Really, Really Awful

Radley Balko has been on Mississippi state medical examiner Steven Hayne's case for years.  He has gathered a fair bit of evidence that Hayne is not only an unqualified hack, but that he has a history of saying anything and everything, no matter how bizarre, that a prosecutor wants to hear in court to get a conviction.

The case of Jimmie Duncan is as bad as any.  In this case, Hayne and his "dental expert" Michael West are seen on video mutilating an unmarked corpse with castings of Duncan's teeth in order to manufacture evidence for a conviction.  Balko has the story, lots of links, and the video here.

The case would be troubling even if Hayne was just a one-off problem.  But the absolute unwillingness of the state to investigate Haynes and many of the convictions he helped obtain, despite evidence of egregious incompetence and outright fraud, demonstrate that few in government have any interest in policing over-zealous prosecution.  The experience of the few prosecutors like Craig Watkins who are willing to re-open convicted cases when the evidence changes (or evidence of past railroading emerges) lead me to think that lots of innocent men are still rotting in jails.

All this is the major reason why I gave up on supporting the death penalty years ago -- simply put, I don't trust the state to get it right.  Back 25 years ago when I called myself a "conservative,"  I tended, like others on the right, to make exceptions for the untrustworthiness and incompetence of the state when it came to a) the military and b) the police and prosecution.  No longer.  There just is no rational evidence that the incentive problems and abuse of power issues that plague other branches of government don't affect these as well.  Which is not to say there are not honorable people in these institutions  -- its that I would rather have a system in place that didn't assume their were honorable people in these positions to functions correctly.

Postscript: People sometimes argue with me on the military exception above.  They say "look at the US military.   It seems so powerful and competant in battle.  It pulled off Omaha beach.  And Desert Storm."

Well, yeah, but the thing is, it is only competing with other government-monopoly operations.  Its like saying the US post office is better than the French post office, or that Amtrak kicks butt on the Mexican National Railway.

As to D-Day, well, there are few opportunities in private life to demonstrate the heroism under fire that was common on Omaha Beech, but logistically, was it anything special compared to what is routine today?  I won't let myself get caught comparing apples and oranges, but I have seen the Air Force's logistics system and it is a sad joke compared to Wal-Marts restocking of 100,000 sku's every day in 10,000+ stores around the world.


  1. Matt:

    I would be interested to hear your personal evolution of going from conservative to libertarian, as I straddle the fence myself. Have you already made a post like that?

  2. MHodak:

    Growing up as an Air Force brat instilled a couple of attitudes that I carry to this day: (1) I have a very high regard for individuals who have served in our military--I tend to trust them implicitly (especially senior enlisted/junior officers types), and (2) the military as an institution is, to use one of their own terms, FUBAR. Everyone in the military knows that "military efficiency" is an oxymoron.

  3. Shenpen:

    I'd be interested in your story about going from conservatism to libertarianism, but first define what you meant by conservatism, as it can mean many things. At one end of the scale, it's a sceptical pluralism: a practical, common-sense aversion to any kind of rationalistic ideology. This end is exemplified by people like John Kekes, Michael Oakeshott, a bit back in history: Giambattista Vico etc. This is the kind of conservatism I like.

    At the other end of the scale is religious-nationalistic traditionalism. This is the kind of conservatism I don't like so much. This other end is like Salazaar or perhaps Franco and in a much milder and democratic way, Bush and his supporters.

    And there are and were many folks in between: Barry Goldwater was very close to the first end, so is Vaclav Klaus in Czech and Donald Tusk in Poland, Edmund Burke and David Cameron are/were one step closer to the second but still much closer to the first than to the second, Bill Buckley right in the middle of it, Pat Buchanan is much closer to the second end etc. etc.

  4. TDK:

    As regards your postscript, Omaha is a funny example to pick for demonstrating competency. Of the five beaches, Omaha was the only one that came close to failure.

    That's not to dispute the heroism of those involved.

  5. JC:

    MHodak has it right - it's not reasonable to expect "Military Precision" from folks who gave us the acronyms FUBAR and SNAFU.

  6. David:

    To make the apples a little bit more like oranges, I wonder how well Wal-Mart would do if there were significant numbers of people shooting at them? It is a lot easier to deal with commercial security (where the concern is theft of assets) than military supply-chain security (where the concerns include espionage, loss of life, etc).

    Wal-Mart does do logistics quite well - hopefully the FedGov will take a few hints from them...