July 18, 2007

Nooses and a Legal Lynching in Jena Louisiana

I can’t describe this any more than it’s already been described. It’s mind-blowingly maddening, and I can’t believe it’s happening in this day and age, but it just goes to show you exactly how far we have to go before there’s even a remote semblance of racial equality in America. here’s the story:

Last fall in Jena, Louisiana, the day after two Black high school students sat beneath the “white tree” on their campus, nooses were hung from the tree. When the superintendent dismissed the nooses as a “prank,” more Black students sat under the tree in protest. The District Attorney then came to the school accompanied by the town’s police and demanded that the students end their protest, telling them, “I can be your best friend or your worst enemy… I can take away your lives with a stroke of my pen.”

A series of white-on-black incidents of violence followed, and the DA did nothing. But when a white student was beaten up in a schoolyard fight, the DA responded by charging six black students with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

It’s a story that reads like one from the Jim Crow era, when judges, lawyers and all-white juries used the justice system to keep blacks in “their place”–but it’s happening today. The families of these young men are fighting back, but the odds are stacked against them. Together, we can make sure their story is told, that this becomes an issue for the Governor of Louisiana, and that justice is provided for the Jena 6. It starts now. Please add your voice:

http://www.colorofchange.org/jena/?id=1806-79417

The noose-hanging incident and the DA’s visit to the school set the stage for everything that followed. Racial tension escalated over the next couple of months, and on November 30, the main academic building of Jena High School was burned down in an unsolved fire. Later the same weekend, a black student was beaten up by white students at a party. The next day, black students at a convenience store were threatened by a young white man with a shotgun. They wrestled the gun from him and ran away. While no charges were filed against the white man, the students were arrested for the theft of the gun.

That Monday at school, a white student, who had been a vocal supporter of the students who hung the nooses, taunted the black student who was beaten up at the off-campus party and allegedly called several black students “nigger.” After lunch, he was knocked down, punched and kicked by black students. He was taken to the hospital but was released and was well enough to go to a social event that evening.

Six Black Jena High students, Robert Bailey (17), Theo Shaw (17), Carwin Jones (18), Bryant Purvis (17), Mychal Bell (16) and an unidentified minor, were expelled from school, arrested and charged with second-degree attempted murder. Bail was set so high — between $70,000 and $138,000 — that the boys were left in prison for months as families went deep into debt to release them.

The first trial ended last month, and Mychal Bell, who has been in prison since December, was convicted of aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery (both felonies) by an all-white jury in a trial where his public defender called no witnesses. During his trial, Mychal’s parents were ordered not to speak to the media and the court prohibited protests from taking place near the courtroom or where the judge could see them.

Mychal is scheduled to be sentenced on July 31st, and could go to jail for 22 years. Theo Shaw’s trial is next. He will finally make bail this week.

The Jena Six are lucky to have parents and loved ones who are fighting tooth and nail to free them. They have been threatened but they are standing strong. We know that if the families have to go it alone, their sons will be a long time coming home. They will lose precious years to Jena’s outrageous attempt to maintain a racist status quo. But if we act now, we can make a difference.

Please add your voice to the voices of these families in Jena, and help bring Mychal, Theo, Robert, Carwin, and Bryant home. By clicking below, you can demand that Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco get involved to make sure that justice is served for Mychal Bell, and that DA Reed Walters drop the charges against the 5 boys who have not yet gone to trial.

ColorofChange.org is leading an online protest in defense of the Jena six, and calling for a march on Jena where the entire civil rights community descends on the city to let the people there know that their old-south flavor of racism, hatred, and selective justice won’t be tolerated in today’s America. I’m inclined to join them, and you can too. Sign the petition or sign up to be a part of the mass that will descend on the city to protest today’s rehashing of 50-year old racism.

[ Justice for the Jena 6 ]
Source: ColorOfChange.org

In Intelligence World, A Mute Watchdog

You may have heard the news that the CIA released the “Family Jewels,” a set of previously classified documents that showed that the agency had a long long history of abusing its power, and had a long history of being manipulated by political figures, much like it has been now. The CIA of yesteryear seems to be more like the CIA of today than we ever thought possible however; apparently during the first five and a half years of the Bush Administration, a special independant panel that was set up back in the days when the “Family Jewels” were taking place to ensure that the CIA did not abuse its power – and if it did that it would send word of those abuses to the Department of Justice – didn’t feel like it was necessary to file a single report whatsoever.

So at the hieght of the Bush Administration’s abusing the CIA to perform extraordinary renditions, spy on Americans without court orders, spy on foriegn nationals without cause, detain American citizens without charging them, the special panel that was supposed to report these offenses to the DoJ didnt utter a word.

An independent oversight board created to identify intelligence abuses after the CIA scandals of the 1970s did not send any reports to the attorney general of legal violations during the first 5 1/2 years of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism effort, the Justice Department has told Congress.

Although the FBI told the board of a few hundred legal or rules violations by its agents after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the board did not identify which of them were indeed legal violations. This spring, it forwarded reports of violations in 2006, officials said.

The President’s Intelligence Oversight Board — the principal civilian watchdog of the intelligence community — is obligated under a 26-year-old executive order to tell the attorney general and the president about any intelligence activities it believes “may be unlawful.” The board was vacant for the first two years of the Bush administration.

The FBI sent copies of its violation reports directly to Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. But the board’s mandate is to provide independent oversight, so the absence of such communications has prompted critics to question whether the board was doing its job.

“It’s now apparent that the IOB was not actively employed in the early part of the administration. And it was a crucial period when its counsel would seem to have been needed the most,” said Anthony Harrington, who served as the board’s chairman for most of the Clinton administration.

“The White House counsel’s office and the attorney general should have known and been concerned if they did not detect an active and effective IOB,” Harrington said.

Apparently the board was employed during the Clinton Administration, but as soon as GWB settled into the White House, he apparently decided that oversight was no longer necessary. This is in line with everythink that we know about the Administration up to this point, and it jives with the defensive reaction that they give Congress every time they try to perform their oversight duties, but it implies that the Bush Administration had their desire to operate in secrecy and with a lack of transparency high on the agenda list as soon as they took office, long before Sept. 11, 2001, for example.

[ In Intelligence World, A Mute Watchdog ]

A Picture of the GOP on Civil Rights

GOP No Shows at NAACP Presidential Forum

A picture is most definitely worth a thousand words.

And see the photo above? Go ahead, click it to get a larger view. That’s the lone Republican who bothered to show up to the NAACP GOP Presidential Forum. All of the Republicans running for President, including the elusive Ron Paul, were invited to the forum, but only one bothered to come. For as much as the GOP claims to be interested in Black voters and the Black community, they certainly aren’t making a good show of their opportunity to address a large segment of that community.

The man behind one of the podiums is Senator Tm Tancredo, Republican Preisdential Candidate running on the xenophobic ticket. It’s never been clearer that the Republicans couldn’t care less about the Black community, and couldn’t care less about civil rights and racial equality in America. After all, their base isn’t interested in it, the folks who elected them to their senatorial and representative offices couldn’t care less, so why should they?

Most of the excuses that the candidates’ respective campaigns gave the NAACP were typical, scheduling conflicts mostly, translation “sorry, too busy to talk to negroes,” which frankly, should have been expected. Still, it would have been nice if they had at least pretended to practice what they preach.

The excuses given by the Republican campaigns mostly had to do with scheduling conflicts–just too busy to make it.

The resulting photo of Tancredo–standing on a stage of empty podiums–sums up the Republican party’s commitment to civil rights in America: the only Republican interested is the guy running to deny immigrant workers their rights.

One has to wonder why this photo was not the lead on every morning show and on the front pages of every morning newspaper in America.

The reason, most likely, is a coordinated effort by Republicans to pressure news agencies to downplay the obvious implications of having 8 out of 9 of their Presidential candidates as “no shows” for a debate at the NAACP.

That about says it. Head over to Alternet for another photo of Tom all by his lonesome.

[ A Picture of the GOP on Civil Rights ]
Source: Alternet

Sign the Live Earth Pledge

The Live Earth concerts were a roaring success, and hailed in many ways as the most watched entertainment events on the Internet ever. That’s great news, the Live Earth concerts were and continue to be a great way to educate the public on the real causes of global climate change, debunk the myths that it’s not happening or somehow not real or that there’s nothing we can do about it (or worse, that it has nothing to do with humans on Earth), but there’s a lot more work to be done.

I like to call it incremental progress. There’s a lot that each and every one of us can do to help safeguard our environment and do little things to stave off the effects of global climate change, even while our leaders and politicians are still arguing and trying to hammer out their differences. We had a major victory in the recently passed energy bill that forced the auto industry to shake off it’s rut, sink a little investment into the future, stop bailing themselves out of their own problems with governmental passes, and increase the fuel efficiency of American automobiles and do it now. The technology exists, as much as the industry claims it’s technologically “impossible,” (the same thing they said about seat belts, air bags, antilock brakes, etc, etc) and they’re going to have to do their share, as much as they, and most other energy interests don’t want to. I can understand why they don’t, a cleaner environment with fresh air and clean water is against their business interests. They make their money on the back of that environment, and subsequently on the backs of the people of the world who have to deal with their use of resources and their pollution, and they don’t want to help. So while we press our officials to protect the public good from those companies and interests, we have to step up to the plate and do our part.

The Live Earth Pledge asks each and every person who signs to make a few small commitments to a healthier planet for all of us – things we can actually do to make a difference without the grand and life changing sacrifices that the global warming deniers like to scare us into thinking that even the smallest step towards cleaner air and water might mean. Things like replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents, that will save you money on your electric bill and last longer, keep an eye out for energy efficient or green appliances when shopping for electronics and household appliances, shutting things off when you don’t need them, and riding public transit when you can. Take the Live Earth Pledge, and try to do a little something to make sure we leave all of our children a better world than we inherited. I don’t think it’s a partisan thing to wish that we could swim in our lakes, drink from flowing freshwater rivers, or breathe the air in our communities without getting sick. I think that’s a workable goal, one we can all agree on.

[ Live Earth Pledge ]
Source: SOS | Live Earth | 7.7.07

A Culture of Self Denial

Every now and again, I’ll get an occasional comment that I flush down the drain with the rest of the spam, usually a conservative web surfer long on gusto and short on intelligence, who rather than taking the time to read and learn something (either from me or the rest of the world) they’ll opt to leave some snark behind as if it’s their personal vindication. There’s a reason I don’t don’t post those when I get them – it’s not often, but when I do I like to refer to the fact that this is a safe space for the reality-based community, and sadly we all know that reality has a liberal bias. This time, the person said something that made me laugh so hard that I literally had to share it; he pointed out that “liberal” is just a word for people “buried in their own self denial.” Seriously, I had to share that one, because it was posted in light of so many recent events that it’s hard to even begin how a conservative could utter those words with a straight face.

It didn’t help that he sought to bolster his lack of point with an article from the infamous Heritage Foundation, a group known to have racists, xenophobes, and other far-right wingnuts on staff and parade themselves as a thinktank – I wonder if their sole reason for existance is to supply talk radio hosts with the manufactured “studies” and “polls” that they like to quote while on the air spouting their quarter-truth nonsense. Even so, I thought the real point was the whole “self denial” thing. So, winghunter, while I rarely find such commentary worth the time and energy of a post, you hit the jackpot. Let’s talk about self-denial, shall we? I think you’ll find it’s not the political left that seems to have a problem with saying one thing and doing something else. Let’s get started.

[ White House Is Accused of Putting Politics Over Science ]
Source: The New York Times

Former Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona testified in front of a congressional panel last week that essentially every move he made during his tenure as Surgeon General during the Bush Administration’s early years was watched and advised upon for its political impact. Every speech he wanted to give, every appearance he wanted to make, he was told by the White House that he would mention the president every so often or a certain number of times during the speech, and that his speeches and appearances would be, in part, platforms for the President’s political agenda. When the Surgeon General wanted to publish papers and documents setting health care policy and outlining the science behind it, the White House would step in and make sure that the science didn’t interfere with their political agenda, and if it did, it’d be removed, whitewashed, or simply altered to fit the party line.

Sadly, only the type of conservatives that this Administration embodies would pervert science and twist the facts in order to support their political agenda, or worse, simply remove the facts from public knowledge altogether to keep the American people in the dark about the truth. Control information and you control the populace, after all, and if you keep information like the fact that abstinence-only sex education doesn’t work under your hat, you can continue to rabidly fund abstinence-only programs, make your evangelical conservative base happy, and claim to server the public good when in reality you’re likely doing more harm than anything else. When Carmona attempted to point out that sex ed programs in America’s schools should include a mix of information about contraceptives and abstinence, he was rebuked by the Administration. When he was invited to a meeting about global warming, he expected that he was invited to explain the science to the people in the room. He came, did so, and was never invited back because they had already decided that global warming was a “liberal cause” and was to be dismissed, science or no science.

Dr. Carmona, who served as surgeon general from 2002 to 2006, said White House officials would not allow him to speak or issue reports about stem cells, emergency contraception, sex education, or prison, mental and global health issues because of political concerns. Top administration officials delayed for years and attempted to “water down” a landmark report on secondhand tobacco smoke, he said in sworn testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

He was ordered to mention President Bush three times on every page of every speech he gave, Dr. Carmona said. He was asked to make speeches to support Republican political candidates and to attend political briefings, at least one of which included Karl Rove, the president’s senior political adviser, he said.

And administration officials even discouraged him from attending the Special Olympics because, he said, of that charitable organization’s longtime ties to the Kennedy family.

“I was specifically told by a senior person, ‘Why would you want to help those people?’ ” Dr. Carmona said.

Apparently reality, not to mention science, is a liberal cause – it would seem that the conservatives running the Administration are in a state of self-denial; believing that political will alone can make the world change, and that rewriting some text or refusing to publish a study or scientific report will be enough to alter reality.

[ Republican State Rep. Exposed Himself to Female Employee, Chased Her Screaming, “Suck It” ]
Source: Alternet

The North Carolina Republican that just happened to be the vice chairman of the North Carolina House committee on children, youth and families was forced to resign after a “personal complaint” was filed against him over the alleged “suck it” matter. So a gentleman, who spent his political career telling us what’s decent and indecent, what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable, and doing his utmost to wedge his own personal morality into public policy apparently has none of his own. I think that counts as living in a state of self denial: “I know what’s right and wrong for all of you, but it doesn’t apply to me.” Typical, frankly.

[ GOP Struggles With McCain’s Florida Campaign Co-Chair’s Oral Sex Bust, Vitter’s Diaper Fetish ]
Source: AlterNet

You know, people’s tastes are people’s tastes, but as a social progressive, I have no problems saying that whatever you prefer in the privacy of your bedroom is your business and I have no intention of enforcing arbitrary moral standards based on one particular belief system on you – partially because not everyone holds the same belief system, partially because what you do in the privacy of your home with a consenting partner is none of the government’s business. But it’s hilarious to watch people like this one, Florida Republican Rep. Bob Allen, the man who tried to pass a “Lewd and Lascivious Behavior Act,” then offered to perform on an undercover officer a sex act that would have violated his own provision. Yet another right-winger living in his own little fantasy world of – you guessed it – self denial. After all, his job is to enforce morality, not abide by it, right?

[ Rudy GOP Pal in D.C. Madam’s Little Black Book ]
Source: New York Daily News

Okay, I think we’ve driven home the psuedo-morality point, but between that and scientific suppression, a topic we’ve extensively covered here, I think they’re two absolutely fabulous examples of the conservative right’s own “self-denial.” It’s in light of reading stories like that that I find it incredibly amusing that someone could dare claim that the progressive left is the group that says one thing and does another, and while I’m sure that every politician is guilty of backtracking on their word at some point, for some silly reason it seems to be the conservatives that spout one thing from the bully pulpit of their statehouses and federal offices and then shove their heads in the sand when the truth comes to light, or worse, fail to embody those same morals and ideals themselves. Funny, isn’t it?

[ Arbitrary Justice, Hidden Truth ]
Source: TomPaine.com

Another fabulous example, one that has more to do with the rule of law – or lack thereof – when it comes to the right wing these days. The “Scooter” Libby trial, which was probably the most fair and widely accepted as impartial trial of a political figure in ages, turned out against the conservatives, and the man they chose to be the fall guy and excuse their friends from using the identity of a CIA operative as a political weapon to silence the folks who dared stand up and demand that the American people be told the truth before going to war in Iraq, wound up being sentenced to prison for his crime. The man lied to a grand jury in order to obscure an investigation into the leak of the operative’s name, and he was caught. He was tried, and he was sentenced in accordance with federal sentencing guidelines. The conservatives, somehow believing that the law doesn’t apply to them – again, what’s that? Self-denial? – brought out the torches and pitchforks to claim that Libby shouldn’t have been sentenced so harshly, and accused special prosecutor Pat Fitzgerald of this funny little thing called “prosecutorial overreach,” which is the conservative’s new label for “legal action we don’t agree with.” It used to be “judicial activism,” but we haven’t heard much of that since the Supreme Court started ruling in their favor. Wonder where that went.

Anyway, so Scooter is tried by a jury of his peers, convicted, and sentenced to prison by a judge. The President sweeps in and commutes his sentence, without consulting with the Justice Department or anyone else before making his legal decision, basing his decision on essentially nothing more than his personal opinion and the emails he likely received from his friends. He couldn’t pardon him entirely lest he really show the country that he has no respect for the rule of law, but he may as well have – Libby paid his fine by check and walks away a free man, completely unpunished for his crime, his silence on what he knew and his job obfuscating the truth to the leak, as one congressional Democrat put it, “bought and paid for.” So while we know who outed Valerie Plame, and we know what cabal of conservative warhawks decided that they were going to war, truth be damned – again, in a state of self-denial about their responsibility to the truth and to the American people – they’ll never face justice. Working as intended.

It’s so odd, that the judge in the Libby case, one not known for leaning in any political direction and known very well for following federal sentencing guidelines when handing down his rulings, was perplexed by the President’s desire to step in.
[ Libby Judge ‘Perplexed’ by Clemency ]
Source: The Los Angeles Times

Meanwhile, while investigating the political firing of US Attorneys from the Justice Department, the President has clamped down on any and all information using the Nixon-esque claim of executive privilege to keep anyone who might know the truth from saying anything. In fact, his executive privilege extends beyond the walls of the White House and the records of the White House and to Republican National Committee email inboxes that – simply by claiming privilege – we now know have information that would show that the President and his political advisers were part of a plan to fire US Attorneys that didn’t share their political beliefs. Similar to what they did with the Surgeon General, but they wanted people who would let Republican scandals like the ones mentioned above slide, but hone in on any Democratic misdoings, rather than upholding everyone to the same standard of the law. Again, the law apparently only applies to them when they feel like it. And now that it’s coming to light, the President claims that the rule of law doesn’t apply to him or his people again, and is telling them not to appear before congress in the face of a subpoena:

[ Miers Warned of Contempt Citation for Ignoring House Subpoena ]
Source: Bloomberg News

[ Miers Refuses to Comply, Contempt Front and Center ]
Source: TruthOut.org

All this in the face of a half-hearted attempt at reconciliation: “Sure, my people can talk to Congress, but only if there’s no record of the conversation so we can’t deny anything later, no oath so we can lie and get away with it, no cameras so the public doesn’t know, and well, no binding reason for us to talk to you or tell you the truth at all. Sound good?” Who’s in self denial, again?

Similarly, we have another example of the conservative bloc deciding that the rule of law applies to everyone but their own:
[ By Their Silence Today, U.S. Senators Condone House of Death Murders ]
Source: Narconews.com

[ Senate Panel Hears Fatal Border Shooting Case ]
Source: NPR News

So let’s set out the story, without any spin (at least for now) and dare to do something that didn’t even happen on Capitol Hill during the hearings into the matter.

Two border patrol agents stop an unarmed Mexican man suspected of trafficking drugs. The man starts to run towards the Mexican border. Two border patrol officers give chase. The two officers draw their weapons and open fire, injuring the man. The two officers then destroy evidence related to the shooting, one of them picking up their spent shell casings in order to conceal how many shots were fired. The two officers fail to report the shooting or the dead suspect to their superiors per protocol. The two men cover up their actions, and are caught. They are tried, and found guilty, and sentenced by the court to 12 and 11 years in prison.

Conservatives rallied against the ruling, claiming the sentences – mandatory per the law, mind you – are excessive, and that these two men were simply doing their duty and trying to apprehend a suspect. It’s amazing, somehow these two men are heralded as heroed by the conservative blogosphere and wingnut activists who want to see the officers go free. They shot an unarmed man in the back while he ran away, and then covered up the evidence, and somehow this makes them role models, worthy of public praise, and worthy of begging the President for yet another set of pardons. Aside from the fact that the man was unarmed, shot while running away, and the police officers didn’t bother to chase for long (the note about the Mexican border is irrelevant – the border patrol can continue pursuit if necessary) and decided to shoot first and think later, somehow this makes these officers worthy of praise. The worst part is that they did think later- they thought to cover up their actions, and that’s a crime.

But not if you’re a conservative – your thought process somehow gets mired in the fact that the man is Mexican, one of those people, and suspected of a crime himself, and somehow that allows police carte blanche to do whatever they choose. Unfortunately, the prosecutor in this case is being accused of – you guessed it – prosecutorial overreach, with even the venerable Diane Feinstein bending to the throngs of pitchfork-armed conservative groups in the hearing on Capitol Hill into the matter. But here’s the clincher for me:

Johnny Sutton, the U.S. attorney for the Western District of Texas, strenuously defended his prosecutors’ decisions in the controversial case, which has proven a headache for the White House, the Justice Department and Border Patrol. Sutton himself has been attacked as “Johnny Satan” and as the Mike Nifong of Texas, a reference to the much-criticized North Carolina prosecutor in the Duke lacrosse case who was recently disbarred for misconduct.

“Agents Compean and Ramos crossed the line. They are not heroes,” Sutton said. “They deliberately shot an unarmed man in the back without justification, destroyed evidence to cover it up and lied about it. These are serious crimes.

I don’t think there’s much more to this. Just because he shot someone that the conservatives don’t like – and by that I don’t mean drug smuggler, I very much mean Mexican. (in fact, Republican John Cornyn tried to link this into the immigration debate somehow, which only further proves that there are other issues at play here, namely the racist, xenophobic mentality endemic in the conservative community. “protect our own at all costs,” they’ll say. Something they used to say every time a Black man was lynched or beaten, or when a Black woman was raped by a White man.) And yet, the conservative blogosphere has descended on the issue, outraged.

Somehow the law doesn’t apply to them when they don’t agree with it. No one’s disagreeing that the now dead admitted drug trafficker is a bad man and should have gone to jail, but somehow the rational and the conservative part ways when they get to the point of “but should he have been shot in the back by two border patrol agents who then covered up their shooting.” Amazing. Talk about self-denial.

Meanwhile, Presidential fellatio continues to be an impeachable offense.

But I suppose that’s my self denial coming to the fore, isn’t it?