After Health Care Reform Passage – Threats of Violence

Before the House even completed its work on passage of the Senate Bill and then the Reconciliation Bill, the ugliness had begun to escalate.

OK, so VP Biden kinda embarrassed the President with an F-bomb, but that was small potatoes compared with the racial remarks aimed at black Congressmen, the anti-gay shouts at Barney Frank, and a Congressman shouting “baby killer” at Bart Stupak (one of the most anti-abortion members of Congress) over the weekend. And it is certainly insignificant compared to what has happened since.

Bob Herbert titled his New York Times column “An Absence of Class.”  I think he was being too kind.  But what he says rings very true.

A group of lowlifes at a Tea Party rally in Columbus, Ohio, last week taunted and humiliated a man who was sitting on the ground with a sign that said he had Parkinson’s disease. The disgusting behavior was captured on a widely circulated videotape. One of the Tea Party protesters leaned over the man and sneered: “If you’re looking for a handout, you’re in the wrong end of town.”

Another threw money at the man, first one bill and then another, and said contemptuously, “I’ll pay for this guy. Here you go. Start a pot.”

In Washington on Saturday, opponents of the health care legislation spit on a black congressman and shouted racial slurs at two others, including John Lewis, one of the great heroes of the civil rights movement. Barney Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, was taunted because he is gay.

At some point, we have to decide as a country that we just can’t have this: We can’t allow ourselves to remain silent as foaming-at-the-mouth protesters scream the vilest of epithets at members of Congress — epithets that The Times will not allow me to repeat here.

It is 2010, which means it is way past time for decent Americans to rise up against this kind of garbage, to fight it aggressively wherever it appears. And it is time for every American of good will to hold the Republican Party accountable for its role in tolerating, shielding and encouraging foul, mean-spirited and bigoted behavior in its ranks and among its strongest supporters.

The G.O.P. poisons the political atmosphere and then has the gall to complain about an absence of bipartisanship.

The toxic clouds that are the inevitable result of the fear and the bitter conflicts so relentlessly stoked by the Republican Party — think blacks against whites, gays versus straights, and a whole range of folks against immigrants — tend to obscure the tremendous damage that the party’s policies have inflicted on the country. If people are arguing over immigrants or abortion or whether gays should be allowed to marry, they’re not calling the G.O.P. to account for (to take just one example) the horribly destructive policy of cutting taxes while the nation was fighting two wars.

If you’re all fired up about Republican-inspired tales of Democrats planning to send grandma to some death chamber, you’ll never get to the G.O.P.’s war against the right of ordinary workers to organize and negotiate in their own best interests — a war that has diminished living standards for working people for decades.

Herbert wrote that on Tuesday.  Tonight I went to Politico.com.  The first headline was:  “Hoyer: Members are at Risk”.  Then there are these:  “Slaughter, Stupak receive death threats” and “Cut gas lines at Perriello’s brother’s home probed.” 

Will the Republican leadership speak out or will they be content with John Boehner’s statement as reported in the Washington Post.

House Republican Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said the violence is unacceptable.

“I know many Americans are angry over this health-care bill, and that Washington Democrats just aren’t listening,” Boehner said Wednesday on FoxNews Channel. “But, as I’ve said, violence and threats are unacceptable. That’s not the American way. We need to take that anger and channel it into positive change. Call your congressman, go out and register people to vote, go volunteer on a political campaign, make your voice heard — but let’s do it the right way.”

I hope that law enforcement can successfully do their jobs.  Republican leaders need to go further by condemning other Republican leaders like Michael Steele and Sarah Palin.  Again from the Post

“When people start talking in the rhetoric of putting people on ‘firing lines,’ . . . or they put a target on their faces, with cross hairs,” Hoyer said at a news conference, “that activity ought to be unacceptable in our democracy. . . . That’s wrong. ”

Hoyer appeared to be referring to Republican Party Chairman Michael S. Steele‘s comment in a recent interview that Pelosi is on a “firing line” and to a map posted Tuesday on Sarah Palin‘s Facebook page, which marked with a gunsight districts of House Democrats she plans to campaign against.

I’m not overly concerned about the law suits against the bill, but I am very worried that someone will succeed at doing real violence to a member of Congress or to the President himself.  I am also afraid the the violent speech and the actual violence will escalate as the polls show increasing approval of the bill and the Senate finally passes the reconciliation bill and it is signed by the President.

Cameron Todd Willingham and the Death Penalty

I haven’t had the chance to read the article in the New Yorker Magazine by David Grann but Bob Herbert has written a powerful op-ed in today’s New York Times about Cameron Willingham’s execution by the State of Texas.

There is a long and remarkable article in the current New Yorker about a man who was executed in Texas in 2004 for deliberately setting a fire that killed his three small children. Rigorous scientific analysis has since shown that there was no evidence that the fire in a one-story, wood frame house in Corsicana was the result of arson, as the authorities had alleged.

In other words, it was an accident. No crime had occurred.

Cameron Todd Willingham, who refused to accept a guilty plea that would have spared his life, and who insisted until his last painful breath that he was innocent, had in fact been telling the truth all along.

The fire broke out on the morning of Dec. 23, 1991. Willingham was awakened by the cries of his 2-year-old daughter, Amber. Also in the house were his year-old twin girls, Karmon and Kameron. The family was poor, and Willingham’s wife, Stacy, had gone out to pick up a Christmas present for the children from the Salvation Army.

Willingham said he tried to rescue the kids but was driven back by smoke and flames. At one point his hair caught fire. As the heat intensified, the windows of the children’s room exploded and flames leapt out. Willingham, who was 23 at the time, had to be restrained and eventually handcuffed as he tried again to get into the room.

According to Grann and Herbert,  an incompetent arson investigator decided the fire was arson, witnesses decided that Willingham had not tried to rescue his children and there was a jailhouse snitch.   Herbert continues

Willingham was arrested and charged with capital murder.

When official suspicion fell on Willingham, eyewitness testimony began to change. Whereas initially he was described by neighbors as screaming and hysterical — “My babies are burning up!” — and desperate to have the children saved, he now was described as behaving oddly, and not having made enough of an effort to get to the girls.

And you could almost have guaranteed that a jailhouse snitch would emerge. They almost always do. This time his name was Johnny Webb, a jumpy individual with a lengthy arrest record who would later admit to being “mentally impaired” and on medication, and who had started taking illegal drugs at the age of 9.

The jury took barely an hour to return a guilty verdict, and Willingham was sentenced to death.

He remained on death row for 12 years, but it was only in the weeks leading up to his execution that convincing scientific evidence of his innocence began to emerge. A renowned scientist and arson investigator, Gerald Hurst, educated at Cambridge and widely recognized as a brilliant chemist, reviewed the evidence in the Willingham case and began systematically knocking down every indication of arson.

The authorities were unmoved. Willingham was executed by lethal injection on Feb. 17, 2004.

The fundamental problem with the death penalty is that you can’t take it back. 

Now comes a report on the case from another noted scientist, Craig Beyler, who was hired by a special commission, established by the state of Texas to investigate errors and misconduct in the handling of forensic evidence.

The report is devastating, the kind of disclosure that should send a tremor through one’s conscience. There was absolutely no scientific basis for determining that the fire was arson, said Beyler. No basis at all. He added that the state fire marshal who investigated the case and testified against Willingham “seems to be wholly without any realistic understanding of fires.” He said the marshal’s approach seemed to lack “rational reasoning” and he likened it to the practices “of mystics or psychics.”

Cameron Todd Willingham was executed by the State of Texas on no evidence.  Who will pay for his death?

Republican Stimulus

I have Chris Matthew’s Hardball playing in the background.  He is interviewing two Republicans are still pushing business tax cuts and the same old Republican agenda.  One of them wanted to know what the money for the arts will do to create jobs. The answer is every musical or theatical production, every symphony orchestra, every movie employs people other than the artists.  Look at the jobs created- and the lasting contribution made –  by the art projects funded by FDR.  Arts money can also be used to maintain arts programs in the schools – which will employ teachers.  Jobs.

The whole “this is a Democrat bill” drives me nuts.  Didn’t the Republicans lose the election?  Luckily Paul Krugman had some advice in his column from January 26:

…So as a public service, let me try to debunk some of the major antistimulus arguments that have already surfaced. Any time you hear someone reciting one of these arguments, write him or her off as a dishonest flack.

First, there’s the bogus talking point that the Obama plan will cost $275,000 per job created. Why is it bogus? Because it involves taking the cost of a plan that will extend over several years, creating millions of jobs each year, and dividing it by the jobs created in just one of those years.

It’s as if an opponent of the school lunch program were to take an estimate of the cost of that program over the next five years, then divide it by the number of lunches provided in just one of those years, and assert that the program was hugely wasteful, because it cost $13 per lunch. (The actual cost of a free school lunch, by the way, is $2.57.)

The true cost per job of the Obama plan will probably be closer to $100,000 than $275,000 — and the net cost will be as little as $60,000 once you take into account the fact that a stronger economy means higher tax receipts.

Next, write off anyone who asserts that it’s always better to cut taxes than to increase government spending because taxpayers, not bureaucrats, are the best judges of how to spend their money.

Here’s how to think about this argument: it implies that we should shut down the air traffic control system. After all, that system is paid for with fees on air tickets — and surely it would be better to let the flying public keep its money rather than hand it over to government bureaucrats. If that would mean lots of midair collisions, hey, stuff happens.

Today Bob Herbert calls the Republican arguments “The Same Old Song“:

What’s up with the Republicans? Have they no sense that their policies have sent the country hurtling down the road to ruin? Are they so divorced from reality that in their delusionary state they honestly believe we need more of their tax cuts for the rich and their other forms of plutocratic irresponsibility, the very things that got us to this deplorable state?

The G.O.P.’s latest campaign is aimed at undermining President Obama’s effort to cope with the national economic emergency by attacking the spending in his stimulus package and repeating ad nauseam the Republican mantra for ever more tax cuts.

My favorite line of the Herbert column is

The truth, of course, is that the country is hemorrhaging jobs and Americans are heading to the poorhouse by the millions. The stock markets and the value of the family home have collapsed, and there is virtual across-the-board agreement that the country is caught up in the worst economic disaster since at least World War II.

The Republican answer to this turmoil?

Tax cuts.

They need to go into rehab.