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“Questioning The Struggle”: Of The Two, One Will Never Take Another Breath And The Other May Never Take The Stand

One of the most riveting moments in the George Zimmerman trial this week was the playing of a police tape that showed Zimmerman re-enacting what he said happened the night he fatally shot Trayvon Martin.

To say that there are inconsistencies between that re-enactment and Zimmerman’s verbal and written testimony elsewhere is to be charitable.

For instance, in an interview Zimmerman gave to the police the night of the shooting, he says of Martin: “I was walking back through to where my car was, and he jumped out from the bushes.

However, in the video re-enactment, which took place a day after the murder, it’s clear not only that there are no bushes near the sidewalk but also that Zimmerman never mentions Martin’s jumping out from anywhere.

But what I find most interesting is the moment in Zimmerman’s police interview that night in which Zimmerman claims that after Martin asked if he had a problem, “I got my cellphone out to call 911 this time.”

Pay attention to that statement about his cellphone, because it’ll be important to my line of questioning.

Aside from all the other inconsistencies in Zimmerman’s accounts of the scuffle, the basic physics of the fight as he describes it are hard to make jibe.

In the re-enactment, Zimmerman says that after a verbal encounter, “I went to go grab my cellphone,” Martin punched him in the face, Zimmerman stumbled or was pushed to the ground by Martin, and Martin got on top of him. Zimmerman then says that he started screaming for help and tried to sit up, and that Martin then grabbed his head and slapped it on the cement. “He just kept slamming it and slamming it,” Zimmerman said.

It is interesting here, in the video, to watch Zimmerman’s hands. He demonstrates the slamming twice and both times he does so with clenched hands, as if Martin was holding something on the sides of his head — like his ears. But, as has been mentioned in the trial, there was none of Zimmerman’s blood or DNA under Martin’s fingernails and there were no injuries documented on or near Zimmerman’s ears. How could this be?

And if Martin “grabbed” Zimmerman’s head some other way, what way was that? His hair was buzzed short and it was raining that night, so presumably his head was wet. When Zimmerman was asked in a follow-up interview how Martin grabbed his head, he said he did not recall.

Furthermore, Dr. Valerie Rao, a medical examiner who reviewed Zimmerman’s injuries, testified Tuesday that the injuries on the back of Zimmerman’s head were consistent with just one strike against a concrete surface, not multiple ones. Rao went on to call Zimmerman’s injuries “insignificant” and “not life threatening,” and said, “If you look at the injuries, they are so minor they are not consistent with grave force.” She continued, “If somebody’s head is banged with grave force I would expect a lot of injuries. I don’t see that.”

If you believe Rao, the struggle simply couldn’t have happened as Zimmerman described it.

In the re-enactment, Zimmerman says that he tried to squirm his head off the concrete, and then he says:

“That’s when my jacket moved up, and I had my firearm on my right side hip. And, he saw it, I feel like he saw it, he looked at it.”

Zimmerman says it is at that point that Martin told him that he was going to die that night. Then Zimmerman says:

“He reached for it, but he reached, like I felt his arm going down to my side and I grab it, and I just grabbed my firearm, and I shot him. One time.”

This fight scene leaves me particularly incredulous, partly because of what Zimmerman is saying, partly because of the forensics and testimony and partly because of what Zimmerman demonstrates in the video — the idea that Martin, while straddling Zimmerman, would be able to see a gun that was presumably behind him, and the idea that Zimmerman would feel Martin’s hand snake across his body, pinch that hand underneath his arm and then reach for and retrieve the gun himself.

If Zimmerman’s hand was free enough for such a maneuver, were his hands not also free enough to try to push Martin off, or force Martin to release his head and not bang it against the concrete, or to hit Martin back (which he never says he does during the entire encounter)? Did Zimmerman’s mixed martial arts training provide him no defensive options whatsoever?

Something about this just doesn’t sound right. And, by the way, how was Zimmerman able to get around Martin’s leg, retrieve the gun and aim it at Martin’s chest so easily?

This is what happens when you try to make the fight fit Zimmerman’s telling. Things don’t make sense.

But what if we back up to the cellphone moment, before any physical encounter occurred, when Zimmerman and Martin had their first verbal exchange. What if we dispense with Zimmerman’s version, revisit the order of things and ask a different set of questions?

In the video Zimmerman looks to his right front pocket when he says he’s looking for the phone. That’s the same area as the gun, which he says he has on his right hip.

Is it possible that Zimmerman didn’t go for his phone but for his gun? And even if he doesn’t retrieve it, is it possible that he exposed it? (In the video, Zimmerman demonstrates that he can expose the weapon without even using his hands to lift his jacket.)

Is it possible that Martin first saw the gun when they were standing and talking? Is it possible that the physical struggle was about the presence of a weapon: between a man trying to retrieve it and an unarmed teenager who had seen it? In that scenario, is it possible that Martin could be on top of Zimmerman and still yelling for help? Is it possible that Zimmerman wasn’t using his hands to fend off Martin because he was using them to go for, control, or aim a weapon?

And, what happened to the “cellphone” Zimmerman said he got out just before a prolonged struggle? He makes no mention of putting it away. His key and flashlights were photographed in the grass, as was Martin’s cellphone. They didn’t hold on to those things. What about Zimmerman’s phone? Where was it when the police arrived?

(By the way, the night of the shooting Zimmerman says he got the cellphone out. The next day, during the re-enactment he changes that part of his story, saying: “I went to go get my cellphone, but my, I left it in a different pocket. I looked down at my pant pocket, and he said ‘you got a problem now,’ and then he was here, and he punched me in the face.”)

These are interesting questions to ponder, the answers to which might make what followed make more sense. But of the two people able to answer those questions, one will never take another breath and the other may never take the stand.

By: Charles M. Blow, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, July 3, 2013

July 6, 2013 Posted by | Zimmerman Trial | , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Pledge To Ensure Failure, No Matter The Consequences”: Koch Brothers Push GOP Officials To Sign Anti-Climate Pledge

The Republican Party is certainly fond of its pledges. Grover Norquist, of course, has his infamous anti-tax pledge that has interfered with federal policymaking in recent decades, and in 2011, GOP presidential candidates were pushed to endorse an anti-gay pledge from the National Organization for Marriage.

But as it turns out, there’s another pledge that’s taken root in Republican politics that’s received far less attention. The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer reports this week on the “No Climate Tax Pledge” pushed by Charles and David Koch.

Starting in 2008, a year after the Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency could regulate greenhouse gasses as a form of pollution, accelerating possible Congressional action on climate change, the Koch-funded nonprofit group, Americans for Prosperity, devised the “No Climate Tax” pledge. It has been, according to the study, a component of a remarkably successful campaign to prevent lawmakers from addressing climate change. Two successive efforts to control greenhouse-gas emissions by implementing cap-and-trade energy bills died in the Senate, the latter of which was specifically targeted by A.F.P.’s pledge.

By now, [411] current office holders nationwide have signed the pledge. Signatories include the entire Republican leadership in the House of Representatives, a third of the members of the House of Representatives as a whole, and a quarter of U.S. senators.

The pledge, uncovered as part of a two-year study by the Investigative Reporting Workshop at American University, forces policymakers to oppose any legislation relating to climate change unless it is accompanied by an equivalent amount of tax cuts.” [Updated: see below]

And what, pray tell, do tax cuts have to do with the climate crisis and effects of global warming? Nothing in particular, but the Koch brothers hope to make it impossible to pass any bills related to carbon emissions, and by demanding tax cuts, they’re effectively eliminating any credible policy options — as Mayer explained, “Since most solutions to the problem of greenhouse-gas emissions require costs to the polluters and the public, the pledge essentially commits those who sign to it to vote against nearly any meaningful bill regarding global warning, and acts as yet another roadblock to action.”

When President Obama unveiled his fairly ambitious new climate agenda last week, some hoped it would spur broader action in Washington. There’s still room for a comprehensive climate policy that may be more effective than the administration using the Clean Air Act to limit emissions, but it would require Congress to work towards a sensible, consensus remedy. Republicans don’t like the White House policy? Fine, it’s time policymakers sat down with environmentalists and industries to work on an alternative.

Of course, Congress can’t do much of anything with a radicalized House majority, and climate legislation appears completely out of the question — the Koch brothers have a pledge to ensure failure, no matter the consequences.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

* Update: The exact language of the pledge reads as follows: “I, ______________________, pledge to the taxpayers of the state of ______________— and to the American people that I will oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue.” The Koch-financed opponents of combating the climate crisis see this as different from Mayer’s description, though it’s worth emphasizing that since any meaningful policy would generate revenue, the pledge would effectively call for tax cuts to guarantee revenue neutrality. As for why far-right anti-climate activists would oppose new government revenue — which could ostensibly be applied to deficit reduction, which conservatives occasionally pretend to care about — your guess is as good as mine.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 3, 2013

July 6, 2013 Posted by | Climate Change, Global Warming | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“One More Card To Play”: How Religious Conservatives Plan To Regroup After Losing Marriage Discrimination

Last week was not a good one for Team Anti-Gay. The Supreme Court struck the unconstitutional Defense of Marriage Act, and the nation’s largest state resumed marriages for same-sex couples. Nor is the future likely to be any better for opponents of equality. As conservative Justice Antonin Scalia complains in dissent, the Court’s opinion striking DOMA is riddled with language that can be used to attack anti-gay state laws. Moreover, two cases squarely presenting the issue of whether states must provide gay couples with the equal protection of the law are now ripe for review by the left-leaning United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The question of full, nationwide marriage equality could be before the justices in as little as two years.

And even if a majority of the Court does reject this final push for marriage equality, time is simply not on the side of discrimination. Nearly 7 in 10 Americans under 40 approve of the Supreme Court’s recent pro-marriage decision. The only age cohort where a majority oppose that decision are people over age 65. In twenty years, supporters of equality will run the country from top to bottom, and most opponents will be dead.

Religious conservatives, however, still have one more card to play in their efforts to deny equal rights to LGBT Americans. As the socially conservative writer Ross Douthat suggested shortly after the Court struck DOMA, the best way to continue to limit the rights of gay people is to “build in as many protections for religious liberty as possible along the way.”

It’s clear that anti-gay leaders are already executing this contingency plan. Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint claimed on Tuesday that marriage equality “means trampling First Amendment religious liberty protections along the way.” At least fifteen anti-gay individuals, ranging from wedding cake bakers to bed and breakfast owners to t-shirt makers, have claimed the right to discriminate against gay people — often in direct violation of the law — with many citing their religious beliefs as justification. The conservative U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops claimed in a brief they filed in the Supreme Court that treating anti-gay discrimination permissively “protects the religious liberty of those employers with a religious objection to providing” health coverage to same-sex partners.

The Bishops’ brief may be the biggest window into how religious conservatives plan to construct a wall around their own right to discriminate. At the same time that the Bishops urged the justices to protect a special right to deny health care to gay people, numerous employers — with the enthusiastic backing of the Bishops themselves — are litigating the question of whether their religious objections to birth control give them the right to ignore a federal rule requiring them to include it in their employees’ health plans. Last week, a federal appeals court embraced a particularly aggressive reading of religious liberty that not only held that for profit companies may refuse to comply with the birth control rule, it also included language suggesting that a religious employer could refuse to comply with anti-discrimination law if they believed discrimination was compelled by their faith.

This, simply put, is the social conservative end game. They are not going to succeed in blocking marriage equality. But if they can exempt the very people who are most likely to engage in invidious discrimination against gay people from laws prohibiting such discrimination, then they can suck the life out of many pro-gay laws. Their exaggerated view of “religious liberty” can no more be squared with equality than it could when Bob Jones University claimed a similar religious right to engage in race discrimination.

Ultimately, social conservatives’ efforts to expand religious rights to the point where they devour other essential freedoms such as the right to be free from discrimination are likely to backfire. In the 1980s, the Supreme Court developed a workable framework for religious liberty. Such liberty is robust, but it does not include the right to engage in invidious discrimination, and it does not give businesses a right to “impose the employer’s religious faith on the employees.” Then, in 1990, Justice Scalia blew up this framework with his majority opinion in Employment Div. v. Smith. Smith shrunk religious liberty far more than many Americans were willing to tolerate; Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) to restore the religious liberties lost in Smith almost unanimously, and it was signed into law by President Clinton.

Now, however, religious conservatives want to go far beyond the 1980s framework that RFRA restored. They claim both the right to defy anti-discrimination law and the right to ignore the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Lee, which held that “[w]hen followers of a particular sect enter into commercial activity as a matter of choice, the limits they accept on their own conduct as a matter of conscience and faith are not to be superimposed on the statutory schemes which are binding on others in that activity.” Religious liberties are rightfully enshrined in our Constitution, but they have not been understood as a sweeping right to deny equally important liberties to others. If religious conservatives insist upon the right to do so, the consensus that led to RFRA’s passage is likely to break down, and people of faith could ultimately wind up with fewer protections than they enjoyed before a small number of religious conservatives decided to overreach.


By: Ian Millhiser, Think Progress, July 3, 2013

July 6, 2013 Posted by | Marriage Equality | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Growing Inequality”: Not All Kinds Of Inequality Are Created Equal

In America, not all kinds of inequality are created equal.

For the past half-century, the de jure inequality of demographic groups has proven increasingly vulnerable to public pressure. From the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to last week’s Supreme Court decision striking down a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act, legal barriers against racial and sexual minorities as well as women have crumbled. Changes in the law have followed the same pattern: First, a handful of generally radical activists brought attention to the existence of a legal double standard; then, a mass movement grew in support of eliminating discriminatory laws and practices; only after this did government respond with legal remedies.

In each case as well, the movements’ success in diminishing their “otherness” — that is, establishing their full humanity — in the eyes of the majority of their fellow Americans has been key to ending legal discrimination. The shift in public opinion on same-sex marriage, for instance, follows decades when growing numbers of gay men and lesbians felt just secure enough to out themselves to their families, friends and co-workers, in the process normalizing what had been a concealed, and presumably shameful, status. The immigrant rights movement’s focus on the Dream Act kids — young people, many of whom are talented students, brought here as children and still forced to lurk in the shadows — put the most appealing human face on undocumented immigrants. That is at least partly responsible for what is now majority public support for enabling the undocumented to become citizens. (Whether that majority support carries any weight with xenophobic House Republicans, secure in their gerrymandered districts, is another question.)

Some forms of legal inequality persist in other guises. Another Supreme Court decision last week, striking down provisions of the Voting Rights Act that limited discriminatory practices in particular Southern states, will make it easier for black and Latino electoral participation to be limited. Just as those states once required voters to pass absurd tests or pay taxes to vote — measures almost always designed to apply only to blacks — now they will likely require voters to produce documents that the poor and students disproportionately lack (as, in fact, Texas did within hours of the high court’s ruling). Today’s vote supressionists are driven less by discrimination for its own sake than fear that their hold on power will weaken if minorities and the young vote in large numbers.

But while social and legal inequality has diminished over the past century, economic inequality has been on the rise since Ronald Reagan’s presidency. The public policies of the past 30 years — deregulating finance and encouraging the sector’s growth, failing to bolster workers’ declining bargaining power — are rightly understood to have reversed the more egalitarian economic policies of Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson. But the economic inegalitarianism of the past three decades also makes a mockery of Thomas Jefferson’s vision of equality, which went beyond mere equality of creation. Jefferson believed that a nation of yeoman farmers was the best defense against the inequalities of wealth and power that would threaten the republic if cities grew too populous. He also believed, of course, in the institution of slavery — the paradox that haunts his legacy and our history to this day.

The belief that diminishing economic inequality would help build a more robust economy underpinned the legislation of both the New Deal and the Great Society. Granting workers the power to bargain with their employers, the preamble to the 1935 National Labor Relations Act states, would increase their capacity to consume and give the economy a shot in the arm. So, too, the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, which created the national minimum wage. Social Security and Medicare, by reducing poverty among seniors, also bolstered the national economy. Repeal any one of these and the economy would crumple. Indeed, the de facto repeal of the National Labor Relations Act — as employers have learned to exploit its loopholes and deny employees bargaining power — is a major factor in the decline of wage income.

How, then, do we decrease economic inequality — the one kind of inequality that continues to expand even as other forms contract (if slowly and unevenly)? The challenge isn’t to persuade the majority to embrace a minority but, rather, to embrace itself. Americans tend to blame themselves rather than changes in economic rules and arrangements for failing to achieve financial security. But with most of the nation falling behind, the problem and the solution aren’t individual. Like Jefferson’s generation, Americans must band together to create a more egalitarian land.


By: Harol Meyerson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, July 2, 2013

July 6, 2013 Posted by | Economic Inequality | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Pennies On The Dollar”: Congress Is Squandering The Opportunity Of A Lifetime

It’s the first Friday of the month, which means a jobs report. And this one isn’t bad. The economy added a net 195,000 jobs in June, with upwards revisions of 70,000 in April and May. Which means that, so far this year, the economy has added more than 1 million jobs. To repeat a point, this is why the 2012 election was so critical for Democrats—a Mitt Romney win would have given Republicans a chance to claim credit for the current job growth, and use the political capital to push a highly-ideological agenda.

But back to the numbers. Federal government employment dropped by 5,000, a likely result of sequestration, and part of an overall decline of public employment—since 2010, the public sector has shed more than 600,000 jobs. The unemployment rate remained unchanged at 7.6 percent, with a slight drop in long-term unemployment. Still, more than four million people have been out of work for longer than six months.

In other words, despite the improving economy, we’re still stuck in a period of mass unemployment. And, thanks the GOP’s categorical opposition to spending–and stimulus in particular—there’s no chance of relief for the economy.

What’s frustrating—and, given the cost of long-term unemployment to individuals, families, and communities, cruel—is that conditions are perfect for another round of large-scale government spending. Not only are there millions of potential workers (to say nothing of an overall demand shortfall), but—as Suzy Khimm notes for MSNBC—interest rates are still at historic lows. But that won’t last: “Already,” she writes, “there are early warning signs that this era of absurdly cheap borrowing will eventually come to an end: The interest rate on 10-year U.S. Treasury notes—the benchmark for long-term borrowing rates—rose to 2.66% on Monday, the highest rate since August 2011.”

There’s still time to act on this unprecedented opportunity by investing in new infrastructure: We could take advantage of these low rates, borrow, and use the cash to rebuild our roads, bridges, airstrips, and pipelines. The subsequent economic growth—from more jobs and a faster recovery—would be more than enough to pay back whatever we owe when the economy is stronger.

But Republicans have not budged from their commitment to spending cuts, monetary tightening, and other austerity-minded policies. They warn that greater public debt will lead to inflation and low growth, ignoring the extent to which inflation has held steady at just under 2 percent for the last four years, and disregarding the disastrous results of austerity in Europe, which has plunged several countries, including the United Kingdom, into a second recession. Because of this, their House majority, and their ability to filibuster in the Senate, there’s no chance Congress will move on new stimulus, or anything else that could boost the economy.

The sad fact is that the GOP’s dysfunctions—its hyper-ideological approach to government, hostility to liberalism, and opposition to compromise—will keep the United States from capitalizing on one of the great opportunities of the last 20 years. Thanks to GOP-driven gridlock and Washington’s myopic focus on debt reduction, we have squandered a once-in-a-lifetime chance to rebuild this country at pennies on the dollar, and bounce back from a long decade of mismanagement and neglect.


By: Jamelle Bouie, The American Prospect, July 5, 2013

July 6, 2013 Posted by | Economy, Jobs | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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