Archive for March, 2012

Nature and Politics: You Really Think the Killers of Trayvon Martin and Those 17 Afghan Villagers Will Ever Do Time?

By • on March 31, 2012 at 9:11 pm

I’d say the chances of George Zimmerman spending time behind bars for killing Trayvon Martin are about the same as Sergeant Robert Bales doing time for killing those 17 Afghan villagers the night of March 11. Zero.

Like most things that happen in America these days, the Trayvon Martin case is turning into yet another hearse trundling the Republican Party to its doom in November.

A brief outline of the facts. It’s February 26. Trayvon Martin is a 17-year old black kid watching a big basketball game in the home of his father’s fiancée in Sanford, a small-town outlier of Orlando, Florida. Sanford has a population of 55,000, about a third black. The fiancée lives in a mixed-race, gated community. At halftime Martin goes to the corner store and buys an iced tea and a bag of Skittles.

It’s raining and Martin has his hoodie up over his head and is talking to his girl friend on his cell phone. On his way back he is spotted by 28-year old George Zimmerman, a cop wannabe, self-appointed neighborhood crime watcher. Apparently he has pestered the police station for months with reports of “suspicious 12-year-olds” walking through the neighborhood. Zimmerman–white dad, Latina mother–is wearing a red jacket and blue jeans. In his pocket is a Kel-Tec 9 mm automatic pistol.

Zimmerman calls the local station and says he’s following a suspicious character. He describes Martin as black and says he’s acting strangely and could be on drugs. The teenager starts to run, Zimmerman says. A 911 dispatcher asks Zimmerman whether he’s following Martin, and Zimmerman says he is. The dispatcher says clearly that Zimmerman doesn’t need to do that.

There’s a lull in the transmission and you can hear Zimmerman mutter clearly to himself , “These assholes .. . They always get away.” On other calls between Zimmerman and the 9/11 dispatcher he refers to “fucking coons.” CNN says the words are indistinct, which they aren’t. CNN also says the case is “complicated,” which it isn’t.

Later the Martin family lawyer relays Trayvon’s girlfriend’s account of her last call with him. She says he told her that he was being followed. She says: “Run.” He says, “I’m not going to run, I’m just going to walk fast. The girl later heard Martin say, “Why are you following me?” and then another man–Zimmmerman–saying, “What are you doing around here?” The girl thinks she heard a scuffle because his voice changes like something interrupted his speech.

Mary Cutcher was in her kitchen making coffee that night with her roommate, Selma Mora Lamilla. The window was open, she said. “We heard a whining. Not like a crying, boohoo, but like a whining, someone in distress, and then the gunshot,” she tells Anderson Cooper on CNN’s 360.

They looked out the window but saw nothing. It was dark.

They ran out the sliding glass door, and within seconds, they saw Zimmerman.

“Zimmerman was standing over the body with–basically straddling the body with his hands on Trayvon’s back,” Cutcher said. “And it didn’t seem to me that he was trying to help him in any way. I didn’t hear any struggle prior to the gunshot. And I feel like it was Trayvon Martin that was crying out, because the minute that the gunshot went off, the whining stopped.”

The two women said they could not see whether Zimmerman was bruised or hurt. It was too dark.

“Selma asked him three times, ‘what’s going on over there?’ ” Cutcher said. “He looks back and doesn’t say anything. She asks him again, “Everything OK? What’s going on?’ Same thing: looked at us, looked back. Finally, the third time, he said, ‘just call the police.’ ”

The women, one white and one Latina, tell Anderson Cooper flatly they don’t believe Zimmerman’s story of how Martin had suddenly attacked him, punched him in the face, broke his nose–and that when Zimmerman–larger than Martin–feels he’s being overpowered he pulls out the gun and shoots Martin through the chest. (Later Zimmerman declined medical attention.)

Zimmerman stakes his defense on Chapter 7776.013 of the Florida criminal statute on home protection and the use of deadline force. Para 3 states “A person who is not engaged in an unlawful activity and who is attacked in any other place where he or she has a right to be 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 or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.”

This is what’s colloquially known as the Stand Your Ground law. Thirty states have versions of this old English legal concept of My Home is My Castle. Since I live in a remote rural area inhabited by well-armed people, not all of them on the side of the angels, I’ve read our statute from time to time trying to determine what exactly would be the circumstances under which–if an armed individual was heading for my house, 10 yards from the deck and showing no signs of slowing after my challenges–I could justifiably shoot him with my 12-gauge shotgun. It’s always struck me as a really hard call. The state may have a Stand Your Ground law, but it really doesn’t want people using it as legal shelter.

Not so in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman, the son of a former local magistrate judge, is not charged and walks away free. Though the Sanford cops leak to the press the news that he was once suspended from school as having been in possession of an empty bag that had once contained marijuana, Trayvon Martin had a clean record. On the other hand, Zimmerman was arrested in 2005 for battery on a cop. A former co-worker tells the New York Daily News Zimmerman was fired in 2005 from his job as an under-the-table security guard for “being too aggressive…. Usually he was just a cool guy. He liked to drink and hang with the women like the rest of us. But it was like Jekyll and Hyde. When the dude snapped, he snapped.” In 2007 an injunction was issued as a result of a domestic battery complaint by Zimmerman’s then-girlfriend. He files a similar injunction against her.

Outrage about the case built across the first two weeks of March. By the third week it was a national scandal. Black columnists described how they warn their sons not to run in any crisis situation, always be polite to the cops no matter how provoked. The Rev. Al Sharpton covers the case full volume on MSNBC. The usual litter of deadly cop shootings of blacks are exhumed from recent Florida police records. Protest demonstrations are held in Sanford.

There are the obvious questions. If Martin had wrestled the gun away from Zimmerman and shot him, would he have been allowed to walk away free? No, Sir. Political pressure forces the appointment of Special Prosecutor Angela Corey, to determine whether to charge Zimmerman. If she does so, it will probably be for second-degree manslaughter.

President Obama speaks on March 23 about the killing of Trayvon, saying, “If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon…I think [Trayvon's parents] are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and we are going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.”

Two Republican candidates for their party’s nomination to the presidency promptly bring out the hearse, most decently deployed to freight denunciations of women’s right to birth control. Newt Gingrich states that Obama’s comments are “disgraceful” and that “Any young American of any ethnic background should be safe, period. We should all be horrified, no matter what the ethnic background. Is the president suggesting that, if it had been a white who’d been shot, that would be OK, because it wouldn’t look like him? That’s just nonsense.”

Then Rick Santorum chimes in, stating that Obama should “not use these types of horrible and tragic individual cases to try to drive a wedge in America.” This unleashes Rush Limbaugh, who says that Obama is using the case as a “political opportunity.” Geraldo Rivera suggests Martin brought it on himself by wearing a hoodie. At which point the conservative columnist William Tucker has had enough.

In the hard-right American Spectator, under the headline : “Count Me Out On Trayvon Martin: Why Gingrich, Santorum, and many conservatives are dead wrong on this one,” he writes, “Republicans have no reason to intervene in this fight. Seventy-five percent of the public thinks Zimmerman should be charged with something…. Personally, I can’t wait until Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum get offstage so we can start running a presidential campaign that isn’t based on trying to alienate the vast majority of Americans over irrelevant issues.”

What is it that prompts Republicans to try so hard to alienate women, blacks, Hispanics, independents, and all those millions and millions of Americans to the left of the Tea Party they’ll need to beat Obama? Maybe they feel it’s their last throw. All the demographics look unfavorable for any future Republican majority. So there is a desperate effort to get everything they can right now. Conning working class whites with racism, sexism, anti-gay/anti-immigrant rhetoric, etc. has worked so well since Nixon that it’s become an addiction.

As for Sergeant Bales, now the official story of the US military is that Bales walked back to the base after his first round of killing, then went out again to kill some more, while his fellow soldiers slumbered on, presumably undisturbed by Bales’ fusillades from the nearby villages of Alkozai and Najiban, 20 kilometers south west of Kandahar. Alkozai is less a kilometer from The Special Forces Base of Camp Belambai, and Najiban only a little further off.

Here are some extracts from a report by a journalist who actually interviewed Afghan survivors of the slaughter the night of March 11. Yalda Yakim is an Afghan woman who works for Australia’s Special Broadcasting Service. She and cameraman Ryan Sheridan reached the village where the killings occurred. They were the first reporters to do so. This ran on SBS’s Dateline program.

YAKIM: Suspicion that there was more than one killer is now a view widely held in Afghanistan, spurred by comments from the President himself.

HAMID KARZAI: In four rooms, people were killed–children and women were killed–and than they were all brought together in one room, and then put on fire. That, one man cannot do.

YAKIM: Hamid Karzai’s personally appointed chief investigator, General Karimi, tells me that village elders claim several soldiers took part and they’ve told him there’s evidence to prove it.

GENERAL KARIMI: What the claim is, is that there were boot prints in the area. In some area, they say a kneeling position of three or four individuals. And also they claim that the helicopters were there to support the operations. Of course, I told them that helicopters–when the guy was missing, to search [for] him. They said, “No. The noise of the helicopters were there from the very beginning, when the shooting started.” That means there were many Americans that were supporting this issue, that were doing this deliberately–it’s not one individual. That’s the claim of the people.

YAKIM: I wanted to ask survivors of the attack what they had seen, but I was blocked by the US military. The survivors were children, I was told, and the Americans now treating them said they didn’t want them traumatized by my questions. It was only after personal intervention by President Karzai himself that I was finally granted permission to see the survivors, and to hear the chilling accounts of what they’d been through.

SEDIQULLAH (Translation): The bullet hit my ear like this and went through here scraped here and came out here. When my father came out, he shot my father and then he entered our room. We ran from that room to the other room–he came and shot us in that room and then he left.

NOORBINAK (Translation): He was shooting, he shot my father’s dog first, and then he shot my father in the foot, then he dragged my mother by the hair. My mother was screaming and he held a gun to her and my father said “Leave her alone” and then he shot him right there.

YAKIM: As eight-year-old Noorbinak watched her parents desperately trying to fend off the intruder, he turned his gun on her and shot her in the leg.

NOORBINAK (Translation): One entered the room and the others were standing in the yard, holding lights.

YAKIM: I’m struck by her reference to more than one soldier being involved–a claim repeated by the brother of one of the victims…. Staff Sergeant Bales left the scene of the killings in Alkozai village and walked in the darkness back to the base… At 2:30 AM, he left Camp Belambai a second time. He headed to the village of Najiban to the south, about 1.5km from the base. He was spotted by another Afghan guard as he walked into the night. The soldier entered the house of this farmer, Mohammed Wazir. Eleven family members were asleep inside.

MOHAMMAD WAZIR (Translation): They attacked during the night. They knocked on the door. When they knocked on the door my elderly mother, who opened the door, and was shot and killed right there and then they entered the inside–they went in to my room and killed my family in that room. And then they brought all the bodies and put them into one room and then they took all the linen and the blankets from the cupboard and covered them and set them on fire.

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Reclaim Our History: April 1-15

By • on March 31, 2012 at 8:55 pm

Special “Ronnie Reagan” Issue! Apr. 1, 1949: Ronald Reagan, president of Screen Actors Guild, visits President Truman at White House to discuss American films made in England with British crews, using funds earned by US films and taking American jobs. The SAG president and future POTUS was also known to the FBI as “Confidential Informant [...]

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Is That A Governor In Your Pocket, Or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

By • on March 29, 2012 at 4:28 pm

Being Kemper Freeman means being so rich that you never, ever have to take “no” for an answer. For years, Freeman, the wealthy Bellevue real estate and shopping mall developer who’s never seen a patch of land he didn’t want to improve with asphalt, has been trying to stop expansion of light rail to the [...]

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The Summers of Our Discontent

By • on March 23, 2012 at 12:43 pm

“Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging more migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs (lesser developed countries)?” Do those sound like the words of a man who should be running the world’s leading economic development institution? They don’t, but the man who put his name on the memo in [...]

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This is Who They Are, Cont’d

By • on March 21, 2012 at 3:14 pm

The latest PPP polling shows Romney, finally, starting to consolidate the Republican base in the wake of his seemingly inevitable coronation. But it also had this revealing, albeit depressing, side note:

The talk of a brokered convention never seems to die down and one interesting finding on this poll was that Sarah Palin is far more popular than any of the actual Republican candidates in the race. Her net favorability is +48, with 68% of [Republican] voters rating her favorably to only 20% with a negative opinion. That compares favorably to +29 for Santorum, +19 for Romney, and -26 for Paul.

Palin is someone GOP delegates might be able to unify around in the case of a hopelessly deadlocked convention. She is seen positively by Gingrich voters (85/7), Santorum supporters (80/10), and Romney ones (57/27) alike. That’s a contrast to Romney who is disliked by both Santorum (38/48) and Gingrich (32/54) voters and Santorum who is disliked by Romney (38/48) voters and only seen narrowly favorably by Gingrich (46/42) backers.

I can think of no swifter route to the GOP becoming a national and international laughingstock than, in their moment of doubt and crisis, turning to a proven charlatan and ignoramus like Palin as their unifying great white (and I do mean white) hope. And if she only has to campaign for two months, that just might be a short enough time that she can be bothered to rouse herself to work, and a small enough window that someone could imagine she could successfully be shielded from any public interactions that would further reveal what an idiot she is. (Alas, there is no window small enough for that.)

It won’t happen, of course. Romney has the nomination locked up, and given the alternatives, he could be caught in bed with the proverbial dead girl or live boy and he’d still be the nominee. (He’d blame Obama.) But: what a telling snapshot of who the current GOP is. Sarah. Fucking. Palin. Remind me again why it is that our political and media establishment treats this collection of asylum inmates as though it has any legitimacy at all to govern the world’s most powerful country?

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Okay, This Must Be An Early April Fool’s Joke

By • on March 20, 2012 at 8:57 am

The world’s largest and most resilient BitTorrent site plans to redefine “cloud computing” with a plan to move at least some of its servers onto unmanned drones miles above Sweden.

In a Sunday blog post, The Pirate Bay announced new “Low Orbit Server Stations” that will house the site’s servers and files on unmanned, GPS-controlled, aircraft drones.

But if it’s not…Pirate Bay are just God.

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Rushmore

By • on March 15, 2012 at 10:52 pm

I’ve had my differences with some – OK, a lot – of the things Obama has done in office, especially in civil liberties and the ever-expanding national security state. But the invitation Obama’s campaign extended to Republicans this winter to launch their War on Women ™ ought to rank as one of his greatest achievements. It’s penetrating now even to the lowest-information American just how fanatical, and misogynist, and ignorant, and authoritarian, the current crop of Republicans is. And no amount of finger-pointing by Dems would have conveyed this with an ounce as much impact as the Republicans themselves trumpeting who, and what, they are. Obama is badly flawed–but the ignorance-embracing theocratic fascists now dominating the Republican party are quite literally a threat to the survival of life on Earth.

That Obama’s gambit happened before an election in which, in a normal year with a struggling economy, Republicans would be in good shape to seize all three branches of government, is a public service that ought to get Obama’s face on Rushmore. The people now driving the Republican bus have always been scarifying, intolerant zealots, but now a lot more people know it. I hope they continue to stand, noisily, for what they believe in, despite the temporary damage to thinking people’s sanity it entails. The more noise, the bigger the repudiation in November.

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March Madness

By • on March 15, 2012 at 10:48 pm

No, not basketball. Political hardball, just down I-5. It’s been an, er, interesting month in Olympia, one that state legislators–and the legions of people whose welfare or even livelihood depend on their vicissitudes–will remember a long, long time. The fun started on Friday evening, March 2, when, faced with a hard deadline for passing a [...]

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USDA: Let Them Eat Garbage

By • on March 13, 2012 at 9:44 pm

Every month brings another horror story about recycled food.

Last month, a Snokist processing plant in eastern Washington State was reported to have packaged moldy, “re-treated” applesauce for sale in the US. The USDA was slammed for not stopping the process whereby Snokist skimmed mold off the top of vats of applesauce, heated it in an unscientific attempt to kill the mold, and packaged it for sale in supermarkets and for use in the nation’s school lunch program. Fortunately, a low-level USDA inspector contacted the FDA and Snokist was forced to stop recycling food waste.

But now comes another USDA horror story: the purchase of seven million pounds of pink slime for use in the school lunch program.

What is pink slime? First, let’s talk about what it’s not.

When you eat a hamburger, you’re expecting to get ground muscle tissue-—the trimmings from the most nutritious part of the animal. You will also get some fat, because the leanest meat from the animal is cut into steaks, and the less lean meat is usually ground into hamburger. For health reasons, consumers like their hamburger to have less fat and more lean. Food processors have always looked for inexpensive ways to boost the lean content of hamburger.

Now there’s a way for other lean parts-—not just muscle tissue-—to make it into your hamburger. The marketing names for pink slime include “Lean Beef Trimmings” and “Lean Finely Textured Beef.” What those names mask is that pink slime is composed of connective tissue, including tendons, ligaments, and intestines, combined with stuff that’s fallen onto the slaughterhouse floor.

Ask anyone who’s worked in a slaughterhouse if they would eat the stuff that falls onto a slaughterhouse floor, and you’ll hear a horrified “Never!” followed by a gagging sound. Ten years ago, scraps from filthy slaughterhouse floors were sent to rendering plants or used in dog food or chicken feed. Not anymore. Now the USDA has deemed it fit for human consumption.

How can this be? Well, food companies now treat the gunk on slaughterhouse floors with ammonium hydroxide, a pink chemical that’s supposed to kill pathogens like E. coli and salmonella. But tests done since 2005 on pink slime have found E. coli in at least three separate batches of pink slime, and salmonella 48 separate times.

An estimated 76 million people contract food-borne illnesses every year in the United States, according to the CDC. That means nearly one-quarter of all Americans will get sick from eating contaminated food in 2012. Hamburger is always high on the list of suspect foods.

But there’s a bigger health crisis here, one that’s not being discussed. Pink slime is not as nutritious as traditional ground beef, according to Gerald Zirnstein, a microbiologist who used to work in the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service. He and his colleague, Carl Custer, who also worked for 35 years in the Food Safety Inspection Service, have deemed it a “high risk product” that’s not nutritionally equivalent to ground beef. Said Custer: “My main objection was that it was not meat.”

When the human body eats non-nutritious food, the body craves more food to make up for the lack of vitamins and nutrients. Dietitians widely recognize non-nutritious food as a major contributor to the obesity epidemic in the US. It’s not much of a stretch to say that pink slime plays a key role. This non-meat waste product can be found in 70% of ground beef sold in the US, and the burgers-and-fries diet is widely reviled by dietitians, not just for its high fat content, but also for its lack of nutrients.

When McDonald’s, Burger King, and Taco Bell have banned pink slime from their food, you know it’s pretty bad stuff.

But food-borne health issues go beyond recycled waste products like pink slime. The pink chemical ammonium hydroxide has been used to wash most ground beef since the 1990’s-—long before pink slime came along. Traces of ammonium hydroxide often remain in ground beef for sale in the supermarket, whether it contains pink slime or not.

Any chemical that’s strong enough to kill E. coli can also do damage to the beneficial bacteria in the human stomach and intestines. Loss of beneficial bacteria is suspected to be a contributing factor in the rising rates of obesity, but also in an increase in other digestive tract disorders. And digestive tract diseases of all types afflict up to one-third of the US population, according to 2004 statistics from the National Digestive Disease Information Clearinghouse.

Most victims of digestive tract diseases are elderly, but many of us have heard about anecdotal cases of young people, including teens or children, who’ve been diagnosed with digestive tract disorders with unknown causes. Some of these cases are severe, requiring surgery or long-term medication and highly restrictive diets, and the outcome is not always a positive one.

We should be taking a much closer look at our food supply, and we should listen to whistleblowers from the USDA, like Zirnstein and Cutler, who criticize the department for being too friendly to food processors. If the USDA is supposed to be a guardian of public safety, they’re doing a terrible job of it.

An online petition calling for the USDA to drop pink slime from the nation’s school lunch program can be found at http://www.change.org/petitions/tell-usda-to-stop-using-pink-slime-in-school-food.

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Kucinich’s Legacy

By • on March 11, 2012 at 12:29 pm

Dennis Kucinich lost his Congressional seat in Ohio’s primary this past week, an redistricting-induced election he was designed to lose by throwing him into a new district comprised mostly of the old district of his incumbent opponent, establishment Democrat Marcy Kartur. The fact that his state’s Democratic leadership was fine with sacrificing Kucinich tells you [...]

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