A Tale Of Two Verdicts …

This week, two white former police officers, accused of murdering unarmed black men, had their day in court.  The cases are similar … the same abominable tale of racism and abused power … but the outcomes were very different.  The first, I first wrote about one year ago …


Reckless, Wanton and Inappropriate …  

Recap: April 4th 2015, Charleston, South Carolina.  Mr. Walter Scott was stopped at 9:30 a.m. in the parking lot of an auto parts store, by Charleston police officer Michael Thomas Slager for a defective brake light. The video from Slager’s dashcam shows him approaching Scott’s car, speaking to Scott, and then returning to his patrol car. Scott exited his car and fled with Slager giving chase on foot. Allegedly, Officer Slager caught up with Mr. Scott, there ensued a scuffle, Mr. Scott managed to get away, Officer Slager shot him with his taser, Mr. Scott ran, and at that point Officer Slager fired eight shots.  Five of the shots hit Scott, 3 in the back, one in the posterior, and one in the ear.

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Former Officer Michael Slager

Later, Slager would claim that Mr. Scott took his taser.  He would also claim that Scott was coming toward him when, in fact, he was running away from him, and he claimed he feared for his life. But both of these claims were disproven by a video recording made by a passerby, Feidin Santana, that showed Mr. Scott did not have the taser, and also showed Officer Slager dropping the taser next to Scott’s body after the shooting in an attempt to plant evidence. My original post, Another Case of Injustice – The Murder of Walter Scott,  was one year ago, December 7th, 2016.

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Walter Scott’s mother with picture of Mr. Scott

Update:  On Thursday, the fourth day of Slager’s sentencing hearing, Judge David C. Norton said he had concluded that the killing should be considered murder for the purposes of determining Mr. Slager’s punishment. The shooting, he said, was “reckless, wanton and inappropriate.” The judge then sentenced Slager to twenty years in prison.  Score one, at last, for justice.  Even Jeff Sessions, surprisingly, was on board with this one …

“Officers who violate anyone’s rights also violate their oaths of honor, and they tarnish the names of the vast majority of officers, who do incredible work.”

It took more than two years, but finally a white officer who shot and killed an unarmed black man was brought to justice.  Not so, the next story …


It happened in Maricopa County, Arizona, home of former sheriff Joe Arpaio, the law-breaking bigot about whom I have written  many times in the past.  January 2016, 26 year old Daniel Shaver, staying at the Mesa La Quinta Inn, invited two acquaintances up to his room for drinks and proceeded to show off his pellet gun, which he used in his job as a pest control worker. At that point, a couple in the hotel hot tub below reported to staff that they thought they’d seen the silhouette of a man with a rifle in a window. In response, the hotel staff promptly called police.

Joe Arpaio was still sheriff of Maricopa Country at that time, and six heavily-armed officers arrived at Mr. Shaver’s room.  One of those officers was Philip Mitchell Brailsford.  The officers proceed to Shaver’s room and order everyone out.  As they exit the room, the officers scream for Shaver and one of his guests to get on the ground …

“Apparently we have a failure for you to comprehend simple instructions, I gotta go over some of them again. If you make another mistake there is a very severe possibility that you’re both going to get shot…. I’m not here to be tactful or diplomatic with you. You listen. You obey.”

Brailsford

Former Officer Philip Brailsford

The officers then proceed to give the two civilians a convoluted series of instructions, including interlocking their fingers on their head and crossing their left and right legs, before asking them to crawl toward the officers. They take the female acquaintance out of the way. Meanwhile, Mr. Shaver, is sobbing and saying, “please don’t shoot me.” Shaver then moves his right hand downward momentarily, prompting Brailsford to shoot him several times with his AR-15.

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Daniel Shaver with wife and two children

I have twice watched the body-cam footage.  Brailsford was in full body gear and armed with a lethal assault weapon.  Shaver was on the ground, hands over head, being ordered to crawl down the hallway toward Brailsford.  When he took his hands off his head in an attempt to comply with the order, he was gunned down in cold blood.  The video is more than four minutes long and during the entire time, Brailsford has his finger on the trigger, at the ready, while Shaver is flat on the ground.  There can be no doubt that Brailsford fully intended to kill Shaver from the beginning. After the shooting, Brailsford had the dust cover of his AR-15 engraved with the words “You’re Fucked”.

On Thursday, Brailsford was cleared of all charges.


Two cases of unarmed black men murdered by white police officers who let their power go to their heads.  Two dead young men, but two very different outcomes for the rogue cops.  One will spend the next twenty years in prison, the other will be free to live his life in freedom, possibly even be reinstated to his former job.

murderA recent analysis in the New York Times tells of 15 hgh-profile cases of white officers murdering unarmed black men, and one … only one … faces prison time!  This, friends, is intolerable. We are told to always respect the police.  Then, they need to be held accountable so that we can respect them.

Franklin Graham — Persona Non Grata

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Franklin Graham, Idiot of te Week Nov 2016

A little over a year ago, I awarded my coveted Idiot of the Week award to Mr. Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham, and a most deserving recipient of my idiot award.  Today, I find that he is trying to spread his brand of idiocy, or narrow-minded “Christianity”, if it can be so-called, to our friends across the pond, and they, frankly do not want him!

US evangelical preacher should be banned from entering UK, critics say – The Guardian, 07 December 2017

MPs call for Franklin Graham to be banned from UK ahead of Blackpool visit – Premier, 08 December 2017

For those who may not know who Franklin Graham is, a quick recap.  He is a televangelist who is controversial for his far-right, bigoted ideology.  He has spoken brutally against Islam referring to it as “a very evil and wicked religion”, and has claimed that Barack Obama was “born a Muslim” (not true, but so what if it was?) and had allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to infiltrate the US government at the highest levels during his presidency. He has taken on the LGBT community, saying that the mythological ‘Satan’ is behind same-sex marriage. In every possible way, he is a bigot extraordinaire.  He is, not surprisingly, a big supporter of Donald Trump. Of Trump’s election, he says …

“While the media scratches their heads and tries to understand how this happened, I believe that God’s hand intervened Tuesday night to stop the godless, atheistic progressive agenda from taking control of our country.”

So, with such outlandishly bigoted views, is it any wonder that the Brits don’t want him in the UK?  I think not, for I don’t want him in the U.S., either, but he seems to play well in the south, so as long as he stays in the south, and off my radar, I can simply ignore him.

Graham is scheduled to speak at the Lancashire Festival of Hope at Blackpool’s Winter Gardens in September 2018, but the protests began nearly a year ahead of the event.

A number of Members of Parliament, including a government minister, have urged the home secretary to consider refusing UK entry to Franklin Graham, with some suggesting his comments contravene British laws on hate speech. An online petition  has, as of this writing, garnered 6,150 signatures.

Blackpool MP, Gorden Marsden has called on the home secretary to consider refusing Graham entry, and said the evangelist may have broken UK legislation on hate speech. “I think frankly the evidence is piling up that his visit to the UK … would not be a good thing and not probably in my view a very Christian thing.”

Afzal Khan, the Labour MP for Manchester Gorton, said, “His views are not welcome, and I will make representation to the home secretary if it looks like he is intent on coming,”

Two opponents of Graham’s visit, the Blackpool vicars Andrew Sage and Tracy Charnock, have written an open letter to the bishop of Blackburn, Julian Henderson, calling on him to distance himself from the US evangelist. They say they are nervous about the damage the proposed visit will do to interfaith relations.

Nina Parker, the pastor of Liberty church in Blackpool and the organizer of the petition, said: “As a Christian and as a leader of a church that particularly welcomes LGBT people, I’m horrified that other local churches are inviting someone with this record of hate speech.”

Just as our friends on the other side of the pond, for the most part do not wish to welcome Donald Trump for a state visit next year, nor do they wish Franklin Graham to visit, bringing his message of hate, fear, and every phobia known to mankind.  Personally, I don’t blame them … I don’t want either of them, either!  And if he were sensible, Franklin Graham would cancel his visit, but … well, I just said if

The Ignorant vs The Hero

Yesterday, the Trump administration once again proved their ignorance.  Trump & Co are planning to attend an opening ceremony on Saturday of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum  in Jackson, Mississippi.  For Trump and his minions, it is a photo op, one of those ‘see and be seen’ moments, nothing more, for Trump has already shown his disdain for the achievements and goals of the Civil Rights movement.

Congressman John Lewis is one of those civil rights leaders, one of the icons of the era who is greatly admired and respected.  Mr. Lewis has declined to join Trump on the visit, calling the trip an insult to the African-Americans commemorated there.  Representative Bennie G. Thompson of Mississippi has joined Lewis and will not attend the ceremony.

“President Trump’s attendance and his hurtful policies are an insult to the people portrayed in this civil rights museum.” – Joint statement issued by Lewis & Thompson

Various civil rights groups, including the NAACP, have also protested Trump’s appearance at the ceremony …

“President Trump’s statements and policies regarding the protection and enforcement of civil rights have been abysmal, and his attendance is an affront to the veterans of the civil rights movement.” – NAACP president and chief executive Derrick Johnson

Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House Press Secretary who speaks for Trump, said ..

“We think it’s unfortunate that these members of Congress wouldn’t join the President in honoring the incredible sacrifice civil rights leaders made to right the injustices in our history.  The president hopes others will join him in recognizing that the movement was about removing barriers and unifying Americans of all backgrounds.”

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John Lewis receiving Medal of Freedom – February 2011

John Lewis IS one of those brave civil rights leaders who risked life and limb time and time again to, as Ms. Sanders put it, remove barriers and unify Americans of all backgrounds.  The entire statement shows that she, like her boss, has no idea what the civil rights movement was about, who its heroes are, and what they sacrificed.  Her words are as a slap in the face to a man who is far greater, far braver, than Donald Trump will ever be.

Let me tell you a little bit about John Lewis, who has long been a hero of mine. He was one of the original 13 Freedom Riders, served as Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), organized voter registration efforts that led to the pivotal Selma to Montgomery marches, was one of the “Big Six” leaders who organized the March on Washington, coordinated SNCC’s efforts for “Mississippi Freedom Summer,” a campaign to register black voters across the South. He is best known for the role he played on March 7th, 1965, known as “Bloody Sunday”, when he helped lead over 600 marchers across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. At the end of the bridge, they were met by Alabama State Troopers who ordered them to disperse. When the marchers stopped to pray, the police discharged tear gas and mounted troopers charged the demonstrators, beating them with night sticks. Lewis’ skull was fractured.

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A True Leader … John Lewis, President Barack Obama and Mrs. Amelia Boynton Robinson

Now, let me also tell you why John Lewis will not travel to the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum with Trump.  First, Trump’s frequent support of white supremacists is a slap in the face to Lewis and all he has fought for.  But it goes even further than that, for in January, just a few days before his inauguration, Trump said of John Lewis …

“Congressman John Lewis should spend more time on fixing and helping his district, which is in horrible shape and falling apart (not to mention crime infested) rather than falsely complaining about the election results. All talk, talk, talk — no action or results. Sad!”

Not only was that a highly inappropriate remark for Trump to make, but it was blatantly false, for Lewis’ 5th district, which includes Atlanta, is far from a hellhole, incorporating the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Georgia Tech and Emory University.

Even back on the campaign trail in 2015/2016, Trump denigrated African-Americans, telling them that their communities, indeed their very lives, were so bad that they had ‘nothing to lose’ by supporting him.  And ever since he took office, he has pandered to known white supremacists, such as Steve Bannon, policy advisor Stephen Miller, former deputy assistant Sebastian Gorka, and others.  Then came the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in August, where Trump refused to condemn white supremacists, finally did utter a weak condemnation, only to reverse it a day later.

In addition to his support of white supremacists, Trump has embraced law enforcement practices and voting rights restrictions that disproportionately and negatively impact black communities, repeatedly picked fights with black athletes who he has accused of not showing him sufficient respect, and demanded apologies from prominent African-Americans who have criticized him. Why would John Lewis, who fought so hard for the rights of African-Americans, wish to associate himself with the likes of Trump?

John Lewis deserves to be honoured at the opening of the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, for it is he as much as anybody who made that museum possible.  Donald Trump is the intruder and has no legitimacy there, other than having been invited, as a courtesy or protocol, by the Governor of Mississippi, Phil Bryant. I would love to see John Lewis attend, as he should, but not with Trump.  He should stand proud as one of the last surviving heroes of the civil rights movement and take his place there, shaking hands and accepting the thanks of so many, rather than stand anywhere near the odious Trump.

Beneath the Surface Lies a Slippery Slope

After a discussion last evening with friend and fellow blogger John about whether it would ever be acceptable to place certain limitations on 1st Amendment freedom of speech, and if so, under what circumstances.  Now, it’s been a lot of years since my last ConLaw class, so I had to dig out some notes and texts, but let us review briefly, the history of free speech in the U.S..

The U.S. Constitution was signed and ratified in 1787, but the first ten amendments, commonly known as the Bill of Rights, was not ratified until 1791.  The first real curtailment of free speech came some seven years later, with the Sedition Act of 1798.  At the time, war with France seemed imminent, Congress and President John Adams feared treason by French sympathisers within the U.S., thus was born the Sedition Act of 1798, which required criminal penalties for persons who said or published anything “false, scandalous, or malicious” against the federal government, Congress or the president. The law expired three years later, but not before 25 citizens were arrested, including a Congressman who was convicted and imprisoned for calling President Adams a man who had “a continual grasp for power.”  Think about this for a minute, folks.  Would not every single person reading this today be in jail, for we have all said much worse than that about our current Idiot-in-Chief!

Then in 1917, Congress passed the Federal Espionage Act prohibiting false statements intending to interfere with the military forces of the country or to promote the success of its enemies.  Do you begin to see where that could come under a variety of interpretations?  And then in 1918, the law was expanded to prohibit any statements expressing disrespect for the U.S. government, the Constitution, the flag, or army and navy uniforms.  Think Colin Kaepernick and the NFL?

The first challenge to the law brought about the Supreme Court’s first case in free speech in the case of Schenck v. United States, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the opinion of the unanimous Court, which sided with the government. Justice Holmes held that Mr. Schenck was not covered by the First Amendment since freedom of speech was not an absolute right. There were times, Holmes wrote, when the government could legally restrict speech.  Though it is a fascinating case, I won’t bore you with it here, for it is not what this post is about, but rather I use it only to lay a foundation.

Now, why did this come up now?  Because of this headline in the New York Times:

US Votes Against Resolution Condemning Nazi Glorification

Well, that sounds rather like the U.S. is planning to encourage Nazism, doesn’t it?  Sounds rather like the work of Bannon/Spence/Trump, eh?  The story, a short Associated Press piece, does little more to enlighten the reader, but there is more if one scratches a bit beneath the surface.

First of all, though the U.S. and Ukraine are the only two nations to vote directly against the resolution, there are 51 nations that abstained from voting.  Second, while I would love to blame Trump and come down hard, the fact is that this is an annual resolution that the U.S. has voted against since at least 2012, so it is really nothing new.

And lastly, perhaps most importantly, the primary reason we cannot support this resolution is the resolution calls on all UN member nations to ban pro-Nazi speech and organizations and to implement other restrictions on speech and assembly. Now do you see the problem?  But this, still isn’t quite the point of this post.  Yes, yes … bide your time, friends, for I am old and slow, but I am coming to the point.

Some in the media, notably Britain’s The Independent and our own Newsweek, have attempted to link the decision not to vote yea on the U.N. resolution to Trump’s failure to condemn Nazism after the deadly Charlottesville rally in August.  Perhaps, who knows?  But it doesn’t matter, for either way, we cannot afford at this time to open that potentially wide door to banning any part of free speech.

It is what’s known as a slippery slope, and you’ve heard me refer to it before.  A slippery slope is an idea or course of action which has the potential to lead to something unacceptable, wrong, or disastrous. Now, think back to the Sedition Act of 1798 for a minute.  You could get into big trouble for saying or writing anything “false, scandalous, or malicious” against the federal government, Congress or the president. Now, think how thin-skinned the person occupying the White House is.  Think how he threatened to use libel laws to stifle the press for saying ‘mean and untrue’ things about him. Think how he defines “truth”.  Think about this statement:  “Trump has no conscience, is not very intelligent, wears a bad toupee and has ugly rolls of flab.” I just made up that statement, but under the Sedition Act of 1798, I could spend up to ten years in jail for publishing that statement on this blog.

Now, we are not talking about a Sedition Act, but simply about banning Nazi speech.  Believe me, I dislike Richard Spencer and all the neo-Nazi thugs as much as anyone but … if we take away their rights to voice their opinions, we leave the door wide open for other constraints on free speech, such as insulting the president or a member of Congress.  Where is the line drawn, and more importantly, who draws that line? Congress?  So far, they have proven willing to lick Trump’s boots and play nice with him, for the most part.  An executive order?

I am not being an alarmist, so much as a cautionary. I do not trust Donald Trump.  He is a sociopathic narcissist who will stop at nothing to further his own desires, to further bloat his already massive ego. And he cares not one whit for this nation nor its citizens.  So, given half an opportunity, would he institute laws making it illegal to insult him?  Absolutely.  If we agreed to the U.N. resolution, it would crack open that door, and before you can bat an eye, he would have it open wide.  I, for one, am not quite ready to give up my rights to free speech, and while yes, I would like to see curtailments on hate speech, this may not be the right time. Meanwhile, we can and must punish anybody who takes Nazism a single step beyond speech and into action.

When we see a headline, hear an idea or opinion, it always pays to do a bit of digging, for often what we see and hear is but the surface, and the truth lies beneath the surface.

Thoughts on Symbols …

Symbols … A symbol is a mark, sign, or word that indicates, signifies, or is understood as representing an idea, object, or relationship. Symbols allow people to go beyond what is known or seen by creating linkages between otherwise very different concepts and experiences.

I was struck by an interview between Fox television hosts and Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski regarding, of all things, upside-down Christmas trees. For some reason, the hosts seemed to feel that Lewandowski’s opinion was of the utmost importance on this topic …

upside tree

“There’s a new fad, Corey, we’ve got to get your insight on this. The upside-down Christmas tree. You can buy it for a cool grand at Target. …Americans are burning to know what Corey Lewandowski thinks of the implications of such a fad.”Fox & Friends host, Pete Hegseth.  (Seriously???  I am an American and I don’t care a whit!)

Lewandowski’s response?

“You know, I don’t even know what it means to have an upside-down Christmas tree. It’s like an upside-down world. It’s like Seinfeld, it’s like the bizarro world. Like, you can be a U.S. senator after groping people on, you know, a picture, and no one has any accountability for it. That’s what the upside-down Christmas tree means to me. I mean, it’s everything that is wrong. Look: we have traditions in our country that many people respect, that we should respect, that we’ve passed on to our children. Look, a Christmas tree is one of those traditions.  And if you don’t want to participate in Christmas or Hanukkah, whatever your holiday is, you don’t have to. But I don’t even know what an upside-down Christmas tree means.”

Co-host Griff Jenkins had one last comment …

“Cory, can we put you on record that you will inform us immediately if you learn that the first family is turning their Christmas tree upside down?”

“I can be sure that the first family will not be turning their tree upside down. They like this country and our traditions.”

Ridiculous waste of time?  Sure, but it also says something about our current situation.  We have come to view the symbols of something as the very thing itself, as worthy of the honour, loyalty, worship or whatever we feel the thing represents.

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Robert E. Lee statue

Take, for example, the Civil War monuments that have recently caused such a stir.  In the South, they are seen as a symbol of the south’s loss of autonomy, the loss of their rights to … well, to own slaves.  Perhaps by some they are seen as symbols of a war hard fought by young men, many of whom lost their lives, but to others, to those who are conscious of a growing racist, white supremacist movement in the U.S. today, they are seen as a symbol of racism, a symbol of hate.  One side wants them left up as a memorial, the other wants them removed from public arenas and moved to museums, or Civil War battlefields.  They are nothing but concrete … a mere symbol.  Removing them from the state parks and office buildings does not destroy anything, but may save lives and keep the peace.

flagThen there’s the U.S. flag.  It is a symbol of what this nation stands for, of the values of this nation. There is no reason to stand or place one’s hand upon one’s chest to ‘honour’ the flag, for the flag itself is, after all, a piece of cloth.  If a person feels that the nation no longer respects his/her values, then there is no reason to stand for the flag.  There never was … those who say we must respect the flag are substituting the symbol for the thing.  Don’t tell me I must respect a $16 piece of cloth. I respect the nation, but the symbol is just that.

both ways treesAnd the Christmas tree, upside down, lying on its side, or placed right-side-up in a stand, is but a symbol of a holiday.  Christmas to some Christians signifies what they believe to be the birth of Jesus Christ, but it is a tree, folks.  Respect the tree by leaving it in the forest!  Respect the holiday, if you celebrate it as such, by living your life as you should.  More often, Christmas is celebrated as a secular holiday by most.  It is even celebrated as such by Jews and Muslims, not as a religious holiday, but as a fun, bright, cheerful holiday, an opportunity to see family and friends gathered together and to spend lots and lots of money.  My own family celebrates Christmas, again, for the lights, the baking, having friends visit, and just the overall cheerfulness of the season, not only the single day.  I prefer my Christmas tree upright, but if others with to hang theirs upside down, so what??? 

I would have been content to leave Civil War monuments up until white supremacist groups began idolizing them and the symbolism became one of hate, stirring a pot that is already a bubbling cauldron.  As for the flag … it represents this nation, but only as a symbol.  If you want to show your respect for the United States of America, try picking up trash in parks and along roadsides, try helping people in need, try not judging people based on their race, skin colour or gender identification.  Try honouring the spirit upon which the nation was founded, rather than raising seven different kinds of hell because some of us do not feel inclined to salute a piece of cloth.

Symbols are just that … they are a representation of something, not the thing itself. This is my favourite symbol, but I recognize that it is just that … a symbol of peace … something I hope we can find again some day, for we certainly do not have it today.

peace

Have We Learned Nothing???

If you thought the white supremacist/nationalist movement was unique to the United States, think again.  This weekend, some 60,000 people marched in Warsaw, Poland, celebrating Poland’s Independence Day, flying in from various points in Europe:  Slovakia, Sweden, Spain and Hungary.  But more than celebrating the day Poland gained its freedom from a century of foreign rule in 1918, the march was to promote the idea of white supremacy, of hatred … of evil.

Marchers carried signs reading …

  • Europe Will Be White
  • Clean Blood
  • White Europe Of Brotherly Nations
  • Pray for Islamic Holocaust

Poland-4That last one stops my heart … “Pray for Islamic Holocaust” … this from people who are descended from people, some of whom were no doubt victims of Hitler’s Holocaust!!!  Chants of “Pure Poland, white Poland!” and “Refugees get out!” could be heard throughout Warsaw.  What a damn shame that human beings, that mankind, has learned not one thing from the history of only last century.  Is this the direction Europe and the United States wish to go?  Are we really so eager to see millions of people murdered simply because of the colour of their skin, their national origin or their religion???

The march was organized by a neo-Nazi group called The Radical Camp, the name of a 1930s fascist movement.  To be sure, there were some small groups of counter-protestors including anti-fascists and Polish Jews, but they were far outnumbered and largely ignored. Although police and organisers tried to keep the two groups apart, nationalists pushed and kicked several women who had a banner saying “Stop fascism”.

Poland-1In recent years, Poland’s politics have leaned more toward a right-wing, xenophobic ideology. Similar nationalist and racist ideologies are growing in influence in Greece, Austria, Switzerland, and numerous other democracies across the continent. And so I ask again … have we not learned one, single, damned thing from history?

Poland’s resurgent fascist youth movement has embraced Donald Trump, whose campaign manager Steve Bannon worked for years to exploit white ethno-nationalist political energy in western Europe as well as the United States from his position leading Breitbart. America’s own white supremacist and spouter of hate, Richard Spencer, was originally slated to give a speech at this event, but changed his mind after Foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski said that Spencer “should not appear publicly, and especially not in Poland.” Not, mind you, that Spencer cancelled his trip based on a change or heart of stroke of conscience, but he feared he would be denied entry into the country.

Poland-2I have noted many times before, I cannot understand how anybody with even half a brain can think that having pale skin makes a person superior to others.  Obviously, however, some do think so and that number seems to be growing, the ideology spreading like a fast=growing cancer both in the U.S. and in Europe.  The movement has its roots in the Arab Spring movements that began less than a decade ago and produced a mass exodus from Middle Eastern nations, people fleeing for their lives.  As nations like Greece, Germany, the U.S. and many others accepted these refugees, groups like daesh, al qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah were doing their best to make fear of the unknown the order of the day.  Add to this mix people like Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, Geert Wilders, Norbert Hofer, Marine LePen, and others — populist candidates whose platform is based on one of xenophobia and of halting immigration — and it is a recipe for disaster.

How do we forget that we are all of the human race?  And where, pray tell, are the banished people of this world supposed to go?  How are they to survive, to live, even to thrive? The homelands of the Middle Easterners are being torn asunder by war and terrorism.  The nations of Africa are poor and already over-populated. And why would we want to live apart from our brothers and sisters who add so much to our lives, make our lives richer by sharing their cultures?

Poland-3.jpgHow do we stop the white nationalist movements that would exterminate, apparently, everyone who does not think, act and look exactly like them?  I don’t have any answer to that question, but I would ask those who feel this way a question:  say you got rid of all the Middle Easterners, the Latinos, those with African heritage … who’s next?  People with red hair?  People with disabilities?  Women?  It is a never-ending process, and it is evil.

The only way I know of to stop such a movement is for every person to take up the cause, to speak out against this evil, and to take time to educate those who somehow feel superior because they have pale skin.  I have said it before, and I say it again today:  those who remain silent in the face of this evil sweeping the globe are as guilty as any.

There are lessons to be learned from the past, but we are failing to learn them.  For fourteen years, Adolph Hitler reigned in much of Europe, his reign resulting in the deaths of between 70 and 85 million people, including six million human beings whose only crimes were to be different.  Do we really need to repeat this atrocity?  Is it not possible for us to learn tolerance, to learn to ignore the Richard Spencers and Steve Bannons of this world and treat people as equals?  Think about it, for we each must make the choice to either speak out loudly against this evil, or to be complicit in helping the haters achieve their goals, thus taking responsibility for the outcome.

Two Thumbs Up To Starbucks ! 👍 👍🏿

I think I have some things figured out, finally.  People are bored with their lives and have nothing to do.  So, they invent things to protest.  No, I am not talking about those of us who protest for civil rights, protest for environmental safeguards and controls, protest against robbing people of their healthcare, for those and more are valid issues.  I am speaking of people who protest the colour of the cup in which their coffee is served. An excerpt from an article in a 10 November 2016 Vox article:

In a world filled with many items, there is none more divisive right now than the 2015 Red Starbucks Cup™. In certain pockets of the US, it speaks to something larger than the vessel from which we drink our hot, caffeinated beverages. To some, the naked red cup, unadorned with symbols like holly or snowflakes, is an affront against the Christian faith, a cut against Christianity.

Americans fighting over what is printed on a coffee cup designed by a billion-dollar company to promote conformity sounds like cold German satire: While the world rages on and problems like starvation, a massive refugee crisis, and homelessness remain unfixed, people in America — including an American presidential candidate — are arguing over a red beverage container.

But there’s nothing satirical about this. The conflict over this dumb cup is so passionate that the original version of a viral “Starbucks’ War on Christmas” video has more than 14 million views. It’s also an unflinchingly real slice of American internet culture and the outrage machine that fuels it.

The movement to protest the plain red cup that replaced the past years’ traditional holiday-themed cups was started by one man named Joshua Feuerstein.  Feuerstein made a video claiming that there is a “war on Christmas,” and that each year during the holidays, Christians are persecuted by companies. The video went viral and in the first five days, received over 14 million views.  Point #1 in my argument that people have nothing to do.

Feuerstein claimed that Starbucks was shredding  Christmas and that employees were not allowed to say “Merry Christmas”, both of which proved untrue, but when did people like him ever let silly things like truth or facts get in their way?  And the lemmings, those 14 million who wasted time watching the video, didn’t care about facts either, but blindly believed what Feuerstein said.  And thus began the Red Cup Controversy which occupied media space and a good bit of the empty space in some people’s minds during November and December of 2015-2016.  And when then candidate Trump heard the news, of course he had to add his two-cents worth:

“Maybe we should boycott Starbucks? I don’t know. Seriously, I don’t care. If I become president, we’re all going to be saying Merry Christmas again, that I can tell you.”

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Eh, Donald, what if I prefer to say “Happy Chanukah” or “Joyous Kwanzaa”?  Or just “Hey there”.  But back to Starbucks.

As far as I can tell from looking at their past ten years Profit & Loss statements, the ridiculous fiasco did not cost them business, as they have seen a steady increase in both revenue and profit margin, fortunately.

Which brings us to this year and the purpose of this post.  I wish to commend Starbucks for its 2017 holiday cup, announced yesterday, which will feature same-sex and mixed race couples.  Starbucks released a 30-second video to launch their new cup …

This is not the first time that Starbucks has taken a courageous stand for the LGBT community.  In 2015, Chairman & CEO Howard Schultz publicly supported the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality.  When a stockholder at a shareholders’ annual meeting stated his view that the company had lost customers because of its support for gay marriage, Schultz responded: “Not every decision is an economic decision. The lens in which we are making that decision is through the lens of our people. If you feel, respectfully, that you can get a higher return than the 38 percent you got last year, it’s a free country. You can sell your shares in Starbucks and buy shares in another company.”  I could just hug this man … we need more like him both in business and in government.

2017 cupBack in September, I criticized Starbucks for not giving free coffee on National Coffee Day.  I now rescind that criticism, for they have more than redeemed themselves in my book.

And now, folks, wait for it … wait for the outrage that, unless I miss my guess, will begin in 10 … 9 … 8 … and will be given attention by the media and by everyone else and will turn into yet another big brouhaha.  As for me, as long as the coffee is good, hot, and they remember my extra shot of espresso, I’m happy to ignore the ruckus.

As for those bigots who will cry and yell … get a life.  There are so many more important things to worry about than the cup your coffee is served in.  Might I remind you to be thankful that you can afford that $5 cup of coffee, for many around the world cannot even afford $5 worth of food a day.  Grow up, step out of your own skin for a change.

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John Kelly Lost My Respect

Three months.  That’s all it took was three months for me to reverse my opinion of White House Chief of Staff, John Kelly.  This morning, I went back and reviewed my original post assessing General Kelly when he was first assigned the job.  My assessment was that he was a good man, a fair man, and while I did not like some of his political stances (immigration, women in the military, the terrorist threat), I thought he had “the right stuff” for the job he had been given, basically the job of babysitting Trump & Co.

During his first weeks in the White House, some of Trump’s rhetoric did tone down, and the standard joke when Trump did go on a Twitter binge was that John Kelly must have had the day off.  Things calmed down, it seemed, in the White House as it was reported that Kelly strictly controlled who got in to see Trump and what information Trump was provided.  It seemed that maybe, just maybe, Kelly was bringing a bit of sanity to the administration, though some within the administration were grumbling.

But in recent days, I have had cause to re-examine my opinion and it has changed. Something happened somewhere along the line to convince Kelly to toe the party line, to be Trump’s ‘yes-man’ and to take his turn licking Trump’s boots along with the rest of the bunch.  Where did it begin?  It began when Trump, without Kelly’s prior knowledge, politicized the death of Kelly’s son who died in combat in 2010.  Trump himself had, rightly, come under intense criticism for ignoring the deaths of four Green Berets in Niger on October 4th. As is his way, rather than address the criticism, he deflected and said (untruthfully) that none of his predecessors had even called families of fallen soldiers.  As an example, he noted that President Obama had not called General Kelly to offer condolences for his son’s death.

I expected Kelly, who has kept that part of his life very private, to be enraged at the disrespect Trump had shown, but if he was, he hid it well. And then came Trump’s disastrous call to Myeshia Johnson, widow of La David Johnson, one of the four slain soldiers.  The contents of the call should not be in dispute, as Ms. Johnson was in a car with four other people and the call was put on speakerphone.  One of those four people was congresswoman, Frederica S. Wilson of Florida, a friend of the Johnson family.  She confirmed  what Ms. Johnson told the press, that Trump could not remember La David’s name and referred to him instead as “your guy”, and that he said Johnson ‘knew what he signed up for’, but that he supposed it hurt anyway.  Such compassion, eh?

Kelly jumped to Trump’s defense and condemned Representative Wilson, going into attack mode.  He has learned from Trump, obviously. Kelly told reporters that Wilson took credit for securing the funding for the building during a dedication in 2015. The building was named for two slain FBI agents. A video of the event was soon published proving Kelly wrong, but he did not acknowledge his error nor apologize.  As recently as yesterday, he still refuses to tender an apology,

And now comes the straw that is breaking this camel’s back.

Kelly, appeared visibly pained while Trump spoke in August of the “very fine people” on both sides of white nationalist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia.  We all thought it was because he disapproved of Trump’s racist remarks and was aggrieved that he could not stop him.  But on the other hand, perhaps he simply had a headache.

During an interview on Monday, for no apparent reason, Kelly launched into a diatribe that made no sense and seemed to show a side of Kelly that we had not seen before, an ignorant and largely racist side.

“I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man. He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country. It was always loyalty to state first back in those days. Now it’s different today. But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil War, and men and women of good faith on both sides made their stand where their conscience had them make their stand.”

Inability to compromise?  The Civil War was about southern states refusing to give up their “right” to own other human beings, slaves.  What compromise could be had?  Oh, you can keep half of your slaves?  Or, you can keep your slaves, but you can only beat them on Wednesdays?  C’mon, Mr. Kelly, compromise was not an option.  The long and short of it is that I am certain John Kelly is smart enough to know the lie in his words, to know the history behind the Civil War, but he has signed onto the alternative-facts bandwagon aka Kellyanne Conway, and there can likely be no turning back now.

I wanted to respect John Kelly.  I had great hopes that he could at last bring some order out of the chaos that defines the White House under the Trump administration.  He was supposed to be the adult in the room.  As Samantha Bee said earlier, “John Kelly, you were supposed to be the one we didn’t have to watch like a hawk. You were supposed to be the hawk.”

I do not know why this man who had earned the respect of many through his long years of service even consented to take the job in the White House.  But whatever his reasons, he is now a part of the Trump Circus Train, and I no longer respect him, no longer expect great things.  Just another sideshow. He was our last best hope that someone could rein in Trump and at least keep him from making a fatal blunder.  That hope is now dashed.

A Matter of Time …

This one jumped right onto my radar tonight and the blip was loud and insistent.  The headlines …

N.J. Police Chief Said Black People Are ‘Lke ISIS’ And He’d Like To Be ‘On The Firing Squad,’ Feds Say – Matt Zapotosky, The Washington Post, 01 November 2017

Ex-Police Chief Accused of Hate Crime, Excessive Force – The Associated Press, 01 November 2017

Frank Nucera, age 60, had been on the Bordentown, New Jersey police department since 1983.  According to other officers, he has always had problems with African-Americans, but those problems came to a head in January when the FBI began investigating charges of racism against then-Chief Nucera.  Nucera resigned in January, likely under duress, with an annual pension of $105,992.76

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Frank Nucera

The incident that triggered the FBI investigation was Nucera’s physical abuse of an 18 year-old African-American suspect who was already in police custody, in handcuffs, and being escorted on either side by an officer, posing no threat whatsoever. Nucera came up behind the young man and slammed his head into a steel doorjamb.  An officer then began recording the incident as Nucera hurled a series of racial epithets.

Yesterday, Nucera was arrested and charged with civil rights violations and hate crimes.  According to acting U.S. Attorney William E. Fitzpatrick, “Chief Nucera harbored an intense, senseless, irrational and bigoted view toward African-Americans.”

BordentownNucera had a history of making racial slurs and derogatory comments about blacks, and used dogs as intimidation tools at local high school basketball games.  A year ago, one of his officers became concerned enough that he secretly began recording his comments. In one of the recordings Nucera said of African Americans that he was “tired of them. it’s getting to the point where I could shoot one.” And this …

“These n****rs are like ISIS, they have no value. They should line them all up and mow ’em down. I’d like to be on the firing squad, I could do it. I used to think about if I could shoot someone or not, I could do it, I’m tired of it.”

Now I have to ask the question … this man has been with the police force for 34 years … thirty-four years!  How has this behaviour not been noticed and dealt with long before? Surely he did not only in the last year develop racist tendencies?  Surely others have noticed his behaviour and rhetoric before now?  Surely there have been other incidences of abuse in the past 34 years? How did this man stay on the force and in his position as chief for this long?  And … perhaps the more important question … how many more are out there as city police chiefs, county sheriffs or other arms of law enforcement who are just like Nucera?  Think Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Arizona.

I would bet that Nucera has always harbored hatred and resentment against blacks, but did he keep it hidden, under wraps, knowing that it would be trouble if he were found out?  And then last year, with the new wave of white supremacy, the new ideology among some that it is okay to be racist, did he finally let his guard down?  Or has this been going on all along and the people have covered for him?  I cannot find any answers, but am chilled to think of this man having had murder in his heart, and yet been given the keys to the highest position of law enforcement in his town … for thirty-four years!

In response to a spate of police killing unarmed black men such as Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and others in recent years, the Obama administration ordered reforms and training improvements at police departments.  But now, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has ordered a review of all such agreements, saying it was necessary to ensure that these pacts do not work against the Trump administration’s goals of promoting officer safety and morale while fighting violent crime. He also rolled back a different Obama-era effort to investigate police departments and work with them out of court to fix their failings.

How close did Bordentown, New Jersey come to being the next Ferguson, Missouri?  How many cities across the nation have officers on the force with an intense hatred of black people?  How do they go unnoticed, unreported?  And another big question … will Jeff Sessions, well known for his own racism, roll back the safeguards that were just being put in place to combat this very thing?  How long before we have our next Freddie Gray?  Only a matter of time, folks … a matter of time.

Nothing To See Here Folks … Nothing At All

His name is Michael Christopher Estes … a name few of us have ever heard, even though he planted a bomb in the Asheville, North Carolina airport just over a week ago, on October 6th.  Now why do you think you’ve never heard of Michael Christopher Estes and his attempted bombing?  Look at his picture and see if you can guess.

estesIf you guess that this event was under-reported because he is a white man, you would be right.  Had he been Muslim, of Middle-Eastern, Hispanic or African-American ethnicity, this news would have played 24/7 on all of the major media outlets.  Trump would have been screaming ‘terrorism’ at the top of his lungs, claiming it supports his call for a Muslim ban and a border wall, and the name Michael Christopher Estes would, by now, be a household word.

You can read the details of the story on NPR, for it is not my purpose to re-tell the story.

This is not the only one this year that we likely didn’t hear about:

  • In February, a Florida man named Mark Barnett allegedly created improvised explosives to plant in Target stores along the East Coast as part of a profit-driven bomb plot. Someone he allegedly attempted to recruit to his plot turned Barnett into authorities and he was charged in federal court; his federal case is ongoing.

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  • In July, Luke Mullen was arrested after allegedly making bomb threats against the Colorado Springs Airport; police say he had four explosive devices and a machete inside his vehicle.

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  • Also in July, a blast outside the Bixby Air Force Recruitment Office in Oklahoma caused property damage but no injuries. Benjamin Roden, a former airman, was arrested and is facing federal charges in connection with the incident.

Super Bowl 50 - Carolina Panthers v Denver Broncos


  • In August, Elijah Blankenship in Ohio was arrested and charged with creating multiple homemade explosives. His arrest came shortly before an anti-racist vigil in honor of the victims of the Charlottesville, Va., attack, but court records don’t indicate whether there was a connection to the event.

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  • In September, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation announced that Douglas Kennedy of Tifton, Ga., was charged with manufacturing explosive devices after a bomb went off in the parking lot of the Tift Regional Medical Center; no one was injured. Kennedy had allegedly constructed and detonated at least three other bombs, none of which hurt anybody.

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For the most part, these stories were only reported locally, did not receive national attention in the media, and received no mention from anybody in the Trump administration.  Even the conspiracy theorists Jones, Hannity, Limbaugh and their ilk were silent on this one! The case of Estes would still lie buried in the archives of the Asheville Citizen Times newspaper if it were not for civil rights activist Shaun King, writing for The Intercept.  Since King’s article was published on October 11th, the story has been picked up by the mainstream media, including the New York Times, USA Today, Salon, NPR, Fox News, CBS News and others.  Nearly a week after the fact.  Would any of these outlets have published the story were it not for Shaun King’s article? I think we know the answer.

White males committing acts that might otherwise be labeled ‘terrorism’ do not elicit the attention of Donald Trump, and these days if Donald Trump does not have something to say about an event, then it is not newsworthy.  White males committing crimes is of no interest to Trump because it does not fit his agenda.  I get that, and I have low expectations of Trump anyway. But frankly I expect better out of our press.  I expect our press to push these stories, to inform the public so that Trump’s blind-faith followers can no longer deny that most acts of terrorism in this country are actually committed by white citizens, not Muslims, not Latinos, but white, male citizens.

I have come out in defense of our free press many times in recent months, and I will continue to do so as long as I have breath, for I firmly believe that the freedom of press to investigate and report, to keep us informed, is the very core of our democracy.  I believe that if we allow government to place constraints on the media, we will too soon become much like Turkey – a democracy in name only.  However, with that freedom comes a responsibility to act as a free press, to report all the news, not just the news that has Trump in the headlines, or about which Trump is tweeting. By ignoring these stories, the press is playing directly into Trump’s hand.

Fortunately, the bomb that Estes left in the Asheville airport was found and defused by police before it could do any harm, but that and the other cases I mentioned had the potential to cause serious harm, injuries and even death.  When he was arrested the following day, Estes told police that he was “preparing to fight a war on U.S. soil” and that this bomb was but one part of that war. That, folks, should frighten us a lot more than the refugee from Syria, the laborer from Mexico. How is that not newsworthy, yet every word that spews from the mouth of Donald Trump, is ‘breaking news’?

I understand that the mainstream media are for-profit organizations, that they are in business to make money, and that as such they must use their resources to report the stories they believe the people want to see.  But to ignore these stories, to give them less attention simply because it was a white male rather than a Syrian or a Mexican who committed the crime, is wrong.  We must hold the press accountable to report all the news, not to cherry pick and report only what Trump is doing.