Lowering the Bar is a legal-humor website that provides and comments on weird news with some relationship to civil or criminal law. It also provides an archive of the many legal opinions, pleadings, and other legal documents that are funnier (intentionally or not) than they have any right to be.
It’s not often that someone screws up so very badly that he must not only apologize to a judge, he must do it in writing, and in fact must do it in pleading form. But Roger Stone managed to do that yesterday, when he posted a photo to his Instagram account showing a judge with crosshairs next to her head, and accompanied the photo with insulting comments to boot:
A tweet version of Stone’s post (highlights added)
To understand just how far off the normal stupidity chart this is, be advised that this is the judge currently presiding over Stone’s criminal trial, and that she had just imposed a limited gag order on Friday that prevented Stone (and others) from making public statements that might tend to prejudice jurors or otherwise interfere with the administration of justice. Friday’s order didn’t apply to social media specifically, but you’d think Stone would have taken the hint. In fact, it looked briefly like he had. “I am pleased that the judge’s order leaves my first amendment right to defend myself in public intact,” Stone said in a text message Friday to the Washington Post. “I will of course continue to be judicious about my comments regarding the case.”
It is possible he doesn’t know that “judicious” means “having, exercising, or characterized by sound judgment,” at least in the kind of dictionaries normal people use.
Anyway, before the day was out, Stone’s lawyers had—most likely after reading their client the riot act and threatening to withdraw if he was going to keep this nonsense up—put together the document below, entitled “ROGER J. STONE’S NOTICE OF APOLOGY.” Attached to the pleading is a brief and rather odd statement signed by Stone. “Please inform the Court that the photograph and comment today was improper and should not have been posted,” Stone wrote, a classic passive-voice non-apology that blames (1) the photograph and comment for being improper and (2) an apparently unknown person for having posted them. And Stone is reportedly claiming, in fact, that a “volunteer” who runs his social media accounts is to blame. That might explain the first part of the second sentence, in which Stone asserts that he “had no intention of disrespecting the Court”—something that is obviously false if he posted it himself. Stone does get around to an actual apology of sorts, though, concluding with: “[I] humbly apologize for the transgression.”
Seems doubtful he means that, since he apparently reposted the item with the crosshairs removed but with the insulting text still attached. That may have been before the apology was filed, though. In any event, if you’re on trial for allegedly lying about stuff, it’d be a good idea to tell the truth in any public statements you insist on making. I guess we’ll see how that goes.
Though you’ll hopefully never need it, here’s an example of what a formal apology to the court might look like.
On January 31, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit by two Saints fans seeking to reverse the result of the NFC championship game, which was marred by a pretty egregious missed call. The fans cited an NFL rule giving the commissioner authority to take “appropriate measures” if a “calamity” has “extraordinarily unfair” results, and sought a writ of mandamus forcing him to apply that rule. But Judge Susie Morgan held that state law only allows such a writ in certain types of cases, and this wasn’t one of them.
They might have better luck suing the NFL, the Patriots, the Rams, and Maroon 5 for the calamity that was Super Bowl LIII. A writ of mandamus wouldn’t do any good now, but several tort causes of action come to mind.
William Shatner is also threatening a lawsuit, not against the NFL but rather a 62-year-old Tampa man who claims to be his illegitimate son. According to Peter Sloan, his mother had a fling with Shatner in 1956, and he was the result—although according to the Tampa Bay Times, Sloan concedes his mother once told him the father could be “either Shatner or a second man she only recalls as ‘Chick,’ a law student from Montreal.” In January, Sloan filed a petition to change his name to “Peter Shatner.” Shatner’s lawyer responded with a cease-and-desist order.
The director of the South Carolina Sheriff’s Association claimed this week that if police are not allowed to profit from civil-forfeiture cases, they would have no incentive to do their jobs. If they don’t get to keep the money they take from suspects—if that’s the right word; many are never arrested, let alone charged—”what is the incentive to go out and make a special effort?” Jarrod Bruder said. “What is the incentive for interdiction?” Oddly, Bruder seems to understand that money can be a powerful incentive, and yet seems to have no inkling that it could, potentially, provide a perverse incentive that might encourage officers to make “special efforts” without solid evidence. Puzzling.
On the other hand, officers in Orleans Parish, Louisiana, were apparently willing to go to great lengths not to arrest someone, even though he was wanted for murder and was trying to turn himself in. The New Orleans Advocate reported that when the man showed up at the front desk with his lawyer, deputies refused to process him for more than an hour because he didn’t have ID. The lawyer said her argument that people generally don’t try to impersonate someone who’s wanted for murder fell on deaf ears
The Swedish bureau is reporting that, in a remarkable coincidence—or was it?—the regalia stolen last year from Strängnäs Cathedral have suddenly turned up, just one day after I updated my post on the theft to note that the items had still not been recovered. See “Speedboat Escape Is Exception That Proves the Rule” (Aug. 3, 2018; updated Feb. 4, 2019). Oh yes I did too, because I was motivated to check on it after mentioning the incident in Monday’s post on yet another failed attempt to escape by water. And not 24 hours later, or maybe less depending on what time zone Sweden is in and how long their hours are, police in Stockholm just happen to find the things sitting on a dumpster.
Some believe it may have had something to do with the fact that a suspect is currently on trial in the matter, but that is the rankest of speculation.
According to news reports, police found what they believe are “likely” to be all three of the missing 17th-century funeral regalia just sitting on top of a “rubbish bin” in the Åkersberga suburb of Stockholm. Forensic tests are currently underway to make sure the two crowns and an orb are the real thing, but it is hard to see why someone smart enough to make decent fakes would bother, knowing they would be closely scrutinized. The above terms are from Radio Sweden’s coverage in English, but I would also recommend Google’s translation of its coverage in Swedish: as usual, you get more details that way, and can also take childish pleasure in some of the wording:
Way funnier than “Åklagarmyndigheten: Hela butet är återfunnet,” at least to an English-speaker
According to the latter account, the booty was found atop a garbage can in Åkersberga early on February 5, the same day the trial of a 22-year-old suspect was expected to conclude. Prosecutors reported the finding to Eskilstuna District Court at 9:00 a.m., and the court put the trial on hold. Prosecutor Reena Devgun said she thought the timing of the find was probably not a coincidence. “You must remember it was only yesterday that Mr. Underhill updated his post on this matter,” she unfortunately did not say, instead going with “You have to [consider] that today we would have finished the hearing, and today [the booty has] been found. More than that I do not want to comment.” Aftonbladet said (also via Google) that prosecutors had 99 percent security the items were real, but were waiting for confirmation.
It does seem unlikely to be a coincidence, but—assuming it has something to do with the trial—it’s not clear to me how this would affect it or who if anyone would benefit.
More than one person was involved in the heist, and police have at least one other person in custody. According to Aftonbladet, the 22-year-old says he doesn’t know anything about a robbery, but admits he “has helped to fix bikes and a boat, which the thieves are believed to have used in the theft.” The thieves definitely used bikes (which they left behind) and then a speedboat in the theft, so I’m guessing this means he claims he was just a mechanic and didn’t know what the transport was going to be used for. If that’s true, then maybe the real culprits are trying to frame him in some way, like maybe they got his fingerprints from the boat after he worked on it. (It could happen. Swedish booty thieves are craftier than you think, probably.)
Regardless, it seems unlikely that he was involved in the decision to give the items back. It’s hard to see how the recovery helps him avoid conviction, and so if he had been involved, he’d presumably have wanted to take credit in hopes of getting a reduced sentence. But he hasn’t. Yet it seems even more unlikely that, if he was involved in the theft, his cronies would try to double-cross him at this point, because then he’d have information and an incentive to give it to the police. I am open to other theories, of course.
One thing at least seems clear: somebody greatly overestimated the market for stolen 17th-century Swedish royal funeral regalia, because the stuff obviously didn’t make its way along some elaborate and untraceable chain of sellers to end up in the hands of a shadowy billionaire (*cough* Elon Musk) with a secret lair under an extinct volcano somewhere in which to lock it away. It was just in the trunk of somebody’s Volvo or something. So let that be a lesson to anyone thinking of getting into the regalia business.
According to The Seattle Times, the sheriff of San Juan County, Washington, admitted that he had, from his office, “manipulated” a courtroom surveillance camera “in such a way that it zoomed in on one or more locations in the courtroom” during a criminal trial, but insisted the manipulation was “inadvertent” and that he did not read anything he might have seen while doing it. He did not even know the camera had a zoom function, he reportedly told the court.
And as for how and why it had zoomed in on defense documents and at least one juror’s notebook during the trial, well, who can say?
The inadvertent zooming manipulation came to light during a misdemeanor criminal trial last Thursday. According to the Times, Judge Kathryn Loring was working on a different case and happened to be at the court administrator’s desk while the trial was proceeding. The administrator has two computer monitors, one of which shows the view from security cameras around the courthouse. Judge Loring noticed that one of the normally stationary cameras was moving, further noticed that it was the camera located over the jury box inside the courtroom, and then even further noticed that “it was panning, tilting and zooming in on the jury box and counsel tables.” She notified the trial judge, Don Eaton, who promptly sequestered the jury and held a hearing to find out what the $&#* was going on. Following the hearing, which involved testimony by Judge Loring, the court’s IT person, and the sheriff, the trial judge dismissed the case.
During the testimony portion of this jury trial …, the security camera in District Court was remotely manipulated in a manner that caused it to pan and tilt and zoom from its default setting on four different occasions. It focused closely first of all on the notepad of Juror #3, then panned and tilted and focused closely on an illustrative aid that the prosecuting attorney was using … [T]he words that appeared were clearly legible.
The camera then “focused closely” on some of the prosecutor’s documents, which like the exhibit mentioned above would not be the primary concern. But then it moved on:
[I]t zoomed back out and then panned to the left to the defense counsel’s table and zoomed down directly on [her] yellow legal pad…. In addition to handwritten words on the legal pad, also visible was the hand of the defense attorney and the pen she was holding and a portion of a typewritten pleading document…. After lingering on [the] pleading and the handwritten notes, [the] camera zoomed back out and eventually assumed more or less its default position.
According to this report, the sheriff admitted he personally had zoomed in on the prosecutor’s documents, and his testimony “suggested he also focused on the juror’s notebook.” Oddly, the judge “said there hadn’t been testimony to determine exactly who caused the focus on defense counsel’s notebook”—though that seems like kind of an important question someone should have asked—”but it was clear that it was done by a state actor—either someone in the San Juan County Sheriff’s Office or someone in the IT department.” Most likely, Judge Eaton understandably concluded, “all these manipulations were done by someone in the San Juan Sheriff’s office as opposed to someone in the IT department. In either event, they were state actors,” and so the possibility of misconduct justified a dismissal of the charges.
It seems likely that at least in this particular case, the result was an “appearance of impropriety” thing rather than a situation where confidential information was actually shared with the prosecution. The county prosecutor said no one in his office had ever received information in this way, nor would they accept it if they had. But he is also opposing a request that the video be unsealed so the public can see what the camera operator, if any, may or may not have inadvertently seen. He argued, apparently, that releasing the video “could expose weaknesses in court security,” but it’s a little late for that.
In any event, there is a more interesting question still to be answered, namely why the sheriff can control a courtroom camera from his office:
[I]n filings seeking to make the courtroom video public, [civil-rights lawyer Nick Power] said the hearing raised still unanswered questions, including why the camera in the district courtroom has zoom capabilities at all or whether the cameras can be controlled remotely from other county terminals. The security cameras in the other courtrooms and elsewhere inside the courthouse do not have zoom, tilt or pan capabilities, according to the documents.
As far as we know.
A hearing on whether to unseal the video is scheduled for February 12.
Clearly, there was a lot going on in the West Shore area of Vancouver Island, British Columbia, last Thursday morning. The RCMP dealt with a “suspicious package,” somebody stole and then crashed a vehicle, and a 93-year-old driver spent some time driving north in a southbound lane.
But I expect you’ll be almost as sad as I was to learn there was in fact no “canoe chase” as the headline promised.
Based on CHEK News’s report, all three of the morning’s events featured lots of excitement to begin with but nothing much came of them. And of course that’s a good thing, because each one could have been a disaster. The “suspicious package” turned out to be just loose electrical wiring at a bus shelter; the elderly wrong-way driver caused no harm, got a ticket, and police then gave him an escort home. (Probably because this was in Canada, so far as I can tell they didn’t shoot him even once.) Nor was anyone injured in the third incident, although the thief crashed the stolen truck into a light pole. (Probably because this was in Canada, the truck belonged to a good Samaritan who stopped to help someone, only to have that person—probably visiting from the States—steal his truck).
So really the broken promise of a low-speed canoe chase is the only sad part of this.
At best, you are likely to end up looking ridiculous.
As did this gentleman, who fled from the crash site into somebody’s backyard and down an embankment, where—obviously not having paid the slightest attention to any of my posts—he spotted the canoe shown above, leapt in, and sped away.
“Sped” of course being a relative term. I mean, he was moving infinitely faster than objects that were at rest within the local frame of reference, many of them permanently so. The shore, dock, and trees, for example, had absolutely no hope of catching him. But again, the problem is the lack of velocity, and potential velocity, relative to the authorities. Here you will virtually always be at a very significant disadvantage.
And that’s even if you remembered to bring the paddles with you.
The suspect was eventually tracked to Portage Inlet where he was found floating in a canoe that had been stolen from a backyard.
“Our primary concern was the safety of this individual,” said RCMP Const. Alex Berube.
Officers tried to negotiate with the man to return to shore.
“They recognized that he didn’t have any paddles on this canoe, so he wasn’t able to get very far. He was trying to paddle using his hands. Didn’t work out for him,” said [Const. Nancy] Saggar.
As with so many attempted water escapes, therefore, given that the suspect was not exactly “fleeing,” officers did not feel the need to “pursue.” They don’t need to. They can just wait.
And, eventually, this suspect realized his position (i.e., standing in a stationary canoe) was untenable, and ended up jumping into the frigid Canadian water and wading into captivity.
Given that this keeps happening, I still hold out some hope that one day, there will be a second canoe or similar watercraft nearby, and an officer so excited by the chase that he (and it will surely be a “he”) will immediately leap in and go after his quarry, and then I will be able to gleefully report there was a pursuit by canoe (or raft, pedal boat, or duck-shaped inflatable, as the case may be).
Senate Bill 5615 revives a measure first introduced in 2017 by Sen. Ann Rivers (R-Vancouver etc.). That bill, SB 5816, was “reintroduced and retained in present status” a few times, but never made it out of committee. That doesn’t mean it lacked support, necessarily; it was supposed to be taken up at a public hearing on February 2, 2018, but only after diligently scanning more than 40 minutes’ worth of transcript did I learn that the matter was tabled because the primary witness couldn’t make it:
I have sad news[, the committee chair said]. The sighting of a Sasquatch is not true. The young student who is proposing that—Senator Rivers said that person couldn’t make it up here today, so we’re going to try to do that at a later date. So there is no Sasquatch today.
Nor was there any Sasquatch for the rest of that session, so far as I can tell. But Sen. Rivers is trying again this year, with a new bill number and, probably more importantly, three additional sponsors from the other side of the aisle: Sen. Palumbo (D-Maltby), Sen. Pedersen (D-Seattle), and Sen. Randall (D-Bremerton).
According to this press release, the legislation was originally inspired (as are so many of these state-symbol bills) by a letter from a young constitutent. But a friend later suggested that Rivers try to build on this by also proposing the creation and sale of an official Sasquatch license plate, the revenue from which would be used to help maintain state parks. Hence, what is now SB 5611:
A new section is added to chapter 46.04 RCW to read as follows: “Sasquatch license plates” means license plates issued under RCW 46.18.200 that displays a symbol or artwork recognizing the cultural significance of Sasquatch in Washington history and folklore.
“I’m guessing Sasquatch has a hidden talent as a fundraiser,” the press release quoted Rivers as saying. “And assuming that Sasquatch is a native Washingtonian, and our state parks are part of Sasquatch’s native habitat, it makes perfect sense to capitalize on Sasquatch’s popularity in a way that would help protect and improve that habitat.”
It does make sense (though maybe not perfect sense). Sasquatch certainly has raised a lot of funds over the years, though I couldn’t find any evidence that a member of the species itself has ever displayed any particular talent for fundraising, or even shown up for a fundraiser. But Washington’s state parks would certainly be one of the better causes that Sasquatch has been asked to support, so I have no problem with that at all.
As for assuming that Sasquatch is a “native Washingtonian” who might live in one or more of the state’s many parks, well, assuming he exists at all, this further assumption would be more than fair. While Sasquatch and his relatives have reportedly been sighted all over the goddamn place, he is strongly associated with northwestern North America—Washington and British Columbia in particular. According to Skeptical Inquirer, for example, the term “Sasquatch” itself was coined in the 1920s as sort of a catchall for the “various unknown hairy giants” in the folklore of the area’s Native American tribes. These included the Ts’emekwes spoken of by members of the Lummi tribe in northern Washington, and the skoocooms feared by natives living near Mt. St. Helens in the south. There are state parks in both areas. Thus, the assumption is a fair one.
Is it a coincidence that the local governments in those areas (Whatcom and Skamania counties respectively) have enacted “Sasquatch refuge” ordinances, in one case on an “emergency” basis as hunting season approached? Probably not. Is it a coincidence that I am bringing this up, having written a book called The Emergency Sasquatch Ordinance that discusses these and other unusual laws? Also probably not. And this also very well might explain my generally favorable reaction to Washington’s attempt to capitalize on Sasquatch’s popularity (although I was trying to improve my habitat, not his). But as with so many facts relating to this elusive cryptobeast, the truth remains unclear.
Rivers went on to say that the feedback on her bill has been positive and that she expects it will be good for the state. “The strong positive reaction to my bill to make Sasquatch the state cryptid proved that people of all ages are still taken by the idea that such a creature is out there,” she said in the press release. I have no doubt that some of them will like the idea of a Sasquatch license plate, and appreciate that buying one is good for the park system.” As one who strongly supports our national park system, and also the idea that people should buy pretty much anything with a picture of Sasquatch on it, I could not agree more.
Los Angeles police are apparently still searching for two men who fled from a clinic after receiving cosmetic procedures worth about $4,000. Sources including Newsweek reported that the two men visited Sculpt DTLA last Monday, asked for Botox and “lip-fillers,” and eventually fled without paying. Police said if caught the men would be charged with grand theft.
The clinic’s director said its policies had been updated to help stop similar thefts in the future, and while he didn’t say which policies, I’m guessing he meant the one about not requiring clients to pay first.
A nurse at the clinic said the men seemed nervous before the procedures, which might not be too unusual given that at least one of the procedures involves being injected with a form of one of the deadliest toxins known to humanity in order to look a little younger. (Though, just to be clear, the form used in these procedures is considered relatively safe, and is not the super-deadly Type H, a mere two nanograms of which will definitely stop the aging process but not in a good way.) They also did not ask how much it would cost, which would seem to be a red flag, but the director said this did happen from time to time. But suspicions were finally raised when one of the men went to the bathroom and, after about 10 minutes, the other one “asked to go and locate his friend.” But by then, it was too late: the men bolted, reportedly looking fabulous.
Reports tend to refer to these men as the “Botox Bandits,” which is not bad but also in no way original. Even a brief search for that phrase turns up many cases of Botox banditry, including one in Phoenix last November, another L.A. case in October, and a London case last May involving three bandits caught on surveillance video after the botoxery (and therefore also described as the “puffy-faced trio” and the “swollen suspects”). Obviously, a lot of clinic policies need to be changed, because this is not at all uncommon, it appears.
But then you know that, if you paid any attention at all to the saga of the original Spa Bandit, a.k.a. Marshall G. Wolbers, a man in his mid-50s who plagued spas and salons in the Upper Midwest with similar misconduct during 2006 and 2007. See “Wisconsin Spa Bandit Strikes for Sixth Time” (Oct. 24, 2006); “Illinois Spa Bandit Seized” (Feb. 9, 2007) (he struck in both states, okay?); and “Spa Bandit Update” (Mar. 16, 2016). As the update related, judges let Wolbers off relatively easy for his spa crimes, but he later graduated to armed robbery. That, plus a “preposterous” defense argument (“‘There isn’t a jury on the planet that would’ve found you not guilty,’ Judge John Des Jardins told him”), is why Wolbers will presumably be receiving no beauty treatments to speak of until 2024.
Which is not to say spa banditry is necessarily a gateway crime, but it is a crime.
Thanks to the reader who alerted me to recent developments in the Paddlefish case I reported on last November. See United States v. 1855.6 Pounds of American Paddlefish Meat and 982.34 Pounds of American Paddlefish Caviar, No. 16-cv-3374 (N.D. Ind. filed Nov. 13, 2018). Specifically, I can now confirm that the U.S. government won this case, a conclusion I base primarily on two data points:
I looked at the docket, which said so; and
The defendants are now being auctioned off.
As a reminder, this case was brought after two human defendants were arrested on suspicion of violating the federal Lacey Act, which as I’m sure you know prohibits trafficking in fish (among other things) that have been obtained illegally. The primary evidence against the human defendants seems to have been the testimony of an undercover officer who went fishing with them and was personally present when they hauled in a sh*tload of American Paddlefish (a protected species). Which is pretty good evidence, frankly.
While those gentlemen (or at least one of them) were being prosecuted for violating the Lacey Act, the U.S. government filed a “Complaint of Forfeiture in Rem” asking the court to declare that they had forfeited any interest in the property because it had been obtained illegally. (Res is Latin for “thing” or “property,” and rem is, I think, the accusative form you use when it’s the object of an action. Just in case that was bothering you.) The complaint lays out the basic facts of the investigation, noting among other things that the Paddlefish Defendants were seized on May 10, 2017, and have been in federal custody ever since. Importantly, it also notes that the Paddlefish Defendants were inspected and found to be “Grade A, and therefore safe for resale and human consumption.”
Looks like the defendants represented themselves. Almost always a bad idea, especially if you are fish.
But would they stay that way? No, because though they were defendants firmly ensconced in federal custody, they were also dead fish. This reality led to the next step in the case, the filing in November of the impressively named “Motion for Order Allowing Interlocutory Sale of Property and Substitution of Res.” In this motion, the government argues that it’s likely to win the forfeiture case, but the property will lose value in the meantime, so the court should allow the government to sell it now (thus “substituting” money for the “res”). Here, the U.S. argued, the Paddlefish Defendants are currently Grade A but their “likely date of expiration is rapidly approaching,” a date the U.S. predicted would be sometime “in March 2019.” But the sooner the better, it argued, because “no reasonable fishmonger would purchase fish meat and caviar close to the onset of the expiration date….”
Neither the defendants (paddlefish or human) nor any fishmongers (reasonable or otherwise) contested this, and the court promptly granted the order on November 19.
This meant the Paddlefish Defendants would be auctioned off to the highest bidder. But, for some reason, not immediately. Indeed, not until January 22 did the highly perishable defendants go on the auction block. The two-month delay is a little concerning, because the whole point is that the defendants are losing value while they remain in custody, unlike, say, Paul Manafort, who was bad to begin with. Not only that, the auction does not end until February 12, and granted, that is more than two weeks before the start of the defendants’ “likely [month] of expiration,” but one can still wonder whether any reasonable fishmonger would be comfortable spending not less than $95,380 (the combined minimum bid) for almost a ton of paddlefish meat and half a ton of paddlefish eggs that have been in federal custody since May 2017.
Interested fishmongers should also read the fine print, which contains what may be a highly relevant fact:
Assets have been in climate controlled storage since being seized in May 2017; temperature logs are not available.
So. Who will open the bidding for this ton-and-a-half of paddlefish corpses in federal custody that have been dead for 21 months but may or may not have been constantly frozen during that time, which coincidentally also included the longest federal government shutdown in American history, but is at least two weeks ahead of the absolute last date on which it could be sold, which is probably sometime in March?
Happily, no wives were harmed (or even present) during this episode, and of course there is nothing funny about most domestic disputes. But there is something funny about a 34-year-old man attacking his own car with an axe because he thought his wife had harmed some of his prized action figures. Hence, this shall become GRTK #75.
According to WMTV in Madison, Wisconsin (and via Keith Lee’s Twitter feed), police responded to a 911 call late on January 20 to find that the caller was also the suspect. They said the man had called 911 to report that he had “overreacted” after coming to believe (for a reason not provided) that “his wife had damaged some of his prized property (action figures).” The police blotter describes the overreaction as follows:
The suspect had wielded a log-splitting axe and after his wife had left the residence, he subsequently used the axe to destroy the TV, TV stand, laptop computer, and several other items in the house. The suspect then moved outside and smashed the family car, chopping off both side mirrors and eventually striking the windshield with such force that the axe became stuck. When officers arrived, they found the axe embedded in the windshield of the car.
Not surprisingly, alcohol also contributed.
Probably realizing that somebody was going to call 911, the man proceeded to do so himself, and then surrendered peacefully to the responding officers. (Obviously, he couldn’t attack them with the axe, but the report says he was taken into custody “without incident.”)
And this does seem like a bit of an overreaction, but as Keith noted, the report is maddeningly incomplete: “I mean, what kind of action figures were they? Were they vintage? In box?” According to a number of sources (I’m sure some of you have better ones), like-new boxed-quality action figures can be worth thousands of dollars, and a 1978 Luke Skywalker (only 20 like-new specimens of which exist) went for $25,000 at auction in 2015. And any damage to a 1963 original G.I. Joe prototype figure (never even sold, a model created for the figure), one of which sold for $200,000 15 years ago, might actually justify taking an axe to the family car, although it’d be a close call. That was probably the only one of its kind anyway, so it’s very unlikely that’s what was at stake here. But we just don’t know.
Finally, the reports all say the man “believed” his wife had damaged his prized action figures, from which I infer that he believed this incorrectly. (Sadly, we don’t know why.) So again, one of the many lessons these stories teach is that you should remain calm, take a deep breath or two, and confirm that you have actually been wronged before taking any action. (Okay, three lessons.) This greatly reduces the chance that you will overreact and end up, for example, with an axe embedded in your own car’s windshield.
As CNN reports, Nancy Pelosi has sent the President a letter saying that, what with the government shut down and all, it won’t be possible for him to come over and regale Congress with the State of the Union address he had previously been invited to give:
Sadly, given the security concerns and unless government re-opens this week, I suggest we work together to determine another suitable date after government has re-opened for this address or for you to consider delivering your State of the Union address in writing to the Congress on January 29.
Yes, she’s so very sad.
Obviously, she framed this as a request, but it isn’t. And while the State of the Union speech has become a big stupid spectacle in the last few decades, for much of our history nobody even bothered with a speech. It was better that way.
The Constitution says only that the President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient….” U.S. Const. art. II, § 3, cl. 1. That’s it. All it says is that the President has the obligation (and the implied power) to make recommendations. George Washington interpreted this to mean he should actually walk over to Congress once a year and tell them about stuff in person, which he first did on January 8, 1790. Here are selections from that first Annual Address:
Fellow-Citizens of the Senate and House of Representatives:
I embrace with great satisfaction the opportunity which now presents itself of congratulating you on the present favorable prospects of our public affairs. The … rising credit and respectability of our country, the general and increasing good will toward the government of the Union, and the concord, peace, and plenty with which we are blessed are circumstances auspicious in an eminent degree to our national prosperity. Indeed, the auspices are so favorable that only with a supreme national effort could future generations manage to f*ck up this great opportunity our sacrifices have all but guaranteed to them.
* * *
In foreign affairs, the interests of the United States require that our intercourse with other nations should be facilitated by such provisions as will enable me to fulfill my duty in that respect in the manner which circumstances may render most conducive to the public good. That, gentlemen, is why I ate my translator’s notes following my meeting with the emissary of Her Excellency Catherine II, Empress of All the Russias; any suggestion of other motive has been crafted from whole cloth. I am no puppet. You, sir, are the puppet, if puppet there be.
John Adams continued this tradition, though with slightly less profanity. But when it was Thomas Jefferson’s turn, he decided to give Congress his information only in writing, explaining in this cover letter that he felt it would be inconvenient at that juncture to do so. (He also said doing this would relieve legislators “from the embarrassment of immediate answers on subjects not yet fully before them,” which I’m pretty sure is an insult, though a very polite one.)
And maybe it was, but Jefferson also felt that the whole idea of having the Executive appear to address the Legislature in this manner was just a little too monarchical for what we still believed at the time was a republic. Following Jefferson’s example, annual messages were usually sent only in writing until 1913, when Woodrow Wilson decided to show up personally again.
And it has been all downhill from there.
Anybody who has watched a State of the Union (as it’s now called) knows, or should know, what a big farce it has become. All three branches of government show up (even though the Constitution doesn’t invite the Judiciary at all—party crashers) and the President makes this big procession down the aisle during which members of his party worship him and everybody at least feels obligated to applaud. The President then makes an imperial-style speech that provides little if any actual information, and in the worst of all recent traditions, now always calls attention to some individual citizen who has been invited supposedly for praise but really so the President can bathe in his or her reflected glory. It’s all more than enough to make Thomas Jefferson hurl.
The last thing we need in this country is more president-worship, no matter who’s president, so the whole tradition should be canceled. But a “State of the Union” address would be especially ridiculous at the moment. Trump’s not going to embarrass anybody with his superior knowledge on subjects not immediately before them, but there’s no reason to give him another opportunity to lie about the border “crisis” like he did for eight minutes the other night, or about his feelings on puppetry. And, to get back to Pelosi’s letter, a president doesn’t have the right to give his state-of-the-union info in any particular way, much less the right to some grand processional. That is just a tradition that’s developed, and Donald Trump can hardly complain if somebody wants to dump on a tradition he likes. Since this tradition sucks anyway, now’s as good a time as any to dump on it.
As I believe George Washington said about the British Empire, though I may be misremembering that quote too.