Is this shaping up to be the summer of WTF?

06 June 2010

Last last month and early this month, a disturbing amount of WTF appears to have been cropping up around the country. While that shouldn't really surprise anyone as it seems like a common state of mind anymore, I still find it fascinating in the "Wow, that's how they cut someone out of a wrecked car?" way.

First of all, the Supreme Court decided by a vote of 5 to 4 that one's Miranda Rights mean far less than they used to. Dating back to the court case Miranda v. Arizona in 1966, the Miranda rights of American citizens are the rights you have when you are taken into custody by law enforcement for interrogation. In short, you are supposed to have the right to remain silent, the right to speak to an attorney and have him or her present, and the right to have legal representation appointed if you can't afford to retain a lawyer. If you have not been placed under arrest then they don't have to read them to you. At least, that was the way it worked up until recently, when the Supreme Court decided that you must break your silence to assert your right to remain silent. Stop and think about that for a minute.

The case dates back to a fatal shooting in the year 2000 where one Van Chester Thompkins was arrested under suspicion of shooting Samuel Morris in Michigan. He was advised of his rights, and opted to say nothing while he was in custody. However, two hours and change into his interrogation the police asked him a "do you still beat your wife?" question, to which he answered in the affirmative. This was enough to convict him, and carried a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. The US Court of Appeals decided that this constituted Thompkins waiving his Miranda rights and upheld the conviction. Most of the US Supreme Court agrees, though there are many (the ACLU, the other four justices, and the Criminal Legal Justice foundation) who are understandably upset about this. Interestingly, all sides concerned admit that this represents a substantial undercutting of a fundamental part of US criminal law.
Back in 2006, then-governor Tim Kaine passed Executive Order 1 (2006), which granted protection from being fired on the basis of one's sexual preference in the state of Virginia. A few years later the court case Moore v. Virginia Museum of Natural History hit the courts, in which one Michael Moore (no relation to the filmmaker) lost his job. Long story short, the museum's executive director found out that Moore was gay and fired him. The Virginia Department of Human Resource Management investigated after Moore cried foul and found evidence substantiating his claim that he'd been fired due to his sexual preference. The lawsuit went up chain and the state's Supreme Court ruled against the executive order, effectively stating that members of the LGBT community in Virginia can be legally discriminated against. The LGBT community is bandying about the phrase "third class citizen" and making the claim that the state of Virginia values us less than other people. If you dig a little bit you'll find this executive order from now-Governor Robert McDonnel which removed the sexual orientation provision from that order.

Wow. Isn't it nice to feel like you can be fired for something you do at home outside of work?

If you've ever flow into, out of, or inside the United States of America you've dealt with the Transportation Security Agency in some fashion. When passing through a security checkpoint they're the folks looking at the x-ray machine's displays, going through your baggage, and occasionally even searching you. The TSA's efficacy has been debated since their inception. Now, when you couple that with the fact that flying isn't the relaxing, trouble-free experience that the television commercials claim it, sometimes you're looking at a pressure cooker situation. But not to worry, the TSA in its infinite wisdom (and may whatever gods you believe in come to your aid if you ever question that wisdom) started maintaining a database of stressed-out travelers in 2007. The database is supposed to be for people who make the screeners feel threatened, though the history of the TSA makes me wonder if maybe their definition of 'threatened' includes "anybody we decide we don't like." They claim that the database only has about 240 incidents in it and involves people brandishing weapons at TSA agents, damaging equipment, and generally making everyone around them wonder if they're going to be caught in the crossfire.

I've never been shy about mistrusting people who put you into databases of any kind. They have the nasty tendency to get out and some people like to cherry-pick data across multiple databases and make yellow the same as green or 2+2=29. However, I have a bigger problem with people who act like jackasses and generally make life harder for everyone around them because they blew their buffers while standing in line. The idea of somebody in line ahead of me when I'm on travel brandishing a weapon really sets my teeth on edge, mostly because I don't have an orbital death ray watching my back (Warren Ellis beat me to that one). Still, I don't think that keeping a database of stressed out travelers is the right way to handle this problem. The police are how you handle this problem. Use the right tool for the job, and in such situations the right tool already exists.