Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Sword and the Fury

Timothy Caughman about to vote on Nov 8, 2016
"Why are you doing this? What are you doing?"

As horrific as it sounds, according to an eyewitness quoted in a New York Times article by N.R. Kleinfield, those may well have been the last words of 66-year-old New Yorker Timothy Caughman as he was being stabbed to death last Monday night by a 28-year-old white man from Baltimore named James Harris Jackson.

It's been hard to get those words out of my head this past week as I tried to wrap my head around the startling depth of racial hatred Jackson must have harbored in his mind to conceive of something as demented as traveling from his home in Baltimore to New York City in order to murder black men he didn't even know with a sword.  

I mean who even thinks up something like that, let alone makes the choice to do it?

It's been hard to imagine the agony and indescribable horror of being stabbed in the back and chest with an 18-inch sword - a death so gruesome it defies belief given that it took place on a Manhattan street in the the 21st century.

Caughman managed to stumble into an NYPD station after the 11:30pm attack, but he later died at the hospital.

No manhunt for James Jackson was necessary as he turned himself into police on Wednesday after seeing street camera video footage of himself broadcast on the local news.

Jackson being arraigned in court on Thursday
According to news reports Jackson told investigators that he'd planned to go to Times Square and use the sword to kill as many African-American men as he could.

Jackson claimed that Timothy Caughman, who was searching though a trashcan for bottles and cans to recycle when he was attacked, was supposed to be what he called "a practice run." 

How do you even classify something like that?

Was Jackson a terrorist, a potential mass murderer, or was he a serial killer who was arrested before he could follow through with his plan to kill random African-American men?

According to an exclusive interview with reporters Ellen Moynihan and Stephen Rex Brown posted on the NY Daily News Website earlier today, Jackson further elaborated on his motivation for the killing.

He claimed that his intention had been to murder "a young thug" or a "successful older black man with blondes", corroborating statements he made to NYPD investigators about his anger over black men being in interracial relationships with white women.

Jackson, who attended a prestigious Quaker Friends school as a child and served in the Army as a military intelligence officer, was raised by parents who were liberal in their political beliefs, but he claims he began hating black men as early as 3 years-old.

He also told the Daily News that he felt that "The white race is being eroded" and that he wished that it was "1950's America".    

Thoughts that echo the kind of divisiveness cultivated by Donald Trump's campaign, views promoted by two of Trump's key domestic policy advisors, Stephen Bannon and Stephen Miller.

Was Jackson somehow "inspired" to carry out his twisted act of hatred by Dylann Roof's heinous, cold-blooded murder of nine innocent African-Americans at a Bible study in South Carolina back on June 17, 2015?
Roof's friend Joey Meeks sentenced to 27 months
Back in January 12 federal jurors sentenced Roof to the death penalty for his actions.

And that horrific racist killing was back in the news again last week after 22-year-old Joey Meeks, a childhood friend of Roof's from Lexington, South Carolina was sentenced to 27 months in prison for telling others not to turn Roof in to authorities.  

As Andrew Knapp reported in an article for the Post and Courier last Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Richard Gergel told the courtroom that Meeks "knew who (the gunman was)" and "affirmatively acted to stop someone else from reporting it" to authorities.

As Knapp reported, Meeks and Roof often spoke of their racist beliefs together while drinking, doing drugs and playing video games.

And Roof had specifically told Meeks of his intention to murder innocent African-Americans with a handgun.

After the killings happened, Meeks not only lied to FBI investigators about knowing about Roof's plans, he also told a younger friend not to say anything about knowing that it was Roof who carried out the attack.

US District Judge Richard Gergel
A decision that put the Charleston community in "serious" danger according to Judge Gergel.

As an African-American man, the attacks by both Roof and Jackson are extremely troubling.

With so many different incidents of racial and ethnic hatred having taken place since Trump's election back in November, I can't help but wonder how many other Dylan Roofs or James Harris Jacksons there are out there waiting to lash out at innocent people of color.

It was just last Sunday that I blogged about a man coming into my place of work and calling me a "fucking nigger" to my face because he was upset about the parking spaces in the apartment complex where I work not being cleared of snow.

I'm not saying someone calling me a racial slur in my place of work in any way compares to a man being stabbed repeatedly with an 18-inch sword or being shot multiple times.

But I'm not alone in feeling anxiety about the reality that some white people in this country now feel empowered to lash out at people of color.  

Last week I listened to an interesting call-in segment on The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC about the growing sense of anxiety many people of color are feeling these days; it offers an interesting snapshot if you have a few minutes to listen.

Brian asked callers to share how they're coping with that anxiety, some are praying, one African-American woman now makes sure to always check in with friends and family via social media so they know where she is at all times in the event something happens to her.

Me personally, I try to use writing to explore and process my feelings about what's happening in the country - but as the horrific death of Timothy Caughman demonstrates, that's not always easy,

And it doesn't always offer comfort or solace in the face of such racially motivated fury.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Daughtergate: Rampant Nepotism at 1600

German Chancellor Angela Merkel wondering why
Ivanka is seated next to her at a WH meeting
Given the troubling tendency of the current president to place loyalty over competency and professional experience regardless of the consequences, the news that his oldest daughter will now have an office in the West Wing and have access to classified information probably shouldn't come as a surprise.

But as NPR reported on Tuesday, presidential historians and experts on government ethics both agree that it raises questions about lax ethical standards at the White House.

For Trump's critics, it also tosses wood on the fire of controversy over the flagrant and unprecedented conflicts of interest that have dogged his administration since back in December when he resisted calls to place his murky tangle of global business interests into a blind trust for the duration of his presidency.

But the former reality TV show host's penchant for intentionally making impulsive and inflammatory statements and decisions to distract media attention away from the larger issues threatening his presidency is well known.

So seen in that context, Trump elevating an adult child with no government or foreign policy experience (whose chief claim to fame is being given money by her father to start a fashion line), to a roll as senior White House advisor makes perfect sense - in Trumpland.

Just consider the timing.

Trump high-fives Japanese PM Shinzo Abe as
North Korea test fires a ballistic missile 
Just a day after the heads of the NSA and FBI testified in front of the House Intelligence Committee that the FBI has been conducting an ongoing investigation into ties between senior members of the Trump administration and Russia, the White House suddenly announces that Ivanka Trump will now have her own office in the West Wing.

Where presumably, her high-profile position will help boost sales of her struggling fashion line; which we now know is a serious priority for America's Golfer-in-Chief.

Especially considering that Trump was fussily tweeting about Nordstrom's decision to drop his daughter's clothing line from their stores on February 8th when he was supposedly in a White House meeting.

Three days later he was on the golf course with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (pictured above) while North Korea was test firing a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan back on February 11th.

Look, it was one thing when Ivanka Trump was stumping for her father on the campaign trail when he was down double digits with women in the polls; but being seated next to German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a White House meeting?

It got decidedly weirder when her wealthy New York real estate scion-husband Jared Kushner took a role as a senior White House advisor and they moved to D.C where she began appearing in the role of some kind of surrogate first lady in place of the rarely-seen Melania Trump - who largely remains ensconced in the comfy confines of Trump Tower in New York City at a cost of millions of dollars a month to the American taxpayer.

But it's another thing entirely for Ivanka Trump to take on any kind of official role in the White House where she will supposedly have access to sensitive classified information; particularly given the glaring conflict of interest her ownership of her fashion line and her husband's family's vast real estate interests presents.

Nepotism at 1600: Ivanka Trump & Jared Kushner 
A husband and wife both acting as senior advisors to the president?

Both of whom control significant private business interests with a global reach that could be affected in innumerable ways by political decisions made by Donald Trump?

As St. Louis-based journalist and writer Sarah Kendzior observed on Twitter Tuesday morning:

"Kleptocratic dynasty continues apace. There is no reason Ivanka Trump should get a security clearance allowing her access to govt. data."      

Exactly what function is Ivanka Trump going to serve in the White House?

According to Jamie Gorelick, the Washington, D.C.-based attorney she's retained to advise her on ethics, her role will ostensibly be to serve as her misogynistic daddy's "eyes and ears" and be on hand to give him her "candid advice."

Given the huge volume of classified information her father has access to on a 24-7 basis, including the CIA, FBI, NSA and Pentagon to name a few, the idea that he requires a 35-year-old former fashion model, reality TV personality and socialite to be on hand to act as his "eyes and ears" strains the limits of credulity.

Or it's a really sad statement about Donald Trump's ability to govern.

Gorelick also claims Ivanka Trump will also be in the West Wing to focus on what Trumpland likes to call "women's issues."

Good luck getting either of these two to pass a piece
of legislation supporting "women's issues
Now, the idea that the current Republican party under the leadership of Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell is going to suddenly reverse course and pick up the mantle of women's rights is laughable.

These are the same two guys trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act and defund Planned Parenthood, both of which are responsible for providing access to critical healthcare services for millions of American women.

To say nothing of the fact that the Republican-majority Congress has consistently voted against minimum wage wage increases and are already moving to slash federal funds for schools and child nutrition programs.

Maybe Ivanka doesn't realize that the Republican Senate opposed the Paycheck Fairness Act three times when President Obama repeatedly tried to get it passed to help tackle the gender gap in work compensation - paying women the same as men, yup, Republicans opposed that.

So given that her passion for "women's issues" is essentially meaningless under the Republican Congress, it's clear that her presence in the White House is little more than a transparent way to further enrich the Trump family at the expense of the American tax payers.

Her being photographed at official functions is little more than a free ad for her fashion accessories - like when she appeared on 60 Minutes then created an ad the next day about the bracelet she was wearing during the interview which (surprise!) was available to purchase.

As the Washington Post reported yesterday, a small upscale boutique in San Francisco filed a class action lawsuit against her alleging that her leveraging her White House ties and proximity to the president creates an unfair business advantage.

But as far as her White House role is concerned, whether she's willingly being used, or wants to be used (she is the sole owner of her fashion line), or her father is so bat-shit crazy at this point that other advisers begged her to take an office to try and reason with him, I don't know.

Andronico Luksic, Ivanka & Jared's landlord
She went to Wharton so I'm giving her the benefit of the doubt and saying she knows exactly what she's doing.

But the whole thing about her not taking a salary for her "adviser role" is laughable.

The money she'll make surreptitiously promoting her fashion brand dwarfs what she'd make as a White House adviser.

Frankly, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Did you read the story about her and her husband's new D.C. landlord?

As Jen Hayden reported in her Daily Kos article back on March 9th, Andronico Luksic is a member of one of Chile's wealthiest families, he owns a company called Twin Metals Minnesota.

He's suing the U.S. government after the Obama administration blocked the renewal of mining rights that are essential to his company's $2.8 billion dollar project located 250 miles north of Minneapolis.

Luksic bought the D.C. mansion that Ivanka and Jared now rent AFTER the November election; they're billionaires, so why that couple would rent a home is questionable enough.

How much do you want to bet that Andronico Luksic's company gets it's mineral rights renewed?

British journalist / writer Louise Mensch
So don't be fooled by Ivanka.

If, as Trump has said publicly, she "always pushes" him "to do the right thing", then she's doing a pretty crappy job.

Last night while trolling through Twitter feeds to gauge reactions to Monday's House Intelligence Committee hearings on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections, I read a term that effectively encapsulates the creeping controversy surrounding Ivanka Trump and the precise nature of her role in the White House.


As far as I know, credit for that brilliant play on the historic scandal that shook the foundations of American democracy and eventually led to Richard Nixon's resignation goes to Louise Mensch, the conservative former member of British Parliament.

Back on March 4th she tweeted: "By the time we get through with Jared and Ivanka it's going to be "Daughtergate".

Mensch is going to be one of the guests on Bill Maher this Friday where I'm sure she'll be sharing her thoughts on Ivanka's new role and the unprecedented nepotism at the White House if you want to hear her thoughts live.

As Steven Perlberg reported for on Sunday, Mensch is making headlines of her own this week over claims she made in an Op-Ed published in the New York Times last Friday where she credited herself with being the one to break the story back in November "that a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court had issued a warrant that enabled the F.B.I. to examine communications between 'U.S. persons' in the Trump campaign relating to Russia-linked banks." 

Mensch is quite clever, and a good writer.

But she has been partial to some rather questionable conspiracy theories in the past that have been widely disproven.
New York Times reporter Charlie Savage
New York Times national security reporter Charlie Savage publicly refuted her claims that a FISA court had issued such an order so it's a bit of a media kerfuffle - I'm, sure Bill Maher will get the skinny on that this Friday.

From a political standpoint, if there was any one single aspect of Trump's toxic presidential campaign that could be considered even remotely positive, it was arguably his oldest daughter Ivanka.

Given the mounting ethical questions surrounding Donald Trump, including Russia-gate, the decision to appoint his daughter's son-in-law as a senior White Houser adviser was questionable enough.

But elevating his own daughter to a position within the White House?

That gives a whole new meaning to the word nepotism.

And when things begin to unravel for her father, the ethical issues surrounding a potential "Daughtergate" could be far more problematic legally for the embattled POTUS than he even he could imagine.

And as we know, his imagination is vast.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Problem We All Live With

The Tea Party helped mainstream racist views
It's become uncomfortably clear in this country that the divisive tone of the 2016 Republican presidential campaign seems to have had the effect of granting people a tacit permission to publicly and openly express bigotry, racism and intolerance in ways that seem dredged up from darker corners of America's troubled past.

Ever since the results of the November 8th election last fall it's been difficult to keep up with all the different ways in which hatred bigotry and divisiveness have manifested in the actions and words of some Americans.

In the months since the start of the chaotic presidential transition, we've witnessed a disturbing rise in hate incidents, from young Muslim women being harassed in public for wearing the Hijab, to grave stones in Jewish cemeteries being overturned and desecrated.

There've been deadly consequences as well, like last month when a 51-year-old Kansas man named Adam Purinton was charged with murder after opening fire on two Indian engineers in a crowded bar after yelling at them to "Get out of my country."

Four days after Donald Trump was elected president, as multiple reports of schools across America being defaced with sickening racist and anti-Semitic graffiti, I blogged about having discovered that some individual, or individuals had defaced the elementary school I attended in Bethesda, Maryland with swastikas.

Up to that point, that's about as personal as it got for me, but that changed last Wednesday.

A horse-drawn wagon with a coffin bearing the
N-Word leads a funeral procession in 2007 
An incident that took place in my office at work reminded me that even though it's been ten years since the NAACP symbolically buried the N-Word during a ceremonial funeral that took place during their annual convention in Detroit in 2007, the word is alive and well in this country.

I can't speak for all African-Americans or people of color, but I can recall with perfect clarity the times during my life that a white person has called me a nigger to my face.

Few words in the English language possess the kind of power that one does, and it's my personal choice not to use it in general - it's a degrading and detestable racial slur with toxic historical connotations.

As Randall Kennedy observed in "All About That Troublesome Word", an informative essay on the historical context of the N-Word published in the September / October 2016 issue of American History magazine, "Sociologist Elijah Anderson has written, 'There comes a time in the life of every African-American when he or she is powerfully reminded of his or her's putative place as a black person.' Anderson refers to it as the 'nigger moment.' "

One of the more unpleasant aspects of being an apartment leasing agent is that you have to process tenant complaints, and rest assured, there were a huge volume of those during the snowstorm that hit last week.

As some of you know the problem with the snow that hit New Jersey last week was that it was so cold that the temperature never got above freezing the day after it snowed.

Cars piled with frozen snow in NJ last week
And the night after that, any snow that hadn't been removed from cars on Tuesday basically just froze solid.

The parking lots, walkways and streets were cleared, but a lot of older tenants waited until the snow was basically like ice to try and dig their cars out.

Those who didn't go out and clear the snow off on Tuesday, their cars looked like those in the photo to the left.

And on Tuesday night, all that snow froze solid, it wasn't powder, it was like a block of ice.

So this older white tenant in his 60's comes into the leasing office on Wednesday and starts complaining about the frozen snow between he and his wife's cars; unless people move the cars out of the parking spaces, crews can't use the plows to clear them out - there's no room to use equipment between parked vehicles.

We'd been getting calls all day by the time this guy came in, and even though he'd been out in his truck and was able to get around, he was complaining about the snow around the sides of his wife's car not being cleared - but it was still frozen so the crews couldn't do anything about it, they were all busy clearing other walkways and sections of the lots anyway.

After several attempts to explain that nicely to him, he kept getting angrier at me and at that point the phone was ringing and there wasn't anything else that could be done until the snow started to thaw; the only thing I could do was give him the number to the main office so he could register a complaint.

That made him angrier, so he walks to the door points his finger at me and threatens to call the local Township and I told him he was welcome to do that - so he storms out and said, "Fuckin' nigger!"

Now I was pissed, I know the guy, he's a Trump voter and he's embittered about the state of everything and here he is during one of the worst snow storms of the year calling me a derogatory racial slur because there's ice piled around his wife's car.

Center for Media Justice Founder Malkia Cyril
Controversy related to the open use of the N-Word is also reflected in the realm of social media as well.

Last year Ruth Reader wrote an interesting article posted on examining the efforts Facebook is making to try and confront some of the same issues related to race.

Malkia Cyril, founder and executive director of the Center for Media Justice and a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement, met with Facebook company leaders over issues related to opponents of the BLM movement and trolls using the N-Word and other inflammatory and threatening language in the commentary sections of the various public BLM Facebook pages that she manages.

As Cyril pointed out in Reader's article, when women of color post photos of their breasts on Facebook BLM pages as a way to bring attention to the deaths of black women; Facebook quickly pulls the photos down.

But, as Cyril told "And yet, being called a nigger, which is equally an explicit violation of Facebook's policies, not only can take weeks to get addressed, but also frequently we're told, 'It doesn't violate our code of conduct."

While Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has written publicly in support of Black Lives Matter and initiated internal efforts to improve Facebook's efforts to remove racial slurs that violate it's policies, Cyril's accounts of the huge volume of incendiary race-based comments that flood the commentary sections of BLM's public Facebook pages reflects a deeper problem with race in America.

One that's grown worse with the rise in divisive right-wing media, the formation of the Tea Party during President Obama's first term and the eventual election of Donald Trump.

The home where I grew up on the right, and the
street where I was first called the N-Word
My first nigger moment came when I was eight-years-old, I was outside my family's home on the quiet tree-lined suburban street in Bethesda, Maryland where I grew up (pictured left).

I was the only black boy in a group of about five boys playing on a warm summer afternoon when a relatively minor dispute over something silly turned into a shoving match between me and a white boy a year older than me named Greg.

He was older than me but I was a little bigger than him, and in an effort to get him off me I sort of pushed him into a bush and he tore his t-shirt.

Out of the blue he narrowed his eyes and sneered at me, "Nigger!"

Like it was an accusation or a pronunciation of some sort that was meant to end the dispute.

I recall the energy in the air as we stared at each other breathing heavily from our boyish shoving, and I remember becoming simultaneously conscious of my skin color, and aware that he viewed me as being different from the other boys - even though we'd all played together before.

Last week I had the same sense of confusion, anger and hurt when the same old guy whose application I'd helped get approved two years ago called me the N-Word to my face.

Would he have called me that two years ago? I don't think so. Is this what Trump and The Stephen's meant by Making America Great Again?

For me personally, some of the thoughts expressed on the pages of this blog over the years are, in some ways, spiritual.

But it's not about my religion, which to me is a very personal thing.

To me there are many paths to God, and different faiths and beliefs choose different ways to get to the same place.
Norman Rockwell's "The Problem We All Live With"
Each morning I take a few minutes to read the Daily Word, its daily message offers a chance to meditate spiritually and center one's thoughts before the busyness of the day unfolds - I find it's often timely to the circumstances in my life.

This morning as I lay in bed thinking about how to use writing to process what happened in my office last week, a particular line in this morning's message titled "Awaken" struck me as particularly helpful in trying view last week's issue.

"I understand that the diversity in people and in all creation is a gift from God."

To me that sums up what most people on this planet think about diversity.

Whether it's diversity in people, plants, animals, planets or stars - the rich diversity that distinguishes life in this universe in all it's forms is a gift.

Simply being able to stop and recognize that is a gift.

So those who would use toxic and hateful words to demean other people simply because of their religion, race, ethnicity, gender or sexual preference are those who condemn, hate and fear diversity.

They are trapped in a place of profound negativity where emptiness, anger, resentment and darkness have clouded their perception of the world around them - so they are unable to see the gift of diversity.

They are unable to understand it.

In that state of ignorance, blinded by a form of self-hatred that is, in essence, anti-life, they are to be pitied.

Perhaps the incident I experienced in my office last Wednesday is, as the title of American painter Norman Rockwell's iconic 1964 oil painting (pictured above) of six-year-old African-American student Ruby Bridges being escorted to the all-white William Frantz Elementary School by four white U.S. Marshals at the height of the tension of the of the New Orleans school desegregation crisis suggests, is simply "The Problem We All Live With".  

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Voters Thwart 'Dutch Trump'

PPV leader Geert Wilders (left) & PM Mark Rutte 
With a federal judge in Hawaii blocking Trump's 2nd attempt to ban Muslims from six countries, chalk one up for reason.

Chalk one up for sanity too, as many political observers including myself, are breathing a cautious sigh of relief after early voting results and exit poll data showed Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte's VVD Party on track to hold off an upset victory by Geert Wilders.

Wilders, the charismatic leader of the right-wing, anti-immigrant Freedom Party (PVV), with his distinctive hair style and flair for scapegoating non-Dutch immigrants with divisive inflammatory language, is basically like "Dutch Trump" without the ethical baggage and compulsive lying.

As the BBC reported, Rutte's center-right leaning VVD (People's Party For Freedom and Democracy) is projected to take 31 of the 150 seats in the Dutch Parliament known formally as the Tweede Kamer de Staten-Generaal (pronounced like this).

The Tweede Kamer, or Second Chamber, is like the American House of Representatives, or British House of Commons, except with power divided proportionately amongst 7 different parties.

Obviously with so many parties, coalitions are key and the results of the election offer an interesting snapshot of the current global political zeitgeist.

While the liberal-leaning Green Left Party won 16 seats compared to only four in the last parliament, the Labour Party, which had formed a partnership with Geert Wilder's Freedom Party, watched it's seat count slip from 38 to 9 - a thorough political ass-kicking by any measure.

"Freedom yes, Islamisation, no' sign at pro-Wilders rally
Dutch politics, like politics anywhere, is a many-headed creature; so there were multiple factors that propelled Prime Minister Rutte to victory.

For example, as Samuel Osborne reported in an article in the Independent back on January 24th, Rutte shrewdly took out a full-page newspaper ad to carefully retool his stance on immigration to make it more palatable to Dutch voters than Wilder's "Trump-like" denunciations of immigrants.

Rutte assured Dutch voters that they "have to actively defend our values" against those immigrants who behave or act in ways contrary to Dutch laws and customs - and his carefully-crafted political soundbite admonishing anti-social immigrants to "Behave normally, or go away.", went down well with Dutch voters concerned about border control, but leery of Wilder's quasi-fascist stance.

In August of 2016 he published a manifesto outlining plans for the 'De-Islamization' of the Netherlands.

As an article in the Guardian reported, four months later on December 9, 2016, a panel of three judges found Wilders guilty of inciting discrimination against Moroccan immigrants in a 2014 speech  - and in a reflection of some American's reaction to Trump's divisive campaign hate-speech, Wilders saw a temporary spike in his popularity.

Plus, as Osborne notes, Rutte managed to guide the Dutch economy through a prolonged shaky European economic landscape at a time when the coalition partnership of Wilder's PVV and the Labour Party were advocating unpopular austerity measures - measures which angered many middle and working class Europeans, met with mixed economic results and prompted widespread protests across Europe.

Pro-immigrant rally in the Dutch city of the Hague
So while I'm not an expert on Dutch politics by any means, I think it's fair to say that at least one of the reasons that a record 81% of Dutch voters came out to vote reflected concerns over the chaos and havoc the Trump presidency has unleashed on America.

The Dutch certainly aren't blind to how Trump's statements and actions have already damaged U.S. relations on the global stage.

And when you consider the collective impact of the German occupation of the Netherlands during WWII, it's a fair bet that most Dutch are well aware of the dangers of nationalism run amok.

The German bombing of Rotterdam on May 10, 1940 which killed hundreds of innocent civilians and totally destroyed one of oldest and most historic city centers in Europe, will not soon be forgotten.

Given the intense media focus on the first 100 days (and almost as many lies) of the new presidential administration, Republican's proposed challenges to the Affordable Care Act and the recent late-winter storm that slammed the mid-Atlantic region over the past few days, the Dutch elections that took place on Thursday aren't exactly front page news here in the U.S.

But that doesn't mean they weren't closely watched here in the states - and Wilder's defeat at the polls with 81% of the Dutch population voting was not lost on Democrats or Republicans here in America who are laying out strategy for the upcoming Congressional mid-term elections in 2018.

With Britain moving closer to making their 'Brexit' from the European Union a political reality and upcoming elections scheduled to take place in France, the rise of the kind of anti-immigrant 'populism' that propelled a huckster real estate swindler and reality TV star into the White House is now a global concern.

A concern reflected in the poll results in the Netherlands where the Dutch said no to the Republican Party's (and their quasi-Republican president's) brand of divisive anti-immigrant scapegoating.


Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Legacy of 'Stand Your Ground' Laws In Florida

Nicole & Chad Oulson and daughter Lexy
It's probably a fair guess that amongst the ranks of Florida's conservative-leaning state legislators, prosecutors, district attorneys and judges there has to be a measure of regret over the decision to pass the Sunshine State's infamous "Stand Your Ground" law back in 2005.

Since it was introduced, the law has been indirectly responsible for the deaths of a number of unarmed innocent people in Florida, including 17-year-old Trayvon Martin; who was stalked and murdered in 2012 by violent racist psychopath George Zimmerman.

And Chad Oulson (pictured left) a father and husband who was shot and killed inside a movie theater in January 2014 by an enraged retried Tampa police captain named Curtis Reeves.

Over, of all things, the use of a cell phone.

Reeves, then 71, made global headlines when he pulled out his handgun and shot Oulson at point blank range, wounding Oulson's wife Nicole as well, after getting upset at her husband for texting his then 22-month-old daughter's daycare center while movie previews were playing at the matinee.

After a brief verbal confrontation Reeves left to complain to a theater employee, when he came back another argument ensued and at some point Oulson reached back over the seat, grabbed Reeve's popcorn and threw it at him, Reeves then immediately shot and killed Oulson - wounding his wife.

According to the courtroom testimony of Al Hamilton, an off-duty sergeant with the Sumter County Sheriff's Office who witnessed the shooting, a stunned Nicole Oulson told Reeves the confrontation had been no cause to shoot her husband, the retired police captain pointed his finger at her and said:

"You shut your f***in' mouth and don't say another word."

Last week following two weeks of pre-trial testimony Judge Susan Barthle ruled that Reeves' lawyers cannot invoke the 'Stand Your Ground' law as a defense for his shooting Oulson.

Retired police captain Curtis Reeves
If you read the precise text of the law, it states that, in certain circumstances, Florida residents may use deadly force against someone if "A person is presumed to have held a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm". 

"Presumed to have held"? 

That language is dangerously ambiguous when you're talking about a law that authorizes someone to kill another person. 

Let's say you were in a movie theater and someone in front of you was texting during the previews.

While my experience is that most reasonable-minded people shut their phones off by the time the actual feature starts, I think it's fair to let someone politely know that a lit cell phone in a dark theater is distracting to others who've paid to see the film.

If that doesn't work you can always go get the manager, or worst case just ask the theater for a refund or ticket credits for another show if the texting or cell phone use gets really obnoxious.

But let's say you got into a verbal confrontation with the offending texter and they got mad and threw popcorn at you - is there any circumstance in which that would be seen as "a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm"?

Popcorn isn't lethal last time I checked, sure it would be rude for someone to throw it at you, but it's not going to kill you or anything - you just brush it off.

Unfortunately Curtis Reeves decided to fire a loaded handgun; and he killed Chad Oulson.

Michael Dunn, now serving life without parole
What's also disturbing is that he clearly knew what he was doing.

Before firing the gun, as a former police captain he knew that he could justify the shooting by invoking Florida's 'Stand Your Ground' law.

And he's not the only one.

Remember the disturbing case of Michael Dunn?

As an article published in The Nation by Kristal Brent Zook recounts, in the early evening of November 23, 2012, the day after Thanksgiving, just nine months after the Trayvon Martin shooting, the then-45 year-old Dunn was sitting in his car outside a gas station near Jacksonville, Florida when he became annoyed over loud rap music blaring from an SUV parked next to him.

Dunn asked the four teenage African-American boys inside, Jordan Davis, Lelund Brunson, Tommie Stornes and Tevin Thompson, to turn the music down - which they did.

All four were typical American kids buying cigarettes and gum before driving to the mall to try and meet girls, but in the typical headstrong manner of teens, Davis took offense at Dunn telling them to turn the music down - and he defiantly turned it back up.

Dunn reached into his glove compartment, took out his handgun and fired ten shots at point blank range directly into the interior of the SUV - killing Davis.

17-year-old Jordan Davis, killed over loud music
He too tried to float the 'Stand Your Ground' defense, even going so far as to lie to police and his lawyers about seeing the barrel of a gun in the SUV before firing.

No guns or weapons of any kind were found in the car or at the scene and Dunn was eventually tried, convicted and found guilty of the murder of Jordan and the attempted murder of the other three kids.

He's now serving life without the possibility of parole, but even after all the efforts to obtain justice for his killing, how much comfort is that to Davis family and friends including his mother Lucia McBath?

As Kristal Zook noted in her Nation article, Jordan Davis' maternal grandfather was the president of the Illinois branch of the NAACP for 20 years and played a role in persuading President Lyndon Johnson to sign the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

I think the cases of both Reeves and Dunn demonstrate the ability of Florida judges and prosecutors to recognize cases where 'Stand Your Ground' does not justify homicide.

If someone was in a movie theater and a person pulled out a semi-automatic rifle and threatened the lives of innocent people, or if someone was parked in front of a gas station or church and saw someone get out of a car with a mask on and a loaded handgun in their hand walk inside, I could see 'Stand Your Ground' being used as a justifiable defense.

But only as a last recourse, and only if there was no time to call a police officer - but regardless I think it's a dangerous idea to authorize untrained civilians to kill, period.

As I mentioned above, the text of the law is so ambiguous and it's application is often so arbitrary, that I think that the risks of having the law far outweigh the value to society of having the law on the books.

That brings to mind the case of Marissa Alexander.

Marissa Alexander and her three kids
I last blogged about this courageous single mom back on February 1, 2015 after a judge intervened to overturn the catastrophic failure of incompetent prosecutor Angela Corey - click that link to read more details.

Alexander, an African-American single mom who'd been repeatedly physically abused by her ex-husband Rico Gray, was in her own home being chased by Gray when she retrieved her legally-registered handgun to protect herself.

 Cornered by Gray, she fired a warning shot into the ceiling to keep Gray from attacking her.

Despite the fact that she only fired into the ceiling and had a legitimate claim of standing her ground, conservative prosecutor Angela Corey, the same nitwit who totally bungled the Trayvon Martin case and has faced widespread criticism for her overt racial bias against people of color, inexplicably claimed Alexander could not invoke the 'Stand Your Ground' defense.

Corey helped ensure that Alexander got a 20-year sentence for firing a shot in the air to protect herself, fortunately a grassroots campaign fueled by social media and political pressure eventually resulted in Alexander being freed.

But karma, as they say, is a bitch and Corey's effort to transform her heartless conservative zealotry into a bid for state attorney for the 4th Circuit were torpedoed in a Republican primary last August - due in large part to the public outrage she generated over failing to prosecute George Zimmerman for 2nd degree murder in the Trayvon Martin case.

As an article in USA Today reported, Floridians actually celebrated her loosing her primary bid and the well-deserved reputation for racial bias she's cultivated over the course of her prosecutorial career will follow her for the rest of her life.

Michael Giles - serving 25 years for shooting
a man in the leg who was attacking him
Interestingly, Corey's efforts to deny an African-American the right to invoke 'Stand Your Ground' as a defense are not the only example of a person of color in Florida using a gun to defend themselves and finding themselves blocked from equal access to the same law.

Even though they actually were in situations where "a reasonable fear of imminent peril of death or great bodily harm" did in fact exist.

After serving two tours in the middle east, active-duty Airman Michael Giles came back to Tampa, Florida in the spring of 2010 when he found himself in the middle of a brawl at a nightclub.

As an article posted on the The Grio reported, Giles, then 26, had been invited to the nightclub in Tallahassee by some friends, and he became concerned for their safety in the middle of the melee started by the members of two fraternities from Florida A&M University.

The married father of three went out to his car to retrieve his handgun and put it in his pants and ran back in to find them.

After getting punched and thrown to the ground, Giles pulled out his handgun and shot his attacker in the leg to protect himself; fragments from the bullet injured three other men and Giles was arrested and charged with attempted murder even though witnesses saw the man who punched him leap over someone to attack Giles.
Giles in Liberty Correctional Facility in Bristol, FL
Giles, despite having no prior record, was denied the right to use 'Stand Your Ground' as a defense and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.

So given the controversy surrounding the cases of Curtis Reeves, Michael Dunn and Marissa Alexander, in retrospect one has to wonder how the Florida legislature, or any other state legislature for that matter, could in good conscience allow 'Stand Your Ground' laws to remain on the books.

As these cases demonstrate, too often, they're being invoked as a defense for deadly decisions to use lethal force when it was not justified by people whose lives were not actually being threatened; and denied to those who invoke it who actually were being physically attacked merely because of the color of their skin.

As a 2013 Vice article examines, the strict mandatory sentencing guidelines for Florida's gun laws put both Marissa Alexander and Michael Giles in prison for using guns to defend themselves - how was it that George Zimmerman served no time after stalking, attacking and then murdering Trayvon Martin?

Does the right to claim 'Stand Your Ground' as a defense hinge upon one's race?

By the language of the law, no.

But based on the cases of Marissa Alexander, Michael Giles (and others) the question is a legitimate one - a question that it seems higher courts must at some point take the time to examine.

Especially in a nation where Republican lawmakers have made access to firearms a priority, and a Houston, Texas mom pulls a gun on another mother in the driveway in front of an elementary school with other kids around, why?

Over a disagreement over how someone was driving.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Republican Jesus & Roger Marshall's Compassion

Republican Rep. Roger Marshall
Well it's Friday and it's been awhile since I've given out a George Lincoln Rockwell Award in recognition of those individuals whose actions or words best exemplify the heartless spirit, toxic ideology and pseudo-intellectual hypocrisy of the infamous founder of the American Nazi Party.

It was my intention to bestow this honor collectively upon the individuals responsible for the ongoing nationwide slew of bomb threats and vandalism targeting Jewish community centers, synagogues, schools, cemeteries and even senior centers

But authorities are still trying to identify the degenerate anti-Semitic cowards responsible.

So this week's winner is the distinguished Kansas Republican Congressman Roger Marshall.

Now to be perfectly clear, by awarding this man the Rockwell, in no way am I suggesting that he is an American Nazi.

He won the award because his comments reflect a rigid, narrow-minded ideology, and his cold-heartedly categorizing an entire class of Americans as "others" simply because they exist on a different part of the economic spectrum than he does.

Even amidst the flurry of bipartisan outrage this week over the release of the new healthcare bill, cooked up by congressional Republicans determined to repeal the Affordable Care Act out of their lingering spite and deep-seated contempt for President Obama, Congressman Marshall's comments to STAT News stood out.

He became the target of criticism this week by politicians, citizens, and the media after he had the gall to invoke Biblical scripture to justify a Republican healthcare bill that will make it more difficult for the poor and working class to have health insurance.

Wisdom from President Jimmy Carter
And will by some estimates strip an estimated 18 to 20 million people of their healthcare by removing Medicare subsidies.

As reported by multiple media outlets this week, including the Washington Post, Marshall told STAT:

"Just like Jesus said, 'The poor will always be with us,'...There is a group of people that just don't want healthcare and aren't going to take care of themselves." 

Paraphrasing Jesus to justify stripping people of their healthcare is about as low as it gets.  

And this, of course, from a practicing obstetrician who claims to be pro-life and now receives comprehensive healthcare that is paid for in full by American tax payers.

Oh and speaking of Marshall's concern about those who "aren't going to take care of themselves".

The first-term Congressman representing the 1st District of Kansas was elected this past November with the support of a consortium of powerful Kansas agricultural interest groups (and the political action committees and lobbyists they bankroll) with the assurance that he will protect the billions of taxpayer dollars that go towards crop insurance and farm subsidies.

So in Marshall's mind, individuals receiving billions in taxpayer dollars for healthcare is wrong, but Kansas farmers receiving billions to subsidize the Kansas agricultural industry is OK?

Situational ethics at its finest.

Speaker Ryan and his trojan horse tax cut
This from the same Republican Congress trying to pass a healthcare bill that will make accessing healthcare more expensive for people who aren't fortunate enough to receive it through their employer - and one that conveniently comes gift wrapped with a $600 billion tax cut for the wealthiest Americans.

Jesus never said "screw the poor and working class" as the GOP have with their new healthcare bill; and with just about every other piece of legislation that congressional Republicans have tried to pass this year.

For a political party that spends so much time ranting against Muslims based on the argument that America is a Christian nation, Republicans support an awful lot of initiatives that seem to run counter to actual Christian values.

Let's not even get into the conduct and words of the vulgar compulsive liar who calls himself president.

In order to justify unpopular policies that enrich the few and further disenfranchise those people conservatives dismissively classify as "others", remarkably some Republican politicians like Congressman Roger Marshall, have even conjured up their own fake "Republican Jesus".

Not the Jesus found in the pages of the New Testament - but an unrecognizable one devoid of compassion, charity and unconditional love for others.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Uncle Ben's Old-Fashioned Revisionist History

Dr. Carson addresses HUD employees 
Remember back in November when Dr. Ben Carson declined a cabinet position in the Trump administration saying: "Having me as a federal bureaucrat would be like a fish out of water quite frankly."?

Don't say he didn't warn anyone.

Carson's outrageous comments on Monday in front of hundreds of gathered employees of the Department of Housing and Urban Development truly reflect the Republican Party's embrace of "alternative facts."

From the perspective of a student of history who knows a little something about the African Slave Trade and the institution of slavery in America, I believe it was ludicrous of Carson to compare European immigrants who voluntarily left their homelands and arrived at Ellis Island in the 19th and early 20th century, with African slaves who were first brought to the English colony of Jamestown, Virginia in 1619.

Now it's one thing for this pontificating former neurosurgeon to wax philosophic and merge distorted fact with his own peculiar interpretation of Christian theology in the sing-song sermon-like way he did during the 2016 presidential campaign.

But his medical gifts and status as a darling of the Christian right don't necessarily make him qualified to head up a massive federal agency like Housing and Urban Development - a complex organization with over 8,000 employees and an annual budget of $49.3 billion tasked with (according to its mission statement) creating "strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all."

Does brain surgery qualify him as an affordable housing policy expert?

No, but like the equally-unqualified secretary of education Betsy DeVos, he's now the head of a major federal agency anyway.

How Africans "immigrated" to America
Carson's suggestion, widely panned by both citizens and academics on social media, was absurd.

African slaves, who were forcibly kidnapped from their homeland, shipped thousands of miles across the Atlantic while chained in the hulls of ships in traumatic deplorable conditions, before being sold into a state of slavery to live out their lives in a state of perpetual human bondage for financial profit, were not "immigrants".

Suggesting otherwise reflects a simplistic understanding of the complex history of the institution of slavery.

Such asinine statements also reflect the Republican Party's abject willingness to place extremist conservative ideology over relevant professional experience, knowledge, training and competency.

Carson's personal beliefs are his own business.

But his decision to share those kinds of personal views in front of an audience of hundreds of HUD professionals and policy experts in a public forum where he was essentially introducing himself as the agency head was unprofessional - and remarkably inappropriate.

Yesterday's statement was not the first time that Uncle Ben, as some in the African-American community have taken to calling him, has demonstrated a questionable grasp of history and a bizarre willingness to try and factually retrofit the institution of slavery to fit conservative principles that exist far outside the mainstream of the American center.

How can a guy who separated conjoined twins
at the brain be so ignorant about history?
Why would a gifted neurosurgeon with a background in biology, medicine, chemistry and neuroscience willingly allow himself to be used as a flagrant conservative tool?

Carson criticizing the Affordable Care Act as "the worst thing since slavery", as he famously did back in October of 2015, epitomized baseless partisan pandering - and can you imagine the reaction if Jeff Sessions or Ted Cruz had said such a thing?

It's as if Carson's being African-American functions less as an example of the diversity within the Republican Party than it does as a kind of political-racial "Get Out Of Jail Free Card" that enables the GOP to use him as a conduit to deliver messages that are intentionally demeaning to the black American community as a whole.

Or, as in the case of his misinformed comments on slavery, meant to undermine the significance of the role that institutionalized slavery has played in the economic and political marginalization of large segments of the black population.

In an essay published in the January 27th issue of the Hollywood Reporter about the duty and importance of African-American celebrities to use their influence to insure that the concerns and needs of the millions of voiceless poor and working-class black Americans who have, are and will be comprehensively ignored by the Trump administration, former NBA great-turned writer Kareem Abdul Jabbar noted of Caron's delusional right-wing agenda:

"More insidious is Carson's war on Planned Parenthood based on his inaccurate belief that clinics were placed in black neighborhoods to control the black population."

The 7'2" former LA Laker and master of the Sky Hook was far less sparing in his view of the role Trump envisions for Carson in the new administration given his own admission that "has no government experience." 

Trump's "Black shills"? Manigault and Carson  
Jabbar suggested that Trump uses both Carson and Omarosa Manigault as "black shills to distract us from the paternalistic policies dismantling civil liberties for people of color, women, the LGBT community, Muslims and immigrants."        

Outspoken actor Samuel L. Jackson didn't hold back on his reaction to Carson's statement on African slaves being "immigrants" either.

In a widely-circulated Twitter message Jackson said: "OK!! Ben Carson...I cant! Immigrants? In the bottom of SLAVE SHIPS?!! MUTHAFUKKA PLEASE!!! #dickheadedtom"

And that's just a slice of the contempt people expressed for Carson's HUD speech on social media.

Given Trump's desperate attempts to distract attention from almost every single person in his sphere of influence having proven ties to Russia, I honestly wouldn't be surprised if the White House intentionally gave that "slaves are immigrants" line to Carson and asked him to use it in his HUD speech - there's just something distinctively Bannon-ish about it.

If there's been a more shaky rollout of a presidential cabinet in the 241-year history of the United States than that of the current Republican administration I really don't know what it is.

With Trump now Tweeting outright quackery so outrageous that even his own staff refuse to comment on or defend it, perhaps Uncle Ben's helping of good old-fashioned revisionist history was meant to deflect the unwelcome attention to his boss' blatant lies.

If only for a moment.