Lazy Saturday Reads: America the Violent

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Good Morning!!

We’ve arrived at the end of another terrible week in America. When will it end? Never, until we do something about the availability of guns–especially military grade weapons that are designed for the express purpose of killing human beings. People should not own military grade weapons, if you like guns then get yourself airsoft gun, which is safer.

I’m going to begin with an excerpt from an essay at NBC News by Shorky Eldaly II: An America I See in the Distance. Eldaly was likely writing before the massacre in Dallas took place; his piece is mostly about police killings of Black people. Please do read the whole thing at the link.

Hours after the first report of another American, another father, another son, killed without the provocation all I could do was repeat this mantra to myself as I searched my home, for something to remind me of why we must go on; why we’re not allowed to give up on an America that seems, in some ways, now more distant than ever.

Today our nation struggles to find its breath after the loss of Alton Sterling. As we are still grieving the loss of life in Orlando I try, alongside the rest of the world, to make sense of the loss of Philando Castile.

In the barrage of questions being posed by experts on television screens and news feed updates, I whisper back, “Where are our solutions?” And I apologize (to who or what I am unsure) for not having done enough, in the wake of these executions.

Amidst these acts of terrorism, I am left at a loss for not just words, but of an ability to fully comprehend the true amount of loss we’ve suffered. I’m searching for an America I can still believe in.

Eldaly asks the questions all decent Americans are asking–where is the America we once believed in? When can we be proud of our country again? Or did that country never truly exist except in our imaginations?

This week we’ve seen the convergence of our national plague of mass shootings and the disastrous effects of racism on the way laws are enforced. The Dallas shooter Mikah Johnson claimed he was angry about Black people being murdered by police. In Tennesee, Lakeem Keon Scott may also have been motivated by anger at recent police shootings. He killed Jennifer Rooney, a letter carrier and wounded three others, including a police officer. At the same time, many police officers say say they feel under siege from people who are angry at police-involved shootings around the country.

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As Eldaly asks, “Where are our solutions?” Not in Congress, as long as Republicans are utterly beholden to the NRA. A bit more from his essay:

I know we must encompass something more than sense of power to create change. We must restore a sense of compassion and freedom that illuminates the rhetoric of America’s founders. Though these notions of compassion and freedom were not applicable to the nation’s current populous, America can be, and has already in many ways been re-founded and re-defined in the 21st century.

It is by the hands of those, like my parents, who sought and chose to be American that America has been redefined. Their sacrifice establishes the vision that, for most of its life, has been America’s fairy tale. It is in their lives, and the lives of their children, that I see the evidence that we can grow, that we will be great.

It is in that same vein that Black Lives mattering is not a negation of the rights of other individuals, but a needed imperative to correct the record for a nation whose Congress once legislated the counting of people as property and now sanctions their death at the hands of those sworn to protect and serve.

Because, in truth, the men and women who live narratives of hate — regardless of race — are no more American, than those who look to divide us and foster hate or fear within us. These individuals are terrorists and nothing short of that.

For each of those who work against equity, of life, of liberty, to those who kill the innocent — for each one of us you kill — you only strengthen our resolve.

You only strengthen the discipline with which we hold ourselves accountable, increasing the heights we dare to dream.

We are the sons and daughters of men and women who against insurmountable odds survived, who in every moment inhabit the American ideals in ways that our forefathers could not have imagined.

We can not allow violence or fear, to shrink us back or lead us to hate or division, because in ways that only love can sustain — we are dreamers, we are doers, and we are, in our resilience and resolve, bravery, selflessness, and love.

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During her campaign for president, Hillary Clinton has said repeatedly that we need more love and kindness in this country. This morning I got an email from the Clinton campaign–you probably got it too. I’m going to post the whole thing here:

Like so many people across America, I have been following the news of the past few days with horror and grief.

On Tuesday, Alton Sterling, father of five, was killed in Baton Rouge — approached by the police for selling CDs outside a convenience store. On Wednesday, Philando Castile, 32 years old, was killed outside Minneapolis — pulled over by the police for a broken tail light.

And last night in Dallas, during a peaceful protest related to those killings, a sniper targeted police officers — five have died: Brent Thompson, Patrick Zamarripa, Michael Krol, Michael Smith, and Lorne Ahrens. Their names, too, will be written on our hearts.

What can one say about events like these? It’s hard to know where to start. For now, let’s focus on what we already know, deep in our hearts: There is something wrong in our country.

There is too much violence, too much hate, too much senseless killing, too many people dead who shouldn’t be. No one has all the answers. We have to find them together. Indeed, that is the only way we can find them.

Let’s begin with something simple but vital: listening to each other.

White Americans need to do a better job of listening when African Americans talk about seen and unseen barriers faced daily. We need to try, as best we can, to walk in one another’s shoes. To imagine what it would be like if people followed us around stores, or locked their car doors when we walked past, or if every time our children went to play in the park, or just to the store to buy iced tea and Skittles, we said a prayer: “Please God, don’t let anything happen to my baby.”

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Let’s also put ourselves in the shoes of police officers, kissing their kids and spouses goodbye every day and heading off to do a dangerous job we need them to do. Remember what those officers in Dallas were doing when they died: They were protecting a peaceful march. When gunfire broke out and everyone ran to safety, the police officers ran the other way — into the gunfire. That’s the kind of courage our police and first responders show all across America.

We need to ask ourselves every single day: What can I do to stop violence and promote justice? How can I show that your life matters — that we have a stake in another’s safety and well-being?

Elie Wiesel once said that “the opposite of love is not hate — it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death — it’s indifference.”

None of us can afford to be indifferent toward each other — not now, not ever. We have a lot of work to do, and we don’t have a moment to lose. People are crying out for criminal justice reform. People are also crying out for relief from gun violence. The families of the lost are trying to tell us. We need to listen. We need to act.

I know that, just by saying all these things together, I may upset some people.

I’m talking about criminal justice reform the day after a horrific attack on police officers. I’m talking about courageous, honorable police officers just a few days after officer-involved killings in Louisiana and Minnesota. I’m bringing up guns in a country where merely talking about comprehensive background checks, limits on assault weapons and the size of ammunition clips gets you demonized.

But all these things can be true at once.

We do need police and criminal justice reforms, to save lives and make sure all Americans are treated as equal in rights and dignity.

We do need to support police departments and stand up for the men and women who put their lives on the line every day to protect us.

We do need to reduce gun violence.

We may disagree about how, but surely we can all agree with those basic premises. Surely this week showed us how true they are.

I’ve been thinking today about a passage from Scripture that means a great deal to me — maybe you know it, too:

“Let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season, we shall reap, if we do not lose heart.”

There is good work for us to do, to find a path ahead for all God’s children. There are lost lives to redeem and bright futures to claim. We must not lose heart.

May the memory of those we’ve lost light our way toward the future our children deserve.

Thank you,

Hillary

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Now here are some links for you to explore:

New York Times: Suspect in Dallas Attack had Interest in Black Power Groups.

ABC News: Gun Used in Dallas Massacre Similar to Other Mass Shootings.

Los Angeles Times: Dallas police used a robot to kill a gunman, a new tactic that raises ethical questions.

Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Piedmont Park hanging referred to FBI.

New York Daily News: Trump barred from speaking to NYPD officers; Bratton says Dallas tragedy not a photo op.

The New Republic: The Return of Clinton Derangement Syndrome.

The Washington Post: The math of mass shootings.

The Chicago Tribune: Ex-Illinois Rep. Walsh says Twitter took down Dallas tweet ‘Watch out Obama.’

Buzzfeed: Trump Bought $120,000 Luxury Trip With Trump Foundation Money At 2008 Charity Auction.

The Atlantic: The Republican Party’s White Strategy.

Bloomberg: Sanders’ Influence Fades Ahead of Clinton Endorsement.

What else is happening? What stories are you following today?

 


Lazy Saturday Reads

 animals reading1

Good Morning!!

Maybe it’s just me, but I think today must be the slowest news day yet in 2014. I’ve gathered a hodge-podge of reads for you, some that look back over the past year and some current news stories that I found interesting or humorous. So here goes . . .

Looking back, I think the biggest story of this year has been the many events that have revealed how racist the United States still is nearly a century-and-a-half after the end of the Civil War and more than a half century after the Civil Rights Movement.

In the news yesterday: Driver Destroys Mike Brown Memorial, Community Rebuilds By Morning. From Think Progress:

A memorial set up in the middle of Canfield Drive where teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer in August was partially destroyed Christmas evening when a car drove through it. Neighbors and friends of Brown quickly came together to clean up the damage, rebuild the site, and call for support on social media….

Activists on the ground also reacted angrily to the Ferguson Police Department’s public relations officer, who told the Washington Post, “I don’t know that a crime has occurred,” and called Brown’s memorial “a pile of trash in the middle of the street.”

Since Brown’s death, the memorial has been a key gathering place for protests and prayers, and a receiving station for those that poured in from across the country to pay their respects and demonstrate against police brutality. Supporters also had to rebuild the memorial in September after it burned to the ground.

Also from Think Progress, photos of the some of the people who were killed by police in 2014.

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As you can see, most of them have black or brown skin.

Sadly, we know Brown and Garner were just one [sic] of many people who died at the hands of police this year. But a dearth of national data on fatalities caused by police makes it difficult to pinpoint the exact number of deaths. One site put the total at 1,039.

What we do know is that police-related deaths follow certain patterns. A 2012 study found that about half of those killed by the police each year are mentally ill, a problem that the Supreme Court will consider 2015. Young black men are also 21 times more likely to be killed by cops than young white men, according to one ProPublica analysis of the data we have. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also compiled data which shows that people of color are most likely to be killed by cops overall. In short, people who belong to marginalized communities are at a higher risk of being shot than those who are not.

Go to the link to see a table showing which groups are most likely to be shot by police.

Mother Jones has released its yearly list of top long reads of 2014. First on the list is The Science of Why Cops Shoot Young Black Men, by Chris Mooney. It’s about the unconscious prejudices that plague all of us. A brief excerpt:

On the one hand, overt expressions of prejudice have grown markedly less common than they were in the Archie Bunker era. We elected, and reelected, a black president. In many parts of the country, hardly anyone bats an eye at interracial relationships. Most people do not consider racial hostility acceptable. That’s why it was so shocking when Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was caught telling his girlfriend not to bring black people to games—and why those comments led the NBA to ban Sterling for life. And yet, the killings of Michael Brown, Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride, Trayvon Martin, and so many others remind us that we are far from a prejudice-free society.

Science offers an explanation for this paradox—albeit a very uncomfortable one. An impressive body of psychological research suggests that the men who killed Brown and Martin need not have been conscious, overt racists to do what they did (though they may have been). The same goes for the crowds that flock to support the shooter each time these tragedies become public, or the birthers whose racially tinged conspiracy theories paint President Obama as a usurper. These people who voice mind-boggling opinions while swearing they’re not racist at all—they make sense to science, because the paradigm for understanding prejudice has evolved. There “doesn’t need to be intent, doesn’t need to be desire; there could even be desire in the opposite direction,” explains University of Virginia psychologist Brian Nosek ….

We’re not born with racial prejudices. We may never even have been “taught” them. Rather, explains Nosek, prejudice draws on “many of the same tools that help our minds figure out what’s good and what’s bad.” In evolutionary terms, it’s efficient to quickly classify a grizzly bear as “dangerous.” The trouble comes when the brain uses similar processes to form negative views about groups of people.

But here’s the good news: Research suggests that once we understand the psychological pathways that lead to prejudice, we just might be able to train our brains to go in the opposite direction.

Read much more at the second link above. Go to the previous link to see the 13 other stories on MoJo’s list of the magazine’s best 2014 long reads.

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Also from Mother Jones, a list of “the stupidest anti-science bullshit of 2014.” Check it out at the link.

Another “worst of” list from The Daily Beast: 2014: Revenge of the Creationists, by Carl W. Giberson.

Science denialism is alive in the United States and 2014 was yet another blockbuster year for preposterous claims from America’s flakerrati.  To celebrate the year, here are the top 10 anti-science salvos of 2014.

1) America’s leading science denialist is Ken Ham, head of the Answers in Genesis organization that built the infamous $30 million Creation Museum in Kentucky. He also put up a billboard in Times Square to raise funds for an even more ambitious Noah’s Ark Theme Park. Ham’s wacky ideas went primetime in February when he debated Bill Nye. An estimated three million viewers watched Ham claim that the earth is 10,000 years old, the Big Bang never happened, and Darwinian evolution is a hoax. His greatest howler, however—and my top anti-science salvo of 2014—would have to be his wholesale dismissal of the entire scientific enterprise as an atheistic missionary effort: “Science has been hijacked by secularists,” he claimed, who seek to indoctrinate us with “the religion of naturalism.”

2) Second only to Answers in Genesis, the Seattle based Discovery Institute continued its well-funded assault on science, most visibly through Stephen Meyer’s barnstorming tour promoting his book Darwin’s Doubt. I was a part of this tour, debating Meyer in Richmond, Virginia in April. Meyer’s bestselling book is yet another articulate repackaging of the venerable but discredited “god of the gaps” argument that goes like this: Here is something so cleverly designed that nature could not do on her own; but God could. So God must have designed this. Meyer insists, however, that his argument is not “god of the gaps” since he says only that the anonymous designer was “a designing intelligence—a conscious rational agency or a mind—of some kind” and not the familiar God of the monotheistic religious traditions. For his tireless assault on evolutionary biology and downsizing the deity to fit within science, I give Meyer second place.

Go over to TDB to read the rest of the list.

Donald Sterling and Ray Rice

Donald Sterling and Ray Rice

Also in this vein, Talking Points Memo offers a list of worst sports stories: From Donald Sterling To Ray Rice: 2014 Brought Out The Worst In Pro Sports.

The past year brought out the worst in professional sports players, owners, and fans alike, from domestic violence scandals in the NFL to the removal of racist team executives in the NBA.

Of course, shockingly bad behavior wasn’t limited to major league football and basketball alone. The most decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelps, was just sentenced to probation for drunken driving. FIFA was enough of a mess to inspire a 13-minute Jon Oliver segment ahead of the World Cup this summer.

But even the most casual sports observer understands what’s at the center of the Washington Redskins naming controversy, or can form an opinion on whether Ray Rice should be allowed to play football again. The NFL frequently surfaced in the headlines this year for all the wrong reasons, and its domination on this list suggests the league needs to get its act together on a couple fronts.

Check out the list at the TPM link above.

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Recently, I posted some links about the 75th anniversary of the movie Gone With The Wind and the racist attitudes it portrayed. Today Newsweek published a piece about the efforts to curtail the racism in the movie before it was filmed and released: Fixing Gone With The Wind’s ‘Negro Problem’

In the spring of 1938, Rabbi Robert Jacobs of Hoboken wrote to Rabbi Barnett Brickner, chairman of the Social Justice Commission of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, “Soon the David O. Selznick Studios of Hollywood will begin production of the play ‘Gone With The Wind.’ The book, a thrilling romance of the South, was shot through with an anti-Negro prejudice, and while it undoubtedly furnished almost half a million people in this country with many glowing hours of entertainment, it also in a measure aroused whatever anti-Negro antipathy was latent in them.”

Rabbi Brickner in turn wrote to Selznick. “In view of the situation,” he wrote, “I am taking the liberty of suggesting that you exercise the greatest care in the treatment of this theme in the production of the picture. Surely, at this time you would want to do nothing that might tend even in the slightest way to arouse anti-racial feeling. I feel confident that you will use extreme caution in the matter.”

Brickner wrote a similar letter to Walter White, Secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. White also wrote to Selznick, suggesting Selznick “employ in an advisory capacity a person, preferably a Negro, who is qualified to check on possible errors of fact or interpretation.”

In his reply to White, Selznick wrote, “I hasten to assure you that as a member of a race that is suffering very keenly from persecution these days, I am most sensitive to the feelings of minority peoples.” He added, “It is definitely our intention to engage a Negro of high standing to watch the entire treatment of the Negroes, the casting of the actors for these roles, the dialect that they use, etcetera, throughout the picture.

Read the rest at the link.

At Daily Kos, David Akadjian offered a list of 21 Ayn Rand Christmas Cards–a satire, of course, but Akadjian learned that Rand actually did send out Christmas cards, despite her atheism. Here are some of her odes to a selfish Christmas.

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I’ll wrap this post up with some current news stories:

USA Today: Thousands gather to honor slain officer in New York.

The Guardian: North Korea calls Obama a ‘monkey’ as it blames US for internet shutdown.

USA Today: North Korea suffers another Internet shutdown.

Seattle PI: Woman who bared breasts in Vatican square is freed.

Washington Post: Baby gorilla shunned by other gorillas to switch zoos.

Washington Post: Pakistani forces kill alleged organizer of school massacre.

The Telegraph: More than 160,000 evacuated in Malaysia’s worst ever floods.

Special for New Englanders from the Boston Globe: Will The Rest Of Winter Have Lower Than Average Snowfall?

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and have a stupendous Saturday!


Another Update to the Ever-Expanding Boston Bombing Story

Ibragim Todashev and Reni Manukyan

Ibragim Todashev and Reni Manukyan

I thought I should put up another update, because there has been a lot more walking back of the reports that came out yesterday, not only about whether Ibragim Todashev was holding a knife when he supposedly “lunged” at an FBI agent, but also whether Todashev had even been questioned about involvement in the 2011 triple murder in Waltham MA with which Massachusetts officials have been trying to connect Tamerlan and Dzhokhor Tsarnaev.

This morning The Wall Street Journal reported that Reni Manukyan who is married to Ibragim Todashev–the man who was shot while being interrogated by several law enforcement officers in Orlando, Fl early yesterday–claim neither she nor her husband were ever asked about the murders.

Reni Manukyan, a 24-year-old assistant hotel-housekeeping manager who married Ibragim Todashev at a mosque near Boston in July 2010, says agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation arrived at her house in Atlanta and her mom’s house in Savannah, Ga., on Tuesday night, the same time they started questioning her late husband at his home in Orlando.

Ms. Manukyan says the FBI agents who came to her house asked about alleged Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev, whom she says her husband met after moving to the Boston area from Russia in 2008.

But she says the agents never asked about a Sept. 11, 2011, murder in Waltham, Mass., in which three victims—25-year-old Brendan Mess, 31-year-old Erik Weissman and 37-year-old Raphael Teken—were found dead with their throats slit and bodies covered in marijuana and cash….

“They never, ever—in all the interviews that I had and all the interviews that he had—never did they mention anything about a murder,” Ms. Manukyan said in a telephone interview. “Everything was about the bombing and about him knowing Tamerlan. They would show me a picture of Tamerlan or Tamerlan’s wife or some other guys that I haven’t a clue who they are, but nothing about a murder—nothing ever.”

She says that agent question her several times as they did her husband, and that he couldn’t have been involved in the murders since he doesn’t drink or use drugs of any kind. She doesn’t even think he was in Boston in September of 2011.

Khusen Taramov

Khusen Taramov

The Boston Globe also has a story that walks back a number of yesterday’s reported leaks from investigators. According to the Globe, Todashev’s close friend and former roommate Khusen Taramov also claims Todarov was never questioned about the Waltham murders. He

said the two had been interviewed many times by FBI agents, and had been followed for weeks by an unmarked law enforcement vehicle since the Marathon bombings.

Taramov, a fellow Chechen and immigrant from Russia, said his slain friend had been called almost daily by agents since the bombings, but Todashev had been assured that the Tuesday night interview would be the final one.

“They told us they needed just one more interview,” he said. “They said the case was closed after this.”

Fearful it would make them look suspicious, neither he nor Todashev had a lawyer present during the FBI questioning, Taramov said.

Taramov, who said he had spent nearly every moment with Todashev since the bombing, insisted that his friend had never been asked about the triple slaying in Waltham.

“We told each other everything, everything,” Taramov said. “He never said anything about any murder and they never asked him anything about that. Just about the bombings and [Tamerlan] Tsarnaev.”

Manukyan and Taramov both say that Todashev did not have radical beliefs. He was just a normal Muslim. So what the heck is going on here?

At the Atlantic, Alexander Abad-Santos does a very good job of tracing down yesterday’s reports on whether Todashev had a knife before he was shot and whether he was questioned about and/or admitted to the Waltham murders and where these reports originated. Abad Santos writes:

A confession would have solved the triple homicide, and it would have cemented Tsarnaev’s role in that crime. Since reading Dzhokhar Tsarnaev his miranda rights, investigators haven’t been able to extract information about the Tsarnaevs as freely as they’d like — or at least it hasn’t spilled out in public as much as the people of Boston would like to hear. A confession might have been a big piece in the puzzle of the Tsarnaev brothers. Instead, we’re left with a Jack Bauer-style tale of secret confessions turned deadly, with more questions than answers.

What’s perhaps more puzzling is that the story doesn’t seem to add up: What new piece of information makes a guy who has been cooperating with FBI agents for the last month or so turn on them? Could the seizure of the computer have led to more revelations? Could the threat of jail time have dawned on him? And even more macabre, one of Todashev’s friends told NBC Orlando that he had been questioned with Todashev by agents on Tuesday night — and that Todashev felt like he was going to die. “He felt inside he was going to get shot,” Khusen Taramiv said. “I told him, ‘Everything is going to be fine, don’t worry about it.’ He said, ‘I have a really bad feeling.'”

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Jerelyn at Talk Left also breaks down the various reports and speculates about what might have happened. She also calls attention to another bit of information–that Todashev had a girlfriend named Tatiana Gruzdeva (this may be her Facebook page), and she was arrested by ICE on May 16 and is currently in custody for immigration violations.

Anyone with a shred of empathy could certainly understand why someone who has been shadowed by the FBI for the past month, interrogated repeatedly for hours, and then accused of murder–plus his girlfriend has been turned over to immigration authorities (a common FBI tactic to get information)–might get angry and perhaps make a sudden move. But did he really have to die when there were at least four law enforcement officers in the room with him at the time?

Jerelyn:

FBI interviews aren’t usually recorded. I doubt we’ll ever know what transpired during the interview. We’ll only get self-serving statements by law enforcement that justify their actions.

That some of these law enforcement officials use the words “implicated himself” as opposed to “confessed” in relation to the killings doesn’t mean Todashev acknowledged a role in the killings. If he was in Boston, it could mean something as little as Tamerlan called him that night and asked him to pick him up and give him a ride, or that Tamerlan later gave him some items that would link Tamerlan to the killings. Since Tamerlan is dead, he can’t defend himself against the murder charges law enforcement seems determined to attach to him. (Neither can Todashev.) Even if they find Tamerlan’s DNA at the home of the murdered men, it doesn’t mean he was involved in the murder. Since Tamerlan and one of the victims were good friends, if the DNA is just found somewhere in the home or on clothes or a drinking cup, it could have been deposited prior to the day of the killings.

I am not buying the unconfirmed report that he suddenly went beserk when asked to sign a written confession. Or that he confessed to the murders. He may have said something that the agents believed to be incriminating, but that doesn’t mean Todashev intended it that way or agreed with their interpretation.

I don’t doubt that he “got volatile” at the end — FBI agents don’t execute people for no reason. (Whether the shooting was an overreaction is another question.) But as to what set him off, it could be that after whatever he said that the agent thought was incriminating, the agent told him he was being arrested for the murders, and he reacted angrily because he believed he was being unjustly accused.

There’s more. You can read it at the link.

At this point, all we know for sure is that a witness with valuable information about Tamerlan Tsarnaev is dead. We don’t know who killed him or even whether more than one of the officers present shot him. A team of FBI agents will determine if the shooting was justified, but most likely they’ll find a way to absolve their fellow officers.


George Zimmerman Showed No Signs of Blood or Bruises Immediately After the Shooting

ABC News has obtained surveillance footage of George Zimmerman arriving at the Sanford police station in handcuffs, standing for some time with his back to the camera, and then walking down the hallway to the interrogation room where he is shown from the front. 

There is no visible blood on the back of Zimmerman’s head and no visible cuts.  The back of his jacket does not look wet. His nose does not look bloody. If Zimmerman shot Trayvon Martin point blank, he should have blood on his clothing, but I can’t see any in the video. Zimmerman does not look fat or out of shape in the video either. From the ABC article:

A still from the video

The surveillance video, which was obtained exclusively by ABC News, shows Zimmerman arriving in a police cruiser. As he exits the car, his hands are cuffed behind his back. Zimmerman is frisked and then led down a series of hallways, still cuffed.

Zimmerman, 28, is wearing a red and black fleece and his face and head are cleanly shaven. He appears well built, hardly the portly young man depicted in a 2005 mug shot that until a two days ago was the single image the media had of Zimmerman….

In the video an officer is seen pausing to look at the back of Zimmerman’s head, but no abrasions or blood can be seen in the video and he did not check into the emergency room following the police questioning.

Last night we learned that the lead investigator the night of the shooting wanted to arrest Zimmerman that night. But Zimmerman was not arrested, because the state Attorney General Norman Wolfinger said there was not enough evidence to convict him.

One more bit of news: this evening a woman whose 13-year-old son witnessed the shooting appeared on CNN Headline News and said that the lead investigator told her that night that he did not believe Zimmerman shot Martin in self-defense and that there was some profiling going on.

Please watch the video at the link. I’d like to know what other people think. My eyes aren’t the greatest.


Tuesday Reads: Targeting Citizens with Predator Drones while Failing to Protect and Nurture Children

Good Morning!! Yesterday Dakinikat wrote about predator drones being used by local law enforcement in North Dakota. According the the LA Times story Dakinikat referenced,

Michael C. Kostelnik, a retired Air Force general who heads the office that supervises the drones, said Predators are flown “in many areas around the country, not only for federal operators, but also for state and local law enforcement and emergency responders in times of crisis.” Yet Congress never approved the use of drones for this purpose.

…former Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice), who sat on the House homeland security intelligence subcommittee at the time and served as its chairwoman from 2007 until early this year, said no one ever discussed using Predators to help local police serve warrants or do other basic work.

Using Predators for routine law enforcement without public debate or clear legal authority is a mistake, Harman said.

But the article makes clear that law enforcement types are slavering over the possibility of using the sophisticated surveillance technology offered by drones–and without a warrant.

Glenn Greenwald had more at his blog yesterday. He says that the so-called “approval” for the use of predator drones on U.S. soil came because Customs administrators included the words “interior law enforcement support” in their budget request! And since Congresspeople rarely read the bills they vote on, no one noticed. So now government agents can spy on us and track us whenever they want, apparently.

Greenwald:

Whatever else is true, the growing use of drones for an increasing range of uses on U.S. soil is incredibly consequential and potentially dangerous, for the reasons I outlined last week, and yet it is receiving very little Congressional, media or public attention. It’s just a creeping, under-the-radar change. Even former Congresswoman Harman — who never met a surveillance program she didn’t like and want to fund (until, that is, it was revealed that she herself had been subjected to covert eavesdropping as part of surveillance powers she once endorsed) — has serious concerns about this development: ”There is no question that this could become something that people will regret,” she told the LA Times. The revelation that a Predator drone has been used on U.S. soil this way warrants additional focus on this issue.

You’d better not be doing anything suspicious on your own property–like smoke a joint in the backyard or something. You could be spotted, raided, and thrown in jail in no time flat, all without a warrant.

Dakinikat sent me a link to this article at the NYT on the relationship between poverty and education: Class Matters. Why Won’t We Admit It?

No one seriously disputes the fact that students from disadvantaged households perform less well in school, on average, than their peers from more advantaged backgrounds. But rather than confront this fact of life head-on, our policy makers mistakenly continue to reason that, since they cannot change the backgrounds of students, they should focus on things they can control.

No Child Left Behind, President George W. Bush’s signature education law, did this by setting unrealistically high — and ultimately self-defeating — expectations for all schools. President Obama’s policies have concentrated on trying to make schools more “efficient” through means like judging teachers by their students’ test scores or encouraging competition by promoting the creation of charter schools. The proverbial story of the drunk looking for his keys under the lamppost comes to mind.

The Occupy movement has catalyzed rising anxiety over income inequality; we desperately need a similar reminder of the relationship between economic advantage and student performance.

As a developmental psychologist I can tell you there are tons of studies that show that socioeconomic status (SES) is related to many different variables. This is a fairly complex issue, because poor people are disadvantaged in so many ways. Poor families are more likely to have only one breadwinner–usually a mother–who is probably overwhelmed by stress and worry. That leaves mom with much less energy to spend talking to and reading to her children.

A researcher I know slightly, Catherine Snow of the Harvard School of Education, worked on a number of government-funded longitudinal studies that investigated this. The research showed that very young children who are talked to, encouraged to tell stories about things that happened to them, and are read to in an interactive way are better prepared for literacy and will perform better in school than children who don’t get those kinds of attention. Interestingly, they found that the best predictor of academic success is a child’s vocabulary.

Children in poor families may also be stressed by inadequate nutrition, abuse from stressed-out parents, and perhaps exposure to violence in their neighborhoods. This kind of stress leads to higher cortisol (stress hormone) levels, which in turn can cause all kinds of problems, including obesity.

Back to the NYT article:

The correlation has been abundantly documented, notably by the famous Coleman Report in 1966. New research by Sean F. Reardon of Stanford University traces the achievement gap between children from high- and low-income families over the last 50 years and finds that it now far exceeds the gap between white and black students.

Data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show that more than 40 percent of the variation in average reading scores and 46 percent of the variation in average math scores across states is associated with variation in child poverty rates.

International research tells the same story. Results of the 2009 reading tests conducted by the Program for International Student Assessment show that, among 15-year-olds in the United States and the 13 countries whose students outperformed ours, students with lower economic and social status had far lower test scores than their more advantaged counterparts within every country. Can anyone credibly believe that the mediocre overall performance of American students on international tests is unrelated to the fact that one-fifth of American children live in poverty?

Why does the government ignore this research–much of which has been done with government funding? There has been no effort to deal with the source of the problem–poverty–just bullheaded efforts to force schools to meet unrealistic standards. The authors admit that many in the government want public schools to fail so that education can be privatized and turned into a profit-making corporate enterprise.

The authors offer some suggestions, but since none of our elected officials seems to want to deal with the problem of increasing poverty among children in this country, their ideas come off sounding pretty weak.

This article really hit home with me, because I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why America as a whole doesn’t seem to care about children. I’ve been trying to write about post about it, but have struggled to put my ideas into words. I might as well just put some of it down here. My thoughts were not only about education, but also about the problems of protecting children from abuse and exploitation.

Children are our future. It’s a cliche because it’s true. We spend billions of dollars on the ridiculous and dangerous Department of “Homeland Security,” and we do very little at the federal level to protect children from poverty (one in four young children in the U.S. live in poverty), violence, abuse, and exploitation.

We are destroying our system of public education by requiring standardized tests instead of teaching children critical thinking. We encourage profit-making charter schools instead of providing more support for public schools.

In my fantasy future government, the President would have a cabinet level department devoted exclusively to children’s issues. This department would focus on designing the very best possible educational system for young children. There would be a strong focus on early childhood education, and especially on educating parents about the best ways to foster future academic success for their children, based on serious research. The department would work with the NIH and NSF to provide research grants to study these educational issues.

In addition, the department could develop ways to deal with the rampant abuse of children–physical, emotional, and sexual–that takes place in this country. The need for this is obvious if you read the news regularly. Children are beaten, raped, and murdered in their own homes every day. They are sexually abused in schools and in organized activities by people who should be protecting and guiding them. And people who hurt and kill children generally receive lighter sentences than those who prey on adults.

What has prompted me to think about these issues is not only the recent high-profile sexual abuse scandal at Penn State, but the stories that have been breaking recently about child sexual abuse in the Hollywood entertainment industry.

Two men who worked with child actors were recently arrested, Jason James Murphy, who worked on the well-received movie Super-8, and Martin Weiss, a talent agent.

The arrests have led a number of former child actors to come forward and talk about being abused as children. Reuters covered the story last week.

First, it was the Catholic Church. Then Penn State. Now, a new child-abuse scandal in Hollywood is raising questions over the safety of minors in the entertainment business and sparking calls for new child-labor regulations.

Last week Martin Weiss, a longtime manager of young talent, was arrested on suspicion of child molestation after an 18-year-old former client told police he had been abused by Weiss 30 to 40 times from 2005 to 2008.

Weiss’ arrest came just weeks after it was discovered that a convicted child molester and registered sex offender under the name Jason James Murphy was working in Hollywood and helping cast children for movie roles.

TheWrap contacted a wide array of professionals and found a mix of surprise, and those that say that this type of abuse is an ongoing concern, pointing to abuse allegations over the years by actors such as the late Corey Haim and Todd Bridges.

Other former child actors who have talked openly about the problem are Paul Peterson who appeared on The Donna Reed Show, Allison Arngrim from Little House on the Prairie, and Corey Feldman, who appeared on Nightline in August to talk about his own abuse.

“I can tell you that the No. 1 problem in Hollywood was and is and always will be pedophilia. That’s the biggest problem for children in this industry. … It’s the big secret,” Feldman said.

The “casting couch,” which is the old Hollywood reference to actors being expected to offer sex for roles, applied to children, Feldman said. “Oh, yeah. Not in the same way. It’s all done under the radar,” he said.

“I was surrounded by [pedophiles] when I was 14 years old. … Didn’t even know it. It wasn’t until I was old enough to realize what they were and what they wanted … till I went, Oh, my God. They were everywhere,” Feldman, 40, said.

The trauma of pedophilia contributed to the 2010 death of his closest friend and “The Lost Boys” co-star, Corey Haim, Feldman said.

“There’s one person to blame in the death of Corey Haim. And that person happens to be a Hollywood mogul. And that person needs to be exposed, but, unfortunately, I can’t be the one to do it,” Feldman said, adding that he, too, had been sexually abused by men in show business.

This Fox News article gets a little graphic, so skip over it if you prefer.

Another child star from an earlier era agrees that Hollywood has long had a problem with pedophilia. “When I watched that interview, a whole series of names and faces from my history went zooming through my head,” Paul Peterson, 66, star of The Donna Reed Show, a sitcom popular in the 1950s and 60s, and president of A Minor Consideration, tells FOXNews.com. “Some of these people, who I know very well, are still in the game.”

“This has been going on for a very long time,” concurs former “Little House on the Prairie” star Alison Arngrim. “It was the gossip back in the ‘80s. People said, ‘Oh yeah, the Coreys, everyone’s had them.’ People talked about it like it was not a big deal.”

Arngrim, 49, was referring to Feldman and his co-star in “The Lost Boys,” Corey Haim, who died in March 2010 after years of drug abuse.

“I literally heard that they were ‘passed around,’” Arngrim said. “The word was that they were given drugs and being used for sex. It was awful – these were kids, they weren’t 18 yet. There were all sorts of stories about everyone from their, quote, ‘set guardians’ on down that these two had been sexually abused and were totally being corrupted in every possible way.”

Yes, Virginia, child sexual abuse is common in every strata of our society. It’s not rare, and it’s time we got serious about dealing with it. If we had a Cabinet department of children’s issues, we could address the problem with public education programs. It worked for smoking and littering–why not try it with child abuse?

The department could request that the media show public service announcements to educate parents about nonviolent ways of disciplining their children and about the dangers of hitting or otherwise abusing children. I firmly believe that child abuse is the root cause of many of society’s ills–including domestic abuse, pedophilia, rape, murder, and serial murder. The majority of abused children don’t grow up to be perpetrators, but they often turn their anger on themselves, becoming depressed or suicidal or self-medicating with drugs and alcohol.

High profile cases like the Penn State and Hollywood casting scandal can often spur changes in societal attitudes. We should seize upon these issues to push Federal, state, and local governments to take positive action to improve the lives of American children.

Now I’ve rambled on too long and haven’t covered many stories. I’ll have to leave it to you to post what you’ve been reading and blogging about in the comments. If you made it this far, thanks for reading my somewhat incoherent thoughts.


Late Night: Ohio Woman Sprays Cops with Breast Milk

Stephanie Robinette

This is too much! Stephanie Robinette had a bit too much to drink at a wedding reception; at some point she hauled off and hit her husband “with a closed fist” and then locked herself in her car.

Deputies who arrived at the scene said Robinette was yelling profanities and refused to get out of the car, with the door open.

“Then she took out one of her breasts and literally started pumping her breast to spray the milk on officers,” said Sheriff Walter Davis II.

Deputies got Robinette out of her car but said that she attempted to break out the left rear window of a deputy’s cruiser with her feet before she was taken to jail, Strickler reported.

“Alcohol makes you do things you don’t normally do under normal circumstances and obviously she had way too much to drink,” Davis said.

Robinette, who was charged with multiple offenses, later apologized for her behavior.

She was…charged with domestic violence, assault, obstructing official business, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, authorities said.

Robinette, who pleaded not guilty to the charges, was released from custody on her own recognizance following a video arraignment on Monday, 10TV News reported.

Before her release, Robinette, a teacher employed at a charter school, apologized for what occurred.

“I have no criminal record; I take these charges very seriously and I absolutely intend to seek help for substance abuse with alcohol because alcoholism does run in my family,” Robinette said.

Robinette teaches second and third grades at a charter school for children with developmental disabilities.