The EditorsJanuary 21st 2016
In this week’s edition of Banter M:
The Steven Avery Deception – Ben Cohen eviscerates Netflix for its highly misleading documentary series ‘Making a Murderer’, because despite their efforts to present Steven Avery as a harmless simpleton, the actual evidence shows he is a murdering psychopath.
The Republican Party is Dead – Chez Pazienza describes the election of Barack Obama as the final straw that took a party that was already moving toward intransigence toward embracing its fringe and pushing it right over the edge to its ultimate death.
I Put My Dog In A Stroller Because I’m Honest – Jamie Frevele confesses to actually putting her dog in a stroller. Yes, she is that person.
The Steven Avery Deception
by Ben Cohen
While roughly halfway through the Netflix documentary series sensation ‘Making a Murderer’, it dawned on me that I was not watching an intellectually honest work of objective film making. I was in fact watching an extremely well-crafted, but deeply misleading piece of propaganda that Netflix should never have put its name to. Had this been a written piece of journalism submitted to the The Daily Banter, I would have rejected it out of hand due to its extraordinary intellectual sloppiness and outright dishonesty.
The documentary features Steven Avery, a man once wrongfully convicted of a violent rape that he did not commit, who is then accused of sexually assaulting and murdering Wisconsin photographer Teresa Halbach upon his release 18 years later. Avery is relentlessly presented by the documentary makers as a simple but decent man who fell victim to a giant police conspiracy orchestrated to destroy his life and pay him back for the embarrassment he caused the sheriff’s department and district attorney of Manitowoc County.
While there is a good deal of evidence that points to a serious lack of professionalism on the part of the sheriff’s department and perhaps a plausible theory that they planted evidence, Steven Avery is almost certainly guilty of sexually assaulting and murdering Teresa Halbach in collusion with his nephew, Brendan Dassey.
There are too many details presented in the documentary to go over at great length, but some simple facts demolish Avery’s defense and the astonishingly one sided argument presented by the documentary. Avery’s defense essentially consisted of circumstantial evidence that may or may not have indicated one or several members of the sheriff’s department planting Teresa Halbach’s car key with Avery’s blood on it in his bedroom, and may or may not have indicated improper interrogation techniques used to attain Dassey’s confession. While there are valid points raised by the defense indicating systemic flaws in the justice system and a serious lack of oversight, the rest of the evidence — not presented in the documentary — clearly shows no one else could have killed Halbach other than Avery and his nephew.
Avery’s lawyers and the documentary team used the sheriff’s department’s apparent hatred for Avery and the fact that he was suing them for $36 million as the reason why they attempted to frame him — omitting the fact that before Avery’s original arrest for the attempted murder and rape of Penny Beerntsen, Avery was a known to the police because of previous accusations of violent rape, and his notoriously violent temper towards his own family and animals. During a bail hearing for Avery, prosecutors also stated that Avery had drawn up diagrams while in prison for “a torture chamber to kill women” — character flaws the documentary makers did not see fit to include in their portrayal of him.
The evidence presented in the documentary breezes past his previous wrong doings, offering only his family’s testimony as evidence that he was essentially harmless. It is clear that Avery was not guilty of assaulting Beerntsen, but the sheriff’s department had Avery on their radar for very good reason, as later evidence conclusively proved.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the Netflix documentary was the evidence presented in regards to Avery’s relationship with Teresa Halbach. If using only the documentary as evidence, one would get the impression Avery barely knew her and had next to no contact with her before she disappeared. While shamefully attempting to point the finger at ex boyfriends and other family members, the documentary neglected to reveal the fact that Avery knew Halbach and had been harassing her. Dustin Rowles at Pajiba noted in an excellent analysis of the series the following omissions:
— In the months leading up to Halbach’s disappearance, Avery had called Auto Trader several times and always specifically requested Halbach to come out and take the photos.
— Halbach had complained to her boss that she didn’t want to go out to Avery’s trailer anymore, because once when she came out, Avery was waiting for her wearing only a towel (this was excluded for being too inflammatory). Avery clearly had an obsession with Halbach.
— On the day that Halbach went missing, Avery had called her three times, twice from a *67 number to hide his identity.
— The bullet with Halbach’s DNA on it came from Avery’s gun, which always hung above his bed.
— Avery had purchased handcuffs and leg irons like the ones Dassey described holding Halbach only three weeks before (Avery said he’s purchased them for use with his girlfriend, Jodi, with whom he’d had a tumultuous relationship — at one point, he was ordered by police to stay away from her for three days).
— Here’s the piece of evidence that was presented at trial but not in the series that I find most convincing: In Dassey’s illegally obtained statement, Dassey stated that he helped Avery moved the RAV4 into the junkyard and that Avery had lifted the hood and removed the battery cable. Even if you believe that the blood in Halbach’s car was planted by the cops (as I do), there was also non-blood DNA evidence on the hood latch. I don’t believe the police would plant — or know to plant — that evidence.
Dassey’s statement, which as Rowles points out, was not discussed in any great detail in the documentary, was highly revealing and damning. It also shows the police handled it professionally and responsibly, and if read in full, cannot be dismissed blithely as coerced storytelling.
Dassey told the police the following story:
He went to go pick up some stuff around the yard then after that we, he asked me to come in the house cuz he wanted to show me somethin’. And he showed me that she was laying on the bed, her hands were roped up to the bed and that her legs were cuffed. And then he told me to have sex with her and so I did because I thought I was not gonna get away from ’em cuz he was too strong, so I did what he said and then after that, he untied her and uncuffed her and then he brought her outside and before he went outside, he told me to grab her clothes and her shoes. So we went into the garage and before she went out, when before he took her outside, he had tied up her hands and feet and then was in the garage and he stabbed her and then he told me to. And, after that he wanted to make sure she was dead or somethin’ so he shot her five times and while he was doing that I wasn’t looking because I can’t watch that stuff. So I was standing by the big door in the garage and then after that, he took her outside and we put her on the fire and we used her clothes to clean up the, some of the blood. And, when we put her in the fire, and her clothes, we were standing right by the garage, to wait for it to get down so we threw some of that stuff on it after it went down.
To make this up would require a great deal of imagination — an imagination that Dassey, who has an IQ of 69, clearly is not in possession of. Dassey is barely capable of stringing coherent sentences together, let alone reinventing the plot from a psychological thriller novel that he clearly had not read. Dassey also revealed to his mother that he told police that Avery had sexually assaulted him and his brothers — another fact the documentary conveniently omitted.
The filmmakers used a variety of manipulative techniques to elicit sympathy for Avery and his nephew, so many in fact, that it would require another 10 part mini-series to uncover them all. One of the most egregious, and frankly childish techniques used were the dark mutterings of family members convinced the system was “out to get them”. This was as pervasive theme throughout the series, yet the accusations were not substantiated with any meaningful evidence. The Averys and Dasseys are clearly not a bright bunch, and while their collective trauma may deserve a degree of sympathy, their opinions and evidence counts for little. While it is sad they have lost members of their family to the criminal justice system, their emotional pain has nothing to do with the evidence.
The facts remain that Steven Avery was the last person to see Teresa Halbach alive, was known to be harassing her, had his DNA on various parts of the crime scene — including the bullets used to kill her — and had a history of violence towards women. His former fiancee Jodi Stachowski has now come forward and told the media that Avery was violent towards her and is certain of his guilt — facts that severely undermine the defense’s story.
And finally, Brendan Dassey confessed to the murder — evidence that should speak for itself, but doesn’t because the filmmakers apparently saw a better story without it.
Next: The Republican Party is Dead – by Chez Pazienza
The Republican Party Is Dead
by Chez Pazienza
My father was always pretty conservative. When I was a kid, he was someone who read Buckley and who was concerned with law enforcement and a strong defense, having been both a Navy man and a cop, respectively. He was a registered Democrat but that’s only because in Florida, at the time anyway, the Dems were really the only thing going. Democratic candidates pretty much owned the landscape in terms of who you might even consider voting for; remember, this was in the dying days of the Dixiecrats phenomenon, but you still had guys like Lawton Chiles able to run the political table for years on end. Despite our residence in Florida, my dad never — not once — shared the racist tendencies of some of the politicians to come out of the state, but his views could be described as “practical conservative,” whether that meant voting Democrat or Republican.
I always respected my father’s political views and still do to this day. When I was a kid, in fact, I probably shared them, given that I knew nothing of any substance about politics — but wanted to — and likely just aped the views of my role model. I came of age in the 80s and at the time saw nothing wrong with rallying around Ronald Reagan. I had been old enough to understand that the 70s were a disaster and that the country was in need of something new and of course Reagan promised that on a silver platter. I didn’t bother to really look into most of his policies but there was no arguing with the fact that the 80s “felt” better, whatever the hell that means (at least if you were from the suburbs). What I do remember very well from that period was the relationship between Reagan and Tip O’Neill, the Democratic Speaker of the House. They were on opposite sides of the political fence and yet they had a respect for each other that led to a working relationship in which things actually got done. I got to see how government works: one side wants something; it pushes the other side; the other side gives a little but pushes back; eventually, each side gets a little, rather than all, of what it wants and gets to go back to its constituents with the good news that a partial victory was had and, most importantly, government worked.
That was the way it was. That’s not how it is anymore.
At some point during the 90s, the Republicans — led by Newt Gingrich — came to loathe Democratic president Bill Clinton so much that thwarting him was more important than actually ensuring that the government functioned as it was supposed to. They believed that attempting to literally kick him out of office was a winning political strategy — and to some extent it was only because they’d spent so long demonizing him to their constituents. Then came the Bush years, when 9/11 allowed the GOP to assert total control to the point where Republican representative and Central Casting villainous small-town sheriff Jim Sensenbrenner actually shut the lights off on the Democrats and left the room during a judiciary committee hearing on the Patriot Act. He cared that little what the opposing party had to say. For eight years the GOP wielded its authority like a weapon and refused to even acknowledge that there was another party it had to compromise with. That’s because compromise didn’t matter. Absolute power mattered. The other side wasn’t just made up of well-meaning people with a different view of how America should run — it was made up of unpatriotic traitors who needed to be crushed underfoot. This was a sentiment echoed across not just the halls of Congress but, more importantly, throughout the newly ascendant conservative media complex on Fox News and talk radio.
That brings us to now. Well, at least the last seven years. Thanks mostly to the aforementioned conservative media, which stokes every night terror the right-wing base might have about the changing face of America, we’re now at a place where the Republican party is utterly unrecognizable from what it was when I was young. The election of Barack Obama took a party that was already moving toward intransigence and toward embracing its fringe and pushed it right over the edge. The once-respected GOP is now a party of proud anti-intellectualism, an embrace of conspiracist thinking, open racism and xenophobia, and a willingness to kneel before any idiot reality TV star who tells the base what it wants to hear. It’s a shameful turn of events, the kind of thing that would’ve seen William F. Buckley — however much of a pompous bore he might have been — turning over in his grave. For years, he and the establishment fought to keep the fringe right where it was, with the knowledge that that fringe absolutely existed and could very well be the party’s undoing. Now, the fringe is the center. Buckley and the establishment lost. Smart conservatism is dead.
Yesterday, we saw a political moment the ridiculousness of which it’s hard to overstate. For months now, Donald Trump’s candidacy has been a joke, as a New York City real estate magnate indulged his massive ego by pandering in every possible way to angry white people in places he probably didn’t even know existed before his campaign began. Trump’s rise among Republicans has been staggering in every sense of the word. Few have ever given voice to the fringe’s most forbidden and uncivilized impulses as the world around them change and their supposed American birthright was stripped away in favor of a new, multi-cultural United States. The party that still embraces the Confederate flag had been struggling with itself since the Obama era began, but Trump told conservative voters that it’s okay to let their hate for what’s happening to their beloved land shine proudly. As such he’s probably been the most dangerous presidential candidate this country has seen in decades. He’s a fledgling fascist dictator who tells his rapt acolytes, as so many dictators have done in the past, that the problems their facing are the result of minorities and the “other” and that they must be either expelled or kept under the public thumb for the good of them all. And he does all of this as a Republican running for the highest office in the land.
And just when it looked like Trump’s candidacy — as well as those of a few other Republicans running for the White House — couldn’t make the GOP any more of a farce, yesterday along comes Sarah Palin to remind us just when the party of Lincoln began its plunge into oblivion. Palin taking the stage with Trump was surreal: a former politician turned reality star endorsing a reality star turned politician. A woman who literally can’t string two words together without tripping over her tongue ranting and raving like a maniac while a bemused billionaire who can only talk about himself stood next to her, soaking in the encomia from the crowd of idiots. It wasn’t political theater. We’re used to that. This was something else entirely. It was a car crash, a trainwreck, an embarrassment to the notion of running for the most powerful position on the planet. It was, put simply, the nadir of Republican politics maybe throughout the party’s history. You could be forgiven for dispensing as much negative hyperbole on it was was mathematically expressible.
But this is who the GOP is now. This is what they’ve become. And that’s a major problem because whether you agree with conservatism or not, it’s hugely important that we have at least two healthy political parties in this country because we can’t live in a nation where one side is reasonable and the other is consumed by illogical madness. We can’t live with people like that having any say at all in our government and we absolutely can’t live knowing that every few years there’s a chance the lunatics will take over the asylum. The Republicans have to come back to planet earth. The problem, though: I’m not sure they will. Ever.
Next: I Put My Dog In A Stroller Because I’m Honest– by Jamie Frevele
This actually happened.
I Put My Dog In A Stroller Because I’m Honest
by Jamie Frevele
When I was getting ready to adopt a dog, I was looking for a little dog. Not because they’re tiny and novel and trendy (or at least like they were ten years ago) — because they’re portable. Because I like to go places and not worry about leaving my dog for long periods of time. Unfortunately, since I don’t own a car, I have to take public transportation, and there are rules against bringing dogs on public transportation. Mainly, they are not allowed on public transportation unless they’re enclosed. So, I was looking for a dog I could carry around in a shoulder bag. A little 12-pounder.
But instead, I found Peggy. Peggy was 26 pounds when I adopted her, but she was underweight and should have been closer to 30, maybe even 35. That is not a shoulder bag dog. But I was enamored with Peggy. I needed her. She needed a home and a mommy. And she is the best dog ever.
However, bringing her on public transportation requires something really, really ridiculous: a dog stroller.
You may have seen them, like in really posh neighborhoods, being pushed by oblivious women with manicures more expensive than the sneakers you’re currently wearing. The dog inside seems pretty healthy, and, by all accounts, a dog and not a human baby. You can’t blame the dog for being spoiled rotten, but you can blame the lady.
On the Long Island Rail Road, and sometimes the New York City subway, I am that lady pushing a healthy canine animal in a stroller. I am well aware of how stupid it looks, but I do this because I’m honest.
In addition to it looking ridiculous, using a dog stroller is also a huge, clunky hassle. When I go home to visit my parents on Long Island, I take this stupid thing — while Peggy walks, because she’s perfectly capable — about twelve minutes to the nearest train station, which is very conveniently located but does not have an elevator up to the platform. I can’t tell you how many times I have nearly taken a header trying to carry this thing up and down these stairs while balancing with a massive backpack and guiding a dog on a leash. Every once in a while, my lack of faith is tested when an angel of a human being (or a couple of them) offers to help me out. But as wonderful that is and as grateful as I am for it, it’s not an occurrence I can depend on. And I totally feel like I could definitely die from falling down the stairs and cracking my skull open, and no one would feel bad for me because I was that fucking lady who put her dog in a stroller.
I just hope that someone keeps Peggy from running into Atlantic Avenue while I bleed to death with my eyes open in a helpless, frozen death gaze. This is why I’m not afraid of death, but I am afraid of dying alone.
I have been given lots of advice about this, including how I should register Peggy as an “emotional support dog.” This is a real thing; in fact, I know Chez has documented it before and mocked it mercilessly. Emotional support dogs are real things for people with real mental illnesses, and it’s a really easy thing to sign up for. Let me rephrase that: but it’s a really easy thing to sign up for. It’s way too easy, like being granted the authority to perform a wedding ceremony by the Universal Life Church; it’s meaningless, at least it is for everyone who chooses to game the system.
If you happen to see a person with a dog in a public place where dogs are not generally allowed, most likely on a form of transportation, I can almost guarantee you that the person will claim their regular, everyday house pet is an emotional support animal. Emotional support animals are not limited to dogs, so people are using the “certification” to bring everything from cats to snakes on planes. You heard me — motherfucking snakes on motherfucking planes, but ones that provide comfort and solace during the very stressful experience of air travel. Don’t worry, it sounds like bullshit because it is.
I can’t tell you how many people have suggested that I register Peggy and it’s really disturbing how many people openly suggest gaming the system. While I fully believe that animals do provide a level of emotional comfort — hell, I’m not exaggerating when I say that my love for Peggy is the light that guides me through my entire life — it shouldn’t be that easy to certify an animal as a service animal. Service animals work. They go through training, they have to have certain temperaments, and sometimes, they fail. They’re not cut out for it. Emotional support animals don’t work on the same level as service dogs, but they’re still providing a healthcare service to someone who is deeply in need. Veterans with PTSD have emotional support dogs. I’m talking about real mental and psychiatric disabilities. Not people like me whose symptoms have been alleviated by medication and therapy. Peggy is my whole damn heart, but she’s not prescription-strength. She’s a fucking brat and she’s beautiful and I love her, but come on.
So no, I will not get Peggy a fake certification. I will put her in her stupid-ass stroller and risk life and limb on the LIRR before lying about having a disability. That’s dirty and scammy, and it undermines people with real disabilities who truly need their emotional support animals.
I am that asshole who put a dog in a stroller and you should all fucking thank me for it because I might be an asshole, but at least I’m not a lying asshole.