Just Above Sunset Archives

November 9, 2003 Other Mail

Home | Odds and Ends | Music Notes | Book Notes | Sidebars | Culture Wars Lost | Culture Wars Won | Gay Marriage | Jesus Flogged Repeatedly | Photography | Quotes | Links and Recommendations | Archives | Daily Commentary (weblog)


  • Drugs and the Fourth Amendment - making sense of nonsense regarding improper search, probable cause and all that.
  • Words, words, words - are these terrorists or resistance fighters?  Is the press pre-loading public opinion or not?



Dahlia Lithwick, who writes on legal matters for Slate Magazine, this week posted an article reviewing the oral discussions before the supreme court regarding drug arrests.

The dispute comes down to this.  The police pull over a speeding vehicle and search for drugs.  Crack is found.  All three passengers insist the drugs are not theirs.  So the police arrest them all.  The constitutional dispute is whether the police had probable cause to arrest everybody, or just the driver, or just the guy next to the wad of bills in the glove compartment, or just the guy in the back seat with the crack.  All of which is interesting.  But even more interesting is that this is a case of "first impression" for the high court - meaning no one has brought this kind of challenge before.

I found Lithwick's recap of the arguments wildly amusing.  Comic.  And I think there's a screenplay there.  The problem is that this was pretty much just reporting of what was actually argued in the chambers of he Supreme Court.  It wasn't comedy.  But it was a hoot. 

The arguments apparently disintegrated:

On and on it goes, with Forster more or less asking the court to adopt a per se rule that everyone on the planet should be arrested for drug possession, except her client, and Bair essentially asking for a per se rule that everyone on the planet can be arrested for drug possession, since it would be easier than actually investigating a crime. The justices don't seem all that impressed by either position.

Ya gotta love it!

The source is this:

Crackseat Driver
The Supreme Court takes on collective punishment.
By Dahlia Lithwick   Posted Monday, November 3, 2003 SLATE.COM
Article URL:

My friend Phillip reacted:

It was almost funny, except some innocent is locked up and looses all sorts of rights, has priors and maybe his grandmother is thrown out of public housing because she is next of kin to a felon. Since it is a piece of hypothetical, what if John (the livid prick) Ashcroft is sitting next to some one with "powdered" cocaine, ooh let's say an eight ball, at a Jimmy Buffet concert and the blow is stuffed in John's pocket and there is a tip-off and Ashcroft comes up holding.  Why could Ashcroft get off the hook and a bunch of kids in the car with some crack shoved in the crack of the seat get their lives wrecked, despite they had someone's nearly illegal tender in the glove compartment.  A missed chance for graft?  The guy's paycheck cashed out to pay for a Bennett-style bet?  No, it's just all an excuse for fascist oppression mostly on the people who can't defend themselves.


Get me some usual suspects.  Too uninformed to know to say
"That's not mine." and get a good lawyer at all cost.  "I've never seen it, you must have planted that on me officer, and what happened to the cash from my paycheck."  The opportunity for dishonesty in a drug bust is overwhelming.  But the whole thing is a liars' game.

I replied:

Yeah, Phillip, your outrage is justified.  And it is all a liars' game.  I don't have any experience in the drugs-and-law world, but now, one week later, I do have some experience in the world of claims law, given what's going on with the young girl who ran a red light and took out the right front fender and right front wheel of my little Benz convertible with her Toyota.  It's all bullshit.

Our friend on Wall Strett is in the part of the law that is harmless - regulatory compliance - making sure folks follow the rules.  And our friend upstate gets some happiness from defending the downtrodden - those who have been screwed over by corporations, and he's gone after the Catholic Church a few times.  Well, he came up through the unions and the American Communist Party, I think.  The rest of the law?  I dont know.  Seems silly when it's not dangerous.  Folks do get destroyed.

Well, Stephan in London, Ontario has a final comment -

I may have brought this up before, but its a relatively well known fact here in Canada that all it takes is $10,000 to get out of a DUI/DWI charge.

I personally know at least three people who have paid that exact sum to a lawyer and gotten off.  A couple other folks I know with that situation but with less cash in their bank accounts didn't stand a chance and got convicted.

One of the guys who did the "$10,000 and walk" thing was found by police stuck in his vehicle, which was upside-down in a ditch next to the road, and tested for twice the legal blood-alcohol limit.  "No problem... who do I make the check out to?"

Same thing in this case.  Lies and cash.

Ah, Canada.  And in US dollars we're talking under seven thousand.  The law is a strange business.


According to a story in Reuters last week - actually reported in a lot of places, my local newspaper, the Los Angeles Times, got all patriotic and pro-war.  Well, not exactly.  The Los Angeles Times has ordered its reporters to stop describing anti-American forces in Iraq as "resistance fighters," saying the term romanticizes them and evokes World War II-era heroism. 
The ban was issued by Melissa McCoy, a Times assistant managing editor, who told the staff in an e-mail circulated last Monday night that the phrase conveyed unintended meaning and asked them to instead use the terms "insurgents" or "guerrillas."  And by the way, Reuters picked up the story after it surfaced on a web log (blog) - L.A. Observed. 
Apparently the editors got queasy: "(Times Managing Editor) Dean Baquet and I both individually had the same reaction when we saw the term used in the newspaper," McCoy said. "Both of us felt the phrase evoked a certain feeling, that there was a certain romanticism or heroism to the resistance."
But, of course, McCoy said she considered "resistance fighters" an accurate description of Iraqis battling American troops, but it also evoked World War II - specifically the French Resistance or Jews who fought against Nazis in the Warsaw ghetto.  "Really, it was something that just stopped us when we saw it, and it was really about the way most Americans have come to view the words."
So the term is quite accurate but could make the grumpy?  Something like that.  "We are loath to proscribe the use of just about any word, but sometimes certain combinations of words send an unintended signal.  You combine these two seemingly innocuous words and suddenly they have this unintended meaning."
The New York Times is following.  Allan Siegal, assistant managing editor: "We don't have a policy but when you mentioned the phrase it sounded like romanticizing to me.  I don't think it's the kind of cool, neutral language we like to see."
The Washington Post isn't following.  David Hoffman, the foreign editor of said his paper had used the phrase "resistance fighters" to describe Iraqi forces and had no objection to the term.  "They are resisting an American occupation so it's not inaccurate."
Well, duh.
Curious stuff here.  Words get applied all sorts of ways, and of course much has been said about how the United States government branded Nelson Mandela a terrorist for decades, then, he became a hero, a resistance fighter.  The tag we apply depends on a lot of things, like which way the economic-political wind is blowing.
As asked my friend Rick, who has some connection with CNN, what CNN was doing with the word choice matter here.  He replied:
This is interesting!  I'm not sure but I don't think I've ever heard the term "resistance fighter" used on CNN to describe the anti-American-occupation guerrillas in Iraq.
I don't disagree with the L.A. Times on this. The term probably does carry a non-neutral connotation for many people.  I guess the Washington Post doesn't think enough of their readers would make that romantic connection to WWII to warrant banning the term, and that's their call.
I'm not so sure it's an issue of what one knows about occupied France in World War II - I think the term is loaded as is.  And the term here might anger conservative readers who don't ever watch the History Network - I doubt they want the press to suggest, and they will not admit, the possibility that there are some Iraqi people who don't want to be occupied by a foreign power, even if it is the United States.  On the left, that's exactly the issue the left wants raised - that we are generating "resistance fighters" - and it's not bad guys from other parts pouring across the borders into Iraq.  Could we be creating trouble?  Or do they really, really love us? 

Bush calls the folks killing our soldiers all terrorists.  But some of them may see themselves as "resistance fighters" who do not attack civilians, only an occupying military force.  That's not terrorism as it us usually defined  - attacking and killing helpless civilians for political ends.  It's a war of resistance.

Perhaps the words we use should be generated by events, not applied to them after the fact.

It is a puzzle.
And just a note... our military doesn't use the words "body bags" - a term in common use during the Vietnam War.  We needed 58,000 of those.  During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the Pentagon began calling them "human remains pouches" and it now refers to them as "transfer tubes."