Monday Reads: The Wheels of Justice Turn very Slowly

Rediscovered painting by Raphael, circa 1520

Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!

I’m focusing on the last standing functional branch of our Democracy today. I’ve noticed that some of the court cases recently have shown us that a few of our institutions are still working despite attempts to take them down.  I also cover a bit of that because, as you know, “these are the times that try men’s souls”.

The Special Counsel’s Appointment and Authority has been upheld by one of the first Trump Court Appointee’s this morning. This is significant as Mueller’s team takes aim at Roger Stone who dallied with Guccifer 2.0 and may be one of the first of the campaign’s inner circle to be directly indicted for playing footsy with the Russians. This is via CNN:

A federal district judge who was appointed by President Donald Trump has upheld Robert Mueller’s appointment and constitutional authority in the special counsel’s case against Russian social media propagandists.

Judge Dabney Friedrich, who serves at the trial-court level in DC federal court, said Concord Management and Consulting could not have its case tossed on constitutional grounds. The Russian company accused of backing a social media effort to sway voters against Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton claimed Mueller didn’t have power to bring the case because he was not appointment by the President and confirmed by Congress. Mueller was appointed under the authority of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has broad power as the acting head of the Justice Department for the 2016 election probe.

“The appointment does not violate core separation-of-powers principles. Nor has the Special Counsel exceeded his authority under the appointment order by investigating and prosecuting Concord,” Friedrich wrote in an opinion published Monday morning. She was one of the first judges Trump placed into a federal court position.

Friedrich cited opinions by three other federal judges — Amy Berman Jackson, who oversees Paul Manafort’s criminal foreign lobbying case; T.S. Ellis, who oversees Manafort’s financial fraud case; and DC District Court Chief Judge Beryl Howell — to back up her decision.
All three judges also denied requests to invalidate Mueller’s authority, with Howell writing as recently as late July that a witness subpoenaed to turn over documents and to testify before the grand jury about Roger Stone would have to. That witness, Andrew Miller, has been held in contempt of the court and now may appeal.

 

Bronze statue of Astraea

Both Manafort and Stone and key associates have tried to dart and dodge aspects of their indictments.  So far, they’ve failed.

The prosecution is wrapping up its tax- and bank-fraud case against Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman.

After the blistering pace set by U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III, the trial ground to a sudden halt on Friday for an unexplained reason. The judge and lawyers spent half the day huddled behind closed doors, with the trial not resuming until mid-afternoon.

The star of the trial was Gates, who was depicted by the defense as an unprincipled crook who ripped off Manafort and maybe the Trump campaign, and cheated on his wife to boot. But he also described to prosecutors how he helped Manafort hide millions of dollars that he earned from political consulting work in Ukraine in offshore accounts, and helped forge documents that made it easier for Manafort to defraud banks.

The jury heard from plenty of financial experts who backed up those claims. The professionals who helped Manafort, including his bookkeeper and tax accountant, said Manafort was the one in charge and insisted on giving final approval. The accountant said she was aware that Manafort’s tax returns contained false information. Bankers testified they wouldn’t have approved Manafort’s loan requests had they received the correct information from him about his income and debts.

Stephen Calk, chief executive officer of Federal Savings Bank in Chicago, expedited approval of two loans for Manafort totaling $16 million as he pushed Manafort for help landing a job with the Trump administration soon after the 2016 election, a former bank employee testified.

Manafort’s defense gets a chance to put its case before the jury this week, although it’s not required to do so. It’s unclear whether Manafort plans to testify or when jurors will begin deliberating.

Lady Justice Streets of Dublin.  Jenny Rainbow (artist)

However, the White House continues to skirt laws and ethics guidelines.  This one is a whopper of an issue.  The Daily Beast has this lede: ‘White House: It’s in ‘Public Interest’ for Staff to Skirt Ethics Rules to Meet With Fox News’ written by Lachlan Markay. No wonder they want to change the way administrative judges are appointed.

It is “in the public interest” for a the White House’s top communicator to be excused from federal ethics laws so he can meet with Fox News, according to President Donald Trump’s top lawyer.

Bill Shine, Trump’s newly minted communications director, and Larry Kudlow, the White House’s top economist, who worked at CNBC before his White House post, have both been excused from provisions of the law, which seeks to prevent administration officials from advancing the financial interests of relatives or former employers.

“The Administration has an interest in you interacting with Covered Organizations such as Fox News,” wrote White House counsel Don McGahn in a July 13 memo granting an ethics waivers to Shine, a former Fox executive. “[T]he need for your services outweighs the concern that a reasonable person may question the integrity of the White House Office’s programs and operations.”

Kudlow, a former CNBC host, received a similar waiver allowing him to communicate with former colleagues.

Including Shine and Kudlow, the White House has granted a total of 20 waivers to provisions of various federal ethics laws and the ethics pledge that President Trump instituted by executive order the week he took office. Federal agencies have granted many more such waivers.

Very Old White Guy from Iowa Grassley has decided September 4th is the day to trot out the Kavanaugh confirmation.

Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearings will start on Sept. 4 and last between three and four days, Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) announced on Friday.

That scheduling tees up the GOP to meet its goal of getting President Donald Trump’s pick seated on the high court by the time its term begins in early October, barring unforeseen obstacles or a breakthrough by Democrats who are pushing to derail Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

The Supreme Court battle so far has focused on documents related to Kavanaugh’s five years in the George W. Bush White House. Democrats have excoriated the GOP for declining to seek records from the nominee’s time as Bush’s staff secretary and condemned the Republican decision to rely on a Bush-driven review process for the early round of vetting, while the majority party hails the vast scope of documents that are set for release.

Grassley said earlier this month that he anticipates being able to complete Kavanaugh’s consideration by the Judiciary panel within about two weeks after the close of the confirmation hearings, which will feature questioning of the nominee beginning on Sept. 5. After the Judiciary panel clears Kavanaugh, Grassley added, the nomination is expected to reach the Senate floor within days.

“At this current pace, we have plenty of time to review the rest of emails and other records that we will receive from President Bush and the National Archives,” Grassley said in a Friday statement setting the hearing dates. “It’s time for the American people to hear directly from Judge Kavanaugh at his public hearing.”

The FBI has overridden its normal process of employee discipline to fire Agent Peter Strzok who basically was exercising his first amendment rights to criticize D’oh Hair Furor.  I’m wondering how long it will take to fire up a law suit on this one. This is from Matt Zapotosky at WAPO.

The FBI has fired agent Peter Strzok, who helped lead the bureau’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election until officials discovered he had been sending anti-Trump texts.

Aitan Goelman, Strzok’s lawyer, said FBI Deputy Director David L. Bowdich ordered the firing on Friday — even though the director of the FBI office that normally handles employee discipline had decided Strzok should face only a demotion and 60-day suspension. Goelman said the move undercuts the FBI’s repeated assurances that Strzok would be afforded the normal disciplinary process.

“This isn’t the normal process in any way more than name,” Goelman said, adding in a statement, “This decision should be deeply troubling to all Americans.”

The FBI declined to comment.

The termination marks a remarkable downfall for Strzok, a 22-year veteran of the bureau who investigated Russian spies, defense officials accused of selling secrets to China and myriad other important cases. In the twilight of his career, Strzok was integral to two of the bureau’s most high-profile investigations: the Russia case; and the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.

Meanwhile, Cruella D’Vos “Just Pulled a Full Marie Antoinette And Retracted Fraud Rules Against For-Profit Colleges.” This is from Elura Nanos writing for Law & Crime.

Welp, now we’ve at least closed the circle on Betsy DeVos and for-profit colleges. She’s gone from evading questions about whether she would regulate these fraud machines to disbanding the team charged with investigating them. Now, she flat out withdrew the gainful employment rule, signaling to all that under her watchful eye, the DeVrys, the Trump Universities, and the Corinthian Colleges are free to flourish – while unwitting students and their families can simply eat cake.

The “gainful employment rule,” you may remember, is the one adopted in 2016 under the Obamaadministration, after several cash-cow diploma mills found themselves defending fraud lawsuits brought by swindled students. The rule prohibited these businesses from using deceptive practices to entice customers to plunk down thousands in student loan money when the corresponding “degree” wasn’t worth the expensive paper on which it was printed. Or in other words, exactly what Trump University was accused of doing. It was also the rule Senator Elizabeth Warren skeweredDeVos on at DeVos’ confirmation hearing.

Well, as they say “No justice, No Peace”.

This is pretty outrageous.

The Clearwater man who shot and killed a father of three outside a convenience store in a parking dispute last month — setting off a stand your ground debate that has swept Florida and the nation — has a history of road rage.

Since 2012, according to records and interviews, 47-year-old Michael Drejka has been the accused aggressor in four incidents. Investigators documented three cases in police reports.

The other was not shared with authorities at the time but involved the same handicap-reserved parking spot outside the Circle A Food Store near Clearwater and another shooting threat.

Two involved allegations of Drejka showing a gun. In another, a trooper accused him of aggressive driving and cited him after a crash when Drejka braked hard in front of a woman driving with two children.

Drejka has not spoken publicly in the weeks since he shot and killed 28-year-old Markeis McGlockton. No one has spoken much about him, either. Not family. Not neighbors. Not lawyers. Several alleged victims in previous incidents either declined to comment or could not be reached. Drejka remains, in many ways, an enigma to the public. He has not been arrested.

The shooter was white and the victim was black.  Just an hour ago, however, we got this lede from the Tampy Bay Times: “Shooter charged with manslaughter in Clearwater stand your ground case”.

Prosecutors charged Michael Drejka, the man accused of killing Markeis McGlockton in a shooting that has reignited a debate around Florida’s stand your ground law, with manslaughter Monday.

According to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, Drejka was taken into custody Monday morning. He is being booked into the Pinellas County Jail, where he will be held in lieu of $100,000 bail.

Drejka, 47, has avoided arrest since he shot 28-year-old McGlockton on July 19 because of the controversial self-defense law that eliminated one’s duty to retreat before resorting to force.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri announced July 20 that his agency was precluded from arresting Drejka because evidence showed it was “within the bookends of stand your ground and within the bookends of force being justified,” which provides immunity from arrest, the sheriff said. He forwarded the case Aug. 1 to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney’s Office to make a final charging determination.

Lady Justice by Cartoonist Gunduz Agayev

So, I have ignored Omarossa today but I will pass this bit of sad news on about our country’s Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin.

Music legend Aretha Franklin is “gravely ill,” her family told WDIV-TV (Channel 4) on Monday.

Channel 4 anchor Evrod Cassimy said this morning in a tweet: “I spoke with her family members this morning. She is asking for your prayers at this time.”

She is said to be dying at this time so we’re losing a great voice and person again.

So that’s a little this and that on what may be our last functional branch of government.  Pray it stands its ground.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Monday Reads: Transitions

Good Afternoon!

Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst in a Polling Booth circa 1910. She was one of the leaders of the movement to secure votes for women.

Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst in a Polling Booth circa 1910. She was one of the leaders of the movement to secure votes for women.

There are some interesting reads out there as America head to the polls tomorrow.  I’ve got two bits of analysis from our Brit cousins’ media to share.  I’m particularly fond of Barbara Kingsolver’s contribution yesterday at The Guardian.   Let me share the headline with you.  “End this misogynistic horror show. Put Hillary Clinton in the White House”.

I’m horrified to watch the bizarre pageant of my nation pretending these two contenders are equivalent. No one really imagines Donald Trump applying himself to the disciplines of the presidency, staying up late reading reams of legislation, instead of firing off juvenile tweets. It’s even harder to imagine Clinton indulging in the boorish self-aggrandisement, intellectual laziness, racism and vulgar contempt for the opposite gender that characterise her opponent. If anyone still doubts that the inexperienced man gets promoted ahead of the qualified woman, you can wake up now.

This race is close. Polls tell us most Americans believe Trump has sexually assaulted women (to name just one potential disqualifier). A majority also believe Clinton “can’t be trusted”, for unspecified reasons. We’re back to the ancient conundrum: a woman can’t be that smart and commanding, so either her womanliness or her smartness must be counterfeit. To set that hazy discomfort next to a sexual assaulter and call these defects “equivalent” is causing my ears to ring as I write.

Read it.  All of it.

loc_suffragistscastingvotesLexington–at The Economist–has an a good explanation for Trump voters.  This one makes sense to me.  He compares the motives of voters to those folks that love the Stand Your Ground laws.  They want to shoot at anything that frightens at them with no consequences to protect them and theirs.

Partisanship explains some of this gigantic folly, as does widespread distrust of the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton. But another cause lies in something harder to criticise: the desire of most people to think of themselves as good and useful citizens, capable of providing for and keeping safe those people and values dear to them. After more than a year of meeting Republican voters and Trump supporters at rallies and campaign events and twice interviewing the candidate himself, Lexington is unexpectedly struck on election eve by echoes from America’s stand-your-ground movement. That movement has led dozens of states to pass laws which allow gun-owners to use lethal force when they reasonably believe that their safety is threatened, with no duty to retreat when they are in their home or other lawful place. Vitally, this defence can be invoked even if householders misjudge the perils that they face, in the heat of the moment.

Critics call such laws vigilante justice. They cite horrible mistakes, as when stranded motorists are shot dead for knocking on a door in search of directions or a telephone. Some see racial bias at work when courts absolve white householders of killing black men who alarmed them. But once passed, such laws are difficult to repeal. For that would involve convincing supporters that they are wrong to believe that they are the last and best line of defence for their family and property—a hard task.

Quite a few Republicans, including those who initially backed more mainstream rivals in their party’s presidential primaries, sound strikingly like stand-your-ground advocates when defending a vote for Mr Trump. Even if not every Trump voter takes all his promises literally, they feel heeded and respected when someone of his stature—a very rich man who could be a member of the elite, but instead chooses to side with them—agrees that their home, America, is under assault, whether from foreign governments scheming to “rape” the economy or by Muslim terrorists allowed in as refugees. At rallies in swing states from Arizona to North Carolina, this reporter has heard the cheers when Mr Trump roars that America has every right to fight back, even if that involves rough justice or being “so tough”, as he puts it.

Our first woman Attorney General has died after suffering with Parkinson’s disease.  Janet Reno passed at the age of 78.suffragettes-572904

Janet Reno, the strong-minded Florida prosecutor tapped by Bill Clinton to become the country’s first female U.S. attorney general, and who shaped the U.S. government’s responses to the largest legal crises of the 1990s, died Nov. 7 at her home in Miami. She was 78.

The cause was complications from Parkinson’s disease, her goddaughter, Gabrielle D’Alemberte, told the Associated Press. Ms. Reno was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 1995, while she was attorney general.

Ms. Reno brought a fierce independence to her job. From the FBI siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Texas to the investigation into Clinton’s sexual relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky, she was adamant that her prosecutors and agents work outside the influence of politics, media or popular opinion.

Her supporters believed she brought a heightened level of integrity and professionalism to the attorney general’s office. They admired her insistence on legal exactitude from her employees and praised her caution in prosecutions.

Sam Wang of Princeton Consortium has spoken.  We’re going to see Madam President.

Three sets of data point in the same direction:

  • The state poll-based Meta-Margin is Clinton +2.6%.
  • National polls give a median of Clinton +3.0 +/- 0.9% (10 polls with a start date of November 1st or later).
  • Early voting patterns approximately match 2012, a year when the popular vote was Obama +3.9%.

Based on this evidence, if Hillary Clinton does not win on Tuesday it will be a giant surprise.

There’s been buzz about the Princeton Election Consortium’s win probability for Clinton, which for some time has been in the 98-99% range. Tonight let me walk everyone through how we arrive at this level of confidence. I will also give a caveat on how it is difficult to estimate win probabilities above 90% – and why fine adjustments at this level do not matter for my goals in running this site.

Here’s Hillary’s Closer. 

“I think we can all agree it’s been a long campaign. But tomorrow, you get to pick our next president,” Clinton says, dressed in white, looking into the camera as the ad opens.
The choice on Tuesday, the Democratic nominee says, is a simple one: “Is America dark and divisive, or hopeful and inclusive?”
The ad was billed by a campaign official on Monday morning as a “personal and positive closing message,” following what has been a long slog of an election, some 18 months after two polarizing figures began their rise to the nomination — one a distrusted figure and mainstay of American politics, the other a divisive outsider defined by a campaign of offensive remarks.

freedom-to-voteMany of us have recent history in our backgrounds where voting has been illegal or close to impossible. Even today, many of us may wait in long lines to exercise our duty and our right as a citizen because a small group of people do not want to hear our voices.

This is our day.  It’s the day we vote for all of the folks who couldn’t and we vote for all of the children who can’t vote right now but will in the future.

Let’s vote for hope.  Let’s vote for people.  Let’s vote for Hillary.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Thursday Reads: Guns and American Culture (and other news)

Morning Paper at Cap Ferrat, by Rebecca Kao Wang

Morning Paper at Cap Ferrat, by Rebecca Kao Wang

Good Morning!!

I live in a state that has very strict gun control laws. A recent study by Boston Children’s Hospital found that states with the toughest gun laws have the lowest rates of gun deaths. And Boston tends to average between one shooting victim every other day to one victim per day. I’ve been thinking about this for the past couple of days since I read this article at WBUR: When Mass. Criminals Want A Gun, They Often Head North

Massachusetts gun laws are widely considered some of the toughest in the country. But with a rash of shooting deaths in Boston this year, some law enforcement officials say it’s obvious that there are ways around the rules. And when Massachusetts criminals want to get their hands on a gun, they frequently head north.

In 2012, more than half of the guns that law enforcement seized in Massachusetts and managed to trace to their origins came from other states, according to federal statistics. The biggest suppliers by far were New Hampshire and Maine, as is the case most years.

According to the article, ATF agents discovered that gun traffickers in Massachusetts were legally buying large numbers of guns from New Hampshire and Maine, where they are much easier and cheaper to buy, and reselling them to people in Massachusetts.

The flow of guns from northern New England to Massachusetts is propelled by key differences among state gun laws. It’s all about private handgun sales, in particular. In Massachusetts every private handgun sale must be recorded and reported to the state within seven days. And the buyer must have a license to carry from local police, which in turn requires a background check. The Massachusetts rules are tight.

Up north, not so much. Buyers at federally licensed gun shops in Maine and New Hampshire are subjected to a federal background check for prior felonies, or a history of severe mental illness. But when it comes to private gun sales — at a gun show, or even a commuter parking lot — no documentation is required — no background check, no record of the transaction.

Darcie McElwee, an assistant U.S. attorney in Maine, says that in her state a private seller doesn’t even have to ask the buyer for a driver’s license.

Now it’s still illegal to sell guns to a convicted felon or for a felon to buy a gun, so if someone is caught doing this, they’ll go to jail for two years minimum. And the rates of gun deaths and injuries are still lower in Massachusetts than in states with less strict gun laws.

Clearly strict state laws are not enough to prevent gun violence. We need federal laws to control gun sales and to encourage gun safety–like the Massachusetts law that requires guns to be unloaded and locked up when not in use. But how can we make that happen? According to the WBUR article, Congress has even made it difficult to keep track of guns that are used in crimes and for academic researchers to access federal government data on gun trafficking.

Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey has introduced a bill to require all guns to be personalized so they can only be fired by the owner or another authorized person. These so-called “smart guns” already exist.

One of California’s largest firearm stores recently added a peculiar new gun to its shelves. It requires an accessory: a black waterproof watch.

The watch’s primary purpose is not to provide accurate time, though it does. The watch makes the gun think. Electronic chips inside the gun and watch communicate with each other. If the watch is within close reach of the gun, a light on the grip turns green. Fire away. No watch means no green light. The gun becomes a paperweight.

A dream of gun control advocates for decades, the Armatix iP1 is the country’s first smart gun. Its introduction is seen as a landmark event in efforts to reduce gun violence, suicides, and accidental shootings….

Of course the NRA will fight this tooth and nail, and it’s not going to get through the Senate, much less the House, in the current environment.

Now check this out. According to a piece at Venture Beat, you can quickly and easily buy guns on Facebook!

Fifteen minutes.

That’s all it takes for children, felons, and people without IDs to buy illegal weapons on Facebook pages dedicated to the sale and celebration of guns.

A VentureBeat investigation has uncovered dozens of pages on Facebook where guns are for sale, including semi-automatic weapons, handguns, and silencers. While the transactions don’t actually happen on Facebook, the social network is a remarkably easy way to find shady people willing to sell you a weapon — no questions asked. The illegal transactions then take place in diners, dark parking lots, and isolated country roads — away from the prying eyes of the feds and local police.

In Kentucky, Greenup County Sheriff Keith Cooper remembers when a call came into dispatch last October saying a 15-year-old student had been arrested on the Greenup County High School campus for carrying an unlicensed and loaded 9mm handgun to school. The boy was arrested and brought to Cooper’s office for an interview.

When Cooper, a former Kentucky State Trooper with a heavy Southern drawl, asked the kid where he got the gun, his reply was shocking: Facebook.

Read it and weep. Oh, and Facebook claims they don’t allow people to sell guns or explosives on their pages, but clearly they’re not enforcing these rules very well.

It’s not news to anyone that America has a love affair with guns. Guns and hunting are part of American culture, going hand-in-hand with the cult of rugged individualism. I’ve always thought it came from the frontier tradition. Most of the country was settled by pioneering who set out from the East coast to begin new lives in the Midwest and West before the arrival of the accoutrements of civilization–like law enforcement, banks, and insurance companies. In my generation at least, kids saw endless movies and TV shows about “cowboys and Indians;” and we played with toy guns–even us girls. And of course, since we were born shortly after World War II, many of us watch movies that glorified war.

Still I’ve never wanted a real gun. It seems to me that the gun culture is much stronger in some ways than in those innocent days of the 1950s and ’60s. But why? The obvious answer is the lobbying and propaganda efforts of the National Rifle Association (NRA). And what about  the recent work of ALEC and the Koch Brothers to get state “stand your ground” laws passed around the country? Dahlia Lithwick has posted a fine piece about this at Slate.

“Stand Your Ground” Nation: America used to value the concept of retreat. Now we just shoot.

Last week, Kriston Charles Belinte Chee, an unarmed man, got into a fight with Cyle Wayne Quadlin at a Walmart in suburban Arizona. Quadlin opened fire midargument and killed CheeOfficers decided not to charge Quadlin because, they concluded, the killing was in self-defense. According to the police spokesman, “Mr. Quadlin was losing the fight and indicated he ‘was in fear for his life.’” Just a week earlier, a jury in Jacksonville, Fla., found Michael Dunn guilty on four counts of attempted murder but did not convict him on the most serious charge of first-degree murder, in the death of 17-year-old Jordan Davis. Dunn shot and killed Davis, also unarmed, because the music coming from his car was too loud. Dunn claimed he saw something like a gun in the vehicle, and that was apparently enough for some members of the jury to conclude that Dunn hadn’t committed first-degree murder.

Given all this, it’s not unreasonable to argue that, in America, you can be shot and killed, without consequences for the shooter, for playing loud musicwearing a hoodie, or shopping at a Walmart. The question is whether the wave of “stand your ground” legislation is to blame.

Is it true? Lithwick quotes doubters who say that neither George Zimmerman invoked “stand your ground,” However juries were told about the “stand your ground” principle, and could have been confused by the growing consensus in Florida that people [at least white males] have the right to shoot an unarmed person if they “feel threatened.” Lithwick writes:

It’s clear that at least some of the jurors in both cases took the principle of “stand your ground” into account to some degree during deliberations. We now know that at leastone juror, and possibly two, in Dunn’s trial took to heart the specific instruction that Dunn “had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.” Whether or not jurors in Florida are technically instructed to apply the “stand your ground” component of self-defense law, it’s increasingly clear that they are, at minimum, confused about it (understandably) and may even be starting to apply it reflexively. Yes, Dunn’s attorney argued traditional self-defense. But, as former assistant U.S. attorney David Weinstein told the Associated Press, “I think people will say that because some of the language from the stand your ground statute gets embedded into the jury instructions, that stand your ground has an effect.”

I might go further. I might say that whether or not specific jurisdictions define self-defense to include a duty to retreat, and whether or not specific juries are charged to apply it, America is quickly becoming one big “stand your ground” state, as a matter of culture if not the letter of the law.

Please go read the whole thing. It’s frightening but important. Lithwick argues that the new laws are changing the culture itself–and not just in the states with “stand your ground” laws.

Now I’ve gone and written another single-subject post. I just have room for a few headlines before I turn the floor over to you.

Washington Post: Hillary Clinton makes case for ‘full participation’ and equality

Talking Points Memo: Hillary Clinton Defends Obamacare While Backing Changes

BBC News: Ukraine warns Russia against ‘aggression’ in Crimea

NPR: Crimea: 3 Things To Know About Ukraine’s Latest Hot Spot

The Daily Beast: The Spoiled Rotten Kids of the DC Elite

NYT: New F.D.A. Nutrition Labels Would Make ‘Serving Sizes’ Reflect Actual Servings

Dana Millbank: Republicans flip-flop on ‘judicial activism’

I hope Dak will weigh in on this one. Matthew O’Brien: How the Fed Let the World Blow Up in 2008

USA Today: NASA – 715 new planets found, 4 might support life

What stories have caught your interest today? Please share your links in the comment thread, and have a great day!


Friday Reads: Morning Granola Mix of Fruits, Nuts & Flakes

Good Morning!

Okay, let’s just say it’s been an interesting summer and get on with the links.

Dana Milbank at WAPO writes about “Modern-day McCarthyism regarding Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin”.

There are frequent bouts of McCarthyism in the capital, but the latest version has the special touch of being delivered by a guy named McCarthy.This McCarthy isn’t your average Joe: Andrew McCarthy’s work is providing the intellectual underpinnings — such as they are — for Rep. Michele Bachmann’s outrageous suggestion that Huma Abedin, a longtime aide to Hillary Rodham Clinton, has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.

McCarthy gave a 90-minute talk at the National Press Club on Wednesday morning sponsored by the conservative Center for Security Policy, which was the source cited by Bachmann (R-Minn.) in her letter challenging Abedin’s loyalty. Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) and other top Republicans justifiably blasted Bachmann, but McCarthy defended the congresswoman and went her allegation one further — drawing a twisted line from Abedin all the way to al-Qaeda.

“I don’t understand why more people in Washington from both parties have not rallied in support of Congresswoman Bachmann” and her fellow signatories on the letter, McCarthy lamented, “at a time when government policy is being radically harmonized with the agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood, meaning policy has shifted in the direction of avowed enemies of the United States.”

In fact, the accuser went on, Bachmann “actually understated the case” against the Clinton aide. “Ms. Abedin had a very lengthy affiliation with an institute founded by a top figure at the nexus between Saudi terror funding, Brotherhood ideology and al-Qaeda’s jihad against the United States.”

If Abedin is in fact a Muslim Brotherhood plant spreading sharia law in the United States, she’s using unorthodox methods: posing provocatively for a Vogue spread, then marrying and having the child of a Jewish congressman who sent out a photo of his genitals on Twitter. As Clinton’s personal aide, helping her boss with suits and handbags and logistics, she has not been in an ideal position to advance the alleged cause. Even McCarthy admits that she’s “not a policymaker.”

This is just plain disgusting.Well,here’s some one that sounds like they had my experience way back in the day when I could find sane people in the Republican party. I probably could’ve written this book. But, I didn’t. Alternet has printed an excerpt from ” The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless and the Middle Class Got Shafted ,” by Mike Lofgren.

Having observed politics up close and personal for most of my adult lifetime, I have come to the conclusion that the rise of politicized religious fundamentalism may have been the key ingredient in the transformation of the Republican Party. Politicized religion provides a substrate of beliefs that rationalizes—at least in the minds of its followers—all three of the GOP’s main tenets: wealth worship, war worship, and the permanent culture war.

Religious cranks ceased to be a minor public nuisance in this country beginning in the 1970s and grew into a major element of the Republican rank and file. Pat Robertson’s strong showing in the 1988 Iowa presidential caucus signaled the gradual merger of politics and religion in the party. Unfortunately, at the time I mostly underestimated the implications of what I was seeing. It did strike me as oddly humorous that a fundamentalist staff member in my congressional office was going to take time off to convert the heathen in Greece, a country that had been overwhelmingly Christian for almost two thousand years. I recall another point, in the early 1990s, when a different fundamentalist GOP staffer said that dinosaur fossils were a hoax. As a mere legislative mechanic toiling away in what I held to be a civil rather than ecclesiastical calling, I did not yet see that ideological impulses far different from mine were poised to capture the party of Lincoln.

The results of this takeover are all around us: If the American people poll more like Iranians or Nigerians than Europeans or Canadians on questions of evolution, scriptural inerrancy, the presence of angels and demons, and so forth, it is due to the rise of the religious right, its insertion into the public sphere by the Republican Party, and the consequent normalizing of formerly reactionary beliefs. All around us now is a prevailing anti-intellectualism and hostility to science. Politicized religion is the sheet anchor of the dreary forty-year-old culture wars.

Clearly, we have to be able to talk about the rising tide of right-wing, racist organizing. The ginned-up controversy over the Department of Homeland Security’s 2009 report on the rise of hate groups looks particularly stupid now, given that Page seems straight out of the pages of the report.  “Rightwing Extremism” predicted that a troubled economy plus the election of a black president could inspire a rise in racist hate groups and actions.  The report was particularly concerned with “lone wolves.” As Jonathan Capehart has already noted, it found that “lone wolves … embracing violent right-wing extremist ideology are the most dangerous domestic terrorism threat in the United States.”

It went on to say that “white supremacist lone wolves pose the most significant domestic terrorist threat because of their low profile and autonomy — separate from any formalized group — which hampers warning efforts.” The report also noted that military experience could make such lone wolves particularly dangerous. Page was a veteran (I’m not implying veterans are violence prone). Wells Fargo foreclosed on his North Carolina home in January. His girlfriend reportedly dumped him in June. He was a lone wolf who lost his home and was already deep into white supremacist insanity. We don’t know when, or why, he moved to violence. But “Rightwing Extremism” seems prescient now.

Instead of being hailed, or simply ignored (as government reports tend to be), it inspired a clamorous right-wing backlash against even the possibility that extremist right-wing rhetoric married to ideas of racial superiority might result in violence. Matt Drudge, who regularly trumpets supposedly under-covered stories about crime by African-Americans (particularly stories that feature white victims), was one of the loudest voices of opposition to the release of the DHS report, which had been commissioned by George W. Bush. One Drudge banner headline shrieked “SHE IS WATCHING YOU,” she being Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. So racial profiling and stereotyping is fine when it comes to crime by African-Americans, but not by whites. We’re used to that kind of double standard from Drudge, whose site some days resembles Stormfront in its hysterical hyping of black-on-white crime.

Some conservatives even object to the Southern Poverty Law Center characterizing Page, along with his racist musical colleagues, as white supremacists. Silly contrarian Ann Althouse objected to the SPLC terming the bands Page has belonged to “racist white power” bands, adding, “I’m not sure how they know that.” Oh, I don’t know, Ann, maybe because an album cover of one of Page’s bands, Definite Hate, featured an illustration of a white arm punching a black man’s face? Reuters found a YouTube video for Definite Hate that referred to lyrics including: “Wake Up, White man, For Your Race, And your land,” and “Wake Up People Or Your (sic) Gonna Die!” Page himself talked about going to Georgia’s white-power music festival Hammerfest. Is that evidence enough for you? Althouse and her dittohead commenters accused the SPLC of stigmatizing and demonizing “punk rock” generally, which of course they absolutely didn’t do.

I have no problem with the SPLC tracking white power bands. I was appalled when Napolitano withdrew the “Rightwing Extremism” report after the faux-controversy. Al-Qaida expert Peter Bergen notes that there have been twice as many right-wing terror attacks as Muslim terror attacks in the U.S. since 9/11, and suggests the government isn’t taking it as seriously. I don’t believe in racial profiling, of any group, but I think we should take the terror potential in right-wing extremist organizing as seriously as we take the potential in any violence-committed group. (Although at the end of an otherwise insightful piece, Bergen warns about “left wing extremist groups,” even though he fails to give any examples of them.)

 Speaking of gun-toting nutters, here’s one on George Zimmerman from The Orlando Sentinel: “Can Zimmerman win ‘stand your ground’ hearing?”

Zimmerman’s lawyer, Mark O’Mara, on Thursday formally announced that he would defend Zimmerman using Florida’s now much-debated “stand your ground” law.

That means he’ll schedule a trial-like hearing, put on evidence and try to show that Zimmerman was afraid — and that it was a reasonable fear — that Trayvon was on the verge of killing or severely injuring him.

If he’s successful, a judge will throw out the second-degree-murder charge.

“There is clear support for a strong claim of self-defense,” O’Mara wrote in a blog post Thursday.

Central Florida lawyers predicted that, based on the evidence released so far by prosecutors, Zimmerman has a strong chance of winning.

“He’s assaulted, and he claims he’s on the ground, fighting for his life. I don’t see how a judge does not grant that motion,” said Robert Buonauro, an Orlando defense lawyer who has been through three “stand your ground” hearings, one that cleared his client.

“He was in a place where he had a right to be. He wasn’t violating any laws. He was attacked. There’s no other witness to contradict his testimony,” Buonauro said.

That last point — that no other witness saw the entire encounter — is key, according to experts. An Orlando Sentinel review of Central Florida “stand your ground” cases found that suspects were far more likely to be exonerated if they were the lone surviving witness.

Prosecution Investigator Dale Gilbreath testified at a bond hearing April 20 that prosecutors had no evidence — other than Zimmerman’s statement — about who struck the first blow Feb. 26, the night Zimmerman and Trayvon got into a fight and wound up in a wrestling match on the ground that ended with the teenager shotin the heart.

“I think we all understand that you don’t win without putting your client on the stand,” said Orlandodefense attorney Diana Tennis. “It all looks pretty darned good for him, but he is going to make or break that hearing.”

What Zimmerman must make clear is that he was afraid of Trayvon, she said.

And to qualify for immunity under Florida’s “stand your ground” law, his fear must be reasonable and he must have believed that unless heacted immediately, he would have died or been severely injured.

Zimmerman’s account to authorities, on its face, appears to comport with the law, Tennis said, but there is one major drawback: “[He] doesn’t do so well on the stand,” she said. “That’s a huge worry.”

Grab your popcorn for that one!  Okay, away from gun nutterz and back to religious nutterz.

The American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer has sunk to a new, disturbing low with his anti-gay statements. In two separatetweets last night, he called for an “Underground Railroad to deliver innocent children from same-sex households.” In one tweet  he was referring to the sad story of Lisa Miller, who, after declaring herself ex-gay, kidnapped her daughter away to Central America to prevent her former partner from having any custody. (She is still being tracked by federal agents as a fugitive of the law.)

In the other tweet, Fischer referred to the testimony of a individual named Robert Oscar Lopez, who blames all of his social problems on being raised by his mom and her lesbian partner.

Okay, well that’s a few nuts, flakes, and fruits to keep you wondering what’s happened to sanity in this country. There’s a whole lot unpopped kernels at the bottom of our bowl these days.  What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Wednesday Reads: Anti-Putin, Anti-Woman and Good for Canada!

Good Morning!

Let’s start the day off with the latest news about Syria:

Peacekeepers attacked in Syria as U.S. accuses Russia of supporting regime

The U.S. accused Russia of escalating the Syrian conflict by sending attack helicopters to President Bashar Assad‘s regime, and U.N. observers were attacked Tuesday with stones, metal rods and gunfire that blocked them from a besieged rebel-held town where civilians were feared trapped by government shelling.

UPDATE 3-US worried Russia may be sending Syria helicopters | Reuters

* Clinton says helicopter sale would escalate conflict

* Syria conflict is civil war, UN official says

* Pentagon buys helicopters from Russian arms exporter (Adds senator holding up nomination of Pentagon official)

The United States is worried Russia may be sending Syria attack helicopters and views Russian claims that its arms transfers to Syria are unrelated to the conflict there as “patently untrue,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday.

The comments came as the Pentagon found itself on the defensive for doing business with Russian state arms exporter Rosoboronexport, given concerns in Congress about the firm’s role in arming the Syrian regime.

The 15-month-old conflict in Syria has grown into a full-scale civil war, the U.N. peacekeeping chief said on Tuesday.

More on that statement from the UN: Syria in civil war, U.N. official says

Syria’s 15-month uprising has grown into a full-scale civil war where President Bashar al-Assad’s forces are trying to recapture swathes of urban territory lost to rebels, the U.N. peacekeeping chief said on Tuesday.

“Yes, I think we can say that,” U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Herve Ladsous said when asked if the Syrian crisis could now be characterized as a civil war.

“Clearly what is happening is that the government of Syria lost some large chunks of territory in several cities to the opposition and wants to retake control of these areas,” he said.

His remarks, the first time a senior U.N. official has declared Syria’s conflict is a civil war, came as the United States said Russia could be sending attack helicopters to Syria.

The International Red Cross said the situation was deteriorating in several parts of Syria simultaneously as fighting intensifies.

There are more reports about the use of children as human shields…U.N. adds Syria to list of countries killing children

The U.N. special envoy for children and armed conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, said the United Nations had also received credible allegations that the armed opposition, including the Free Syrian Army, had also used children during the 15-month conflict.

“There’s been extraordinary violence against children in Syria,” Coomaraswamy told reporters.

“Children as young as 9 years of age were victims of killing and maiming, detention, torture, arbitrary arrest and were used as human shields by the Syrian government forces, including the Syrian armed forces, the intelligence forces and the shabiha militia,” she said.

Those forces have also regularly raided and used schools as military bases and detention centers, Coomaraswamy added.

Here are some other links on the Syrian violence:

Russia, Soviet Style – NYTimes.com

U.S. Says Russia Supplies Syria with Combat Helicopters | World | RIA Novosti

News Wrap: Clinton Accuses Russia of Sending Attack Helicopters to Syria | PBS NewsHour | June 12, 2012 | PBS

Meanwhile, in Russia:

Protesters Defy Efforts to Muffle Anti-Putin Outcry –  This is an amazing series of photos that show thousands of Anti-Putin protestors in the streets.

https://i2.wp.com/graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2012/06/12/world/0612russia_337ss-slide-0LWY/0612russia_337ss-slide-0LWY-articleLarge.jpg

Tens of thousands of protesters thronged central Moscow in a drenching rain on Tuesday, voicing renewed fury at President Vladimir V. Putin and defying recent efforts by his government to clamp down on the political opposition movement.

The large turnout, rivaling the big crowds that had gathered at the initial antigovernment rallies in December, suggested that the tough new posture adopted by the Kremlin against the protests was emboldening rather than deterring Mr. Putin’s critics.

On Friday, Mr. Putin signed a new law that imposes steep financial penalties on participants in rallies that cause harm to people or property. On Sunday, officials arrested five more people on charges related to the last protest, which ended in a melee between demonstrators and riot police officers. And on Monday, the authorities searched the homes of several opposition leaders and issued summonses ordering seven of them to appear for questioning on Tuesday so they could not attend the rally.

Opposition issues manifesto, demands Putin quit

Participants of the June 12 opposition rally – the so-called March of Millions – have adopted the Free Russia Manifesto, which demands Vladimir Putin’s resignation, a snap State Duma vote and a new Constitution.

The protesters demand that a new law on parliamentary elections be developed, which would provide for “fair, transparent and competitive elections.” This bill should be adopted by the current parliament, which “would become its last and only” function, the document reads.

Then, a newly-elected parliament should work out a project for Russia’s Constitution, which would significantly limit presidential powers, giving more authority to MPs in terms of forming the government and holding parliamentary investigations.

The opposition also demands that the presidential time in office should be limited to either one six-year term or to two four-year terms. The parliament should also call a referendum on a project for the overhaul of the constitution.

Among other demands is the adoption of laws that guarantee local self-government and direct governors’ elections, as well as reforming of courts and law enforcement agencies.

The manifesto also points out that the difference between the living standards in Moscow and other Russian cities, which may lead to “civil confrontation and dissolution of the state.”

It continues…

“The population has a legal right for a peaceful mass protest in order to put pressure on power and to change it. Our fight for political rights is linked to economic rights. We seek changes at all levels of life,” said one of the opposition activists Evgenia Chirikova. She read the text of the document to the crowd which gathered at Moscow’s Sakharov Avenue.

Next week the March of Millions organizing committee is planning to decide on a date and the format of elections to a joint opposition body, Ilya Ponomarev, a deputy from the opposition Fair Russia party told Itar-Tass. The vote will be held on the internet, he said.

Wow, that is something to see. So in addition to these articles about Putin and the protestors, here are a few comics.

Back here in the states, Democrat to offer bill repealing ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws

The House Democrat who represents Trayvon Martin’s district will soon propose legislation repealing the nation’s “Stand Your Ground” laws, which are under a microscope following the shooting death of the Florida teenager earlier this year.

Rep. Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.) said eliminating such laws might have prevented February’s fatal confrontation between the 17-year-old Martin, an unarmed African-American, and George Zimmerman, 28, an Hispanic neighborhood watch volunteer carrying a 9mm handgun.

I don’t know about it preventing the killing, it seems to me Zimmerman would have done the same thing without the Stand Your Ground law. I still am thrilled that she is doing something about it however…These Stand Your Ground laws are horrible.

Wilson this week said the law threatens to enable “a horrendous crime.”

“The thought that George Zimmerman could get away with such a horrendous crime is a travesty of justice,” Wilson said Tuesday in a statement announcing her bill. “There are bills in other states known by different taglines that have the same unintended consequences as [Florida’s] Stand Your Ground [law]. They should all be repealed.”

Wilson’s proposal — which she expects to introduce next week when the House returns from this week’s recess — would discourage “Stand Your Ground” laws by withholding some federal transportation dollars from states that adopt them.

Wilson’s bill has no chance of moving this year in the GOP-controlled House, but it will shine a brighter light on the nation’s gun laws as a number of states are eyeing adoption of legislation similar to Florida’s law.

And now, two links on Women’s Rights…first from Cairo: Arab women cry for end to harassment

After years of enduring vulgar and degrading comments or worse by men on the streets of Egypt’s capital, Cairo University student Cherine Thabet decided she had enough.

“Do you know that it would be strange for a woman to leave her house and return without hearing two or three strangers’ opinions about her chest, in all kinds of colorful language,” she asked in a blog post. “Can you imagine that it is routine for a big man to stand quietly by as a woman gets groped?”

Her post received a torrent of comments from women throughout the Middle East who complained that they, too, are tired of a common practice of Arab men that is usually just whispered about by women.

“We should confront society [about this] as much as we can,” said Thabet, 21, who has been campaigning online, on the street and on Egyptian television about the issue since her post. “We should talk and talk [about it], so everyone understands what the problem is.”

Read the rest of it at the link…then take a look at this:

Healthcare, reproductive rights divide U.S., Canada in poll

On one side of the border, a woman can see a doctor for free and is guaranteed paid maternity leave. On the other, most women do not qualify for free healthcare and one in five under 65 does not have medical insurance.

These differences and others make Canada the best country among the world’s wealthiest nations to be a woman and keep the United States out of the top five, according to a poll of experts released on Wednesday by TrustLaw, a legal news service run by Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The United States ranked sixth among the 19 countries in the Group of 20 economies, excluding the European Union economic grouping, in the global survey of 370 recognized gender specialists.

Germany, Britain, Australia and France followed Canada in that order, while India, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia polled the worst.

Even though there are many similarities between the US and Canada:

the countries are very different in the area of gender equality, the experts said. Canada’s constitution promotes and safeguards women’s rights while a lack of consensus over reproductive rights in particular erodes them in the United States, experts said.

“Canada leads the pack with its promotion of women’s access and opportunities across various sectors of society, including education, economic participation and healthcare,” said Sarah Degnan Kambou, president of the International Center for Research on Women in Washington, which took part in the survey.

The poll showed how the lack of universal health care and the struggle over abortion rights in the United States – important issues ahead of the November presidential election – were key to perceptions of women’s freedoms in the country, according to the experts polled.

Read on…

While a pregnant woman in Canada is guaranteed 15 weeks paid maternity leave, she receives no federally guaranteed time off with pay in the United States. If the expectant mother is one of the 16 percent of American women under 65 with no health insurance – according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – she may have to forgo adequate prenatal and postnatal care because she can’t afford it.

Canada also ranks better than the United States on maternal mortality, reporting 12 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births in 2008, half the number recorded in the United States, according to the United Nations.

POLITICS, TREATIES AND RIGHTS

While women’s political representation in Canada lags behind some G20 countries, it fares better than in the United States. Nearly a quarter of seats in Canada’s lower house of parliament are held by women, compared to 17 percent in the United States, according to data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union.

“Our political participation levels, particularly in Congress, are embarrassingly low as compared to other countries in the G20, such as South Africa, Germany and Argentina,” said ICRW’s Kambou. In South Africa, women hold 42 percent of seats in parliament’s lower house.

Canada was one of the first countries to sign and ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), often referred to as the international bill of rights for women.

The United States is the only democracy and the only G20 country that has yet to ratify CEDAW, primarily due to concerns of religious and social conservatives that it will undermine what they call “traditional family values”.

It is really a sad state of affairs for women in this country. Embarrassing too.

Aside from quality of health, the TrustLaw survey asked respondents to rank G20 countries in terms of the overall best and worst places for women and in the categories of freedom from violence, participation in politics, workplace opportunities, access to resources like education and property rights and freedom from trafficking and slavery.

(For full coverage of the poll visit g20women.trust.org)

(TrustLaw is a free legal news site run by Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters. Visit trust.org/trustlaw. For more information on the TrustWomen Conference visit trustwomenconf.com)

HOW THEY RANK

Best and worst G20 countries for women

1. Canada 2. Germany 3. Britain 4. Australia 5. France 6. United States 7. Japan 8. Italy 9. Argentina 10. South Korea 11. Brazil 12. Turkey 13. Russia 14. China 15. Mexico 16. South Africa 17. Indonesia 18. Saudi Arabia 19. India

That is all I have for you today, please share your morning news with us…comment section is below!


Trayvon Martin Case Update: Zimmerman’s Interactions with Sanford Police, Officials; Witnesses Change Stories

More information continues to trickle out in the The Trayvon Martin Case. Today The Miami Herald revealed that George Zimmerman may have had relationships with members of the Sanford Police Department and other Sanford officials.

In January, 2011, Zimmerman spoke at a community meeting called by newly elected Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett. He strongly criticized the local police department and said he knew all about it because he had been on a ride-along with Sanford police officers.

“And what I saw was disgusting,” Zimmerman said, according to a recording of the January 2011 meeting obtained by The Miami Herald. “The officer showed me his favorite hiding spots for taking naps, explained to me that he doesn’t carry a long gun in his vehicle because, in his words, ‘anything that requires a long gun requires a lot of paperwork, and you’re going to find me as far away from it.’

“He took two lunch breaks and attended a going-away party for one of his fellow officers.”

According to the article, Chief Bill Lee had e-mail interactions with Zimmerman, even though during the controversy over Zimmmerman not be charged in the shooting of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, Lee claimed that Zimmerman

had no relationship with the police department. City records show Lee exchanged emails with Zimmerman last year, when the neighborhood watch volunteer wrote to the chief to praise the department’s volunteer program coordinator.

A video released last week by the State Attorney prosecuting the case shows Zimmerman freely walked about the police station the night of the shooting unescorted.

Sanford police say they have don’t know which officer or officers Zimmerman rode with. How ironic that Zimmerman criticized the police department that was so lenient with him after he killed a young boy for no discernible reason. In a further irony, Zimmerman argued that the previous chief who had failed to arrest the son of one of his officers in the beating of a homeless man should not receive a pension, because:

“I would like to state that the law is written in black and white and it should not and cannot be enforced in the gray for those who are in the thin blue line.”

In other news about the case, last night The Orlando Sentinel reported that four witnesses to portions of the fight between Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin changed their stories after having more time to reflect on their memories of events. Here’s a brief summary of the changes from the New York Daily News.

Witness 12: A neighbor in the complex first told an agent March 20 that she saw two people on the ground, but wasn’t sure who was on top. Six days later, after seeing news reports, she said she believed Zimmerman was on top of Martin.

Witness 6: He first told an investigator that he saw a black man (presumably Martin) “throwing down blows” on a lighter-skinned man (presumably Zimmerman). He also believed the one being hit was calling out for help. But three weeks later, while he still claimed “the black guy was on top,” he wasn’t sure who was actually calling for help and wouldn’t assume Martin was the one hitting Zimmerman.

Witness 13: This witness interacted with Zimmerman before police arrived, according to the evidence, and noted the blood on the back of his head.

In two interviews a month later, he detailed how Zimmerman that night acted casually like “nothing” had happened, as opposed to “‘I can’t believe I just shot someone!’” according to the evidence.

Witness 2: She initially told police that she saw two people running, although she couldn’t say who was chasing whom. On March 20, she told a Florida Department of Law Enforcement agent that she remembers seeing only one person running and heard them as well, but still couldn’t say who that was.


ALEC Announces It Will No Longer Focus on Social Issues

ALEC has sent out a press release announcing a very significant change in its organizational structure and goals. The headline: ALEC Sharpens Focus on Jobs, Free Markets and Growth — Announces the End of the Task Force that Dealt with Non-Economic Issues. Here’s the gist:

“We are refocusing our commitment to free-market, limited government and pro-growth principles, and have made changes internally to reflect this renewed focus.

“We are eliminating the ALEC Public Safety and Elections task force that dealt with non-economic issues, and reinvesting these resources in the task forces that focus on the economy. The remaining budgetary and economic issues will be reassigned….

“Our free-market, limited government, pro-growth policies are the reason ALEC enjoys the support of legislators on both sides of the aisle and in all 50 states. ALEC members are interested in solutions that put the American economy back on track. This is our mission, and it is what distinguishes us.”

Except those really aren’t the reasons ALEC was founded. The brains behind ALEC were Paul Weyrich, who also founded the Heritage Foundation and joined with Jerry Falwell to found Moral Majority, and other right wing legislators focused on social issues like Henry Hyde.

One of the first to envision fusing the conservative movement with evangelicals, he and the Rev. Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority as well. In fact, Weyrich coined the phrase the “moral majority”. No believer in majority rule, he said: “I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of the people. They never have been from the beginning of our country and they are not now. As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” His statement was a harbinger to ALEC’s later very dogged voter suppression activities. “Recently Voter ID legislation based on ALEC’s template was introduced in states across the country and passed in at least fourteen states,” under the guise of preventing election fraud.

So voter suppression was part of the organization’s charter, apparently.

ALEC’s model legislation has been instrumental in the explosive growth of the prison population. It helped pioneer “three strikes” laws, mandatory minimum sentencing laws, and “truth in sentencing” laws, which serve to abolish or curb parole so converts are made to serve the entire length of their sentence. “Because of truth-in-sentencing and other tough sentencing measures, state prison populations grew by half a million inmates in the 1990s even while crime rates fell dramatically.” In fact, one of ALEC’s benefactors, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), made an offer to cash- strapped states to buy up their prison populations at a cost savings as long as the state kept their prisons 90 percent filled to capacity.

And of course ALEC was behind the Stand Your Ground laws that have become such a big issue since the Trayvon Martin shooting.

And now ALEC is dropping this part of their agenda. This is a huge victory for anyone who care about human rights.