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The Tide Is High

Henry K. Lee at San Francisco Gate:

Convicted felon Byron Williams loaded up his mother’s Toyota Tundra with guns, strapped on his body armor and headed to San Francisco late Saturday night with one thing in mind: to kill workers at the American Civil Liberties Union and an environmental foundation, prosecutors say.

Williams, an anti-government zealot on parole for bank robbery, had hoped to “start a revolution” with the bloodshed at the ACLU and the Tides Foundation in San Francisco, authorities said.

But before he made it to the city, Williams was stopped at early Sunday by California Highway Patrol officers for speeding and driving erratically on westbound Interstate 580 west of Grand Avenue in Oakland.

Police say he then initiated a chaotic, 12-minute gunbattle with officers, firing a 9mm handgun, a .308-caliber rifle and a shotgun. He reloaded his weapons when he ran out of ammunition and stopped only after officers shot him in areas of his body not covered by his bullet-resistant vest, authorities said.

Jillian Rayfield at Talking Points Memo:

The Tides Foundation, which prosecutors in California say was among the targets of the anti-government unemployed carpenter Byron Williams before he got into a chaotic shootout with several law enforcement officers Sunday, is also a favorite topic of Fox News host Glenn Beck.

Beginning in 2009 (and as recently as last week), Beck has repeatedly included the group — along with ACORN, the SEIU and George Soros — in his cabal of liberals and liberal organizations that are supposedly agents of President Obama’s plan to spread Marxist and socialist ideas throughout the United States.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that Beck necessarily inspired or influenced Williams’ alleged plan to attack the Tides Foundation. But the group has been something of a whipping boy for Beck over the last year.

Oliver Willis

Teddy Partridge at Firedoglake:

The Tides Center, located at the Presidio, is essentially an aggregator of wealthy heirs’ money, who want to do good but would rather not be bothered doing the due diligence responsible philanthropy requires nowadays. They do that homework, and meet their donors’ overall goals without bothering them with the specifics of each beneficiary’s every operation.

They also provide spectacular conference center space — I attended great day-long team-building exercises when working for a non-profit San Francisco AIDS service organization, thanks to a colleague’s wife who worked at Tides — with quiet and peaceful views of the Golden Gate bridge. Contemplative, dedicated to social justice, low-profile, but essentially a capacity-building, incubator-providing, infrastructure-enabling clearing house for do-good inherited wealth: here’s Tides’ mission statement, from their website.

Our mission is to partner with philanthropists, foundations, activists, and organizations across the country and across the globe to promote economic justice, robust democratic processes, and the opportunity to live in a healthy and sustainable environment where human rights are preserved and protected.

Scary, right?

Michael Wolraich:

Why did Williams target a little-known non-profit in order to incite a revolution? Just ask Fox News…

Of course, the good folks of Fox News don’t want violence. Glenn Beck, for example, has admonished his audience, “If you ever hear someone thinking about or talking about turning violent, it is your patriotic duty to stop them. The only way to save our republic is to remain peaceful–forceful but peaceful.”

Beck has also denied that his dire prophesies of communist revolution and totalitarian oppression encourage violence. Comparing himself to a flight attendant, he explained:

Blaming TV or radio hosts for the nutjob who killed three Pittsburgh police officers over the weekend is like blaming a flight attendant after a terrorist takes down a plane. In other words: Giving passengers a safety talk to prepare them for a worst-case scenario doesn’t mean you are responsible should a terrorist make that worst-case scenario happen. One person is providing important information. The other is a nutjob who would’ve acted no matter what.

Beck’s analogy isn’t quite right, however. He hasn’t been calmly telling the passengers where to find their life jackets and thanking them for flying with Fox News. He has been hysterically shouting, “THE PILOT IS TRYING TO CRASH THE PLANE! WE’RE ALL GONNA DIE!” For example, here is a “safety talk” that Beck delivered to his Fox News passengers a few months after he invoked the flight attendant defense:

I told you yesterday buckle up your seatbelt, America. Find the exit. There’s one here, here and here. Find the exit closest to you and prepare for a crash-landing because this plane is coming down because the pilot is intentionally steering it into the trees…They are taking you to a place to be slaughtered.

That’s some safety talk. A safety talk like that might lead some passengers to do more than just buckle their seat belts. It might even lead some “nutjob” to shout, “Let’s roll!” and rush the cockpit.

Justin Elliott at Salon:

Here’s what Beck said about Tides on July 13, five days before the shooting:

Well, they [progressives] have the education system. They have the media. They have the capitalist system. What do you think the Tides Foundation was? They infiltrate and they saw under Ronald Reagan that capitalists were not for all of this nonsense, so they infiltrated.

Here’s another typical Tides diversion from Beck’s April 27 show, in which the foundation served as a link in a chain connecting the White House and domestic terrorists:

The Joyce Foundation, which gives money to the Tides Foundation — John Ayers, the brother of Bill Ayers, Wade Rathke. On the board between ’03 and ’08 was Valerie Jarrett. She is in the White House now. She was also with the Fed in Chicago at the same time she was on this board.

Tides spokeswoman Christine Coleman told Salon that “after comments [about Tides] on Glenn Beck, similar things pop up on the right-wing blogosphere.” So clearly there is an echo-chamber effect here, with Beck the driving force.

No one’s saying that Beck is advocating violence or that anyone who watches Fox will be whipped up into a frenzy to hunt out left-wingers. But there’s a real possibility that Williams heard about Tides on Beck’s show.

A spokesman for Beck declined to comment on the Williams case.

Steve Benen:

Remarkably, no one was killed, though Williams was firing a rifle with ammunition that “could penetrate ballistic body armor and vehicles, police said.” He was in court yesterday, and will face all kinds of criminal charges, including the attempted murder of four police officers.

But stepping back, every time there’s violence like this, I’m reminded of the concerns raised by the Department of Homeland Security last year, about potentially violent anti-government extremists — concerns that appear increasingly prescient.

These examples of politically-motivated attacks seem to keep piling up. Just this year, John Patrick Bedell opened fire at the Pentagon; Joe Stack flew an airplane into a building; Jerry Kane Jr. and his son killed two police officers in Arkansas; and the Hutaree Militia terrorist plot was uncovered. Last year, James von Brunn opened fire at the Holocaust memorial museum; Richard Poplawski gunned down three police officers in Pittsburgh, in part because he feared the non-existent “Obama gun ban”; and Dr. George Tiller was assassinated. In 2008, Jim David Adkisson opened fire in a Unitarian church in Tennessee, in part because of his “hatred of the liberal movement.”

Let there be no doubt: deranged madmen are responsible for their own violent actions. But in the wake of these attacks, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to wish that some of the leading far-right voices would lower the rhetorical temperature a bit, helping to cool the tempers of those who might be inclined to hurt others.

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Big Brother And The Hamster Company

Amelia Glynn at San Francisco Chronicle:

The sentiment has been expressed in different words and languages by the likes of Winston Churchill, Pope John Paul II, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, President Harry S. Truman and (perhaps most dubiously) Mahatma Ghandi:

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

In 1998, Cardinal Roger Mahony famously said: “Any society, any nation, is judged on the basis of how it treats its weakest members; the last, the least, the littlest.”

Enter San Francisco’s newly proposed and seemingly well-meaning ban on the sale of companion-animals within city limits, which aims to protect pets, down to the littlest guinea pig. More than 630 comments have already been posted to the original Chronicle article that was published this morning. They run the gamut from anger and cries of “Nanny state” (“Where does this madness end? I for one am sick of how our liberties are being violated each and every day”) to general predictions of doom (“When pet-selling is outlawed, only outlaws will sell pets”) to, my favorite, humor (“When hamsters are outlawed, only outlaws will have hamsters”).

I adopted my dog from a rescue group in the city and do not consider myself a “designer breed” kind of gal. And while I may be impulsive about handbags, I’ll never take a hamster home without giving it a lot of thought in advance. To be truthful, I’ve never been a big fan of rodents. The neighbor’s hamster took a chunk out of my thumb when was I was a kid and I never looked back. Reading Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH in grade school gave me a greater appreciation for rats, but after having a pair in the classroom (aptly named Nicodemus and Jennifer), I never wanted one as a pet. But I still care about their beady-eyed well-being.

I find it interesting that the ban only targets pet stores and does not include our fine, finned friends. (I guess it’s still okay to flush fish down the toilet because they can’t feel anything anyway. Or can they?) True, an astonishing number of pet stores get their animals from mills where breeding practices and overall conditions are spotty at best, but many online classifieds are also selling overproduced and under cared for animals. So why is one kind of pet business deemed acceptable whereas the other is not?

Jeff Blyskal at The Consumerist:

The impetus for this is not stray cats, dogs, as you might expect. Their welfare and rights are protected from Dickensian puppy mills, animal abuse, and life on the mean city streets, thanks to plenty of compassionate citizen rescue groups. Rather, the real problem, ferreted out by reporter Carolyn Jones, is that too many San Franciscans buy hamsters as an impulse purchase!

Now I, personally, have never seen any buy-me bins of hamsters at the checkout next to the candy, gee-gaws, TV Guide, and supermarket tabloids in my 10 years of travels in this city, home to Consumers Union’s West Coast office. But I take CACW’s word about the secret of hamster hoarding. Unfortunately, the novelty of owning a hamster soon wears off, and folks abandon them at the San Francisco’s animal shelter, where they are euthanized at a rate of 30 percent vs. just 13 percent for cats and dogs, the Chron reports.

Pet store owners and their Washington lobbyists are fit to be tied over this nanny commission proposal, and  rightly so. This ill-conceived law annihilates the convenience and free choice of all responsible pet buyers to prevent the poor judgment of only a few customers. That’s like banning parking for all cars in this city (where finding an empty parking space is a nightmare) because some drivers park illegally.

Might I propose a simpler solution that preserves consumer free choice and shopping convenience and more directly attacks the actual problem? Ban the sale of hamsters only, if necessary, but leave alone people’s freedom to responsibly buy other pets, thank you.

James Joyner:

Granted, this is inspired by a reasonable concern and driving to another town isn’t exactly an arduous burden for most people.   Still, this seems rather silly.

Why not, instead, have some sort of cooling off period?   Say, you have to leave a deposit and then come back three days later if you really want that puppy?   Surely, that would be both less an infringement on liberty and more effective than making people go to Oakland for their hamsters?

Dan Riehl:

Well, I half-way expected to read the argument that pets were akin to slavery, so it isn’t as bad as I thought Heh! It’s simply to control the behavior of consumers because they are such impulse buyers when it comes to pets – all except those purchasing pet fish. Evidently, fish keepers are well disciplined deep thinkers when it comes to pet purchases, so their actions don’t have to be controlled. There is no action the uber-liberal does not wish to control through government.

Nick Gillespie in Reason:

This comes on the heels of a ban on sodey-pop in City Hall vending machines and Commandante Newsom’s bold attempt to grow food on road medians while cutting bagel halves into quarters. Seriously.

Hell, even former SF Housing Authority Commission member and cult killer Jim Jones let his followers have Kool-Aid.

As Eric Burdon could tell you, if you can’t understand what’s going on there, save up all your bread and fly Trans-Love Airlines to San Francisco, USA. Just make sure to bring your own stash of Coca-Cola, full-size bagels, and chinchillas.

James Lileks at Ricochet:

Is there a larger issue? There’s always a larger issue when government regulates in the littlest things. Every little ban is a reminder that any theoretical goodness, however indistinct, is a sufficient reason to deny you a freedom you currently enjoy. Of course, if the Goodness does not materialize in sufficient quantities, it only proves that the initial ban was too narrow, and must be expanded; hence the ban on selling hamsters becomes a ban on having them.

Two: even the advocates for the littlest among us have to respect the imperatives of nature. Snakes eat rodents, you know, and the ban would be unfairly impactful to the Snake-American Community – so they’re considering letting stores sell rodents if you want to feed them to your 10-foot reptile.

The ideal solution: require the Humane Society to feed hamsters to snakes, squealing with horror, instead of putting them down by gaseous means. Perfect. I’d make a reductio ad absurdum line here about government health care, but I don’t speak Latin.

Claire Berlinski at Ricochet, responding:

James, I’m guessing you haven’t spent much time in animal shelters. Every year in America, five million cats and dogs are gassed to death or lethally injected with sodium pentobarbital in these shelters. The word ‘euthanasia’ is a grotesque euphemism. There is no mercy in these deaths. Most of the animals are healthy, rambunctious, and young. They die terrified, and they die pointlessly: very few are vicious; most are capable of forming deep affectionate bonds with humans. This is what happens — what really happens — every day in these shelters. The links are graphic and upsetting. They’re also reality.

Concern for the welfare and dignity of animals is not confined to nihilist Leftists such as Peter Singer or local totalitarians who seek to regulate pets out of existence. Have you read Matthew Scully’s immensely moving, immensely disturbing book Dominion? A completely conservative case can be made, should be made, for treating animals with mercy and respect. Animals are not ordinary commodities, they are living creatures, and they feel pain and fear. No one need suggest that a kitten’s life is morally equivalent to a human’s to observe that something is terribly wrong when we casually dispose of one much as we would the butane in a Bic lighter: that is the mark of a callow society, a cruel society. It does not speak well for us that we kill millions of sentient, sensitive animals every year through grotesque, painful methods such as gassing and heart-sticking. Pet stores are one of the main reasons we do this.

Now many people may wonder and ask, just why are are there so many unwanted pets in the first place to create this tragic situation and where so many unwanted pets are killed in shelters, whether by gas chamber, heartstick or even by injection to begin with? First, there are the puppy and kitten mills that are still prevalent and where animals are bred and bred and bred, over and over again. Thankfully more and more of these mill type breeders are being shut down. These breeders crank out animals like an assembly line and usually wind up in pet stores for sale. And don’t kid yourself, it’s not just a little local pet shop that sells puppies or kittens from these mills, but also some of those fancy high-priced pet stores in Beverly Hills, California where the likes of celebrities will get their dogs from, and they aren’t even aware that those animals are coming from mills.

Yes, snakes eat rodents. Yes, tigers eat gazelles, and yes, nature is savage and cruel. That doesn’t mean we need to add to the misery. They have no choice but to be beasts: We do. If air conditioning is the mark of an advanced civilization that has elevated itself above the State of Nature, even more so is the mercy we display toward animals.

E.D. Kain at The League on Berlinski:

This is a compelling argument, I think, and one that we should take seriously. Obviously people would still go elsewhere to buy pets, but maybe more people would also go to puppy rescues (where we once found and adopted a beautiful little puppy) or human societies and save some of these animals from senseless death. Shutting down puppy mills and other animal mass-producers might go against the libertarian grain, but then again I find that questions of life often do. And perhaps they should.

Life and liberty are anything but mutually exclusive, but there is certainly a tension between the two, whether we’re talking about abortion, slavery, or the pet trade. These are not easy questions, and they don’t have easy answers packaged neatly in comfortable ideological wrapping paper. If there is a market solution to this problem, perhaps it needs to be nudged along.  Could a temporary ban be coupled with some sort of new standards for pet sales including requirements that pet stores and shelters coordinate efforts?  I think there are a number of solutions to make this work, but something certainly does need to change. Whether a ban is the right ticket is a harder call, but it’s a start at least and a good enough time to have the conversation.

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The Oscar Grant Verdict: Trouble In O-Town

Joe Eskenazi at San Francisco Weekly:

Ex-BART cop Johannes Mehserle has been found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the shooting death of unarmed BART passenger Oscar Grant.

The jury could have convicted Mehserle of either second-degree murder or voluntary manslaughter — both charges that would have required the jury to believe that Mehserle intended to kill grant. That was evidently too much for the jury, which declared its belief that the former policeman didn’t intend to kill the man he shot via its involuntary manslaughter conviction. This carries a sentence of two to four years; a potential gun enhancement could bump that to five-to-14 years .

Heather MacDonald at Secular Right before the verdict was read:

It is true that death at the hands of a representative of the state–in this case, the BART police officer–has an entirely different meaning than death at the hands of a common criminal and produces a far greater sense of injustice.  That sense of injustice is compounded for blacks by the shameful history, now largely corrected, of police abuse.   Still, this one tragically-mistaken killing—BART officer Johannes Mehserle entered a scene of chaos at Oakland’s Fruitvale station on a night in which several guns had already been found along the subway line and thought, according to his testimony, that he was firing his Taser to subdue a resisting, possibly gun-wielding Oscar Grant—stands out from the tidal wave of cold-blooded murders in Oakland by the fact that Mehserle did not intend to murder an unarmed civilian.  Like many urban areas, Oakland has been seeing a retaliatory shooting pattern around vigils for shooting victims.  On June 21, for example, a 17-year-old was shot at an Oakland bus stop; just after midnight the next day, two gunmen sauntered up to a vigil for the bus stop victim and killed a 19-year-old girl and seriously wounded five other teenagers who were attending the vigil.  None of these and the hundred or so other murders a year in Oakland provoke the spectre of riots if their perpetrators are not convicted; indeed, it is often hard to find anyone to cooperate with the authorities in bringing the killers to justice.   The thousands of black-on-black killings a year nationally are treated as a matter of course; so, too, are killings of police officers.

Let’s hope that Oakland residents heed the many calls from community leaders to accept the jury’s verdict peacefully and defeat the sad, but not irrational, expectations of Bay Area law enforcement.

J. Peter Nixon at Commonweal:

I work in downtown Oakland, where many businesses were concerned that the announcement of the verdict would bring a repeat of the civil violence that accompanied the original shooting.  Shortly before the verdict was to be announced, we were asked to evacuate our office building.  I will confess I felt a great deal of ambivalence about this, but as a manager I felt responsible for the safety of our employees.  So I encouraged people to leave.

As I walked to the BART train entrance, the sidewalks were filled with office workers essentially fleeing the city.  I began to feel a sense of shame about this.  It was “white flight” on a concentrated and graphic scale.  I got in line to pass through the BART gates and even had my card out when I just stopped and got out of line.  “I can’t do this,” I thought.

I am probably the least spontaneous person you will ever meet.  The white board in my office has a “do list” ranging across three columns.  I don’t take a vacation without a carefully planned daily itinerary.  And yet there I was, making a last minute decision to remain in downtown Oakland at a time when many (white) commentators were convinced the place was about to explode in civil unrest.

I wish I could tell you it was an act of heroic virtue.  The truth is that I was seized by something outside myself, an irresistible prompting of the Holy Spirit.  I just couldn’t muster the energy to fight against it and keep my legs moving toward that gate.  So I climbed the staircase out of the rail station and walked back down the street against the human tide.  I called my wife to tell her of my decision. She, of course, understood perfectly.

My first destination was the Cathedral, which stands next to my office building.  My hope was that others would be naturally drawn there as a place to keep prayerful vigil while awaiting the verdict.  I’m sorry to say I was disappointed.  It was deserted except for the security guards.  I prayed for a just verdict, not even sure in my own heart what a just verdict would be in this case.  I prayed for a peaceful response, whatever the outcome.  In the Cathedral, an enormous image of Christ in judgment is depicted on the window behind the altar.  I contemplated the image, and prayed that whatever the imperfections of human justice, the city would be able to trust in the ultimate judgment of Christ.

Shortly after 4pm I flipped on my Blackberry and got the news: the verdict was involuntary manslaughter.  It was the least serious offense available to the jury, although it still represents—to my knowledge—the only case to date where a police officer has been found criminally liable in a case of this nature.

I wondered whether I should go downtown and join the demonstrators, who I knew would be deeply angry about the verdict.  The truth was that my own heart was conflicted about the justice of the verdict.  But I felt strongly that the place of a Christian that night was to be present in the midst of the city, not absent from it.  In the Psalms of the Office we pray “the Lord is my light and my salvation, of whom shall I be afraid?”  Did I believe these words or not?

San Francisco Chronicle:

There was outrage, there was looting and there were skirmishes between police and protesters, but that wasn’t the whole story of how Oakland reacted to the Johannes Mehserle verdict.

The trouble Thursday boiled down to a racially diverse mob of about 200 people, many bent on destruction no matter what, confronting police after the day’s predominantly peaceful demonstrations ended.

Sporadic conflicts were quelled quickly early in the evening, but by late night at least 50 people – and maybe as many as 100 – had been arrested as small groups smashed windows, looted businesses and set trash bins on fire.

The violence was contained for much of the early evening within a one-block area near City Hall by an army of police officers in riot gear, but around 10 p.m. a knot of rioters broke loose and headed north on Broadway toward 22nd Street with police in pursuit.

They smashed windows of shops including the trendy Ozumo restaurant, and one building was spray painted with the words, “Say no to work. Say yes to looting.”

A boutique called Spoiled was spared. It had a sign outside and pictures of Oscar Grant with the words, “Do not destroy. Black owned. Black owned.”

On  the verdict, Kevin Drum:

I hardly even know what to say about this. I wasn’t in court and I wasn’t on the jury, so I didn’t hear all the evidence. But for chrissake. Look at the video. Mehserle didn’t look confused and modern tasers don’t feel much like service revolvers. And it’s not as if he was acting under extreme duress. At most there was a brief and perfunctory struggle, after which Mehserle calmly raised himself up while Grant was pinned to the ground, drew his revolver, and shot him. The only thing that even remotely makes Mehserle’s story believable is that doing what he did is just flat out insane. It doesn’t make sense even if he were a stone racist and half crazy as well.

The jury can say what it wants, but it still looks to me like Mehserle decided on the spur of the moment to shoot Grant. I don’t know why, and no explanation really makes sense. But he’s a white cop and the jury apparently concluded that Grant was just black riffraff. The whole thing is just appalling.

Mark Kleiman:

Kevin Drum is upset by the verdict, which he regards as a finding of “semi-guilty.” He joins the victim’s family, the National Lawyers Guild, and a host of the usual suspects in thinking that the officer should have been convicted of second-degree murder instead. As usual, there will be an attempt to organize riots in protest, because of course burning down the stores of black shopkeepers is an excellent way to attack the white power structure.

I haven’t followed the case closely, but when I heard the story my first reaction was “involuntary manslaughter,” which is what the jury decided on. To bring in second-degree murder, the jury would have had to be sure, beyond reasonable doubt, that an ill-trained very junior cop, operating at 2am on New Year’s, didn’t make the unforgiveable error of drawing his handgun thinking it was his taser. They would have had to be sure, beyond reasonable doubt, that instead he decided at random to murder someone he’d never met before, in front of a big crowd of people and several other police officers.

It’s good to see the people who otherwise condemn the pointlessness of harsh retributive justice making an exception in this case. Perhaps retribution is actually a legitimate function of punishment after all? And of course the silence from the usual denouncers of the criminal-coddling criminal justice system, now that the criminal being coddled is a white cop who killed a black parolee, is deafening.

UPDATE: Via Patrick Appel at Sully’s place, Radley Balko at Reason

Adam Serwer at The American Prospect

Julianne Hing at Colorlines

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