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Brandon Holt, who died Tuesday after being shot by a neighbor, in a Facebook photo.
Yesterday, a four-year-old boy in Toms River, NJ took a .22 caliber rifle and shot a six-year-old boy in the head from 15-yards away. Today, that six-year-old boy died. He was in the first grade. Why did this happen?

It seems unlikely that the shooter is blameworthy; hard to imagine that he should have known better – at four-years-old. Can’t see how the six-year-old could have done anything to provoke it, either. Not likely that he was threatening death or serious bodily injury such that the four-year-old was justified in defending himself. Who, then, gets the blame?

The obvious answer: the parents. Somehow, some way, this four-year-old had access to his father’s .22 caliber rifle. Had the father acted responsibly and made his gun inaccessible to his four-year-old, the needless death of a six-year-old would not have occurred – at least not like this, not then. Pro-gun, pro-gun control, it doesn’t matter; this is, and should be, a “WTF?” moment for everyone.

Why? Because right now, as it currently stands in New Jersey - one of the least gun friendly states in the union - the father is potentially guilty of only a mere disorderly persons offense. The same charge one would get for shoplifting something valued less than $200. WTF.

Can we not agree then that this father, this irresponsible gun owner, is a perfect example of why stricter gun laws, at least in some measure, are needed. Has the discourse surrounding guns in this country really come to a point where we cannot agree that the moral turpitude of the father’s actions is greater than that of shoplifting something valued less than $200? Can it really be argued that the second amendment prohibits us, as a society, from condemning this man’s actions to a greater degree than shoplifting? I certainly hope not.

Discuss

When I heard that Republican Senator Rob Portman had recently changed his position on marriage equality - only after his son came out as gay - I had a visceral reaction: Fuck Rob Portman. But then I thought about it, and now I take it back.

Is it tempting, maybe even justified, to point the finger at Rob Portman? Yes. Damn right. Here's a guy who seemed to have no problem supporting an agenda that discriminates generally, and against LGBT individuals specifically, until someone who was about as close to him as any person could be was effected by that very agenda. Now he wants to change the rules. Bullshit! There's absolutely no genuine empathy there, at least not for the other approximately 11,699,999 LGBT in the United States.

Is that really the point though? No. It's not. The point is that there is now one less very powerful voice supporting discrimination against LGBT, and there is now one more very powerful voice supporting equality for LGBT. And. That. Is. Really. Awesome. Heck, I'm sure I'm going to continue to not like him very much. But that doesn't really matter right now because on the issue of LGBT equality he ended up in the right place.

Truth be told, a lot of progress gets done the same way. Of course I can't prove it, but it's my guess that most of people in this country who now support same-sex marriage didn't really think hard about the issue until they realized that they knew someone who was LGBT and saw how the discrimination affected him or her. That's just how it happens. Would it be better if people were more empathetic to the concerns of all their fellow citizens? Yeah, it would, and I'd like a pony for my next birthday too. Most people just don't think that way.

Should Rob Portman get support from Progressives for his decision to support same-sex marriage? EMPHATICALLY YES. Look at the definition of the word progress:

1. Movement, as toward a goal; advance. 2. Development or growth: students who show progress. 3. Steady improvement, as of a society or civilization: a believer in human progress.
Movement, advance, development, growth, improvement... it's not light switch. We can't just turn progress on and off. It's steady improvement. One step at a time. And we need to encourage people to take those steps for the better. We can't hold their feet to the fire for once holding a contrary position. Because if we create a hostile environment for those who take steps to improve, we're disincentivizing them to change. On the other hand, if we create a receptive environment for those who take steps toward improvement, we're speeding up progress by making it easier for people to change. It's just that simple. You have to fight the temptation to be overly cynical. Give Rob Portman a hug and say thanks, if only for this one step in the right direction.

Maybe, just maybe, he'll be an influential voice for his colleagues.

-HLD

Discuss

There are innocent people in jail. No one knows exactly how many there are, but everyone knows there are some. This is, sadly, an unavoidable consequence of how our system works. Ask Johnny Williams, Ronald Ross, or Frederick Mardlin. They know. Thirteen years ago, Williams was convicted of sexually assaulting a 9-year-old girl. In 2006, Ross was convicted of attempted murder and sentenced to 25 years to life. And in 2007, Mardlin was convicted of arson after a fire burned down his home in Michigan. Within the last thirty-days, each has had his conviction dismissed - all were wrongfully convicted. And they are not alone.

Since 1989, there have been 1,077 exonerations entered into the National Registry of Exonerations -- an average of forty-five exonerations a year, or one every eight days. In all likelihood that number vastly underestimates the actual number of exonerations that occur each year. Other than the National Registry of Exonerations, which is a non-government project sponsored by the law schools at the University of Michigan and the Northwestern, there is no official record keeping system for exonerations. Nor is there any systematic way to locate them. And while high-profile exoneration cases receive widespread attention and are easy to register, many low-profile exonerations occur below the radar. Indeed, the National Registry of Exonerations reports that there is “no doubt the vast majority” of low profile exonerations have been missed. Even the most conservative estimates regarding the number of wrongful convictions are troubling. For instance, United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia's estimate that the wrongful conviction rate is only .027% is illustrative when considered in the context of transportation. Roughly 8,618 flights arrive or depart Philadelphia International Airport each week. If two of those flights crashed every week – roughly .027% of flights – the airport would close immediately; no one would have confidence that he or she was adequately protected.  Similarly, public confidence in the criminal justice system can only be preserved if effective measures are taken to ensure that both the incidence of wrongful conviction is minimized and wrongful convictions, once identified, are quickly remedied.

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Tue Mar 05, 2013 at 08:11 AM PST

UniteBlue; Stronger Together

by HawksLoveDoves

No man is an island, entire of itself. Human beings do not thrive when isolated from others. Those words, once written by John Donne in the 17th Century, have been embraced by the folks at UniteBlue, a new (and free) service that interacts with twitter to make it easier to find real, progressive people organizing for collective action in local communities. It's pretty neat.  

The site uses a set of advanced heuristics and artificial intelligence techniques to scan the Twittersphere for the most politically active accounts on the left. It then ranks the accounts based on a sophisticated algorithm involving account statistics, following and tweeting patterns, and words used in account descriptions. And to make sure that each account represents a real person, UniteBlue verifies each person's authenticity by hand. Pretty cool stuff, if you ask me. And, it works like a charm.

In the few weeks that I've been on UniteBlue, I've been able to connect with over 1700 politically active "tweeple," all of whom have very diverse backgrounds and skill sets. This is fantastic. The internet, and twitter specifically, make it super easy to find national voices, television personalities, etc.; however, I've found that when I need to meet real, everyday people who are actively looking to work on progressive projects, it's not nearly as easy. And that's the problem that UniteBlue is designed to solve. You can even sort accounts by geographic location.

Most recently, UniteBlue launched a new community blog, designed to be a centralized location where people can share new projects, updates, and other items of interest that require a bit more than 140 characters. Through this blog and a few other avenues, UniteBlue has been able to organize several successful "twitter bombs," which have garnered attention from the President, Vice President, and many other leaders in government. It's all pretty cool.

It might not be for you, but it's worth checking out. As Simon Cowart, one of the UniteBlue community bloggers, aptly put it, "Political organizing, especially on the left, is often compared to the old Democratic pastime of herding cats. We all have our primary issues that drive us and feed our passions." You might not like, or want to work with, everyone you meet at UniteBlue, but I promise you'll be surprised by the amount of awesome, hardworking progressive people who you never knew were just one click away.

Cheers! -DueDueProcess (formerly HLD)

note: HawksLoveDoves is an active member of the UniteBlue community.

Discuss
If you're reading this, chances are that you've heard that United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia recently called a key part of the Voting Rights Act, a "perpetuation of racial entitlement," during oral argument in Shelby County v. Holder. Most likely, you're pretty pissed off. The good news is: You are, and should be, pissed off. The bad news is: Most likely, Justice Scalia isn’t going anywhere - that is, until he decides to retire.

It's possible - to impeach a Supreme Court justice - but it's probably not going to happen. The last, and only, justice to be impeached was Justice Samuel Chase, in 1805. Chase’s impeachment fixed the idea that Justices of the Supreme Court are prohibited from engaging in partisan politics. Indeed, those pressing for Chase’s impeachment argued extensively that Chase allowed his political bias to influence his decision making on the bench. And notably, among the eight articles of impeachment Chase was served with, the last accused Chase of making “intemperate and inflammatory … peculiarly indecent and unbecoming … highly unwarrantable … highly indecent” remarks. Notwithstanding, the Senate acquitted Chase on March 1, 1805, and he continued to serve on the Court until his death on June 19, 1811. Since then, all articles of impeachment served on lower federal judges – remember no other Supreme Court justices have been impeached - have arisen out of ethical or legal misdeeds, rather than any performance standards.  

The good news is that Justice Scalia is old. He was born on March 11, 1936, which makes him almost seventy-seven, and he’s been serving on the Court since September 26, 1986. In 2016, when we elect the next President of the United States (#Hillary2016), Justice Scalia will be well on his way to eighty-one. Should that president serve two terms, Justice Scalia will be almost eighty-nine by the time the 2024 election takes place. To put that into perspective, the oldest person ever to serve on the Court was Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, who retired at ninety. Moreover, Justice Scalia is already roughly seven years older than the average age at which Supreme Court Justices typically retire. So, it’s highly likely that the President after Barack Obama will appoint Justice Scalia’s successor.

What does this all mean for you? My hope is that you’ll realize, now more than ever, how important it is to make sure that the right justices are on the Court. Because, if you think what Justice Scalia said about the Voting Rights Act was bad, you'll want to jump off a bridge when you hear that he’s been making that very same argument for the last twenty years, not to mention all the ridiculous things he’s said, and will undoubtedly continue to say, about Affirmative Action, Homosexuality, Women, and more. And if you don’t want to deal with this sort of thing happening over and over again for the rest of your life, get mad! But make sure you channel your frustration and anger into constructive energy. Get out there and get behind good government. Make sure that the GOP doesn’t get the chance to appoint yet another Justice Scalia (::cough:: Clarence Thomas ::cough::). Connect with members of the left who are already preparing for 2014 & 2016. #UniteBlue

-HLD
 

Discuss

Republicans and the NRA once supported universal background checks. Now they don't. What gives? Here's an idea - they don't have any reason to care.

In 2005, President George W. Bush signed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which Wayne LaPierre, CEO of the National Rifle Association called, "a historic piece of legislation." The law, which is still good law - in the sense that it's still on the books, - is the legal equivalent of a bulletproof vest for gun manufacturers, shielding them from all liability in the majority of civil lawsuits arising out of the unlawful use of their products. So, while you might lose sleep over the thought of high capacity magazines and assault rifles being out on the market, it's probably safe to assume that the manufacturers of those products aren't too worried. To understand, let's take a brief look at how product liability works.  

Generally speaking, product manufacturers are immune from lawsuits arising out of situations in which their products are used for a criminal purpose. And this makes sense - most of the time. For instance, if you're hit in the head with a baseball bat, your first thought, most likely, isn't, "I'm going to sue Louisville." Indeed, theoretically any product can be used for a criminal purpose, but for the most part, crime is thought to be the exception rather than the rule.  As such, courts generally find that it is not "foreseeable" for a manufacturer that its product will be used for a criminal purpose. Thus, a manufacturer will not generally be held liable for manufacturing that product if and when it is used for a criminal purpose. As a result, if you did decide to sue Louisville, you'll probably be up a creek without a paddle.

Historically, gun manufacturers were treated the same way. Of course, "gun technology" wasn't as advanced as it is today, nor were guns manufactured and marketed to be so highly accessible to criminals. And, as time went on, it became an undeniable reality that a certain percentage of guns would be used by criminals. Thus, it became "foreseeable" for gun manufacturers that their products would be used for a criminal purpose. And courts started to allow victims of criminal gun violence and their municipalities to sue gun manufacturers when their products were used for a criminal purpose.

What's a gun manufacturer to do? Maybe gun manufacturers could stop making guns that are commonly used in crimes. For instance, it's widely known that handguns are more frequently used in crimes than are rifles or shotguns. Moreover, studies show that there are specific types of handguns that are more frequently used in crimes than other handguns. So, to avoid liability, gun manufacturers could simply stop making the guns that are most frequently used by criminals. Or, gun manufacturers could restrict the marketing of these guns to only law enforcement agencies. Of course, one or two of their guns might slip into the hands of the wrong people, but if Acme Gun Company only sold its guns to the police, it wouldn't be "foreseeable" to Acme that their guns would be used for a criminal purpose. In turn, courts would stop holding Acme liable on the rare occasion that its gun is used in a crime - just like a baseball bat. Or, maybe gun manufacturers could support universal background checks - paid for by the government - to make sure that guns stay out of the hands of criminals.

But none of these suggestions really sat well with gun manufacturers and the National Rifle Association. Why? Because going out of business or restricting the marketing and distribution of guns is not profitable. So, the NRA came up with a better solution: lobby Republicans in Congress to change the law. And they did. And they won. Indeed, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act essentially says, "Evidence be damned, it's not foreseeable to gun manufacturers that their products will be used in crimes." As a result, courts are required by law to dismiss the vast majority of lawsuits against gun manufacturers arising out of unlawful gun violence. So with nothing to lose when criminals use their guns, it's no surprise that gun manufacturers and the NRA no longer want universal background checks. Want gun manufacturers and the NRA to support universal background checks again? Perhaps it's time to revisit that law.

   

Discuss

Grandma Hugs

Aside from reelecting President Barack Obama & Senator Bill Nelson, Florida voters did much to make us proud on November 6, 2012. Here's a list of four additional things that should make you smile - and give you confidence that Florida is no longer a state with a  Republican advantage.

Florida voters rejected the "Florida Health Care Amendment," a direct challenge to Obamacare. Had it passed, the measure would have amended the state constitution to prevent any laws or rules from compelling any person or employer to purchase, obtain, or otherwise provide for health care.

Florida voters rejected the "Florida Abortion Amendment." The proposed measure would have prohibited the use of public funds for abortions except as required by federal law and to save the mother's life. Additionally, the measure stipulated that the state constitution cannot be interpreted to include broader rights to abortion than those contained in the United States Constitution.

Florida voters rejected the dubiously titled "Florida Religious Freedom Amendment." The amendment was not really about religious freedom, but was rather an attempt by the state to gain voter approval for funding religious organizations with taxpayer money. Had it passed, it would have prevented individuals from being barred from participating in public programs if they choose to use public funds at a religious provider. Essentially, the measure moved to repeal the state's ban of public dollars for religious funding, also known as the "Blaine Amendment."

Florida voters rejected the "Florida Supreme Court Amendment," which revised provisions of the state constitution relating to repeal of court rules, limiting re-adoption of repealed court rules, and stipulating that all appointments to the Florida Supreme Court be subject to confirmation by the senate. According to the Collins Center for Public Policy, opponents called the measure a dangerous attempt by the legislature to gain undue influence over judicial branch, thus upsetting the balance of power. Had it passed, the measure would have greatly diminished the independence of Florida's highest court.

P.S. You should probably call your grandma.


Discuss

Photobucket

Greetings from New Jersey.

You might have heard that our Governor, Chris Christie, and our President, Barack Obama, toured the storm ravaged town of Brigantine, NJ today. It's a little island town, just north of Atlantic City. Brigantine is a really nice place - kinda has an older population, but you can drive your Jeep on the beach and the surf's pretty tasty. Sadly, like the rest of the Jersey Shore, Brigantine is going to need a lot of work to get back its gleam.

But, I have to say, I haven't been prouder of Chris Christie - ever. While I'm definitely used to New Jersey being a disaster zone figuratively, I'm definitely not used to New Jersey being a disaster zone literally. And needless to say, it's been a rough couple of days here in New Jersey. But the strength & compassion of Christie's leadership - specifically his unequivocal refusal to play politics - has been excellent, and generally awe inspiring.

I can't say that I'll vote for him next year when he runs for reelection. There's plenty about his policies that I really don't like. And, frankly, he's kind of a bully at times. But, because it's proper to give credit where credit is do, my respect for him as a person is much, much higher as a result of the integrity he's shown over the last few days. Kudos Governor Christie.

#JerseyStrong, #KeepChoppin

Discuss

In defense of Mitt Romney, his website states, "[o]ur country today faces a bewildering array of threats and opportunities." That those threats and opportunities are truly bewildering to Mr. Romney was never more apparent than at last night's debate. So, at least in that sense, we can say that Mitt Romney was upfront and honest with the American people.  

Sadly, that's about all the praise that can be directed Mr. Romney's way - most of his performance was epically cringe worthy. And that's just looking at unforced errors, not even considering Obama's slams, like "horses and bayonets." For instance, Mr. Romney stated, "Syria is Iran's only ally in the Arab world. It's their route to the sea." And while the former may be true, the latter is indisputably false. First, Iran has it's own route to the sea. Second, Iran and Syria do not share a border. Ouch.

And speaking of "tumult," turn on FoxNews and watch infamously hawkish Romney surrogates trying to find common ground with Mr. Romney's brand new, dovish foreign policy positions. It's almost as gratifying as watching Mr. Romney sing President's Obama's praises for ninety minutes last night.

Discuss

Here are the latest national polls of the presidential race. One of these things is not like the others, which one is different? Do you know? Can you tell which thing is not like the others? Big Bird explains after the numbers.

Ipsos/Reuters: Obama 47%, Romney 44% (Obama +3)

Hartford Courant/UConn: Obama 48%, Romney 45% (Obama +3)

Public Policy Polling: Obama 48%, Romney 47% (Obama +1)

Rasmussen: Obama 48%, Romney 48% (Tie)

IBD/TIPP: Obama 46%, Romney 46% (Tie)

Gallup: Romney 52%, Obama 45% (Romney +7)

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The story takes place on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, a road known for its danger and difficulty. There, a man, bloody and beaten, stripped of his clothes, lies half dead in the street. He’s just been ambushed; robbed of all of his possessions. Two men pass by: the first, a priest; the second, a man of privilege. Neither stops. The agony continues. A third man approaches; a Samaritan. He is moved with compassion. He treats the beaten man’s wounds, transports him to an inn, and pays for his room and board. Sound familiar? You bet. It’s the parable of the Good Samaritan. A story that Jesus told when a man asked him, “Who is my neighbor?”

Jesus had just explained to the man that there were two things that he needed to do in order to inherit eternal life. First, the man needed to have a relationship with God. Second, he needed to love his neighbors as he loved himself. That’s when the man, reluctant to help all those in need and desiring to justify his half-heartedness, asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor? After telling the story, Jesus asked the man, “Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?” The man replied, “He who showed mercy on him.” To which Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

I can’t help but think that Jesus would be deeply disappointed with the Romney Ryan Budget.

1. Medicare Misconceptions:

Independent experts have calculated that the plan authored by Ryan would cut and shift onto seniors especially, increasing their costs by $6,350 a year. By repealing the Affordable Care Act, as they have proposed, seniors would also be faced with additional cut-and-shift effects, substantially increasing costs for prescription drugs, for instance. And the repeal of savings from Medicare reforms that decrease, rather than shift, costs by eliminating overpayments and fraud would actually reduce the insolvency date by eight years—from 2024 to 2016.

In addition, by offering a voucher to seniors to purchase private health insurance and by increasing the age of eligibility for Medicare to 67, the Romney-Ryan plan forces them into the old and severely flawed individual marketplace, where, because they have far less leverage and consumer protections, overall costs actually increase as access to coverage decreases.

Full Story: Paul Ryan’s Medicare Misconceptions – The Daily Beast.

2. Social Darwinism

More than any other politician today, Ryan exemplifies the social Darwinism at the core of today’s Republican Party: Reward the rich, penalize the poor, let everyone else fend for themselves.

Dog eat dog.

Ryan’s views are crystallized in the budget he produced for House Republicans in March as chairman of the House Budget Committee. That budget would cut $3.3 trillion from low-income programs over the next decade. The biggest cuts would be in Medicaid, which provides health care for the nation’s poor – forcing states to drop coverage for an estimated 14 million to 28 million low-income people, according to the nonpartisan Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

Full Story: Reich: Paul Ryan’s social Darwinism – Framingham, MA – The MetroWest Daily News.

3. Devastating The Poor

National media attention has focused on Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) drastic restructuring of the Medicare program, detailing the Vice Presidential candidate’s efforts to transform the current benefit guarantee into a “premium support” program for future enrollees.

But Romney/Ryan’s most devastating changes would impact programs that serve society’s most vulnerable citizens. American who rely on Medicaid, food stamps and Pell grants won’t be afforded the luxury of retaining their existing benefits, should Romney and Ryan implement their plans; these programs would experience immediate reductions if the Ryan budget becomes law (via CBPP):

Full Story: 4 Ways Paul Ryan’s Budget Would Devastate The Poor | ThinkProgress.
Discuss

During last night's presidential debate, Sarah Silverman tweeted, "Mitt Romney is one of the most progressive thinkers of 1950[.]" Sadly, that's too damn generous. Even in 1950, Mitt Romney would still be one of the least progressive thinkers of his time.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican, took office in 1952. He expanded social security, launched the interstate highway system, sent federal troops to Little Rock, Arkansas to enforce the desegregation of schools, and twice signed civil rights legislation designed to protect the right to vote. Hard to imagine the Mitt Romney of the Republican primary season endorsing any of that.

Step back a few more years, and Mitt still wouldn't be one of the most progressive thinkers of his time. In fact, his policies are akin to those of Calvin Coolidge, Laissez-faire Republican President of the United States between 1923 and 1929. Like Romney, Coolidge thought that taxes should be lower, and that the government should spend less in order to retire some of the national debt. And just like the Republican Congress of today, the Republican Congress of 1924 agreed. As a result, by 1927 taxes were lowered to the point where only the top 2% of income earners paid any income tax at all, and the government spent practically nothing.

And just like Romney believes today, in the 1920s Coolidge believed that the absence of government regulation, except for increased tariffs, was key to economic growth. He carried about this belief by appointing commissioners to the Federal Trade Commission and the Interstate Commerce Commission who did little to restrict the activities of businesses. The regulatory state under Coolidge was, as one biographer described it, "thin to the point of invisibility." None of this was progressive, even in the 1920s.

But to be fair, in 1929 the stock market crashed and the United States entered the Great Depression. So, in one sense it could be said that Mitt Romney would have been one of the most progressive thinkers in the 1920s - so long as you mean progress toward the Great Depression.  

Discuss
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