Constantly Disappointed

For the past 5-6 years, I think we have been constantly living in a sense of disappointment. Perhaps the big financial crash scarred us and made us skeptical of everything around us even when things started to finally look up. The social media tools of quick feedback and need to comment on every issue you hear about often relied more on negativism. The tweets that bash people or make condescending puns tend to get retweeted more and hence subsequently get tweeted more. I’ve been guilty of this but over time, I realized the constant barrage of negativity around me. Part of the reason I stopped blogging as frequently was also because most of the posts we read during the heydays of blogging involved critical analysis, more often not constructive. So I decided to make a conscious effort of not doing that. The IIPM saga also hardened the cynic in me that nothing ever changes.

Among all the things we are constantly disappointed with, I think Obama’s presidency has to rank right at the top. More often than not, the right’s implication that he was considered a messiah by the left rings true. Things he never said or promised are often attributed to him e.g. ending all wars and waging none. What is easily forgotten that he in fact supported right until he got elected, the “good” war in Afghanistan. The drone warfare as illegitimate as it sounds is done with the complicity of the Pakistani and Yemeni governments (hence you don’t see drone strikes in Germany or India) and often result in a far fewer accidental civilian deaths. This is in no way a defense of the drone strikes. It should be subject to Congressional oversight and all legalities of conducting such strikes should be tested by the federal if not the Supreme Court; checks-n-balances and all that jazz.

However, this post tries to focus on the latest disappointment in the Obama presidency. I may often come across as an Obama apologist but this charge often comes from people who are more than willing to overlook the consequences of having the other side in charge [1] The rollout for Obamacare hasn’t been exactly smooth and the primary website where people can enroll has suffered from numerous technical glitches. If you use the relative scale, ten years ago, we couldn’t find WMDs that we were told existed before we invaded a Middle East country that cost thousands of American lives and countless civilian lives. Today, we have a slow website that can and is being fixed.

Obama clearly erred when he promised that no one would lose their existing insurance plans although such plans clearly are not up to the mark. He should’ve apologized and he did [2]. It’s like letting people drive around in cars without seat belts and unusually low emissions standards. The insurance companies have been conning people into a sense of complacency by offering junk plans and denying people benefits when it came time to pay for healthcare. How bad are these plans? Here’s one example:

Under her current junk plan, she would probably receive no more than a few hundred dollars of benefits for doctor visits and drugs. It wouldn’t cover her surgery, her chemotherapy, her many expensive medications, or the repeated diagnostic tests she’d likely require. She would end up with probably $119,000 of unpaid medical bills. With the Humana plan [from Healthcare.gov), those bills top out at $6,300 a year, no matter what.

The law addresses such plans but yup, Obama should’ve qualified his statements which I admit don’t make for good soundbites in a fast-paced media world of today. I’m no health policy wonk but the least the White House can do right now, is to let those people keep their plans (grandfathered-in) for the next three years but prevent insurance companies from offering them to new customers. The Landrieu Bill in the Senate, I believe fixes this while requiring insurance companies to also offer the higher priced alternatives and showing the additional benefits offered under them. But then, in my opinion, this would be the wrong policy choice. The overall negative impact is far worse than having to eat crow and admit you misspoke or lied earlier. But then again, there’s the reality to consider:


The other issue is that of the slow and sometimes non-responsive website. I believe that it won’t be fixed in time before the end of this month and while that is unacceptable, penalties if you don’t get insurance don’t kick in until March 31, 2014. Latest numbers suggested that nearly 500,000 have at least filled out an application but have not bought a plan. I guess they are waiting until they have to since coverage will not begin until Jan 1, 2014 anyway. But it’s a far cry from the single digit enrollments that media reported happened on the first day.

On the other side, I can totally relate with the problems experienced in launching a website that will contain information from multiple sources and be useful to all. Because I’ve been doing exactly that for the past few months. However, my task was a millionth times as small as the Healthcare.gov website but it gave me an in-depth understanding of how state procurement even for technical services worked and I suppose the federal one is even more convoluted. The state agency originally tasked with contracting out the development was restricted in the choice of vendors it could seek out. It could, by law, only select from the vendors in its database and the program manager had nothing to go by in the list apart from names of the vendors and she had to pick ten at random without even knowing if they were capable of developing what we wanted. Clearly this was a sub-optimal solution so the process of contracting a vendor fell to our office and we could reach out to many more people, lay out specific requirements, and eventually select a private development company after an exhaustive search that included an on-site demonstration.

In our example, we had to design the system such that it could accept data from four different data systems from our sites and yet be flexible enough to handle additional fields that we could factor in for research. People often told us one thing about their systems and the data they had and it turned out to be completely different when they eventually delivered the data. Luckily we could go back and redesign the interface to handle such inconsistencies. From what I understand, the Healthcare.gov directly connects to 50 state exchanges that have been developed independent of each other and may be subject to different requirements. To top it, it contained health data so was subject to HIPAA regulations that made it doubly complicated. Further, this development and testing was happening just as the other party was willing to shut down the government in order to defund the law that administered this venture. It would have been a massive surprise if everything worked perfectly from the start.

So as much as disappointed we want to be in our state of affairs, it’s always useful to place things in context and view it relatively. Of course, we should complain but to argue that we would be better off than what we are doing right now just makes me dismiss you entirely. Changes to the status quo may hamper one party’s political future but to use that to convince the otherwise-sensible among us that we are doomed is downright evil. And it’s sad that people are willing to outrightly dismiss the efforts rather than rolling up their sleeves and saying, ok lets fix this thing and get it going.

  1. They say, politics is about choosing between the lesser of the two evils so your choice is always relative. You have to constantly think about, ok, I don’t like this guy but then whom would I rather have in his place? []
  2. Remember when Bush apologized for the Iraq war? Yeah, neither can I []

India’s Vulnerable Electronic Voting Machines

India’s much vaunted EVM machines are prone to manipulation [YouTube link] and can be used to alter election results. Great work by EVM India. Unfortunately, instead of addressing the problems, one of the Indian involved in this discovery, Hari Prasad was soon arrested by the Indian government. Sounds like a credible conspiracy theory in progress, right?

Disposable Miranda Rights

You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed to you. Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?

Thanks to the hajaar crime drama shows on American television, almost everyone, U.S. citizen or not, is aware of the Miranda warning. It underscored the importance of due process as granted by the Fifth and the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution. It is merely one aspect of the U.S. law and order system that makes America what it is. No one is above the law and you will be presumed innocent until proven guilty. The process of prosecution is just as important as meting out of justice for the crime committed. The process can seem frustrating in light of heinous crime where guilt is beyond doubt but it keeps in check power of the police and the government which is easily susceptible to abuse.

Thus it is suprising that the party that allegedly supports the Tea Party Movement which is based on protesting the government’s reach into our daily lives can be so conflicting over these basic rights. The conflict arises over reading the Miranda rights to the alleged Times Square bomber, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Pakistan. Republicans ranging from the crazy wingnut Rep.Peter Kind to the so-called ‘maverick moderate’, Sen.John McCain have voiced their opposition to reading the Miranda Rights to a U.S. citizen and Sen.Joe Lieberman goes to the extent of proposing stripping him of his citizenship so the rights can be denied (imagine the precedent it may set). In a hell-freezes-over moment, Glenn Beck emerged as the voice of reason when he said, “[Shahzad] has all the rights under the Constitution. We don’t shred the Constitution when it is popular. We do the right thing.” The heads of Fox & Friends just exploded hearing this muttering, what the heck did just happen? If the Miranda warning can be excluded and individuals stripped off their citizenship for terrorist attempts then why not exclude them in crimes involving molestation of kids or rapes or even selling drugs? Can the citizenship be stripped only from naturalized citizens or is every citizen fair game?

The irony was that on the day this was being debated, the Indian courts in a rare display of speedy justice convicted Kasab, the sole gunman from 26/11 terror attacks in Mumbai making an American blog say this:

Screen shot 2010-05-04 at 9.42.58 AM.PNG

I never thought I would see the day when the Indian judiciary would be held up as an example against the American one. So pigs can fly.

Update: There is in fact a ‘public safety exception’ to the Miranda warning which makes McCain and King’s mumblings even more bizarre:

Law enforcement officials can invoke a public safety exception and delay reading a suspect his rights to get information that would save lives. In Shahzad’s case, the FBI invoked the public safety exception. The agency called in its crack interrogation team, asked Shahzad questions with no Miranda warning, and reaped what the FBI says was “valuable intelligence and evidence.” Then Shahzad was read his rights. And lo and behold, he waived them and kept talking [source].

Healthcare Reform comes to America

[image source] After decades of trying, healthcare reform finally made it through the halls of the U.S. Congress and is headed toward the President’s desk. In the events leading up to this historic legislative moment, several canards and lies dominated the discussion but when the dust settles after, the effects of this legislation for healthcare in America will be known. No one is coming for your grandma and socialism doesn’t reign supreme in America (if you had lived in India pre-1991, this lie will always make you laugh). Although like most, I too do not believe that this bill is perfect as it perpetuates the reliance on insurance as means of controlling healthcare costs. I would’ve preferred a Medicare for all (or for none) option but neither is politically feasible. This bill although imperfect still sets us in the right direction. So now that the bill is law, what happens immediately? Here is a list:

  • Adult children may remain as dependents on their parents’ policy until age 26
  • Children under age 19 may not be excluded for pre-existing conditions
    No more lifetime or annual caps on coverage
  • Adults with pre-existing conditions may buy into a national high-risk pool until the exchanges come online. While these will not be cheap, they’re still better than total exclusion and get some benefit from a wider pool of insureds.
  • Small businesses will be entitled to a tax credit for 2009 and 2010, which could be as much as 50% of what they pay for employees’ health insurance.
  • The “donut hole” closes for Medicare patients, making prescription medications more affordable for seniors.
  • Requirement that all insurers must post their balance sheets on the Internet and fully disclose administrative costs, executive compensation packages, and benefit payments.
  • Authorizes early funding of community health centers in all 50 states (Bernie Sanders’ amendment)
  • [source]

The above list makes the 2000+ page bill sound simple or probably too simple and may not cover all bases. Reuters breaks it down much better according to year of implementation and more specific changes. the New York Times also has an excellent interactive feature on how the healthcare overhaul affects you whether you are insured or uninsured. Given the number of positive and popular changes in the bill such as barring people based on pre-existing conditions, closing of the Medicare ‘doughnut’ hole, elimination of lifetime coverages, etc. it will be next to impossible to repeal this bill, as Republicans propose doing. Partisan bickering aside, this bill recognizes healthcare as a right and not a privilege, much like education.

Texas executes the innocents?

Cameron Todd Wilingham. Remember this name. He just might be one of the many innocent that the state of Texas has executed. No better case for abolishing the death penalty. Heck, as the article says, it is even cheaper to incarcerate a man for life than it is to execute him.

Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court

Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court following David Souter’s retirement last month, the first Hispanic woman to be nominated to the post. The nomination process is expected to go through smoothly but not without crazy outbursts from the far-right fringes of the Republican Party. But one at least expects them to get the name of the candidate they are opposed to right. Especially from a former Presidential contender.

Anjali Waghmare not afraid of the Sena

It takes a Waghmare to stand firm against Shiv ‘we-don’t-care-for-due-process’ Sena’s bullying tactics. Does the Sena know how easy it is to subvert the law based on experience hence its refusal to let Kasab stand trial?

Google Mistrials

Ubiquitous access to the Internet with the help of online tools like Google and Twitter are threatening validity of legal cases leading to “Google mistrials”.

What is not Libel or Slander

Remember my post listing ‘reasonable restrictions’ on free speech? It seems that the restriction based on libel or slander also have their own subset of exceptions defining what is and is not libel or slander. No wonder we have one thick Constitution.

Restricting Freedom with Excuses of Responsibility

The Indian blogosphere has been discussing the implications of a recent Supreme Court ruling reprimanding a Kerala-based 19-year-old youth for allowing so-called libelous comments on a community he started on Orkut. The plaintiff that was offended was the Shiv Sena who are widely regarded in the Indian political circles as a responsible and reasonable outfit . Their primary complaint was that by accusing the Sena of diving the country on communal ground, the youth has hurt public sentiments. Wait! Not the youth but the anonymous commenters on his community on Orkut had hurt public sentiments. After all, he should be held responsible for every unmoderated comment on a third-party social networking site, right? The popular opinion not only in the mainstream media or the people but also among bloggers is that if you have the freedom of expression you should use it responsibly. Sounds great, right? Almost conjures images of a teary Spiderman having awesome powers only to be shackled by responsibility.

The Supreme Court ruling said to the youth, “You are a computer student and you know how many people access internet(sic) portals. Hence, if someone files a criminal action on the basis of the content, then you will have to face the case. You have to go before the court and explain your conduct.” I’m glad not to be a computer student because now I have no idea of how many people access Internet portals and can be exempt from blogging with responsibility. Jokes aside, although everyone agrees that we should blog with responsibility no one ventures into defining what responsibility is and how fragile public sentiment can be. Blogging aside, can political parties now simply cite “hurting public sentiment” by suing journalists who dare to investigate their actions during or after elections? If you say journalists are different, I ask why. They don’t seem to be limited by their professional ethics given the recent coverage of Mumbai attacks. By allowing criminal proceedings to be filed against the youth, the Court may have opened the doors for frivolous charges. Intimidation of ordinary people by merely threatening to file suit can be a viable alternative to squelch criticism. Will a blogger living outside India be required to come down to India for his ‘tareek pe tareek‘ for merely voicing his opinion against a certain individual or organization? Any reasonable individual wants to avoid going to court in order to stay away from a long legal process and this might be just the crutch ‘offended parties’ may use to stave off critcism. Even the Supreme Court admits this in Indian Oil Corporation v. NEPC (2006) [via]:

“a growing tendency in business circles to convert purely civil disputes into criminal cases. This is obviously on account of a prevalent impression that civil law remedies are time consuming and do not adequately protect the interests of lenders/creditors. Such a tendency is seen in several family disputes also, leading to irretrievable break down of marriages/families. There is also an impression that if a person could somehow be entangled in a criminal prosecution, there is a likelihood of imminent settlement.”

But sadly, the law is not yet on our side. Clause (2) of Article 19 of the Indian Constitution elaborating on freedom of speech includes the following “reasonable restrictions” – security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency and morality, contempt of court, defamation, incitement to an offense, sovereignty and integrity of India. Please tell me how these restrictions are reasonable. As you see, anything under the sun can be categorized as an restriction to your freedom of speech. If I say something innocuous and that leads to couple of weirdos smashing shop windows in the town, all it does to get me into trouble is the weirdos saying that my words made them do it. My freedom of speech will be curtailed under “public order” or “incitement to an offense” restrictions. Shouldn’t actions be punished instead of words? Arundhati Roy regularly violates her freedom of speech rights by advocating independence for Kashmir thereby endangering “sovereignty and integrity of India”. But apart from calling her ignorant, I wouldn’t want to reprimand her for what she thinks as a solution to the Kashmir issue. This post in itself can be considered as a “contempt of court” since I dared to talk against the Supreme Court ruling. Where does it stop?

Preventive Custody – Valid or not?

As much as I detest the actions of the Sri Ram Sene and its head honcho, Pramod Muthalik, I don’t approve of this concept of taking a person into preventive custody. I know it has been used regularly by the police but it presupposes the act of crime and shows the inability of the police to preclude the act itself. I guess it is far easier to simply take a person into custody instead of actually preventing his actions but it sets a dangerous precedent of declaring a person guilty simply based on his statements for an act he hasn’t committed yet. Investigate him but remanding to custody is taking it a bit too far. It is not a crime unless he commits it and I don’t think it passed the smell test of ‘shouting fire in a theater’ or ‘bomb in an airplane’.

Now if the police had arrested him for his attack on the women in pubs, it would be completely understandable because it was a crime that was committed but the lack of action on that first act set in motion the events that followed. He wasn’t remanded to custody for his pub attack crimes but for something that he has not yet done. Unless the police act on actual crimes and not on uncommitted ones, we will have a confusing law & order situation.

Mind you, this is in no way condoning his stated actions and I couldn’t disagree with his regressive views more. If you think, this might not be the best time to raise the question of such ‘preventive action’ given Muthalik’s history but then when is it? Tomorrow it could be you for a far more innocuous thought that you simply expressed aloud and had no intention of carrying it out. Any legal experts out there who would like to shed more light on this issue?

Muffling a Blogger

The concept of free speech in India can be a prickly affair. A billion souls and I’m sure there are billion opinions to go around. We achieved political freedom in 1947 but the true meaning of an open and democratic society still has not seeped in the Indian psyche; at times even bloggers don’t get it. Opening up the economy and increased interaction with the world partly helped in understanding this concept better so much so that even Raj Thackeray (rightly) justified his hate-filled messages under free speech. But the kicker is when you are faced with an opinion that you do not agree with. Instead of dishing it out, you are forced to contend with something that you wish is never said out loud. Given how the mob mentality in India works, the natural reaction in India is to ban such opinions. Umpteen books and movies have been denied this fundamental right simply because a vacuous minority found it unpalatable. As Nitin puts it succinctly, this culture of competitive intolerance is proving to be a bane of a progressing Indian society.

Why this tirade against violation of free speech principles? Because of this post. In the aftermath of the Mumbai Terror attacks, public opinion against the media was especially scathing as it clearly saw through the fourth estate’s blatant violation of journalism ethics and pandering to commercialism. The word ‘Exclusive‘ and questions like ‘aap ko kaisa laga raha hai?‘ were never so reviled. Opinions flooded the blogosphere and the Twitterverse so much so that the media finally acknowledged the usefulness of this new medium in spreading news and information.

But instead of introspecting into what did they do wrong, the media, in this case NDTV, did what they always do – use its influence and legal muscle to muffle the little guy. Chetan’s post titled ‘Shoddy Journalism’ (now removed but available on Google cache) was one of the well-written rants in the blogosphere that documented the Indian media’s failings and handling of this crisis.

One of the (three) primary complaints by NDTV against Chetan’s posts, as he cites in his withdrawal post, was the accusation that Barkha Dutt had revealed troop locations endangering their lives, was in fact cited and quoted directly from Wikipedia. So how can Chetan be sued for libel for stating an external source? Was Wikipedia sued? I bet not. Why not? [UPDATE: apparently, you can be held liable even if you cite an external source but malicious intent must be proven] Because it is simple to scare the little guy instead of taking on an influential non-profit that is responsible for creating an encyclopedia of human knowledge. The Wikipedia entry on Barkha Dutt that says the above still exists. Will NDTV sue me for pointing you to a source of contention? Hey, it is neither my opinion nor am I agreeing with it but merely stating that such a claim exists. Is this libel? I thought it was known in pop culture as gossip but what do I know after I’m just one of the We in ‘We the People‘. The first complaint was an opinion; not a stated fact and the second one, was a widespread consensus among the general populace.

The tactics of NDTV is simple – zero in on a small blogger and threaten him with a lawsuit for practicing the very same fundamental right that they earn their livelihood from. After all, the legal team must earn their retainer, right? And it works. Why wouldn’t it? An average blogger doesn’t want any pangas and just wants a digital record of his life, opinions, and memories. We don’t secretly plan on taking over your media business. I completely understand Chetan’s decision to back down but that doesn’t make what NDTV did right.

Mind you, they are not counting on the case going to court but employing tactics that the RIAA employed not too long ago to dissuade people from sharing music online. Not one case resulted in a conviction but plenty were settled outside the courtroom. Until of course, the RIAA ran out of money to sue (those retainers can add up!) and their strongarm tactics did not discourage others from doing what they thought was unlawful. So I ask NDTV to show if they have sued every single media outlet including their competitors and other bloggers who have reported on the allegations that Chetan is apologizing for? If not, why was Chetan singled out? Can he counter-sue for harassement? Questions questions…

This behavior is part of the larger malaise of Indian mainstream media who has inculcated the worst from their Western counterparts. Apart from the easily-fudged and legally-suspect sting operations, investigative journalism is virtually dead. I ask Barkha Dutt and her team at NDTV to pay close attention to their primary responsibility of news reporting toward the Indian people instead of going after poor bloggers who are merely quoting what they read and expressing their opinions. If they want in the opinion business, better stay away from reporter tag; you cannot have it both ways.

From  a business perspective, you don’t go after your consumers and from a democratic perspective, you don’t turn against the people whose interests you claim to safeguard from the mai-baap government. When the reporter becomes the reported, it is usually time to take a closer look at your life and wonder what happened. I hope you understand and not sue me instead.

Other reactions: Shripriya, Lekhni, and V.P. Jaiganesh

Interrogating a Terrorist

As soon as the news that the Indian security forces had captured one of the terrorists (Mohammad Ajmal Amir Iman among other aliases) in the Mumbai attacks alive trickled out, there were umpteen suggestions on how best to extract information from him. None of which included treating him humanely and why should we? Especially when we had him at a time his colleagues were still killing Indian citizens and we had no clue how many else like him were out there. The favorite mode of interrogation of the Indian police is as they say, tire mein daal ke dhooneka (hang him from a suspended tire and bash him like a piñata) until he blurts everything out. Without prejudging the Indian forces mode of interrogation, the news that followed had him singing like a canary giving us details of his origin, training, and of course, Pakistan’s involvement.

But what was the general opinion among the populace on future interrogations? Based on my conversation at the katta or naaka (neighborhood hangout spots) while in India, most prefer the piñata treatment. I’ve been guilty of having that opinion not too long ago too. But do such methods work? What prevents the terrorist from giving us wrong information or even the information that he perceives we want to hear just to make the beating stop? How is that useful to our national security interests and more importantly global image considering such torture tactics are considered inhumane even for terrorists? If you argue that such despicable people should be treated in a way they deserve then frankly we lose all moral standing and there exists no difference between them and us only seeking to reinforce the recruitment tactics their higher-ups use to lure misguided youth. And when we end up trying the captured terrorist in a court of law (because that’s what civilized nations do) then there is the danger of excluding any evidence obtained from those torture sessions.

Why do you think George Bush is so reviled by his countrymen although he portends to keeping his countrymen safe ironically by sanctioning the very acts that his enemies are capable of. Nitin is absolutely right when he says, “America’s greatest mistake after 9/11 was Guantanamo Bay. India should not make the same mistake.” India should focus on following the letter (and spirit of) law and try the terrorist in the court with proper legal representation. That is the only way we send a strong message to people like him that regardless of their barbaric methods and outdated thinking, we are still a civilized nation.

On a related note, if you think we still need the information that can be had by the piñata treatment then check out Air Force officer and Guantánamo Bay interrogator Matthew Alexander’s (a pseudonym) book, How to Break a Terrorist. Coming from a man who did the information extraction for a living, his word is more valuable than my opinion:

“The quickest way to get most (but not all) captives talking is to be nice to them. But what does it mean to be “nice” to a subject under interrogation? … It means, ideally, getting to know the subject better than he knows himself and then manipulating him by role-playing, flattering, misleading, and nudging his or her perception of the truth slightly off center. The goal is to turn the subject around so that he begins to see strong logic and even wisdom in acting against his own comrades and cause.”

And there is that danger of having the wrong man because not every day will you catch a terrorist red-handed. Heck, it might be someone from your family or even you. Do you want your brains bashed in for some information that you don’t have?

Google India Sued over Blogger’s Identity

The phenomenon of companies threatening bloggers in India is back. This time Google India has been sued by Gremach Infrastructure Equipments & Projects to reveal details of a blogger who wrote against the company’s mines in Mozambique [via]. After failing to obtain the necessary cooperation from Mumbai Police’s Cyber Cell, Gremach moved the High Court which ordered Google India to removed the blog and provide the details of the blogger. Google disabled the blog but hasn’t revealed the identity yet.

Now Gremach is hell bent upon finding the identity of the blogger, “Toxic Writer” who they claim is waging a hate campaign against the company and is posting lies on the blog. Or could it be that the blogger is a whistle blower who is genuinely interested in exposing the company’s misdeeds? Mining, construction company, and a remote, and poor African nation – all are potent indicators of fishy acts and Gremach’s insistence on knowing the identity of the blogger in spite of the blog being taken down is definitely indicative of suspicious activity. I hope Google India manages to stave off this unfair request of betraying a blogger’s identity in a democratic nation. This lawsuit hasn’t yet made news in the blogosphere but could have adverse effects on every blogger in India if Gremach’s request is granted.

Being Aware of your Legal Rights via Television

Ash and I are self-professed Law & Order fans although the show is not aimed at our demographic group. Given the umpteen re-runs of the show, there is always a L&O playing during primetime on at least one cable channel (usually USA, TNT, or Bravo). Although originally made for NBC, the show now has original new episodes on USA on Sunday nights leaving all the crappy shows like American Gladiators and Celebrity Circus (?) for the parent channel.

There are basically three shows within the L&O family – Regular, Criminal Intent (CI), and Special Victims Unit (SVU) with an assortment of characters with their own quirky and convoluted backgrounds. The regular L&O is equally divided into investigative detective work and courtroom drama. The latter two focus mostly on the investigation part with CI targeted at the complicated cases that often start out with homicide and end up revealed an international money laundering racket involving state governors and SVU is targeted at sex crimes more often than not involving children. I love the chain of investigation in CI led by the brilliant and quirky Detective Robert Goren played convincingly by Vincent D’Onofrio and the empathetic dedication of Elliot Stabler (Christopher Meloni) and Olivia Benson (Marsika Hargitay) in SVU. The newest episode involved a Bhutto-like plot involving the Tamil Tigers starring Indira Verma (was live-blogged by Sepia Mutiny; alright I’m not that serious of a connoisseur of the television drama)

But apart from the original and dramatic plot lines which often are inspired by real-life events, I love the courtroom drama, behind-the-scenes wrangling of lawyers in search of pleas for their clients, and detective work within the confines of the law. Admittedly, the real-life police work might be quite different and might tread lightly on the unlawful side aided by coverups (see The Departed) but it is enlightening to know and understand the intricacies of American law and the rights it accords even to the most heinous criminals. Presumed innocent until proven guilty with the burden of proof lying with the state prosecutors and all it takes for a non-guilty verdict is convincing the jury of your peers of ‘reasonable doubt’. The Executive Assistant District Attorney (now District Attorney), Jack McCoy played over the years by Sam Watterson  has helped me understand much of the inner workings of American criminal law.

The Miranda rights that you hear often in other cop drama are given context in L&O and often affects the prosecution of a case even when the suspect is clearly guilty of the crime simply because the evidence obtained was through an illegal search and thus cannot be used against the suspect. There are hundreds of such little intracacies that you are made aware of during various investigations and trails. Often the crime is solved within the first fifteen minutes of the hour-long show and the rest of the show is dedicated to examining the legal propriety and nuances of sticky issues like rape, capital punishment, attorney-client privilege, etc.

I mention Miranda rights earlier because those rights are something that you are made aware of first when the police arrest you. You might consider yourself less susceptible to being ever read the Miranda rights but given that there are more than ten thousand laws that you can break, chances aren’t that low. I am not implying that you consider viewing L&O as an alternative for attending law school but as an inhabitant of this country (United States), you must be aware of your rights even if you aren’t a citizen. Although L&O speaks from the perspective of the prosecution and the police who are shown as dedicated honest individuals striving to keep the world safe, you must understand that after all their real counterparts are looking to solving crimes. In this day and age of paranoia where your brown skin may instantly trigger deeply rooted prejudicial fears, taking shelter in the (existing) laws that protect the individuals right to a fair trail might be your only alternative. The Miranda rights starts off with “You have a right to remain silent” and more often than not that is perhaps the best way to go even if you are completely innocent. Although the system is geared toward protecting the innocent even if it means letting a hundred guilty men go free, it hasn’t always worked that way given the number of innocent people being freed today based on DNA evidence. If there is any one advice an attorney will give you even before you have committed a crime, it is – don’t talk to cops. Why? Watch the video below for a complete understanding:

Thus as the professor advises, never speak to the cops before you have talked to your lawyer even if you are clearly innocent of any crime that the police might be investigating. But the police by the writ of their experience are more adept at getting you to talk, as George Brunch from the Virginia Beach PD explains:

Of course, none of this advice may be useful if you are labeled an ‘unlawful enemy combatant’ and shipped off to Guantanamo Bay after a ‘random’ search at the airport. But not every time you might come under the police radar, you might be accused of such heinous crimes. It just might be a speeding ticket. But be thankful that you will be caught in a country where you enjoy certain rights. Until then enjoy Law & Order and pray that you never are the inspiration for their next original story line.

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