people and successful businessfolks all your life. How often do you see something that makes someone a lot of money…and while it may be legal, it shouldn't be because it's unethical and harms others?

I really don't know what he'd say. If he couldn't cite some examples, I'd think a lot less of him than I do now. If he could, and he sounded convincing when he said, "…and when I'm president, I'm going to do everything I can to fix that," I might have a much higher opinion of the man.

Recommended Reading

Todd S. Purdum on the joys of flip-flopping. There's not a lot wrong with a politician changing his or her mind as long as they acknowledge it's a change, explain why and don't bounce back and forth too often.

Today's Political Comment

We're hearing an awful lot about the Iowa Caucus given how little it ever has to do with determining who the nominee will be. If you put all the names of the candidates in a hat and drew one out while blindfolded, that name would be as likely to be the nominee as the person selected by the Iowa Caucus. In 2008, the Republican winner was Mike Huckabee while John McCain was tied for third. Gee…which one got his party's nomination?

That so much fuss is being made about this rather meaningless primary does not bode well for the future. We have a long way to go 'til Election Day. If they're making this much fuss over a meaningless part of the process, how much are we going to hear about the stuff that matters?

Recommended Reading

The National Transportation Safety Board has recommended that it be illegal to use a cell phone while driving. I don't believe such laws will ever be passed and if they were passed, I don't believe they would ever be effectively enforced. No one seems to be cracking down too much on folks who ignore the "hands free" laws. Anyway, my buddy Paul Harris makes a good case for why such a ban would be a bad idea.

And on Paul's site, I found a link to this article about how a notable TV infomercial con man has just been ordered to pay a $37.6 million dollar fine for bilking the public. Good.

Recommended Reading

Nate Silver discusses why Mitt Romney is sitting pretty. It's not that he's such a likely nominee as that the others are less likely.

Recommended Reading

In theory, a Conservative is someone who doesn't want change and a Liberal is someone who does. But as E.J. Dionne notes, it's a little backwards in the upcoming presidential election. The Republican candidates are all calling for a complete restructure of how our government operates and the way it relates to the citizens of this country. It's that Obama guy who is defending the way the U.S. traditionally functions.