American Terrorists

Try this exercise.  Yesterday morning I thought about terror attacks here in the United States and as the day went on I wrote them down.  I ended up with two lists:  One of Muslim perpetrators, one of white males.  Guess which is longer.  The lists are in no particular order and are by place not shooter.

Muslim Killer:

-Boston Marathon Bombing (one US Citizen, one green card)

-Fort Hood Shooting (US Citizen)

-Chattanooga Recruiter Shooting (US Citizen)

– San Bernardino (one US Citizen, one legal resident)

– World Trade Center

 

White Male Killer:

– Charleston AME Church

– Oregon Community College

– Aurora, CO movie theater

– Atlanta Olympics (plus his other bombings)

– Colorado Planned Parenthood

– Unibomber

-Murrah Federal Building

-Lafayette, LA movie theater

– Gabby Giffords and others

– Sandy Hook Elementary School

-Columbine

-California McDonald’s

-Texas Tower

– Boston, MA Planned Parenthood

 

These lists are not the result of any research except to see which Muslim perpetrators were citizens and to confirm the race of the shooters when I wasn’t sure.  I know I haven’t remembered all the incidents as there have been too many.  Some who read this may not remember some of them like the Texas Tower sniper as they are not recent, but I remember them.  I have not included the SDS/WeatherUnderground incidents as I believe the only people killed were the bombers themselves.

Do your own list.  Let me know what I have forgotten.

And most of all, remember this list when Donald Trump and others start talking about excluding Muslims.  Many of the Muslims involved were citizens.  Do you think the way we talk about their religion had anything to do with their becoming violent?Remember who actually dominates these lists.  I am not saying there is no danger from Islamic extremists, but I am saying that our own disaffected white men are also a danger.  Our culture perpetuates violence.  We need make the guns and ammunition less available not scapegoat a particular group and stir up hatred.

Mourners near the Charleston AME Church.

Mourners near the Charleston AME Church.

Photograph:  Travis Dove for The New York Times

 

 

 

 

Judge Moore and Justice Thomas and marriage equality in Alabama

I guess that Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore is taking his cues from Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ dissent instead of from the actual ruling in which the majority of the United States Supreme Court refused to stay a District Court ruling that allowed the state to become the 37th state to allow same – sex marriages.  According to the Washington Post story, Justice Thomas wanted a stay.

The court is months away from hearing arguments in a landmark case about whether states are free to ban such unions. But Thomas said a majority of the justices may have already made up their minds, as reflected by the court’s “indecorous” decision Monday morning allowing same-sex marriages to proceed in Alabama.

“This acquiescence may well be seen as a signal of the Court’s intended resolution of that question,” Thomas wrote in a dissent from the court’s order refusing to stay the weddings. “This is not the proper way to discharge our . . . responsibilities.”

Thomas and his pal, Justice Scalia voted for a stay.  And I think he is probably right.  The more states that allow marriage equality and the more couples that marry, the harder it will be to overturn any lower court rulings.  It may turnout that the Supreme Court will “compromise” by letting the few states in which the Appeals Court has overturned lower court rulings that not allowing marriage equality violates either the state or U.S. Constitution, but I think they are headed for a Loving v. Virginia kind of decision.

However, Judge Moore appears to have decided that he’d rather go with Thomas than the actual ruling.  Judge Moore ordered Alabama probate judges not to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.  According to the Washington Post

Much of the legal uncertainty in Alabama over same-sex marriage centers on Roy Moore, chief justice of the state’s Supreme Court. On Sunday night,Moore told Alabama’s probate judges not to issue marriage licenses, defying a federal judge. This is not the first time Moore has refused to follow a federal judge’s ruling.

We all remember when Judge Moore refuse to remove that large stone Ten Commandments monument from the courthouse.  The Post explains

Until this week, Moore’s claim to fame was being the “Ten Commandments judge.” The controversy that led to Moore being ousted from the bench involved a large monument to the Ten Commandments that had been installed in the Alabama Judicial Building in Montgomery.

This two-and-a-half-ton monument, and Moore’s fight to keep it in place, served as a cultural flash point. Civil liberties groups argued that it violated the church-state separation, while conservative and religious supporters of Moore defended his actions.

The Southern Poverty Law Center, the American Civil Liberties Union and Americans United for the Separation of Church and State filed a lawsuitarguing that the monument violated the constitutional prohibition against religious endorsement. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit agreed, ordering Moore to remove the monument.

He was then removed from his judgeship by the state ethics panel, but was reelected in 2012.

2300alabama-ssm-0209

So as a result of Judge Moore deciding the Thomas dissent was better than the refusal to grant a stay, Alabama is in chaos.  There are now counties where no marriage licenses are being issued at all, some that are just refusing same-sex couples, and others who are complying with the district court.

There will be more lawsuits as people are denied the right to marry.  I wonder what Justice Thomas will do when the next appeal from Alabama reaches the Supreme Court, but I think the Alabama ethics panel will be having another hearing with Judge Moore.

Ghettoside

We are all thinking this January 2015 about relationship between the minority – in particular, black – communities and the police. Ghettoside by Los Angeles reporter, Jill Leovy, is a timely addition to the conversation.

The homicide rate in Los Angeles, in Watts and in South Central in particular, consists of young black men killing other young black men. The clearance rate for these murders is very low. Because of the difficulties in finding witnesses willing to testify and a culture that put a low premium on their lives, many police resorted to arresting those they knew were guilty of murder but against whom they had insufficient evidence, of “proxy crimes.” These crimes included public drinking, possession of drugs, and parole violations. These arrests did get killers off the streets, but they were often viewed as harassment.

Ghettoside is the story of two murders and of John Skaggs, the white police detective who solved both. Skaggs was the detective who actually cared and he and his partners preserved until both cases resulted in convictions. Leovy chose as victims the son of a black police detective and a tenth grader son of a single mother home health care worker. Neither were gang affiliated. One would expect effort to solve the case concerning a fellow police officer, but given the culture of the L.A. police at the time, not the other. Skaggs worked through police budget cuts and the lack of resources his entire career. He and his first partner and later those they trained cared. They cared about the families, the victims and the witnesses. They solved homicides. Leovy gives us a small glimpse into what makes Skaggs tick, but I never learned enough to understand why he was different, why he was driven to solve these crimes that few others cared about.

The unfolding of the investigations reads like a mystery story. Some may get confused about the multiple characters, but I found it no more confusing than reading Ngaio Marsh or Agatha Christie. I did find that Leovy’s digressions into the roots of both black on black crime and white indifference distracting and, in the end, superficial. Leovy is not an historian or sociologist and the strength of this book is her reporting on the crimes and the investigations. She began a blog for the Los Angeles Times called the “Homicide Report” in 2007. The report chronicles every homicide in the city to the current day. Every city should have a similar blog.

Ghettoside ends with a quote from William J. Stuntz. Stuntz was a Harvard Law School Professor who studied the criminal justice system and died much too young. “Poor black neighborhoods see too little of the kids of policing and criminal punishment that do the most good, and too much of the kinds that do the most harm.” This also sums up Ghettoside.

I highly recommend this book.

This was first published as a review for LibraryThing with an Advanced Readers Copy.  The book will be available on January 27.

 

 

The Supremes, Judge Posner, and gay marriage

The news late last week that the Supreme Court would hear an appeal from the Sixth Circuit ruling upholding bans on same-sex marriage in Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, and Tennessee brought to mind the Seventh Circuit ruling last fall written by Judge Posner.  Mark Joseph Stern writing in Slate noted that suddenly there was a “race” among judges to …”write the one marriage equality opinion that history will remember.”  But Stern wrote

Thursday’s ruling by 7th Circuit Judge Richard Posner, which struck down Indiana’s and Wisconsin’s gay marriage bans, is a different beast altogether. In his opinion, Posner does not sound like a man aiming to have his words etched in the history books or praised by future generations. Rather, he sounds like a man who has listened to all the arguments against gay marriage, analyzed them cautiously and thoroughly, and found himself absolutely disgusted by their sophistry and rank bigotry. The opinion is a masterpiece of wit and logic that doesn’t call attention to—indeed, doesn’t seem to care about—its own brilliance. Posner is not writing for Justice Anthony Kennedy, or for judges of the future, or even for gay people of the present. He is writing, very clearly, for himself.

Ironically, by writing an opinion so fixated on the facts at hand, Posner may have actually written the one gay marriage ruling that the Supreme Court takes to heart.Other, more legacy-minded judges have attempted to sketch out a revised framework for constitutional marriage equality, granting gay people heightened judicial scrutiny and declaring marriage a fundamental right. But Posner isn’t interested in making new law: The statutes before him are so irrational, so senseless and unreasonable, that they’re noxious to the U.S. Constitution under almost anyinterpretation of the equal protection clause.

I spent time this morning reading Judge Poster’s opinion.  It is readable and understandable even by non-lawyers.  He takes each argument made by Indiana and then Wisconsin against same-sex marriage one at a time and uses precedent, social science, and history to demolish them.  Posner sets out to answer four questions.

Does the challenged practice involve discrimination, rooted in a history of prejudice, against some identifiable group of persons, resulting in unequal treatment harmful to them?

Is the unequal treatment based on some immutable or at least tenacious characteristic of the people discriminated against (biological, such as skin color, or a deep psychological commitment, as religious belief often is, both types being distinct from characteristics that are easy for a person to change, such as the length of his or her fingernails)? The characteristic must be one that isn’t relevant to a person’s ability to participate in society.

Does the discrimination, even if based on an immutable characteristic, nevertheless confer an important offsetting benefit on society as a whole?

Though it does confer an offsetting benefit, is the discriminatory policy overinclusive because the benefit it confers on society could be achieved in a way less harmful to the discriminated-against group, or underinclusive because the government’s purported rationale for the policy implies that it should equally apply to other groups as well?

Throughout his decision, Judge Posner concentrates on children and marriage.  The same persons who argue against same-sex marriage are often the same persons who argue that the state needs to encourage heterosexual marriage to provide stability to children.

Our pair of cases is rich in detail but ultimately straight- forward to decide. The challenged laws discriminate against a minority defined by an immutable characteristic, and the only rationale that the states put forth with any conviction— that same-sex couples and their children don’t need marriage because same-sex couples can’t produce children, intended or unintended—is so full of holes that it cannot be taken seriously. To the extent that children are better off in families in which the parents are married, they are better off whether they are raised by their biological parents or by adoptive parents. The discrimination against same-sex couples is irrational, and therefore unconstitutional even if the discrimination is not subjected to heightened scrutiny, which is why we can largely elide the more complex analysis found in more closely balanced equal-protection cases.

In Indiana a same-sex couple can adopt while in Wisconsin, one member of a same-sex couple can adopt.  So the logical conclusion is that marriage is just as important for same-sex couples with children as for heterosexual couples with families.  And he points out that those who say that same-sex marriage will some how erode or damage heterosexual marriage need only to look at the 10 year history in Massachusetts to see that there is no impact at all.

Judge Posner’s decision is full of “zingers” most aimed with impatience at irrational argument.  But he also takes aim at Justice Scalia citing his dissent in Lawrence v. Texas which struck down laws against sodomy.

…But Justice Scalia, in a dissenting opinion in Lawrence, 539 U.S. at 586, joined by Chief Justice Rehnquist and Justice Thomas, thought not. He wrote that “principle and logic” would require the Court, given its decision in Lawrence, to hold that there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Id. at 605.

In the end, Judge Posner can find no rational argument against same-sex marriage.

Pete Prete with Equality Beyond Gender waved a Marriage Pride flag attached to an American flag outside the Supreme Court in Washington on Friday.

Pete Prete with Equality Beyond Gender waved a Marriage Pride flag attached to an American flag outside the Supreme Court in Washington on Friday.

The Supreme Court will hear arguments on two questions:  The right to marry and the right to have out-of-state marriages recognized.  Because there are four states in the appeal with four different questions, the Supreme Court in accepting the appeals wrote the questions they will try to answer.  Some in the legal community were alarmed, but the New York Times quotes Harvard Law professor, Lawrence Tribe

“The court’s order represents good housekeeping,” said Laurence H. Tribe, a law professor at Harvard.

But Professor Tribe also voiced a small note of caution.

“The rephrased questions,” he said, “technically leave open a middle path along which the court would prevent states from discriminating against same-sex couples lawfully married in their home states without requiring any state to take the affirmative step of issuing its own marriage licenses to same-sex couples.”

I haven’t seen the appeal documents, but if the arguments are anything like those from Indiana and Wisconsin and I assume they are as those are the arguments being made nationally, the Supreme Court need to look no further than Judge Posner’s decision for answers and require the right to marry in all states.  And, after all, Justice Scalia has already concluded that once sodomy laws are found unconstitutional, same-sex marriage must follow.  I predict a 7-2 decision in favor of the right to marry.  We will see in June if I am correct.

Photograph:  Jabin Botsford/The New York Times

Ebola, the flu and other health risks

I just got my flu shot.  I get one every year.  While it might not keep me from getting sick this winter, in all likelihood it will keep me from getting really sick.  I just hope that everyone else I interact with has also gotten a flu shot.

Frank Bruni wrote about this in this morning’s New York Times.

During the 2013-2014 flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 46 percent of Americans received vaccinations against influenza, even though it kills about 3,000 people in this country in a good year, nearly 50,000 in a bad one.

These are deaths by a familiar assassin. Many of them could have been prevented. So why aren’t we in a lather over that? Why fixate on remote threats that we feel we can’t control when there are immediate ones that we simply don’t bother to?

On matters exotic, we’re rapt. On matters quotidian, which are nonetheless matters of life and death, we’re cavalier. Tens of thousands of Americans die in car crashes annually, and according to a federal analysis from 2012, more than half of them weren’t wearing seatbelts.

I think part of the reason people are so panicked about Ebola is because so far the medical community in the United States seems very inept at treating it and, particularly, in preventing its spread.  Amy Davidson’s piece “Amber Vinson’s Airplane Ride” in the New Yorker is particularly instructive.

Amber Vinson called the Centers for Disease Control, on Monday, to say that she had a temperature of 99.5 degrees and planned to get on a commercial flight from Cleveland to Dallas; should she? Vinson, a nurse, had cared for Thomas Eric Duncan, a patient with Ebola, in Dallas—she had put a catheter in him and been in close contact when he was vomiting and in the throes of diarrhea. The day before Vinson made her call, one of her colleagues, Nina Pham, had tested positive for Ebola. There was, supposedly, a system in place for monitoring Duncan’s contacts. And yet, as the C.D.C. confirmed late on Wednesday, the official Vinson spoke to cleared her to fly. Vinson got on Frontier Airlines Flight 1143, with a hundred a thirty-two other passengers. She landed in Dallas at 8:16 P.M.. The next morning, her fever was worse; around midnight, she tested positive for Ebola.

There is much that is seriously wrong here. The first is that Pham and Vinson, who are both in their twenties, were so exposed. Their hospital, Texas Health Presbyterian, sent Duncan home the first time he showed up in the emergency room, with a fever and pain and the information that he’d just been in Liberia. But it’s also emerging that, in the first days after he was admitted for the second time, on September 28th—with his family saying that they thought he had Ebola, and all the full-blown symptoms on display, but as yet no laboratory test confirming it—he was not properly isolated, according to records obtained by the Associated Press. The nurses caring for him had to improvise their own protection.

Tom Frieden, the director of the C.D.C., addresses the media on the Ebola case, on October 5th.

Tom Frieden, the director of the C.D.C., addresses the media on the Ebola case, on October 5th.

Thomas Frieden, the head of the CDC, has said they should have had people there to help them “do it right”, but then someone from his own agency told Amber Vinson it was OK for her to fly.  And we are left to wonder who is in charge and if anyone knows what they are doing.  If President Obama wants to do something to help regain public confidence that the health care system here can deal effectively with Ebola, maybe Mr. Frieden’s departure would be a good start.

Amy Davidson writes

Frieden himself represents an even bigger problem. His account of how Vinson got on the plane, related in the conference call on Wednesday, was at least evasive and, depending on what he knew and what exactly Vinson was told, may have been worse. He was asked three different ways if Vinson had been told not to fly, and each time dodged the question in a way that left the impression that Vinson was some sort of rogue nurse who just got it into her head that she could fly wherever she wanted. He talked about her “self-monitoring,” and that she “should not have travelled, should not have been allowed to travel by plane or any public transport”—without mentioning that his agency was who allowed it.

It is things like this, and the lack of protocols at Texas Health Presbyterian, that create fear, probably unwarranted, among the American public that there will be a major outbreak of Ebola here.

As Bruni says

I’m not dismissing the horror of Ebola, a full-blown crisis in Africa that should command the whole world’s assistance. And Ebola in the United States certainly warrants concern. We’re still searching for definitive answers about transmission and prevention.

But Americans already have such answers about a host of other, greater perils to our health, and we’d be wiser to reacquaint ourselves with those, and recommit to heeding them, than to worry about our imminent exposure to Ebola.

So, use seat belts, get a flu shot, get your kids vaccinated, don’t use your cell phone while driving and use sunscreen.  And try not to worry about getting Ebola.

 Photograph by  KEVIN C. COX/GETTY

Like a speeding locomotive

That’s the image that comes to mind when I think of how quickly things have moved when it comes to marriage equality.  It has only been 10 years since same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts.  And only a few years longer that that since Vermont adopted civil unions.  For a while I was keeping track and blogging every time a state was added, but I just couldn’t keep up – or keep track.  Now Federal benefits are available to all legally married couples regardless of the state in which they reside and the Supreme Court is letting stand Appeals Court decisions ruling prohibitions unconstitutional.

According to a post in the Washington Post’s “The Fix”, most gay Americans now live in states with marriage equality.

As the map of where gay marriage is legal has shifted and changed over the past few years, we’ve tracked a harder-to-measure component of the new laws: How many gay Americans live in states that allow them to marry.

In June, we anticipated that the tipping point was imminent. Based on data from Gallup surveys in 2012, a higher percentage of the country’s gay population already lived in gay-marriage-legal states than the population on the whole. With Monday’s Supreme Court non-decision, the percentage of gay Americans and Americans on the whole living in states where gay marriage is legal topped 50 percent.

Gay Marriage map

I am unclear as to how Gallup determined the percentage of person living in a state who were gay or lesbian, but given the way Gallup polls, I assume it is by self-reporting in response to a question.  According to the Fix, marriage equality has arrived in states with a lower population of gay residents.

So what happens next is anyone’s guess but with the growing numbers of same-sex marriages, I’m not sure how a Supreme Court ruling to the contrary could be implemented without chaos.  A more likely scenario is a decision like the one in Loving v. Virginia.  When the Court finally ruled on interracial marriage, the majority of states already allowed such unions.

This does not mean that the opposition will not fight on.  A story in the New York Times today reported that

Leading opponents of same-sex marriage vowed on Wednesday to push ahead with their legal fight, noting that several federal appeals courts had not yet ruled on the issue and that the Supreme Court could still decide to leave it up to the states.

Even as the list of states authorizing same-sex marriage swells, the opponents noted Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s order on Wednesday totemporarily block a federal appeals court ruling striking down the marriage restrictions in Idaho. The temporary order came as a surprise to many advocates on both sides of the issue, since the Supreme Court on Monday had allowed similar decisions from three other appeals courts to take effect.

“The marriage battle will continue,” said Jim Campbell, a senior legal counsel at Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal group that has defended marriage restrictions in several states.

Opponents seem determined that each state should have a right to define its marriage laws, but that just doesn’t seem likely to me given the Loving decision as a precedent.

“If the liberals on the court had the votes to declare same-sex marriage a constitutional right, why didn’t they take any of the cases on offer Monday?” asked Brian Brown, the president of the National Organization for Marriage.

“That gives hope that the Supreme Court will not launch another Roe v. Wade,” Mr. Brown said, referring to the 1973 decision legalizing abortion nationwide.

Mr. Brown also rejected the argument that, once same-sex marriages had been allowed in many states, the law could not be rolled back if the voters wanted to do so.

But most legal experts drew the opposite conclusion from Monday’s action.

“We know, from the court’s willingness Monday to allow all these marriages to go forward,” that opponents of same-sex marriage “are virtually guaranteed to lose” before the current Supreme Court, said Michael C. Dorf, a constitutional expert at Cornell Law School.

In the meanwhile, I have friends getting married, both same-sex and opposite sex.  I also have friends in both categories who have or are getting divorced.  All people want is to live their own lives and to have the legal protections due them.  I think the opposition needs to get out of the way of the speeding locomotive.

Map:  The Washington Post

 

 

The People’s House

Julia Pierson, head of the Secret Service, testified before Congress yesterday on the security lapses that resulted in a fence jumper making it into the White House and then into the East Room.  But Omar Gonzalez in just one in a long line of uninvited guests.  Anyone remember the couple that got through security into a state dinner?  Peter Baker had a nice history of the uninvited in the New York Times.

Long before the latest fence jumper captured international attention by getting as far as the East Room, the history of White House security breaches was vast and varied. One intruder in a white karate outfit carried in a knife hidden in a Bible. A stranger slipped in to watch a movie with President Franklin D. Roosevelt. And a pilot crashed his Cessna into the mansion.

Theodore Roosevelt once agreed to see a man who identified himself as “Mr. John Smith” and insisted he had an appointment, even though the president did not recognize him. But after talking with him for a bit, Mr. Roosevelt quickly changed his mind. “Take this crank out of here,” he ordered an usher. In the man’s back pocket, it turned out, was a large-caliber pistol.

Pierson herself pointed out

…that before the most recent incident, 16 people had jumped the White House fence over the last five years, six of them this year alone. Many of them do not seem intent on harming the president, but are eager to draw attention to some issue or cause. One this year was a toddler who had slipped through the fence.

We seen to want the impossible.  We want our President and his family to be safe, but accessible.  And for much of our history, the President and the White House have been much more accessible than they are today.

During World War II, Franklin Roosevelt had just finished watching a movie when the lights came on and he discovered a stranger standing nearby. His predecessor, Herbert Hoover, came downstairs for dinner one night to find a man in the Blue Room who said he was just a sightseer. On another occasion, Mr. Hoover was having dinner with a movie producer in the State Dining Room when an intruder marched up, demanding an appointment.

During Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration, a man followed the Marine Band into the White House and wandered around for 15 minutes before being discovered. And of course, President Obama found himself with a couple of extra guests for a State Dinner in 2009, when the party crashers Tareq and Michaele Salahi managed to get past White House aides and the Secret Service even though they were not on an invitation list.

There have been shots fired (so far without hitting anyone) and President Tyler had stones thrown at him by an intruder in the White House garden.  But more disturbing are the aircraft that manage to penetrate the White House airspace.

A helicopter stolen from nearby Fort Meade by an Army private landed on the South Lawn of the White House in 1974.

A helicopter stolen from nearby Fort Meade by an Army private landed on the South Lawn of the White House in 1974.

With all the ground protection, several men have tried to pierce the White House perimeter by air. An Army private stole a helicopter from Fort Meade in 1974 and flew it to the White House, where he landed on the South Lawn, took off again and then returned. Secret Service officers eventually opened fire on the chopper, forcing it down. The private survived and was sentenced to a year in prison. That same year, a failed businessman tried to hijack a Delta passenger jet at Baltimore-Washington International Airport with a plan to crash it into the White House, but was shot by the police while in the cockpit before takeoff.

In 1994, an unlicensed pilot who had spent an evening drinking and smoking crack cocaine stole a Cessna 150L and crashed it on the South Lawn in the middle of the night. The plane skidded across the ground, smashed into a magnolia tree and eventually came to a halt against the wall of the mansion. The pilot was killed, but the building was not seriously damaged and Mr. Clinton was not at home at the time.

President Andrew Jackson famously called the White House “the People’s House” but in the current climate, protection and screening would seem to be most important.  Perhaps President Obama should take satirist Andy Borowitz seriously.

President Barack Obama has decided to move his family into a full-service doorman building in Washington, D.C., saying that “it just makes more sense right now.”

“It really will work better for us,” Obama said in a press conference Tuesday morning. “In addition to the doorman, there’s a guy at the front desk, and, if anyone comes to see you, the desk guy will call up to your apartment first to make sure it’s O.K.”

 Photograph:  Charles Tasnadi/Associated Press