Thoughts on the Bill Cosby trial

For those that missed it, the first criminal trial of Bill Cosby ended in a mistrial after the jury could not agree on a verdict. If you need to catch up: CW39, CNBC, PennLive, ABC News, Wikipedia. (This is by no means an exhaustive list.)

I haven’t said much about this trial, though I have been following it. It should be noted that the allegations go back to early 2004, and charges weren’t filed until 2015 December 15. That’s only a few weeks short of twelve years after the incident. The DA should have known going in that a mistrial due to a hung jury was at least a definite possibility. I would go as far as to say a mistrial due to a hung jury was more likely than not.

I despise rape, sexual assault, and similar crimes, and those that partake of them. However, I also believe that everyone is entitled to a fair trial and to their day in court when accused. I think the trial was fair, given what I heard about it. The defense called only one witness who testified very briefly; this kind of manuever usually means that the defense believes the prosecution did not prove its case. And apparently, to at least one of the twelve jurors, it did not.

The problems with a mistrial due to hung jury quite nearly equate to a defeat for both sides. The prosecution has to begin again with a new trial and the associated expense; the defendant hasn’t been exonerated by a verdict of not guilty, is still quite probably guilty in the eyes of some of the public, and worse, will probably have to face another trial on the same charges. The only time the defendant comes out ahead in a mistrial is if the prosecution decides not to proceed with a retrial. And, that most definitely is not what is going to happen here. From the CNBC story:

[District Attorney Kevin] Steele told the judge he intends to retry the case. He elaborated later at a press conference, saying Constand “deserves a verdict” on the charges. He said he was disappointed about the mistrial but insisted he has no doubts about the state’s case and that the trial had meaning for victims of sexual assault everywhere.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but it sounds a lot like DA Steele will keep retrying the case after each hung jury, until either Mr. Cosby dies, or public outrage reaches the point where DA Steele has no choice but to throw in the towel. Personally, I think DA Steele is missing a big huge hint from the outcome of this first trial. If the second time around also ends in a hung jury,it’s unlikely any jury is going to agree one way or the other. Also, there’s some possibility that a future jury may issue a “not guilty” verdict purely out of spite for DA Steele wasting courtroom time if this case is tried, say, four or more times. The victims won’t like that, of course, but that could be the way the ball bounces. As a criminal case, it is rife with problems: it is based primarily on civil court depositions from around 2005, with one corroborating witness (the others were disallowed by the judge), and very little if any physical evidence. The credibility of Ms. Constand’s memory regarding the events of over a decade ago is probably going to be questioned by at least one juror, if not all twelve jurors on the panel.

This should also be noted, from the Wikipedia article:

In July 2015, after portions of the sealed deposition were released, Cosby released a statement stating that the “only reason” he settled [the civil lawsuit filed by Andrea Constand] “was because it would have been embarrassing in those days to put all those women on the stand, and his family had no clue.”

Put another way, Mr. Cosby settled the lawsuit from Ms. Constand to put it behind him and not have to deal with months if not years of negative publicity. We don’t know how much he paid thanks to the confidentiality agreement, but I would imagine it wasn’t cheap. The settlement of a lawsuit in favor of the plaintiff(s) should not necessarily be interpreted as an admission of guilt by the defendant(s). (However, there are exceptions, particularly cases where a bunch of small settlements can be seen as a defendant’s knowledge of wrongdoing and a refusal to change the tortious behavior, such as Liebeck v. McDonald’s Restaurants more commonly known as the “McDonald’s hot coffee” case.) There are similarities here between the lawsuits faced by Mr. Cosby and those faced by the late Michael Jackson.

The main difference between Mr. Jackson’s legal problems and Mr. Cosby’s is that the former’s criminal charges were resolved on the first trial with an acquittal. Mr. Jackson was also much younger and much farther from the expected end of his life at the time of the criminal trial (though he would leave us way too soon only four years later).

Mr. Jackson also faced and settled a civil suit before he would face criminal charges, and at least from my observations at the time (the suit was settled on 1994 January 1) it was seen as an admission of guilt, which I think is an inaccurate characterization. Mr. Jackson had a lot more to lose from letting the trial drag on in the early to mid-1990s than Mr. Cosby did in 2005, so it’s quite likely he settled the suit just to put a cap on the bad PR he was getting.

So it comes down to this: I hope this is the only hung jury for this case. I hope the next trial ends in an actual verdict, either guilty or not guilty. The circumstances as I see them lean towards an acquittal being the more likely of the two outcomes, simply because of the lack of evidence and the length of time that went by between the indictment and the alleged crime. In addition, I really don’t see what good it’s going to do to send Mr. Cosby to prison at this stage in his life. Within 2 to 3 years of the alleged crime, it would have made at least some sense; in a few weeks Mr. Cosby turns 80. At the trial, the court had to make accommodations for Mr. Cosby because he’s now legally blind. A victory is largely symbolic.

After this first trial ended in a hung jury, it sure smells like they are kicking Mr. Cosby while he’s down. And that’s something I can’t just sit by and watch without saying anything. I say this as someone who is not a particularly strong fan of his work. (The only show of Mr. Cosby’s that I really got into was the revival of You Bet Your Life which lasted around a year in 1992-1993. I’ve seen bits and pieces of The Cosby Show and Fat Albert, but not enough to really form an opinion of either.)

I don’t know what’s worse: drug-induced rape, or trying to sell a rape charge to a jury of twelve over a decade after the incident allegedly happened with very little evidence. Ms. Constand filed the civil suit first; if there had been enough for a criminal case then, why wasn’t one pursued then? If there wasn’t enough for a criminal case then, why does DA Steele think there is now?

META: A few notes about the lack of posts and recent events

I know there have not been a lot of posts here given what has been going on recently. The reality is that things have been happening faster than I can get blog posts up about my take on them. I do have a video file of the Comey testimony which I will be watching shortly and I will have at least a brief post up about it soon.

I am aware of news items such as the baseball practice shooting, the Bill Cosby trial, the Michelle Carter trial, etc. I will try to get posts together on at least some of these by next Tuesday. Yes, this means I will probably be posting something over the weekend, something I traditionally have tried to avoid (at least in the past 2-3 years anyway; I didn’t particularly try to avoid weekend posts in the earlier days).

Do remember that the reason for a lack of a post may be that I don’t have anything “post-worthy” to say on a given story when it first breaks. Particularly in the case of the Bill Cosby trial, it’s still a developing story (as of this moment, the jury is either still deliberating or has wrapped up deliberations for the weekend). A jury taking several days to deliberate on a major criminal case is somewhat newsworthy, but at the same time provides no real opportunity for commentary until the judge either gives up and declares a mistrial or a verdict comes out.

Besides the obvious stories, I have several other posts planned before the month is over. I may not get to all of them before the end of the month but I will do my best. It is my goal to keep this blog active and current, but sometimes I will run a few days behind, either because a story is still developing or, as happened most recently, personal illness (which I appear to have mostly recovered from).

As always, if you like a post I’ve written, share it. That’s the number one way you can help me out: spread the word.

On the US withdrawal from the Paris Accord

I wanted to get this up a bit sooner, but other committments and personal illness made that impossible. This is still being talked about and will undoubtedly still be a major topic for months if not years to come.

CBS News recently reported on DJT’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Accord as our president.

The US is now on the same side of the agreement as Syria and Nicaragua. Nicaragua has a decent reason for not being part of the Paris Accord: they feel the agreement is not aggressive enough. There’s at least some honor in that. Syria also has a pretty good excuse: they are dealing with a civil war right now, so yeah, it’s hard to blame them for putting environmental issues a bit further down the list.

So, the United States of America not only the only country in the world to pull out of the Paris Accord after initially agreeing to be part of it, but also the only country to do so because of a change of administration, and specifically because of a change in the ruling political party. Say what bad things you will about Hillary Clinton, but I can assure you she would not have done this. Of course, I know Bernie Sanders wouldn’t have done something so selfish and short-sighted. Withdrawing from the Paris Accord is a bad move for America; I don’t care what DJT says.

So why did DJT pull the US out of the Paris Accord?

If you don’t feel like watching/listening to the entire 33 minute, 26 second video, NPR also has an annotated transcript of the speech. You might want to look at the transcript anyway because NPR provides some important non-obvious context to some of the things DJT says. I’ll quote a couple of them here as they are real eye-openers:

DJT: I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.

Jessica Taylor, NPR: Allegheny County, which encompasses Pittsburgh, actually voted for Hillary Clinton in November […] [a]nd the city itself voted for Clinton by about 80 percent. […]

The Pittsburgh mayor also said on Twitter that even though Trump is withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, the city will continue to follow the guidelines set forth in it.

[Pittsburgh Mayor Bill] Peduto is not the only one, either […] Those reaffirming their commitment to the Paris Agreement include the mayors of Los Angeles, Boston, New York, Chicago, Houston, Seattle, Philadelphia and Atlanta.

Scott Detrow, NPR: [Due to the area’s recent boom in natural gas drilling,] sticking to the Paris accord — and the Environmental Protection Agency regulations that the Obama administration set up to reach its Paris goals — would very likely have helped, not hurt, Pittsburgh.

And later on:

DJT: It is time to put Youngstown, Ohio; Detroit, Mich.; and Pittsburgh, Pa.; along with many many other locations in our country, before Paris, France. It is time to make America great again.

Jessica Taylor, NPR: Mahoning County, Ohio (which includes Youngstown), narrowly voted for Clinton, 49.8 percent to 46.8 percent. Wayne County, Mich. (Detroit), went heavily for Clinton over Trump, nearly 66.8 percent to 29.5 percent.

While I can get that DJT is naming these cities figuratively, the reality of it is, there are a lot of major cities where Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. Hillary Clinton also won the national popular vote, yet the Electoral College system gave us DJT instead, and arguably failed to do its job as the last-ditch effort to keep totally unqualified people like DJT out of the White House. DJT is also dead wrong in the actual effect of the Paris Accord on Pittsburgh, which shows just how out of touch he is with what’s going on in this country.

More from the NPR transcript:

DJT: Our tax bill is moving along in Congress, and I believe it’s doing very well.

Danielle Kurtzieben, NPR: This bill has not yet been introduced.

Yeah, nice leadership, DJT. You just told a flat-out lie to the American people. It’s kind of like saying I’m “moving along” on a trip, say, back to Columbus, Ohio, when I haven’t even bought bus tickets or a hotel room yet. (For a variety of reasons, I don’t fly right now.) Sure, I’d like to do a lot more travel at least around the US if not beyond, but I’m not going to say I’m “moving along” on plans to take a trip when the very first step hasn’t been taken.

Having our president tell flat-out lies like this gives the kids in school today the idea that it’s okay to lie. Dishonesty is about as un-American as you can get, at least according to the American values I was taught. You talk so damn much about “mak[ing] America great again?” If you really do want to make America great again, start by being honest and leading by example. Oh, and learn the results of the last election, and when you pull city names out of a hat for rhetorical purposes, try not to name cities that did not in fact have a majority vote in your favor. (Yeah, I know, there won’t be too many left. That’s kind of the point.)

I could probably go on and on, but there is something else that should be noted: getting us into the Paris Accord was one of Barack Obama’s most prized accomplishments, and DJT sees the withdrawal as a largely symbolic move to reverse part of Obama’s legacy. This is perhaps the most pathetic and most outrageous reason to screw up the reputation of the entire country of the United States of America.

Over the line: Bill Maher’s racist gaffe on “Real Time”


As CW39.com (among many other outlets, I’m sure) reported recently, viewers of Bill Maher’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” show on HBO heard him use an almost universally offensive racial slur in a joking manner in an interview with Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska, who was on the show to promote his book.

From the story:

The two were discussing teenagers and maturity when Maher mentioned that adults dress up for Halloween in California. He then asked Sasse if people do that in Nebraska.

“It’s frowned upon. We don’t do that quite as much,” Sasse said.

“I’ve got to get to Nebraska more,” Maher replied.

“You’re welcome. We’d love to have you work in the fields with us,” the senator added.

“Work in the fields? Senator, I’m a house n****r,” Maher said.

Some audience members groaned while others laughed. Sasse briefly kept quiet.

“No, it’s a joke,” Maher said, breaking the silence.

The story goes on to mention the predictable outrage on Twitter, calling for Mr. Maher’s firing.

Senator Sasse, to his credit, apologized for just cringing and not speaking up in a series of tweets about the incident:

I totally get just being at a loss for words in the heat of the moment. It happens to the best of us, live TV or not. Nevertheless it does take a bit of courage to come out and say “this is what I should have said instead of just cringing” and I applaud Senator Sasse for his candor and courage in making these tweets.

Bill Maher has maintained full radio silence on Twitter, but CBS News, among other outlets, report Maher issued an apology. In that same story, HBO says they will remove the remark from subsequent airings of the show (presumably by blanking out the audio of at least the most offensive word).

So it looks like Mr. Maher keeps his show, despite making a rather grave mistake. And I’m okay with that, I’m not mad at HBO at all for choosing to keep Mr. Maher on the air for now. I think the apology addresses the issue, and as long as he doesn’t use a similar slur again going forward, I consider the issue resolved. There’s no need for him to lose his show over this, and for people to pressure HBO to take Real Time off the air smacks of overreach. If HBO management feels they need to edit out the offending word from reruns of the episode, that’s fine by me as well; in this particular instance, I would rather they avoid offending a potentially large section of their viewing audience yet again, than re-air the segment as is “just because.” (For the record, I am currently not a paying HBO subscriber; I do not even have my TV hooked up to cable at the moment.)

Oddly enough, I consider this latest gaffe much worse than the comments that essentially resulted in the cancellation or non-renewal of Politically Incorrect, Mr. Maher’s previous show on ABC. For those that don’t remember, it was on his 2001 September 17 show, six days after the terrorist attacks on NYC and the Pentagon, and a good seven years before I even started this blog. Quoting the CBS News article linked previously:

“We have been the cowards, lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly,” Maher said. “Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it’s not cowardly.”

While I can see how some people (in particular those in the military) would take offense at that, the worst thing about those remarks was the timing. If Mr. Maher had waited until at least early 2002 to say that, any offense would have been far more limited. I realize it’s much easier to say this in distant hindsight, when the emotions of the nation have long since dissipated. ABC may well have made the right decision for them given the political climate of the time, but it should be noted the person/people in charge at ABC didn’t even cancel the show right after the offending episode, but waited until the contract was up the following May (and it didn’t exactly work in Mr. Maher’s favor that ratings had been declining for a while, which I might add, is something that is much less of an issue with HBO).

The catch-22 facing a burrito shop in Portland

As the New York Post recently reported, a burrito shop in Portland, Oregon, was forced to close after being accused of cultural appropriation. Kooks Burritos, owned by Kali Wilgus and Liz “LC” Connelly, shuttered only a week after being featured in the local publication Willamette Week.

This article in the Portland Mercury gives some cause for concern, and if nothing else, highlights exactly why the phrase “intellecual property” should be avoided. Quoting the Mercury article:

So let’s recap the story thus far: These two white women went to Mexico, ate tacos, and then decided they would just take what the locals clearly didn’t want to give them. If that wasn’t bad enough, they decided to pack up all their stolen intellectual property and repackage it in one of the few places where such a business could plausibly work: Portland, Oregon.

One of the Facebook posts quoted in the New York Post article says it a bit differently:

How many of the people grumbling about these tortilla ladies just had lunch at Chipotle? When salsa outsells ketchup and Taco Bell serves two billion customers a year, policing imperialism by a couple of millennial taco stand owners seems to miss the point.

Ironically, the Portland women didn’t even learn the secret of their flakey flour tortillas from the Mexican women they met on vacation, who were understandably protective of their methods. One of the Portland women reverse-engineered her own tortilla recipe in her spare time.

The recipe is just as important as the method, and in fact, given the similarity to making pizza dough, could eventually have been stumbled across as well.

If we’re going to start shutting down restaurants in the name of cultural appropriation, there’s not going to be much left. Even so-called “American” cuisine has been inspired heavily from other cultures. Pizza was a meat-free dish as origially conceived and made by Italians; it’s no big surprise some hate us Americans because the first thing most of us do to pizza is put pepperoni on it.

Where the hell do we draw the line? Does Mexican food have to be watered down and screwed up to the point of Taco Bell to be acceptable? (For the record, I consider Taco Bell its own thing, I don’t call it Mexican food. The exception is I do tag Taco Bell locations as cuisine=mexican on OpenStreetMap, only because that’s the community-accepted norm, and the name tells the rest of the story.) Do the likes of Domino’s, Pizza Hut, and Little Caesar’s get a free pass or are they just as guilty of cultural appropriation of pizza as Kooks Burritos? How about Chipotle and Taco Cabana?

It’s not like Americans are the only ones to “borrow” food preparation techniques from other cultures. There’s a Greek style of pizza as well. The sandwich is British in origin, though you’d be hard-pressed to believe that given the prevalence of Subway, Quizno’s, and Blimpie throughout the US. Even the Wikipedia page linked previously shows the French “appropriating” the British sandwich (and sandwiches were a rather large section of the menu when I dined at La Madeline, a nominally French cuisine restaurant here in the US).

What it comes down to is something I was introduced to during a conversation on IRC called “identity politics”. I’m not the only one to find it absurd that activists would want a burrito shop closed down simply because it’s run by white women. Now, full disclosure here, I look just Latino enough that I probably wouldn’t get the outrage Kali and Liz did, at least until they realized my last name was anything but Hispanic. (It’s odd because I sure as hell don’t look Irish, either.) I have made no secret of the fact I identify as white/Caucasian. However, this isn’t about race or national origin to me. It’s a simple question of right and wrong. Note also that on Reddit, the Mexico subreddit takes much the same stance that I do, based on what I could gather from automatic transations.

Also, as you may have guessed from many of my previous entries, I lean left (liberal) and I realize the protest movement which shut down Kooks Burritos is also a left-wing establishment. This is one case where I believe that the left wing gets it wrong, and dare I say it, forcing a small business like Kooks Burritos to shut down is un-American (at least, according to the American values I was taught). The fact they are not railing against the likes of Chipotle and Taco Bell in the same breath speaks volumes to this effect.

I could see cause for legitimate outrage if Kali and Liz had set up shop in Mexico, just down the road where they had been thusly “inspired” by the local cuisine. I do think what they did blurs the moral and ethical lines a bit, but at the same time I’m not sure just what the alternative was for these women. Are the people who publicly expressed the outrage leading to the Kooks Burritos shutdown really expecting Kali and Liz to say something like “forget it, we’ll just make hamburgers”? (I’d say hot dogs, but I’m not sure if the same protest movement is going to require one to be of sufficient German origin. That, even though the hot dog as we serve it in the US has taken on its own uniquely American character. Whether or not the restaurants in the US have pulled a “Taco Bell” with the original German frankfurter is a matter for debate, I guess.)

I hope the women behind Kooks Burritos have a change of heart by the time I visit Portland, though I admit that appears unlikely right now. It’s really a shame I will probably never get to taste for myself and really get to the bottom of this.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a Chipotle bowl calling my name…