Saturday, July 13, 2013

Jury decides Zimmerman is not guilty

After 16 hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of Not Guilty in the trial of George Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin.

From the testimony I heard, I would have been unable to call him guilty of 2nd degree murder, because of the way the law is written and the proof, beyond a reasonable doubt, that is required for that verdict.

But I would have voted for Guilty on the lesser charge of manslaughter.   It does not seem right that this killing goes totally without consequences.

I do have some thoughts about why the jurors probably made the decision that they did.

At the bottom, we have two incontrovertible facts:   (1) an unarmed teenage boy was followed by a suspicious, stereotyping, gun-carrying, wannabe cop -- and the unarmed boy wound up dead;  (2)  only two people knew what really happened:   one was dead and one was alive to tell his story -- which became the only story the jury heard.  

Beyond that, I think the defense lawyers did a better job of making that self-serving story (complete with inconsistencies and evidence of lying) seem believable and compatible with the evidence than the prosecuting attorneys did of presenting a plausible alternate story that was also consistent with the evidence -- i.e. what might very well have been Trayvon Martin's story, if he were alive to tell it.    Why didn't they present Trayvon Martin as the one defending himself against a man with a gun who was stalking him?

And beyond that, we have the story of a fight between the two with no real evidence to prove who started the actual physical fight.  And we have the survivor of that fight claim that he was fighting for his life at the moment he pulled the trigger and shot Trayvon. 

In the end, given the trial that the jury heard, it was a tough call to make -- to say, without a reasonable doubt -- that it was not self-defense, that he was guilty of manslaughter.   But that would have been my verdict.

Now we have the heavy burden of how we as a country -- and the African-American community, in particular -- are going to feel about this verdict.   About guns and about "stand your ground" laws.  Early tv commentary was quoting people as saying this just confirms that a young black man's life is not worth much, that it just doesn't matter in this country.   Even as an old white man, I feel very bad about this outcome.

Let's hope that despair and anger can be channeled into political action rather than retaliatory rage and violence.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

GOP puts NC in downward path

Back in the 1950's, we used to say "Thank God for Mississippi" -- meaning that there was some place worse than Georgia when it came to ignorance and racial prejudice and bigotry.

Now we're getting to the place that we can say "Thank God for North Carolina" when it comes to a fast reversal of progress.   North Carolina used to be the progressive leader among southern states.   But since the Republicans took control of state government (the governor and both legislative bodies), the decline has been rapid.

The New York Times even wrote about it in a lead editorial yesterday.
"In January, after the election of Pat McCrory as governor, Republicans took control of both the executive and legislative branches for the first time since Reconstruction.  Since then, state government has become a demolition derby, tearing down years of progress in public education, tax policy, racial equality in the courtroom and access to the ballot."
Even though the state has the fifth highest unemployment rate, the lawmakers refused to pay the federal government $2.5 billion it owes for the unemployment program.  The result is that they lost any further federal benefits70,000 people lost them immediately and another 100,000 will lose them in a few months.

If that weren't enough, just today the N. C. legislative House rushed through tough restrictions on abortion clinics -- attached in stealth at the last minute to a Motorcycle Safety bill.    This will somehow get reconciled with their Senate anti-abortion measure that somehow got tacked on to a bill banning Sharia law in the state of North Carolina.

Whether he will live up to his word remains to be seen, but the governor has said he would veto such a bill.

And meanwhile, in Texas, they are about to finally pass the anti-abortion bill that will close all but five abortion clinics in the state of Texas -- and all of them are in the eastern portion of the state.   Thus the largest area of our largest state will have zero facilities for abortions.   Gov. Perry is eager to sign it into law.

It would just be laughable and pathetic -- except that they actually do have the power to do these things.  And they are doing them.    November 2014 cannot come soon enough.   Of course, by then they will have passed voter suppression laws everywhere.   We may never recover.

No, I don't really believe that.   I'm still optimistic enough to think that a backlash is building and it will bury them in November 2014.

I also believe that ultimately business will be on our side.   The reputation they're gaining is going to be a huge negative factor in national corporations deciding to locate there.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Student loan debt -- shocking stats

According to information from Sen. Elizabeth Warren:
The government will make $51 billion in profit off of federal student loans this year.

That's five times the money Google made in profit in 2012. In fact, it's more than any Fortune 500 company made last year.
On July 1 this year, the interest rate on new Standford loans doubled, from 3.4% to 6.8% because our dysfunctional Congress failed to pass legislation to stop what had been set in as an automatic increase years ago when interest rates were high.

Cumulatively, more than $1 trillion is owed on student loans -- more than the entire credit card debt of Americans.

Are we crazy?   We should be making education easier, not harder.


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The IRS non-scandal -- the post-mortem.

Now that we have a more or less clear picture of the operations of the IRS office handling non-profit status applications, the "scandal" is ending, not with a bang but a whimper.  And no one is saying, "I was wrong, and I apologize."

The fact is that they investigate any application that looks suspiciously political in nature.  The furor was created by the Republicans requesting an Inspector General's report specifically as to whether any Tea Party groups had been picked for extra scrutiny.   Then everybody -- media included -- just assumed it was a report about who got investigated.

It's that old trick of playing with "studies:"   You ask how many oranges were sold?  And then you use the answer to be outraged that "only oranges were sold."'s Alex Seitz-Wald dissects what happened and blames the media for jumping to conclusions and not doing the reporting to show what we now know.    Yes, the media failure was atrocious;  but let's not leave out Darrell Issa's contribution.   Eager to investigate the Obama administration on as many issues as possible, the odious Issa held his usual hyper-partisan, mean-spirited hearings in the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform -- and ruined careers and reputations, as usual..

Here's what the Salon article concludes:
But now, almost two months later, we know that in fact the IRS targeted lots of different kinds of groups, not just conservative ones; that the only organizations whose tax-exempt statuses were actually denied were progressive onesthat many of the targeted conservative groups legitimately crossed the linethat the IG’s report was limited to only Tea Party groups at congressional Republicans' requestand that the White House was in no way involved in the targeting and didn’t even know about it until shortly before the public did.

In short, the entire scandal narrative was a fictionBut it had real consequences, effectively derailing Obama’s agenda not long after a resounding reelection, costing several people their careers, and distracting and misinforming the publicIt’s not that nothing went wrong at the IRS, but that the transgression merited nowhere near the media response it earned. But instead of acknowledging its error or correcting the record, the mainstream political press has simply moved on to the next game.
And, I might add, Darrell Issa and his Republican partners in reprehensible political misuse of office have also remained silent on the damage they caused.

They should be impeached.


Monday, July 8, 2013

Could abortion fight give GA a Democratic senator in 2014?

Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) is retiring at the end of his term, and the scramble is on to see who will succeed him.  With Georgia in the tight control of Republicans statewide, it should be a relatively easy election for them, notwithstanding the changing demographics that are tilting us back toward Democrats.   But 2014 is probably not yet the year for that tip to occur . . . unless.

Unless the Republicans shoot themselves in the foot in their primary and go the route of Missouri and Indiana that elected Democrats to the Senate after the GOP nominated ultra-conservatives.    Here's the situation in GA, and abortion is the issue.

So far, three current Repubican members of the House, Jack Kingston, Phil Gingary, and Paul Braun, plus former Sec. of State Karen Handel, have announced they will run for the Republican nomination.   All are anti-abortion.    Kingston and Gingary both voted for the recent anti-abortion bill passed by the House;  Karen Handel has her own credential as the insider staff person who almost brought down Planned Parenthood over the issue.

But Paul Braun has gone them one better (or worse, depending on your position).   He voted against the House anti-abortion bill, because it didn't go far enough.   So he is the instant hero of the far-right, anti-abortion crowd.

Now do the math.   You have three conservatives in a race with one ultra-conservative.   If the reasonably sane vote is split three-ways between Kingston, Gingary, and Handel -- then Braun has an advantage.   He could get the nomination.

And that would be the best thing that could happen for the Democrats.   Because Braun is the dream opponent for everybody to the left of the far-right fringe of the right win.   He says crazy things like "theories of evolution and the Big Bang Theory are straight from the pits of hell."

The smarter folks in the state GOP could try to coalesce around one of the trio and defeat Braun.   But, unless that happens, we could see a Democrat again representing Georgia.   And it might just be the daughter of former Sen. Sam Nunn.


Sunday, July 7, 2013

Justice Scalia doesn't believe in democracy

Based on his dissent from the majority opinion that overturned the Defence of Marriage Act, Justice Antonin Scalia does not really believe in democracy, or at least the kind of democracy that our Constitution holds.

What Scalia supports is the absolute rule of the majority, a majoritocracy.    But the United States is founded on the dual principles of the government of the people by the people, combined with protection for the rights of the minority.

That is, in our system the majority rules, unless the majority's will would violate the basic, constitutionally-guaranteed rights, of an individual or group.  Those rights are enumerated in our Bill of Rights, which are amendments to the Constitution.  Thus anything that would violate these rights can only be overturned by another constitutional amendment -- not just a vote of the majority, nor by the Supreme Court.   Many SCOTUS decisions come down to finding a balance between two different rights in conflict.

Obviously, Scalia doesn't think that he is wrong.   He just doesn't think that equal protection, when it comes to marriage, is a guaranteed right.  So the argument is really about what those basic rights include.   And he thinks that the majority in each state has the right to define who can marry in that state.

Conservatives claim that gay marriage would destroy the sanctity of marriage.  They must think that the institution of marriage is pretty fragile if it cannot survive opening its ranks to a few thousand other committed couples.

I would argue that those for marriage equality have a higher opinion of marriage than the conservatives do, because they think the institute is more important than the exact combination of who gets to be married.

If marriage would be destroyed by including John and Jack, then it must be on its last legs and about to tip over already.