May 31, 2010

Taser Death: Anastasio Hernández Rojas (San Ysidro, CA)

Taser-happy law enforcement meets illegal immigration. The result is another taser-related death in America. Anastasio Hernandez came across the Mexico-US border in 1984. He lived in the shadows ... got married ... raised five children in small town of Encanto, CA.

His life was thrown in an uproar last week when he was detained by police and deported to Mexico.

Of course, it is unreasonable to think that a man would who spent 26 of his 42 years on earth in southern California raising five children is going to stay away. Mr. Hernandez and his brother made an effort last Friday to rejoin his wife.

It was a decision that cost him his life.

Hernandez (the Mexican newspapers are calling him Anastasio Hernández Rojas) didn't make it across the border. He was caught by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers. CBP officers took him to the Border Patrol station gate leading to Mexico where they removed his handcuffs in preparation to complete the deportation to Tijuana. Police say that he became violent.

"The agents and the subject all fell to the ground during the fight and the agents radioed for assistance," San Diego homicide police said in a prepared statement. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents joined the struggle and one CBP agent fired a Taser at the man to subdue him.

A short time later the man stopped breathing. Agents began CPR and called paramedics. He was brain-dead when they took him to Scripps Memorial in Chula Vista after the taser electrocution. He died on Monday, May 31.

The family of Mr. Hernandez is devastated. They are convinced the Border Patrol is lying. Witnesses, who said they saw the altercation Friday at San Ysidro, said agents also kicked Anastasio while he was on the ground ... which would explain why he became brain-dead.   There may even be video evidence of the taser electrocution.

Please let us know if you have any new information on this taser-related killing.

May 30, 2010

GOP Senators Are the Only Obstacle to Repeal of 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Policy

The effort to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy made some positive movement this week. The full House of Representatives and the Armed Services Committee in the Senate voted to repeal "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Villagers may recall that President Obama promised in his State of the Union address to end the law that denies gays and lesbians the right to serve their country. Now, the Obama administration is closer than ever to making good on that promise.

The full Senate will soon start its debate on repeal. But some Republicans are digging in their heels. John McCain continued to flip-flop on the DADT issue when he said, "I'll do everything in my power" to block a vote. And Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker called the repeal bill "a major mistake" -- announcing that the GOP plans to filibuster.

The 'just say No' policy of the Republican Party continues. The GOP never seems to have anything positive to offer on any national issue. They simply say 'No' to anything that the Obama administration is trying to do.

I encourage all villagers to sign an online petition indicating your interest in defeating those who'd stand in the way of history. Show the US Senate that villagers -- in every state -- overwhelmingly support repeal.

May 29, 2010

Weekly Address: Honoring the Fallen

Ahead of Memorial Day, the President asks all Americans to join him in remembering and honoring those who have died in service to the country.

Taser Death: Carl Johnson (Baltimore, MD)

It's happened again. Another unarmed citizen killed by taser-happy police. Carl D'Andre Johnson, 48, got into a fight with a state trooper and two Baltimore County police officers after he crashed his Toyota pickup truck. A Maryland state trooper was the first on the scene. Police say that Johnson did not cooperate with the trooper's commands. Evidently, he tried to escape and when he couldn't escape in his car he began to yell obscenities and quarrel with the state trooper. [see VIDEO]

Two Baltimore County police officers entered into the fray. The three law enforcement officials then began a series of events that included pepper spray and two 50,000 volt changes of taser gun electricity into Johnson.

Shortly after he was electrocuted a second time, county police say Johnson lost consciousness and was later pronounced dead at a hospital.

Johnson was an accomplished architect and religious man, his brother said, not the type of person who would challenge police and wind up dead after receiving a shock from a taser gun.

For Carl Johnson's brother, the circumstances don't add up.

"The way this is being described is completely out of character ... unprecedented," said Gene Johnson, 42, as he traveled to a Georgia airport to come to Baltimore. "He never had an ounce of trouble."

May 27, 2010

Am I Not Human? BP Oil Spill

We support the 'Am I Not Human?' blogging campaign that lights up the 27th of each month. I encourage all villagers to find a way to support this effort to shine a light on human rights abuses taking place all over the world.

The BP Oil Spill is the major human rights abuse on my mind this month. I watched the president's press conference today. The vast majority of the questions were about the oil spill. It has been more than five weeks since an oil rig leased by BP exploded and sank in the Gulf, and only now does there appear to be progress in plugging the massive leak. Speaking in a more than hour-long press conference in the East Room, President Obama defended his administration’s performance and said he was “angry and frustrated” by the spill.
This notion that somehow the federal government is sitting on the sidelines and for the last three or four or five weeks we've just been letting BP make a whole bunch of decisions is simply not true,” Obama said.

President Obama doesn't usually get very personal when he speaks to the American people. However, this BP Oil Spill is personal for many villagers in the Gulf Coast ... and it was good to see that it got personal for President Obama as well:

"My job right now is just to make sure that everybody in the Gulf understands this is what I wake up to in the morning and this is what I go to bed at night thinking about – the spill," he said.

On Thursday morning, he said, when he was shaving, his daughter Malia peeked her head into the bathroom and said, "Did you plug the hole yet, Daddy?"

"I think everybody understands that, you know, when we are fouling the earth like this, it has concrete complications not just for this generation but for future generations.

"I grew up in Hawaii, where the ocean is sacred. And when you see birds flying around with – with oil all over their feathers and turtles dying and – ... that doesn't just speak to the immediate economic consequences of this. This speaks to, you know, how are we caring for this incredible bounty that we have?"
ABC News went underwater off the Gulf Coast to see first-hand what the Deepwater Oil Disaster looks and feels like. It looks like a nightmare.

We’ve seen the oil start to wash up on shore, and we’ve seen satellite images of the slick. But that’s only the tip of the iceberg: You need to take a look at the underwater impact of the oil geyser and the dangerous chemicals BP is using to “disperse” it — effects that could last for decades, even if the risky “Top Kill” maneuver to plug the well works.

This is some nasty shyt. I hope that we can see some positive movement in a few weeks. What are your thoughts on the BP Oil Spill?

May 26, 2010

OURstory: Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784)

I respect the public schools that are educating my three children. I know that the teachers and curriculum will provide them with a strong basis for their future. However, there are gaps in the education provided by public schools that I'm going to need to fill with my children. I realized that the public schools don't do a good job of teaching the impact of African Americans in US history. The teachers are good at HIS-story ... but, it is up to us to tell OUR-story.

I plan to provide some OURstory blog posts over the coming weeks. They will be here for posterity and I'll use them to fill the gaps in the education of my young Nubian.

For example, I wonder if the public schools mention the name of Phillis Wheatley in their history lessons? Phillis Wheatley was born in Gambia, Africa. She was a was a slave child sold to John and Susanna Wheatley in Boston on July 11, 1761. Her first name was apparently derived from the ship that carried her to America, The Phillis.

Phillis was taught to read and write by her slave-owners and their daughter, Mary. Phillis had a gift for writing poetry -- her first poem was published at the age of twelve. There were a number of benefactors in Phillis' life -- Selina Hastings financed the publication of her book of poetry; former slave Obour Tanner, who made the Middle Passage journey with Phillis, was a lifelong supporter.

I wonder how many villagers are well-versed in Latin? Would you be surprised to learn that Phillis used Latin to write her "Niobe in Distress" publication? It's the truth (or 'veritas', as they say in Latin)!

Phillis' popularity as a poet both in the United States and England ultimately brought her freedom from slavery on October 18, 1773. She even appeared before General Washington in March, 1776 for her poetry and was a strong supporter of independence during the Revolutionary War. She felt slavery to be the issue which separated whites from true heroism: whites can not "hope to find/Deivine acceptance with th' Almighty mind" when "they disgrace/And hold in bondage Afric's blameless race."

Phyllis is remembered for many first time accomplishments from a woman of her day:
  • First African American to publish a book
  • An accomplished African American woman of letters
  • First African American woman to earn a living from her writing
  • First woman writer encouraged and financed by a group of women (Mrs. Wheatley, Mary Wheatly, and Selina Hastings.)
Phillis Wheatley died in Boston, Massachusetts while giving birth.

I understand that the Cincinnati Historical Society is loaning one of Wheatley's 1st edition (1773) books to the America I AM: The African American Imprint exhibit coming to the Cincinnati Museum Center on June 19th. This book will be displayed with Phillis Wheatley's table, which is on loan from the Massachusetts Historical Society in the 'enslavement display'.

What are your insights, thoughts or comments on Phillis WheatleyPersonally, I think that every little Black girl in America should learn about Phillis Wheatley!

May 25, 2010

Important Development in the Oscar Grant Case

Soulclap to the brothers and sisters of ColorOfChange for bringing us this important news:

There’s been an important new development in the Oscar Grant case, and you helped make it possible.

Last year, we told you the story of Oscar Grant, the young man who was shot in the back by a police officer while laying face-down on a subway platform in Oakland, CA.

The officer who shot Grant, Johannes Mehserle, was subsequently charged with murder and is currently awaiting trial — a rare moment for police accountability. But in the moments before Grant’s murder he was also brutalized by another officer on the scene named Tony Pirone.

Now, more than a year after Grant’s tragic murder, the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) Police Department has fired Pirone for his conduct that night. With Pirone’s dismissal, three officers at the scene of Grant’s murder have now been fired for their actions, which clearly set the stage for Grant’s death that night.

While the fate of the officer who killed Grant is not yet certain, it is important to recognize the significance of this moment. It is definitely a victory for all who believe that those who enforce the law can never be above it. And it couldn’t have happened without the participation of tens of thousands of ColorOfChange members who spoke up for justice for Oscar Grant, signing petitions, making phone calls, writing letters and attending rallies.

Last year, ColorOfChange members in the Bay Area confronted the Alameda County District Attorney with stacks of more than 20,000 petitions demanding that he explain why he hadn’t arrested Pirone. Most of the local media covered our event, feeding a public conversation about the D.A’s handling of the case and shining a spotlight on Pirone’s actions.

Our action was a major catalyst in Pirone’s ultimate dismissal. The intense media spotlight ColorOfChange members shone on Pirone and the pressure you generated both locally and nationally contributed significantly to a measure of accountability: a rogue cop was kicked off the police force, losing his ability to shield himself with his badge while terrorizing and brutalizing innocent civilians. It also sends a clear signal to other officers who might be inclined to abuse their power.

We still believe that Pirone should have been brought up on charges for assaulting Grant. But we shouldn’t let this distract us from the ultimate goal: seeing that Grant’s murderer gets the full measure of justice for what he’s done. With his trial for murder pending, we’re already part of the way there — a position we might not be in today were it not for ColorOfChange members like you speaking up, keeping pressure on the District Attorney, and forcing him to act swiftly to pursue justice.

These are achievements we can all be proud of. Thank you for standing with us.

Thanks and Peace,
-- James, Gabriel, William, Dani, Milton and the rest of the team

I have to admit that this blog didn't provide as much coverage of the Oscar Grant case as we should have done at the time. I'm grateful to James and his crew from ColorOfChange for their tireless online activism. I hope that justice is finally done in memory of Oscar Grant and for the family that he left behind.

May 24, 2010

Taser Death: Efrain Carrion (Middleton, CT)

The family of Michael Jacobs called on police in their area to help their son when he was experiencing mental anxiety at home. The police responded by using their taser guns to electrocute the 24-year old man.

The same thing happened in Middltown, CT on May 24. Efrain Carrion was having an anxiety attack Monday night when his family called 9-1-1 to summon an ambulance, a family member said.

The 35-year-old, screaming and breathing heavy, hid under his bed. His wife, Rhode Carrion, said she and her brother-in-law had almost coaxed him out when Middletown police officers arrived at the family's apartment.

The police agree that they arrived based on a report of a despondant male in need of medical assistance. They also agree that they placed Efrain Carrion in handcuffs to allow EMS personnel to examine him.

Carrion's relatives and authorities have differing versions of what happened next. But one thing is clear: Carrion became unresponsive while struggling with police and was pronounced dead at Middlesex Hospital.

Authorities say Carrion became violent after officers put him in handcuffs. He fought with police officers, refused orders and at one point choked a police dog, using his handcuffs as weapons, police said.

Of course, the police neglect to mention that Carrion was being held in double handcuffs. The police want us to believe that this despondent man was able to bring his hands to the front and start choking a police dog which was also used to try to bring him under control as he attempted to flee.

Four out of the five officers who responded were treated for injuries. Acting Police Chief Patrick McMahon said the officers are home, recovering with their families. The police officers treated for injuries were: Sgt. James Prokop, Officer William Hertler, Officer Elias Martz and the dog handler, Officer Douglas Clark.

"If nothing leads me to believe that wrongdoing occurred, we'll get them back on the streets as soon as we can," he said.
Chief McMahon isn't fazed by the fact that an unarmed man was electrocuted in his own home by his own police force. Nope, McMahson indicated that he hasn't heard or seen anything indicating that the officers did anything wrong.

For those that are interested, the dog, Niko, was treated by a veterinarian and released.

But Rhode Carrion said the official police version of the story is a lie. Her husband didn't hit the officers or choke the police dog, she said.

"They're making him seem like he was crazy, like he's a bad man, and he's not," she said. "He never hit them, he never kicked them. He was trying to get away from them because they were Tasing him."
After her husband came out from under the bed, he sat on the floor and allowed officers to cuff him, Rhode Carrion said. He was brought to a chair in the living room. The physical violence started after Efrain Carrion slipped off the chair, she said.

The officers ordered him to get up. Her husband had trouble complying because his hands were cuffed behind his back, Carrion said. Two of the officers shot him repeatedly with taser guns and then deployed the dog, she said.

She said Efrain Carrion did not grab the dog and tumble down the stairs with it, as police have said. [SOURCE]

As Middletown police officers tried to calm him in a wooded area behind his apartment complex, Carrion became unconscious. Emergency medical personnel were unable to revive him, and he was pronounced dead after being transported to Middlesex Hospital.

Eunice Barrientos told reporters she called police to calm down her brother, Efrain Carrion who was acting irrational, but she never expected them to taser him to death.

The just tasered him and tasered him and let the dog chew him up,” the Middletown woman said.
She said after the officers were finished tasering her brother, the kicked him down the stairs as they were taking him out of the apartment.

Police admit to tasering Efrain multiple times until he lost consciousness.

State police are investigating the incident and will present their findings to the Middlesex state's attorney. The investigation should take several weeks.

An autopsy is planned to try to determine what caused his death.

Please let us know if you have any additional insights or information to add to this taser-related killing.

May 22, 2010

How Do We Forgive Our Fathers?

A movie that I watched ended with this monologue from the lead character.   It hit a chord with me for a number of reasons ... none of which have to do with my father ... most of which have to do with my imperfections as a father.

How do we forgive our fathers?
Maybe in a dream?

Do we forgive our fathers for leaving us too often,
or forever, when we were little?

Maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage,
or making us nervous, because there never seemed to be any rage there at all.

Do we forgive our fathers for marrying ... or not marrying ... our mothers,
or divorcing ... or not divorcing ... our mothers?

And shall we forgive them for their excesses of warmth, or coldness?
Shall we forgive them for pushing or leaning?

For shutting doors?
or speaking through walls?
or never speaking?
or never being silent?

Do we forgive our fathers in our age?
or in theirs?
or in their deaths, saying it to them?
or not saying it?

If we forgive our fathers, what is left?

I learned afterwards that this poem was adapted from a Dick Laurie poem.

May 21, 2010

Kentucky Fried Nutcase Rand Paul on BP Oil Spill - 'Sometimes Accidents Happen'

It appears that Kentucky's GOP candidate for the US Senate is adopting the Sarah Palin playbook. First, get nominated for high political office. Second, start flapping your mouth to the point that the electorate realizes that you are not to be trusted with the job for which you've been nominated. Third, write a book and make millions of dollars.

Rand Paul is on Step #2. Did you hear him absolve BP of all accountability for the recent oil spill by saying, "sometimes accidents happen"?

Check out this video!

What do you think of this Rand Paul character?

May 20, 2010

BP Oil Spill Ticker; President Obama Appoints Independent Commission

BP has considered or tried dispersants, skimmers, booms, a containment dome, a smaller "top hat," a "hot tap," a giant pipe to siphon off the oil and a "junk shot." Still oil continues gushing from the Deepwater Horizon site. Meanwhile, nobody knows how much. Estimates from the government, outside experts and oil companies differ. PBS has published this tracker.

The President announces that the independent commission he created for the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling will be chaired by former Florida Governor and Senator Bob Graham and former EPA Administrator Bill Reilly. He promises accountability not just for BP, but for those in government who bore responsibility.

This is a terrible environmental disaster that will be in our minds for decades to come. How do you see this playing out over the coming weeks and months?

May 18, 2010

Tune In Tuesday: Eels

Villagers who have followed this blog for awhile know that I'm a science fiction fan. As such, I've been watching the first season of a SyFy television series called, 'Stargate Universe'. The episode last week ended with a song that I had to look up. The song is Agony by a group simply known as Eels. I invite you to listen to the song and share your own thoughts if you have time or inclination.

Womanist Musings created a weekly meme today called Tune In Tuesday. She noted that our blogs often deal with serious issues and it might be nice to lighten the atmosphere every once in awhile. Music has the ability to trigger happy memories and much of our lives are marked by song. To that end each Tuesday this blog intends to offer a song and tell you about what it triggers for me and in return you are welcome to share any memories that you have associated with it.

May 17, 2010

Taser Lawsuit: Yuceff Young II (Brooklyn, OH)

Perhaps it is time to admit that the taser guns are simply not as safe as advertised by Taser International. The police have gotten much to comfortable relying on this weapon ... to the point that it is used to subdue minor suspects such as Yuseff Young II.

The police killed Young by using their taser guns. Young was a danger to no one. His actions did not warrant such force.

As such, this blog is glad to see that Young's family has filed a lawsuit against Linndale and Brooklyn police. They are seeking an unspecified amount of damages maintaining that Young would not have died if he had not been Tasered by a Linndale police officer and chased by police from Linndale and Brooklyn. [SOURCE]

Police stopped the car of the 21-year-old man because his car appeared to be unsafe, Linndale police said at the time. Police said Young's front bumper was hanging off and the windshield was shattered.

The police officer smelled alcohol and ordered Young to get out of the car. He did not. That is when the police officer decided to draw his taser gun and pump 50,000 volts of electricity into a young unarmed man who was sitting behind the wheel of his car. Young began to flee the scene once he was shot on by the police officer.

Young's car went a short distance and crashed into a utility pole.

"We believe the actions of the police were reckless," said Terry Gilbert, attorney for the family. "He was a good kid, a college student, and he was drunk. We don't know why, or if, his car was banged up. But we know he was not giving the officer a hard time. But he was Tasered while sitting behind the wheel, which is very dangerous."
Personally, I think that a suspect's flight should not be the sole justification for using a Taser. Perhaps this lawsuit will help get that point across to local law enforcement agencies around the nation so that they can modify their policies. At the rate of a taser-death every week, perhaps we can all agree that the Taser may not be as safe as originally billed.

May 15, 2010

Taser Autopsy: Jaesun Ingles (Midlothian, IL)

Three unidentified Midlothian police officers chased down 31-year old Jaesun Ingles and killed him with one or more taser blasts on March 10. The police tried to cover-up the use of the taser in their police report. The Cook County medical examiner continues the cover-up by failing to mention anything about the officers' use of a taser and its contribution to Ingles' death.

The Cook County medical examiner's office has ruled the March 10 death of Ingles was an accident, the result of choking on a plastic bag he was trying to swallow as he struggled with Midlothian police. [SOURCE]

Neither the police nor the medical examiner comment on the use of the Taser in their report of the incident. Ingles' family for weeks has tried to get information about his death, to no avail.

"It's like they're trying to hide something. They think if they wait long enough, people will just let it go and move on," Ingles' cousin, Leon Jones, of Joliet. "We just want to know what happened."
Dr. Ponni Arunkumar, of the medical examiner's office, conducted Ingles' autopsy and ruled the death an accident. Her report states Ingles died from "aspiration of plastic bag during arrest."

The autopsy report makes no mention of any drugs found in Ingles' system at the time of his death.

Police had said the Taser use was left off the official police report because the investigation was being turned over to the Illinois State Police's public integrity unit, which would provide a more detailed report upon completion of its investigation.

The cover-up is always worse than the crime. I suspect that we haven't heard the last on this case. The small town mentality of the police and the medical examiner won't survive the glare of public scrutiny.

Jaesun Ingles should not have had marijuana on his person ... however the penalty for having marijuana or for resisting arrest should never be DEATH. The police used their tasers to kill this man. That should be unacceptable in our nation.

May 14, 2010

Taser Death: Sukeba "Sassy" Jackson-Olawunmi (Atlanta, GA)

DeKalb County police electrocuted a second person within 5 days using their taser guns. This time the taser-killing was done to a woman. 39-year old Sukeba Olawunmi was pumped with 50,000 volts of electricity twice after she crashed a stolen car, refused to comply with police commands and became combative.

Police were called into the situation after Olawunmi was accused of attempting to carjack several people. The woman, who was 5-foot-3 and 350 pounds, became unresponsive shortly after the second jolt of taser juice.

We don't have much more information on this taser-killing right now. Please let us know if you learn anything new.

Rep. Maxine Waters Issues Lakeesha Alert for Mitrice Richardson

Mitrice Richardson has been missing for over a year. The mainstream media doesn't appear to care. The Amber Alert system isn't working for this nubian sister ... so it is good to see that a Lakeesha Alert is being sent by U.S. Rep Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles). Rep. Waters asked the Department of Justice to investigate the disappearance of Mitrice, who was released in September from the Malibu/Lost Hills Sheriff's Station. [SOURCE]

Mitrice Richardson was arrested at Geoffrey's, a Malibu restaurant, for not paying an $89 dinner bill. Deputies who took the Cal State Fullerton graduate into custody described her as "coherent and rational," Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca told the Board of Supervisors in a letter.

Waters asked the Justice Department in a May 5 letter to investigate alleged civil rights violations by the deputies.

"I believe that Mitrice's civil rights were violated when she was arrested and then let go in the middle of the night without money, a phone or transportation," Waters said.
Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for the department, said that the deputies followed policy.

"We believe that everything was done right," he said, adding that Baca "obviously believes that nobody's civil rights have been violated."
Waters previously had asked the FBI to investigate the disappearance, but she said she was told by the agency that it does not probe adult missing persons.

Mitrice's 25th birthday was April 30th. Let's hope that she is found sooner rather than later. I encourage other bloggers to share the Lakeesha Alert for Mitrice Richardson with their blog readers!

May 13, 2010

Taser Autopsy: Joe Spruill (Goldsboro, NC)

It amazes me that people shot by taser guns never seem to have the taser gun listed as their 'cause of death'. Joe Spruill was talking with a neighbor early on the morning of January 27. Wayne County Sheriff Deputies Martin McAlduff and Zachary Kinlaw rolled into the neighborhood and asked Spruill to go home (two doors down).

Something happened during the walk.

Police say that Spruill became combative and started throwing things from his pockets at them, so they told him they were putting him under arrest for disorderly conduct.

Something happened during the arrest.

McAlduff and Kinlaw pumped this family man with 50,000 volts of electricity from their taser gun. Joe Spruill died.

One would think that the taser had something to do with his death. But, that is not what the medical examiner is saying. The medical examiner claims that Spruill died of a cocaine overdose. A torn plastic bag was found in his esophagus, and tests showed a lethal amount of cocaine in his system. [SOURCE]

The two officers are back on the job. Joe Spruill is dead. The 'powers-that-be' are comfortable that life is good. Me? I think that a man shouldn't be killed in his front yard for resisting arrest. Spruill should have been given medical attention ... not a lethal dose of taser juice.

What say u?

May 11, 2010

Tune In Tuesday: The Foreign Exchange

I'm opening my mind and ears to some folks that I hadn't heard before. One of my colleagues suggested that I take a moment to listen to The Foreign Exchange.

Here are two songs from them:

I'm enjoying the flow from this group ... and I love that there ain't any booty-shakin' or other misogyny nonsense in these lyrics or videos. Were you already aware of The Foreign Exchange before this blog post?

Womanist Musings created a weekly meme today called Tune In Tuesday. She noted that our blogs often deal with serious issues and it might be nice to lighten the atmosphere every once in awhile. Music has the ability to trigger happy memories and much of our lives are marked by song. To that end each Tuesday this blog intends to offer a song and tell you about what it triggers for me and in return you are welcome to share any memories that you have associated with it.

May 10, 2010

Taser Autopsy: Daniel Joseph Barga (Cornelius, OR)

The 'powers-that-be' in Oregon would have us believe that being zapped with 50,000 volts of electricity from multiple taser shots had nothing to do with the death of 24-year old Daniel Joseph Barga on April 10.

Instead, the state Medical Examiner's office says that the young man died from "excited delirium" due to the toxic effects of psilocybin, or hallucinogenic mushrooms.

Dr. Karen Gunson, state medical examiner, said generally people experiencing excited delirium constantly demonstrate purposeless violent activity; have incoherent speech; don't respond to stimuli, such as pain, in a normal way; experience hallucinations; and die from a misbeat of their heart. [SOURCE]

Gunson said Barga would not have died if he hadn't used the mushrooms. [NOTE: Personally, I think that Barga wouldn't have died if the police didn't overreact and shoot him up with taser guns over and over and over again ... but, that's just me!]

Excited delirium cases are generally seen in people who are schizophrenic, experience manic phases or who have used cocaine, methamphetamine or mushrooms, Gunson said. People who are experiencing excited delirium become stimulated, Gunson said, and often become extremely warm with increased sweating.

Gunson said excited delirium can be part of a restraint death, such as when officers restrain suspects on the ground to handcuff them. But, Gunson said, there was no evidence of a restraint death in Barga's case. Gunson said the medical examiner's office carefully reviews what witnesses, police and medics say to determine whether a person died from restraint because there often isn't evidence on the body.

Barga died after being taken into custody following a disturbance in the backyard of a upper-income home in Cornelius. Cornelius police officer Mark Jansen found Barga in the backyard covered with blood and refusing to cooperate, police said. Jansen used a Taser, which delivers a 50,000-volt shock, in an effort to subdue Barga, police said. Barga died while in Jansen's custody.

We still await final word from the county prosecutor about whether or not criminal charges will be filed agains the police officers involved in this case.

May 9, 2010

Taser Autopsy: Hatchel Pate Adams III (Hampton VA)

36-year old Hatchel Pate Adams III was killed by taser-happy police in Hampton, Virginia last year. The state medical examiner blames his death on everything accept the 50,000 volts of electricity that were shot into his body by an unidentified police officer.

About 11 p.m. on Dec. 10, police went to Adams' home to serve an emergency custody order to determine if Adams was a threat to himself or others.

He refused to open the door, but a family member came to the scene and let police in. After Adams swung a samurai-style sword at the officers and the officers used the Taser. Police used the Taser a second time and Adams stopped breathing.

Assistant chief medical exampiner Wendy Gunther completed the autopsy on Mr. Adams. The cause of death is listed as: "Excited delirium in addition to mental illness in addition to methamphetamine use in addition to obesity in addition to subdual by police."

"...subdual by police... ?"

Where do they get these terms?

Anyhow, Adams' death was the first involving a Taser since Hampton police began using them in 2003. Police spokeswoman Paula Scheck said the four officers placed on administrative leave after the incident are back to work.

She said the incident didn't violate any department policies and was ruled justified. "They were defending themselves from someone wielding a samurai sword at them," she said.

I keep thinking to myself that the family member who opened up the door for the four unidentified police officers is feeling terrible ... I can't imagine that he thought that his fam (Hatchel Pate Adams) was going to be killed that day.

36 years on earth ... and killed by taser-happy police. Something simply isn't right!

May 8, 2010

GOP Wingnuts Applaud a Guy for Calling President Obama a 'Domestic Enemy'

Eric Cantor (R-VA) gave a speech earlier this week to a group at the Heritage Foundation. He got the audience so foamed at the mouth that one unidentified attendee stood up at the event to ask Cantor why Obama should not be considered a “domestic enemy”:

QUESTION: My question is – and this is something I personally don’t understand – if it’s a naïve question then I apologize: in light of what Obama has done to leave us vulnerable, to cut defense spending, to make us vulnerable to outside enemies, and to slight our allies, how (pause) – what would he have to do differently to be defined as a domestic enemy? (applause and laughter)

CANTOR: Listen, let me respond very forthright to that: you know, no one thinks the President is a domestic enemy. (boos)
I wanted to give Cantor credit for his clear answer ... however, I noticed that Cantor smiled before responding to the question. And I suspect that the content from Cantor's speech gave the courage to this person to ask the question in the first place.

What kind of country are we living in that our nation's leader can be called a 'domestic enemy' by our own citizens?

May 7, 2010

Three's Company Game Plan Ain't Working for Dwyane Wade, Siohvaughn Wade and Gabrielle Union

Some folks are wondering where will NBA star Dwyane Wade be playing next year as he tests the free agent market. Movie star Gabrielle Union and Wade's wife, Siohvaughn, are going to be watching closely as well.

Villagers may recall that we noted that Wade and his wife were getting a divorce almost three years ago. Now his wife is suing his woman-on-the-side (Gabrielle Union), claiming the star’s conduct around their young children has inflicted emotional distress.

Siohvaughn Wade and the boys are seeking more than $50,000 from Union at a trial.

Siohvaughn claims the actress “engaged in sexual foreplay with Dwyane Wade” in front of Wade’s 8-year-old and 2-year-old sons while on an unsupervised visitation to the basketball star’s Miami home, according to a suit filed this week in Cook County Circuit Court.

The suit also claims Wade’s oldest son was allowed to play unsupervised in or around the Miami home’s pool at night. Wade and Union ignored the boy, whose “screams and cries” eventually got the attention of Wade’s mother, Jolinda Wade, who took the boy inside, according to the suit.

The 8-year-old later told court-appointed child representative Lester Barelay what happened and asked him “to put his father in jail...” so he would not have to return to the home, which he calls “the house where the woman kissing daddy lives,” the suit said.

The suit also claims the younger child nearly drowned while in his father’s care and Union drove the boys to the park with his oldest son in the front seat.

On one visitation, Wade allegedly orchestrated a meeting between Union and the boys, where he introduced the actress as his “girlfriend” and said “that is why your mom and I are going to divorce,” according to the suit.

Dwyane and Siohvaughn Wade have been “sweethearts” since they were 15 years old and currently are still married but are involved in a divorce proceeding.

The boy’s mother claims the sexual foreplay in front of the boys and the orchestrated meeting to introduce the children to their future stepmother caused emotional distress. The older child has sought medical treatment for stress and anxiety, has developed nervous habits, experiences headaches, and is generally anxious to the point of “significant” hair loss causing bald spots, according to the suit. The boy is currently seeking court-mandated mental evaluations at the University of Chicago, the suit said.

May 6, 2010

Taser Death: Daniel Joseph Barga (Cornelius, OR)

Our blog missed this taser-related killing when it first occurred last month. We now have 72 people dead as a result of being shot by taser guns in America over the past 16 months. That is an average of a death per week. Despite the taser-incident at the Philadelphia Phillies baseball field the other day ... this ain't no joking matter. People are dying!

Daniel Joseph Barga died on April 10, after being taken into custody by Oregon police officers from Cornelius and nearby Forest Grove. [SOURCE]

Cornelius Officer Mark Jansen, a 14-year law enforcement veteran and Taser instructor with the department, Forest Grove Police Sgt. Dean Foster, a 25-year law enforcement veteran, and Officer Scott King, a nine-year law enforcement veteran, were suspended from duty while the investigation into the death of Barga took place.

Police were called to a house at about 3 a.m. April 10, after a report of a disturbance in the backyard. The homeowner told Jansen that a partially clothed man had confronted him, and was behaving erratically and threatening violence.

Jansen found Barga in the backyard covered with blood and refusing to cooperate. Jansen used a Taser, which delivers a 50,000-volt shock, in an effort to subdue Barga, police said.

Barga reportedly resisted as Jansen tried to wrestle him to the ground, according to police. Barga then bolted and ran, not following Jansen's commands to stop, police said.

Foster and King were called to assist and joined the chase after Barga, police said. The officers continued attempts to stop Barga, using Tasers and pepper spray, but he resisted, police said. He then stopped breathing while being taken into custody.

Medics transported Barga to a hospital, where he was later pronounced dead.

Human life doesn't mean much in Washington County, Oregon. The County District Attorney, Bob Hermann, doesn't feel that there was any criminal conduct on the officers' part. Hermann and his investigators determined that there was no reason for the officers to remain on suspension, especially because they are from small agencies with a high need for officers. Cornelius has 13 sworn officers; and Forest Grove has 17 sworn officers.

"I can't wait to get an officer back," said Cornelius Police Chief Paul Rubenstein. "There's no indication of wrongdoing on any of the officers' sides. We want to know why someone died just like everyone else."
Police say they believe Barga was under the influence of psilocybin mushrooms at the time of his death, but the results from the toxicology test still may not be available for weeks, authorities said.

Tasers are killing Americans all over the nation ... and all we do is laugh. Very sad...

Sam 'Joe the Plumber' Wurzelbacher Extends His 15 Minutes of Fame in Toledo OH

The ebb and flow of Republican politics. John McCain may be out of politics this year ... while the man he made famous, Samuel "Joe the Plumber" Wurzelbacher, is now an active member of Republican politics in Toledo OH. Wurzelbacher will be one of nearly 400 committee members who oversee the Republican Party in northwest Ohio's Lucas County. The group elects the county chairman and sets the party agenda.

Of course the man we call 'plumber' who isn't a plumber is now a weak 'politician'. The group he'll serve on meets only a few times a year to elect the county chairman and sets the party agenda. Wurzelbacher won the seat by a 38-24 vote.

He continues to milk his 15 minutes of fame. Villagers may not know ... but, Wurzelbacher wrote a book, speaks at conservative 'tea parties' and spent a few weeks as a war correspondent in the Gaza Strip.

Wurzelbacher is the kind of redneck white guy that conservatives and tea party loyalist love. This is the clown who once said,

"Illegal immigration? Put a fence up and start shooting."
I pity the fools in Toledo who elected this guy to be their leader!

May 5, 2010

Racist Politicians Target People of Indian Descent in Ohio and Arkansas

Have you ever seen that 'whack-a-mole' game in arcades?   Your kid puts 50 cents in the machine and he gets a hammer.  There are a bunch of moles who pop out of holes ... and your kid scores points for whacking the mole on his head and driving him back into the hole. The racist mole-like efforts of our politicians showed itself this week.

First, I voted yesterday in the Democratic primary for Ohio's 2nd District. The seat is currently held by Jean Schmidt (R-OH). One of the Democratic hopefuls challenging for the job is David Krikorian. Krikorian showed his racism with disparaging remarks he’s made recently about his chief primary opponent, Surya Yalamanchili.

Krikorian has appeared at campaign events to ridicule Yalamanchili, an American of Indian descent, by dramatically pronouncing his name to emphasize its foreign nature.

Now do you really think that a guy with a name like that has a chance of ever being elected?” Krikorian allegedly said to members of Veterans of Foreign Wars in Clermont County.
The comments — which Krikorian denies - drew a quick response from Jean Schmidt and local Democratic leaders, who shot off a letter to Krikorian calling his behavior “deeply disturbing.”

Your comments on Surya’s name are are best insensitive and worse appear racist,” wrote Timothy M. Burke and David Lane, the Democratic chairmen in Hamilton and Clermont counties, respectively. “It is deeply disturbing to us that you would use his name, which is obviously derived from his ethnic heritage, against him in a denigrating manner, especially considering how strongly you value and celebrate your own heritage.”
Krikorian thought he was being subtle.  He thought that he could ridicule his opponent's name as a racist code for reminding voters that Yalamanchili is too dark-skinned to represent them in Congress.

You have to watch these closet-racists closely.  As soon as you whack one of them back in their hole ... another one pops up.   A second racist mole popped up in the Arkansas race for US Senate. In this case, we see a group called the Americans for Job Security running an ad against Bill Halter, who's challenging Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) in this month's Democratic primary.

Some shyt is so obvious that it can't be denied ... even when the racist moles try to do so. Is there any non-racist motive for a pro-business group to portray colorful Indian characters thanking Halter -- who served on a corporate board that voted to send some jobs to India?

You be the judge:

The racism in this ad was called to task by others on Daily Kos, Sepia Mutiny, Angry Asian Man, and Reappropriate.

The Electronic Village is proud to join their ranks! We'll whack-a-(racist) mole any day of the week and twice on Tuesdays!

May 4, 2010

Tune In Tuesday: Eric Roberson

I have only become aware of Eric Roberson in the past few weeks. I'm working behind the scenes to see if he'll perform at a benefit concert later this summer.

Check out these two tunes from the young brother.

I enjoy the mellow vibe from this brother. Had you heard of him before?

Womanist Musings created a weekly meme today called Tune In Tuesday. She noted that our blogs often deal with serious issues and it might be nice to lighten the atmosphere every once in awhile. Music has the ability to trigger happy memories and much of our lives are marked by song. To that end each Tuesday this blog intends to offer a song and tell you about what it triggers for me and in return you are welcome to share any memories that you have associated with it.

Good News Tuesday: Andrea Grimes is the Future Face of Technology

Soulclap to Noire Digerati for pointing us to Andrea Grimes ... the Future Face of Technology! Andrea is a Ph.D. candidate in Human-Centered Computing at the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Tech University. Her research lies within the fields of human-computer interaction (HCI) and computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW).

A member of Associate Professor Beki Grinter's Work2Play Lab, Andrea's research involves studying aspects of human life to design technology that resonates with existing sociocultural landscapes. Much of her work has focused on designing technology to address diet-related health disparities in the African American population.

To this end, she studies how culture shapes health behaviors and attitudes, and how health technologies can account for this relationship. Her work has involved designing and evaluating a nutrition-oriented mobile game and community-based information sharing applications. Her other research includes examining the future of human-food interaction research in HCI and designing technologies to support family health.

Andrea earned her bachelor's in computer science from Northeastern University.

Some of Andrea's awards and honors include the following:
This blog plans to share some good news about people of African descent each and every Tuesday. You can help ... let me know if you see a good news story that you think would inspire our Villagers!

May 3, 2010

Family Wants to Know Why Taser-Happy Arlington Police Electrocuted Unarmed Man to Death

The friends and family of Adil Jouamai say he needed medical attention ... not a taser shock. The 32 year old husband, father and embassy security guard died early Friday morning after being tasered by Arlington Police. [SOURCE]

Adil learned that his father had been hospitalized back home in Morocco. This news upset Adil ... so, his family took him to the hospital to get medication to lower his blood pressure and calm him down.

Just after midnight ... he became agitated again. The family says they called for an ambulance ... but police showed up and asked the family to leave the apartment.

On Friday ... police said they found Jouamai naked, and uncooperative. Officers had to taser him to get him under control. Moments later he stopped breathing and died.

The penalty for being naked and uncooperative should not be death. Especially if there are multiple officers with an unarmed and unclothed victim. This is the second person killed by taser-happy police in Arlington VA.

Jouamai's family is asking why it was necessary to taser him. He was naked, unarmed and they claim there were as many as ten police officers in the room with him.

May 2, 2010

Sunday Inspiration: The Law of the Garbage Truck

Drumbeats from Iya brought this uplifting story to me via email. I thought that villagers would enjoy it as well...

One day I hopped in a taxi and we took off for the airport. We were driving in the right lane when suddenly a black car jumped out of a parking space right in front of us. My taxi driver slammed on his brakes, skidded, and missed the other car by just inches! The driver of the other car whipped his head around and started yelling at us. My taxi driver just smiled and waved at the guy. And I mean he was really friendly.

So I asked, 'Why did you just do that? This guy almost ruined your car and sent us to the hospital! This is when my taxi driver taught me what I now call, 'The Law of the Garbage Truck.' he explained that many people are like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger, and full of disappointment. As their garbage piles up, they need a place to dump it and sometimes they'll dump it on you.

Don't take it personally. Just smile, wave, wish them well, and move on. Don't take their garbage and spread it to other people at work, at home, or on the streets. The bottom line is that successful people do not let garbage trucks take over their day.

Life's too short to wake up in the morning with regrets, so... Love the people who treat you right. Pray for the ones who don't. Life is ten percent what you make it and ninety percent how you take it!

Have a blessed, garbage-free day!

May 1, 2010

President Obama Graduation Speech at University of Michigan [Full Text, Video]

Below is the text of President Barack Obama's speech at the University of Michigan Commencement, released this afternoon by the White House:

Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you very much. Thank you, everybody. Please be seated.


THE PRESIDENT: I love you back. (Laughter.)

It is great to be here in the Big House -- (applause) -- and so may I say, "Go Blue!" (Applause.) I thought I'd go for the cheap applause line to start things off. (Laughter.)

Good afternoon, President Coleman, the Board of Trustees, to faculty, parents, family and friends of the class of 2010. (Applause.)

Congratulations on your graduation, and thank you for allowing me the honor of being a part of it. (Applause.) Let me acknowledge your wonderful governor, Jennifer Granholm; your mayor, John Hieftje; and all the members of Congress who are here today. (Applause.)

It is a privilege to be with you on this happy occasion, and, you know, it's nice to spend a little time outside of Washington. (Laughter.) Now, don't get me wrong -- Washington is a beautiful city. It's very nice living above the store; you can't beat the commute. (Laughter.) It's just sometimes all you hear in Washington is the clamor of politics. And all that noise can drown out the voices of the people who sent you there. So when I took office, I decided that each night I would read 10 letters out of the tens of thousands that are sent to us by ordinary Americans every day -- this is my modest effort to remind myself of why I ran in the first place.

Some of these letters tell stories of heartache and struggle. Some express gratitude, some express anger. I'd say a good solid third call me an idiot -- (laughter) -- which is how I know that I'm getting a good, representative sample. (Laughter and applause.) Some of the letters make you think -- like the one that I received last month from a kindergarten class in Virginia.

Now, the teacher of this class instructed the students to ask me any question they wanted. So one asked, "How do you do your job?" Another asked, "Do you work a lot?" (Laughter.) Somebody wanted to know if I wear a black jacket or if I have a beard -- (laughter) -- so clearly they were getting me mixed up with the other tall guy from Illinois. (Laughter.) And one of my favorites was from a kid who wanted to know if I lived next to a volcano. (Laughter.) I'm still trying to piece the thought process on this one. (Laughter.) Loved this letter.

But it was the last question from the last student in the letter that gave me pause. The student asked, "Are people being nice?" Are people being nice?

Well, if you turn on the news today, or yesterday, or a week ago, or a month ago -- particularly one of the cable channels -- (laughter) -- you can see why even a kindergartener would ask this question. (Laughter.) We've got politicians calling each other all sorts of unflattering names. Pundits and talking heads shout at each other. The media tends to play up every hint of conflict, because it makes for a sexier story -- which means anyone interested in getting coverage feels compelled to make their arguments as outrageous and as incendiary as possible.

Now, some of this contentiousness can be attributed to the incredibly difficult moment in which we find ourselves as a nation. The fact is, when you leave here today you will search for work in an economy that is still emerging from the worst crisis since the Great Depression. You live in a century where the speed with which jobs and industries move across the globe is forcing America to compete like never before. You will raise your children at a time when threats like terrorism and climate change aren't confined within the borders of any one country. And as our world grows smaller and more connected, you will live and work with more people who don't look like you or think like you or come from where you do.

I really enjoyed Alex's remarks because that's a lot of change. And all these changes, all these challenges, inevitably cause some tension in the body politic. They make people worry about the future and sometimes they get people riled up.

But I think it's important that we maintain some historic perspective. Since the days of our founding, American politics has never been a particularly nice business. It's always been a little less gentile during times of great change. A newspaper of the opposing party once editorialized that if Thomas Jefferson were elected, "Murder, robbery, rape, adultery, and incest will be openly taught and practiced." (Laughter.) Not subtle. Opponents of Andrew Jackson often referred to his mother as a "common prostitute," which seems a little over the top. (Laughter.) Presidents from Teddy Roosevelt to Lyndon Johnson have been accused of promoting socialism, or worse. And we've had arguments between politicians that have been settled with actual duels. There was even a caning once on the floor of the United States Senate -- which I'm happy to say didn't happen while I was there. (Laughter.) It was a few years before. (Laughter.)

The point is, politics has never been for the thin-skinned or the faint-of-heart, and if you enter the arena, you should expect to get roughed up. Moreover, democracy in a nation of more than 300 million people is inherently difficult. It's always been noisy and messy, contentious, complicated. We've been fighting about the proper size and role of government since the day the Framers gathered in Philadelphia. We've battled over the meaning of individual freedom and equality since the Bill of Rights was drafted. As our economy has shifted emphasis from agriculture to industry, to information, to technology, we have argued and struggled at each and every juncture over the best way to ensure that all of our citizens have a shot at opportunity.

So before we get too depressed about the current state of our politics, let's remember our history. The great debates of the past all stirred great passions. They all made somebody angry, and at least once led to a terrible war. What is amazing is that despite all the conflict, despite all its flaws and its frustrations, our experiment in democracy has worked better than any form of government on Earth. (Applause.)

On the last day of the Constitutional Convention, Benjamin Franklin was famously asked, "Well, Doctor, what have we got -- a republic or a monarchy?" And Franklin gave an answer that's been quoted for ages: He said, "A republic, if you can keep it." If you can keep it.

Well, for more than 200 years, we have kept it. Through revolution and civil war, our democracy has survived. Through depression and world war, it has prevailed. Through periods of great social and economic unrest, from civil rights to women's rights, it has allowed us slowly, sometimes painfully, to move towards a more perfect union.

And so now, class of 2010, the question for your generation is this: How will you keep our democracy going? At a moment when our challenges seem so big and our politics seem so small, how will you keep our democracy alive and vibrant; how will you keep it well in this century?

I'm not here to offer some grand theory or detailed policy prescription. But let me offer a few brief reflections based on my own experiences and the experiences of our country over the last two centuries.

First of all, American democracy has thrived because we have recognized the need for a government that, while limited, can still help us adapt to a changing world. On the fourth panel of the Jefferson Memorial is a quote I remember reading to my daughters during our first visit there. It says, "I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but...with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times."

The democracy designed by Jefferson and the other founders was never intended to solve every problem with a new law or a new program. Having thrown off the tyranny of the British Empire, the first Americans were understandably skeptical of government. And ever since we've held fast to the belief that government doesn't have all the answers, and we have cherished and fiercely defended our individual freedom. That's a strand of our nation's DNA.

But the other strand is the belief that there are some things we can only do together, as one nation -- and that our government must keep pace with the times. When America expanded from a few colonies to an entire continent, and we needed a way to reach the Pacific, our government helped build the railroads. When we transitioned from an economy based on farms to one based on factories, and workers needed new skills and training, our nation set up a system of public high schools. When the markets crashed during the Depression and people lost their life savings, our government put in place a set of rules and safeguards to make sure that such a crisis never happened again, and then put a safety net in place to make sure that our elders would never be impoverished the way they had been. And because our markets and financial systems have evolved since then, we're now putting in place new rules and safeguards to protect the American people. (Applause.)

Now, this notion -- this notion, class, hasn't always been partisan. It was the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln, who said the role of government is to do for the people what they cannot do better for themselves. And he'd go on to begin that first intercontinental railroad and set up the first land-grant colleges. It was another Republican, Teddy Roosevelt, who said, "the object of government is the welfare of the people." And he's remembered for using the power of government to break up monopolies, and establish our National Park system. (Applause.) Democrat Lyndon Johnson announced the Great Society during a commencement here at Michigan, but it was the Republican President before him, Dwight Eisenhower, who launched the massive government undertaking known as the Interstate Highway System.

Of course, there have always been those who've opposed such efforts. They argue government intervention is usually inefficient; that it restricts individual freedom and dampens individual initiative. And in certain instances, that's been true. For many years, we had a welfare system that too often discouraged people from taking responsibility for their own upward mobility. At times, we've neglected the role of parents, rather than government, in cultivating a child's education. And sometimes regulation fails, and sometimes their benefits don't justify their costs.

But what troubles me is when I hear people say that all of government is inherently bad. One of my favorite signs during the health care debate was somebody who said, "Keep Your Government Hands Out Of My Medicare" -- (laughter) -- which is essentially saying "Keep Government Out Of My Government-Run Health Care Plan." (Laughter.)

When our government is spoken of as some menacing, threatening foreign entity, it ignores the fact that in our democracy, government is us. We, the people -- (applause.) We, the people, hold in our hands the power to choose our leaders and change our laws, and shape our own destiny.

Government is the police officers who are protecting our communities, and the servicemen and women who are defending us abroad. (Applause.) Government is the roads you drove in on and the speed limits that kept you safe. Government is what ensures that mines adhere to safety standards and that oil spills are cleaned up by the companies that caused them. (Applause.) Government is this extraordinary public university -- a place that's doing lifesaving research, and catalyzing economic growth, and graduating students who will change the world around them in ways big and small. (Applause.)

The truth is, the debate we've had for decades now between more government and less government, it doesn't really fit the times in which we live. We know that too much government can stifle competition and deprive us of choice and burden us with debt. But we've also clearly seen the dangers of too little government -- like when a lack of accountability on Wall Street nearly leads to the collapse of our entire economy. (Applause.)

So, class of 2010, what we should be asking is not whether we need "big government" or a "small government," but how we can create a smarter and better government. (Applause.) Because in an era of iPods and Tivo, where we have more choices than ever before -- even though I can't really work a lot of these things -- (laughter) -- but I have 23-year-olds who do it for me -- (laughter) -- government shouldn't try to dictate your lives. But it should give you the tools you need to succeed. Government shouldn't try to guarantee results, but it should guarantee a shot at opportunity for every American who's willing to work hard. (Applause.)

So, yes, we can and should debate the role of government in our lives. But remember, as you are asked to meet the challenges of our time, remember that the ability for us to adapt our government to the needs of the age has helped make our democracy work since its inception.

Now, the second way to keep our democracy healthy is to maintain a basic level of civility in our public debate. (Applause.) These arguments we're having over government and health care and war and taxes -- these are serious arguments. They should arouse people's passions, and it's important for everybody to join in the debate, with all the vigor that the maintenance of a free people requires.

But we can't expect to solve our problems if all we do is tear each other down. (Applause.) You can disagree with a certain policy without demonizing the person who espouses it. You can question somebody's views and their judgment without questioning their motives or their patriotism. (Applause.) Throwing around phrases like "socialists" and "Soviet-style takeover" and "fascist" and "right-wing nut" -- (laughter) -- that may grab headlines, but it also has the effect of comparing our government, our political opponents, to authoritarian, even murderous regimes.

Now, we've seen this kind of politics in the past. It's been practiced by both fringes of the ideological spectrum, by the left and the right, since our nation's birth. But it's starting to creep into the center of our discourse. And the problem with it is not the hurt feelings or the bruised egos of the public officials who are criticized. Remember, they signed up for it. Michelle always reminds me of that. (Laughter.) The problem is that this kind of vilification and over-the-top rhetoric closes the door to the possibility of compromise. It undermines democratic deliberation. It prevents learning -- since, after all, why should we listen to a "fascist," or a "socialist," or a "right-wing nut," or a left-wing nut"? (Laughter.)

It makes it nearly impossible for people who have legitimate but bridgeable differences to sit down at the same table and hash things out. It robs us of a rational and serious debate, the one we need to have about the very real and very big challenges facing this nation. It coarsens our culture, and at its worst, it can send signals to the most extreme elements of our society that perhaps violence is a justifiable response.

So what do we do? As I found out after a year in the White House, changing this type of politics is not easy. And part of what civility requires is that we recall the simple lesson most of us learned from our parents: Treat others as you would like to be treated, with courtesy and respect. (Applause.) But civility in this age also requires something more than just asking if we can't just all get along.

Today's 24/7 echo-chamber amplifies the most inflammatory soundbites louder and faster than ever before. And it's also, however, given us unprecedented choice. Whereas most Americans used to get their news from the same three networks over dinner, or a few influential papers on Sunday morning, we now have the option to get our information from any number of blogs or websites or cable news shows. And this can have both a good and bad development for democracy. For if we choose only to expose ourselves to opinions and viewpoints that are in line with our own, studies suggest that we become more polarized, more set in our ways. That will only reinforce and even deepen the political divides in this country.

But if we choose to actively seek out information that challenges our assumptions and our beliefs, perhaps we can begin to understand where the people who disagree with us are coming from.

Now, this requires us to agree on a certain set of facts to debate from. That's why we need a vibrant and thriving news business that is separate from opinion makers and talking heads. (Applause.) That's why we need an educated citizenry that values hard evidence and not just assertion. (Applause.) As Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously once said, "Everybody is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts." (Laughter.)

Still, if you're somebody who only reads the editorial page of The New York Times, try glancing at the page of The Wall Street Journal once in a while. If you're a fan of Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, try reading a few columns on the Huffington Post website. It may make your blood boil; your mind may not be changed. But the practice of listening to opposing views is essential for effective citizenship. (Applause.) It is essential for our democracy. (Applause.)

And so, too, is the practice of engaging in different experiences with different kinds of people. I look out at this class and I realize for four years at Michigan you have been exposed to diverse thinkers and scholars, professors and students. Don't narrow that broad intellectual exposure just because you're leaving here. Instead, seek to expand it. If you grew up in a big city, spend some time with somebody who grew up in a rural town. If you find yourself only hanging around with people of your own race or ethnicity or religion, include people in your circle who have different backgrounds and life experiences. You'll learn what it's like to walk in somebody else's shoes, and in the process, you will help to make this democracy work. (Applause.)

Which brings me to the last ingredient in a functioning democracy, one that's perhaps most basic -- and it's already been mentioned -- and that is participation.

Class of 2010, I understand that one effect of today's poisonous political climate is to push people away from participation in public life. If all you see when you turn on the TV is name-calling, if all you hear about is how special interest lobbying and partisanship prevented Washington from getting something done, you might think to yourself, "What's the point of getting involved?"

Here's the point. When we don't pay close attention to the decisions made by our leaders, when we fail to educate ourselves about the major issues of the day, when we choose not to make our voices and opinions heard, that's when democracy breaks down. That's when power is abused. That's when the most extreme voices in our society fill the void that we leave. That's when powerful interests and their lobbyists are most able to buy access and influence in the corridors of power -- because none of us are there to speak up and stop them.

Participation in public life doesn't mean that you all have to run for public office -- though we could certainly use some fresh faces in Washington. (Laughter and applause.) But it does mean that you should pay attention and contribute in any way that you can. Stay informed. Write letters, or make phone calls on behalf of an issue you care about. If electoral politics isn't your thing, continue the tradition so many of you started here at Michigan and find a way to serve your community and your country -- an act that will help you stay connected to your fellow citizens and improve the lives of those around you.

It was 50 years ago that a young candidate for president came here to Michigan and delivered a speech that inspired one of the most successful service projects in American history. And as John F. Kennedy described the ideals behind what would become the Peace Corps, he issued a challenge to the students who had assembled in Ann Arbor on that October night: "on your willingness to contribute part of your life to this country," he said, will depend the answer whether a free society can compete. I think it can," he said.

This democracy we have is a precious thing. For all the arguments and all the doubts and all the cynicism that's out there today, we should never forget that as Americans, we enjoy more freedoms and opportunities than citizens in any other nation on Earth. (Applause.) We are free to speak our mind and worship as we please. We are free to choose our leaders, and criticize them if they let us down. We have the chance to get an education, and work hard, and give our children a better life.

None of this came easy. None of this was preordained. The men and women who sat in your chairs 10 years ago and 50 years ago and 100 years ago -- they made America possible through their toil and their endurance and their imagination and their faith. Their success, and America's success, was never a given. And there is no guarantee that the graduates who will sit in these same seats 10 years from now, or 50 years from now, or 100 years from now, will enjoy the same freedoms and opportunities that you do. You, too, will have to strive. You, too, will have to push the boundaries of what seems possible. For the truth is, our nation's destiny has never been certain.

What is certain -- what has always been certain -- is the ability to shape that destiny. That is what makes us different. That is what sets us apart. That is what makes us Americans -- our ability at the end of the day to look past all of our differences and all of our disagreements and still forge a common future. That task is now in your hands, as is the answer to the question posed at this university half a century ago about whether a free society can still compete.

If you are willing, as past generations were willing, to contribute part of your life to the life of this country, then I, like President Kennedy, believe we can. Because I believe in you. (Applause.)

Congratulations on your graduation, 2010. May God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America. Thank you. (Applause.)