Jul 162010

If the Republican campaign message for 2010 was something like, “Yes, we know that we caused all these problems in the Bush years, but we’ve learned our lesson, and now we are offering these new ideas to fix things in the future,” I would understand (if not agree with) the equating of the problems with Republican gains. But that’s not what the Republicans are offering. Rather, the GOP campaign message for 2010 is essentially the same message as the Bush years, only more militant (and more wacky, thanks to the Angle-Paul tea party influence). Their pitch is built around deregulation, lower taxes for the rich, and less government, the very things that got us into this mess in the first place.

Mitchell Bard, Huffington Post

Democratic Party logo
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The Republicans have blocked everything in the Senate; the only plan they ever have is tax cuts for the rich, deregulation, cuts to social programs and privatization of government. They follow their strategy of running up deficits when in power as if it was a natural law, and then they suddenly become fiscally responsible when in the minority — a simple yet effective Republican tactic to defund liberal programs. They support big business, not the people, and they aggressively exploit the middle class and the environment to forward the greedy agenda of their corporate overlords.

This is all indisputable fact. It’s readily apparent to the most casual observer, yet somehow the Republicans are actually able to get elected . . . why?

It’s either because the Democrats are complicit in hiding the truth from the American public, or because they’ve yet to figure out that elections aren’t about issues — they’re about perception.

Perception is reality, and the Republicans have mastered spin. They have no shame! They will say anything, twist anything, and run to devise a scheme to cover anything said. They’ve not a care about the facts. By contrast, Democrats try to win debates politely. They offer rational arguments. It’s the rare exception when somebody like Reid says the GOP is purposely trying to make things worse.

IT IS NO SECRET that the GOP represents government by sabotage. Their platform is “government is bad,” and they routinely do everything they can to make that true. Why isn’t this message a resounding battle cry for the Democrats? If it was, it might actually be newsworthy by media standards, and the people just might discover the truth.

Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

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Jul 112010
oscar grant
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The BART shooting and death of Oscar Grant, and the subsequent jury verdict are not the type of story I typically write about. But this event has struck a chord, a deeply sad chord for me. I had followed the story with moderate interest since it first happened, and I was alarmed when I heard that there were no blacks on the jury. But somewhere in my Pollyanna psyche, I guess I just assumed that justice would still be served.

I was on the road heading home when I first heard the verdict. My first reaction was shock, followed by sadness. I felt contempt for the system, and that led to a sense of despair. As I pushed through the successive waves of emotion, I came to the realization that I had stumbled upon a tiny window into what the black community feels every day.

When I got home, I immediately set about the business of reading everything I could find about the event and the trial. I watched every video I could find — in fast motion, slow motion, freeze frame — over and over. I talked about the case with everyone I know. I was there in spirit with Oscar Grant’s family as they shared their feelings about the verdict. I felt solidarity with them when they criticized the verdict but asked for peaceful protest. I was not without tears as I watched Wanda Johnson relive the loss of her son, as she repeated, “He was murdered.”

So, was Oscar Grant murdered? Was involuntary manslaughter a just verdict? Everyone has an opinion. Here’s mine:

Once Judge Perry ruled out first degree murder, the range of verdicts was limited to second degree murder, manslaughter, either voluntary or involuntary, or acquittal. In the case of either murder or voluntary manslaughter, the prosecution needed to prove malice aforethought. This would require that they show that Mehserle either intended to inflict grievous bodily harm or was recklessly indifferent to the high risk of doing so.

Enter the Taser defense. According to Mehserle, he had intended to taze Grant, not to shoot him. The use of a Taser, while potentially causing significant pain to the target, could certainly not be construed as criminal intent or reckless indifference. In fact, Judge Perry’s instructions to the jury stated that, if they believed Mehserle meant to use his Taser, the verdict could not be more serious than involuntary manslaughter. So, putting aside jury bias, the outcome of the trial, in effect, actually hung on this single issue.

Defense attorney Michael Rains maintains that Mehserle did tell fellow officer, Tony Pirone “I’m going to taze him” at one point. So there is some reason to believe that tazing was at least a part of the equation. Grant has even taken a picture before the tragic climax that showed Mehserle pointing his Taser at Grant. But then, in order to prevent just this type of mistake, BART officers all holster there Tasers on the opposite side from their firearm. Mehserle’s Taser was holstered on his left side but reversed for a cross-body draw. Could somebody actually draw from the wrong side, not notice the 3x heft or different color of the handgun and fire a shot believing they held a Taser? Personally, I find this highly unlikely.

Also a part of the testimony is that shortly after the shooting, Mehserle told Pirone that, “I thought he was going for a gun.” Would tazing be a rational response to such a deadly threat? At the very least, it does call into question the consistency of Mehserle’s story. And then there’s also the fact that the Taser story didn’t surface until days after the killing. All things considered, there’s certainly an element of doubt regarding the veracity of Mehserle’s story, but then in court, it’s not the job of the defense to present an iron tight case. No, the burden of reasonable doubt belongs to the prosecution.

So much of this case actually depends on the lens through which you look. I hear people state with conviction that Oscar Grant was resisting the police. But I’m here to tell you that I’ve been under those piles of police aggression before, actually trying to help them get me cuffed, and still they roughed me around as if I were resisting.

I also know something about losing a son. My Joshua wasn’t lost to police violence, but  the fact of the matter is that had it not been for the aggression of law enforcement and the corruption of the legal system, he would likely still be here with me. He was 21, and nearly two and a half years later, I still grieve his passing every day. When I watch Wanda Johnson, I feel her pain. That is my lens.

But in spite of my personal perspective, and my reluctance to believe what I feel is a contrived story designed to leverage the letter of the law, I don’t believe that Johannes Mehserle intended to shoot and kill Oscar Grant. In all honesty, I’m forced to ask myself how insane a person would have to be to pull a gun in front of a large crowd of onlookers, who were obviously not fans, and deliberately shoot a man in the back while he was lying prone and restrained. You would have to be a stark raving lunatic.

So, was involuntary manslaughter the right verdict? I’m afraid that in a purely legal sense, based on the evidence provided, it probably was. But was justice served? Absolutely NOT!

Beyond the tragedy, the real problem in this case is that it forces us to take a look at the discrepancy between legal justice and moral justice. In the end, even if you buy his story, the simple truth is that Mehserle wasn’t justified in tazing a man who was restrained by two other officers. Given the circumstance, a reasonable person would have to conclude that, even that act would constitute excessive force. The fact is that Mehserle was being an asshole and somebody died because of it. What should the penalty for that be?

For me personally, this tragic event did have one positive effect — it helped me to understand. As I listened to the family of Oscar Grant and others, I thought back to the terrible injustice of the Rodney King trial. Then I recalled my bewilderment at the near unanimous black response to the O.J. Simpson verdict. I never understood before how, in the face of the vast evidence against O.J., blacks could still assert his innocence. I think I now have, at least, a clue. It wasn’t about O.J. — it was about the countless black men who could never receive justice in the white courts. Regardless of what they may have secretly thought about the details of the case, only one thing mattered — a black man had prevailed. It was a sort of “Fuck You” to the system that so stacked the odds against them. Whether or not the verdict in the Simpson case was just —  justice in a much bigger sense had finally been served.

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Jul 092010
Ethiopia, as its borders were in 1984.
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The stage is set and the lines are drawn for this November when the siege of the U.S. Congress will conclude in the battle for America. Under cover of the darkness of their deception, the Republican Party, backed by their corporate overlords, will attempt to unleash hell on the Democratic Party and the American middle class. The deployment of their arsenal of lies, half-truths and distortions began months ago, and has already carried a staggering payload of misunderstanding and fear. Now, as we march toward the election, their generals are marshalling the troops, and their foot soldiers, ignorant and enthusiastic, are poised for victory.

I fear that liberals who underestimate the severity of the damage done by Republican obstructionism and fear mongering are in for a rude awakening come November. Polls are not elections, but when all indicators are pointing in the same direction, it’s wise to take notice. It’s common knowledge that midterm elections are all about voter turnout, and democrats would be well served to look back at the last midterm for a hint of what will happen if they cannot rally their faithful and get out the vote.

The results of the most recent Pew poll on the topic are not encouraging for Democrats. Taken in mid-June, the poll leans heavily in favor of Republicans, showing significant margins in voter enthusiasm and attention, both critical indicators in a mid-term. Republican voters are currently winning the enthusiasm battle by a score of 56% to 42% and show a similar margin in those who are “closely following campaign news,” with 64% compared to 50% for the Democrats.

Republicans also show a sizable lead with older voters — who happen to be more engaged and likely to vote. And in possibly the most significant metric of all, Republicans have managed to turn the tide of independent voters. Where Democrats enjoyed a 47% to 32% preference amongst independent voters in June of 2006, the tables are now turned, with independents supporting Republicans by a 44% to 36% margin.

Nearly everything is already leaning in favor of the Republicans, and we’ve yet to face the juggernaut of corporate backed advertising that will soon descend upon the American airwaves. Led by a $75 million pledge from the U.S. Chamber, the Republicans already have over $200 million in commitments from conservative organizations. Couple this with the Supreme Court’s release of the Corporate Cracken, and it’s hard to deny the possibility of a conservative route.

If Democrats are to have any hope of retaining a majority in the Congress, they must do something to excite voters and rally them to the liberal cause — and they must do so NOW.

It’s time for Democrats to drop their cool demeanors and start fighting fire with napalm. Democrats need to stand and refute the lies perpetuated in the Republican campaign of fear and distraction, and they need to take bold action. With the economy still in the toilet and the Gulf being turned into one, these are historic times — and historic times call for historic measures.

The Democratic majority in the Senate can be the catalyst to mobilize liberals across the nation. But in order to do so, they need to immediately stop reserving power for the future and take decisive action for victory today. They are the majority, and they don’t have to allow the Republicans to control the Senate with a minority. To sit with a 59/41 majority and play victim, and to do so without ever even requiring an actual filibuster is so cowardly as to demand disrespect. The Republicans have threatened filibuster on every major issue, including the extension of unemployment benefits to the very people whom their corruption has put out of a job. Such a drastic attempt to obstruct the legislative process is without precedence and should be met with an unprecedented response. The Democrats can and should invoke the nuclear option today and take real control of the Congress.

Match this act of leadership with an all-out campaign to educate the American people on the contemptuous tactics and behavior of the corporate betrothed conservatives, and the pending Republican route will become their Waterloo.

The problem right now is that there’s only one voice that’s being heard — the conservative voice. Sure MSNBC is carrying the liberal message, and places like Huffington Post are doing their part. But the rallies belong to the conservatives, and Fox News reels in as many viewers as all other sources, liberal and centrist combined. With the Cracken sure to attack soon, Democrats are in desperate need of a countering force.

Like a collective of Paul Reveres, it’s time for liberals to mobilize before it’s too late. The corporatists are coming . . . the corporatists are truly coming! Democrats need grassroots support, and we need to call upon liberal celebrities from sea to shining sea to help make it happen. Celebrities can reach and activate younger voters who swing Democrat in large numbers. They may not have the bully pulpit, but they do command the limelight.

What might happen if liberal celebrities gathered together for an event like Band Aid, Farm Aid and Live Aid? What if Democrat performers like Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, Eddie Vedder, Cher and Streisand used their celebrity to engage others and come to the aid of the average American? There’s a long list of musicians, actors and other performers who support the Democratic Party. Where are celebrities like Tim Robins and Susan Sarandon, like Madonna, Julia Roberts, Tom Hanks, Sean Penn, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and many others who all speak out actively against Republican politics? What about Clooney? How about Oparah?

We’ve had celebrity aid for farmers, and we’ve rightfully had it for the truly needy. I respected and supported these efforts, but now I contend that there’s an even more important battle to be fought. The battle is for the very fabric and spirit of the culture that makes these other efforts possible. Conservatism is strangling the life out of the vast majority of American people, and far too many are unwittingly leading themselves, their family and friends to slaughter. The voice of truth must be heard. The lies must be revealed. The time for those who can reach the masses to stand and be counted is now. America may not survive another round of Republican government.

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