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“A New Low Even For Lawyers”: Defense Attorney Don West Gives A Despicable Reaction To The Zimmerman Verdict

It was clear from the start that whatever happened in the George Zimmerman case would produce a strong reaction – especially if, as happened, Zimmerman was found not guilty. And one would hope that in the midst of all of the heavy emotion and tragedy of the case, a dialogue would ensue over race relations, over the vastly different experiences of adult white men and black teenagers wearing hoodies, and over what makes us afraid and how we’re allowed to react to that fear. There have been some insightful and impressively soothing statements and behavior from people – President Obama’s pitch-perfect statement, for example, and Trayvon Martin’s own parents spending the day after the verdict in church, urging peace and calm.

The word “despicable” is not part of that dialogue – especially when it is uttered not only by an attorney arguing the case, but by one of the defense attorneys.

Lawyer Don West – who distinguished himself early on by opening his defense arguments with a wildly inappropriate knock-knock joke – told the Orlando Sun Sentinel after the verdict:

I think the prosecution of George Zimmerman was despicable. I’m glad this jury kept this tragedy from being a travesty.

This is the sort of talk one expects to find on Twitter or on some anonymous comments section on a newspaper website. This is not the sort of remark to be made by someone who is ostensibly committed to the criminal justice system.

Trayvon Martin was 17 years old, unarmed, and on his way back home after picking up candy and iced tea at the market. Now he is dead, and the person who shot him is on record having spotted Martin, declared him as a kid up to no good, gotten out of his car and shot him dead. The facts of what happened are somewhat murky, in part because Zimmerman gave conflicting accounts, and in part because the only other witness to the episode is in a grave.

Even if, as the jury found, Zimmerman rightly felt in danger of death or grievous bodily harm, Martin’s death was a horrible tragedy. Florida law gives wide latitude to people claiming self-defense, and the jury was required to listen to the facts and decide whether the prosecution had proven, without a reasonable doubt, that Zimmerman did not feel in danger. That’s a hard standard to reach, so as distressing as the not guilty verdict is to many people, it’s an understandable conclusion.

But the idea that there was something offensive about even prosecuting Zimmerman, about putting him through the stress of a trial after taking the life of an unarmed boy, is stunning. West’s self-righteous comment suggests that Zimmerman was the victim here, and that his insistence – despite his behavior and conflicting statements – that he killed someone only because there was no other way to protect himself is not just disrespectful to the dead boy. It’s disrespectful to the criminal justice system. It is, arguably, despicable.

 

By: Susan Milligan, U. S. News and World Report, July 15, 2013

July 16, 2013 Posted by | Zimmerman Trial | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“White Districts And White Sensibilities”: The Real Problem Republicans Have, They Don’t Want To Change Their Policies

You may have heard that in the incoming Congress, white men will constitute a minority of the Democratic caucus for the first time. That’s an interesting fact, but it’s only part of the story. At National Journal, Ron Brownstein and Scott Bland have a long, Brownsteinian look at how “the parties glare across a deep racial chasm” not only in the members of Congress themselves, but in the people they represent. “Republicans now hold 187 of the 259 districts (72 percent) in which whites exceed their national share of the voting-age population. Democrats hold 129 of the 176 seats (73 percent) in which minorities exceed their national share of the voting-age population. From another angle, 80 percent of Republicans represent districts more heavily white than the national average; 64 percent of House Democrats represent seats more heavily nonwhite than the national average.”

The implications for the GOP of the fact that most of their members represent mostly white districts are profound, touching on the continuous interaction between individuals and policy. Politicians are shaped by their political environments and the things they have to do to win, and the fact that most GOP members represent overwhelmingly white districts means that as they rise through the ranks, the time they’re going to have to spend talking to and listening to non-white people is going to be limited. Brownstein and Bland talked to some of the few Republicans who represent more diverse districts:

But even some House Republicans from racially diverse districts worry that many of their colleagues representing more monolithically white areas aren’t doing enough to court minorities. “Honestly, I don’t believe they are,” says Rep. Joe Heck, who won reelection in a diverse district outside Las Vegas.

Heck says he’s established beachheads among minority voters by working first with ethnic chambers of commerce. “For me, meeting with the members of the chamber was a door to building relationships with members of those communities,” he says. Then he hired aides to coordinate outreach to Hispanic and Asian constituents; during his campaign, he organized coalitions in those communities. “When I’m home in the district, we would do entire outreach days, visiting multiple Hispanic businesses, even ones outside of my district.”

As it happens, Joe Heck is an extremely conservative Republican. But he does all that outreach because he has no choice. And over time, that will make him more understanding of, and sensitive to, the concerns of people who aren’t white. It means that he’ll have a better awareness of the things that piss Hispanics off, and learning how not to piss different kinds of people off—with both substance and symbolism—is a big part of politics. This is important for both sides, and with a variety of constituencies. For instance, one of the first things you learn working on a Democratic campaign is that every piece of printed material you produce, from brochures to door hangers, has to have on it the tiny union “bug” that shows it was printed at a union shop. If it doesn’t, you can be damn sure you’ll get some angry phone calls from union members and representatives, because they notice. Republicans have I’s to be dotted and T’s to be crossed for their own constituencies as well. But somebody coming up through Republican politics in an overwhelmingly white district won’t have to learn, for instance, what pisses off Hispanics. So when they talk about immigration their speech is peppered with terms like “illegal aliens” that Hispanics find, well, alienating.

The advantage Democrats have is that nobody has to teach them how to talk to white people, because you learn that no matter where you live. It’s the same reason colleges don’t offer courses in White History or White Literature—you’re already learning it. Yes, there are subgroups of whites whom you can fail to understand, but it’s a lot less likely that you’re going to alienate them and end up losing the White House because of it.

So the real problem Republicans have isn’t that they don’t want to recruit minorities, because they do. They don’t want to change their policies to do it, of course, but they’re pleased as punch when they find someone like Tim Scott or Ted Cruz, a real-live minority who also happens to be rabidly right-wing, whom they can hold up as an example. Their problem is that they don’t know how to attract minority voters, because where most of them come from, they don’t have to.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, January, 15, 2013

January 16, 2013 Posted by | Ideologues, Republicans | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Slow Death March”: The NFL And The Republican Party Are Sinking

Did you know in medical circles there’s talk the NFL will only last another 15 years or so?

The medical evidence linking professional football’s furious, jarring hits to the head and brain injury is that strong and overwhelming. Later in life, it all catches up to a guy, who succumbs to being a shell of himself. For wives, it’s incredibly painful to witness their strong and mighty men become lost and weak, day by day, weeks giving way to months and years, relentlessly. Like a slow death march.

The NFL is so rich and powerful it’s hard to imagine that happening, isn’t it? With all the stadiums they made cities build for them, their dominance over network television schedules, their carefully cultivated rivalries, their gleaming Super Bowl half-time shows, their spiffy uniforms and grumpy coaches—how do we go on without all that? The NFL has so much control over American lives, aspirations, and social mixing that it is practically a shadow government.

The NFL has faced litigation over brain injuries and is bracing for many more lawsuits as its first generation of former players reach old age.

But some say a tipping point will emerge, a consensus that an entire swath of football players—past and present—will almost certainly deal with brain damage. And all the NFL’s lavish compensations will not be enough lucre to prod players to keep playing the game as it is now played: brutally. The whole sport is a gaming of war, after all. Organized violence is what we collectively come to see.

These experts think the NFL will be suddenly forced to switch to a game like soccer. I’d love to see that, but I can’t fathom the NFL buckling to sweet reason so soon. Football is so much part of the Americana male archetype. Soccer is so lightweight, literally.

Well, guess what. Political observers are saying the same thing about the walking-wounded Republican Party. They say the game it’s playing is moribund. The party Lincoln joined when it was young is foundering, according to the Washington pundits, not all of them Democratic observers. The 2012 election showed that the party has white men squarely on its side, but the electorate is not all white men anymore.

Meanwhile, the party lost the Latino vote, the black vote, and of course, the women’s vote after its visceral attack on reproductive rights. Who did they think would vote for their ticket other than well-off white men? The quintessentially privileged candidate, Mitt Romney, could not connect across class and lines of life experience. And he really was the best the party had. Think of how Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, Rick Santorum—anyone else in the primary—would have been an international disgrace. They need new fresh faces.

The Republicans seem to be at a loss for new ideas as well. Cutting Medicare is as popular as a skunk about a garden party. They should have more garden parties and fewer skunks—do I need to name them? They are all there on camera every day, looking dour and angry that the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans are going to see their Bush-era tax cuts expire. Too bad!

The NFL and the GOP: what a plight. I feel so sorry for them. But let’s say it clear here. They deserve to have their game and party sink into the mud if they can’t freshen up.

By: Jamie Stiehm, U. S. News and World Report, December 4, 2012

December 5, 2012 Posted by | Politics, Sports | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“An Apocalyptic Cult”: The GOP’s Biggest Problem Is Itself

“How ya like me now?” — Barack Obama

OK, so Obama didn’t really say that, but surely he must have thought it behind a private smile at some point Tuesday night.

There are no smiles among the Republicans, however, only a pressing question: Can the GOP fix itself? Can a party whose appeal is wholly white and mainly male learn to appeal to a rainbow electorate which is neither? Especially after it has spent so many years denigrating that rainbow, drawing lines in the sand, placing chips on its shoulder.

There are hopeful signs that our long national hissy fit may at last be over. House Speaker John Boehner was making conciliatory noises about resolving the economic impasse the day after the election. Some of the party’s most prominent voices, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, have been speaking of the need for the GOP to broaden its appeal. So maybe the adults are finally returning home.

But the place is a wreck, because the kids (looking at you, Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain) have been having quite the party. And repairing it is going to be a long and difficult process.

In the first place, any sudden GOP outreach to those it spurned while courting angry older white men must unavoidably appear conniving, self-conscious and self-serving. And once you get past the problem of appearances, there is the simple question of what it will take to undo the damage the party has inflicted upon itself with those groups.

How long will it be before gay men and lesbians are willing to forgive and forget that the party has routinely demeaned their relationships and impugned their moral fitness?

How long will it take before Hispanics are willing to let bygones be bygones with a party that spoke of “self-deportation” and cheered the notion of a border fence to electrocute undocumented Mexican workers?

And how much time must go by before African-Americans are willing to look past the GOP’s unrelenting and deeply personal disrespect toward the nation’s first African-American president, its insistence on treating him as some foreign Other who, in John Sununu’s memorably tawdry phrase, must “learn how to be an American”?

All that said, the biggest question here is not whether the GOP can transform itself, but whether it can even try. At this point, the Republicans are less a traditional political party than what disenchanted former GOP staffer Mike Lofgren has called an “apocalyptic cult.”

And cults are remarkably fact-resistant. Cultists live in a reality of their own construction and, far from being chastened by it, they thrive on rejection. So while the grownups in the party may be reading the writing on the demographic wall and believe it calls on them to abandon extremism, there is every reason to believe the rest of the party will think that writing requires them to double down on it instead.

Indeed, even as Rubio and Boehner were talking sense, party icons were talking the same old craziness. Donald Trump called for revolution in the wake of Obama’s re-election. Ted Nugent called Obama supporters “pimps, whores … welfare brats” and “soulless fools.” Bill O’Reilly said people voted for Obama because he will “give them things.”

And so on.

This, then, is the dilemma Republicans have created for themselves by their own short-sightedness. It was all well and fine to embrace angry white male extremism so long as white male extremism was able to deliver elections. That day is passing and the party awakens in a new America, desperately needing to change but quite possibly prevented from doing so by the very craziness it has so long cultivated.

Ain’t that a kick in the head? For years, the party has won elections by inventing enemies for angry white men to fear. But at this point, the GOP has no bigger enemy than itself.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., The National Memo, November 12, 2012

November 13, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“What America Will We Pick?”: The Cleavage Between Those Who Have Held Power And Those Who Are Beginning To Attain It

This election is only tangentially a fight over policy. It is also a fight about meaning and identity — and that’s one reason voters are so polarized. It’s about who we are and who we aspire to be.

President Obama enters the final days of the campaign with a substantial lead among women — about 11 points, according to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll — and enormous leads among Latinos and African Americans, the nation’s two largest minority groups. Mitt Romney leads among white voters, with an incredible 2-to-1 advantage among white men.

It is too simplistic to conclude that demography equals destiny. Both men are being sincere when they vow to serve the interests of all Americans. But it would be disingenuous to pretend not to notice the obvious cleavage between those who have long held power in this society and those who are beginning to attain it.

When Republicans vow to “take back our country,” they never say from whom. But we can guess.

Issues of race, power and privilege are less explicit this year than they were in 2008, but in some ways they are even stronger.

Four years ago, we asked ourselves whether the nation would ever elect a black president. The question was front and center. Every time we see the president and his family walk across the White House lawn to board Marine One, we’re reminded of the answer.

The intensity of the opposition to Obama has less to do with who he is than with the changes in U.S. society he not only represents but incarnates. Citing his race as a factor in the way some of his opponents have bitterly resisted his policies immediately draws an outraged cry: “You’re saying that just because I oppose Obama, I’m a racist.” No, I’m not saying that at all.

What I’m saying is that Obama’s racial identity is a constant reminder of how much the nation has changed in a relatively short time. In my lifetime, we’ve experienced the civil rights movement, the countercultural explosion of the 1960s, the sexual revolution, the women’s movement and an unprecedented wave of Latino immigration. Within a few decades, there will be no white majority in this country — no majority of any kind, in fact. We will be a nation of racial and ethnic minorities, and we will only prosper if everyone learns to give and take.

Our place in the world has changed as well. The United States remains the dominant economic and military power; our ideals remain a beacon for those around the globe still yearning to breathe free. But our capacity for unilateral action is diminished; we can assert but not dictate, and we must learn to persuade.

Obama’s great sin, for some who oppose him, is to make it impossible to ignore these domestic and international megatrends. Take one look at Obama and the phenomenon of demographic change is inescapable. Observe his approach to international crises in places such as Libya or Syria and the reality of America’s place in the world is unavoidable.

I’m deliberately leaving aside what should be the biggest factor in the election: Obama’s policies. It happens that I have supported most of them, but of course there are legitimate reasons to favor Romney’s proposals, insofar as we know what they really are — and the extent to which they really differ from Obama’s.

In foreign affairs, judging by Monday’s debate, the differences are too small to discern; Romney promises to speak in a louder voice and perhaps deploy more battleships, but that’s about it. Domestically, however, I see a clear choice. I consider the Affordable Care Act a great achievement, and Romney’s promise to repeal it would alone be reason enough for me to oppose him. Add in the tax cuts for the wealthy, the plan to “voucherize” Medicare and the appointments Romney would likely make to the Supreme Court, and the implications of this election become even weightier.

Issues may explain our sharp political divisions, but they can’t be the cause of our demographic polarization. White men need medical care, too. African Americans and Latinos understand the need to get our fiscal house in order. The recession and the slow recovery have taken a toll across the board.

Some of Obama’s opponents have tried to delegitimize his presidency because he doesn’t embody the America they once knew. He embodies the America of now.

 

By: Eugene Robinson, Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, October 25, 2012

October 27, 2012 Posted by | Election 2012 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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