Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Romney's Worst Hypocrisy: Today, He Derides the "Entitlement" Society, But He Implemented "Romneycare"

Mitt Romney's secretly recorded comments that negatively describe supporters of President Obama have generated much criticism. Many of the critics have uncovered the inaccuracies in Romney's comments. Many of these critics, however, have overlooked one of the most pernicious elements of his comments. Although Romney bashes Obama's supporters as people who see themselves as "victims" and who crave reliance on government programs, he is actively seeking the support of seniors by promising them that he will strengthen Medicare - one of the world's largest public benefits programs.

But the most hypocritical issue related of his comments concerns their conflict with his legacy as governor of Massachusetts. While Romney bashes some Americans as relying on public support, when he was governor of Massachusetts, he presided over that state's implementation of universal healthcare. That program is almost identical to the Affordable Care Act, which conservatives deride as "Obamacare."

Until now, Romney has made a weak attempt to distinguish Romneycare from Obamacare on the grounds of federalism. His plan reflected the special interests and needs of persons within the state of Massachusetts, while Obamacare seeks to impose a uniform remedy across the nation.

Holding aside the inaccuracies in this argument, Romney should now try explain why the voters of Massachusetts who wanted universal healthcare were not "victims" and leeches of public assistance. Simply saying they were state voters does not answer the questions Romney raises in his comments. If people who desire public healthcare benefits are simply the product of an entitlement society, then Romney absolutely catered to these same interests while he was the governor of Massachusetts. Today, however, he is singing to another tune. His voice is off-key.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Romney's Comments Regarding Obama's Voters: Inaccurate, Insulting, and Hypocritical

Mitt Romney's recent comments regarding President Obama's voters have created quite a media stir. During a private donor reception in Boca Raton, Florida in May 2012, Romney made the following, secretly recorded, statement:
There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.
Romney's comments are inaccurate, insulting, hypocritical.

Romney's Comments Are Inaccurate
Many factcheckers have already tackled this issue. Ezra Klein, for example, has meticulously uncovered the inaccuracies in Romney's comments. The notion that 47 percent of Americans do not pay taxes is simply wrong. Nearly 50 percent of Americans do not pay income taxes, but most of these indiviudals pay payroll taxes, which fund, among other things, Social Security and Medicare. The tiny percent of individuals who do not pay any payroll or income taxes are elderly, students or extremely poor. Thus, contrary to Romney's assertion, the "47 percent" pay taxes, work, and do their best to provide for their families.

Romney's Comments Are Insulting
Romney suggests that people who do not pay taxes suffer from a victim mentality and prefer to leech governmental resources. This idea is strange coming from an individual who was born with a diamond spoon in his mouth. Romney has never had to struggle for basic human needs. And he has smartly sheltered his billions of dollars in assets from taxation. Yet, he has the audacity to malign the character of working-class and poor Americans. This is shameful.

Romney's Comments Are Hypocritical
Romney's comments wreak of hypocrisy. While he bashes people who he believes feel they are entitled to governmental resources, including health care, he and his running-mate Paul Ryan have paraded around the country telling seniors that they will protect and improve Medicare. But seniors are the very class of individuals who, taken together, are least likely to pay any federal taxes and who are most likely to depend upon the federal government for healthcare.  Furthermore, given the high rates of poverty in states that tend to vote for Republican presidential candidates, Romney's comments likely apply to a large portion of the Republican base that he hopes will give him an election victory.

Final Thoughts
Unlike most campaign commentary, I take these comments personally. First, I am voting for President Obama. But more importantly, I grew up in a poor family, but I am now a Yale-educated law professor. My success required hard work and a lot of personal and family sacrifices. Unlike Romney, my family ties did not give me any societal advantages whatsoever.

Despite my individual effort, I also relied upon governmental assistance, particularly student financial aid and a public education, to become the person I am today. Of course the entire Republican National Convention was based on the falsehood that governmental assistance is unnecessary for economic success.

Romney's comments have no place in a country that prides itself on offering equal opportunities. Romney's comments make him unfit him for the office of President of the United States.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Gun Control and the Limited Liberal Imagination

The awful shooting in Aurora, Colorado has generated a predictable conversation regarding gun control. News articles, blog pages, and social media are buzzing about the perils of the US gun culture and the need for more gun control laws. As a Dissenting Justice, I like to examine critical issues that others push to the margins. Accordingly, I have attempted to shake up the liberal response to gun violence which focuses almost exclusively and mechanically on gun control. For several reasons, I find this conversation extremely limited and insufficient. 

First, there is a poverty of good research that documents the effectiveness of gun control. Many studies are inconclusive. Some show that such measures work, while others show failure. Many of these studies use poor methodologies. Despite the limited availability of strong research on this issue, gun control has been the singular response by many US liberals to gun violence. It is possible to question the effectiveness of gun control without conceding to the political agenda of rightwing organizations such as the NRA. Progressives should rest their arguments on sound data, just as they demand conservatives to do.

Second, it is abundantly clear that homicides -- whether they involve guns or not -- tend to involve these factors: mental illness, drug abuse, and emotional conflict. Indeed, in 2004 the CDC conducted a comprehensive study of gun deaths and reached this very conclusion. Despite the abundance of research that links violence with mental illness, drugs, and emotional conflict, the liberal dialogue that has emerged since yesterday's tragedy (and following similar events in the past) does not address mental illness and drug addiction. Instead, the dialogue has focused primarily on regulating gun purchases.  This response echoes the conservative approach to crime generally. It calls upon the criminal law alone to solve a complex social problem. Even if gun control works, only a multidimensional and comprehensive approach can reduce violence.

Third, I am very suspicious of heated policy discussions that follow extraordinary events because they are inevitably faddish. Although the Aurora shooting was extremely tragic and bloody, gun violence occurs daily in the US. In Chicago, for example, there have been 253 homicides this year alone, but this has not captured the national attention like the Aurora shootings. As in most large cities, most of the Chicago homicide victims are male and black. Indeed, homicide is the leading cause of death among young black men. The issues leading to this acute social problem include poverty, racial isolation, insufficient resources to address mental health, and lack of opportunity. In other words, gun control will not fix this problem.

Fourth, the typical assailant knows the victim which enhances the opportunities for violence, with or without guns. Often, homicides occur among intimate partners. Given the relationship between many victims and killers, it is unclear whether regulating guns would do much to curb routine violence and homicides, even if it could reduce random shootings and mass killings.

Final Thoughts

I do not oppose sensible gun control. I do oppose, however, robotic and predictable policy positions.  Even The Onion has satirized with its usual accuracy the national dialogue that has followed the Aurora massacre. Supporting gun control should not preclude advocacy of other responses to violence. Being a liberal does not require rote adherence to traditional liberal policies. It is fine to rethink longstanding agendas. And even if gun control is part of the solution to violence, it is not the only feasible and efficacious response.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


The Supreme Court has upheld the Affordable Care Act (affectionately known as Obamacare) in a 5-4 ruling. Although many observers expected Justice Kennedy to provide the swing vote, Justice Roberts joined the liberals to uphold the statute.

In many ways, the opinion is rather mundane. The Court held that the individual mandate is a tax on uninsured people. Although the Obama administration refused to call the mandate a tax while the legislation was pending in Congress, it has defended the ACA on those grounds in litigation. The taxation argument is probably the most sound from a constitutional perspective. But with respect to politics, taxation is a dirty word.

Justice Roberts Saved the Law, But He Is Still A Conservative

Although many people will undoubtedly praise Justice Roberts for saving the integrity of the Court, his opinion definitely leaves a conservative and partisan mark. For example, Justice Roberts unnecessarily reached the question of whether the Commerce Clause allows Congress to penalize uninsured people. Because a majority of the Court found that the the penalty is a valid tax, the Court did not have to reach the Commerce Clause issue. In fact, longstanding judicial principles frown upon the unnecessary discussion of constitutional issues.

Justice Roberts, however, goes deeply into the Commerce Clause question, and his logic embraces much of the conservative discourse surrounding the penalty. Justice Roberts buys into an "action"/"inaction" distinction, arguing that Congress cannot regulate economic inactivity. He also accepts very specious arguments likening the penalty to a mandate to purchase broccoli for the sake of national health. Justice Ginsburg provides a very impressive response to these arguments in a separate opinion, joined by Breyer, Kagan and Sotomayor. [Note: I have also addressed these issues in several essays. In each essay, I defended the law as either a valid tax or a permissible exercise of the Commerce Power. See here, here, and here ]

Justice Roberts also considers whether the penalty is justified by the Necessary and Proper Clause. He concludes that it is not. His logic, however, is rather strained. Roberts concludes that the provision might be "necessary" but that it is not a "proper" exercise of federal power. This is a novel take on the Necessary and Proper Clause. Historically, the Court has interpreted this clause as giving Congress a great deal of flexibility to exercise is enumerated powers. Not only does Congress have the authority to exercise explicit powers delegated to it by the Constitution; it also has the power to do all things that are "necessary and proper" to exercise these explicit powers. In other words, the clause gives Congress implied powers.

In United States v. Comstock, decided just two years ago, the Court issued a quite expansive ruling involving the Necessary and Proper Clause, when it held that Congress could involuntary commit child predators who have completed their federal sentences. The Court ruled that the involuntary commitment provision was a necessary and proper way of enforcing several federal laws related to criminal punishment. The Court, as the dissent observed, failed to link the involuntary commitment provision to any actual explicit power delegated to Congress by the Constitution and criticized the majority for its novel and far-reaching approach. Roberts voted with the majority. Given this precedent, Roberts's discussion of the Necessary and Proper Clause in today's ruling seems heavily flawed.

Ultimately, it is unclear whether the discussion of the Commerce Clause and the Necessary and Proper Clause are even a part of the decision or simply dicta. The caption of the ruling describes these sections as simply "an opinion" rather than "the opinion of the Court"(italics added), which matters from a legal perspective.  Also, the dissenters did not explicitly "join" this part of the ruling. On the other hand, Justice Scalia refers to Ginsburg and the other three liberals as "dissenters" on the Commerce Clause question. It will be interesting to see whether this part of the opinion is treated as "good law" going forward. [Note: The Volkh Conspiracy believes this confusion might indicate that Roberts changed his mind at the last minute. In other words, the liberals were actually the dissenters until they pulled Roberts to their side.]

The Dissent

Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito wrote a rare "joint" dissenting opinion. When justices write joint opinions, they are tying to make a very strong statement. Despite the rare format of the opinion, the dissent really does not mark new ground. Instead, the opinion simply argues against the Commerce Clause argument, the taxation argument, and continually expresses the view that Congress now has unbridled power to regulate individuals. One aspect of the dissent, however, requires discussion.

Justice Scalia: Pure Politics

Before today's ruling, Justice Scalia authored a concurring opinion in Gonzales v. Raich. In that case, the Court held that the Commerce Clause allowed Congress to regulate intrastate, homegrown marijuana. Justice Scalia wrote separately and described the Commerce Clause in very expansive terms. According to Justice Scalia, Congress could regulate medical marijuana users because the federal prohibition of marijuana possession was just one small part of a broader regulation of commerce (the Controlled Substances Act) and that it was rationally related to the goals of the broader regulation. He also argued that so long as such a rational basis exists, the regulation need not target economic activity at all.

Today, however, Scalia retreats from this view, joining the other dissenters who embrace the action/inaction distinction. I believe that history will not view this argument kindly. Justice Scalia has always been partisan and rightwing in his rulings -- particularly on issues such as race, gender and sexual orientation. Many Court observers, however, still viewed him (prior to today's ruling) as an intellectual. Recently, he has lost some of his goodwill. Several commentators have recently argued that he has traded his intellectual hat for a more politicized rhetoric. Although I believe these commentators are a bit behind the game in their discovery that Justice Scalia is a political partisan, I suspect that after today's ruling, many others will view him rightfully as an ideologue.

Justice Kennedy: Not A Surprise

Many observers believed that Justice Kennedy would provide the swing vote to save the statute. But Justice Roberts filled that role, and Kennedy joined the conservatives.

Although Justice Kennedy's decision to join the conservative dissenters will probably surprise many political commentators, it should not shock close Court observers. According to empirical research, when Justice Kennedy acts as a tie-breaker, he usually joins the conservatives. Despite his reputation as a moderate, Justice Kennedy is fairly conservative. This is especially true on issues of racial justice and abortion.

Today, Justice Kennedy has again sided with the conservatives. Justice Roberts, however, played the spoiler. Undoubtedly, many folks will argue that Chief Justice Roberts is concerned with the Court's integrity. They believe that if the Court had invalidated the ACA, the public would have reacted negatively to the decision, thus eroding the Court's legitimacy. This argument seems logical. It could explain why Justice Roberts voted with the liberals, but still carefully placed many rightwing arguments in his ruling. The public will only notice the outcome. Policymakers and lawyers will notice the details.

Justice Thomas

Justice Thomas also wrote a brief dissent. But he has merely recycled an argument that he has made before. Justice Thomas has the most conservative views about the Commerce Clause than any justice in the history of the Supreme Court.

All justices on the Court, including Thomas, believe that Congress has the power to regulate commercial transactions or persons or things that are "in." Thomas, however, rejects the view -- though shared by liberals and conservatives today and in the past -- that Congress also has the power to regulate activity that "affects" interstate commerce. Justice Thomas does not believe that the affecting-commerce rationale is legitimate. He took two simple pages to reiterate that belief in today's ruling. No other justice joined -- or has ever joined -- him on this point.


Now, political commentators will slice and dice the implications of the ruling. I suspect that they will only give the legal nuances light attention, if any at all.

In the lead-up today's ruling, Mitt Romney has taken many swipes at President Obama regarding the case. Romney said that if the Court invalidates the statute, then Obama's entire first term will have been "wasted." He also said that advocating for the law was a "moral failure" by Obama. These comments mask the fact that as governor of Massachusetts, Romney presided over almost identical legislative reforms in the state.

It will be interesting to see how Romney responds to today's ruling. The ruling is undoubtedly a huge blow to Republican rhetoric regarding the lawlessness of the Obama administration.

Meanwhile, President Obama is probably breathing more easily and preparing to respond to today's developments. Stay tuned: more analysis to follow!

Note: This article was edited to reflect that the dissent was written jointly, not by Justice Scalia alone.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Virtually Unreported: Democrats Gain Control of Wisconsin Senate

While the media has obsessed over Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's successful victory in Tuesday's recall election, only a few sources have reported that the Democrats gained control of the Wisconsin senate. The Washington Times, a very conservative newspaper, was among the first media to cover this story (L.A. Times also now covering it).

Although Walker survived the recall effort, Democrat John Lehman defeated incumbent Republican Senator Van Wanggaard. The successful recall of Wanggard gives Democrats a slim majority in the state senate.

This was the third successful recall effort by Wisconsin Democrats over incumbent Republicans since 2010. Three Republicans, however, retained their seats on Tuesday.

The Media's "Interesting" Coverage of the Wisconsin Recall Election (Updated)

Some media have offered rather interesting coverage of the recent Wisconsin gubernatorial recall election. Every poll conducted ahead of the election showed that Governor Scott Walker would comfortably defeat his opponent Tommy Barrett, the mayor of Milwaukee. But once the polls closed, the media immediately announced that the race was too close to call. This surprising news drew in many viewers who wanted to see how this unexpected drama would unfold. But there really was no drama at all.

Faulty Exit Poll Reporting

The media failed to disclose that it initially reported a virtual tie based on preliminary exit poll data that did not take into account results from all precincts. Furthermore, the firm that conducted the exit polls did not sample absentee voters, who favored Walker.

Later that night the media updated the information it provided the public and then very quickly called the race for Walker. This move left many folks confused. It also probably aroused the suspicions of individuals who distrust everything related to the media or to opinion polls.

The Manufactured Link Between Walker, Obama, and Romney

The next line of reporting turned to November. Although President Obama remained completely silent about this election (except for a last-minute tweet endorsing Barrett), many pundits argued that the outcome signaled that Mitt Romney has a chance to win this traditionally blue state.  These pundits, however, overlook many factors.

First, the exit polls show that voters favored Obama over Romney 51-44%.  Furthermore, 18% of persons who voted for Walker said they would vote for Obama.

In addition, the exit polls also reveal that many voters simply oppose recall elections. 60% of voters said that recall elections should only occur when the incumbent has engaged in "official misconduct."  Walker overwhelmingly won this group.

Despite the effort by some commentators to portray Wisconsin as "in play" for Republicans, the results of the recall election are essentially the same as those in the last two rounds of state elections. The Democrat won groups like women and union members; the Republican won whites and conservatives. The National Journal has an excellent analysis of the election returns.

Finally, it is not odd for voters in a state to elect a governor of one party, but favor a presidential candidate from another party. Indeed, Walker won in 2010 despite Wisconsin voters favoring Obama over Senator John McCain.  Similarly, Walker survived the recall election, despite voters indicating that they would support Obama in November. According to Nate Silver, in the last 10 presidential elections, candidates have actually performed better in states with governors who are members of the opposing political party.

Virtually Unreported: Democrats Gain Control of Wisconsin Senate

Finally, while the media has obsessed over Walker's victory, only few sources have reported that the Democrats regained control of the Wisconsin senate Tuesday night. The Washington Times, a very conservative newspaper, was among the first (and few) media to cover this story (L.A. Times also now covering it).

Although Walker survived the recall attempt, Democrat John Lehman defeated incumbent Republican Senator Van Wanggaard. The successful recall of Wanggard gives the Democrats a slim majority in the state senate. This was the third successful recall effort by Wisconsin Democrats over incumbent Republicans since 2010. Three Republicans, however, retained their seats on Tuesday.

Update: Professor Michael P. McDonald, a Government and Politics scholar at George Mason University, cogently explains why the recall election has no bearing on November. 

Friday, June 1, 2012

BREAKING NEWS IN TRAYVON MARTIN STORY: Court Has Revoked George Zimmerman's Bond (UPDATED)

In a very dramatic development, a Florida court just has just revoked George Zimmerman's bond. The development took place during a hearing that focused primarily on media requests for evidence in the case. Both the state and the defense want certain evidence sealed from public disclosure.

The prosecution, however, also presented a motion to revoke Zimmerman's bond. Jeff Weiner, an Orlando Sentinel reporter, provided step-by-step developments from the hearing on his Twitter feed. Apparently, the state argued that Zimmerman and his wife deceived the court about his lack of money by failing to disclose the donations he received through a PayPal account. Furthermore, the prosecution argued that Zimmerman called his wife, who testified on his behalf during the initial bond hearing, and told her not to mention the money to the judge.

After hearing the state's evidence, the judge revoked the bond. Unless the judge issues a new bond, Zimmerman will have to report to jail until there until the completion of the trial.

Although the trial has not begun, this development could ultimately hurt Zimmerman's defense. If he chooses to testify - and it seems that he will, because he needs to explain his self-defense position - the prosecutor can undermine his testimony by raising false or misleading statements he offered during the bail hearing.

The prosecution also argued that Zimmerman turned over a passport to the state that he had previously reported as lost or stolen. He retains his valid passport. Although it is unclear whether this information influenced the judge's decision to revoke the bond, it too could undermine Zimmerman's credibility at trial. All in all -- this was a bad day for Zimmerman's defense.

UPDATE: The judge ordered Zimmerman to report to jail within 48 hours.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Trayvon Martin Narratives: The Stories the Evidence Tells

The Trayvon Martin story no longer feeds the daily news cycle.  Many people, however, remain interested in the incident. Also, the media still seizes upon any new item of information released regarding Martin's death.

Some conservatives say that the media frenzy has subsided because the flow of evidence from the case credits George Zimmerman's contention that he acted in self-defense when he killed Martin. Other logical reasons could explain the dip in coverage, however. For example, many activists simply wanted the state of Florida to charge Zimmerman. Now that this has occurred, they are on to other business.

Furthermore, many other items -- from the important to the mundane -- have occupied the national media, including the presidential race, LGBT rights, Cory Booker, and the economy. Needless to say, every development in this story will likely capture the media's attention. In any event, the public should learn from this process that the law operates very slowly. If Zimmerman is prosecuted, this might not take place until next year. It is impossible to expect the media to remain fixated on this story at all times.

Important Facts Related to the Prosecution's Evidentiary Submission

Angela Corey, the special prosecutor handling this matter, has released some evidence in the case against Zimmerman, as well as the documents charging him with second-degree murder. Although both sides want certain pieces of evidence shielded from public disclosure, some information that looks favorable to Zimmerman has already been released to the media by unnamed sources.

Regardless of the source of the leaks, people should remember that only a fraction of evidence that Corey submitted has been released for public scrutiny. Furthermore, Corey has not even released all of the evidence that investigators have collected in the case. Specifically, the prosecution has allegedly compiled several inconsistent statements that Zimmerman made to investigators and will file these statements into evidence. Zimmerman's attorney is fighting to keep that evidence shielded from public disclosure.

In addition, even though the prosecution has submitted the information that justifies charging Zimmerman with second-degree murder, it is not clear at all what parts of this information will be admissible at trial. For example, many commentators made noise over the coroner's report that found traces of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, in Martin's body.  According to experts, however, the amount was so slight that it could not possibly have impacted his behavior the night he was killed. Indeed, he probably consumed it days earlier. If the experts' description of the drug test is accurate, then the judge probably would not allow the defense to mention the results. This information is nonprobative and irrelevant to the facts in the case. Furthermore, it would potentially excite prejudice and mislead the jury. Standard evidentiary rules in state and federal courts exclude nonprobative and irrelevant evidence from trial.

Ideological Narratives

Predictably, commentators have competing views of the evidence submitted in this case thus far. At best, it is probably safe to say that the prosecutor has overwhelmingly met the probable cause standard required to arrest and prosecute an individual.

The standards at trial are more difficult. Because the Constitution requires prosecutors to prove "guilt beyond a reasonable doubt," it is likely that guilty people can go free. Typically conservatives call rules that guarantee due process to defendants "technicalities" and ask about the "victim's rights." These rules, however, implement the Bill of Rights -- one of the most important additions to the Constitution. Accordingly, it is shocking to see conservative commentators embrace Zimmerman's rights in this case. Undoubtedly, their support of a defendant in a murder case -- especially a Latino defendant -- is situational.

On the other side, liberals who support Martin should remain true to their general support of liberal interpretations of the Constitution. Many media outlets have ominously reported that getting a guilty verdict against Zimmerman will be difficult. This fact should not constitute news. Getting a guilty verdict should present difficulties in any case.

Personal liberty is one of the most cherished rights secured by the Constitution. Although conservative judges and legislators continue to erode civil liberties with restrictive court rulings and legislation, liberty remains a vital part of the nation's legal culture. That the prosecution will have a tough time convicting Zimmerman should not upset anyone who values liberalism.

Perhaps conservatives will join liberals and fight for this principle outside of Zimmerman's prosecution.  Their anger over media and political commentary describing Martin's death and the treatment of Zimmerman as likely instances of racial injustice have lead them hypocritically to embrace defendant's rights. Their behavior is transparent.

Reading the Evidence

Some commentators have argued evidence that suggests Zimmerman sustained injuries the night that he killed Martin substantiates his assertion of self-defense. This argument, however, overlooks many aspects of the case. First, it overlooks the law. The law of self-defense allows a defendant to defeat a murder charge if that person reasonably believed the he or she would suffer lethal force or experience serious bodily injury at the hands of the defendant. The use of force has to be proportional to the threat. And the person must have a reasonable fear -- not just any fear -- that he or she will suffer the harm necessary to warrant lethal force.

Thus, even if Zimmerman acted in his mind to defend himself, a jury would still need to determine whether he acted reasonably. The jury would likely consider the extent of Zimmerman's injuries, whether or not Martin had a weapon, and other factors.

Furthermore, the law requires that initial aggressors retreat from the scene or otherwise indicate a desire to retreat prior to using force. Prosecutors will try to prove that Zimmerman started the aggression -- by leaving his car (after being instructed not to do so), chasing Martin, and frightening (or even hitting) him. If the prosecutors can convince the jury that Zimmerman was the initial aggressor, this would go very far in proving his guilt. Under those circumstances, Martin reasonably acted with force to defend himself from Zimmerman. Zimmerman's injuries are thus consistent with a frightened teenager fighting for his life. Rather than retreating from the scene, Zimmerman killed the frightened kid. 

The facts favor Zimmerman much more if one considers Martin as the initial aggressor. The defense will try to argue that Zimmerman was simply investigating a potential threat to his neighborhood when Martin spontaneously attacked him. Commentators who believe that the evidence substantiates Zimmerman's defense all seem to operate under the assumption that Martin was the initial aggressor. The evidence, however, does not necessarily prove this assumption. Looking at the totality of the facts -- beginning with Zimmerman's first call to police, a reasonable juror could conclude that Zimmerman instigated the fight by following Martin in his car and on foot at night.  Martin's girlfriend will testify that he said he was afraid of Zimmerman. If her testimony is credible, then the facts could support a guilty verdict.

Final Words: Race and the Law

Trials by media are loathsome. They mislead, rather than educate, the public about legal practice. They potentially influence juries. And they are simply a ratings draw for media. Last year, another Florida murder trial generate tons of media coverage. Casey Anthony was tried for murdering her daughter. According to media reports, it seemed that her guilt was a sure thing. From a legal perspective, however, the evidence was very weak. The prosecution did not even know how the child died, and the defendant denied killing her. The case against Zimmerman differs substantially. The prosecution knows how Martin died. Zimmerman has admitted that he shot Martin. The prosecution knows how Martin and Zimmerman's paths collided that fateful night. Now, both sides will construct narratives to weave the evidence together for jurors.

From a civil rights perspective, the tragedies in this case are Martin's death and the initial failure of the police to arrest Zimmerman. To the extent that race was involved in this case, the police inaction is probably the most likely place. Also, race could have impacted Zimmerman's decision to pursue Martin (the "fucking punk") and to kill him.

The prosecution has not alleged that race is a factor in the case; so the issue will not arise explicitly at trial. But race will absolutely play a central role in this case -- both in the media (already has) and in the courtroom. Zimmerman's lawyer will pursue any legal means to exclude black jurors; the prosecution will try to maximize the number of black jurors. The prosecution will probably want a good number of women on the jury as well. Women could probably relate to the prosecution's narrative that Martin felt horrified by Zimmerman, who had followed him in his car and then left the car to chase him down. Woman could also have a particular connection to Martin's mother, who will probably offer emotional testimony at the trial.

Zimmerman's lawyer will want several white men on the jury. This is not a "race card." Polls show that Zimmerman has the largest support among whites -- particularly among white Republicans and men (which at this point in history are redundant categories). While many people have tried to dismiss the factor of race inside and outside of this case, it remains relevant in society. On the other hand, the prevalence of racism does not mean that a conviction must turn on Zimmerman having acted out of racial animosity. Murder is murder - whether it is racially based or otherwise. The state is prosecuting Zimmerman for a homicide, not for a hate crime. Now that Zimmerman has been charged, let the state prove is case.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

IN DEFENSE OF CORY BOOKER: Why Think Progress Is Unfair and Unbalanced

Liberal blogs have fallen in line to excoriate Newark Mayor Cory Booker for describing President Obama's campaign attacks against Bain Capital as "nauseating." Although Booker has tried to walk back his commentary, he still faces a lot of criticism, especially since rightwingers have used his comments as a weapon against the president's campaign strategy.

For several reasons, I strongly support Cory Booker, and I condemn progressives who criticize him for his remarks. And as I explain below, I am especially troubled by a Think Progress article that seeks to raise questions about Booker by exposing campaign donations he received from Bain executives and other financial industry employees. Here is why I support Booker and disagree with Think Progress.

FIRST, Booker was seemingly stating his true feelings. I understand that a surrogate for a candidate should stay on message. But to the extent that Booker deviated from a dictated message, this is a problem between him and Obama's campaign team. It is not an issue about his morality and value as a public official. If we have reached a point in our society where honest reflection and disagreement are sources of scorn, then public discourse in this country is in a state of extreme crisis.

SECOND, Obama has received more money from Wall Street employees and PACs than any other politician in recent US history. This is where Think Progress becomes relevant.

Think Progress reports that Bain and other members of the "financial industry" gave Cory Booker $565,000 dollars during his 2002 run for mayor of Newark. The article states that this fact "suggests a possible reason for [Booker's] unease with attacks on Bain Capital and venture capital." If this is a reason for Booker's unease with attacks on Bain and venture capital, then progressives should express similar discomfort regarding Obama attacking the same groups.

In the 2008 election cycle, Obama's top ten donors included: Goldman Sachs ($1,013,091), JP Morgan Chase & Co. ($808,799), and Citigroup ($736,771).  UBS AG, a large multinational financial services company, occupied the fifteenth position on the list ($532,674)(Please note: these figures come from employees and PACs of the companies, not from direct corporate donations).

Wall Street contributions accounted for 20 percent of Obama's big money campaign donations in 2008. Obama received $13,100,000 from bundlers in the financial services industry. This amount was second only to the $21,7000,000 he received from law firms, which undoubtedly included many firms that provide services to the financial sector.

Although Mitt Romney has overtaken Obama among Wall Street donors, Obama still hopes to collect money from the financial services industry, including from persons involved in the private equity business.

THIRD, Obama has received money from Bain executives. This is perhaps the most striking omission from the Think Progress critique of Booker.

Stephen Pagliuca, a Managing Director of Bain Capital, has given $38,500 to Obama Victory Fund 2012. He also gave $30,800 to the DNC late last year. Jonathan Lavine, the Managing Partner of Bain Capital, gave equal amounts to Obama and the DNC, as did Mark Nunnelly, another Managing Director for Bain. This information is collected in an article on Commentary Magazine, a conservative blog. But it appears originally on the Huffington Post "Fundrace" page.  It is not mentioned anywhere in the Think Progress critique of Booker.

Overall, "[e]mployees of Bain Capital and Bain & Company have given more than $152,000 to Obama's campaign and the joint fundraising operation he runs with the Democratic National Committee." Although Romney has received much more from Bain employees than Obama, as of today, Obama has received over $1 billion in campaign donations since he began running for the 2004 senate elections. He is the only politician ever to raise this amount of money in US history. Clearly, a large chunk of that money has come from financial services and other corporate sectors.

Final Thoughts
Reasonable minds can disagree over the relevance of Romney's history at Bain to his candidacy for president. An individual's past professional performance is certainly something that voters should scrutinize. But Obama's campaign is trying to make a broader statement about Romney, wealth, private equity, and the "middle class."

Perhaps this latter use of Romney's history by Obama's campaign caused Booker discomfort. It is definitely hypocritical to condemn private equity while relying on the profits it generates to run for president. Also, Obama's campaign has stated that it does not disagree with private equity, which makes Booker's comments even more compelling.

The liberal criticism of Booker has nothing to do with reasonable debate. Instead, many liberals are seeking to portray him as a corporate hack. These criticisms, however, ignore his political record; they also ignore the vast amount of money that Obama has received from the financial services industry.

Liberals have rightfully complained about the coarse nature of political discourse during Obama's presidency. They have no standing to complain, however, when they are engaged in the same type of harmful discourse.

Note: This article was updated to clarify that Obama has attacked Bain Capital - not Bain and Company.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Trayvon Martin: Breaking News and Updates - May 14, 2012

Prosecution Evidence
Special prosecutor Angela Corey filed evidence that supports charging George Zimmerman with second-degree murder for killing Trayvon Martin. The Orlando Sentinel has details in this breaking story. This type of filing is done routinely in criminal cases. Zimmerman's attorney will now have the opportunity to prepare a defense for his client.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, the evidence includes video from the club house in the housing development where Zimmerman shot Martin. Zimmerman stated that Trayvon was approaching the clubhouse during his call to police.

Zimmerman wants to keep the public from seeing the evidence. His attorney is filing a motion in that regard.

Trayvon Martin Shooting Target
In one of the most despicable events related to this case, an anonymous online vendor has created a likeness of Trayvon Martin for use as a shooting target. The seller has not announced how many items were sold, but says that the product sold out in two days with "overwhelming" response. Sickness sells.

Trayvon Martin's Mother Films Mother's Day Message 
Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, filmed a video message for Mother's Day. In the video, Fulton expresses grief over the loss of her son. She also campaigns against gun violence and "Stand Your Ground" laws, similar to the one in Florida.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Questionable Journalism: Washington Post Explores Romney's Teen Years

Mitt Romney as a teenager
 The Washington Post wins today's "questionable journalism" award for publishing an article that delves into Mitt Romney's high school years in order to unearth "troubling incidents." The article reports that Romney engaged in acts of bullying with several other students at the elite prep school he attended. Romney is now 65-years-old.  Most of the events the article describes occurred nearly one-half century in the past.

The article is not even remotely relevant to Romney's worthiness as a president. If he were still assaulting and harassing young boys, then, clearly, the content of the article would have significance. It would establish a possible pattern of unacceptable behavior. Neither the Washington Post nor any other credible news source, however, has presented evidence which demonstrates that Romney continues to harass and abuse other people. This article is simply a hit piece.

The article is similar in its lack of substance to a 2008 New York Times report that dragged up rumors about John McCain having a close relationship (no specifics -- just a "relationship") with a female lobbyist. The story received a lot of criticism. At the very least, both of these stories press against the boundary of good journalism.  It is also fair to say, however, that these stories cross that line. The Washington Post article has given readers another reason to question the fairness of the media.

There are many important issues to examine regarding Romney and President Obama. Hopefully, the Washington Post will attend to these matters, rather than providing useless and questionable information concerning the candidates.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Obama's "Support" of Marriage Equality: Read the Fine Print

The headlines, including on this blog, are buzzing about President Obama's sudden support for same-sex marriage. Obama stated this position during an interview with Robin Roberts of ABC's Good Morning America. Excerpts of the interview will air tonight on World News and Nightline. The full interview will air tomorrow on Good Morning America.

Although Obama stated that he personally believes that gay men and lesbians should have the right to marry under the law, he also qualified this position in a way that is very important from a legal standpoint. Obama believes that states should have the power to decide this issue on their own.

Why is this qualification important from a legal standpoint? This qualification means that Obama's support of same-sex marriage is strictly personal - not legal (even though he speaks about it as a "right"). If states retain the authority to define marriage in opposite-sex terms, then gays and lesbians cannot claim a constitutional right to marry each other.

To understand this argument, consider the quintessential liberal setting in which this type of reasoning frequently appears: abortion. Many opponents of abortion argue that states should have the sole voice on this issue and that it is not a matter for the federal government or federal courts. Ron Paul and many other conservatives have embraced this very position.  The Supreme Court, however, held in Roe v. Wade that the Fourteenth Amendment gives women the right to terminate a pregnancy. Although the Court has severely weakened Roe since it was decided, this right is still protected by the Constitution.

Because abortion is a constitutional right, the federal courts and Congress have the power to protect it.  Article III of the Constitution gives the federal courts the authority to decide "cases or controversies" that involve questions of federal law -- including constitutional law.  The Fourteenth Amendment gives Congress the express power to enforce the rights it contains.

Accordingly, when critics argue that abortion should remain solely within the purview of state law, they are effectively arguing that it should not qualify as a fundamental liberty interest protected by the Constitution. States do not have complete authority over constitutional rights. This fact is well established and supported by constitutional text.

Applying this same reasoning to marriage equality, the argument that states should have autonomy over the subject of marriage means that states could prohibit or permit same-sex marriage.  The Constitution, which is federal law, would have no bearing on this decision.

Accordingly, Obama's new position on marriage equality implies that the Constitution does not or should not guarantee marital equality for gay men and lesbians. Instead, it is up to states to recognize this interest.

Unfortunately for people wishing to enter into a same-sex marriage, only six states and the District of Columbia currently allow them to do so. While advocates of same-sex marriage have loudly applauded Obama's new position, I implore them to read the fine print!

I Do! Suddenly, Obama Endorses Marriage Equality (Updated)

President Obama stated today that he supports marriage equality. The administration's position on this issue has suddenly evolved. Throughout his candidacy and for all of his first-term (until today), President Obama has stated that he personally opposes same-sex marriage. At the same time, he has stated that he opposes efforts to make it illegal (specifically making that argument in the context of California's Proposition 8).

Last weekend, however, Vice President Joe Biden stated during an interview that he supports marriage equality. The Obama administration immediately began walking back the comments. Instead of supporting marriage equality, both Biden and the President supposedly endorsed only "equal benefits" for same- and opposite-sex couples. Now, just a couple days after clarifying his stance, Obama has suddenly reached a new position favoring same-sex marriage.

Political Implications
Since I am already extremely cynical about politics and politicians, this move does not surprise me. Obama's shifting positions on same-sex marriage, however, put a wrinkle in any strategy that seeks to portray Mitt Romney as a waffler. Because it seems that Obama will instead portray Romney as a "severe conservative," perhaps he does not deem the appearance of waffling too important. Certainly, Romney cannot use that line of attack against Obama.

Also, Obama's new position should do much to impress or at least silence critics of Obama's record with respect to LGBT rights. Obama has endorsed the "crow-jewel" of the contemporary LGBT social movement. Indeed, during his presidency, Obama has been more responsive to LGBT politics than to any other liberal cause. LGBT social movements deserve a lot of credit for pressuring the president on these issues. Also, because these issues typically involve questions of formal equality, endorsing them is not particularly threatening -- relative to questions of equal opportunity and economic distribution.

Obama, Race and Poverty
With respect to equal opportunity and wealth concerns, it is deeply troubling that the groups who are most vigorous in their support of Obama get less attention from him in terms of policy. Blacks and Latinos delivered Obama the 2008 election by helping him win key swing states. Without black support, Obama would, in fact, have lost many blue states. A majority of white voters in many states that are deemed liberal voted for McCain and have selected Republican presidential candidates in the recent past.

Despite their value to and overwhelming support for Obama, poor people and persons of color, many of whom are LGBT, cannot get the type of visible support for and quick responses to their concerns as LGBT groups. In September 2011 after some black members of Congress complained that Obama was not paying attention to poverty and unemployment among blacks, he said in response: "Take off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes. Shake it off. Stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying."  Obama has never never used this type of harsh rhetoric in response to complaints from other liberal constituents, including LGBT individuals. I highly doubt that he would ever do so.

Racial justice movements, however, bear some of the blame for the president's silence on many race and poverty issues. Racial justice activists have been very generous in their support of Obama, and they have refrained from criticizing him for the most part.  Tavis Smiley and Cornell West are popular exceptions -- yet they have received very harsh criticism from blacks for their critiques of Obama. Some of Smiley's and West's criticisms have been unfair and somewhat personal, but the responses to their arguments from many black commentators seem to oppose any criticism of President Obama on issues of race.

Even Rev. Al Sharpton, who has criticized other presidents and candidates for not openly addressing the "concerns" of blacks, has defended Obama's reluctance to address issues of race and poverty. Sharpton has stated that Obama must solve these issues in a colorblind fashion, which contradicts the race-conscious politics he has advocated in the past and in which he continues to engage. Sharpton has also dismissed Obama's critics as being biased. What evidence does he offer to support this accusation? Some of them supported Hilary Clinton in 2008 (gasp!).

If having a black president means virtual silence on issues of race in the White House, then Obama's election seems only to provide symbolic gains with respect to race. Poor persons of color need material change -- not symbols.

UPDATE: Does Obama really support marriage equality under the law? See this important update: Obama's "Support" of Marriage Equality: Read the Fine Print.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Junior Seau: Mental Illness -- Not Brain Injuries -- Is Leading Suicide Risk Factor

The tragic death of football star Junior Seau has led to a renewed discussion of the relationship between brain injuries and football. Indeed, the first round of articles that reported his suicide raised the subject -- even though very few details surrounding his death were available.

This conversation will probably continue for at least a few more days (realistic thinking about the rapid media cycle) now that Ta-Nehisi Coates, a popular blogger for The Atlantic, has written on the subject. In his latest column, Coates announces that he has made the difficult decision to stop watching football, pointing to the failure of the NFL to address the subject of brain injuries: "What's fairly clear to me is that football and its surrounding apparatus--the players, the big media, the NFL--aren't really ready to think about all that brain injuries might mean." Coates says that he has no other choice but to give up the sport:
I now know that I have to go. I have known it for a while now. But I have yet to walk away. For me, the hardest portion is living apart--destroying something that binds me to friends and family. With people whom I would not pass another words, I can debate the greatest running back of all time. It's like losing a language.
Obscuring the Powerful Link Between Mental Illness and Suicide
Although the media has speculated about whether Seau had a brain injury, it has not looked at a more likely explanation for his suicide: mental illness.  Numerous studies show that at least 90 percent of people who commit suicide have a "diagnosable and treatable" mental illness, such as depression, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. I could not find any studies that list brain injuries as a common risk factor.

Several studies, however, show a small but statistically significant correlation between severe traumatic brain injuries (TBI) and suicide. These studies, however, do not find a correlation between suicide and TBI standing alone. Instead, the studies that find a link between TBI and suicide also find that the vast majority of persons with TBI who commit suicide also suffer from major risk factors such as mental illness and substance abuse. In other words, even in cases where brain injuries make persons more vulnerable to suicide, mental illness remains a substantial contributing factor.

Dr. John Reed, the CEO of the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute in La Jolla, California, is conducting research on neurological disease and traumatic injuries.  Reed cautions the public against rushing to attribute Seau's death to TBI.

Reed says that TBI together with mental disorders (including depression) can lead to suicide. He also states that Seau could have suffered from a mental illness unrelated to any brain injury: "It’s important to remember that it’s also entirely possible he could have had an unrelated mood disorder. . . . One in four Americans sometime in their life will develop clinical depression.”  Despite this reality, most media discussions focus almost exclusively on the possibility that Seau had a football-related brain injury.

At this point, it is unclear whether Seau had a brain injury. It is also unclear whether he suffered from a mental illness. But given the overwhelming data related to suicide, speculation should lead the media to a conversation about mental illness first, rather than brain injuries. At the very least, the facts about suicide should lead to a discussion of mental illness and brain injuries, since the two can act as co-risk factors. Instead, the media has chosen to focus on a topic that is more sensational: the victimization of innocent football players by a greedy corporation.

Mental Illness and Stigma
Many studies find that stigma deters people from getting help for mental illness. This stigma is most powerful among persons of color.

At least one psychiatrist has raised the possibility that stigma surrounding mental illness might have contributed to Seau's death. In a column written for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dr. Winston Chung, a psychiatrist at the prestigious California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, considers whether cultural factors that deter persons of color from seeking mental health services and that make toughness an asset in the NFL might have prevented Seau from receiving treatment that could have prevented his death.

Even if a brain injury played a role in Seau's death, Chung rightfully observes that the focus should remain on mental illness: "Whether it’s from brain damage, a genetic predisposition or environmental stressors, depression is a treatable condition and suicide can be preventable." The almost exclusive focus on brain injuries replicates the social stigma surrounding mental illness. It remains an issue to avoid.

Final Words
Returning to Ta-Nehisi Coates, I encourage him to discuss mental illness as he continues to struggle with his decision to abandon football. I also encourage other media commentators to overcome the social stigma associated with mental illness and use their coverage of Seau's death to educate the public about the factors that lead people to suicide. Although brain injuries are possibly relevant to a discussion of Seau, mental health is undoubtedly relevant to his death as it is to most other suicides.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Trayvon Martin: Miami Herald Reveals George Zimmerman's Myspace Page

MySpace has become a relic, but it still houses personal webpages that users created long before Facebook became a reality. As the Miami Herald reports, George Zimmerman, the killer of Trayvon Martin, never deleted his account. The page contains interesting commentary. The Miami Herald summarizes some of the content:
“I dont miss driving around scared to hit mexicans walkin on the side of the street, soft ass wanna be thugs messin with peoples cars when they aint around (what are you provin, that you can dent a car when no ones watchin) dont make you a man in my book. . . . Workin 96 hours to get a decent pay check, gettin knifes pulled on you by every mexican you run into!”

Another line suggested his friends went to jail and did not rat him out. “They do a year and dont ever open thier mouth to get my ass pinched.”
The blog section boasts about having two felonies knocked down to misdemeanors and describes a court battle with an ex-girlfriend. Zimmerman faced two felonies in 2005 for obstructing justice and battery on a law enforcement officer, but the cases were reduced to misdemeanor simple battery, and he was left with no criminal conviction on his record.
 Zimmerman described the ex-girlfriend as his "ex-hoe."

What Does This Mean?
I am not sold that these types of pages really mean much in terms of guilt or innocence.Yet, many of Zimmerman's supporters cited Trayvon Martin's Twitter feed and a Facebook page belonging to another teenager who shares his name in order to portray him as a young, violent thug. I wonder how these same folks will react to Zimmerman's unflattering MySpace page. My guess: DIFFERENTLY.

Frankly, I am surprised the webpage remained on the Internet for such a long period of time. Zimmerman's lawyer has now instructed him to erase his Internet history, which is precisely how I would advise a live-wire client like Zimmerman.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Vigilante Justice: Police Arrest Men Who Held Neighbors At Gunpoint

Jean-Joseph and Angelica Kalonji
Atlanta Journal Constitution
The Atlanta Journal Constitution reports that police have arrested Robert and Brandon Canoles and charged them with aggravated assault, false imprisonment, and trespass. Last week, the Canoleses held Jean-Joseph and Angelica Kalonji -- their new neighbors -- at gunpoint, mistakenly believing that they were burglarizing a home they had just purchased.

According to Jean-Joseph, Robert Canoles threatened to shoot him if he continued to speak. Jean-Joseph says that he was merely trying to explain that he and his wife owned the property.

Robert Canoles called the Newton County Sheriffs Department, but when officers arrived, they arrested the Kalonjis for loitering and prowling. Jean-Joseph Kalonji says he told officers to confirm the home purchase with his son, but the police refused to do so.  Robert Canoles said that officers complemented him and told him that he did the right thing.

Robert Canoles
Atlanta Journal Constitution
Brandon Canoles
 Atlanta Journal Constitution
Once the police finally discovered their mistake, they released the Kalonjis. Yesterday, as news of a potential arrest emerged, Robert Canoles defended himself and his son, claiming that he had a Second Amendment right to detain the Kalonjis.

Although it is unclear whether race motivated the Canoleses, it is also difficult to ignore the fact that the Kalonjis are an interracial immigrant couple, and the Canoleses are white rural southerners who have invoked the Constitution as a justification for violent behavior. Robert Canoles said that in his part of the country, "people defend their own." Regardless of race, this behavior is abhorrent. It is also not protected by the Constitution.

UPDATE: The Newton County Sheriffs Department should also investigate the conduct of the arresting officer. Not only did the officer arrest an innocent couple, if Robert Canoles is telling the truth, he or she also complimented two persons who clearly commented a very dangerous crime!

See also:

White Man Who Held Interracial Couple At Gunpoint Invokes Second Amendment To Justify Actions (UPDATE)

Armed Thugs Force Interracial Couple From Their Home; Cops Arrest Couple!

Monday, April 23, 2012

White Man Who Held Interracial Couple At Gunpoint Invokes Second Amendment To Justify Actions (UPDATE)

Only a few news outlets have reported a terrifying story that occurred last week in the tiny rural town of Porterdale, Georgia. Jean-Joseph (61-years-old) and Angelica Kalonji (57-years-old) purchased a home and, acting on the advice of their real estate agent, went to change the locks. The property had been foreclosed and sat empty for seven months.

Unfortunately, the Kalonjis' joy suddenly turned to a nightmare. Robert Canoles and his son -- who live next door to the home the Kalonjis purchased -- suddenly surrounded the Kalonjis with loaded semi-automatic rifles.  The Canoles forced the Kalonjis to stand with their hands against the wall of their own home.

Robert Canoles claims that he thought the couple was attempting to burglarize the property.  When the Kalonjis tried to explain that they purchased the home, however, their neighbors refused to listen. According to Jean-Joseph Kalonji, Robert Canoles even threatened to shoot them if they did not "shut up."

Robert Canoles called the local police, and once they arrived, the officers arrested the Kalonjis. Some articles have mentioned that the Kalonjis did not have their closing documents, but possession of these documents is not required for persons to enter their homes. The Kalonjis said that they asked the officers to call their son to verify their ownership of the home, but they refused to do so.

Kalonjis Released; Police Might Arrest the Canoles
The police later released the Kalonjis and dropped all charges against them. Now, the police say that they might arrest Robert Canoles and his son. The elder Canoles has an interesting defense to any prospective criminal charges: the Second Amendment.  Sounding like a foot soldier in the Tea Party, Canoles says that he does not regret his decision to hold the Kalonjis hostage:
I don't know what they can charge me with. . . . This is my Second Amendment right. Look, this is the county out here, and we protect our own.
The Second Amendment is not a defense to assault with a deadly weapon, false imprisonment and other crimes implicated by this incident. It is shameful that Robert Canoles would invoke the Constitution to defend his use of an automatic rifle to threaten and falsely imprison an innocent couple. The Constitution is not an instrument of vigilante justice.

Was Race A Factor In This Incident?
Jean-Joseph is from the Congo, and his wife is from Romania. According to a source at the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Canoles are white -- although this information has not been mentioned in reporting on the subject.

Given the location of the incident (an almost all-white town in the rural South), the interracial relationship of the Kalonjis, and the history and ongoing significance of race in the United States, it is not unreasonable to believe that race might have influenced Robert Canoles, his son, and the police.

Would the cops have arrested a white couple who were simply trying to change the locks to their new home? Would white neighbors pull automatic weapons on a white couple, mistaking them for burglars, rather than homeowners?

It is difficult to answer these questions with certainty, but given the sociology of race in the United States, it is really hard to dismiss the operation of race in this incident. As Robert Canoles said, in his town, "we protect our own." By his own words, Canoles could not believe that the Kalonjis belong in Porterdale. Why?

UPDATE: Police have charged Robert Canoles and his son with aggravated assault, false imprisonment and trespass (just as I anticipated).Robert's statements are pretty damning.

For more on this story see:

Vigilante Justice: Police Arrest Men Who Held Neighbors At Gunpoint

Trayvon Martin: Sanford Police Chief Resigns, Pending City Approval

Bill Lee, the Sanford, Florida Chief of Police, has submitted an offer of resignation. Lee faced tough questions after he refused to charge George Zimmerman for killing Trayvon Martin.  Lee temporarily stepped down from his position after protests started and the Florida State Police took over the investigation. Also, the City Commissioners previously issued a no-confidence vote.

Lee's resignation requires a vote of the City Commissioners. The offer of resignation could include some discussion of retirement, benefits, severance or even clearance of wrongdoing (though that seems premature), which would normally require authorization from the city.

Trayvon Martin: Attorney Explains George Zimmerman's Unwanted Apology

During his bail hearing, George Zimmerman offered an unwanted apology to Trayvon Martin's parents.  Mark O'Mara, Zimmerman's attorney, offered a convoluted explanation for his client's unwanted apology during an appearance on CBS This Morning.

Prior to the bail hearing, Martin's parents had already rejected Zimmerman's offer to apologize. The timing of the offer -- almost two months after Martin's death -- clearly indicates that Zimmerman's efforts were self-serving and insincere. When asked to explain the timing of the apology, O'Mara comes across as disingenuous as well:
My concern is, I didn't realize that the way [Martin's family] had responded to me was through a press conference where they said it was too late or not an appropriate time. . . .
To be honest, had I known that - maybe had I seen the press conference - I'm not sure that we would have done it at the bond hearing, because the purpose of it truly was to get to the family and to respond directly to the family's request. Had I known or been told that that wasn't the time, it wouldn't have happened. So, I apologize for that. 
But certainly it wasn't necessary to get a bond. It is not usual that you have somebody get up at all in a bond hearing. We wouldn't have done it in this case. 
Sometimes it is difficult to tell a blatant lie. The rambling speech proves it.

I agree that the apology was not necessary for the bond. Instead it was aimed at the public. Contrary to O'Mara's contention, however, it is odd for a defendant to testify regarding a case at a bond hearing.  The hearing is designed to assess the defendant's flight risk or danger to the public, not for him to make a plea to a victim or the media. The entire moment was unusual -- and self-serving and staged for the public.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Armed Thugs Force Interracial Couple From Their Home; Cops Arrest Couple!

There is disturbing news from Newton County, Georgia today. According to several reports, Jean-Joseph and Angelica Kalonji were changing the locks on a home they purchased when two gun-wielding thugs confronted them. The father and son duo pointed their weapons at the Kalonjis and ordered them from their home.

Police arrived on the scene, and rather than arresting the neighbors for assault with a deadly weapon (at a minimum), they arrested the homeowners, charging them with loitering and prowling. Jean-Joseph Kalonji said that the terrible situation triggers awful memories from his life in the Congo: "There, they put me down with the gun to my head, and [after I] come here, the same. . . ." A spokesperson for the county sheriff's office said that authorities were "“looking into it, exactly what occurred, why it occurred."

Angelica Kalonji's Facebook page states that she is from Bucharest, Romania. Her husband Jean-Joseph is from Lubumbas, Katanga, Congo.

BREAKING NEWS: Police have arrested the assailants.

See also:

Vigilante Justice: Police Arrest Men Who Held Neighbors At Gunpoint

White Man Who Held Interracial Couple At Gunpoint Invokes Second Amendment To Justify Actions

Friday, April 20, 2012

Did George Zimmerman Lie Today In Open Court (About Trayvon Martin's Age)?

Today during his bail hearing, George Zimmerman issued an unwanted apology to Trayvon Martin's parents. Zimmerman said: "I did not know how old he was. I thought he was a little bit younger than I am, and I did not know if he was armed or not."

Zimmerman is essentially trying to elicit sympathy from the judge, potential jurors, the public and Martin's parents. Also, his lawyer is attempting to humanize him. If Zimmerman actually thought the 17-year-old Martin was an adult, then perhaps he had a reason to fear him.

But, is Zimmerman telling the truth? Zimmerman is 28. Today he said he thought Martin was just a bit younger than he. But during a 911 call made moments before Martin's death, Zimmerman said he believed that Martin was in his late-teens. Thus, Zimmerman was pretty accurate about Martin's age. The audio tape of the 911 call appears below this post.

Trayvon Martin: George Zimmerman Is "Sorry"; Says He Did Not Know Martin Was Unarmed

George Zimmerman is quite chatty.  During his bail hearing, Zimmerman said that he is "sorry" for killing Trayvon Martin. He also said he did not know whether Martin possessed a weapon.

With respect to the apology -- Martin's family respectfully declined an earlier invitation to meet Zimmerman face-to-face for an apology. So, he took advantage of their presence at his bail hearing to make the apology. The judge required Zimmerman to post a $150,000 bond.

Zimmerman Potentially Weakened His Own Defense
Concerning Zimmerman's statement that he did not know whether Martin was armed -- this is a bizarre comment for a murder defendant to make. Under Florida law, a person can only use lethal force if he or she reasonably believes that the victim will cause serious bodily injury or use lethal force against the person. Zimmerman's statement that he did not know whether Trayvon carried a weapon goes against a reasonable fear of lethal force. A jury might find that it was unreasonable for Zimmerman to fear lethal force because he did not even know that the victim is armed.

Odd That He Is Still Talking
As a lawyer, I find it odd that Zimmerman continues to talk. Perhaps he is a difficult client. A few weeks ago, he called the prosecutor against the instruction of his attorneys. He also set up a personal webpage soliciting funds.

Zimmerman also made dozens of phone calls to the police prior to shooting Martin. He called primarily to report mundane matters.  If Zimmerman's attorney has authorized his latest comments, then perhaps they want to commence plea negotiations. Also, the lawyer might have devised a strategy to sway the judge who has to determine whether the prosecutor has established sufficient probable cause to defeat Zimmerman's self-defense argument. Regardless, if the lawyer wishes to go to trial, he needs to muzzle his client.

Picture Shows Zimmerman Bleeding
Finally, several media released a picture that purportedly shows Zimmerman bleeding from two cuts on his head the night of Martin's death. If the picture is accurate, it would show that Zimmerman sustained an injury during the attack. The injury, however, does not appear very serious.

Furthermore, even if Zimmerman sustained an injury, this would not prove that he properly acted in self-defense. As the initial aggressor (which the facts seem to show), Zimmerman had the duty to retreat from the scene and to give up using violence.

Moreover, Zimmerman could only use lethal force to prevent serious bodily injury or the use of lethal force against him. Because Zimmerman followed and confronted Martin, Florida law allowed Martin to use force against Zimmerman. So, at this point in the case, it is not unreasonable to assume that Zimmerman was wounded because he attacked Martin.
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