^ sparking the change that threatens the GOP South : Michelle Nunn of Georgia

—- —- —-

Recent polls of US Senate races in Georgia and Kentucky show that the Democrats stand a fair chance of picking up both seats. In Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell polls a mere 1 point ahead of his challenger, Alson Lundergan Grimes. In Georgia, Michelle Nunn no polls ahead — by 3 to 6 points — of each of her two possible Republican rivals for the open seat left by retiring Saxby Chambliss.

This is significant change. Granted that it’s only two Southern states and that in two others — Louisiana and North Carolina — Democratic incumbents poll behind or barely ahead of Republican challengers; yet another Southern Democratic incumbent, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, thought to be in trouble, now looks comfortably ahead of his Republican opponent.

Six, ten, twelve years ago, these races would not have been close. Each of the 5 states mentioned were then trending strongly to the GOP, and as recently as the 2012 Presidential election, three of them (LA, KY, AR) continued to be so. But not now. Anecdotal evidence suggests, too, that throughout the South the GOP message is wearing out its welcome.

So what is going on, as I see it ? Many factors :

1.the old Southern voters of 1968 – 2012 are aging, and the South’s younger voters — growing in number — have a very different view of things. In the South, absolutes have tended to rule. Good versus bad has been the region’s norm for a long long time, be it racism, religious fundamentalism, or absolutism on gun rights. This is the picture we from outside the South have of the region : and this picture has carried the day in Southern politics ever since the Civil rights revolution of the early 1960s.

But that was then. Today’s Southern voters have grown up in the internet era, friends to technology, confronted with all kinds of activities and styles utterly subversive of the steely absolutes that have riled Southern politics. as always, the people are ahead of the politicians. Southern people have made their peace with gay family members, neighbors, friends. Transgender kids are accommodated in the South’s schools. Race is barely a factor at all. And religion, strong as ever in this region, has begun to change its message from damnation to inclusion.

So far this is happening at street level. No Southern politician — certainly no Southern Republican — would dare to be the public voice of the South’s growing diversity. But the voters know the difference. For 40 years, the Democratic party in the South was the party of Blacks (and a few fighting progressives, always present in the South even in the worst of seasons). No longer. This year Democratic candidates are gaining White voters in numbers not often seen in our lifetime. Women voters especially are moving.

This trend can only grow. If the South’s GOP doesn’t change its tune, and fast, it will find itself losing races more often than not. And if Hillary Clinton runs for President in 2016, watch out.

2.the South is no longer uniformly Black or Caucasian and of multi-generation American birth.

Hispanic people are moving up from Florida into Georgia, Alabama, even South Carolina — a trend first noted as long ago as 2004. They’re a presence in Mississippi and Louisiana. They’re at least 40 % of Texas population. Their numbers can only increase. And they are, on balance, heavily Democratic in their voting choice.

3.City voters almost everywhere in America are democratic, usually by overwhelming margins. it’s true of the South, too. In the technology innovation era that we now inhabit, the young techies live in center city. they live there, shop there, socialize there, work there. Southern cities can no more opt out of this social dynamic than they can rewind the clock. And these voters, too, overwhelmingly vote Democratic.

In Georgia, the votes of greater Atlanta, Athens University of Georgia), Savannah, and Augusta, added to Hispanic votes in south Georgia and black votes in the Cotton belt look ready to claim a majority, and not only in the senate race.

In North Carolina, serious overreach by a radical Republican legislature may well spell doom for the state’s GOP candidate for US Senate and almost certainly portends a Democratic victory in the state in 2016.

In Mississippi, in 2012, Barack Obama lost the state by only 10 points — much less than he lost all surrounding states by. Yes, Mississippi voters are 37% Black. But Obama got 45%. He won 15% of the White vote in the South’s most racially polarized state. White Democrats are running for US Senate and for Congress, in numbers not seen in Mississippi in two decades. Will they win ? probably not. But no longer can the GOP take Mississippi for granted.

In Arkansas, the Clintons remain hugely popular, and their popularity, plus the prospect of Hillary Clinton as President, seems to have yanked the state back, from assured 20 to 30 point GOP victories, toward 50-50 status. Tom Cotton, the GOP Congressman running against senator Pryor, must wonder what’s happening. Only four years ago, Arkansas voters defeated a Democratic Senate incumbent by 20 points. Now Cotton finds Pryor polling ahead by 6 to 10 points.

What’s happening is that the South is changing — rapidly, decisively. And as the current GOP has wedded itself and its prospects lock stock and barrel to the South, the change portends disaster, even irrelevance for the GOP, or, at least, for what it has been.

Frankly, I couldn’t be gladder. The GOP has spent 40 years prolonging the life of long discredited, socially destructive, economically corrupt ways — the boot-heel patriotism, the guns in your face, the clinging to lost wars, the taste for dining and shunning, the glorification of rural hardscrabble — ways which we in the 1960s had every right to think we had put to rest. And which would have been put aside had not the GOP given the old ways a new home and a temporary legitimacy they never deserved.

Now it looks ready to be over, this time for real, because the change is coming from Southerners themselves rather than by outside imposition.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



On a hot humid Saturday night in mid-July, the world (or at least the Social Media world) reacted to the “not guilty” verdict given to George Zimmerman. The reactions (at least on this writer’s Facebook feed) varied from the “First Casey Anthony, now this? (Expletive) Florida,” to the “The Jury made their call. Now it’s time to move on to real issues, like Obama and the NSA.”

Confession: I admit to having posted my Verdict rage, as well, on Facebook. I felt that evidence sufficient to convict Zimmerman of second-degree murder of 17-year old Trayvon Martin was a slam dunk for the Prosecution. Naive of me. I had indeed forgotten that this Florida, home to the Casey Anthony acquittal as well as the year 2000 Florida Recount.
So what did this verdict mean to Millennials — “Generation Y”… “Hipsters” — whatever you may want to call them ? Gen Y has pretty much earned the reputation of being both apathetic and lethargic — mostly by being both apathetic and lethargic. A game of “Candy Crush” and the posting of “Grumpy Cat Memes” appear to enage more Y’ers than the use of Facebook to organize marches against student loan debt and the endless drug war that has imprisoned good people and cost many innocent lives. Most Millennials shy away from discussing sociological and economic issues. It’s complicated, and, after all, nobody wants to alienate others by stating an opinion.

Nonetheless, the Zimmerman Verdict we could not ignore. the finding was too impossible. Tweets and posts roiled our outrage. In several cities, protests broke out the next day in solidarity for Martin. Oakland’s and Los Angeles’ protests even turned violent.

Flash forward now to almost a week later. As I sit here in my favorite Coffee House in Downtown Lowell, Massachusetts, I look around and overhear my peers lingering over their iced drinks talking about the issues of the day. People here in this ordinary American city are still talking about the Zimmerman verdict. Apparently some of us haven’t moved on the next outrage — I’m speaking, of course, about the July issue of Rolling Stone with accused Boston Bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on its cover.

So here’s what we’re saying :

“To me, it seems like a flash in the pan. For my generation, there will be a big discussion about issues like the Zimmerman case. But I’m not sure that it will lead to any real discussion to any changes in the judicial system” — Kofi Edzie, 24, from Lowell.

“The only silver lining here is that it is bringing race back into the discussion, but as a young millennial, I think that we have all of these immediate concerns such as student loan debt for example, that I don’t think that social media is going to inspire any of my peers to make any changes,” Edzie added.

Another coffee adept, who wished to remain anonymous, said that he credits Social Media for bringing Millenials to discussion of race in the 21st century.

“I don’t think that it’s fair to say that things won’t change, but you have to give our generation some credit for at least opening up the dialogue on race. I don’t think that it’s fair to dismiss our generation as ADHD,” opined my unnamed table neighbor.

There were also Generation X’ers at the coffee house, such as Kevin Fahy, who felt somewhat more cynical.

“I don’t think that anything is going to change. I just came back from Ocala, Florida, where my folks live, and a lot of people down there think that Zimmerman did the right thing. Of course, a lot of them are older, upper class retired folks,” said Fahy, 52 and also a Lowellite. Semi-retired from working security for many years, Fahy feels that today’s Millenials fail to utilize their energy to organize for social causes.

“This isn’t the civil rights marches of the sixties. This isn’t Kent State. People aren’t going to get off their asses to do anything, even change the channel on their TV’s,” Fahy tells me.

Fahy may yet be wrong. It’s hard to expect immediate moral commitment from a generation inundated with “Grumpy Cat” memes and living the distraction life on Social Media. That said, Gen Y’s are young yet, very young. They will grow. If there’s any good to be extracted from this depressing tale of a young man walking home after buying some Skittles and Iced Tea, it’s this. Gen Y has not yet spoken. It will. Perhaps.

There’s hope, and plenty of it, for what a generation still finding its way and place will say and do. A generation that may very well rise up and do whatever it takes to advance justice, by any means necessary.

— Dave Morrison / Here and Sphere Guest Contributor




^ Carmen Ortiz, United States Attorney for Massachusetts, already under fire for over-charging Aaron Swartz

Part III in this Here and Sphere series was going to focus on Punishment. But given the obsessive passions afoot with regard to the Zimmerman Case, its presentation, preparation, and verdict, we have changed the plan. Trial preparation and presentation require a strong look from us.

Thanks to TV shows like “Law and Order” especially, most Americans know a lot about what happens in a criminal case long before it goes to trial. “Law and Order” is particularly valuable because its drama includes plenty of mistakes made, bad decisions, incompetent or overreaching lawyers, disagreements about evidence, and such like. On the defense side there is always the problem of what to emphasize and how. Prosecutors face election and find themselves forced to go the route on cases in which their voting public has great interest. The media pounce on criminal cases of great interest; they cannot avoid it, nor should they. This too has consequences for justice, most of them unhappy. “Law and Order” retreats from none of it. The picture this show puts in frame is often stereotyped — but never false.

“Law and Order” succeeds because crime unthinkably violent or unjust arouses great passions. Whence arises the rush to accuse, which almost always brings more injustice.

The rush to accuse and judge has ruined many a life : one thinks of the Duke LaCrosse team fiasco, the Atlanta security guard falsely accused of bombing a fair, the national security scientist wrongly accused of sending anthrax letters, the Tawanna Brawley accusation that a NY County prosecutor had raped her. One could add many, many more such incidents.

False accusation is no minor break in the social fabric. “Thou shalt not bear false witness” is one of Moses’ 10 commandments, the ground rules of Jewish tribal law. No social mistake outranks false accusation as an act of barbarity. Still, false accusation arises from people’s knowledge that grievous crimes do occur; and who can tell, at the outset, whether an accusation is false or true ? That is why we have police detectives and investigators and why we pay them good money. To separate the false accusation from the likely true one.

Public outcry has engendered more incompetent or unwarranted prosecutions than we can count. In the 1980s it was day care centers abusing children : every case brought was eventually reversed or compromised — in Massachusetts, the Amirault Family of Fells acres — after ruining the lives of the accused. In the 1930s – and before that — it was people of color in the South accused of rape. In the 1920s it was Sacco and Vanzetti — right here in Dedham, Massachusetts.Bartolomeo sacco 1

^ Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco, prosecuted almost certainly wrongfully and executed after seven (7) years of world wide protests.

In 1692 in my home city of Salem, also in Massachusetts, it was men and women accused of witchcraft.  In the South, from the late 1880s until the Second World war, many black men didn’t even get an unfair trial but were simply lynched…

a lynching

^ injustice at its most passionate…

To return to the present, New York City’s Brooklyn prosecutor is now investigating 50 convictions based on what looks like perjured testimony, doctored confessions, and prosecutorial misconduct.

David Ranta

^ David Ranta, freed in NY after serving 22 years for a rape he almost certainly did not commit

A victim is required. No matter who or how. Prosecutors and police staffs work with that as a backdrop. It is not pretty and it is wrong.

Jurors, too, feel the heat. Juries in high-passion criminal cases are sequestered and their names impounded. We do this so that passion people cannot threaten or otherwise intimidate jurors, at trial and after verdict. It is a wonder that, given this pressure, people are willing to serve as jurors at all.

In the time of Henry VIII, jurors gave a verdict unfavorable to the King at their peril. We, today, are the King.

The moral of the story is plain: the public should — must — reserve judgment; prosecutors and police must seek justice, not convictions; and juries must never be afraid to decide a case as THEY see it, not as WE see it.

In the Zimmerman matter, which we have discussed in separate editorials, very little went as it should. Injustice, incompetence — you name it. Now we turn to Massachusetts and our own three murder prosecutions. Hopefully, we will do much better than tyhe Zimmerman prosecutors and police staffs.

The three cases now under way –James “Whitey” Bulger, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and Aaron Hernandez — fascinate us. Murder most foul can never be grasped. It is always open and shut ; was it done, or not ? By this person, or someone else ? Murder is simple — and a mystery beyond resolution.But never beyond opinion.

Most of us have already formed an opinion as to the accuseds’ guilt and of appropriate punishment. Because this is Massachusetts, we ought be fairly sure that the prosecutions will be competent and NOT tainted by misconduct, although our history in this regard is not auspicious. We are proof that being politically progressive is no guarantee of being just about justice.


< J. W. Carney, lead defense attorney for James “Whitey”Bulger

The big danger, though, is that all three men’s juries will feel pressured to reach a certain verdict rather than another. To that end, we commend the Bulger prosecution for its methodical presentation and its readiness to provide to the defense such evidence as our law requires it to disclose. We shall see if the Tsarnaev prosecution meets this standard.


< Bristol County District Attorney Sam Sutter, who will prosecute the Aaron Hernandez case.

Stay tuned.

— Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere




The jury that gave its verdict did not spend 16 plus hours deliberating because it wanted to acquit Zimmerman. It spent that time trying to figure out the evidence. What did it mean ? What was really going on ?

Their task was not made easy by the prosecution’s incompetent trial preparation. Key witnesses gave ineffective testimony, even damaging testimony. It is Law School 101 that you never, ever put a witness on the stand for direct examination — cross examination is another matter entirely — without knowing what he or she is going to testify to. In the Zimmerman case, several prosecution witnesses said things that, in trial prep,, should have been shaken out. The coroner couldn’t remember. Martin’s girlfriend changed her testimony. A police witness said that Zimmerman’ s story sounded true. Neighbors who had heard or seen snippets of the altercation went this way and that as to what happened.

Given such a muddle, it’s a wonder that the jury didn’t make its finding in an hour or two.

They did not do that. Instead, they did pretty much what we at Here and Sphere did, in our two editorials : they tried to make sense of the known facts.

These were :

1.Zimmerman defied the advice of the poloice 911 dispatcher to not follow Martin.
2.Zimmerman followed Martion without identifying himself.
3.Zimmerman put Martin in fear, and that fear was reasonable. Zimmerman continued to follow, without identifying himself –even after Martin asked, “why are you following me?” all Zimmerman said was to ask “what are you doing here ?” — Martin defended himself.
5. Martin gave Zimmerman quite a beating.

Up to this point, there could be no question that Zimmerman had acted recklessly. We at here and Sphere have assumed — as has most of America — that Zimmerman’s reckless conduct, leading to the shooting of Martin, was criminally culpable, as reckless conduct resulting in a death is held to be in most jurisdictions; and that one cannot claim self-defense if things go against you as a result of your own reckless conduct.

But what if the jury, in its lengthy deliberation, put a question at first rather startling  : “Did Martin, otherwise reasonably defending himself, go too far ? Did he himself use excessive force ?”

One who is put in fear to the extent of reasonably defending himself certainly has the lawful right to use force to do so. But only so much force as will deflect the attack. Once the person putting you in fear is giving up, you have a legal duty to stop.

The law puts this limit on defenders because, for very solid public policy reasons, it cannot allow defenders to wreak their own mayhem. We see, in videos and photos, what happens when an attacker is pummeled by defenders — pummeled and even killed. Being attacked makes a person angry. Anger all too readily begets crime. the law wants to prevent that, and it is right to do so.

The Zimmerman jury surely debated whether or not Martin, at first properly defending himself, had gone too far. Once Zimmerman had been knocked to the ground, it was up to Martin to step back; to not continue beating Zimmerman up. It appears from the testimony that he did not step back. And thus Zimmerman’s claim of self defense revived, after being negated by his own, original recklessness. Martin, in going too far, initiated culpable conduct of his own.

This is what the jury must have concluded; because otherwise their verdict makes no sense. and verdicts that take 16 plus hours to reach are not given casually or thoughtlessly.

None of this changes the bigger picture: that Martin was going lawfully about his business; was profiled and hunted down because he was Black; and that Zimmerman acted recklessly and with animus. Had Martin been White, or had Zimmerman not been filled with animus against “punks,” Martin would be alive today, and Zimmerman would not be facing Civil Rights charges. Instead we have had to live through a case that much of America sees — rightly — as the result of Black men being seen not as people but as problems (as said Minister E. G. Warnock of Atlanta, GA.)

Yet if none of our analysis changes the bigger picture, it does explain the verdict and makes sense of how and why it was found.

—- Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere


He is smiling tonight. He killed an entirely innocent 17 year old boy, and he is found not criminally culpable.

George Zimmerman not guilty ? Hard for us at Here and Sphere, who were not in the courtroom, to dispute a jury’s finding. We felt strongly that Zimmerman was criminally culpable, at least to the extent of manslaughter. He initiated the chain of events, he stalked Martin, he deemed Martin a suspect, he put Martin in  fear, he did not identify himself, he allowed Martin to feel that he needed to defend himself.

Reasonable doubt, however, there sure was, about the level of wrong in Zimmerman’s actions, in a case difficult for a jury to grasp the facts of. Faced with a criminal verdict standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt,’ the jury eventually — after two days of thorough deliberation — decided that reasonable doubt existed.

Not doubt that Zimmerman was wrong. Wrong he was. Doubt about HOW wrong. Manslaughter wrong ? Manslaughter requires the conduct leading up to it to be reckless. Not merely negligent, or mistaken, or tortious, but reckless.

We at here and Sphere felt that Zimmerman’s conduct was reckless, given that he disregarded police advice about following Martin. The jury gave Zimmerman the benefit of their doubt about that. Legally, they had ample grounds for doing so. Nor do we question the jury’s diligence or its obvious concern to “get it right.” Still, their finding has consequences for civil peace in Florida.
The not guilty finding makes it clear that, in Florida, a man who follows another, in the dark, unidentified, and putting you in fear, is going to be given the benefit of the doubt if an altercation ensues, and YOU ARE NOT. Thus you had better be very very careful if you find yourself in that position. Very careful and PRAY.

We would have hoped that the jury would consider the above and other public policy consequences of a not guilty finding. It is hard for us to imagine behavior more blameworthy than Zimmerman’s on that night. This entire event could have been prevented if he had simply listened to the police 911 operator.

But no, he HAD to go do what he did. And now we know that a jury, a year later, is not going to second-guess him to a criminal extent.
 In Florida, a stalker with a gun will now know that he has the benefit of the doubt — because doubt, there is — if he does what Zimmerman did — disregard police advice ! — and an altercation ensues.
There is only one way that Florida can resolve the terrible public policy consequences of this finding : pass legislation disallowing association watchpeople from carrying loaded weapons.
Do you think that such a law will pass, in the current national climate about guns everywhere ? We think it extremely unlikely, at least in Florida and in about 30 other of our 50 states..
 What is more likely to happen, in a state like Florida, where concealed carry of loaded guns is common, and where a “stand your ground” defense is permitted, by law, in trials involving shootings, is that many more ordinary people will now arm THEMSELVES, so that if they find themselves in Martin’s position, they can shoot the stalker if they think they have to. Then THEY will have the benefit of the doubt on their side.
 This finding opens the door to anarchy. Guns will be the answer. Guns and shooting, injury and death. That or else a ton of fear. Or both.

It is not a happy day in America. but it hasn’t been a happy day, as far as shocking gun killings are concerned, for many, many, many years in this nation fixated on — obsessed by — insisting on promoting more of — armed vigilantes everywhere.

— Michael Freedberg / Here and Sphere