Saturday, July 27, 2013

Another Zimmerman juror speaks out

Last week, Juror B37 was quick to the microphones, telling us all that Georgie Zimmmerman was justified in shooting Trayvon Martin, that he had done nothing lawless.   She also had a book deal, which was later withdrawn.  Her comments and demeanor suggest that she was opinionated and aggressive in the deliberations.

Subsequently, four of the six jurors wrote a letter dissociating themselves from her comments.

Now, the fifth juror B-29 -- who was not one of those four -- has given an interview to ABC News, in which she explains that she wanted to find Zimmerman guilty and initially had voted for a guilty verdict.   She thought she would be the one who caused a hung jury.  But as they examined the law and the options presented to them, she realized that the evidence was not there to support a guilty verdict under the law as presented to them.

Juror B-29 says that she is haunted by the decision.  "I feel I was forcibly included in Trayvon Martin's death" and "I carry him on my back" and hurt as much as his mother.  In response to a question, she acknowledged that she thinks "George Zimmerman got away with murder."

Nevertheless, she still sticks with the decision, because it was not possible under the law to find him guilty with the proof that he killed him with intent.

This is the nub of the issue.   The self-defense law in Florida is so broad that, if you cannot prove that he intended to kill him, with malice, you cannot convict of manslaughter -- even when he set the whole thing in motion, provoked the encounter, and fired the gun that killed Marin.

It raises grave questions about the law.   It raises serious questions about the adequecy of the prosecution's case.  And it raises troubling questions about the process in the juror's private deliberations -- how much can one juror influence the others.    Here we have the most outspoken juror rushing to speak publicly -- and the other five have all distanced themselves from her statements.  And yet it was her view that prevailed.

Did she dominate the deliberations?    Might the case have been thought through a bit differently without her aggressiveness?  


Sunbathing in Siberia?

We think we're having crazy weather here.   But even more serious concerns are coming from way up north.

On the internet today were time-sequence photos of a small lake of water immediately surrounding the North Pole.   That was . . .  water, not ice !!  At the North Pole !!!

And then there was an article about record temperatures in the northernmost city in the world, Norilsk, Siberia, where thermometers hovered just below 90 degrees.  Previous average temps in July are 56 degrees.

There's a song with the line, "We're having a heat wave, a trop-i-cal heat wave."    This is the summer of the "Siberian Heat Wave."

Climate change, anyone?   The signs are growing month by month that the problem is getting worse. . . fast.   With such a do-nothing Congress, what's the use?   There's zero chance of passing any significant legislation, at least before the 2014 elections.   Obama will do what he can with regulations that don't require congressional action.


Friday, July 26, 2013

SCOTUS and Consequences

Supreme Court rulings have consequences -- sometimes narrow and limited, but often the results change our whole way of life.    One has to question whether the conservatives really get what they are doing.

Take for example the way the Citizens United decision has unleashed unlimited political contributions in disguise and transformed, for the worse, our political process.

Another example is the recent gutting of the voting rights act.   In a 5-4 decision, SCOTUS said the method of choosing which states require pre-clearance of laws affecting voting.   As if to prove the point, Texas, North Carolina, and a bevy of other states immediately trotted out their voter suppression laws.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote a hard-hitting dissent to the decision, spoke out in an interview yesterday, saying that the result was predictable and proves the need for the law.  In her dissent, she ridiculed the idea -- that the law was so successful that it had to be repealed -- with the wonderful line:  "[It's] like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet."

Attorney General Eric Holder to the rescue:   Using what was left of the Voting Rights Act, he is suing the state of Texas, planning to show the court that Texas continues to violate voting rights and should have to continue pre-screening by the DOJ.   It's still possible -- but it will take lengthy court battles rather than being automatic for certain states.


McConnell's opposition -- great ad

Alison Lundergan Grimes, has announced her run for the Democratic nomination for the U. S. Senate from Kentucky -- i.e., she wants to unseat Mitch McConnell.

She and Michelle Nunn would be two great additions to the senate.   Both are smart women who are liberal but also sharply focused on getting things done.  Each has a chance to flip a red seat blue.

If this introductory Grimes ad is any indication, she's going to run a smart, effective campaign.

Check out her ad:  it's fun to watch her two grandmothers helping her come up with "what rhymes with Mitch."


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Weiner #2

This warrants a separate post entry, because this is about Antony Weiner's qualifications for mayor, apart from any sexting scandal.

Listening to Chris Hayes on MSNBC tonight, I learned that, contrary to popular image, Anthony Weiner was not a good congressman.   He didn't pass any significant legislation, he was not a behind the scenes worker or a coalition builder.

Quite the opposite.   Chris cited one major piece of legislation that two of his fellow legislators from New York had worked on for months.  He was not involved in the work.   But once it reached the House floor, Weiner rushed to the microphone and made a big dramatic play for press coverage, trying to associate himself with credit for the bill.

Chris, along with two other liberal commentators, have very negative views of Weiner as an objectionable, narcissistic opportunist -- a performer who craves media attention, who puts on a great show but does not do the work required of a public office holder.   We should not be fooled by all his progressive rhetoric.   That may be what he believes and wants to make happen -- but he has no record of accomplishment.

Mind you, we're not talking about one of the deplorable Republican congressmen with terrible policy positions;   Weiner's stated positions and voting record are among the more progressive in Congress.   And still some of his sharpest critics are themselves progressives. 

They all agreed:   He would make a terrible mayor.   They ridiculed all the hype from his supporters about how he should be forgiven for this scandal because he is so wonderful and has so much to offer as mayor.   In fact, they said, there is absolutely nothing to back up this claim.  He has no record of accomplishment or of hard work.   Only of stubborn persistence in getting himself noticed -- and apparently a convincing charm that hooks the people around him.

Add this to his behavior concerning the sexting scandal x2.   Even his confession x2 and his talk of rehab seem more of a display of "see how open and contrite I'm being."  And then he keeps going on tv and keeping it all going.

My shrink thinking can't help coming into play here.  I deplore the idea of diagnosing someone in absentia.   But the behavior I have described above is consistent with narcissistic character disorder.  In fact, if I were being less careful I would say it is virtually diagnostic.


Goodbye, Anthony Weiner

Goodbye, Anthony Weiner.    You had your second chance, and you blew it.   Even your loyal wife's going to bat for you is not enough.   And unfortunately her attempt to save your political career has only made people question the judgment of a very smart, highly respected and capable public servant.

This is not moralizing.  It's a matter of your judgment, your self-control, trust, and the decorum that we expect of our public officials.   New York voters should ask themselves:   Do we want to look at our mayor next year and see pictures of "Carlos Danger" and his crotch photos?

You and your wife have claimed that this is private and should stay within your familyI agree.   But it didn't, and you have to take responsibility for that.   As a public figure -- with ambitions to be mayor of New York City, even after having to resign in disgrace from Congress -- you should have known that nothing online is private.

What you did online wasn't so bad, if it had stayed privatebut, if you really can't control your urges -- even when it means your career -- that is bad.

As Gail Collins wrote in the New York Times today:   The mayoral race ought to be about the problems of New YorkInstead is about your drama.  And, while we're at that, it's beginning to look more and more that, rather than bravely facing the shame, you are reveling in the attention of all this media hoopla.   And dragging your loyal wife into the tawdry spectacle along with you.

Do everyone a favor and stop fanning the flames.   If you really want this to be a private matter with your wife, then stop going on TV, stop giving interviews, and stop running for mayor.

The New York Times lead editorial a few days ago said it best:
". . . a familiar but repellent pattern of misleading and evasion. . . . he has already disqualified himself. . .

"[For] those who know his arrogance and have grown tired of the tawdry saga he has dragged the city into, this is not surprising."

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Testing my freedom of speech beliefs

My sense of outrage-fatigue is really getting me down.   The Republicans in Congress seem to think they can just say anything . . . and get away with it.   Here's what set me off this afternoon.

In a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing of President Obama's nominee for the D. C. Circuit Court, Republicans charged that he was trying to pack the court to his advantage, because they had already confirmed one nominee for that court this year.  Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) led with that charge.   But he was joined by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who said:
"I have deep concerns about what the administration is doing now with a package of three nominees to the D.C. Circuit after the Senate just confirmed a very qualified nominee.  I believe [this] is an attempt by this administration to pack that court."
This from a Harvard Law School graduate who obviously knows better.  The fact is that there are three vacancies on the D. C. Circuit Court, in large part because Republicans have stalled confirming the president's nominees.   It is his constitutional duty to nominate people for the federal courts.

So, if they think filling legitimate vacancies is a political packing of the court, what would you call what they're trying to do?   Are they just playing to their ignorant base, who don't see through it?   Or do they actually want to prevent the president from fulfilling his constitutional duties?  That's not too big a stretch, given that their fellow Republicans at the state level are passing laws to make it harder for Democratic-type voters to cast their ballots. 

We can't curb their freedom of speech, but there should be some penalty in the senate for such obvious lying and trying to confuse the public about the people's business.

This is not a matter of differing opinions, or even different values.  This is a simple matter of fact.   There are a certain number of judge positions on this court, and there are vacancies that need to be filled.   Let's hope the American people are smarter than these bozos think they are.   There's some reason to think that is true, given the poll numbers in my last previous post.


Bad news, good news

Now eight months since the 2012 presidential election, and an ABC/WashingtonPost poll of Republican voters and GOP leaning independents shows that the negative image of the Republican party has widened considerably.

Two weeks before the election, it was 46% unfavorable, 34.6% favorable (minus 11.6%).

On June 21, 2013, it is 55% unfavorable, 34.8% favorable (minus 20.2%).

What is the likelihood that this will have any impact on the obstructionist behavior of House Republicans?    Not much.

That's the bad news (for the American people) and the good news (for the Democratic Party).

So what is the message that Republicans plan to take to their constituents during the August recess?   A 31 page booklet of instructions for GOP congresspersons can be summed up with the message:  "We're fighting Washington for you."

If you're one of the 55% of your own voters who have an unfavorable impression of your obstructionism, just how well do you think that's going to play?

I would argue that, ultimately, that's also good news for the American people.   Put the Democrats back in control of both houses, and let's see what President Obama can accomplish in his last two years in office.


PS:   Just released.  An ABC poll found that 83% of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doingand 57% would replace every member of Congress if they could.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Baby prince


I never thought of myself as a Royalist.    I'm almost militantly egalitarian in beliefs and values, even if I don't personally go out and storm the barricades.

So maybe it's the Downton Abbey craze -- and I'm certainly immersed in that -- but I find myself genuinely delighted with this picture of the new prince, 3th in line for the English throne, and his attractive young parents.

Part of what makes it so delighful is the way William and Kate are reshaping the image of the royal family.  After decades of a rather remote monarch and the scandalous behavior of her children, it is refreshing to see a young couple living their lives as nearly ordinary as is possible for people this close to the throne.

Imaging previous generations of monarchs appearing by themselves, and dressed informally, as they leave the hospital the day after Kate gave birth to her baby.

I can only admire their realness, and I hope they will instill these values in their son.   It almost seems like another episode in Downton Abbey, with a new heir brought into that family struggling with tradition vs modernity.


Michelle Nunn is running !!!

Michelle Nunn is running for Democratic nomination for Senate.    This is tremendous good news.   She is the only Democrat that has a chance to defeat the Republicans running to fill the seat that Sen. Saxby Chambliss is vacating.

Michelle Nunn is the CEO of one of the largest volunteer organizations in the naiton.  She also happens to be former Sen. Sam Nunn's daughter.    She is presenting herself as someone who can work across party lines to get non-partisan legislation passed -- and, indeed, the organization she heads, "Points of Light," was started by former Republican President George H. W. Bush.   And she has the enthusiastic backing of the Democratic bigwigs in the state.

So let the Republicans fight out a hard primary race.  So far, three congressmen are running  (Gingary, Kingston, Braun), plus former Secretary of State Karen Handel.  Maybe the three sane ones (Gingary, Kingston, and Handel) will split the sane vote;  and Paul ("theories of evolution are straight from the pits of hell") Braun will get the nomination.  

And then let's see if we can send a Democrat to the Senate for a change.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Ted Cruz -- ineligible to run for prez?

Newly elected Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has been making quite a splash in his seven month stint in the U. S. Senate.   Taking positions that at times seem to the right of Genghis Khan, and acting like the arrogant, smart-ass new kid in class, Cruz is nevertheless a force to be reckoned with in 2016 presidential politics.

Despite his demeanor -- and perhaps his playing to the Tea Party gallery to gain their support -- Cruz is a Harvard Law School graduate.    Some had begun to talk about him as the one who could get the Tea Party support in a primary and then swing to center for the general election.

Today, he acknowledged that he was born in Canada.   The U. S. Constitution specifies that the president must be a "natural born citizen," but it does not define "natural born."   Does that mean born on U. S. soil?    Or born of a U. S. parent?    If it is the latter, then he is eligible, because his mother was an Amercian citizen born in Baltimore.

John McCain was born in Panama, where his father was serving in the U. S. military.   That did not make him ineligible to be president, because he was born on a U. S. military base and thus was considered to be born on U. S. soil.   

Or is the issue being born to an American citizen no matter the geography?   That argument would destroy the birthers' case against Obama, because his mother was a citizen even if he was born in Kenya, as they claimed.

This could get interesting -- especially if, to support Cruz for president, they would have to give up on their birther claims against Obama.  Of course, there wouldn't be much gained by continuing that ridiculous quest by then anyway, so maybe they could get over their "birth anxiety."


Sunday, July 21, 2013

"Stand your ground" absurdities

Florida's Stand Your Ground Law was not invoked in the defense case of George Zimmerman.   But it hung all over the courtroom, and indeed it really was part of the case in the sense that it is the ultimate codification of self-defense law.

And self-defense was what got Zimmerman acquitted of both second degree murder and manslaughter charges in the killing of Trayvon Martin.

Here's the crux of it.   Before SYG laws, which 30 states now have, self-defense could not be invoked as justification for killing if the person could have reasonably withdrawn from the threatening situation.   SYG laws essentially moved the goalpost to midfield.   If you feel your life threatened -- even in a public place where you could withdraw, i.e. get out of danger -- you have the right to use lethal force.

That's what George Zimmerman did.  Let's extend the letter of the law to its extreme to see it's absurdity.  Let's say a paranoid zealot who wants to rid society of black people decides to go into a black neighborhood at midnight, where he encounters a group of young black men hanging out on the street, drinking and raging against "whitey."   In walks our zealot, yelling about N--gers.   The guys turn on him menacingly, brandishing clubs and chains.  He pulls his gun and opens fire, killing three of them before he can be subdued.    Under the SYG laws, he could be acquitted.    Even though he deliberately went into a hostile situation in order to provoke a fighteven though he was armed and they were not.   Is this any different, except in degree, from what happened in the Zimmerman case?


A difficult choice

Detroit has extraordinarily difficult problems and has long been on a slide of poverty, losing population, and fleeing businesses.   The city's population is now 80% African-American, mostly low income.  City services cannot continue to meet needs.   Police and fire fighters are spread way too thin.    Calls to 911 for emergency responses may take an hour or more.

The governor stepped in and appointed a special manager to take over the running of the city from elected officials.  After a six month evaluative period, he has now filed for bankruptcy for the city.

One of the things in dispute is what happens to former government workers who depend on  pensions from the city.   Will that go into the bankruptcy settlement?  Or is it protected?

Here's where the difficult choice comes in.

The city of Detroit is said to be in debt about $18 billion.

Unlike most cities where the art museums are owned and held in trust for the citizens by a nonprofit corporation, the city of Detroit owns the Detroit Institute of Art.

An off the cuff estimate of the value of the art work in the museum is $20 billion.

Do you sell a first class art collection (including works by Carravagio, Rembrandt, and Van Gogh) to pay off a city's debt?     What if it means people lose their pensions?   Schools have to close?   Libraries are defunct?    I am a great believer in the value of art and music and sports to the life of a city.    But how do you decide priorities?   Short term goals vs long term goals?   Present misery vs irreplaceable treasures?   Especially when selling the art would not directly provide city services and pensionsinstead it would go into the pot to give other creditors a better return in the bankruptcy division.