Roaming Charges: I, the Juror

Still from Orson Welles’ film of Kafka’s The Trial.

The clock had been ticking since December, when I narrowly managed to evade jury duty, as the pandemic was spiking. I wouldn’t say our county is run by Covid deniers. But you can’t say it’s run by epidemiologists, either. The daily injustices at the courthouse must go on, killer virus be damned.

My reprieve, however, was short-lived. I was called back in early March. In the past, all I had to do to avoid this civic duty was to identify myself as a reporter, an avocation which prosecutors, defense lawyers and judges generally play to outside the courtroom but recoil from having present in a jury box. But in response to my inquiry about getting another deferral, a clerk informed me rather gravely that the court was desperate for bodies and my normal “get-out-jury-jail” card wouldn’t work this time round.

So I walked the mile or so to the courthouse on a frosty March morning, carrying Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment in my hand, as a kind of talisman. (I had just finished the section where Raskolnikov comes across the mangled body of his friend Marmeladov, who had been run over in the street, with the drivers and the police rationalizing the incident as the victims own fault–a bloody precursor of today’s plow-down-a-protester laws.) It was almost spring and winter had finally arrived in Oregon. The temperature was below zero…on the Celsius scale, at least.

It was a little after seven and I was about 30 minutes early. There were yellow marks on the sidewalk, spaced six feet apart where the potential jurors were meant to stand, awaiting entry into a building adjacent to the courthouse. But most of the other early arrivals were standing in the courtyard, between the courthouse and the administrative office, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and freely mingling with lawyers, clerks and, presumably, defendants. Most were masked, a few weren’t and one woman was furiously vaping some kind of scented marijuana elixir, while wearing a plastic visor, which was raised above her head like a medieval knight before a joust.

No one seemed very happy to be there and most had probably only shown up under the ominous threat of being cited with contempt, a sanction which was boldly stamped on our jury notification cards. After all, even in these desperate economic times selling yourself as a juror for a week wasn’t a profitable endeavor. The per diem offered by the court didn’t even cover the cost of parking in the city-owned lot reserved for jurors.

By the time the doors opened at 7:30, the line of prospective jurors wrapped around the building. We were led in groups of threes through the door, up a flight of stairs to an austere corridor where we were to get our temperatures taken by a machine that scanned our foreheads. A woman called my number (92) and summoned me toward the scanner. I bent my knees and placed my forehead a couple of inches from the strange-looking machine, which immediately started beeping maniacally. “Oh, shit,” I blurted, thinking the virus had finally tracked me down.

“Hey, look at this,” the younger clerk said to the senior clerk, waving her over.

“Too low,” she said, imperiously. “Stand over there,” pointing to a dark corner.

My forehead was apparently frozen. I set off the alarm on the scanner two more times before they finally hustled me into the jury room and commanded me to sit in a chair against a wall to fill out a juror form.

Had I ever been arrested? Yes.

Do I know anyone who has been arrested? Yes.

Do I know anyone who works in law enforcement? Yes.

Do I know anyone who is in prison? Yes.

Do I know anyone who is a lawyer? Yes.

Do I know anyone who is judge? Yes.

What is your occupation? Journalist.

All truthful. All of which would normally get one excluded from a jury. I submit my questionnaire, which is taken along with those from the other 50 potential jurors to the courthouse for the judges and lawyers to scrutinize.

I scan the room. The first person I notice is the woman who was wearing the facial shield, which was taken from her before she entered the building. She was handed a surgical mask. She objected, but eventually relented. In the jury room, she kept pulling the mask two or three inches away from her face. Another juror complained. The woman pulled her mask all the way down and shouted, “I can’t breathe.” At first, I thought this might be a racist joke, but the woman didn’t seem all that sharp to me. The jury coordinator gently reprimanded her. But the routine started up again after the court official left the room.

Two guys next to me, both in the early to mid 70s, were sharing videos of the Capitol Hill riot, laughing at the “shaman,” who they both concluded was a plant, either Antifa or FBI.

Meanwhile, a monitor was playing a video on “implicit bias”, which no one seemed to be watching. One woman was practicing some kind of chair aerobics, while a man was dog-earing the pages of a chainsaw catalogue and talking to no one in particular about how after tree damage from the ice storm he needed “a lot more firepower”.

The implicit bias video was replaced by one on the history of the county courthouse, which had been built in 1937 to service a population of 50,000. The population of the county now exceeds 450,000. I quickly learned that the courthouse itself, built in a fusion of art deco and mid-century bureaucratic brutalist architectural styles, is falling apart and would crumble into the river at the slightest tremor of the earth. We are slated for an 8.0 quake any day now. Moreover, the wiring is obsolete and the ventilation system, meant to protect us from the airborne transmission of deadly viral particles, is shot. Is this the case when the jury gets the death penalty?

Finally, the juror coordinator comes back and starts reading off juror numbers. Mine is the second to the last called. Somehow I’ve survived the cut. We line up in the hall and are told that we will soon walk over to the courthouse and through security, where we will be wanded and frisked. The now-visorless woman raises her hand. “I’ve got a box-cutter knife and bear mace in my purse, is that okay?” Two security guards grab her arms and escort her from the building. The rest of us applaud lustily.

About 30 of us are led into the courtroom for voir dire, the individual questioning of potential jurors by the judge and the attorneys. I was assigned a seat at the back of the room. Along with Dostoevsky, I’d brought my old copy of the juror’s handbook written by the civil libertarian Godfrey Lehman, founder of the Fully-Informed Jury Association or FIJA. It’s essentially a manifesto for jury nullification in criminal trials.

The judge finally entered the room, thanked us for showing up (as if we had a choice), and informed us that he considered us all “essential workers.” Even so, none of us were offered vaccines. We were told that this was a criminal trial for the violation of a protective order, essentially, as he rather indelicately put it, “a case of stalking.” He identified the prosecutor, the defense lawyers and the defendant, a white man in his 40s, who looked understandably anxious and uncomfortable as he scanned the room, trying to smile at the people who would determine his fate. His lawyers were two young women, competent but a little inexperienced it seemed. Everyone wore masks, although the lone prosecutor, who had the stolid build of an aging linebacker, allowed his to slip continually from his nose as he spoke. He wasn’t reprimanded, though the judge sternly evicted one of the potential jurors, a man in his twenties, who was sucking on his vape pen as the defense lawyers began to ask questions about our understanding of the legal concepts of the burden of proof and reasonable doubt. The collective understanding was, shall we say, primitive. Most of the jurors, many of whom had watched many seasons of the various incarnations of Law & Order, understood in theory that the burden was the prosecution’s and that the defense was not obliged to offer any evidence at all. But it didn’t take much probing for most of them to let slip that they’d probably hold it against the defendant if the defense didn’t put on a case and if the defendant didn’t testify.

Two women were excused after revealing they had been the victims of sexual assault. A man was excused for having been accused of stalking by his ex-wife. Another woman was let go after she said the trial would be “too traumatic” for her and yet another for having worked in a shelter for abused women. The odds of me landing on the jury were rising. Then the prosecutor finally asked me a direct question: “Would I believe the testimony of a criminal?”

“Define ‘criminal’,” I replied.

“Someone who has been convicted of a crime.”

“Yes.”

“Over the testimony of someone who has no record?”

“What do you mean by ‘record’?” I said.

“Criminal record,” he snapped, testily.

“I’d believe them equally, until one or the other’s credibility was punctured.”

“What about a police officer?”

“Ex-cons tell the truth and cops lie. It happens all the time.”

“Thank you, Mr. St. Clair. You’re excused.”

So, I’d finally been kicked free, but I’m pretty sure that my departure meant the defendant wouldn’t be.

+++

+ For whatever reason (and I can think of at least one blatant one), Biden has singled out Haitians as being particular unwelcome in the US.

+ There already have been more “Title 42” expulsions (on the basis of a public health order) to Haiti over the period of a few weeks under Biden than during an entire year of Trump’s administration…

+ Haiti has repeatedly told the US “not to come over.” But has it ever listened?

+ Take a look inside Biden’s concentration camps for kids…

+ Evergreen Aviation was, of course, a famous CIA front for Air America, running guns, herbicides and dope across Southeast Asia and central America. If the Agency ran a shipping company, it would probably end up accidentally wedging one of its cargo ships in the Suez Canal, then claim in internal memos that it was all done in the name of regional destabilization…

+ Better call Fitzcarraldo….

Still from Fitzcarraldo.

+ If the Democrats eliminated the filibuster, they’d have no excuse for not enacting all of the promises they made in their platform and during the campaign.

+ There’s no future, no future, no future for you …

+ According to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, in 2015, the median net worth for white families in Boston was nearly $250,000 compared with just $8 for Black families.

+ Austerity Larry is throwing a fit…”These are the least responsible fiscal macroeconomic policy we’ve have had for the last 40 years,” Summers said. “It’s fundamentally driven by intransigence on the Democratic left and intransigence and the completely irresponsible behavior in the whole of the Republican Party.”

+ Biden’s people are floating the name of Abigail Seldin to head the Office of Federal Student Aid, which oversees the nation’s $1.5 trillion student loan portfolio. Seldin is a former executive at student debt collector ECMC. Her record is doesn’t inspire confidence that student loan debt relief is coming around the corner…

+ Even though Biden remains tightly wedded to the Israeli government, the attitudes of the members of Biden’s own party are changing fairly rapidly. According to a new Gallup survey, 53 percent of Democrats want more pressure on the Israelis, up from 43 percent in 2018, and no more than 38 percent in the decade before that.

+ Noam Chomsky: “Israeli intervention in US elections vastly overwhelms anything the Russians may have done, I mean, even to the point where the prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu, goes directly to Congress, without even informing the president, and speaks to Congress, with overwhelming applause, to try to undermine the president’s policies – what happened with Obama and Netanyahu in 2015.”

+ The Roman general and tyrant Sulla, after destroying Plato’s Academy: “I was sent to Athens, not to take lessons, but to reduce rebels to obedience.”

+ Or as former CIA head Bill Casey put it to a group of students in DC in 1983, when explaining why the Agency was supporting death squads in Central America: “It is much easier and less expensive for us and our friends to support an insurgency than to resist one. It takes relatively few people and support to disrupt the internal peace and stability of a small country.” (H/t Mark Ames.)

+ This is not the Dick Gregory method…

+ After a couple weeks of belligerent bombast about Russia and China, it’s good to see Biden dialing back the rhetoric on North Korea a bit….

+ Then the next morning at his press conference, Biden reverted to form when he answered a hawkish question from an NBC reporter that diplomacy with the DPRK will be “dependent on denuclearization,” which is the failed and provocative strategy of the past. Tony Blinken must have taken him to the woodshed for a little corrective therapy last night…

+ Why does the Biden administration seem even more bellicose than Trump or Obama in the early days? It might have something to do with the fact that the people calling the shots have deep ties to the defense industry. Prior to joining the Biden cabinet, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Tony Blinken were DC Partners in Pine Island Capital Partners, an investment outfit specializing in defense companies.

+ The White House press corps clearly wants some kind of military action somewhere soon. Apparently, the Syrian airstrikes didn’t satiate them. And if Biden isn’t immediately forthcoming, they’ll badger him until he relents.

+ A senior Saudi official twice threatened to have Agnès Callamard (the UN investigator probing the murder of Jamal Khashoggi)  “taken care of” in meetings with UN colleagues in Geneva in January 2020.

+ Chuck Schumer’s fast track for senate legislation: not infrastructure, not student and medical debt relief, not a minimum wage hike or new climate policies, but more crime laws

+ Intent to get vaccinated by religious affiliation in the US:

Atheists: 90%
Agnostics: 80%
Catholics: 77%
Black protestants: 64%
White protestants: 54%
White evangelicals: 45%

+ A study reported in Academic Times concludes that COVID death rates in were about 1.8 times higher in states with Republican governors…

+ Pretty solid evidence that the vaccines are working: With over 70% of seniors with at least one vaccine shot, COVID ER visits have dropped by 80%.

+ According to a report by the American Psychological Association, 62% of Americans report undesired weight gain during Covid 19. The average weight gain was 29 lbs and 41 lbs for Millennials!

+ So the Idaho Legislature had to shut down because of a COVID outbreak in its chambers, while it was debating a bill that would prevent local governments in the state from instituting mask mandates…

+ “Stop all this fussing and whining. How long are you going to keep on crying?” Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, on the week that COVID deaths in Brazil surpassed 260,000 people.

+ At least 36% of U.S. mass shooters have been trained by the U.S. military…

+ Americans make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world’s guns.

+ There are been more than 29 shootings in the US with 4 or more fatalities in the last five years. Yes, but using Ted Cruz’s logic, think how many more mass shootings there would have been, if there weren’t 339 million guns in the US to protect us. (Cruz has pocketed more than $300,000 from gun rights groups.)

+ Meanwhile, in Cruz’s home state more seniors have access to guns than the internet, where only  25% of people over the age of 65 have reliable broadband.

+ Be sure to back the blue, even as they fantasize about napalming your ass…

+ Tell it to: Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, Reality Winner, Jeffrey Sterling, John Kiriakou, Shamai Leibowitz, Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, James Hitselberger, James Risen and, of course, Wen Ho Lee….(There are many more, from Fred Hampton to Leonard Peltier, but I limited this list to Biden’s Zone of Complicity.)

+ The smirky self-righteousness of these Biden people really is disgusting…

+ Not surprisingly, it turns out that Jen Psaki previously worked for Any Vision, an Israeli surveillance outfit with a history of spying on Palestinians.

+ Anti-Reefer Madness…The Brevard County School Board in Florida voted 3-2 this week to fire a teacher for using medical marijuana, even though such use is legal across the state. Allison Enright worked at Space Coast High School. While the school district adopted a policy in 2019 to allow students to use medical marijuana, it never established one for teachers and the board used this loophole to ludicrously claim that Enright’s use of medical pot might keep the school from getting federal grants.

+ Former Yale professor Bandy Lee says she was fired by the university after Alan Dershowitz complained about a January tweet by Lee that characterized “just about all” of former president Trump’s supporters as suffering from “shared psychosis” and alleged that Dershowitz had “wholly taken on Trump’s symptoms by contagion.” Dershowitz is the author of a recent book titled: Cancel Culture: the Latest Attack on Free Speech and Due Process.

+ Four members of the Trump administration –Jared, Ivanka, Betsy DeVos, and Trump himself–brought in $2.5 billion in personal revenue during their stint in “public service”. DeVos alone pocketed at least $225 million, while waging war on public schools, curricula, lunches and teachers as Secretary of Education.

+ The Heritage Foundation hosted an event this week titled “The Crown Under Fire: Why the Left’s Campaign to Cancel the Monarchy and Undermine a Cornerstone of Western Democracy Will Fail“…Makes you wonder what “heritage” the foundation is intent on protecting. Not the one that drove the founding of the Republic, apparently….

+ As the Biden administration scolds Germany and other European nations about how buying Russian natural gas is undermines their energy security, yet the US is steadily increasing its imports of Russian crude oil. Russia is now the third largest oil supplier to the U.S. market.

+ John Kerry, Biden’s climate “envoy,” said this week that the private sector, not government, will led the “fight” against climate change, and argued that regulators and elected officials work best in a support role, for the likes of Exxon and BP. This is no surprise. Kerry has always favored a neoliberal approach to environmental issue and his wife’s foundation (Heinz) has been one of the most aggressive advocates of replacing government environmental regulations with magical market forces.

+ Big Nuke is hiring….

+ Big trees store enormous amounts of carbon. In fact, experts say that just 3% of trees hold 42% of the carbon in the forest.

+ Summer weather may expand to half a year in length by the end of this century, if no mitigation efforts are done on climate change, according to a new study by the American Geophysical Union. Over the past 60 years, summer has increased by an average of 17 days across the planet.

+ An in-depth study of blood samples from children in Pennsylvania by Environmental Health News shows that the bodies of children living near fracking are contaminated with fracking-related chemicals (ethylbenzene, styrene, and toluene) at levels up to 91 times as high as the average American and substantially higher than levels seen in the average adult cigarette smoker.

+ More than 50 environmental chemicals have been found by the EPA in pregnant women and their newborns., two of the most commonly detected chemicals were perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS, that are used in nonstick cookware and pizza boxes, stay in the body for prolonged periods and bio-accumulate over time. Equally worrisome is the fact that researchers know very little about 37 of the newly detected chemicals.

+ A new report found that the fracking boom that swept across Appalachia created few economic benefits or employment opportunities for local communities. The report concluded: “There has been no business case for fracking.”

+ Down in New Mexico, ranchers are up in arms about plans by the Forest Service to shoot feral cows roaming the Gila National Forest. The same coterie of ranchers routinely demand the aerial gunning of wolves, the cyanide bombing of coyotes, the baiting of black bears, the shooting of grizzlies and capture and slaughter of bison who stray beyond the invisible boundaries of Yellowstone.

+ The snowpack of the Sierra Nevada Range continues to dwindle, promising water shortages and fires this summer across California and Nevada.

+ Slippage in So Cal, shrinkage everywhere else…

+ Who’s poisoning Portland’s Giant Sequoias?

+ The greatest thing I’ve seen and heard all week.

+ Roll Over, Gutenberg…It turns out the world’s first printing press was developed in China, not Europe.

+ After two fruitless weeks, I finally got our not-so-smart TV to synch with the Criterion App and the first film I watched was one that Cockburn repeatedly chided me for not having seen: Rossellini’s The Taking of Power by Louis XIV, which he contended was one of the best ever made. (It’s a film that never shows up on cable and is only infrequently featured at Rossellini retrospectives, none of which had ever graced Oregon City or Bean Blossom, Indiana.). It must be said that Alex’s taste in films was not always reliable, since he and his brothers considered themselves lifetime members of the Happy Enders Club. He wasn’t one for tragedy on the big screen. The Sun King’s fate, of course, was quite different from his nephew, Louis XVI and the film proved to as luscious a visual feast as Alex had claimed. In fact, the first thing which struck me was beautiful and lush cinematography of the film. Aside his great film on India, color wasn’t something I’d associated with Rossellini. Louis, himself, is somewhat comically presented as a pudgy it swiftly moves from the death of Mazarin, the crushing of the Fronde, the rise of Colbert & his new economic system, the mistresses, the feuding with Anne of Austria, the building of Versailles and the isolation of the clergy & aristocracy. (The scenes of the great quarry at Versailles (filmed in 65, I think) looked more convincing to me than anything manufactured these days with CGI.) Now that the Criterion app works (knock wood), it’s on to the 16 hours of Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz!

Still from The Taking of Power by Louis XIV.

+ Speaking of the “Happy Enders Club,” it seems Claud Cockburn’s old drinking pal, Graham Greene, was also a lifetime member. According to Richard Greene’s vividly-written new biography, The Unquiet Englishman, Greene was furious about the ending director Carol Reed imposed on his story The Third Man, where Alida Valli’s character walks away from Holly Martins, refusing his impassioned entreaties. Greene argued that “an entertainment of this kind was too light an affair to carry the weight of an unhappy ending.”

+ Andrew Cockburn writes to inform me that “readers wishing to sign up for Happy Enders Club should be aware of very stringent rules. E.G. NO films featuring Native Americans, watching of same grounds for instant expulsion. Ditto Bambi.”

+ As for Valli, she probably considered herself lucky that she was able to walk away from that film unscathed by the distracted Orson Welles…

The night before Orson went to Vienna to appear as scheduled in The Third Man was also the night he finally got to sleep with the spoon-faced Italian actress he had been pursuing. He arrived in Vienna “still numb” from the experience, so that when he met the beautiful female star of The Third Man, Alida Valli, he barely seemed to notice her. “I’d lost my mind in some way,” Orson admits. “I didn’t see Alida Valli, the sexiest thing you ever saw in your life. It didn’t even register with me that she was female. We had long conversations about Austria and all that–instead of me leaping into action! Crazy! Completely mad! And I see her now and she excites me beyond words. I was right there–next door to her in the hotel. Just a little knock on the door and, you know, borrow some salt. I see The Third Man every two or three years–it’s the only movie of mine I ever watch on television because I like it so much–and I look at Alida Valli, and I say, ‘What was in your mind when you were ten days in Vienna and you didn’t make a move?’ She drives me mad with lust when I see her in it!” (from Orson Welles: a Biography by Barbara Leaming.)

+ Whither the zither music in today’s movies?

+ Jacques Rivette’s Paris Nous Appartient (Paris Belongs to Us) is a much better film of a Thomas Pynchon novel than Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice, even though Rivette’s movie was filmed three years before there was a Pynchon novel. (Imagine the Crying of Lot 49 set in the Latin Quarter and Montmartre.)

+ The judge during the 1963 obscenity trial of DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover: “I would ask the jury whether they would want their servants to read this book.”

+ Joe Strummer: “When we supported [ie., opened for] The Who, I remember looking at them & thinking, God, any day now this is going to be us.’ I was also worried that no matter how hard I tried not to, I was going to become a phoney. How can you impart things to other human beings when you’re not one yourself?”

+ I saw that tour. The Who looked old, tired and disinterested. The Clash looked bored with each other. You could sense the end was near. One band broke up before they became a parody of themselves, the other continued on and off for another forty years, as a kind of global cash machine.

+ I loved most of The Who’s music, while despising their reactionary politics, which was apparent as early as 1967, when Pete let the US Air Force use “Happy Jack” for a recruiting ad during a time when the US was napalming peasants in Vietnam.

+ Stuart Hall: “If you simply enter the space of a concert by The Clash to give a political speech, you will fail. Who wants to hear a political speech in the middle of The Clash?”

+ Perhaps Hall was flashing back to Abbie Hoffman, who interrupted The Who’s set at Woodstock to plead the case of John Sinclair, the leader of the White Panthers (and occasional CP contributor), who was facing a long prison term for a minor pot possession offense. Abbie was rewarded for his impertinence by being smashed in the head with Pete’s guitar.

+ If a Southwest pilot had screamed “Fucking Weirdos” into a live mic while flying over Portland (instead of the Bay Area), the City would have put the quote on a billboard on I-205.

You have the right to food money providing of course, you don’t mind a little investigation…

 

Booked Up
What I’m reading this week…

Life’s Edge: the Search for What It Means to be Alive
Carl Zimmer
(Dutton)

The Unquiet Englishman: a Life of Graham Greene
Richard Greene
(Norton)

Germs: a Memoir of Childhood
Richard Wollheim
(NYRB)

Sound Grammar
What I’m listening to this week…

Tone Poem
Charles Lloyd & The Marvels
(Blue Note)

This Bitter Earth
Veronica Swift
(Mack Ave.)

We Are
Jon Baptiste
(Verve)

Living on Other People’s Ideas

“What do you think?…You think I am attacking them for talking nonsense? Not a bit! I like them to talk nonsense. That’s man’s one privilege over all creation. Through error you come to the truth! I am a man because I err! You never reach any truth without making fourteen mistakes and very likely a hundred and fourteen. And a fine thing, too, in its way; but we can’t even make mistakes on our own account! Talk nonsense, but talk your own nonsense, and I’ll kiss you for it. To go wrong in one’s own way is better than to go right in someone else’s. In the first case you are a man, in the second you’re no better than a bird. Truth won’t escape you, but life can be cramped. There have been examples. And what are we doing now? In science, development, thought, invention, ideals, aims, liberalism, judgment, experience and everything, everything, everything, we are still in the preparatory class at school. We prefer to live on other people’s ideas, it’s what we are used to! Am I right, am I right?” (Crime and Punishment, Dostoevsky)

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent books are Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution and The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink (with Joshua Frank) He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3

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