Nel's New Day

September 22, 2014

Courts, Laws Protect Domestic Abusers

Jessica Arrendale, 33, was found dead in her bathroom after her partner beat her with a baseball  bat, kicked in the locked bathroom door, and then shot her with an assault rifle. She saved her six-month-old daughter, Cobie by putting her in the toilet and leaning over it. Antoine Davis, a Iraq veteran, had been suffering from depression, according to his ex-wife. After killing Arrendale, Davis went to his infant daughter’s bedroom and killed himself. His two daughters, ages 9 and 10, were in the house. Police waited 13 hours until storming the townhouse. The infant has a traumatic head injury but is alive after being cared for hypothermia.

The death of Arrendale will join the number of women killed with a gun by an intimate partner—6,410 between 2001 and 2012, more than the number of U.S. military members killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.  The risk of a woman being the victim of homicide increases at least 500 percent when guns are present during the domestic violence crisis.

While people continue to be killed by guns either through intent or accident, the National Rifle Association has ramped up its attempt to put more money into the coffers of gun manufacturers. One of these efforts is hiring female gun enthusiasts as official NRA News commentators and the NRA Women’s TV Network, launched last year. Next month the NRA-hosted Women’s Leadership Forum Executive Summit will “celebrate the role of women as powerful leaders.”

One woman leader who NRA won’t celebrate is Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, attacked in the most recent issue of NRA’s America’s 1st Freedom. Conservative legal scholar and gun rights lobbyist Dave Kopel accuses Watts of being a front for a political group instead of a homemaker turned grassroots activist. Mother of five, Watts left her corporate PR executive position four years ago to be a consultant from her home. In 2010, she and her husband opened an art gallery. After Kopel’s denigration of Watts, he proceeds into the stale, false argument about how often good guys with guns stop the bad guys. But the major criticism is that “the willfully gullible media persist in portraying [Moms Demand Action] as an authentic social movement and Watts as a homemaker who just decided to do something about guns.”

Male NRA members support Kopel’s position. After the magazine posted an item on Facebook about Moms Demand Action “desperately bullying Kroger” over that company’s gun policy one commenter responded: “‘Moms Demand Action’ more like fat housewives that need to get a good dicking and get their ass back in the kitchen.” Another wrote, “Women are generally idiots.” Other responses: “Somebody needs to point out to these bitches that people who legally buy guns are not the ones going out and committing crimes”; and “They need to change their name to everyday nagging wives. That’s all they do. Seriously annoying.”

Desperate because they are not selling enough weapons for the gun manufacturers, the NRA has released two videos fantasizing young women as assault rifles. “Beauty Shots” shows NRA News commentator Colion Noir describing an attractive woman as she dresses in workout gear, swims, and stares seductively into the camera. Noir concludes, “She is Daniel Defense M4-A1.” The video was released three days after a college student killed seven people in Santa Barbara because of his rage at attractive young women. In a discussion of another video, Noir said, “The HK MR556 is that gun like that girl who’s unbelievably attractive, she has this presence about her that seems untouchable and she’s not apologetic about her beauty.” His female interviewer responded, “I like the comparison with the woman—the hot woman.”

The NRA sees women as an untapped source of gun buyers. Of the 70,000 people who attend its annual conferences, over 80 percent are men. As household gun ownership declines, male gun owners outnumber females by 3-1.

A common response from NRA supporters and people who refuse to believe in gun sense is that women should protect themselves with guns. Arrendale tried to protect herself with a baseball bat, but her killer took it away and beat her with it. Violence would most likely have happened if she had had a gun. There are many stories of men who purchase guns for wives and female partners before killing them with these weapons.

Equally—or perhaps more—tragic is the story of  Marissa Alexander, who fired one warning shot into the wall to ward off her abusive ex-husband as he threatened to attack her. The Florida woman was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Following George Zimmerman’s exoneration after he stalked and killed a black teenager, Alexander’s supporters were able to get her out of prison for a new trial. Now the prosecutor, the same person who gave such a weak case against Zimmerman’s defense, wants her in prison for 60 years. Florida has a new “Stand Your Ground” law that legalizes warning shots without first attempting to retreat. Yet Duval County Circuit Court Judge James Daniel has denied Alexander a hearing seeking immunity from prosecution.

No one knows how many other women are in prison because they defended themselves against abusers: no agency, including prison and court systems, keeps track of this statistic. A California prison study found that 93 percent of women who killed their significant others had been abused by them. In New York, it’s 67 percent.

Victoria Law reports that every domestic violence survivor in prison for defending herself had repeatedly, and unsuccessfully, sought help. One woman said that the police drove by and ignored the violence while her boyfriend beat her on the street. The only time that they arrested the boyfriend was for illegal drug paraphernalia—an overnight offense. Another woman said that every time she called the police that they would talk to the boyfriend and then allow him to return to abusing her. The abuser of a third woman was a police officer which left her nowhere to go for protection.

Law wrote:

“In Sin by Silence, a documentary about survivors incarcerated for defending themselves, sociologist Dr. Elizabeth Leonard explained that a battered woman is 75 percent more at risk of being killed after she leaves. She stays at that increased risk for the next two years. Feeling as if he’s losing control, batterers generally increase their level of violence. ‘Leaving does not stop the violence,’ states Dr. Leonard, in the film.”

Every women dealing with abuse knows that the choice is his life or hers. The difference between men and women is that men are exonerated and women are imprisoned.

Last month U.S. District Judge Mark Fuller was arrested for misdemeanor battery after his wife called 911 during his attack on her. He agreed to a 24-week domestic violence intervention program with no time behind bars and stays on the bench with his record expunged. Federal judges are confirmed by the Senate to lifetime terms, though the chamber can also remove them from office. Fuller, a George W. Bush appointee, was confirmed in 2002 with the support of GOP Alabama Sens. Richard Shelby and Jeff Sessions.

Fuller issued this statement:

“This incident has been very embarrassing to me, my family, friends and the court,” Judge Fuller said in a statement. “I deeply regret this incident and look forward to working to resolve these difficulties with my family, where they should be resolved.”

At this time, Shelby and Sessions both want Fuller to leave the bench, but they have not called for impeachment. Law enforcement and courts continue to protect men and incarcerate women. Marissa Alexander is still in prison for defending herself, as are thousands of other women. Jessica Arrendale is dead because of domestic violence, like thousands of other women. And the United States allows uncontrolled purchase and ownership of guns used for killing innocent people.

March 25, 2014

Guns: Public Health Issue

As Michael Cohen wrote in The Guardian, “The only thing that stops a good guy against guns is the gun lobby.” Such is the case of nominee for U.S. surgeon general, Dr Vivek Murthy. Once the right-wing element in the country, led by Fox, had polished off the possibility of highly qualified civil rights attorney Debo Adegbile to attain a position in the Department of Justice, they attacked Murthy. His sin was declaring that gun violence is a public health issue because of the high rate of deaths and injuries every year from guns in the United States.

One of the attacks was that he hadn’t done much in his career. Yet, former Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher emphasized Murthy’s “impressive track record of accomplishments as an innovative and well-respected thought leader in healthcare.” Satcher served for both Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

NRAsurgeon720 cartoon

The NRA, a front for the gun industry, has long dabbled in public health issues. It tried to keep pediatricians from counseling parents about dangers of guns in the home just as medical professionals talk about the dangers of swimming pools and riding bicycles without helmets. A 2011 Florida gag law, crafted by the NRA for the gun industry, stopped doctors from “making written inquiry or asking questions concerning the ownership of a firearm or ammunition by the patient or by a family member of the patient.” A district court decision that the law violated free speech put the law into the appeals process.

“Guns are a health care issue,” Murthy tweeted in 2012. He also stated, “Tired of politicians playing politics w/ guns, putting lives at risk b/c they’re scared of NRA.” The lobby group, backed by the gun industry, took great offense at this statement. But Murthy is right. Between eight and ten Democratic senators are afraid of voting for him, even if some of them are not running for re-election this year. That leaves the nomination without a simple majority in the Senate.

The NRA, front for the gun industry, refuses to admit that the thousands of deaths and injuries from guns are, in reality, a public health issue. In 2010, the number of gun deaths was equal to those from car accidents, and the number of gun deaths is staying steady. In comparison, car accidents not kill people at ten percent the rate of 50 years ago when measuring the number of miles that people drive.

The American Public Health Association calls gun violence in the United States “a major public health problem and a leading cause of premature death.” The American Medical Association adopted a resolution in 2011 officially opposing any law that prevents doctors from openly talking about gun safety and the risk of firearms in the household with patients. A 2013 essay in the New England Journal of Medicine  recommends that a public health and safety campaign, like the one that greatly reduced deaths from car accidents, should be applied to gun deaths and injuries.

C. Everett Koop, President Ronald Reagan’s Surgeon General, called gun violence a “public health emergency.” Over 20 years ago, he wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association: “The right to own or operate a motor vehicle carries with it certain responsibilities … We propose that the right to own or operate a firearm carries with it the same prior conditions.”

The risk of homicide in neighborhoods located near a gun retailer is almost 13 times higher than in those far from one. The lapse of the Assault Weapons Ban in 2004 caused a surge in the homicide rate of more than 16.4 percent across the border in Mexico. Homicide rates in Mexican municipalities near California, where a state-level assault weapons ban was still in effect after 2004, rose less than in municipalities near other U.S. border states. The lapse of Missouri’s background check law to an annual rise of 60 murders.

The NRA has launched a full-bore attack against what it called Murthy’s Radical gun control measures”:

“Murthy has some crazy, crazy ideas about guns. For example, he wants to bring back the federal assault weapons ban. He supports universal background checks; mandatory-waiting periods of 48 hours for gun purchases, mandatory safety training for gun owners and limits on ammunition purchases. He even wants to do away with laws that would prevent doctors from discussing gun safety with their patients; he wants to see laws that prohibit physicians from documenting gun ownership be repealed; and he wants to restore CDC and NIH funding to conduct firearms research.”

As Michael Cohen wrote:

“Only in America’s up-is-down, sky-is-green, right-is-wrong discussion about guns would views like those of Vivek Murthy be considered radical. Indeed, the good doctor’s views are remarkably similar to those held by a majority of Americans.”

The result of the NRA lobbying on behalf of the gun industry is that more and more states are eradicating gun laws. The NRA has no concern about the increasing carnage from guns in the United States; it just serves as a shill for the gun industry.

Catey Hill, who writes articles for the Wall Street Journal and other business sites about “ten things” that industries don’t want the public to know, lists ten things about the gun industry in “What you don’t know about the firearms business can cost you.” Each of these have supplemental information that you can access here:

  • “Owning our product may be hazardous to your health.”
  • “Fear is good for profits”
  • “Guns get special treatment under the law”
  • “We need your kids to play with guns”
  • “Gun control may work. We still think it’s a bad idea”
  • “Politically, we’re practically unbeatable”
  • “Under the “Gun Ban Obama’, we’re doing just fine”
  • “Sometimes we aren’t ‘pro gun’ enough”
  • “We sell to people we probably shouldn’t”
  • “Ammo is our secret (business) weapon”

The rejuvenated gun industry has brought big bucks to the NRA. The 300 manufacturers representing $6 billion in revenue donated over $76 million to the NRA in just 2009. Small and medium-sized gun sellers also give liberally to the NRA. The 54,000 licensed dealers and the industry as a whole may employ as many as 100,000 people. Claiming President Obama as a threat, the NRA boosted expenditures from 2006 to 2010 by 37 percent. By 2012, the NRA’s revenues swelled to $256 million with three individuals giving $3 million or more and another 15 donors writing checks of between $100,000 and $1 million. As a non-profit, the NRA doesn’t have to name its donors.

The National Shooting Sports Federation generously credits the gun industry with benefiting the U.S. economy by $18 billion. Yet the NRA and the gun industry cost the people of the United States $47 billion every year because of deaths and injuries. In Mexico, 50 percent of the 120,000 murders are from guns, and 68 percent of the guns in Mexico came from sales in the United States.

In 2012, Washington state saw the highest tally of gun injuries since 1995 and 30 percent higher than the average during that period. At the same time, firearms conducted three times the number of background checks for gun sales as a decade earlier. A measure requiring firearm dealers to offer trigger locks when selling guns, as 11 states already require, went down in flames. So did a measure to make it a crime of reckless endangerment for adults to allow an unsupervised child to gain access to a gun that results in shooting. That crime exists in 28 states.

In Georgia, a House bill would allow convicted felons who kills someone with an illegally possessed gun to claim justification under the state’s Stand Your Ground law. If the measure passes, Georgia convicted felons can’t vote, but they can legally kill someone. A second measure would allow concealed guns on college campuses, despite the opposition of 78 percent of polled Georgians.

Florida has become notorious for the effects of its Stand Your Ground law, especially after a Tampa Bay Times’ review of 200 cases found an “uneven application” and “shocking outcomes.”  State Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fort Walton Beach) has a solution for this problem: don’t let anyone find out about what happens with Stand Your Ground in Florida. He has filed an amendment to stop access to court records in self-defense cases. People found innocent in one of these cases could “apply for a certificate of eligibility to expunge the associated criminal history record.” This amendment is attached to the bill that gives Stand Your Ground immunity to anyone who fires warning shots during a confrontation.

The Sunshine State has an answer for the public health problem of gun deaths and injuries: just shut off the lights. Watch the rest of the country follow suit.

September 28, 2013

News Hiding among GOP Shutting Down the Government

The news media has been fixated about the possibility of the U.S. government shutting down with a sideways glance at the first conversation between a U.S. president and an Iranian president in 34 years. The latest comes from The Hill which reports that the House voted to move more quickly on the Continuing Resolution that the Senate sent back to them yesterday. (The article reports that “just a handful of Republicans and Democrats” voted against changing the rule: that “handful” is actually 191 votes—44 percent of the members.)

Rapid voting won’t help because the GOP is adding two amendments to the Senate’s version of the CR, one delaying Obamacare for one year and the other repealing the 2.7 percent tax on medical devices in Obamacare. Another addition is a “conscience clause,” meaning that anyone, for example pharmacists, could refuse preventative care for women. This evening they’re just sitting around delaying the vote. It’s gone beyond ideological to thumbing their noses at women’s rights.

One governor who wants Obamacare is Kentucky’s Steve Beshear who wrote an op-ed for the New York Times entitled “My State Needs Obamacare. Now.”  Pointing out that Kentucky is among the sickest, most unhealthy state in the nation, he credits the Medicaid expansion and Kynect health exchange for providing affordable coverage to more than 600,000 Kentuckians, creating 17,000 jobs, and saving the state $800 million. He writes to his GOP senators, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul, and others:

“So, to those more worried about political power than Kentucky’s families, I say, ‘Get over it.’ Get over it … and get out of the way so I can help my people. Here in Kentucky, we cannot afford to waste another day or another life.”

Here’s other news that hasn’t receive attention because of the concentration on Ted Cruz’s and the Tea Party’s games:

The best news is that 32-year-old Marissa Alexander will receive a new trial after serving of her 20-year prison sentence in Florida. Over three years ago, her husband  broke through a locked door into the bathroom where she was hiding, grabbed her by the neck, and shoved her to the floor. She escaped into the garage but couldn’t escape. When she returned  into the house with a gun, her husband said, “Bitch, I’ll kill you.” She fired the gun into the ceiling. The jury took 12 minutes to refuse her claims of self-defense. Firing a gun during a felony gives a mandatory 20-year sentence in Florida.

A state appellate panel reversed the conviction because the court had instructed the jury that she had to prove self-defense beyond a reasonable doubt. The “stand your ground” law puts the burden of proof on the prosecutor. That’s the reason that the jury failed to award George Zimmerman a guilty verdict for killing Trayvon Martin. The appellate court also stated that Alexander didn’t have to prove she had been injured by her husband because he was not hurt in the shooting.

Alexander, who had no criminal record, had never been arrested, and she had a restraining order against her husband. She was prosecuted by Angela Corey, the same prosecutor in the Zimmerman case.

The next time that conservatives snarl about the current president having used illegal drugs in the past, think about their hypocrisy. According to an advocacy group trying to legalize marijuana, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), at least 100 million “successful Americans” have used marijuana and “even more” think it should be legal. These include such high-profile conservatives as presidential wannabes Sarah Palin, Rand Paul, and Rick Santorum as well as Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and George W. Bush.

The same conservatives who want a “War on Drugs” also think that federal surveillance is important for their safety. A new audit of the Department of Justice finds that the statistics of terrorism have been overstated (aka falsified). In 2009, figures for terrorist convictions were inflated by 13 percent; in the next year, that rate of exaggeration doubled to 26 percent. The Department of Justice branch responsible for these figures, the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys (EOUSA), gave the reason as human error and “shoddy recordkeeping”—counting terrorists twice or counting those with dismissed charges as convictions. Convictions for non-terrorist crimes such as bank robbery, drug dealing, and animal fighting were also incorrectly classified as terrorist convictions. The insistence that NSA’s surveillance program disrupted 50 terrorist plots is equally false.

By not paying taxes, giant corporations have the money to sue countries around the world. Philip Morris has lawsuits against the Australian government to overturn public health laws aimed at reducing teenage smoking. Chevron has hired 2,000 lawyers in an attempt to avoid paying Ecuador $19 billion in damages due for the horrific oil spills they inflicted. Bayer is suing Europe to overturn their ban on bee-killing pesticide—all while investing millions with Monsanto to defeat an effort to label GM foods in the U.S.

While going through my email requests for petition-signers, I came across this gem. The National Football League (NFL), a $9 billion a year industry, is tax-exempt because it claims to be a non-profit organization. The NFL commissioner, Roger Goodell, makes almost $30 million a year, more than the heads of Coca-Cola and Wal-Mart; the NFL controls more than $50 billion in contracts with television networks. Taxpayers fund stadiums where NFL teams play. The Major League Baseball and National Basketball Association aren’t tax-free: the NFL should have to pay taxes.

Allen West, famous for his sexist language while he was a one-term U.S. GOP representative from Florida, has left his job at Pajamas Media. There are two versions about why. West said he resigned. Others said that he was fired after he told a female staffer to “shut up” and called her a “Jewish American princess.” West described it as “an exchange.”

In closing most of its women’s clinics in Texas, legislators used the falsehood that the reason was women’s safety. Texas Tribune has now officially debunked that lie with a review of state inspection records for 36 clinics that provided abortions. Although auditors found 19 regulatory violations they claimed were risks to patient safety at six of the clinics not ambulatory surgical centers, none was severe enough to warrant financial penalties. The facilities’ corrective actions were sufficient to protect the patients. In the past five years, the Texas Medical Board took action for just three doctors who performed abortions, all for administrative infractions. During the past 15 years, however, the maternal mortality rate for Texas has quadrupled.

The tiniest blip on the radar is probably the most dangerous news for people in the U.S. and the world. Secret negotiations for the proposed “free trade” agreement among over 12 countries, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), to be concluded in October, will destroy the U.S.’s ability to make laws protecting the country. A drastic consequence is the dissolution of our internet freedoms. Provisions in this agreement, according to leaks, deal with intellectual property, including online copyright enforcement, anti-circumvention measures, and Internet intermediary liability. If passed, the TPP provisions will infringe on privacy, freedom of expression, and innovation on the Internet.

Specific risks would include blocking deaf and blind people from existing uses of the Internet; forcing service providers to collect and hand over your private data without privacy safeguards; kicking entire families off the Internet for minor copyright infringements; giving media conglomerates more power to fine you for Internet use and remove online content—including entire websites; and creating a parallel legal system of international tribunals that will undermine national sovereignty and allow conglomerates to sue countries for laws that infringe on their profits.

After individuals and organizations began protesting TPP, the negotiations went farther underground with no meeting announcements from the U.S. Trade Rep. There may have been one in September in Mexico City during which countries resistant to U.S. demands to sign onto the standards may have been strong-armed into doing so. .

Congress members in Peru have presented a motion to demand a thorough and public debate on current TPP proposals and for trade delegates to give a comprehensive report on the ongoing negotiations. Chilean Senators recently called for a public debate on TPP, requesting the President to provide “timely and accurate” information on the affects of the agreement on their country. In New Zealand, a Parliamentary member is demanding answers from the Prime Minister about the secrecy of the agreement and how its provisions could undermine consumer protection laws. Canadian Member of Parliament Don Davies has called on the Prime Minister to give Parliamentary Member access to the TPP, especially in light of documents revealing how a small group of industry associations have had special access to Canada’s negotiating position. The Malaysian Cabinet released a statement saying that it would not be bound by a fixed timeline on TPP and calling for more transparency in the process.

At this point, the timeline for TPP’s conclusion is ambiguous. The U.S. Trade Rep Michael Froman continues to claim that the U.S. will not force countries to rush a deal by any particular deadline, while also stating that the Obama administration has placed top priority on concluding the TPP before the end of the year.

My favorite: Two weeks ago when First Lady Michelle Obama teamed up with Partnership for a Healthier America to encourage people to drink more water, Rush Limbaugh did his usual attack against her: “This is really absurd.  Drink more water?  It’s none of their business.  Why do they care?  You drink when you’re thirsty.” Hopefully, no one looks at Limbaugh as an example of someone in good health. At this point, one way to kill off conservatives would be for Michelle Obama to recommend breathing. Meanwhile, I’m trying to drink more water. It’s my personal protest against the right-wing conservatives.

September 11, 2013

NRA, ALEC Bring ‘Wave of Fear’

The NRA had a win yesterday when two Colorado legislators were voted out because they supported a universal background check for gun purchasing and a limit of 15 rounds in an ammunition magazine in the state. John Morse and Angela Giron were the targets in the recall that brought out fewer than 55,000 voters in an election requiring people to physically vote at the polls rather than using mail-in ballots. Only 35.66 percent in Giron’s district voted, a decline of 23 percent when she was elected. Morse was recalled by 343 votes in an election that brought out 21.25 percent of the voters, 37 percent decline since three years earlier.

People opposed to the new laws tried to recall five legislators but managed to get signatures for only Morse and Giron It was reported that recall supporters intimidated voters at Pueblo polling centers. One person said, “Volunteers are being followed, threatened, having their pictures taken and yelled at. We’re now being told that it’s bad enough to call 911 immediately.” Giron was also the target of the Pueblo newspaper, The Chieftain, who identified himself as a gun owner when he wrote her to tell her he was “responsible for the entire newspaper, including the newsroom.”

There was no real point to recalling these people because the law had already passed, their terms are up in a year, and the legislature still has a Democratic majority. No point except fear. Jon Caldara of the Colorado Independence Institute, claimed:

“If the president of the Senate of Colorado, who did nothing except pass the laws that Bloomberg wrote, gets knocked out, there will be a shudder, a wave of fear that runs across every state legislator across the country, that says, ‘I ain’t doing that ever. That is not happening to me. I will not become a national embarrassment, I will not take on those guys.’ That’s how big this is.”

The NRA paid almost $400,000 to send this “wave of fear” across the country.

At the same time, George Zimmerman, the poster person for Florida’s “stand your ground” laws, continues to be in the news. In the two months since he was acquitted  by a jury for the killing of teenager Trayvon Martin, the police have picked him up for speeding at least twice, once in Texas and the other time in Florida. After a panicky 911 call from Zimmerman’s wife two days ago, the police went to the home where she is living with her father. She reported on the call that “he’s going to shoot us,” had punched the father-in-law in the face, and grabbed her iPad and “then smashed it and cut it with a pocket knife.” The police is trying to get a copy of her video from the damaged iPad.

Zimmerman has a history of violence that was not brought out at the trial because evidence of “prior bad acts” are inadmissible, according to procedural rules, unless he testified under oath and claimed he had no history of violence. In a civil case, Zimmerman might be required to testify, but Florida’s law allows Zimmerman to be granted civil immunity, meaning that Martin’s family might have to pay Zimmerman’s lost wages and attorney’s fees. This part of the law comes from ALEC although they now claim that they no longer support this policy after massive protests across the country. Because of ALEC, over 30 states have adopted a form of “stand your ground” laws.

When Shellie Zimmerman called the police, she said that she was “really, really scared.” She said that he “continually has his hand on his gun and he keeps saying step closer and he is just threatening all of us.” According to police, Zimmerman said that he did not have a gun. In contradiction, his lawyer, Mark O’Mara said:

 “[Zimmerman] acted appropriately. He never took the weapon out. The only thing he really did, which is what he told the police, was on the outside of his shirt, he made sure the gun wasn’t moving anywhere and didn’t do anything because [Zimmerman’s father-in-law] Mr. Dean was sort of coming at him, that can sort of be seen in the video.”

When asked if he had the gun on his person and not elsewhere, for example in his car, O’Mara replied, “That’s correct.”

Shellie Zimmerman has recanted the story that she gave on the 911 call and to the police after talking to her lawyer. At this time she is receiving $4,300 each month from the legal defense of $300,000 that people donated to Zimmerman, income that might stop if Zimmerman goes back to jail.

O’Mara announced that he would no longer represent George Zimmerman in this case. At a later press conference when O’Mara was asked if he had any advice for Zimmerman, he replied, “Pay me.” Zimmerman still owes O’Mara for defending him in the murder trial. 

In another Florida story, the man who shot three people in a neighborhood feud, killing two of them, has gone beyond the state’s “stand your ground” law. William T. Woodward is now declaring defense by the “Bush doctrine.” He said that the men had been calling him names and yelling at him for over a month. On the fatal night, they supposedly said, “Come on boys. We’re going to get him. We’re going to get him, all three of us.” Nobody hit him or approached him or came on his property. Woodward took action by sneaking up on them and firing at them with a semiautomatic weapon.

According to Woodward’s lawyer, the Bush Doctrine, the foreign policy principle that George W. Bush used to invade Iraq, embraces “preventive” or pre-emptive war and can be equated to Woodward’s actions. Even now “stand your ground” laws include the word “imminent” but have no specific legal definition. A few minutes? A few hours? Maybe a few days? Or maybe something that might happen in the future, according to Enoch v. State.

And gun laws can get even crazier. Iowa won’t give drivers’ licenses to blind people, but the state will issue concealed gun carry permits to them. In the past it may have made a bit of sense (although I’m not sure how), but 2011 legal changes in gun permits means that blind people can carry firearms in public. A spokesperson from one county said that gun permits were given to at least three people who cannot legally drive and cannot read the application forms or had trouble doing this because they are visually impaired. Three other county sheriffs said that they also did this.

“I’m not an expert in vision,” Delaware Sheriff John LeClere said. “At what point do vision problems have a detrimental effect to fire a firearm? If you see nothing but a blurry mass in front of you, then I would say you probably shouldn’t be shooting something.” As Stevie Wonder, who has been blind since birth, said last January, “Imagine me with a gun. It’s just crazy.”

Gun rights advocates will support weapons for anyone—including the blind–but sometimes advocate restricting voting rights. Both of these are constitutional rights, but with the conservative push to rid the country of Democrats in legislatures, voting has become increasingly difficult. At the same time, ALEC and the NRA are determined to make the act of buying a gun far easier than it already is. There are 33 states that require no ID for buying a weapon; there are no states that allow voting without an ID. Some of the ID laws are reasonable; more and more of them are not. This ID mania is the “wave of fear” that’s sweeping the nation.

August 3, 2013

Taking Action Moves the U.S. Forward

When I looked at today’s email, I saw a the usual plethora of petition seekers, this time asking me to sign onto protests against egregious acts of environmental and political abuses.

  • Major bank executives such as Chase CEO Jamie Dimon who lost $9 billion of depositors’ money through his fraudulent actions are regulating the banking industry by the law that allows them to serve on the New York Federal Reserve Board. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) is introducing legislation to make this practice illegal.
  • Virginia’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, gubernatorial candidate, refused to repay $18,000 of gifts from Star Scientific, a dietary supplement company that benefitted from its relationship with the AG, because, Cuccinelli said, “There are some bells you can’t un-ring.”
  • New Hampshire state Rep. Bill O’Brien compared Obamacare to the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 that allowed slave-owners to take African-Americans out to the state back to the South.
  • The Securities and Exchange Committee has not yet passed regulations to require the disclosure of corporation CEO’s salaries despite the three-year-old Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform law that mandates this action.
  • Cumulus will reportedly not re-hire Rush Limbaugh, but they may also be trying to jockey a better deal with the misogynist radio show host.
  • Home Depot, Lowe’s, and other stores that sell toxic pesticides containing neoicotinoids (neonics) because these are killing bees, vital for food production, at an inordinate rate; last winter beekeepers reports losses of 50-70 percent of their hives.

These petitions are just the proverbial drop in the bucket. As an activist, I want to make changes in the world; I write a monthly newspaper for the local chapter of PFLAG, help with the local chapter of NOW, and write this blog. But there’s so much more to do. Fortunately, other people are also taking action.

Popular Resistance has a website for people who want to create a sustainable future. It reports that one-third of the people in the United States are members of at least one cooperative, including credit unions. In Seattle, the Community Sourced Capital formed to help people avoid Wall Street and invest in their local communities.

In England, the Church of England has started its own credit union by working with non-profit loan agencies to provide less expensive loan services than the legal loan-shark cost of 1-percent interest per day.

Strike Debt Bay Area is working to reverse the privatizing of public services as in the case of the U.S. Post Office through education.  Another of its projects is to save the historic Berkeley post office, and other groups are focusing on ways the Post Office can expand and provide new services. An early project was to raise money to retire health care debts; as of last January the group had garnered over $11 million.

People in Washington state have put a measure on November’s ballot to require labeling of GMO foods. Companies like Monsanto have poured a great deal of money into the campaign, but success for initiative could lead to a national change. People are also working to buy directly from farmers despite efforts to stop this practice.

In the world, 46 countries get 60 percent of electricity from renewable, clean energy sources. The United States could do this by 2050 at the latest. Last year, the fastest growing source of new energy in the nation was wind that made up 42 percent of new electricity.

Over 600 corporations have been negotiating in secret with the Obama administration and its Office of the U.S .Trade Representative for the Trans-Pacific Partnership that would turn people’s rights over to the corporations around the world. Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) said that it will undermine US sovereignty, and former US Trade Representative Ron Kirk admitted that it would not be signed if people knew its contents. The group Flush the TTP is small but growing as it educates people through displaying banners, distributing OccuCards to commuters, and carrying out other actions on #TTP Tuesdays.

Around the nation, people are occupying different spaces in a “dandelion movement” as they disperse seeds to grow their ideas. Through Moral Mondays, people spent 11 Monday evenings in North Carolina getting arrested for being present in the state capitol while GOP legislators continued to try to take away people’s rights.

Wisconsin police are also arresting people who gather in the capitol to sing. For the past two and a half years, Gov. Scott Walker’s opponents have held Solidarity Singalong most weekdays over the lunch hour. They have refused to get permits for their gathering, saying the state constitution allows them to peaceably assemble without the government’s permission. The GOP legislation passed requirements for permits. U.S. District Judge William Conley temporarily blocked part of the law as unconstitutional, but the rest of the law allowed the arrests last week. Retired Evangelical Lutheran Church pastor Carter Dary collapsed with chest pains after his arrest. He was taken to the hospital in handcuffs.

Wisconsin Protests

o-dream-defenders-facebookThe Florida sit-ins didn’t face the same arrests as protesters in North Carolina and Wisconsin. Activists stayed in the capitol for almost three weeks because the state “stand your ground” law freed George Zimmerman after he killed Trayvon Martin. State House Speaker, GOP Will Weatherford, announced that he would ask a House Committee to convene to hold a hearing on the controversial law. The Dream Defenders, primarily young people, say that they will stay in the capitol until their requests are met.

Fast-food workers are striking across the nation to bring up the minimum wage to equal that in the 1960s. Richmond (CA) the city will use its eminent domain power to seize underwater houses threatened with foreclosure and re-finance them.

Because of activism in Ohio, two major oil and gas companies decided not to follow through with fracking in the Delaware River Basin. Nebraska’s Pipeline Fighters are getting their countries to pass zoning laws forbidding tar sands pipelines from crossing through the state as well as writing letters to President Obama, asking him to keep the Keystone Pipeline out of their state.

In May, Gallup released a poll showing that the nation’s shift in ideological attitudes is moving toward the left: more people in the country identify themselves as “liberals” in regard to social and economic issues while fewer of them describe themselves as conservative. A Vanderbilt study shows that conservative politicians overestimate the conservative beliefs of their constituents by more than 20 percentage points on average. Liberal politicians following the same pattern, believing that their constituents are more conservative than they actually are.

Almost 90 percent of Republicans are white; the GOP has only a 13-percent allegiance from Hispanics and less from other minorities. That poll was in February before conservative politicians like Rep. Steve King (R-IA) started talking about how young Hispanics have thighs like cantaloupes because they haul so much marijuana. Polls aren’t always to be trusted, but Republican politicians keep working to alienate everyone in the country except wealthy whites.

At the same time, the percentage of religious progressives is rapidly increasing, particularly among the young. The profile of the Republican is older and white, a demographic that is disappearing. We just need to live long enough to see it disappear and hope that the country has not been destroyed by then. At least two political parties are a good idea, but the United States needs progressives to balance the moderate and right-wing groups.

July 13, 2013

We Need to Stop “Stand Your Ground” Laws

Filed under: Uncategorized — trp2011 @ 9:19 PM
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The six women on the jury in the George Zimmerman delivered their verdict earlier this evening: he was found not guilty of the charges. Florida law permits anyone to stalk a person and then shoot that person in case of an altercation. Zimmerman was carrying a gun as he drove his pickup to follow the unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. After the police told Zimmerman not to pursue Martin, Zimmerman continued his mission. If he had obeyed the police, there would have been no trial because there would have been no death. The law allowed Zimmerman to kill Martin.

Thirty-one states have some form of  these “stand your ground” laws, backed by the National Rifle Association. The conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), controlled by huge corporations, has provided the template to this law across the country and hope to add more states to its total.

Florida’s skewed view of “stand your ground” is demonstrated by two cases. A few months ago, a 70-year-old man in Brandon (FL) shot and killed a man having sex with his wife in the living room. He claimed that his wife was “fornicating” with the man, but in court he used the excuse that he thought she was being raped. A jury deliberated two hours before finding the man not guilty.

Three years ago, a 31-year-old woman with no criminal record tried to get some personal belongings from her former home and found her estranged husband there. They argued, and she feared for her life. Her husband agreed that she was in danger: “I was in a rage. I called her a whore and bitch and … I told her … if I can’t have you, nobody going to have you,” he said in a deposition. She first hid in the bathroom, and when her husband tried to break down the door, she fled to the garage. It was locked, so she came back with a gun legally registered to her.

Her husband said, “I told her … I ain’t going nowhere, and so I started walking toward her … I was cursing and all that … and she shot in the air.” He admitted that she was acting in self-defense, trying to frighten and stop him but not harm him. “The gun was never actually pointed at me … The fact is, you know … she never been violent toward me. I was always the one starting it,” he said. No one was hurt.

Last year, a jury took 12 minutes to find her guilty of aggravated assault. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

In both these Florida cases, the people used the defense of “stand your ground” that holds that a person has “no duty to retreat and has the right to stand his or her ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he or she reasonably believes it is necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself.” The man who shot his wife’s lover to death was successful and walks free. The woman who shot at a wall to scare an abusive husband failed and sits in prison.

The man is white, and the woman is black. The Tampa Bay Times found a great disparity between judgments based on the defendant’s ethnicity. Seventy-three percent of those killing a black person faced no penalty with the “stand your ground” defense. Only 59 percent of those who killed a white person got off. The Urban Institute determined that in “stand your ground” states, 34 percent of homicides of white shooters killing black victims are deemed justifiable. When black shooters kill white victims, only 3 percent of the deaths are ruled justifiable.

Economists at Georgia State, using monthly data from the U.S. Vital Statistics, found a significant increase in homicide and injury among whites, especially white males in states with “stand your ground” laws. Data from the Health Care Utilization Project reveals significantly increased rates of emergency room visits and hospital discharges related to gun injuries in states which enacted these laws. In Florida, self-defense claims have tripled since the law was passed.

The author of a Daily Kos blog summarized the problem with “stand your ground” laws:

“The people who’ve embraced the Stand Your Ground laws and all the rest of that agenda are people whose lives are driven by fear. They can claim all the noble purpose and higher principles they like; it’s still fear in the driver’s seat. But not just fear alone. It’s also about inspiring fear in others. It’s about making your enemies (whomever you wish to target) too afraid to challenge you. It’s about always getting your way – because others are afraid to get on your bad side, and because you don’t trust them enough to deal with them any other way. It goes hand in hand with going through life as the biggest, baddest bully. When your life is built around fear, it’s the logic that safety and power comes from making others fear you more than you fear them.”

As the writer pointed out, fear motivates people in the United States to attack any country perceived to be a threat, accept civilian causalities in drone strikes, and put people into prison without legal charge while subjecting them to torture. Fear makes people tolerant of spying on the country’s citizens without provocation and drives them to violate most of the U.S. Constitution.

Because of this fear, people collect unknown quantities of guns, carry them everywhere, and pass laws  allowing people to claim self-defense for killings.

July 29, 2012

Scalia Supports Private Ownership of Nuclear Devices

Horrifying. That’s one description for the statements that Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made this morning on Fox News about the constitutionality of owning and carrying weapons. According to one out of the nine judges who determine the law of the land, any weapon that a person can carry is constitutional for that person to “keep and bear.”

Scalia includes shoulder-launched missiles in that category of legal private ownership. And the javelin anti-tank weapon and the M-28 Davy Crockett nuclear tipped recoilless rifle. The latter has the W-54 nuclear warhead and an explosive yield that’s 12 times more powerful than Timothy McVeigh’s bomb in Oklahoma City. And it only weighs 57 pounds. Easier to carry—and probably legal according to Scalia—would be a small nuclear device in a briefcase.

Scalia shows himself a “strict constitutionalist” when he said, “Obviously the amendment does not apply to arms that can not be carried. It’s to ‘keep and bear’ so it doesn’t apply to cannons.” But the Founding Fathers didn’t specifically discuss nuclear weapons. “But I suppose there are handheld rocket launchers that can bring down airplanes that will have to–it will have to be decided,” Scalia added. Maybe it’s just the use of the weapon. Scalia might approve of these in a crowded movie theater.

Scalia does have limits on weapons. In the same interview, he mentioned a tort called affrighting, “which if you carried around a really horrible weapon just to scare people, like a head ax or something, that was I believe a misdemeanor.” From that we might infer that Scalia would oppose head axes because they are frightening. Some people might be afraid of individuals’ carrying nuclear weapons on the street. Also would he object to such weapons as a head axe if the purpose is to use them against someone else instead of just frightening them?

In District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court overturned DC’s ban on unregistered firearm and the city’s prohibiting the registration of handguns except for one-year licenses issued by the police chief. Scalia justified his decision that carrying guns is legal with the words “weapons common at the time.” It’s possible that he thinks that a FIM-92 Stinger is a “common” weapon. A Supreme Court justice thinks that people should be able to legally own nuclear weapons. Just not cannons because one person alone cannot carry it.

Recently a Florida man needed only one gun when he decided to “stand his ground.” Kenneth Roop, 52, killed Nick Rainey, a 30-year-old door-to-door salesman. The dead man was walking away from Roop’s door when the older man drove up and shot Rainey in the shoulder because he was “in fear.” When Rainey fell to the ground and screamed, “You shot me,” Roop claimed he was still afraid because the man sounded antagonistic. Roop claims he saved his life by shooting Rainey in the back of the head. A witness said that Roop sat in his truck for a few seconds while Rainey lay face down on the driveway before killing the other man. Seven years ago Roop pulled a gun on the woman reading the power company meter reader, but he could still own 14 guns.

Scalia may think that, according to eighteenth-century values displayed in the Constitution, Roop was justified in shooting someone who knocked on his door and then tried to depart the property. Also in the interview, Scalia objected to the ruling of Griswold v. Connecticut which legalized contraception for all married women.

The justice also displayed an appalling racism in the court arguments for Arizona v. United States regarding the racial profiling of the Arizona anti-immigration law. Referring to the “invasion” of undocumented immigrants, Scalia compared them to a roving band of armed thieves. To a lawyer’s attempt to explain that many of the victimized people legally live in the United States–possibly having ancestors who lived here before the whites took over the land—Scalia said, “Are you objecting to harassing the people who have no business being here? Surely you’re not concerned about harassing them.”

His dissent in the case was even worse when his position relied on pro-slavery laws excluding free persons of African descent living in most of the South before the Civil War: “Notwithstanding ‘[t]he myth of an era of unrestricted immigration’ in the first 100 years of the Republic, the States enacted numerous laws restricting the immigration of certain classes of aliens, including convicted criminals, indigents, persons with contagious diseases, and (in Southern States) freed blacks. State laws not only provided for the removal of unwanted immigrants but also imposed penalties on unlawfully present aliens and those who aided their immigration.”

During Justice Antonin Scalia’s tenure in the U.S. Supreme Court, he has supported torture, defended executing innocent people, and railed against anyone who embraces the “homosexual agenda” in a conclusion that people should be able to choose their life partners. He has argued within cases with the sensibilities and passion of partisan lawmakers, using the “broccoli” approach in requiring health care, repeating the idiocy that if people were required to purchase health insurance then the government might force them to buy broccoli. His record as a partisan politician should have him removed from the court.

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