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Kafka in Vegas

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The blurb:

Fred Steese served more than 20 years in prison for the murder of a Vegas showman even though evidence in the prosecution’s files proved he didn’t do it. But when the truth came to light, he was offered a confounding deal known as an Alford plea. If he took it he could go free, but he’d remain a convicted killer.

Megan Rose reports in ProPublica:

FRED STEESE, Inmate No. 45595, often gazed at the 18-wheelers rumbling by the state prison on a desolate stretch of highway outside Las Vegas, yearning to be behind the wheel. Lying in his bunk in Cell Block A, Unit 7, he’d picture himself double-clutching down hills, filling out the logbook, expertly backing up as he made deliveries. Semis had been an obsession since he’d begun hitching rides with truckers between stints with foster families and in group homes. By 16 he’d stolen his first big rig. Now middle-aged, Steese treasured a commercial driver’s license manual, so well-used it was held together by tape.

As a lifer, however, he knew that even this modest ambition was out of reach. In 1992, a once famous trapeze artist who’d moved on to performing with a costumed poodle act on the Strip had been found murdered, stabbed dozens of times in his trailer on the outskirts of Las Vegas. Police found a prime suspect in Steese, a drifter with a record, who for a short time had been the victim’s lover and assistant, and who, after protesting that he was innocent, offered a confession.

But there was evidence Steese had been 670 miles away at the time — and prosecutors in Las Vegas didn’t share it. The prosecutors went on to win seats as state district court judges, where they still sit. Steese went to prison for life with no possibility of parole. That would have remained his fate except that, somehow, in a life with few breaks, Steese finally caught one. Prodded by his original attorney, the federal public defender sent a team burrowing into the prosecution’s files and ultimately dismantled its case.

In October 2012, a judge declared that Steese, after 20 years in prison, was innocent. It was an extraordinary ruling — in fact, unprecedented in that court. But the Clark County district attorney was not willing to free Steese. Prosecutors vowed to put him through lengthy appeals. Even to re-try him. The process would take years. Or, if Steese just wanted to be released, the prosecutors had a tantalizing proposition: he could agree to an Alford plea. In a feat of logical gymnastics, this obscure plea allows defendants to maintain their innocence while at the same time pleading guilty and accepting the status of a convicted felon. And, perhaps most damaging to prisoners like Steese, after decades behind bars, the plea meant giving up the right to sue. It would also allow prosecutors to keep a “win” on the books, admit no wrongdoing, and avoid civil and criminal sanctions for their behavior. In exchange for all this, the prosecution in Las Vegas would let Steese go.

In legal circles, prosecutorial misconduct is viewed by many as a pervasive problem — an “epidemic,” as one prominent federal judge called it in 2013. Jurisdictions large and small are riddled with corrupt practices. Misconduct lies behind more than half of all cases nationwide in which convicted defendants are ultimately exonerated, according to the National Registry of Exonerations. Driven by a win-at-all-costs culture, such misbehavior is especially hard to root out because, many experts say, there’s little incentive to play by the rules. Appellate courts often sweep misconduct aside as harmless. Top prosecutors, burnishing their own careers, rarely punish underlings for it — and indeed they often flourish, going on to become judges reluctant to police their former peers. And the law gives prosecutors broad immunity from civil lawsuits, even when their bad behavior lands the wrong people in prison.

Fred Steese’s case exposed the rot in the system that robbed him of two decades of his life. Yet even then prosecutors worked to keep it hidden, forcing him into an almost incomprehensible choice: Risk freedom to fight for an uncertain exoneration that might take years, or cop to a crime he didn’t commit and walk away.

II. Death of a Poodle Master

LUCKY THE CLOWN, a 123-foot-tall blast of frenzied neon, has greeted visitors to the Strip since 1976. With its massive grin and pinwheel lollipop, the marquee beckons gamblers inside the striped big top at the Circus Circus hotel and casino. In 1992, low rollers fed cups of change into slot machines while acrobats swung overhead. A rotating lineup of circus performers did free shows on a small dark stage on the second floor until midnight. Passersby would stop to watch before moving along to the $2.99 dinner buffet. Among the performers was a faded but still handsome dog trainer with the bearing of a dancer, often dressed elaborately in sequined tails and matching bow tie. Gerard Soules, known as Jerry, was circus royalty of sorts, a trapeze artist who had traveled the world, performing for the queen of England and dazzling the crowd in the Ringling Bros. center ring. A preening showman, he had worn a cape that he would fling open before beginning the 40-foot climb to the pedestal. From there he’d launch his daring signature move, a somersault forward off the trapeze, catching himself by his heels at the last second on the bar of the same trapeze.

Soules had grown up devoutly Catholic in 1940s blue-collar Michigan. When he came out as gay to his mother as a teenager, his family defied expectations by supporting him. Soules left home at 16 to join the circus. After a trapeze accident in his late 20s, he reinvented himself as the ringmaster of a pack of well-dressed poodles. In 1992, Soules took his act to Circus Circus, where, six days a week, his 14 poodles hopped on their hind legs across the stage: One in a poncho and sombrero to a Mexican march, another to a can-can with her dress attached to her front paws, Moulin Rouge-style, still others wearing three-foot-tall hats or giant hoopskirts — all of the outfits handstitched by Soules himself.

Despite the act’s popularity, Soules had lost his spirit. The casino wouldn’t let him stay at its own RV park with his poodles, so he was banished to the Silver Nugget Camperland, in much less desirable North Las Vegas. And he’d been living in a heartbroken fog since his partner of decades had died, several years earlier. Eager for companionship, the 55-year-old had recently taken to helping young men in need. . .

Continue reading. It is an extremely interesting story.

And also note:

Vegas Judge Had Long History of Prosecutorial Misconduct

The behavior of Bill Kephart, who led the murder prosecution of Fred Steese, was repeatedly lambasted by the Supreme Court of Nevada. But that didn’t stop him from becoming a judge. Read the story.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2017 at 10:24 am

House Republicans will not concede they broke a fundamental health-care promise

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House Republicans are, so far as I can tell, fundamentally dishonest and lie more or less constantly, mainly about their actions and their words. Mike DeBonis reports in the Washington Post:

The Congressional Budget Office’s analysis of the Republican health-care bill had just been made public Wednesday, and Rep. Mark Meadows was standing off the House floor, 15 minutes into a sparring session with reporters over its significance when he suddenly paused.

“Listen,” Meadows (R-N.C.) said, his voice cracking. “I lost my sister to breast cancer. I lost my dad to lung cancer. If anybody is sensitive to preexisting conditions, it’s me. And I’m not going to make a political decision today that affects somebody’s sister or father because I wouldn’t do it to myself. So I tell you that in the most earnest of ways that we’re going to get this right.”

The burst of emotion from the House Freedom Caucus chairman, a man who played a crucial role in shepherding the American Health Care Act to passage, was a poignant reaction to an uncomfortable fact: According to the nonpartisan CBO, the GOP bill broke a fundamental promise GOP leaders made to the public.

Repeatedly, top Republicans said, people with preexisting medical conditions would still be able to purchase affordable insurance under the AHCA. They downplayed concerns from independent analysts that the protections they included would not be sufficient to protect the sickest patients from drastic price hikes — touting a last-minute fix to beef up subsidies without waiting for the CBO to judge whether it would work.

“Preexisting conditions are in the bill,” President Trump said last month. “I mandate it. I said, ‘Has to be.’ ”

“Under this bill, no matter what, you cannot be denied coverage if you have a preexisting condition,” House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said earlier this month, after his office issued a release saying the bill “protects people with preexisting conditions.”

“We need to protect the most vulnerable people,” Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-N.J.), who worked with Meadows to craft a viable bill, told CNN. “These are people with preexisting conditions. We want to make sure they are protected.”

The CBO found that while insurers could not deny coverage to sick Americans, they would be far from being “protected.”

In states that choose to waive certain insurance coverage mandates as allowed under the GOP bill, the report stated, “people who are less healthy (including those with preexisting or newly acquired medical conditions) would ultimately be unable to purchase comprehensive nongroup health insurance at premiums comparable to those under current law, if they could purchase it at all.”

The scorekeepers added: “[L]ess healthy people would face extremely high premiums, despite the additional funding that would be available under [the AHCA] to help reduce premiums. Over time, it would become more difficult for less healthy people (including people with preexisting medical conditions) in those states to purchase insurance because their premiums would continue to increase rapidly.”

The analysis undermines not only the claims made by GOP leaders, but also shows that their bill could, by undoing what is perhaps the Affordable Care Act’s single most popular provision, throw consumers back into insurance markets where their ability to purchase affordable insurance would depend on their health.

The CBO report prompted a variety of explanations and evasions this week. Many House Republicans simply cast doubt on the CBO’s ability to analyze health-insurance markets. . .

Continue reading.

I have to say that the US political situation looks increasingly bad. Seriously bad.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 May 2017 at 10:15 am

At His Own Wake, Celebrating Life and the Gift of Death

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John Shields planned the death he wanted. Catherine Porter reports in the NY Times:

VICTORIA, British Columbia — Two days before he was scheduled to die, John Shields roused in his hospice bed with an unusual idea. He wanted to organize an Irish wake for himself. It would be old-fashioned with music and booze, except for one notable detail — he would be present.

The party should take up a big section of Swiss Chalet, a family-style chain restaurant on the road out of town. Mr. Shields wanted his last supper to be one he so often enjoyed on Friday nights when he was a young Catholic priest — rotisserie chicken legs with gravy.

Then, his family would take him home and he would die there in the morning, preferably in the garden. It was his favorite spot, rocky and wild. Flowering native shrubs pressed in from all sides and a stone Buddha and birdbath peeked out from among the ferns and boulders. Before he got sick, Mr. Shields liked to sit in his old Adirondack chair and watch the bald eagles train their juveniles to soar overhead. He meditated there twice a day, among the towering Douglas firs.

“Someone once asked me how did I get to become unique,” he said that afternoon in his hospice bed. “I recommend meditation as a starting place — bringing your consciousness to bear.”

Mr. Shields intended to die swiftly and peacefully by lethal injection, administered by his doctor. Last June, the Canadian government legalized what it termed “medical assistance in dying” for competent adult patients who are near death and suffering intolerably from irremediable illnesses. When his doctor, Stefanie Green, informed him that he qualified, Mr. Shields felt the first hope since a doctor told him more than a year before that he had a rare and incurable disease called amyloidosis, which caused proteins to build up in his heart and painfully damage the nerves in his arms and legs.

Having control over the terms of his death made him feel empowered over the disease rather than crippled by it, a common response among Dr. Green’s patients. Mr. Shields believed that dying openly and without fear could be his most meaningful legacy — which was saying something. The man had packed five lifetimes of service into one: He had been a civil rights activist, a social worker for children, the head of British Columbia’s biggest union and, most recently, the savior of a floundering land trust that included 7,191 acres of protected wilderness and historic properties.

Continue reading the main story

His newly developed plan for how he would spend his last moments, though, worried his wife, Robin June Hood. Her husband had not left his bed once since he arrived at the hospice on a stretcher, 17 days earlier. His 78-year-old body had thinned; his voice dimmed. He lasted only 15 minutes in conversation before his eyes fluttered closed. Just leaving the room would exhaust him. She knew he could not make it to the restaurant, and there was no way she could tend to his needs at home, even for one night — especially his last.

Happily, Dr. Green had become adept at brokering delicate family discussions over the past year. She had presided over 35 deaths since the law passed, each intimately different from the next. One man got dressed in his amateur clown costume, complete with wig and red nose, and died telling her jokes. He had insisted on being alone in the room with her, but most of her patients died surrounded by loved ones. Many were too sick to devise elaborate rituals, but others had chosen the location, attendees, readings and music as if planning a wedding. Dr. Green called them something she picked up at a conference on euthanasia in the Netherlands: “choreographed deaths.”

She arrived at Mr. Shields’s hospice room that day to finalize the plans. The couple held hands as she helped them stitch a compromise. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 May 2017 at 3:56 pm

Posted in Daily life

Vermont’s D.I.Y. Approach on Marijuana

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The editorial board of the NY Times writes:

Vermont is on the verge of becoming the ninth state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, but, being Vermont, it is taking an earthier, grow-it-yourself approach — one that could become a model for others.

Vermont is not asking voters to approve a ballot proposal and it is not allowing for-profit businesses to grow and sell the drug, at least not right away. Instead, its lawmakers passed a bill this month that would let people 21 and older keep two flowering and four young marijuana plants at home. In addition, people 21 and older could possess up to one ounce of the drug. The bill would also create an independent commission to propose legislation that could later be used to create a regulated market for marijuana with commercial growers and retailers.

Vermont’s path resembles that of the District of Columbia, where residents voted in 2014 to let people 21 and older grow up to six marijuana plants. Proponents of the home-grow model say it represents a third approach that falls somewhere between criminalizing use of the drug and creating a market in which businesses have an incentive to encourage marijuana use.

A big benefit of the Vermont bill is that it gives lawmakers time to study the effects of legalization before deciding whether to allow marijuana businesses. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2017 at 10:02 am

Posted in Daily life, Drug laws

Why a Paleolithic diet is not practical

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I do restrict my carbs severely (generally under 30g/day), so in terms of a diet high in fat and low in carbs, the Paleolithic diet is similar (in macronutrients) to any low-carb, high-fat diet. However, the Paleolithic diet has as its goal to eat like humans did when they were gatherers and hunters, before they were relied on herds of domesticated animals (goats, sheep, cattle) or agriculture. So both Paleolithic dieters and I avoid grains (high in carbs) and beans (same), but I can eat cream and butter and they cannot.

But the reason it is impractical is that virtually all of the plant foods in the store are not like they were in the old days, due to centuries of selective breeding. For an example, look at the Paleolithic version of the banana. That is a far cry from a modern banana.

Or take the Paleolithic version of the carrot, which again looks like little more than a weed.

You can see more photos of Paleolithic area vegetables here. The watermelon is particularly pitiful

Written by LeisureGuy

24 May 2017 at 8:46 am

Looting the U.S., the Next Step: Trump advisers call for privatizing some public assets to build new infrastructure

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This is going in a very bad and very dark direction, like some dystopian science-fiction novel. Michael Laris reports in the Washington Post:

The Trump administration, determined to overhaul and modernize the nation’s infrastructure, is drafting plans to privatize some public assets such as airports, bridges, highway rest stops and other facilities, according to top officials and advisers. [Will the properties that are sold have to carry the Trump brand? Trump probably cannot buy the properties himself, so presumably he can sell them to friends. Obviously, the public facilities will become profit centers and the public will pay more, one way or another, to keep the profits growing. – LG]

In his proposed budget released Tuesday, President Trump called for spending $200 billion over 10 years to “incentivize” private, state and local spending on infrastructure.

Trump advisers said that to entice state and local governments to sell some of their assets, the administration is considering paying them a bonus. The proceeds of the sales would then go to other infrastructure projects. Australia has pursued a similar policy, which it calls “asset recycling,” prompting the 99-year lease of a state-owned electrical grid to pay for improvements to the Sydney Metro, among other projects.

In the United States, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) explored privatizing Midway International Airport several years ago but dropped the idea in 2013, after a key bidder backed away. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao says such projects should be encouraged. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 May 2017 at 9:11 pm

Jared Kushner’s Other Real Estate Empire: The Beleaguered Tenants of ‘Kushnerville’

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Alec McGillis reports in the NY Tiimes about Jared Kushner’s role as a Baltimore slumlord. If that’s behind a paywall, you can also read it at ProPublica. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

 

Written by LeisureGuy

23 May 2017 at 5:34 pm

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