The ‘Murican Dream (A Long Trayvon Martin Rant)

“Apparently, we are now at the point when a seventeen year old boy, unarmed, must make all the correct judgments during a confrontation with a grown man in order not to be shot to death.”

-David Simon, co-creator of HBO’s The Wire

I’ve been called a nigger, to my face, somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen times in my life.  Clerks have followed me around stores countless times.  I’ve been automatically put in remedial English classes on 3 occasions and told by an English teacher that I have problems writing (it salted my opinion of my ability for years).  I’ve been stopped by police dozens of times, asked what I was doing, occasionally searched, yet never given a citation or a warning.  Once a cop pulled up when I was sitting in a car outside my house talking to a friend.  He checked my driver’s license three times (never hers, of course, she was white) on the grounds that there had been a robbery at a nearby convenience store.  He admitted when he first saw me that I didn’t fit the description except that I was black.  (Couldn’t she have been the getaway driver?)  The worst was the time the police pulled me over when I was driving home from work and drew guns on me.  The 1st cop asked for my registration, when I reached for it (it was in the glove-box) he blurted Whoa!Whoa!Whoa! at me while his partner aimed his gun at my head through the passenger window.  His intent was clear: Don’t move your hand another inch or you’re gonna get shot in the face. They kept me there for two hours, repeatedly checking my driver’s license and registration.  They said, once again, that my vehicle ‘matched a description,” but considering I was driving a grey Nissan pick up with blue side panels, you can count me  skeptical.

But I digress.  My point is, most black men have stories like these.  It’s just the reality of life in America.  I typically don’t give it much thought.

But I can’t treat this stuff so lightly anymore.  I mean, I live in a world where, as a black man, if being harassed and followed around is all you get, you’re actually doing okay.  Think about it; in any of the above instances, if I had been belligerent or, God-forbid physical, I might have been killed with impunity.

I mean, what the hell is that?  This is America, right?

We’re at the point now where a 12-year-old black kid needs a completely different set of instructions from a 12-year-old white kid.  If anything happens they won’t trust you if you’re black.  If you’re black and anything less than an absolute angel, you’re guilty.  And always run, because if you defend yourself successfully, the odds are you’re going to jail; if you defend yourself and lose, you could be dead.  And it will be your fault.

Yeah, yeah, I’m just being reactionary.  It’s got nothing at all to do with race.  It’s just happenstance.  Again.

The truth is, that while many of the details in the Trayvon Martin case have nothing to do with race, at its core, it’s all about race.  Race is what made George Zimmerman suspicious of Trayvon in the 1st place.  Race is why people are so quick to believe that Trayvon is a thug or must have initiated the physical confrontation that lead Zimmerman to shoot him.  Of course this is all based on Zimmerman’s account, which he had a month and a half to work on before being seriously questioned about it.

But I cannot possibly believe that if Zimmerman was black and Trayvon was white that Zimmerman’s story is the one law enforcement would go with any more than I believe that Sean Hannity and Fox News would help raise money for a black Zimmerman’s defense. Or that the police would give black  Zimmerman 44 days to get his story straight before arresting him. Or that a jury of six white women from a small southern town would sympathize with an armed black man patrolling the neighborhood and shooting an unarmed white teenager. Or that a 17-year-old white teenager would get racial profiled in his father’s gated community.

Don’t get me wrong, the judge’s instructions were horrendous; Zimmerman actually rejected Stand Your Ground in favor of a standard self defense claim. Yet the judge instructed the jury that Zimmerman had the right to stand his ground and Juror B37 has since admitted that Stand Your Ground factored into the acquittal.  Simultaneously, the judged failed to instruct them  that in a standard self-defense claim Zimmerman needs to prove that he didn’t initiate the confrontation.

Thus, I believe the evidence, or lack thereof, leaves room for reasonable doubt, particularly with how self-defense laws currently stand.  Moreover, I think the Dept. of Justice going after Zimmerman is de facto double jeopardy, a violation of Zimmerman’s Constitutional rights.  And I don’t think two wrongs make a right.

The fact is, this whole thing stinks.  And it hurts.  If Trayvon’s death was a punch to the gut, the verdict is a kick in the balls.

I honestly can’t help feeling…unwelcome these days. It’s somewhat familiar feeling,  unfortunately.

I know.  Everyone has to deal with racism.  But let’s be honest here.  America has one of the great atrocities of human history on its books. 400 years of the most brutal, oppressive, and dehumanizing slavery ever known followed by another 100 years of legislative, systematic, and violent oppression.

Trayvon Martin’s death is just an echo of this legacy.

Consider that at no point in American history have blacks enjoyed equal standing with whites in terms of income, wealth, education quality or access, job opportunities, corporate leadership, or representation in government.  This on top of being historically red-lined by banks denying us access to home and business loans, subjected to gentrification, stopped, frisked, arrested and charged by law enforcement with much greater frequency, and punished more severely for similar crimes.  So let’s stop pretending that there’s an equivalency, it’s ignorant if not downright duplicitous.

The problem is that we’ve allowed cowards, liars, and bigots–bullies essentially–to set the terms of the discussion.  And bullies hate a fair fight.  They have instead created an environment in which there can be no discourse on the subject of race, save for the occasional rant by Chris Rock.

When we’re not hitting each other over the head with the race card, we’re denying it outright (don’t be fooled, this is just a means of deflecting the entire argument back), focusing on minutia completely out of context as evidence of egality (a.k.a. the “see, when viewed in a vacuum, this detail isn’t racist”), or simply burying our heads in the sand and proclaiming that we’ve arrived at a post-racial America.

It’s bullshit.  And shame on all of us for accepting it as anything else.

The fact is, Trayvon Martin’s death and Zimmerman’s acquittal are about race.  A lot of things are about race, and will continue to be, because we refuse to face the issue.

I think about Germany, another nation with a Great Atrocity on its books.  They study the Holocaust as ugly and humiliating as it is.  They look at it and seek not only answers but solutions.  And soon after World War II they came to the conclusion that their government no longer has the right to take a person’s life.  Their current constitution, ratified in 1949, abolishes capital punishment.

That’s the kind of approach we need here in the United States.  Instead of meekly slapping injustice and discrimination away whenever it pops up, we should be actively hunting it down, rooting it out, and crushing it utterly.

More importantly, we can’t keep letting the people who are indifferent, weak-minded, self-interested, or hateful keep controlling the argument. There aren’t two equal sides to the issue.  There’s right and there’s wrong. We have to be determined to be on the right side of this issue forever more.  Not to make up for slavery, which at this point is impossible, but to ensure that inequality and discrimination are completely eliminated and bigotry of every stripe is banished to the shadows where it may wallow only in tremulous fear of the light.

Of course, this is only my dream.

We don’t actually live in a post-racialist America.  Toes are going to get stepped on, nerves will be frayed.  There are blatant racists and more significantly, oblivious ones.  Having your worldview shattered is an unnerving, occasionally violent thing.  It’s unpleasant.  But we can’t let that deter us.

We can no longer afford to be tolerant of intolerance.

Free.  Thought.

And boycott Florida.

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Regarding Sandy Hook…

Man, this last day has been a vacillation between being heartbroken and enraged.  I keep thinking about those families in Newtown, Connecticut, this being the silly season and all.  I think about how many of those murdered children had gifts at home waiting for them.   I think about the parents anticipating the looks on the children’s faces Christmas morning.  I think about all the plans that were made to travel and visit family.

I think of how utterly trivial all this holiday consumer crap is in comparison to losing a child. Hell, pretty much everything else in life is trivial.  Those parents would have stepped right in front of those bullets for their kids without a second’s hesitation.

Then I think about the person who killed those innocent kids and I can’t find words to describe him, or words I would utter publicly to describe what I feel about him.  I won’t say his name, though.  Ever.  And that’s that.

What else can I say about an event so tragic, I keep forgeting that 6 innocent adults were killed as well?

The other reason I’m so worked up is because I’m so tired, as many of us are, of seeing these tragedies result in no effort whatsoever to prevent, or at least reduce the risk, of another tragedy.  The next bloodbath comes, and I wonder how many more of them will it take before we realize that we bear the responsibility of preventing this?  I mean we can’t keep our kindergarteners safe.

So in my furor, I took to the twitter-verse looking for a fight with every lobotomized ideologue dumb enough to defend gun rights.  I was surprised and encouraged to see that a lot of like-minded people were doing the same.

The mainstream media was doing the same as well (well, some of it).  To my more encouraged surprise, no one on my side of the argument appeared to be biting on the typical right wing talking points and fallacies (now is not the time; it’s an attack on the 2nd Amendment, etc.).  People were pissed.  The situation was too grave.  And when the sane people pushed, the loons quickly found that the ice beneath their feat was not only thin but cracking.

Maybe America is finally ready to to do something about gun control.

That’s not fair, a majority of us have been ready for years.  But maybe now there are enough of us, sufficiently motivated, to spur the politicians to act.  I wrote every representative I have, Democrat and Republican.

Because our current system is not just untenable, it’s illogical, immoral, and unjust. It’s easily demonstrable.  Instead of scoffing at the gun nuts clamoring for even more firearms, play those scenarios out.  What would really happen if you were working or out running some random errand, and all of sudden shots start firing?  You pull out your gun and you see someone with their gun out firing shots.  Are they the shooter?  Is that just another well-armed citizen like you?  What if they turn their gun on you?  Do you shoot first?  Do you hesitate and put yourself at risk?  It’s goofy.  The fact is the status quo is failing, miserably and absolutely.  We cannot continue to let the defenders of that status quo control–or better, stifle–the conversation.

The first step is to not fall for the rhetoric, which is working so far (though it’s only the 1st day).  The second is to maintain a sense of context.  This specific case may not have been preventable with simple gun control laws, but that doesn’t mean at least some of the 10,000 gun deaths we have every year in this country weren’t preventable.  Gun control is about the epidemic not the one event.

There are sensible measure we can take right away that the overwhelming majority of Americans agree with, such as closing loopholes and doing background checks on everyone looking to buy a gun.  Even a majority of NRA members support that.  Then there are things we need to investigate and discuss further; like ways to better identify potentially dangerous people who shouldn’t have access to guns.  Additionally, we should consider that peripheral issues such as improved mental healthcare might do considerable good.

We live in an “ocean of guns”  in the U.S (89 guns for every 100 people, highest in the world).  It’s too easy for just anyone to get a gun legally.  The NRA is hellbent on putting as many guns into as many hands as possible, while simultaneously giving us greater legislative freedom to use them against one another.  They are behind crazy laws like  stand your ground, which has led to a substantially increased number of penalty-free murders by moving the goalpost on what’s considered self-defense.  They pushed for legislation allowing people on the Terror Watch-list to purchase guns and for loopholes that have created an environment where 40% of  firearms are purchased without any background check (mostly over the interwebs).  And they oppose, with bookoo lobbying dollars, basic, common sense gun control laws that even the NRA membership supports.

This is because the NRA is really just a lobbying organization for the gun manufacturers.  That’s who gives the NRA most of its funding.  The NRA works for arms dealers who sell guns to our military and to the people our military fights.  Those arms manufacturers have sold–directly–some of the very guns that have killed our troops.  So they’re not morally above creating an environment where everyone feels they have to have a gun.

You’ll hear the gun nuts arguing for this like it’s a good thing.  We should’ve armed teachers (the same ones they think are overpaid by the way) After that it’s waitresses, I suppose…then cashiers, office managers, doctors, and finally the clergy.  They won’t be happy until they see every pastor and priest standing before their congregation wearing a Kevlar vest.

We also need to study the 2nd Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, what the Founding Fathers wrote and said about it ( here’s a hint; they meant militia literally), and what the subsequent court decisions have interpreted the Amendment to mean.  Because that’s the actual process of determining Constitutionality.  We do this for the 1st Amendment, which is why you can’t yell “fire!” in a crowded theater or accuse someone of rape without proof.  The 2nd Amendment is a fundamental right but we need to have an understanding of what that right is and what it’s meant to be.

Finally, we’ve got to have the resolve to see this through.  Once the sting of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary wears off, it will be easy to fall back into old habits until the next tragedy rekindles the outrage.  At that point, we will have no one to blame but ourselves.  And a lot of bloody hands to wash clean.

Free. Thought.

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Stopping The Insanity

Maria Santos Gorrostieta

I should begin by noting that I have never, ever taken an illicit drug in my life. Nor do I plan to.

I’ve been reading about the death of Maria Santos Gorrostieta, the 26 year-old former mayor of Tiquicheo, Mexico (smack dab in the middle of cartel country).  I remembered hearing about her taking over as mayor a few years ago.  She was only 21 years old at the time and a staunch opponent of the cartels.  I worried for

Gorrostieta was assailed and abducted on Novermber 17th as she was driving through town with her daughter.   Three days later, her burned and mutilated body was found in a field by farm workers.  It’s tragic.  There’s no debating that these cartels are motherfuckers; as evil as evil gets in this world.

It made reading about how she told her abductors she’d go willingly if they let her daughter go as heartbreaking as it was moving.

Gorrostieta showing the injuries she sustained in an assassination attempt in 2011.

Granted, Gorrostieta wasn’t your average cookie.  I mean, the cartels’ power is based entirely on butchery (and the constant threat of it).  Their severity and vindictiveness are all they have in lieu of legitimacy.  Their imperative is slaughter; to torture and kill any would-be heroes that dare to stand up to them.  Their survival depends on it.  In that light, along with  some of her statements and actions, it’s fair to say Mrs. Gorrostieta had a bit of a martyr complex. She played a role in creating a sort of inevitability to her death and likely would have done the same for another cause if the drug war didn’t exist.  So even though standing up to the cartels seems kinda suicidal to me, I don’t know that there is a better word than courage to describe it.

But no matter how premeditated or deliberate her heroism might have been, she is inarguably one of the good guys–a bonafide hero.

https://i0.wp.com/wac.450f.edgecastcdn.net/80450F/nj1015.com/files/2012/05/BILLBOARD.jpgThe problem here–the only problem here–the cause of her death and many, many more is this stupid, violent, exploitative, wasteful, obtuse, impossible, unwinnable, unjustifiable, mind-numbingly counter-productive War on Drugs.  It boils my blood.  50, 000 people have been killed by the cartels in the last 6 years alone.   The last 6 years.   At the cost of $15 billion per year–roughly  $500 per second, millions of people have been  jailed for drug-related crimes, losing their lives and their futures–the very same activities our last 3 presidents engaged in.  They were just lucky enough to not get caught.   Thousands of people are killed in street violence over territories and transportation.  Dozens of countries are have had their economies and citizenries decimated fighting murderous cartels.

All of this just to prevent people from getting high.  (Sure, there’s a downside to illegal drugs; there’s a downside to legal drugs, whether it’s alcohol, over-the-counter, or prescription.)

And drugs remain as easy to buy as candy bars.

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It’s goofy.  And comically inconsistent. We don’t see anything so wrong with getting drunk.  We allow people the right to give themselves cancer from smoking cigarettes, and diabetes from eating junk food. But for some reason getting high is an intolerable evil.

It doesn’t make sense.

There are myriad secondary factors:  Private military contractors like Blackwater (er…the Academi, or whatever they’re calling themselves these days to cover up the shame of slaughtering innocent people), profit enormously from “advising” Latin American countries on how to fight America’s War on Drugs. Private prisons lobby state legislatures with barrels of cash for stricter drug enforcement laws to boost their bottom line.  The cost of recovery and treatment places additionall burden on our already overburdened healthcare system.

These things  are awful and true, but they’re resultant rather than causative of the war on drugs.  They go away when the war on drugs goes away.

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“Advisors.”

For whatever reasons, we’ve decided that getting high is somehow immoral or unholy and the peripheral crimes associated with drugs are an unforgivable  blight on our society.  It’s pure nonsense; outmoded and outdated thinking based on the very faulty assumption that the drug war is  WORTH all this death.  ALL this pain.  ALL this cost.

We have never revisited this conclusion.

For a modernized country, America is notoriously susceptible to group-think and ideology.  We follow our political affiliations the same way we follow our sports teams; thick or thin, good or bad.  Even against our own best interests.  We’re loathe to let go of our beliefs, regardless of the evidence.

Case in point: the absolute epitome of failure known as America’s War on Drugs.

Can anything s lead us to question the validity of this war?  Is there a death toll that’s too high?  Enough sacrificial Maria Santos Gorrostietas to spur us to action?  A number prisons built and filled to bursting that would make us take note?  Or will we keep accepting our current, blood-drenched policies no matter the cost?  What will it take before we begin asking ourselves if it’s worth it?

Because it’s not worth it.  Not even close.  It’s all unimaginable cost with no reward whatsoever for the simple fact that after everything is said and done, illegal drugs are readily available for whoever wants them.

At their worst, drugs can be pretty bad–some much worse than alcohol and tobacco.  But even then, drugs are but a mild annoyance in comparison to the hell-spawned inferno of this war of insanity.

The argument against the war on drugs can be won, decisively, if only we’d pull our heads out of the sands of convention and make the case (it’s a policy for crooks and idiots) and challenge those defending it.  It only requires the will to do so.

Maria Gorrostieta showed me that.

Free. Thought.

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Killing for Profit–An American Story

I was gonna go postal in a blog (still might) about this but The young Turks once again handled it much better than I ever could.

Wells Fargo Yovany Gonzalez
Yovany Gonzalez with his daughter Mackenzie.

For those without time to watch the video–and if you haven’t heard–the short version is that Yovany Gonzalez is suing Wells Fargo bank because he believes they fired him 3 days before his daughter, Mackenzie, was scheduled to have cancer surgery. Gonzalez alleges that the financial conglomerate and their insurance provider, United Healthcare, fired him for the express purpose of not having to pay for the expensive medical procedure.  (He was not offered his government mandated COBRA coverage until after 90-days…when he was no longer eligible.)

Mackenzie died of cancer in March 2011.

Germane here is the point that corporations are inherently devoid of morality.  By design, corporations are meant to, within the scope of the prevalent laws and regulations, generate profits and alleviate personal risk.  They can be either good or bad as profit and their executive leadership dictates.  Now these amoral “constructs” have assumed overwhelming influence in the U.S. because of our corrupt political system.

A prime example of this manifest corruption is the lack of gun restrictions–hell, there isn’t even talk of restricting access to guns, even after the Aurora, Colorado, Tayvon Martin, Gabby Giffords, and Virginia Tech shootings.  Gun restrictions very well might have saved lives in all of these instances.  America averages roughly 20 mass shootings a year.  Most just don’t make national news.  In fact, the rate of gun-related deaths in the United States is 8 times higher than in economically similar nations.

Yet it is political anathema to even consider any gun restrictions–even though a vast majority of Americans think more restrictions are needed.  There are even some gun regulations that a majority of NRA members agree with, such as:

1. Requiring criminal background checks on gun owners and gun shop employees. 87 percent of non-NRA gun-owners and 74 percent of NRA gun owners support the former, and 80 percent and 79 percent, respectively, endorse the latter.

2. Prohibiting terrorist watch list members from acquiring guns. Support ranges from 80 percent among non-NRA gun-owners to 71 percent among NRA members.

3. Mandating that gun-owners tell the police when their gun is stolen. 71 percent non-NRA gun-owners support this measure, as do 64 percent of NRA members.

4. Concealed carry permits should only be restricted to individuals who have completed a safety training course and are 21 and older. 84 percent of non-NRA and 74 percent of NRA member gun-owners support the safety training restriction, and the numbers are 74 percent and 63 percent for the age restriction.

5. Concealed carry permits shouldn’t be given to perpetrators of violent misdemeanors or individuals arrested for domestic violence. The NRA/non-NRA gun-owner split on these issues is 81 percent and 75 percent in favor of the violent misdemeanors provision and 78 percent/68 percent in favor of the domestic violence restriction.

–From:  http://thinkprogress.org/election/2012/07/24/577091/nra-members-agree-regulating-guns-makes-sense/

A majority–in most case a super-majority–of Americans, a of gun owners, and of NRA members support these reasonable and very commons sense gun controls.  Still, no gun regulations get passed because lawmakers fear the power of the NRA and gun manufacturers.  Apparently the NRA members don’t matter.

Meanwhile Conservative–and establishment–propaganda has many people convinced that the government–the only body with the authority to check the power of these corporations–is an even greater evil.  This has become a self-fulfilling prophecy as our government is now in the hands of corporate machines with no conscience.

We are in dire need of a political revolution that puts power back into the hands of the people.  But with people being being allowed to die in the name of profit, access to opportunity shriveling on the vine, more and more advantages being stacked in favor of the rich, and the voice of the people being increasingly ignored, I’m not sure how much longer the window for political change will stay open.

They right way.

After that, the only option will be violent revolution.  In modern times.  With modern weapons.  No sane person could possibly want that.  But given the human inclination to not act, even on our own behalves, until absolutely  forced, I dread that large scale violence is becoming increasingly inevitable in the long run.

The wrong way.

It is our Constitutional Right to not just be heard, but represented.  Despite all the other problems we face, getting money out of politics–ending the purchase of political office–has to be our first and foremost priority. 

We need a Constitutional Amendment revoking the corporate personhood which allows business interests to use their dollars as “political speech”.  We need strict, draconian campaign finance reform (I would prefer 100%publicly funded elections).  Take away the means of buying politicians.

Forget party affiliation.  Forget campaign promises.

Crush the corruption.

Get money out of politics.  If not for ourselves, for Mackenzie Gonzalez and those like her yet to come.

Free.  Thought.

Losing Faith in Religion, Not Faith–Wait…What?!

The Huffington Post has an interesting article about a recent Gallup poll showing that many Americans have lost confidence in organized religion.  The shift represents a more than 22 point swing over the last forty years.

Trend: "Great Deal"/"Quite a Lot" of Confidence in the Church/Organized Religion
American confidence in religious institutions, once literally held in the highest regard, has fallen 24 points since its peak in 1975.

While the polls are clearly denoting a loss of faith in the institutions of organized religions and NOT a loss of faith in God or religious doctrine, they still represents cracks in the armor.  Growing up, I don’t know that I held anyone outside of my immediate family in higher esteem than my church elders.  Even after I was no longer a practicing Christian, I considered the ‘the cloth’ as an estimable position to have.

Very public scandals involving the Catholic church and televangelists preachers have clearly had a deteriorating effect on people’s trust in church leadership.  There was the immediate effect of those scandals of course, but there were also long term effects.  By painful example a religious title obviously doesn’t give a person greater insight into the human condition.  It doesn’t make a person more wise or less prone to mistakes.  It certainly doesn’t make a person better at decision-making.

I think another factor in this loss of confidence is the proliferation of the personal relationship with God central to evangelical Christianity–the fastest growing religion in the world.  Evangelicals don’t need church fathers to intermediate between God and themselves.  Through prayer and contemplation they seek the connection with God themselves and only turn to church officials for guidance in this effort.

While I still maintain that individual spirituality can have a obstructive impact on some advancements in science and technology as well as human rights, organized religion is the true culprit in the fight against cultural egality.

Most of the people I have observed who characterize themselves as spiritual rather than religious, no matter how similar their beliefs might be to organized religious dogma, do not presume nearly the same level of moral authority to impose those beliefs on others.

Confidence in the Church/Organized Religion, by Religious Preference -- 2002-2012

Obviously, the power of the church is far from broken.  It’s more accurate to say the overall influence of the church is somewhat diminished and it has been considerably diminished over the last decade or so.

While it is my hope that–someday–everyone will come to see the merit–even wisdom–of skeptical reason, I have the utmost respect for religious freedom.  In practical terms alone that goes to our basic freedoms of speech and thought.  So I am not interested in any course that leads to the restriction or loss of rights for any churches or belief systems (except that any church that is politically active loses its tax exempt status.  No one should be able to use tax free dollars to influence policy.)

It will be interesting to see how this trend continues.  As an element of civilization, I think it is inevitable.  The more we know, the less superstitious we become.  Still, even the inevitable can take centuries and be rife with backslides and regressions.  Hopefully, this trend will instead snowball to a point where we start moving towards policy dictated by evidence-based argument rather than unfounded claims based solely on religious beliefs.

Ahh…if only.

Money out of politics.

Free. Thought.

Celebrating Stupidity: Wisconsin Recall

The Wisconsin recall debacle answers for us in devastating fashion which power is greater.

I haven’t posted in a while. I’ve been really busy of late but I had to throw in my two cents on the Wisconsin recall election.

Okay, so 2 pretty significant points come to mind here:

1.  This may very well have been the death knell of our democracy.  Not the end, but the beginning of the end.  Despite being perhaps the most active and focused grass roots campaign in recent memory, with millions of people fully committed to effecting change, the recall movement was crushed under an ocean of money.  Out of state billionaires gave embattled governor Scott Walker $30 million in spending money and he used it to shove challenger and Milwaukee mayor Tom Barret’s nose in the dirt. $30 million. It’s a nearly 10 to 1 spending differential over the state Democrats.  We’re talking about a gubernatorial election in Wisconsin.

Not long ago that was presidential campaign money.  Republican strategists are already calling Wisconsin a model for every other state in the nation.   If the Wisconsin governorship only costs $30 million, it’s possible that every governor’s seat in the country can be bought for less than $1 billion.  Mitt Romney and his corporations are looking to raise nearly $2 billion to buy the presidency.  It’s a fair estimate that the United States federal government–complete with the most powerful military on earth–can be bought entirely and filled with yes men for under $10 billion.  Neat.

The most startling aspect of this story is that 36% of union families voted FOR the union busting governor.  Makes no sense whatsoever.  Union jobs have been one of the key forces behind the difference between labor conditions and wages in the United States and those in Mexico.  36% of Wisconsin’s union-employed voters just chose to narrow that gap in the wrong direction.  It’s like 36% of dolphins voting to drain the Pacific Ocean.

Sure, there were mitigating factors, recall fatigue, unrelated social wedge issues, and Walker’s aforementioned campaign megabucks; but I maintain the results underline the fact that many Americans don’t have the skills or information needed to vote–or think–critically and rationally; and thus are highly susceptible to suggestive messaging such as negative campaign ads…ads bought with corporate PAC money.

We have become so divided as a nation that people will vote against their own self interest because of party and political labels.  For many Americans, unions–much like the federal government, are to be held as eternal and unquestionable evils.

Embattled Wisconsin governor Scot Walker celebrates his crushing victory in the 2012 recall.

Nevermind that Walker blew a gigantic, $3.6 billion hole in the state budget by giving corporations and wealthy Wisconsinites a high-income tax cut.  He then worked to balance that deficit by dramatically cutting education funding, enacting massive public employee layoffs and wage reductions, and stealing $25 million in foreclosure settlement money designated–by the evil federal government–to help families keep their homes.  THEN he went after the collective bargaining rights of the public unions (except police and firefighters…the two unions that supported his campaign).  He admitted, on tape, that he had considered using bat-wielding thugs to disperse the protestors outside the capital and that his goal is to divide and conquer the unions and make Wisconsin a right-to-work state.

For mindless conservative voters all of that chicanery is forgivable so long as a union–the main campaign financiers of the Democratic party–was stopped.

2.  The Democratic party is too weak, stupid, and/or pathetic to help anyone, even themselves.  Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks likens them to the Washington Generals who lose spectacularly–and deliberately–to the Harlem Globetrotters.  The national party did not play cavalry with volunteers, organizational support, or even funding until roughly three weeks before the election.  Unfortunately for them, polls showed that Wisconsin voters had made up their minds months ago, before the Democratic party had even finished its primary.  Whoops-a-daisy.

Barrack Obama lets Wisconsin voters know he’s sorry for all this union busting nonsense and he hopes the recall goes well for them, but he’s gotta bounce.

During the 2008 campaign Barrack Obama proclaimed that if anyone went after collective bargaining he’d put on his walking shoes and march along side them.  When Scott Walker (among others) did go after collective bargaining rights, the White House fell silent as a grave.  I don’t know if he’s playing, as he supporters put it, masterful 3-dimensional political chess, but on its surface, this Wisconsin recall looks like a Titanic failure.  17% of the people who voted to keep Scott Walker in office are also Obama supporters.  His involvement in this election might very well have reversed the outcome. Instead, he and the Democratic National Party left all those people who marched and protested for their rights crushed by the corporatocracy.  Increased voter apathy is as understandable as it is inevitable. In an apparent effort to not offend any part of that 17% crossover, the president may very well have lost half of his supporters on the left.  But that’s today’s Democrat, so weak and spineless it makes one nauseous at the sight of Jell-o.

I don’t know if the Democrats are just playing their part in a rigged game or they’re actually that terrified of what Republicans might say.  Either way, from my perspective, their pussification is complete.  It’s now a 90% certainty that I will not be spending my vote on barrack Obama’s re-election this year.

And I fear there will be no more Teddy Roosevelts, FDRs or JFKs until we get money out of politics.  And these…puwusses out of office.

Celebrating Stupidity: The U.S. Constitution Is Whatever We Want It to Be

Witch-hunter and Selma city councilman Dennis Lujan.

A fortune telling business wants to set up shop in Selma, California.

Apparently ‘that don’t go ’round here.

According to pastor Dale Davis, “I do think we have a right to say what businesses come to our community and we as a Christian community, we feel this is not a business we want in our community.”

Councilman Dennis Lujan is not so lily-livered in his opinion, informing the potential entrepreneurs, “You’re not welcome here, period.”

Forthwith, the Selma city council held a standing-room only meeting to craft an ordinance banning fortune tellers from operating within city limits (seriously).  This, of course, is after the council learned that their current ban on fortune tellers was ruled unconstitutional a quarter century ago.

Aren’t these guys always talking about free markets and small government?

Selma is apparently overrun with fool-ass-clowns.  It’s not a new development.

I’ve come to realize, and this Selma side-show clearly illustrates it, that many of these Christian fundamentalists see the U.S. Constitution in the same way they see the Holy Bible: as a confirmation of their personal beliefs irrespective of what the texts actually say.  It’s like the people who argue that taxes are illegal even though it says in the Constitution, quite plainly, that congress has the power to levy and collect taxes and apportion those taxes as it sees fit.

Fundamentalists consider the very existence of lifestyles and opinions they personally disagree with as an attack on their way of life.  So logically, attacking those other lifestyle choices and opinions is simply the defense of their own way of life. Forced vaginal probes impede the murder (as they see it) of unborn and in some instances–yet to be conceived–children. It doesn’t register for them that such a law could possibly be an attack on women.

Ships pass in the abyss.

Okay.  So money out of politics first and foremost, of course.  But whenever we get to the point where we can start really fixing education, we need an emphasis on civics and especially the U.S. Constitution, because there are a lot of people possessed of abject ignorance to what it says, and more importantly, what it means.

Selma.  Salem.  I’m just saying.

Common: The Believer

Funny to think of the (falsefied) uproar Common’s presence in the White House caused last year (ahh…politics).

The Chicago native has endured–over 21 years–because of his unique and unparallelled ability to straddle the line between poetry and rap.  It’s not hip hop for dummies.  This most clearly evidenced with his inspirational track The Believer off his 2011 album The Dreamer/The Believer.  I find it to be insightful and sometimes moving music that gives me a little something new each time I hear it.

His line, “If he could how would Ernie Barnes paint us/look at the picture, it’s hard not to blame us,” is in reference to Barnes’ custom of painting his subjects with their eyes closed to symbolize our blindness to each others’ humanity.

Likewise, in the verse, “Destiny’s children, survivors, soldiers/in front of buildings their eyes look older,” Common uses the now-defunct R&B group’s name and song titles as a metaphor to describe the saga of young life on the streets.

And lastly, with, “That ain’t the way the Langston Hughes wrote us/soul controllers on the shoulders of Moses and Noah,” Common laments how urban youth, despite possessing biblical potential, are running around with guns; it’s such a shortfall to how poets (and visionaries) such as Langston Hughes described African Americans during the Harlem Renaissance–which was the first real exposure the modern world got to the potential contribution blacks could make to culture and thought.

I love stuff like that. 🙂

Anyhow…

P.S.  The lyrics are included below.

– John legend – Hook –
I believe in the light that shines and will never die
Oh I believe the fire burns, we stay alive
They will talk about us
Like they talked about the kings before us
They will talk about us

– Common – Verse 1 –
These are the words of a believer, achiever, leader of the globe
Feeding souls of those in need
I bleed the blood of the struggle
Walking over troubled puddles
Hustles in my chest, no hustle no progress
Extremities of life and it’s process
Birth of a son, death of another
With love I caress both mothers
And tell ‘em, who’s in control is the One that’s above us
I walk where money talks and love stutters
Body language of a nation going through changes
The young become dangerous, pain gets spent into anger
Anger gets sent through the chamber
It’s tough when your own look like strangers
We are the sons of gangsters and stone rangers
If he could how would Ernie Barnes paint us?
Look at the picture, hard not to blame us
But time forgives, in the Chi where the young die often
Do they end up in a coffin because we haven’t taught them?
Is it what we talking? We really ain’t walking
Dues hustlers pay, how much did it cost ‘em?
Find myself on the same corner that we lost ’em
Real talking, in their ear like a Walkman
Thoughts spin around the corner to the World
When I see them, I see my baby girl
Believe!

– Hook –

– Verse 2 –
The lord lives among us
The young ‘uns hunger becomes a means to get it
By any means necessary, under pressure
Children feeling lesser, with the steel upon the dresser
Kill-at-will aggressors, Destiny’s children
Survivors, soldiers, in front of buildings their eyes look older
Hard to see blessings in a violent culture
Face against weapons, sirens, holsters
That ain’t the way that Langston Hughes wrote us
Soul controllers on the shoulders of Moses and Noah
We go from being Precious to Oprah
Cultivated to overcome ever since we came over-seas (seize)
The day and the way that you can see we determined
Solar keeps burning, shorties know to keep learning
Lessons in our life, but life stripes that we earning
Took Gramp’s advice that Christ is returning
Like a thief in the night, I write for beacons of light
For those of us in dark alleys and parched valleys
Street kids spark rallies of the conscience conquerors of a contest
That seems beyond us, even through the unseen, I know that God watches
From one King’s dream he was able to Barack us
The prophets, nothing can stop us
Believe!

– Hook-

[John legend]                                                                                                     I know I know I know our dreams won’t turn to dust
They will talk about us
I know I know I know our dreams won’t turn to dust
They will talk about us
I know I know I know our dreams won’t turn to dust
They will talk about us

There’s Justice in the Death of Death as Justice – Pt. 2

It appears a measure banning the death penalty may be on the ballot in California this November.  The 800,000 signatures gathered are currently being validated so we shall see.

I posted in a previous blog about the systematic racism inherent in the application of capital punishment, but in doing so I may have missed the greater point:

Innocent people are very likely being executed–in which case race or any other group identifiers are a secondary concern.  There is no way to be sure about how many wrongful executions have taken place because courts do not review the potential innocence of a convict after execution.  Resources are allocated to those whose lives can still be saved.

The execution of Claude Jones is a prime example.  Jones was executed in 2000 after George W. Bush’s clemency advisers failed to inform the Texas governor of  a request for a DNA test.   A hair allegedly coming from Claude Jones was the only evidence linking him to the crime scene.  The DNA technology was not available at the time of Jones’ conviction and Gov. Bush had stayed previous executions to allow for DNA testing.  In 2007, a judge ordered for a DNA test of the hair sample.  The results were not definitive, but suggested that the hair sample did not come from Jones.  (You can read more about Claude Jones and others who may have been wrongfully executed here.)

DNA evidence has played a key role in exonerating several death penalty convicts.  Unfortunately, DNA testing is impossible in a great majority of cases.  However, there are other evidential and procedural mistakes that lead to convictions of innocent people.

  • Confessions have been obtained by police through coercive interrogation tactics.
  • Faulty line up techniques and witness leading has strengthened inaccurate witness testimony.
  • Other characteristics, such as gang affiliation, drastically affect conviction rates, irrespective of the evidence.
Los Angeles District Attorney, Steve Cooley

There is also the political angle.  District attorneys, often elected to office, don’t want to look weak on crime.  Convictions rates sell better than satisfying justice.  An example of this is the injunction filed against Los Angeles district attorney Steve Cooley for retaliating against prosecutors who unionized  because they were being pressured to convict people they believed to be innocent.

Perhaps the best argument against continuing with the death penalty is the staggering (even prohibitive) cost of capital cases.  Simply put, it is far more expensive to execute a convict than to imprison that convict for life without parole.  In fact, several states have repealed or discontinued capital punishment solely because of the expense.

The exorbitant cost (roughly US$30 million per execution)  lies in the additional requirements imbued in death penalty cases.  There are typically twice as many attorneys involved; there are more pre-trial motions; jury selection is more in -depth and jurors are usually sequestered; two trials are required, one for guilt and one for sentencing; the actual trial tends to take 3-5 times longer; then comes the series of Constitutionally-mandated appeals, during which time, inmates are held in maximum security on death row at an additional cost of roughly US$90,000 per year, per inmate for a duration generally lasting between 10-15 years.  The appeals system is so backlogged it takes roughly 5 years just to get an attorney assigned (imagine if you’re innocent :().

This long, drawn out system full of multiple appeals is the source of much consternation for death penalty supporters.  Unfortunately for them, there’s not much that can be done in this regard.  The Fifth Amendment plainly states:

No person shall…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.

So until the convicted have availed themselves of every legal process they are due, the state does not have the right to kill them.  It might seem like a hassle but it’s for good reason.  A Columbia Law School study showed that 68% of death penalty convictions are overturned on appeal and 82% of re-tried death penalty cases resulted in life sentences. In fact, only 1 in 10 death penalty convictions actually leads to an execution.

Death penalty cases are often motivated by the emotional response to the crime rather than a reasoned evaluation of the evidence.  Once reason is applied, juries find that most of these cases do not meet the death penalty standard–because you don’t just want to be sure, you want to be absolutely-fucking-positive of guilt.  That’s almost never the case, as the stats show.

We must also consider the toll death penalty convictions take on prosecutors and jurors.  These people are responsible for answering for the murder of one person (or more) with the murder of another.  We have to remember that in reality, capital punishment tests people’s conscience and moral compass.  It’s one thing to pontificate in the abstract and quite another to make the decision about a person you can look in the eye and live with it.

I am sympathetic to seeing violent, merciless killers pay the ultimate price for what they’ve done.  I would certainly want anyone who kills someone I care about to face execution.  But I am not so thirsty for revenge that I’d risk murdering an innocent person.

The death penalty does not deter crime.  It is extremely costly.   It’s rife with mistakes, politics, and abuse.  It’s bogged down with mandatory procedures.  It takes an emotional toll on everyone involved.  It has and will continue to kill innocent people.  It is a revenge tool primarily used by third world nations and despotic regimes–most of the modern world has abandoned it.  And in the end it does not bring the victims back.

If and when you cast your vote on this measure in November, it’s important to remember that it’s not about the morality of executing brutal murderers, it’s about whether or not you want to continue this terribly flawed, biased, and ineffective system.

You have to ask yourself if a little blood from the guilty is worth a little innocent blood and a lot of taxpayer money.

There’s Justice in the Death of Death as Justice

America's past or future?

Connecticut just became the 17th state to repeal the death penalty.   Japan, China, and the United States are the only modern nations that still employ capital punishment.

Most modern nations have banned it outright.  Israel uses it only in extreme cases such as treason and terrorism (understandably).  Even Russia has a de facto death penalty ban.

We share  company with the likes of Iran, North Korea, and Uganda.

(Click to enlarge)

I’ve gone back and forth on the death penalty myself.  I’ve been leaning against it in recent years, but after a little digging on the subject, I have become firm my opposition to capital punishment.

I’m not opposed to it theoretically.  I accept that the death penalty is not justice but state sponsored revenge.  It does not rehabilitate.  It does not deter criminals or affect crime rates.

I’m okay with it–theoretically–based on my gut reaction when I hear about the absolutely horrible things some people do, their total disregard for other people’s lives and humanity.

My problem, however, is with how capital punishment is applied.  For a government to execute one of it’s own citizens there can be no bias and guilt must be proven beyond any doubt whatsoever.  One innocent person being murdered by the government is unacceptable.

So far, we’ve failed (EPICALLY) on both counts.

  • Since 1973, over 130 people have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence.
  • From 1973-1999, there was an average of 3 exonerations per year. From 2000-2011, there has been an average of 5 exonerations per year.

DNA testing has played a key role in at least 14 of the exonerations.  But there are many cases where DNA cannot help because of the deterioration, misplacing, or destruction of  evidence.

Think about that, over 130 people found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt were later proven innocent. It’s very likely that dozens of innocent people have been executed by the state simply because we do not have the means to prove innocence.

Then there’s bias.  Leaving aside gender and age which are each discussions on their own, race plays a HUGE factor in capital punishment cases.  The race of the victim, the race of the jurors, and even the race of the prosecutors significantly impacts the rate of  death penalty convictions.

Race of the victim in death penalty convictions.

Nationally, people who kill whites are 3 times more like to receive the death penalty than people who kill blacks and 4 times more likely than people who kill Hispanics.  Additionally all-white juries convict black defendants 16% more often than white defendants (in all types of criminal cases).

This is the textbook definition of systematic racism.  If a white man killed a Chinese man, don’t you think the likelihood of a death penalty conviction would change if the Jury was mainly Chinese or mainly white?  What about a black or white jury judging a black panther or a skinhead? If the victim is a 19-year old pretty blonde or a 40-year old migrant worker? It’s naive–or dishonest–to say that bias wouldn’t play a role.

This is an ingrained dilemma.  People are convicted by juries of their peers.  The attitude and mindset of all Americans plays a role.  You would have to “de-prejudice” every single person in America to fix the glitch in the system.  Impossible.

The Unabomber attacks, the Holocaust Museum shooting, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Centennial Olympic Park bombing, the 2001 Anthrax attacks, and the 2010 Austin IRS building plane crash were all acts of domestic terrorism carried out by whites.  (This is to say nothing of the 8 murders, 17 attempted murders, 153 assaults, 3 kidnappings, 41 bombings, 73 arsons, 383 death threats, and 619 bomb threats carried out against abortion clinics and providers since 1977, a majority of which by whites.)  Yet we didn’t hear a national outcry to have young white males get singled out and searched at security checkpoints.  No one caused a incident because they saw a white guy wearing a hooded sweatshirt and sunglasses boarding a plane.

Would it still be the case if all that stuff had been done by Mexican-Americans?

The fact is we’re prejudiced.   We see other people and before getting to know them as individuals we form an opinion based on how they dress, act, and talk.  It’s part of our nature–everyone’s nature.   We continue to combat it and we continue to get better about correcting it.  But we are a long, long way from getting past it.  In fact, we’ll probably have banned capital punishment long before getting beyond all the isms we might have against other people.

And until we do we cannot have a system that is so vulnerable to those biases deciding who lives and who dies.