Saturday, April 4, 2015

Self-defense in Florida: 20 years for a black woman -- but acquittal for Georgie Zimmerman

We live in the land of equality and justice for all, don't we?   Then explain this.

Two cases in Florida:

#1.  In 2012 Marissa Alexander, a 31 year old black woman and mother, estranged from her abusive husband, found herself in confrontation with him.   Armed with the gun she had been licensed to carry to defend herself against this man, and now fearing another life-endangering beating from him, she fired a warning shot above his head, which lodged in the ceiling.

Charging her with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, District Attorney Angela Corey took the case to trial and won a conviction and the mandatory minimum sentence of 20 years in jail, despite the self-defense claim and documented history of abuse.    On appeal, a new trial was ordered because of incorrect instructions to the jury.   DA Corey planned to prosecute the case again herself, only this time she asked for a 60 year sentence -- in a case where no one was hurt by the charged actions.    Ms. Alexander chose to accept a plea bargain of the 3 years already served plus two years of house arrest.

#2.  The 2014 George Zimmerman trail needs only a brief recap.   A self-appointed neighborhood guard, the Hispanic Zimmerman spotted the black teenager Trayvon Martin walking in the neighborhood toward the home where he was staying with his father.   There had been some recent break-ins in the neighborhood.  Zimmerman, who was armed and not in uniform, thought Martin looked suspicious and began following him.   Martin only carrying a bag of candy and a soda that he had bought at the nearby convenience store.    A fight ensued, Martin at one point was getting the better of him -- and Zimmerman shot and killed him, claiming that Martin had jumped him from behind and that he feared for his life.    He was acquitted.

The same DA, Angela Corey, prosecuted this case and obtained the acquittal she sought.

Marissa Alexander harmed no one by her warning gunshot above the head of her abusive, threatening husband.   She got 20 years and a DA who wanted to try her again and put her away for 60 years.

Georgia Zimmerman killed an unarmed teenager.   And he was acquitted.

Both claimed self-defense.  Both times the prosecutor got what she asked for:   20 years for one, acquittal for the other.   Is this justice?


Friday, April 3, 2015

Hillary Clinton stands up to the Benghazi committee

At the moment at least, Hillary Clinton has got the best of Trey Gowdy, chair of the House Select Committee on Benghazi.  Gowdy has called for her to meet with the committee in a private interview.    She says she will be happy to testify in public, but not in private.

Now that is certainly the opposite of what people usually think -- that it's less embarrassing to do it in private.    But consider the history of how some Republican committee chairs deal with private evidence.

Like the Committee on Government Oversight, that used to be chaired by the reprehensible Darrell Issa and of which Trey Gowdy is currently a member, these Republicans just love to get testimony or evidence in private -- and then leak to the press selected parts that are taken out of context to distort the truth and make the testifier look bad.

Issa did it over and over again.   Gowdy has already done something similar in his current role as chair of this Select Committee.

Hillary Clinton is smart enough to know this -- and confident enough to sayNo, I am not going to let you do that to me.   I will provide you my full testimony but only if the public will have it all, not just what you might choose to leak out.

Brava, Brava  !!!    She just went a notch higher in my estimation.


A seismic change in public opinion

The rapid change in public approval of same-sex marriage has been extraordinary.   But events of the past two weeks in Indiana almost make that opinion shift on marriage seem pallid by comparison.   To have Walmart and NASCAR be among the leading opposition voices is truly astoundiong.

Which led Lawrence O'Donnell to bring up this on his MSNBC news program:

The approval rating of gays and lesbians is now higher than the approval rating of evangelical Christians.

I think the key to understanding that is to realize that, for the American public, the underlying issue has shifted -- from a religious dogma question about right/wrong to a moral question about discrimination and intolerance.   

The majority of Americans no longer think same-sex love is wrong -- and they do feel very strongly about discrimination and intolerance.  So now, evangelical Christians are seen by many as being intolerant and discriminatory, while gays and lesbians are increasingly seen as just like everyone else -- except perhaps more tolerant of others who are different.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

More on the deal with Iran

Reporting on the "surprisingly specific and comprehensive" framework agreement with Iran, the New York Times provided this explanation: 
"Speaking from the White House, President Obama made a strong case for the deal, saying that it 'cuts off every pathway' for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon and that it establishes the most intrusive inspections system in history. 'If Iran cheats,' he said, 'the world will know it.'

"Even two of the most skeptical experts on the negotiations . . .  said they were impressed with the depth of detail. . . .  

"The statements by Mr. Zarif and Mr. Kerry reflected their political challenges at home. Mr. Zarif stressed that Iran had not agreed to close any facilities, something he said the “proud people” of Iran would never allow.

"Mr. Kerry emphasized that the United States and its partners had cut off every pathway to a bomb — and insisted the West could 'snap back' sanctions if Iran violated the agreement.

"It was the kind of careful balance that marks the deal: Allowing Iran to keep its facilities running, but under restrictions that . . .  it would take more than a year to produce a weapon’s worth of material."
This sounds pretty good to me -- and better than we were expecting.    Of course, Netanyahu was quick to denounce the agreement as threatening the survival of Israel.

And article on adds further details.  The number of centrifuges will be reduced from about 19,000 to less than 1/3 of that number.  Iran will reduce its stockpile of enriched uranium by 97%, and ship all spent fuel out of the country.  Sanctions will be rolled back gradually after verification that Iran is fulfilling its commitment.

We have to let this work -- not only because it is the best way, by far, to deal with Iran, but because it will also be a boon to the cause of diplomatic solutions rather than relying only on military might.



The coalition of six world powers and Iran have reached an agreement on a framework for negotiating the details of a final deal on Iran's nuclear program.

The European Union's Federica Mogherini and Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told a press conference:  "We have reached solutions on key parameters on a joint comprehensive plan of action."

Mogherini read a statement on behalf of all the negotiators that spelled out the framework agreement that includes the following, as summarized by The World Post:

   1.  Europe will end all nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions on Iran.
   2.  The U. S. will end its sanctions when the International Atomic Energy Agency verifies that Iran has lived up to its part of the bargain.
   3.  Iran will retain only one enrichment facility, and the Fordo fortified site will be converted into a scientific center.

President Obama praised the agreement, saying:   "I'm convinced that if this framework leads to a final comprehensive deal, it will make our country, our allies and our world safer."

Now the hard work beginsconvincing the hard-liners among the Iranian clerical rulers and in the U. S. Congress (Netanyahu included) that this is in the best interests of their own respective countries.   That is a tall order.

If this does in fact lead to a peaceful resolution of Iran's threat as a potential nuclear power, it's going to be a really really hard test of the patriotism of the conservatives in Congress to put the welfare of the United States people ahead of their hatred of President Obama.

Stay tuned.


Actually, the controversy over religious freedom laws is creating a valuable national conversation

The religious right has lost the cultural war on marriage equality.    So they lobbied hard and won a token compensation from some conservative states with the "religious freedom restoration" laws.   In essence, these laws are gifts to the disappointed religious right.

The perverse beauty of it was that they would sell these laws under the guise of protecting the freedom to practice religious beliefs, and they would be written in such a way that didn't mention anti-gay discrimination -- but they would allow it .  .  .  .

.  .  .  and hope the other side wouldn't notice.

It became law in Indiana last week.  The problem was that not only gay rights groups did notice, but the business community did too, as well as sports organizations, rock concerts, and convention planners.   The backlash has been so huge that Gov. Pence has had to backtrack and call for a new bill that "clarifies" that it does not allow discrimination.

Arkansas passed an almost identical law this week -- and there's been such pressure that Gov. Hutchinson won't sign it in its present form.   Then there's Georgia's bill.   As of this writing, it has been tabled in committee.

What has happened here in Georgia perhaps provides the best proof yet of the real purpose behind these laws.   Thanks to my favorite Atlanta Journal-Constitution columnist Jay Bookman, here's how this went down.

State Senator Josh McKoon introduced SB 129, which is very similar to the Indiana and Arkansas bills -- as described in the second paragraph above.   It passed the GA Senate, then went to the House, where it was amended to add a crucial sentence:
"Courts have consistently held that government has a fundamental, overriding interest in eradicating discrimination."
So now we had a Senate version and a House version that had to be reconciled.  Sen. McKoon says about his SB 129 that it "couldn't be further from the truth," to say that his bill offers license to discriminate.    

However, he also said this, when asked about the senate's added sentence:    It would "completely undercut the purpose of the bill."

Bookman concludes:
"Here in Georgia, the entire argument has come down to one sentence . . . .  It is not logically possible for McKoon to claim that his bill has nothing to do with discrimination, yet would be gutted by a sentence saying it has nothing to do with discriminationYet that's where we are.  As long as that sentence remains in the bill, SB 129 is fine and should be passed easily.  If that sentence is removed, SB 129 would give individuals or businesses a religious-based right to discriminate against gay people, and once again Georgia takes a big step backward."
In the long run, this is an important, perhaps penultimate, chapter in the rapid acceleration of gay rights in this country, set to culminate in June with SCOTUS's decision.

The controversy over these laws, the HUGE backlash from left and right -- and the national conversation it has sparked -- is good.   When the truth is exposed, freedom and equality usually result.   We Americans may be biased, even bigoted;   but we don't like to be made to face the fact that we are.   So, when confronted with the truth, we often see the light.    

Not always, and not always all of us each time.   But cumulatively we are moving in the right direction -- and the pace is almost dizzying these days.


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

NASCAR joins the backlash in Indiana

What defines Indiana in public perception more than NASCAR and basketball?   In Arkansas, it's Walmart, which has just called on the governor of its home state to veto an identical religious freedom bill that the Arkansas legislature just passed.

If NASCAR, Walmart, and the NCAA all are part of this backlash against discrimination, we can truly call this a bipartisan wave of disapproval.

The cat is out of the bag, the horse has left the barn -- and this game is over.   The anti-gay crowd thought they had pulled a sneaky one.   It backfired big time.


Negotiations with Iran extended for one more day

March 31st was the deadline for an agreement between Iran and the six negotiating partners on a framework to move forward.   They haven't reached it, but there was optimism on both sides -- enough to decide to extend the deadline for at least another day.

It won't be a final agreement, but rather a framework, with details to be worked out later.   But it's still possible that either we or they may walk away.

Fingers crossed.


Gov. Pence's presidential aspirations just went down the tubes

It had been rumored that Gov. Mike Pence (R-IN) might enter the Republican presidential primary;   another possibility was a vice-presidential nomination.

But Pence's ineptitude this week has killed any chances of either.

There seem to be only two possible explanations for his continuing to defend the bill as being essentially the same as the federal law that President Bill Clinton signed into law 20 years ago.   It is not, and a careful reading of both laws makes that clear.   So one of the following statements must be true:

Either:     Gov Pence does not understand the law he signed.   Even Bret Baier on Fox News explained how it differs from the federal law and 19 other state laws, not just in details but in very substantive, significant ways.

Or:     Gov. Pence is not being honest with the public about the intent and scope of the law.  This bill was clearly a gift to the religious right, in anticipation of the coming Supreme Court ruling in June.   Want proof?  Just look at the photo of Gov. Pence signing the bill.  If this had nothing to do with anti-gay discrimination, then why did he invite all the anti-gay lobbyists to be there for the signing?

It's customary to invite to the signing:   constituents who have played a key role in advocating for the bill, legislators who worked hard to pass it, and people who would benefit from it.    Any other questions?


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Indiana Gov. Pence: It's not broken, but I'll fix it.

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, trying to stop the tsunami of criticism and cancellations, held a press conference this morning and said:

"I don't believe for a minute that it was the intention of the General Assembly to create a license to discriminate, or a right to deny services to gays, lesbians or anyone else in this state. And it certainly wasn't my intent.  But I can appreciate that that's become the impression -- not just here in Indiana, but all across this country. And we need to confront that."

He said he would like a clarifying bill from the legislature this week, which he will sign.   This should guarantee that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act will not take precedence over any civil rights laws that protect from discrimination.

I just don't understand this level of niavete -- after the protests before the bill was passed and with the history in Arizona and other states.    Nor do I understand the level of denial of the problem once it's pointed out.

What they can't explain is this:   If the covert purpose of the bill is not to allow discrimination, then what other purpose does the law have that isn't already the law?

It's like those voter ID laws to fix a problem that doesn't exist -- so you can achieve your real purpose that you refuse to talk about.

But -- this whole brouhaha has clarified where the nation stands, which I read as this:   One person's expression of religious freedom cannot trump another person's civil rights.

This should give other states second thoughts about passing similar laws.


Huge backlash against the Indiana's "religious freedom" law.

Republican lawmakers in Indiana seems baffled at the backlash against their new "religious liberty" law.   They point to the fact that the law in fact does not call for discrimination.   No, but it allows it and provides the defense for doing so.

It is so obvious to most of the country that this bill was motivated by the anticipated June ruling by SCOTUS on marriage equality.    Opponents to marriage equality want laws that allow people in the wedding business to refuse services to same sex couples.   It's that simple.

Gov. Mike Pence's pitiful performance on This Week on Sunday had to be one of the most painful few moments of his political career, when George Stephanopolis asked him six times for a yes/no answer to the question of whether it was now legal in Indiana to discriminate against gay and lesbian people.   He never did answer.

It may be that the legislators who actually sponsored this bill didn't know what they were doing, but that's hard to believe such niavete in this day and age -- when news about this from other states has been so loud over the past year.    Gov. Jan Brewer vetoed a similar bill in Arizona last year, because of the great outcry from corporations and from conventions set to boycott the state.

The backlash in Indiana has been even larger and more immediate than Arizona.  Home Depot, Delta Air Lines, Apple, Walmart, Yelp, Salesforce, Angie's List, Eli Lilly, as well as dozens of Indiana-based companies.    Duke University, set to play in the Final Four in Indiana Saturday has criticized the law, affirmed its commitment to equality for all, and said it will be closely monitoring how its team is treated.   Connecticutt and Washington are both barring any state-funded travel to Indiana.  Rock band Wilco has cancelled a concert.

The early edition of the Tuesday's Indianapolis Star newspaper has a strongly worded editorial, beginning with a bold headline taking up 2/3 of the front page:   "FIX  THIS  NOW."

It goes beyond calling for fixing this bad law, however, and demands passage of a law to prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, education, and public accommodation on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.


Big banks blow it

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) is really a burr under the saddle for Big Banks.   Her relentless pressure for separating investment and banking services and for more effective regulation of bank fees on credit cards must be hitting the mark.

Now banks have decided to retaliate.   The problem is that they are in such a bubble -- and have such ineffective PR advice -- that they've only succeeded in proving all the criticism.   

Their solution to this Warren gadfly that's annoying them?   Threaten to withhold campaign donations to Senate Democrats.     Sure, it would reduce a few campaign war chests;   but it also just proclaims the problem better than any Democratic ads that could be purchased with Big Bank dollars.  This tactic screams loud and clear:   "We can -- and will -- buy your support."

So, of course, Democrats will have to prove them wrong.   At least, let's hope that is their response.   Hillary, are you listening?

Former Gov. Martin O'Malley, who plans to contest Clinton in the Democratic primary, sounded his populist appeal with this statement on ABC's This Week:
"It’s as if Wall Street owns one party, and is trying to totally intimidate the other party. And we need to stand up and put the national interests first. If we do that, we can restore our economy."
That is an important debate that should be part of the Democratic primary process, especially given that our presumed nominee (Clinton) is already thought to have a cozy relation to Wall Street.    Maybe O'Malley will take up the Elizabeth Warren agenda on the debate stages.    Put Bernie Sanders up there too, if Elizabeth persists in not running.   There could still be some interesting debates.


Monday, March 30, 2015

Calling out the "religious freedom" laws for what they are: permission for anti-gay discrimination

Indiana's legislature passed, and Gov. Mike Pence signed into law, the  Religious Freedom Restoration Act.   Nineteen states have passed similar laws, and Georgia and Arkansas have bills pending.  

Last year, such a bill was killed in Georgia because of the strong protests of big corporations, including Atlanta based Home Depot and Delta Airlines.   But they have been mostly silent this year, as a new bill wends its way through the legislature.

Instead, this year in Indiana we have seen immediate, strong protests from liberal religious groups, gay activists, and supportive politicians and public figures -- Hillary Clinton among them.    And see Tim Cook's op-ed below.

The other strong pressure on Indiana is coming from sports and conventions scheduled to be held in Indiana.   One of those is the NCAA, which is scheduled to play its Final Four games in Indiana in April.   It's raising questions about whether some of its teams' members may face discrimination.  [The law isn't set to go into effect until June.]   Others, including a liberal church group are considering cancelling future convention plans in Indiana.

What's it about?    Gov. Pence says the law simply protects the religious liberty of its citizens.   Critics say it allows discrimination, most especially aimed at the LGBT individuals.

No one is going to force a business to stay open on the sabbath of its owners' religious faith.   That is already guaranteed in existing laws.    This law doesn't specifically state it, but it would definitely allow a publicly licensed business to refuse services to gays because the owners' religion teaches that homosexuality is a sin.   That is the big difference.

They can say, all they want, that this is not their intent.   But, if the law allows it, you can be sure that there will be some who will exploit it to that end

And, if that was not their intent, how do they explain the fact that every proposed amendment that would have made that fact explicit was defeated?   And why are some business establishments in Indiana already displaying signs that say:  "We serve everyone"?

Despite their stated intent, the simple fact is that this spate of "religious freedom" laws comes in anticipation of SCOTUS' June decision that may bring marriage equality throughout the country.    That's what this is really all about.

Don't pretend otherwise.


Added 3:00 pm.    Connecticutt's governor has issued an executive order saying no state funds can be used for official state business travel to Indiana because of this law.   

Tim Cook's op-ed: "Pro-discrimination "religious freedom laws are dangerous"

Tim Cook is CEO of Apple.   He recently came out as gay and has rapidly come to be a major spokesman for gay rights.   This op-ed was published in Monday's Washington Post.
* * *
"Pro-Discrimination 'Religious Freedom' Laws Are Dangerous"
Tim Cook

"There’s something very dangerous happening in states across the country.

"A wave of legislation, introduced in more than two dozen states, would allow people to discriminate against their neighbors. Some, such as the bill enacted in Indiana last week that drew a national outcry and one passed in Arkansas, say individuals can cite their personal religious beliefs to refuse service to a customer or resist a state nondiscrimination law.
"Others are more transparent in their effort to discriminate. Legislation being considered in Texas would strip the salaries and pensions of clerks who issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples — even if the Supreme Court strikes down Texas’ marriage ban later this year. In total, there are nearly 100 bills designed to enshrine discrimination in state law.
"These bills rationalize injustice by pretending to defend something many of us hold dear. They go against the very principles our nation was founded on, and they have the potential to undo decades of progress toward greater equality.

"America’s business community recognized a long time ago that discrimination, in all its forms, is bad for business. At Apple, we are in business to empower and enrich our customers’ lives. We strive to do business in a way that is just and fair. That’s why, on behalf of Apple, I’m standing up to oppose this new wave of legislation — wherever it emerges. I’m writing in the hopes that many more will join this movement. From North Carolina to Nevada, these bills under consideration truly will hurt jobs, growth and the economic vibrancy of parts of the country where a 21st-century economy was once welcomed with open arms.
"I have great reverence for religious freedom. As a child, I was baptized in a Baptist church, and faith has always been an important part of my life. I was never taught, nor do I believe, that religion should be used as an excuse to discriminate.

"I remember what it was like to grow up in the South in the 1960s and 1970s. Discrimination isn’t something that’s easy to oppose. It doesn’t always stare you in the face. It moves in the shadows. And sometimes it shrouds itself within the very laws meant to protect us.

"Our message, to people around the country and around the world, is this: Apple is open. Open to everyone, regardless of where they come from, what they look like, how they worship or who they love. Regardless of what the law might allow in Indiana or Arkansas, we will never tolerate discrimination.
"Men and women have fought and died fighting to protect our country’s founding principles of freedom and equality. We owe it to them, to each other and to our future to continue to fight with our words and our actions to make sure we protect those ideals. The days of segregation and discrimination marked by “Whites Only” signs on shop doors, water fountains and restrooms must remain deep in our past. We must never return to any semblance of that time. America must be a land of opportunity for everyone.
"This isn’t a political issue. It isn’t a religious issue. This is about how we treat each other as human beings. Opposing discrimination takes courage. With the lives and dignity of so many people at stake, it’s time for all of us to be courageous."

Tim Cook (reprinted from the Washington Post, March 30, 2015)

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Israel's president 'scolds' Netanyahu

He probably wouldn't call it "scolding" the prime minister, but what else was it?   Israel's president Reuven Rivlin said this in an obvious reference to Netanyahu's warning to his far right base:  "the Arabs are flocking to the polls in droves."
"One who is afraid of votes in a ballot box will eventually see stones thown in the streets."
And later, in describing the "difficult election period," Rivlin said:
". . .  [T]hings were said which ought not to be said -- not in a Jewish state and not in a democratic state."
Netanyahu has been back-tracking and apologizing for his remarks, but no one is fooled into believing that he will ever cooperate with working to achieve a two-state settlement, with autonomy and full rights to self-governance to the Palestinians.


Robert Reich on 3 myths blinding us to the economic truth"

Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton cabinet and now professor at University of California, Berkeley, wrote this to be shared.   I find it worth posting:

"The three biggest myths that blind us to the truth"

"1. The "job creators" are CEOs, corporations, and the rich, whose taxes must be low in order to induce them to create more jobs. Rubbish. The real job creators are the vast middle class and the poor, whose spending induces businesses to create jobs. Which is why raising the minimum wage, extending overtime protection, enlarging the Earned Income Tax Credit, and reducing middle-class taxes are all necessary.

"2. The critical choice is between the "free market" or "government." Baloney. The free market doesn't exist in nature. It's created and enforced by government. And all the ongoing decisions about how it's organized - what gets patent protection and for how long (the human genome?), who can declare bankruptcy (corporations? homeowners? student debtors?), what contracts are fraudulent (insider trading?) or coercive (predatory loans? mandatory arbitration?), and how much market power is excessive (Comcast and Time Warner?) - depend on government.

"3. We should worry most about the size of government. Wrong. We should worry about who government is for. When big money from giant corporations and Wall Street inundate our politics, all decisions relating to #1 and #2 above become rigged against average working Americans."

To me, this all seems so simple and so logical that I have trouble understanding why anyone would claim otherwise and adhere to beliefs about the economy that just do not make sense and do not hold up to empirical scrutiny.

So, do you think all those supply-siders, trickle-downers, and get-government-off-my-back-but-don't-take-away-my-social-security types really believe that junk?   Are they just playing politics with the truth?    Do I have corresponding blind spots that make me seem stupid?    I just don't get it -- how a thinking person can buy these myths.   They don't try to refute the contrary evidence;   they just keep repeating the myths, as though that will make them true.