Stand Your Ground: Dunn Verdict

February 24, 2014

If justice had been done, then Michael Dunn should have been convicted of first degree murder, but in Florida and other “stand your ground” law States it is virtually impossible to get a murder conviction. Some of the jury in the Dunn case followed the law and that’s the problem: stand your ground laws create an impossible burden to prove first degree murder based on evidence alone.   Especially when a white kills a black.

First degree murder in the Dunn trial was proper because in Florida the intent to kill can be formed between the first and second shots. Dunn fired 10 times at a car moving away from him over a space of 4-5 seconds. He basically emptied his gun at a car driving away from him. The problem is that the “stand your ground” laws provides only a subjective test of the fear of imminent death for a shooter. In other words, it is not necessary for a person who kills someone else to make a decision that a reasonable person would have done in similar circumstances. It is not necessary to have any reasonable basis to believe anyone is a threat. All a murderer like Dunn has to say is that he really felt threatened, whether there was objective reason to feel threatened or not.

In Florida, the subjective standard of a perceived threat was adopted after testimony like the following:  One woman asked Legislators why she would have to wait until someone attempts to rape her before she is able to kill them? Her point was that if she feels some guy wants to rape her (whether there is any reasonable basis for that belief or not), she should be free to legally shoot him dead. In Florida, and many other States, that sounded logical and reasonable to Legislators dependent on NRA approval ratings and contributions.

As a father of two young children of race, I certainly understand the fear and outrage of African-American parents. “Stand your ground” laws have not reduced crime. They have not reduced homicides or attempted homicides – in fact they have increased homicides in the States that have adopted this law. The law is nothing more than a declaration of open season on African Americans, who are routinely misperceived as a “threat” by white people.

Stand your ground is a license for whites to murder blacks.  Period.

Fire the Michigan Legislature

February 20, 2014

When I ran for Governor of Michigan, one of the most vexing issues for me was how to shrink the scope of government while maintaining the essential role it must play in the health, safety and success of citizens. I thought having a part-time Legislature might have some advantages. Legislators would have to maintain real world jobs and interact daily with citizens rather than lobbyists. There would be more pressure to accomplish something in a shorter period of time, hopefully restricting the amount of bribing (I mean lobbying) by Big Business. But honestly, this current Republican Legislature is the best argument for some mechanism to precipitate instant change — maybe something a la a parliamentary system. We certainly should have “no confidence” in Michigan’s Legislature.

In the face of crippling unemployment, infrastructure crumbling and a failing education system – all with hundreds of millions of dollars in budget surplus, the Michigan Senate just passed its most important law of the year (so far), requiring people to purchase American flags only made in the USA (so much for the free market blather of Conservatives). Really? Our roads can swallow up cars whole and Republicans want to make sure it’s only an American-made American flag that is draped over them?

The idea of approving the Republican Governor’s suggestion of a jobs program that will repair the roads is never even voted on, but silly nonsense like the flag bill gets passed. I suppose there is an argument that stupid bills are better than the ones they have tried to pass to regulate the kind of sex we have, the partner we marry or the control women have over their own bodies. However, I can’t be that cynical about government. I can’t give up just yet on the idea that government can work for the good of citizens.

GOP, BSC and Why are You Still a Republican?

February 14, 2014

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog suggesting that Dave Agema should be commended on his honest representation of the Michigan Republican Party’s stance on gays, women and minorities. Agema’s comments to the effect that many of our fellow human beings should not be tolerated flew in the face of the GOP media façade of “treating everyone with dignity and respect,” but notice that he is still the Chairman of the Michigan RNC. Even more evidence that Michigan’s Republican Party has succumbed to the BSC fringe of society is the likelihood that he will be joined by Mary Helen Sears.

This is a woman who unapologetically claims that the theory of evolution gave rise to Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin and that homosexuality is an invention of Satan used to scare off the Holy Spirit. She has joined other delusional Republicans in the claim that Communist professors are taking over our schools. The next thing you know, tin foil hats will be mandatory at the State GOP convention!

Given the clear situation that Michigan Republicans are comfortable with leaders that appear to be psychotically delusional or, at best, dangerously intolerant, how could many Michiganders remain Republicans? I can understand their reluctance to become Democrats, but why not start a third party – a political party of sane refugees from the Michigan GOP?  And where is the most high profile Republican in Michigan — Gov. Snyder — stand on these obscenely intolerant declarations? Silence is consent Governor.

Michael Sam and Showers

February 14, 2014

When Michael Sam, star defensive player for the University of Missouri football team, told his teammates that he was gay before the start of his last season, his teammates essentially told him “we know, it’s cool.” They accepted him because they knew him and cared about him as a human being first and as a teammate. When Sam announced to the world before the pro draft the reaction was much different. NFL denizens, sportswriters and sports radio jockeys weighed in with mixed reactions. It was like a mini lesson in every important social change in the last few centuries. 

Jackie Robinson integrated major league sports after hundreds of thousands of African-Americans served in front line units during WWII. The experience of “fighting in the trenches” and depending on another man to save your life tended to neutralize cultural indoctrination into Jim Crow. Sharing life (and death) with someone “different” somehow makes them less different. The lords of major league baseball resisted change because they were out of touch with mainstream society. Ball players resisted integration of baseball saying, among other things, that they could not shower with African-Americans. They could die with them on a battlefield, but not shower with them. 

I started thinking about Jackie Robinson because of the comments of current NFL players and coaches, comments which included a concern about showering together. How ignorant and ironic that black players would mimic the argument of racists. What makes them think that haven’t already showered with a gay person, anyway? The University of Missouri teammates who knew and cared about Mr. Sam before they knew he was gay and had no problems. When we know and have relationships with people it tends to neutralize fear and its manifestation of bigotry. When we accept people for WHO they are, it doesn’t matter much WHAT they are. 

Why “Right to Life” is Dishonest

February 10, 2014

I’ve done battle with the organization that calls itself “Right to Life” ever since my days defending the right to assisted suicide. It is an organization full of very compassionate and well-meaning individuals, who care deeply about the issue of abortion. I have met and talked with many members of “Right to Life” over the years and, apart from the death threats from some members of “Right to Life,” they usually strike me as sincere in their concerns. However, they seem unaware or unconcerned that they belong to an organization that has embraced policies and politicians that are in a word … anti-life. 

The essential purpose of the “Right to Life” is to make abortions illegal for everyone under any circumstances. I have no problem with that. It is their right to organize and promote change and many of them feel very strongly about it. If they had chosen to call themselves the “Anti-Abortion Under Any Circumstances” organization, or even the “Right to be Born and Then You’re on Your Own” organization, then I would have no quarrel with them. But to call themselves “Right to Life” and oppose virtually all programs that protect and nurture life after birth is, well, hypocritical if not dishonest. 

The recent vote on the Farm Bill is one example. The Bill cuts funding for hungry children by $800 million at a time when more children have slipped into poverty since the 1960s. The fact is that most children in poverty are in a single mother family where the mother is already working. Where were they during this debate? Silent. In fact, “Right to Life” is not so silent. They have endorsed and funded politicians that have argued against public health programs to prevent unwanted pregnancies, against programs to raise the minimum wage so that single mothers can work 40-50 hours a week and get a living wage instead of remaining in poverty, against pre-school programs and public health screening programs to ensure the safety and health of children after they are born, along with numerous other programs of social uplift. When their politicians claim that women can’t get pregnant from a rape (implying that all pregnancies are voluntary), where was the “Right to Life”? 

Can you really claim a moral high ground when your organization attacks (by silently condoning) every program that protects and nurtures life after birth?  Can you really claim a moral high ground when your organization attacks women who are victims of rape or incest for having abortions, but abandons the mother and child if they do decide to bring a pregnancy to term? Can it be moral to abandon children to suffering, or condemn the terminally ill to suffer needlessly because you feel it is right to suffer and still call yourself “Right to Life”?  Can it be moral to focus on criminalizing abortions rather than working to create a society where abortions are unnecessary except to save the life of the mother?

I guess the vote to cut funding for food stamps, in the wake of numerous other votes to destroy the social safety net makes me wonder who will defend “life” in Congress or in society in general?   


Moonbeams and Leadership

February 6, 2014

Those of us “old school” Democrats have been encouraged by someone who has to be considered the true Democratic leader of the Party and his accomplishments in office. No, I am not referring to President Obama. I believe that Gov. Jerry Brown of California is the real head of the Party, at least in terms of policy and practice.

Inheriting a State that virtually mirrored the Country President Obama inherited when he was elected, Brown has accomplished what we all hoped for from President Obama. California was teetering on the edge of an economic collapse, the product of years of Republican economic policies. There was rampant unemployment, a decimated education system and record deficits. He inherited a State government bitterly divided along partisan lines. In short, California was a microcosm of the country and  the dysfunctional government that President Obama inherited.

Of course there are some important differences between getting things done in State governments from the Federal government, but how Jerry Brown turned around California is an example of using Democratic Party principles in practice and with the leadership required. Whereas President Obama went to Wall St. to get advisors to get out of the mess Wall St. created, Gov. Brown went outside the revolving door of bankers. President Obama passed a tepid economic stimulus package. Brown went at it like a modern day FDR. Obama got the banks back on track, but left the unemployed behind. California now has one of the most employed States in the Country.

Brown ended the political patronization system of budgeting, killed as many Democratic golden gooses as Republican ones, and raised taxes on millionaires, whereas Obama has allowed more taxes to be assessed against the middle class than millionaires. Like Sherman’s march to the sea, Brown was less concerned about his legacy than in winning the war.

Republicans huff and puff about California’s high taxes, but they are speaking to their constituents: billionaires. Most people in California are paying less taxes and Brown has begun to target corporate tax loop-holes that have allowed an estimated $1 trillion in sales without taxes. This will fund one of the most ambitious infrastructure construction campaigns since the 1950s.

Democrats huff and puff about how the improved economy has benefitted California, but that benefit would have never been realized without Brown’s ability to increase taxes on the wealthiest. There is also an argument to be made that California’s resurgence has done as much to lift the national economy as vice versa. Throughout it all, Gov. “Moonbeam” (as he used to be called) exercised a quality sorely lacking in D.C., namely … leadership.

Vortex en Veritas

February 6, 2014

Last year I spent February in a trial in Anchorage Alaska. For the entire month of February, the temperatures in Anchorage never dropped to what they have been in Michigan for the last few weeks and foreseeable future.

Of course, one has to be careful in taking isolated weather events, such as the record-breaking low temperatures, as evidence of climate change. However, when on record-breaking storm follows another, and record-breaking droughts, record-breaking floods, etc. accumulate this rapidly, then one has to hope that the experience of these events will tip the scale on the public’s awareness of the issue. 

The truth is that many Americans have been deceived by a billion dollar plus media campaign by climate change deniers. The funding to deny reality predictably flows from corporate billionaires, such as the Koch brothers and funneled through conservative “think” tanks. If you have seen a commercial on climate change it was probably funded by some front for corporate America. They even have their own denier network in Fox Cable News.

The science verifying the fact of climate change is long settled, and after a decade of Rush Limbaugh types mocking that idea, they have shifted focus to denials of the causes of climate change. This is where the real issue has always rested, because the economics of climate change and possible solutions is what worries the billionaires. Shifting industry from oil/carbon-based fuels means a shake-up of the established order and “Big Oil” does not like it. 

I think that for most Americans, the problem of climate change is an opportunity that can’t be ignored. There is so much potential in developing the technologies to arrest or reverse climate change. For example, in Michigan’s windy Thumb area, windmills are now sprouting up and construction is beginning on infrastructure to deliver, clean, renewable energy. This means hundreds of new jobs, cleaner, less expensive energy that (at least) does not contribute to climate change.


February 6, 2014

The White House is trumpeting news that the U.S. deficit is at the lowest level since President Obama took office. Wall Street, diverted by international crises, has been unimpressed (as are Conservatives). What is on the surface good news, really isn’t. The deficit has been reduced and that means the financial markets will improve. This will make a lot of money for a few people, but I wonder if it is worth it. The deficit reduction has been carried on the backs of people who could least afford it: the poor and the middle class. The nougat of economic and political gains hardly seems worth the suffering of the people who paid for it. 

There are alternatives to reducing the deficit that would spare the most vulnerable Americans. For example, raising the minimum wage would help, a very modest tax hike for the upper 2% of income earners would virtually eliminate the deficit in the short run. Maybe the real deficit is one of conscience. With so many Americans unemployed, so many working full time for poverty level wages, and for so many other Americans struggling to survive … how can we continue to expect them to take most of the pain in the cuts in government spending?

It bothers me. Doesn’t it bother you?