It doesn't seem like that far back but, as these things are measured, I guess it really was a generation ago.
It was 1976. Gerald Ford had replaced the disgraced Richard Nixon as President of the United States. He was facing a serious challenge from upstart conservative Ronald Reagan, former Governor of California. Several Democrats were vying for the party nomination. Hubert Humphrey was looking strong. Morris Udall was an underdog. And a former Governor of Georgia, Jimmy Carter was just beginning to look credible as he faced George Wallace in a few southern states.
But the big name, the one name that dominated the news was Senator Ted Kennedy. Chappaquiddick and the death of a young admirer was still in everyone's mind. The degree of Kennedy's responsibility for her death was a topic of discussion and debate.
More than anything on the news, the possibility of another Kennedy run dominated. Word came out that the Senator would be making an announcement soon.
The announcement came from his office. Senator Kennedy would not be running for President that year. Still, a few voices were heard wondering just how definitive that announcement really was. That afternoon, Senator Kennedy held a press conference. No, he said. No, no, no. He was not going to run for President in 1976. No.
By the end of the workday, as commuters clogged the expressway in Baltimore where I lived, as businesses closed for the day, the news programs on the radio reviewed the day's events. I listened as I drove. Okay, okay, I got it. Senator Edward M. Kennedy would remain Senator Kennedy. There would not be another President Kennedy. Not for a while, at least.
At home that evening, I turned on the television set. Jerry Turner was a reliable presence. You could always count on him to appear. I wondered if he ever took a vacation. He was reliable. His words were not. He mixed his opinions into his news and he was not careful about his facts.
That evening, he announced the big news from that morning. Edward Kennedy was about to run for President. Details after the commercial break.
Even by Turner standards, that was a surprise. It was before Fox News made the practice of spin a normal expectation. In those days, journalists did not aspire to balance as much as they did to accuracy. Let the chips fall.
Accuracy was the fashion, and Jerry Turner was no slave to fashion.
I may be aging, but I still have my mind. The sense of déjà vu while watching MSNBC made me wonder about my mind, but only for a second.
A week or so before, a publication for investors called "Money Morning" carried a bit of a misleading story that started with Warren Buffett. The story was that Buffett, back in 2010, had joined in the health care debate. He had voiced skepticism about Obamacare as it was being considered by Congress. If he was President Obama, he would scrap the program and start over.
The quote from 2010 was semi-true. Obamacare did not exist yet, and Buffett was being interviewed about two versions being debated at the time. He preferred a Senate version over a House version, but was concerned about the increasing costs of health care in recent decades. He was afraid that neither plan would seriously push back against costs. He wished a better plan that would directly attack costs could be devised. If he was President he would have started differently, adding more cost push backs to the mix.
Still he supported Obamacare over the system in place at the time. It was a major improvement and he was for it. He just wished it had more cost cutting provisions.
The Money Morning piece did not dwell on the misleading Buffett quote. It just used it as a jumping off point to explain how horrible Obamacare will be and how Americans "loathe every facet" of it. But the new program does offer major investment opportunities, so listen up, readers. Money Morning is, after all, an investment newsletter.
A few days later, the conservative Weekly Standard wrote about how Warren Buffett now stands opposed to Obamacare. You know things are bad for President Obama when even Warren Buffett has soured on Obamacare and says that "we need something else."
The Weekly Standard somehow forgot to mention that the quote was not current, in fact was from 2010.
Like some demented version of a children's game of telephone, the conservative publication selectively quoted an investment newsletter which in turn selectively quoted this public figure.
And, of course, a thousand conservative bloggers chipped in their version of the Weekly Standard version of the Money Morning version of Warren Buffett. So now the internet conservative news was that Warren Buffett had seen the light. The one time supporter of health care reform was now vigorously opposed to it.
Republicans appeared on talk shows to score points, now that Warren Buffett had joined them in opposing Obamacare.
None of it was true, of course.
A few writers began to push back, after doing their homework and researching the quote. Yes, it really was from three years back when Obamacare did not yet exist, when the legislation was still being worked out. And yes, the context of the quote made the meaning pretty much opposite of what conservatives were trumpeting about it.
Warren Buffett quickly issued his own denial. As soon as the stories began, he spoke with the Omaha World-Herald.
Stories saying that Warren Buffett wants to “scrap Obamacare” are false, the Omaha investor said Tuesday.
“This is outrageous,” Buffett said in a World-Herald interview Tuesday. “It's 100 percent wrong ... totally false.”
- Omaha World-Herald, September 17, 2013
Apparently, Mr. Buffett was not happy at being misquoted.
I've never suggested nor thought Obamacare should be scrapped. I support it. It relates to providing medical care for all Americans. That's something I've thought should be done for a long, long time.
- Warren Buffett, interviewed by the Omaha World-Herald, September 17, 2013
Now that should settle it, right? Oh, you'll still have countless minor conservative office holders or talk personalities who never get the word, or who lack enough confidence in themselves or their issues to stick with the truth.
But mainstream conservatives have pretty much turned to more productive arguments.
Well, some may have. Maybe.
The controversy has died down, the Weekly Standard has updated it's story with a tiny little note that Buffett was speaking three years ago. Still no context, and still no other corrections, but you can't expect everything.
Five days after the dust has settled, five days after Warren Buffett's scathing correction of the record, five days after Buffett reaffirms his support of healthcare in general and Obamacare specifically, conservative Joe Scarborough, host of Morning Joe, speaks to a regular member of the show, and informs a national audience:
By the way, Warren Buffett came out last week and said, Willie, we've got to start all over. Obamacare is not going to work. We need to start all over. Warren Buffett, big Democrat.
- Joe Scarborough, on Morning Joe, September 22, 2013
Jerry Turner left this mortal realm a quarter century ago. I still sometimes hear his voice in my imagination growling that his name is Legion "for we are many." It was startling to see his inner demons possess another television personality.
But we must acknowledge our blessings. For example, I'm thankful at how fast my face is already healing.
I've got to learn to stop listening to Scarborough in the morning during the few minutes it takes me to shave.
I don't think in America we should throw tantrums when we lose elections and threaten to shut down the government and refuse to pay the bills.
- Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO), September 22, 2013
Aside from President Obama himself, there is pretty much nothing Republicans hate as much as the universal health program that informally carries his name.
Before it became Obamacare, the program was invented by conservatives as an alternative to ClintonCare, which was killed in its crib. The Republican alternative was actually put into effect by a Republican governor in Massachusetts.
But as soon as it was associated with Obama, it became a horrible idea. Opposition became the cornerstone of the Republican campaign in 2012. The primary supporting pillar of the Romney campaign was often known as Irony.
The weapon of choice is a matter of contention among conservatives.
Some Republicans want to hold the government hostage. If those for whom the majority of Americans voted in the last election do not defund Obamacare, those Republicans say they will shut down the government. No more pay for military personnel, no more social security checks for retirees, no more medical treatment for the elderly or the poor or those wounded in combat.
Not until conservatives get their way.
Other Republicans want to hold the economy hostage. If Obamacare is not dismantled, those Republicans say they will shut down the economy. The procedure they will block is misleadingly called "raising the debt ceiling." The debt actually exists already. Under this strategy, Republicans will refuse to pay those existing bills. Like a shutdown, that also means no more pay for military personnel, no more social security checks for retirees, no more medical treatment for the elderly or the poor or those wounded in combat. One additional result will be a severely wounded economy, investment tanking, millions thrown out of work.
The Republican Party has been shrinking. Within this much smaller party, a minority holds sway. They are hyper-activists, highly motivated ideologues. They have the power to send Republican leaders to the gentle land of former Republican leaders. This extreme wing of an increasingly extreme, much smaller, party votes more than any other group of conservatives.
Obamacare is not all that popular. But a lot of folks who say they are against it think it doesn't go far enough. And a lot of folks who think it goes too far are comically uninformed.
Some of those, for example, in Kentucky are pleased to have a terrific program called Kynect rather than that horrible Obamacare they've heard about. Public health workers wonder whether to spoil the fun by telling them that Kynect is actually part of Obamacare.
Most Americans do not want Obamacare defunded. The Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, in fact, shows 57 percent of the public is against stopping Obamacare by cutting off funding. Only 36 percent want Obamacare defunded.
Among Republicans alone, those percentages are reversed. Most Republicans want what most Americans don't want. They want Obamacare stopped before it gets started.
Why is this?
Is it because they think it is a bad idea? Are they convinced it will hurt the economy?
A new poll tells us something about what motivates the blood thirst Republicans seem to have.
Americans overwhelmingly believe a failure to lift the debt ceiling, a Republican led refusal to pay our bills, will damage the economy. Interestingly, this correct view is held by Democrats and Republicans. For members of both parties this prediction is shared by an overwhelming majority.
But while an overwhelming majority of Republicans know that refusing to raise the debt ceiling will cause serious harm to the country, an overwhelming majority want this to happen anyway. 61 percent.
So Republicans overwhelmingly realize that this move against Obamacare will inflict damage on America. And Republicans overwhelmingly want to do exactly that.
Politics is said to be a bit like seeking to attract a romantic partner.
Democrats follow this mode. They appeal to the public, thanking us for past support, explaining that they are on our side, hoping we will stay with them. The public remains skeptical, but open. Polls show Democrats above water, with about 12 percent more favoring them than opposing.
Republicans are somewhat less successful. Polls show a public distaste for them. Perhaps it is their approach.
Republicans seem to feel betrayed by America. They have adopted a more confrontational tactic than that shown by Democrats. It is one familiar to some of those who have witnessed the darker side of human relationships. It is the strategy of rage.
If Republicans can't have us voluntarily, they will beat America into submission.
Chicago's sometimes gritty image took a double hit this week with a shocking late-night shooting and the release of a new report that showed the Second City ranked first in homicides.
- USA TODAY, September 22, 2013
The headline is:
Chicago's image takes a hit
A dozen people shot in a single incident, one a three year old kid, added to the 500 victims accumulated in a single year, and we have a news story about the danger to the city's image.
A little later, a "strategy and branding expert" who teaches at a management school offers his expertise on just what is so horrible about what has happened: "...people injured and lives lost have a terrible effect on people in the communities closest to the violence, and the reverberations spread city- and countrywide."
Well yeah. It's about time someone wrote about the horrible loss experienced by families and friends. And this is what the story relates as the terrible effect on those closest to the violence:
Each report that deems Chicago as a dangerous town "shapes the perceptions that people have of the city," he says.
"When you say the name of a city, you want to have positive associations about the wonderful downtown area or the sports teams. You don't want the first thing to be violence," he says. "Every time Chicago is in the headlines for violence, the reputation gets a little more tarnished."
You can see his point. If you lost a child, wouldn't your primary concern be the tarnishing of the reputation of the metropolis?
Several paragraphs later, the article does go on to the longer term economic effects. People moving out, companies not moving in. But the main concern is image. People are secondary.
It is not entirely fair to pick on this bit of journalism. The transformation of tragedy into abstraction is part of a more general journalistic trend. Thus food for a hungry kid or medication for a retiree are grouped into a category of "entitlements."
As in: Republicans should be criticized for expanding subsidies for agricultural mega-businesses and refusing to end tax breaks for the extremely wealthy. But let's criticize Democrats for their refusal to give up entitlements. You know... for those medicines and food.
The trivializing of hardship allows those in positions of power, in a democracy that would be those of us allowed to vote, to treat people as other than people.
It allows those who report on those who are vulnerable to shift the focus to what ought to be tertiary concerns.
Several years ago, after the death of Pope John Paul II, the Onion published a headline:
Pope John Paul II, Longtime Owner Of Popemobile, Dead At 84
The article began:
VATICAN CITY—Pope John Paul II, who owned the Popemobile for more than a quarter of a century, passed away last Saturday. "The Popemobile was known the world over," said Peter Egan, a writer for Road & Track. "A fine example of European craftsmanship, the hand-built, 4.3 litre, V-8 powered, pearl-gray vehicle was exceptionally well-loved, even more so after the bulletproof bubble was added in 1981 to safeguard its passengers against assassination attempts. During the time he owned the Popemobile, John Paul II visited more than 120 countries. He loved the open road."
- The Onion, April 13, 2005
I remember the piece as a shocking bit of satire.
I didn't realize it was a sign of things to come.
Republican Legislator Stuck Making $172,000 - Another Side (3:53) - Click for Podcast
For Original Text
Mystical Reasons Republicans Are Unlike Other People (6:15) - Click for Podcast
For Original Text
Hatred Toward Miss America Is Hatred Toward America(4:55) - Click for Podcast
For Original Text
9:00 AM, September 22, 2013
St. Mark's United Methodist Church
314 Graham Rd
Florissant, MO 63031
|Jesus works in our lives|
|and lives in our hearts.|
|We're blessed with gifts|
|We're blessed with life.|
|Yet we look beyond ourselves|
|to a world still to be healed.|
|We see those for whom life|
|is a string of anxiety and desperation.|
|We look to all that surrounds us,|
|all that we have, and we decide|
|whether we are owners for ourselves|
|or stewards for God.|
|We can be part of God's blessing.|
|We can be part of God's love,|
|because Jesus works in our lives|
|and lives in our hearts.|
Found on Line:
"Give Me Jesus"
March 24, 2013
Tommy Christopher of Mediaite tells of how the guy who heard voices from a microwave and killed a dozen people could buy any firearms he wanted but would have been stopped in Virginia from obtaining Ninja throwing stars.
Mad Mike's America is there as a Republican Congressman bemoans being stuck in his low salary position in Congress. Only 172 thousand a year. There is an explanation that involves more than the headline.
The Heathen Republican proves that you can make a good point by emphasizing the words of others. He quotes Peggy Noonan on American exceptionalism. Very good as far as it goes. What it misses is the next level beyond self-congratulation. Exceptionalism is best defined as a struggle toward an ideal.
Lots of racist reaction to an American of Indian descent being chosen as Miss America. News Corpse notices a Fox personality complaining that a real American from Kansas should have been chosen instead.
- Those who have never been owned by a pet cannot know. Conservative James Wigderson and his family mourn the loss of a wonderful dog.
[Capitol Hill aides] may be 33 years old now and not making a lot of money. But in a few years they can just go to K Street and make $500,000 a year. Meanwhile I’m stuck here making $172,000 a year.
- Representative Phil Gingrey (R-GA), September 18, 2013
The quote is making its way around the internet. It is one of those too-perfect-to-pass-by illustrations of wealthy bubble encapsulated hopelessly out-of-touch Republican members of Congress. The quote was reported in the conservative National Review.
The context of the discussion was as revealing. In fact, Phil Gingrey was encouraging a bit of self-sacrifice from Republican members of Congress.
A provision in the healthcare law, put in as a way to get Republican votes, allowed members of Congress and staff members to get health subsidies. A few Senators and Representatives have been making a populist appeal to constituents: look what government gives to legislators but denies to you.
So a proposal was put forward to repeal that subsidy. Members of both houses of Congress would still have to purchase their insurance from exchanges, just like everyone else. And, because they earn a lot more, they would have to pay more. So taking away those subsidies would mean no help from government for them.
Making members of Congress give up a health care benefit didn't go over really well with Republican members.
National Review quotes Representative Frank Lucas (R-OK). "Before you support this, go home and talk to your wife." They report how Joe Barton (R-TX) complained about the high cost of health care. "That’s a burden. And it’s a burden on our staff, too."
Actually, Phil Gingrey (R-GA), the one who talked about how his staffers have it easy and he was stuck in a dead end $172,000 a year elective job, was not joining in. He was arguing against all the poor mouthing. His point was that he would be sacrificing as much as they were and you didn't hear him complaining.
I wasn't there, stuck as I am earning considerably less than $172,000 a year out here in Missouri. So I don't know for sure. It's a mere suspicion that Representative Gingrey may not have mentioned his own net worth of more than 3 million dollars.
The next day Republicans passed a bill to slash food stamps to little kids and the working poor.
Phil Gingrey (R-GA), who is stuck in Washington making $172,000 a year, voted to take food from those little kids.
Joe Barton (R-TX) who feels he needs federal help with the high personal burden of health care costs, voted to take food away from the working poor.
Frank Lucas (R-OK), who urged fellow Republicans to "go home and talk to your wife" before depriving themselves of health care subsidies, was the one who sponsored the bill to take food from working families. It is not documented whether he asked his spouse first.
Among Republicans - those Republicans who heatedly responded to proposals to take away the subsidies they get for their own health coverage - 217 voted to slash food subsidies for little kids and the working poor. 15 voted against. All Democrats in the House voted against the slashes.
The cuts against those struggling to get out of poverty passed.
The subsidies for House members and their staffs stayed in place.
It isn't hard to get irritated at experts. They forget, they actually do, that those outside their specialty will often find their words devoid of meaning.
When Elizabeth Warren pushed for the creation of a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, it was to protect consumers from unfair financial practices. Anyone who has ever been ripped off, or misled by fine print, or told they could not fight city hall can see the benefit to having someone big on your side.
One of the first things the new agency did was to hold hearings around the country. They wanted to explain what they were about, and they wanted to hear from ordinary citizens. I went to the presentation in St. Louis a year ago.
It was frustrating.
I wrote to a pastor, a friend, about the experience.
To some extent they are the victims of their own knowledge. All of them will have difficulty understanding those who are not on their level of expertise. Even less understanding for those with low tolerance for wonkiness. A half hour discussion of "REO lending" as if everyone outside their narrow universe would derive anything but glazed eyes. The best investment for banks remains the MEGO derivative. My Eyes Glaze Over.
That's one reason Bill Clinton has become the popular "explainer in chief." He puts technical concepts into ordinary language without becoming simplistic or misleading.
You wouldn't normally think of James Carville as a specialist unmindful of ordinary vocabulary. You might get irritated with him, but he seldom is incomprehensible.
The recent output by his consulting firm, Democracy Corps, which is a partnership between Carville and Stan Greenberg, is a partial exception. Everything was fine until I took a look at the charts.
The basic summary was enlightening, and it was mostly in standard English. The Republican Party is unpopular and is getting less popular each day. Although they didn't put it this way, a lot of Americans are getting to the point where chewing on tin foil is preferable to voting for Republicans. And that number is growing.
Democrats are not wildly popular, but more folks approve of the Democratic Party than disapprove. They are above water by about 12 percent. 40% like Democrats, and 28 don't.
The period during the Syrian controversy might not be the best time to conduct a poll. You'd expect a bit of an uptick for Republicans when the President's proposed military action was so bitterly opposed by most people, and Republicans were leading the criticism. But distaste for Republicans actually went up. 44 Percent were in the negative column.
The Carville and Stanberg firm did extensive polling, weighted toward Republicans, and broke down the issues that seem to inflame the base.
- Lots of Republicans hate President Obama. Even more thundering, they go thermonuclear over Nancy Pelosi.
- A substantial number of Republicans hate homosexuality. Gay marriage really sets them off.
- Republicans tend to have warm fuzzy feelings toward the Republican Congress, the Tea Party and anti-abortion groups.
- Many Republicans hate immigrants and anything foreign, including free trade.
- Some Republicans hate labor unions, they kind of like corporations, and they oppose regulation. They like immigration. All traditional positions. Just not as many as in the past.
- Some Republicans don't much care for Wall Street and they are opposed the TARP bailout. Some of these Republicans might be open to some regulation. Gasp.
That's all kind of interesting. Lots of Republicans are moon howlers. Then come the charts and the numbers.
The I-hate-Obama-and-loath-Pelosi crowd have 23.5 next to the category, with a semi-plain explanation: explains 23.5 percent of responses. Okay. Does that mean they were asked about the intensity of their responses? Did they overlap with other groups? What does that 23.5 percent mean?
The I-hate-gays group has a big bold 8.2 percent. Maybe that means "explains percent of responses". Probably. The other groups have smaller numbers in bold. I-Love-Congress is 6.6 percent. I-love-Corporations is 6.2. The rest are around 5%.
The 23.5 percent is pretty serious. That's the hate-the-Kenyon bunch. The rest seem pretty much like mishmash. Does 5% or 8% indicate much?
The variances are the worst. What are variances? If you know, you get to stay and clean the erasers. But they must be important. They are listed in the dimension charts.
There are a bunch of them. They kind of look like cross references. Like maybe how many of the Obama haters also hate immigrants or like global warming. And each of these has a variance next to it, along with an unexplained number in bold.
And the charts are color coded with no explanation of what the colors mean. It is undeniable that some Republicans color code people, but not in rainbow style.
"Oppose health care reform law" folks are orange. The "Oppose Tea Party" people are red. At least in the "The Obama-Pelosi-Democratic Congress-government activism dimension" which has a variance of 23.5, which might be coincidence or might be the percent of Republicans who hate Obama and Pelosi.
There are six charts in all. They are all subdivided, it looks like, unless they are cross referenced. They are all mysteriously color coded. They have percentages that must mean something, and they all have variances. Every last chart has a variance.
So what have we learned?
This is not a party filled with adherents of National Brotherhood Week. More people than ever hate Republicans. Republicans hate pretty much everybody, except those few who don't hate everybody, all of whom are in some shrinking variance within a shrinking cross referenced color coded party.
That's good news, unless it isn't.
I'm in the MEGO variance - My Eyes Glaze Over.
I was in my early twenties, I guess, when I began keeping track of my dreams. My dad and I hypothesized that dreams were an expression of the subconscious. It is a mainstream theory of psychology dating back at least to Freud.
I did notice a pattern of sorts. I would dream about trips in reverse. My folks were moving to Missouri from the area of the country where I was born, upstate New York between Syracuse and Rochester. When I drove from the Syracuse area to Missouri, I would sometimes dream about traveling from Missouri to Syracuse. Going back, I would dream the opposite.
It was one of several patterns.
As I read about Davuluri Koteshwara Choudhary and his wife, Sheila Ranjani, it brought back memories of that pattern. They were immigrants from India, coming to America to start a new life. They came to Missouri over 30 years ago, where he became a gynecologist. They were in upstate New York, in Syracuse when they became parents. Their daughter was born in 1981.
They named her Nina Davuluri.
They lived in Oklahoma for a while before moving back to Fayetteville, very near to where I grew up.
The coincidences pretty much fall apart beyond that. There is no mystical connection. I don't recall ever being in Oklahoma. I lived in near Baltimore for a while, and had not yet moved to Missouri by the time they had left.
But I happen to know some of the area where young Nina Davuluri's parents lived and where she grew up. Missouri is, pretty much by definition, mid-America. Upper New York State is the Midwest transplanted: agricultural, mostly rural. I was not a farm boy. I just knew a lot of them. Worked on a farm during summer months.
I imagine a sort of familial empathy of sorts. My own mama was born in Seneca Falls, New York, to immigrant parents. They had come separately from the Ukraine and met in Waterloo, NY. My mom spoke only Ukrainian until she began going to school. After her own mom died, she forgot her first language, eventually knowing only English.
If anyone had ever suggested that my mother was not an American, I don't believe I would have been offended. Just mystified. Possibly I would have thought it kind of humorous.
This year Nina Davuluri, born in Syracuse New York, raised in Oklahoma, then Fayetteville, New York, won a beauty contest. In fact it is considered the beauty contest in the United States. Older folks will remember Bert Parks singing "There she is, Miss America."
The US is a very big country. We have a lot of people. Some of them are bigots. Not conservative. Not paleo-conservative. Not libertarian conservative.
You can find some of them voting against Republican Governor Nimrata Nikki Randhawa Haley of South Carolina, or Republican Governor Piyush "Bobby" Jindal of Louisiana.
You can find pretty much all of them opposing President Barack Obama, spreading the untruth that he is alien, not one of us.
While some folks, even some conservatives, conflate bigotry with conservatism, such folks are bigots.
Because the United States of America has so many people, even a tiny proportion will have a lot of members. And bigotry holds a bigger proportion than we like to think.
Of course, this bigotry asserted itself as Nina Davuluri was crowned Miss America. Newspapers carry accounts of thousands of internet messages, twitter responses, email messages, and the like.
Some folks figure that, since she doesn't look like them, she must not be American. Some, maybe because of her name, think she must be Muslim, and therefore not American. That group manages a bit of a double somersault of prejudice - bigotry against Muslims and non-whites at the same time. Some are offended that this young woman has been chosen so soon after the anniversary of the 9/11 attack.
It was a short time ago that a young American youth born in San Antonio was the target of similar ethnic bigotry after singing America's National Anthem.
We react with some anger and shame at the volume of racist reaction to Americans who look Hispanic or Indian or Muslim. And we are mindful of the cheers, the screams and whistles of support, that outweigh those expressions of hate.
There are obvious signs, some real, some symbolic, that our country has come a long way since politicians won by advocating segregation. I'm thinking Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms.
We have come a long way in my lifetime.
But man oh man, we have got such a long way to go.
Not everyone was surprised at his penchant for getting into trouble.
After the killing, he became a cause célèbre, achieving some sponsorship from famous folks. But a law enforcement official warned that he was a dangerous individual. That was the term he used: "dangerous individual." He elaborated, "His attitude, his demeanor indicated psychosis."
Being unprepared for sudden fame, or notoriety, is not entirely uncommon, but some folks do become dangerous. And when Jack Abbott killed again the natural reaction was to call out his sponsors.
George Zimmerman is being compared to O.J. Simpson, who got into unrelated trouble with unlawful violence. The image of Zimmerman on his knees, a frightened wife and battered father-in-law taking refuge in a house, does have a parallel with the out-of-control Simpson.
Both were charged with killing unarmed victims. Both were found innocent by doting juries in spite of a surface appearance of guilt. Both were defended by prominent people.
O.J., like George, revealed himself to be violence-prone when he thought himself to be wronged. And his inner definition of offenses against himself seemed to have a low threshold.
Zimmerman is also being compared, in a bit of hyperbole, to Al Capone. Capone got away with lots of murders, but got tripped up on unrelated charges. He didn't pay taxes on all his illegal income.
But I think the potential comparison to Abbott, and others, is more fearfully apt. We hope it doesn't turn out to be a more exact parallel.
Jack Abbott was in prison in Utah for forgery in 1965 when he got into a fight with another inmate. The other fellow ended up dead, stabbed to death, and Abbott got 23 years added to his sentence. He escaped, robbed a bank in Colorado, and was captured again. 19 more years.
But he got a sponsor, of sorts. He wrote over a thousand letters to Norman Mailer, and eventually got his attention. Together, they wrote an expose of prison conditions. You can still buy it online.
With Mailer's help, he got released on parole in 1981.
Jack Abbott was not the only prisoner to be sponsored by a public figure.
William F. Buckley got interested in the case of Edgar Smith, who had been convicted of kidnapping and killing a 15 year old girl in 1957. Buckley became convinced that Smith might have been framed by over-zealous police. He helped Smith get a new trial, although the second trial never actually happened. Smith pleaded to a lessor offense and was released in 1971.
A month and a half after getting out of prison, Norman Mailer's friend, Jack Abbott, got mad at a restaurant employee who told him it was against the rules to let patrons use an employee restroom. He killed the waiter and went back to prison, where he eventually killed himself.
Bill Buckley's friend was out for almost five years before he tried to kidnap a woman at knifepoint in 1976. She escaped with a severe wound and he is still in prison.
Bill Buckley later wrote a mea culpa, regretting his involvement.
Norman Mailer described his role as "another episode in my life in which I can find nothing to cheer about or nothing to take pride in."
We can hope that Sean Hannity is never called upon to write about similar regrets.
I suggest that, regardless of Zimmerman's future actions, Hannity should resist the temptation. If Hannity was wrong, and I think he was, his responsibility ends with Zimmerman's trial.
Buckley was wrong for concluding that Edgar Smith had been framed. We know now that he was not. The woman Smith later attacked would justified if she is angry at the now departed Buckley for that misjudgment. But later the attack on her was Smith's responsibility, and only his.
Norman Mailer is also gone. The case of Abbott is murkier. There was never any doubt as to his guilt in stabbing to death his fellow inmate. Although the family of the young man Abbott killed would doubtlessly find it of no comfort, the later killing was on Smith, not on Mailer.
After George Zimmerman's latest run in with law enforcement, and his victory lap through the plant that manufactured the gun he used to kill an unarmed teenager, the police chief of his Florida hometown agrees with a local resident's description of "a ticking time bomb" and "a Sandy Hook, Aurora waiting to happen."
Sean Hannity, like many conservatives, more or less adopted the Zimmerman defense, that he acted in self-defense, not out of rage at one more of those many intruders, "punks" who "always get away." Hannity, and others, should be criticized for that absurdity.
What rage the out-of-control Zimmerman acts out in the future is his own.
Locking people up in anticipation of future crimes is a legitimate motivation. Danger to the public is often a factor in determining bail before trial and sentencing after.
It is not a legitimate cause in itself. George Zimmerman was on trial for what he did, not what he might do.
Tragic as future actions might be, the cases of Abbott, Smith, and Zimmerman were about the past. We are simply not that much into preventive imprisonment.
Perhaps we should be reminded of that when we see another Willie Horton ad.
Stephen Fincher Lectures Poor Folks
about Christian Values (4:21) - Click for Podcast
For Original Text
9:00 AM, September 15, 2013
St. Mark's United Methodist Church
314 Graham Rd
Florissant, MO 63031
|Blessings are not earned.|
|We are blessed with what we do not deserve.|
|We live in freedom. We live in peace.|
|We live in opportunity.|
|We have the gift of life.|
|We do not own prosperity or peace.|
|We do not own our nation, or even our lives.|
|These gifts are not owned. They are entrusted.|
|We are not masters. We are stewards.|
|Stewardship is not marked|
|by how much we have,|
|but by how much we care.|
|It is not measured by what we are given,|
|but by what we give.|
|The God of all the nations|
|rules in the human heart.|
|On this earth, God's work must truly be our own.|
Found on Line:
"Finlandia Hymn / This Is My Song"
A World Wide Medley of
Interpretations of a Familiar Hymn
Tim McGaha at Tim's Thoughtful Spot goes briefly biblical in introduction as he examines the history of horrible weapons turned toward peaceful application.
Cory Booker once related how a victim of violence died in his arms. National Review thinks evidence shows he is lying. Tommy Christopher of Mediaite reviews that evidence. Seems Booker may only have worked to try to keep the victim alive until emergency crews got there. It's ambiguous on whether the guy was dead when they arrived. Seems like the bigger story, the one Booker didn't mention, is his all out efforts to save the victim. National Review's efforts to expose Booker continue. Good job there, National Review.
At News Corpse we learn about the noble campaign by Fox News to educate America how lazy poor folks are exploiting hard working wealthy people.
Michelle Obama wants kids to consume less soft drink and more straight water. Scientists say the case for more water is demonstrated by observation, but has not yet met the rigorous requirements of scientific study. Conservative James Wigderson, who often let's opportunities for overstatement go by, connects on this one. He begins by asserting that "science says that’s just quackery." Yeah, that's what he says. He goes on to slam bottled water because of all the plastic used to make the bottles. Don't worry. James is an excellent writer. He'll come up with something better next week.
- PZ Myers, writing for Pharyngula, has a few pointed remarks about a poll to decide which candidate should become an astronaut.
I don't often read the Wall Street Journal. Aside from the editorial pages, it's not a bad publication. When I do read it, it compares well to Fox News. The comparison is natural for me, since both are own by Rupert Murdoch, officially declared unfit by a special committee of the British Parliament.
Okay, okay, that is slightly snarky. Mr. Murdoch was not declared to be unfit in every respect. The official findings of the Special Committee of the British Parliament only said Rupert Murdoch is "not a fit person to exercise the stewardship of a major international company."
I don't avoid the Wall Street Journal, but I don't have the time I used to have. I barely scan our local daily, and often I don't do that, except on line.
But this time, Slate Magazine's Justin Peters mandated that I follow a link and I read a piece in the Wall Street Journal that got me good and angry at Missouri's Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster.
The article didn't mention Chris Koster, or Missouri, or any Attorney General, actually. It just dealt with false confessions. And it made me furious at the guy I voted for last year.
Research was done into cases of people who were convicted of various crimes, who were put into prison for long sentences, and then were proven to be innocent of the crimes for which they had been convicted.
It turned out that a substantial proportion of those wrongly convicted had actually confessed to the crimes they had not committed. These were not cases in which they were later found to be not guilty because some key aspect of the case was ruled out of order. These were not people who were released on a technicality.
These were people who were actually proven to be innocent. It was shown to be impossible for them to have been guilty. In some cases, they were photographed at locations miles away at the moment a crime was in progress. In one case, a kid was in police custody at the time of the crime, held on a minor charge after some public drunkenness. Yet he was convicted of the crime he could not have committed.
The research also showed something else. Young people are more than three times as likely to confess to something they didn't do as are older people. In the last 25 years, more than a third of young people convicted of crimes it later turned out to be impossible for them to have committed actually confessed to those crimes. The figure was 38%.
The reasons given by experts seemed to be to be speculative. They were guesses. Educated guesses. Plausible guesses.
Young people are more cowed by authority, they are more easily tricked, more easily intimidated, more likely to think their ordeal will end and they can go home if they cooperate in self-incrimination. They are more likely to believe someone else is about to testify against them. If they had been drinking, they are less likely to feel sure they are innocent.
What can't be challenged is that young people can often be gotten to confess to something with which they had nothing to do. 38 percent is a startling fact.
Which brings us to Missouri's Attorney General.
A young man named Ryan Ferguson was wrongfully convicted a few years ago. He did not falsely confess. He consistently maintained his innocence.
But, while in high school, he had befriended an otherwise friendless classmate, an outcast with a reputation for being constantly stoned out of his mind.
The stoner friend read about a late night murder of a popular sports editor, killed on a parking lot in 2001 as he left his office after a long day. The kid remembered being with his buddy Ryan Ferguson that night. He was hazy about what they had done and where they had gone. As usual, he had been drugged out. But he had a couple of dreams about the murder. His confused musings got to police and they brought him in for questioning.
Like the youngsters in the study now quoted by the Wall Street Journal, he was tricked and bullied. That's a fact. He was told his friend Ryan had already confessed and had agreed to testify against him. He was led to think he would be executed if he did not confess. This went on for hours. He was spoon fed details of the crime. Video shows him surprised by some of those details.
But he confessed and testified that his friend was the actual killer.
Another witness was found. A janitor in the building the victim had left that night testified to seeing both young men that night on the same parking lot where the murder had just occurred.
Their combined testimony clinched the conviction of young Ryan Ferguson. He began serving a long sentence in 2004. The dreamer, the stoner, got a lighter sentence. He had cooperated.
Over time, the confession kind of fell apart. Details were wrong. At least one wrong detail, a way off inaccurate description of an unwitting passerby who barely missed seeing the killing, precisely matched each erroneous detail of a hasty police report filed during the initial investigation. Quite a coincidence. A nighttime bar the confession mentioned as the place the two young men fled to right after the murder turned out to be closed and locked up. Hair found in the fist of the victim did not match either of the boys.
Years after the conviction, the young friend of Ryan Ferguson finally sent a letter that got to a volunteering attorney. The confession dreamer knew Ryan had not done it. He believed he himself had committed the crime alone.
The witness, the janitor, was more dramatic. He wept in public at an appeals hearing. He pointed at Ryan Ferguson and asked for forgiveness. He had lied. He had been in legal trouble on a sex charge. The prosecutor did not, he said, actually promise lenient treatment. But the prosecutor had been emphatic that it would be very helpful if the janitor would remember seeing the two boys.
So he remembered. And he testified falsely.
The prosecutor also testified at the appeal. He insisted he never told the confessing youngster that he would be executed. And he never actually promised the janitor special treatment on the sex charge. He would never do such a thing, he said, because he would not want to damage his own reputation.
Actually, the young man who confessed had never accused anyone of directly telling him he would face the death penalty. The janitor never accused the prosecutor of anything beyond the assurance that specific testimony would be very helpful.
By the time of the appeal, the prosecutor was no longer a prosecutor. He is a judge, first elected largely on the strength of convicting the two young men of a terrible murder. The presiding judge at the appeal was a colleague. That judge ruled that the testimony at the hearings were not enough. He would respect the finding of the jury.
That ruling was itself appealed.
And that is where Attorney General Chris Koster comes in. His brief may not be convincing to a layperson. But it is a good example of why so many people are skeptical of lawyers in general and hate politicians specifically.
He held that confessions should be believed over recantations. There is no reason for someone to confess to a crime he did not commit.
He argued that 1) the janitor was so obviously lying that he was not believed by the jury in the original trial and that 2) the janitor was telling the truth in that original trial.
He cited a legal standard that seems strange and unjust to a non-lawyer, but which apparently is quite familiar to graduates of law school. He said that innocence had no bearing on the case. Only procedures should be considered and procedures had been followed.
In short, he was prepared to defend the legal system, particularly when it is threatened by ... you know ... truth.
It makes me want to run right out and do something I would normally never consider. Like vote for a Republican next time this Attorney General comes up for reelection.
Even if the Republican has gotten a law degree by sending in box tops. After reading the Koster brief, perhaps especially if the Republican knows nothing about law, and something about justice.