Category Archives: Stand Your Ground law

Confounder in Chief Trump Cons America into Republican Repeal-and-Run of Obamacare

As the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as US president approaches, it’s still uncertain how exactly he is going to govern, since his actions before and after the election show his total disregard of accepted political norms.

He has surrounded himself with a billionaire cabinet whose members have political views that conflict with each other and himself; but this may in fact be how he intends to rule, elevating himself above clashing voices like a Mafia Godfather. The Washington Post comments: “A number of people have been given the highest level of White House jobs without a clear indication of who is in charge. By some accounts, Trump likes this sort of management chaos around him. But it is not conducive to policy creation.”

Trump specializes in creating political confusion while promoting his next “big reveal,” such as a “beautiful” health care plan with “insurance for all.” But regardless of these promises, the ultimate outcome of the chaos and corruption within his cabinet can only be the Republican agenda of dismantling state regulations and agencies on behalf of corporations and the plutocracy.

Healthcare is a concrete example of policy confusion that eventually defaults to the position of the Republican right. On the campaign trail, Trump vowed to repeal Obama’s Affordable Care Act but at the same time save Medicare and Medicaid. He repeated his promise last weekend, telling the Washington Post he would unveil a nearly finished plan that would guarantee “insurance for everybody.” This conflicted with Republican rhetoric that they would focus on lower costs to ensure “access” to insurance, rather than universal coverage.

But Wednesday, the day of the confirmation hearing for Tom Price, his nominee to lead Health and Human Services, Trump backtracked on the promise in two separate interviews. The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent comments: “While he reiterated that people without money will get coverage, he clarified that he’s considering a mechanism to do this: Medicaid block grants. … Progressives tend to oppose Medicaid block grants because they are all but certain to get cut, and because states would restrict eligibility requirements. … Thus, this idea – which seems likely to be at the center of the Trump/GOP replacement plan – would dilute the guarantee of coverage that Obamacare is striving to make universal. … Republicans just don’t believe health reform should guarantee coverage in the manner that the ACA does. … But the point is that Trump and his advisers are trying to obscure this. Trump does not want to be the guy who kicked millions off insurance. But it appears congressional Republicans philosophically cannot support anything that does not do this.”

In the confirmation hearings, Price himself twisted and turned to avoid answering a question from Elizabeth Warren if Medicare or Medicaid would be cut. Asked point-blank if dollars would not be cut, he replied: “We should put forward the resources to take care of the patient.” Earlier, he repeated the Republican line that individuals should have the opportunity to “gain access” to coverage, as opposed to “insurance for everybody.”

Trump’s role in this scenario is to create public uncertainty about what his administration is actually going to do about healthcare, a smokescreen for what Republican legislators like Price are preparing. This is a big deal because the deindustrialization of America has eliminated most unionized jobs with health benefits. The Republican rush to repeal the Affordable Care Act and remove coverage from up to 32 million Americans will affect many Trump voters who believed his promises of a better healthcare plan. But since the Republican strategy is to repeal the funding for Obamacare before a new plan takes effect – described by Elizabeth Warren on Sunday as “repeal and run” – it will be politically impossible to restore the taxes that will pay for any of the things he or his spokespeople have promised.

Many people who voted for Trump believed he would stop short of removing the coverage they were already receiving under the ACA. Greg Sargent reports a CNN feature about “people who live in Eastern Kentucky coal country and backed Trump because he promised to bring back coal jobs. Now, however, they worry that a provision in the ACA that makes it easier for longtime coal miners with black lung disease to get disability benefits could get eliminated along with the law. That provision shifted the burden of proving that the disability was directly caused by work in the mines away from the victim” and placed it on the owners.

Sargent argues that “while Trump did repeatedly vow repeal, these voters were absolutely right to conclude that he would not leave them without the sort of federal protections they enjoy under Obamacare. That’s because Trump did, in fact, clearly signal to them that this would not happen. … Yes, Trump said endlessly that he’d do away with the ACA instantly. Yes, his own replacement plan would leave millions without coverage. But here’s the rub: Trump also went to great lengths to portray himself as ideologically different from most other Republicans on fundamental questions about the proper role of governmental intervention to help poor and sick people without sufficient access to medical care. … Trump also repeatedly vowed not to touch Medicare, explicitly holding this up as proof he is not ideologically aligned with Paul Ryan on the safety net.”

Now the reality of Trump’s plans is not only causing extreme emotional distress but also imperiling the health of people currently covered by the law. Although under-reported, Bernie Sanders’ “Our Revolution” organized a day of action against ACA repeal on Sunday. At least 40 rallies took place in different cities, the highest profile one in Macomb County just outside of Detroit, Michigan, drew up to 10,000 in below-freezing weather to hear Sanders call for the defense of the ACA and the creation of a Medicare-for-all, single-payer system. Some in the crowd were Trump supporters now scared of losing their coverage. Elizabeth Warren spoke to 6,000 people at the historic Faneuil Hall in Boston – the rally was intended to be inside the hall, but had to be moved outside because of the size of the crowd.

In Price’s confirmation hearing, Democratic Senator Patty Murray told him: “My constituents are coming up to me with tears in their eyes, wondering what the future holds for their health care given the chaos Republican efforts could cause.” And in local meetings, Republican legislators are confronting angry constituents demanding answers on Obamacare repeal. The Houston Chronicle reported that far-right Ways and Means chair Rep. Kevin Brady, a vocal critic of the law, encountered 50 people at a meeting where he expected them to share “experiences with rising costs and loss of coverage and choice.” Instead they grilled him about his support for repeal without a replacement. “Don’t lie!” shouted Emily Hoppel, a 39-year-old with her 2-year-old son perched on her hip, when Brady moved from one goal of dismantling ACA to another of defunding Planned Parenthood, which he said used taxpayer money for abortion. “The Hyde Amendment,” she sputtered, incredulously, as Brady continued to talk over her. In Grand Rapids, Michigan, Rep. Justin Amash was repeatedly interrupted by constituents concerned about the repeal of the Act during a packed town hall meeting. After Amash referred to the healthcare law as “Obamacare,” a number of audience members interrupted to insist that he call it the “Affordable Care Act” instead.

The left needs to cut through the smoke-and-mirrors rhetoric that Trump, the Confounder in Chief, uses to dominate the media and work to build support for Sanders’ and Warren’s defense of the ACA, together with other movements of mass resistance to corporate hegemony. This means developing an organized opposition to the Democratic leadership which failed to mobilize the party’s voters in the 2016 election.


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Filed under Affordable Care Act, Bernie Sanders, donald trump, Elizabeth Warren, Medicare, Obama, Obamacare, Stand Your Ground law, Uncategorized

Making Racism Invisible in Post-Racial America: Trayvon Martin’s Death Goes Unpunished

The Zimmerman trial and verdict is symptomatic of the “post-racial” racism that characterizes US society today. Although open bigotry is legally banned, a deeply-embedded discrimination still exists that evokes the subterranean legacy of slavery. It is embodied in racial coding leveraged by Republican political propaganda and through social perceptions that find young black men threatening.

Some argue that the verdict proves nothing has changed since Reconstruction. I would disagree: there is a difference, in that the assertion of color-blindness is integral to the way white privilege and power is being renewed in the context of a changed demographic that makes people of color a majority in America.

The trial judge’s prohibition of any mention of racial profiling served to suppress jurors’ perception of Trayvon Martin’s real fears at being pursued, as a young black man, and enabled Zimmerman’s defense team to introduce coded racial markers to justify Zimmerman’s story of being in fear of his life. It also diverted attention away from the circumstances that led to their struggle, allowing Martin’s own fear to remain unimagined and Zimmerman’s guilt to remain unpunished.

Lisa Graves told Democracy Now that, although the defense did not resort to it, the judge’s instructions to the jury embodied Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. She said: “… the exact instruction to the jury was that Zimmerman had ‘no duty to retreat’ and had a ‘right to stand his … ground and meet force with force, including deadly force.’ That’s a direct quote from the jury instructions. Those jury instructions incorporate the Stand Your Ground law.”

Although it was Zimmerman who stalked Martin and precipitated the confrontation, juror B-37 explained how they took these instructions into account when concluding that he was not guilty of murder or manslaughter: “Because of the heat of the moment and stand your ground, he had a right to defend himself. If he felt threatened his life was going to be taken away from him or he’s going to have bodily harm then he had a right. That’s how we read the law, that’s how we got to the point of everybody being not guilty.”

She said she didn’t believe Zimmerman followed Martin because of his race, and that Martin was partly responsible for his own death. “I think George got in a little bit too deep, which he shouldn’t have been there, but Trayvon decided that he wasn’t going to let him scare him and get the one-over, up on him or something,” she said. “I think Trayvon got mad and attacked him.” By not walking away from the confrontation, “I believe he played a huge role in his death.”

Her sympathy for Zimmerman contrasted with her unconsciously racist assessment of Rachel Jeantel, the last person to speak to Martin and an important witness for the prosecution. She saw Jeantel as uneducated and stumbling in her testimony: “She just didn’t want to be there, and she was embarrassed by being there because of her education and her communication skills, that she just wasn’t a good witness.” In an interview after the trial, Jeantel explained to Piers Morgan it was difficult for her to answer aggressive defense questions because she was still dealing with the death of her best friend.  “It’s not that I didn’t want to be there. I was dealing with a lot of stress for 16 months. I was grieving.”

In court, Jeantel recounted her final phone conversation with Trayvon Martin, describing how Martin asked his pursuer “Why are you following me for?” and ended with him saying “Get off, get off.” Defense attorneys attacked her credibility and her use of slang terms, which were not understood by the jury. As James Baldwin wrote:  “It is not the black child’s language that is in question, it is not [her] language that is despised: It is [her] experience.”

What the court has now officially confirmed is whites’ legal privilege over African-Americans in Florida. Obama, who describes his own policies as color-blind, issued a statement after the verdict was announced to deflect protests onto the issue of gun violence. His surrogate, Eric Holder, called for a “hard look” at Florida’s Stand Your Ground laws, but not at the endemic racism of the courts, suggesting that parents having to advise their children how to behave if they are ever confronted by whites “is a sad reality in a nation changing for the better in so many ways.”

Author Michelle Alexander addressed this systemic racism on Democracy Now. She said the mindset that viewed young men of color as a problem to be dealt with has infected the whole social system and created a prison apparatus unprecedented in world history.  “It is the Zimmerman mindset, the mindset that some people, viewed largely by race and class, are a problem that must be dealt with harshly and just locked up and, you know, the key thrown away, that has helped to drive the adoption of many of these mandatory minimum sentence laws. … Although Attorney General Eric Holder does not have the authority to repeal mandatory minimum sentences and undo the legislation that has, you know, helped to create the prison-industrial complex, what he can do is … say that the passage of these mandatory minimum sentences was wrong and that it was done with a discriminatory mindset, that it was done with an attitude of overwhelming punitiveness towards poor people, in general, and poor people of color, in particular …”

Leftists have argued that the ideology of a post-racial society in which a black individual can become president serves to redirect attention away from structural inequality and racism. But, more than that, the notion functions to suppress the civil rights concept of social justice aimed at redressing the historical effects of poverty and discrimination. Jim Crow practices are renewed and implemented today through this post-racial myth, which was employed for this very purpose in the Supreme Court decision rolling back the Voter Rights Act.

White Americans view pro-gun laws and stand-your-ground laws as upholding the rights of all, but in practice they are applied by the police and courts to consolidate the hold of the rich and white on power. The de facto segregation of towns and suburbs through unequal wealth and the mass incarceration of black males exacerbates this social dysfunction.

In cities across America, from New York to Los Angeles, citizens have protested the verdict. The protests have been mostly multiracial and peaceful, and like the Occupy movement, reflect the demographic and political changes of the last ten years. Sociologist Darnell Hunt pointed out that the same community that celebrated Obama’s election as president was joining the protests. “People were hoping their view of justice would be served, and it wasn’t,” he said. “They’re having a hard time believing in the American dream and the idea that African-Americans had finally become full-fledged citizens.”

Immediately after the verdict the NAACP’s website crashed as thousands rushed to sign a petition calling for Zimmerman to face federal prosecution. It’s likely there will be more and larger protests on Saturday, and Martin’s parents have called on Obama to review the case “with a fine toothcomb.” Trayvon Martin’s death will not be in vain as millions of Americans join them in demanding answers about Obama’s post-racial society, one that actively targets Black and Brown youth.

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Filed under African Americans, Obama, political analysis, Stand Your Ground law, Supreme Court, Trayvon Martin

Sandy Hook: Reassert the Value of Life and Empower Americans to Stand Up to Corporate Bullying

A deep-rooted anti-social pathology that devalues life runs through contemporary U.S. culture. Apart from the tragic deaths of 20 children, six teaching staff, and the killer’s mother in Sandy Hook, Connecticut, there have been multiple high-profile shootings in recent years, when unbalanced and alienated individuals have lashed out at society with easily-available automatic weapons.

The shootings are symptomatic of the suppressed violence embedded in the culture. Filmmaker Michael Moore was one of the few to address this issue in response to the Sandy Hook shootings: “When you have eliminated so many millions of jobs, when you’ve ruined communities like mine, Flint, Michigan, you have killed people, because—because having seen firsthand the effects of these corporate decisions—the alcoholism, the drug abuse, divorce, suicide, all the social problems that go along with this act of violence—but we don’t call it violence, and no one’s ever arrested for it …”

The defiant speech by the head of the National Rifle Association, who stated that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, marks the bankruptcy of the American philosophy of extreme individualism. It denies the community the right to ensure the safety of the person through the rule of law, atomizing society into a Wild West free-for-all. Of course, the super-rich take care to hire private militias to guard their gated enclaves.

Gun laws are more than a wedge issue for Republicans; they are a central component of their anti-social ideology. The NRA is closely connected with the corporate and Congressional plutocrats leading the attacks on unions, communities, and the safety net. The social consequences of their opposition to gun control mean nothing to them, as long as they secure the political allegiance of those for whom the rush of firing guns compensates for their actual powerlessness.

The American Medical Association’s Journal notes: “… in 1996, pro-gun members of Congress mounted an all-out effort to eliminate the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Although they failed to defund the center, the House of Representatives removed $2.6 million from the CDC’s budget—precisely the amount the agency had spent on firearm injury research the previous year. …To ensure that the CDC and its grantees got the message, the following language was added to the final appropriation: ‘none of the funds made available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control’.”

The NRA’s links to the Koch-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), and Walmart, the nation’s largest retailer of guns and ammunition, were made public by the Center for Media and Democracy, which revealed that Walmart co-chaired an ALEC task force meeting in 2005 that voted to approve a law the NRA had spearheaded in Florida as a model for other states. That bill was the “Stand Your Ground” law that was invoked to justify the shooting of Trayvon Martin earlier this year.

Following ALEC’s strategy to neuter the national resistance to their right-wing agenda by pushing through laws at the state level, at the same time that Michigan governor Rick Snyder signed ALEC-drafted “right-to-work” laws aimed at undermining the financial and political clout of unions in the state, he signed another bill that overturned bans on concealed weapons. Scott Walker signed identical legislation in Wisconsin after his assault on union rights in that state. And, in the wake of the Sandy Hook school massacre, Walker proposes giving guns to the teachers with whom he refuses to collectively bargain.

It is those who are fighting to restore social justice and union rights, like the Occupy movement and community activists working with the low-waged, as well as unionized teachers across the nation, who are empowering Americans to stand up to corporate bullying and reassert the value of their lives.

UPDATE: Rebecca Peters, who led the campaign to reform Australia’s gun laws after a massacre in 1996 that killed 35 people, pointed to the role of public frustration and the leadership exercised by the prime minister at the time in creating a nationally uniform gun law which set a much higher standard for gun ownership than the individual states. She says that the laws are a resounding success: “15 years later, we’ve not had a mass shooting since that time, and also gun deaths in general are about 50 percent lower than what they were.”

Michael Moore, however, argues in an Alternet article that while gun control will reduce gun deaths, it won’t end mass slayings “and it will not address the core problem we have.” Other countries that have guns, he says, don’t kill themselves at the rate Americans do. He lists three factors that may account for the violence embedded in the culture of the U.S.: poverty, racism, and the individualistic “me” society. “I have to believe one of the reasons gun murders in other countries are so rare is because there’s less of the lone wolf mentality amongst their citizens. Most are raised with a sense of connection, if not outright solidarity. And that makes it harder to kill one another.”

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Filed under occupy wall street, political analysis, Sandy Hook, Stand Your Ground law, Trayvon Martin, Wisconsin recalls

Trayvon Martin and racial profiling as an undercurrent in Republican rhetoric

The second-degree murder charge against George Zimmerman undoubtedly signals a victory for the movement initiated by Trayvon Martin’s parents. Trayvon’s killing and the lack of an arrest captured the public imaginary throughout America and created a demand for justice to be seen to be done. While a charge is not a conviction, the trial will be played out in the public eye, so attention will be drawn to laws that have been promoted by the rightwing organizations ALEC and the National Rifle Association – concealed carry of weapons, easy access to guns, and “Stand Your Ground” – which will likely form Zimmerman’s defense.

The special prosecutor, Angela Corey, a Republican reputed to be tough on crime, denied that Zimmerman’s arrest was a response to pressure and maintained the state was following its due process. Corey’s statement announcing the charge attempted to overcome the perception of a conflict between her investigation and the Sanford authorities by linking the decision to prosecute to the constitutional rights of citizens: “Let me emphasize that we do not prosecute by pressure or petition,” she said. “We prosecute cases based on the relevant facts of each case and on the laws of the state of Florida. … By strictly adhering to this standard we vigorously pursue justice for all victims of crimes while maintaining the rights of every defendant. … Every single day, prosecutors throughout this country handle difficult cases, always keeping at the forefront their mandate to seek justice.”

However, the probable cause affidavit released by her office on Thursday made clear that Corey rejects Zimmerman’s claim – accepted at face value by police at the time – that Martin attacked him. Her investigators determined that Zimmerman “profiled” Martin and then pursued and confronted him.

The state had to respond to the demands for justice, to have a trial at least, to maintain its legitimacy. The ideal of equality under the law is important to the ideological justification of state rule. But this also intersects with other social currents in America. The NRA, which advocated and wrote the Stand Your Ground law, is an important conservative constituency for Republicans: Mitt Romney went out of his way to cultivate ties with the group and adopt their inflammatory anti-Obama rhetoric at their annual convention in St. Louis, Missouri, last week.

Speaking at the same convention, the NRA’s vice-president Wayne LaPierre tried to deflect criticism of Stand Your Ground by attacking the media for publicizing Martin’s killing and ignoring other violent crime. “By the time I finish this speech, two Americans will be slain, six women will be raped, 27 of us will be robbed, and 50 more will be beaten. That’s the harsh reality we face, all of us, every single day,” he said. What the NRA wants is to use the fear of crime to enable armed white citizens to enforce vigilante justice against a perceived criminal threat – exactly what Zimmerman did – without fear of legal consequences.

Supporter of right-wing causes and Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz chimed in to pillory Angela Corey, saying he thinks she doesn’t have a case for second-degree murder. “What you have here is an elected public official who made a campaign speech last night for reelection when she gave her presentation and over-charged.”  He described the affidavit of probable cause as “thin,” “irresponsible,” and “unethical.”

While there is a clear division in public opinion over the case, it is not purely on race lines. Gary Younge overstates his argument in the Guardian when he says: “What follows from here has the potential to be every bit as divisive as the OJ Simpson trial and every bit as inflammatory as the Rodney King case – only this time there’s a black president in an election year.” According to the Washington Post: “Eight in 10 blacks say they think Martin’s killing was not justified, compared with 38 percent of whites. Most whites say they do not know enough about the shooting to say whether it was justified.” Almost 40% of whites agree with the overwhelming majority of African-Americans, and the rest are uncertain: that’s more nuanced than opinion was on OJ Simpson’s guilt. The divisions in the country over this case are more ideological than racial – racism is expressed through attitudes on gun control and stoking fears of criminality.

A Washington Post writer, Colbert King, points out: “The murder charge doesn’t settle the question raised by Martin’s shooting. As Ohio State University law professor Michelle Alexander, the author of ‘The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness,’ told the Christian Science Monitor, Martin’s killing is ‘not an exceptional case except for the fact that the one who did the accosting while armed was a private citizen’ rather than a police officer. … High rates of arrest, incarceration and unexplained stops by police, Alexander said, send ‘the message to young black men that no matter who you are, what you do, whether you play by the rules or not, you’re going to be viewed and treated like a criminal and you’re likely to wind up in jail one way or another’.”

Interviewed on DemocracyNow, NAACP president Benjamin Jealous raised the same issue: “We have not had an honest conversation about racial profiling in this country in a decade. And the reality is that [the Trayvon Martin] case, for a whole generation of young people, is the first time they’re seeing their country really talk about this problem. … You know, in 2003, what, there were about 160,000-170,000 stop-and-frisks in New York; 87 percent of those resulted in no summons, no one being locked up or taken to the station. Last year, 285—excuse me, 685,000 stop-and-frisks, 685, and 88 percent of them found nothing. You know, less than 10 percent of those were of white people; you know, more than 90 percent were black and Latino people. And the reality is that we’ve seen a massive upsurge in racial profiling over the last decade …”

Nobel prize-winning novelist Toni Morrison told the Guardian: “They keep saying, we have to have a conversation about race in this country. Well, this is the conversation. We’ll see if it plays out, if it makes a difference in terms of not just the hate crime thing, but the law.” She drew attention to the coded racial language of the conservative right, and how Santorum described Obama as a “government nig – uh.” “He said he didn’t say that! They used to say ‘government nigger’ when black people got jobs in the post office, stuff like that. And that’s what he was saying.”

The national discussion of race coincides with an election campaign in which the subverting of state law by the Republican right is being pulled into the public eye. Zimmerman’s trial will highlight racial profiling as an undercurrent in American political rhetoric – and will build opposition to it.

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Filed under 2012 Election, African Americans, Florida laws, George Zimmerman, Obama, political analysis, populism, Stand Your Ground law, Trayvon Martin