Thanks, Chris Hayes, for a wonderful week.
Chris Hayes Thursday tonight, on the Oscar Grant verdict:
"A tragic trial ended with a bewildering verdict today in Los Angeles, California.
"The case began on New Year's Day, 2009, when Oakland police received a report that there had been a fight on a Bay Area Rapid Transit train. When officers arrived, they detained a 22-year-old African American man named Oscar Grant and four of his friends. Then, transit police officer Johannes Mehserle arrived on the scene. As one officer kneeled on Oscar Grant's neck, Officer Mehserle shot Mr. Grant in the back. He shot Oscar Grant, an unarmed man who had committed no crime. A man who witnesses say was attempting to diffuse the situation. The trial of former Officer Mehserle was moved from Oakland to Los Angeles due to extensive media coverage in the Bay Area. Los Angeles prosecutors have not won a murder conviction in a police shooting since 1983.
"Officer Mehserle testified that he accidentally drew his gun, located on his right side, thinking it was his taser, which he kept on his left. Today, the Los Angeles County jury of four men and eight women could have found the former officer guilty of second-degree murder, which carries a sentence of 15 years to life. But instead, after deliberating for about six hours over two days, they found Johannes Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Oscar Grant. The conviction carries a sentence of two to four years.
"What happened to Oscar Grant, a man who had committed no crime that day on the BART was, as it happens, caught on tape. I want you to take a look. The officer stands up and fires a shot down, killing Oscar Grant.
"It's hard to know what to say after seeing that video and seeing the verdict it resulted in. You can note that there was not a single African American juror. That it was in Los Angeles instead of Oakland. That even if Officer Mehserle was reaching for his taser it was completely and totally uncalled for. Was he going to put a jolt in Grant as he lay prone, for no reason?
"You can say that there are a lot of people in Oakland and California and across the country tonight dealing once again with a criminal justice system which seems unremittingly punitive when people that look like they do are accused of horrible things, and impossibly forgiving when those same people are the victims. Justice is rooted in fairness. This verdict specifically, and the system of criminal justice and law enforcement we've created in this country, isn't fair.
"And it's not justice."
At a hearing on Capitol Hill yesterday, executives from BP, Transocean and Halliburton took turns explaining why their companies couldn't possibly be blamed for the Deepwater Horizon disaster. Guest host Chris Hayes calls it the Shaggy Defense, after the singer Shaggy's "It Wasn't Me."
While the oil execs blame someone, anyone else, oil from the collapsed rig continues pouring into the Gulf of Mexico and the fishing industries of the region are at a standstill.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) tells Hayes the reasoning behind his bill to raise the liability of big oil interests for the harm they do local economies from $75 million to $10 billion. Menendez:
[W]e need to do this because as they play the blame game, we want to make sure that people are made whole....[R]ight now, for example, B.P. has only a $75 million liability. That's beyond the cleanup, of course. They'll have to clean up.
But when commercial fishermen are harmed, when shrimp fishermen are harmed, when seafood processing plants are harmed, when those coastal communities lose tourism and on and on and on, their liability is $75 million. That's ridiculous. So, we want to raise to that to $10 billion.
And considering that B.P. made $5.6 billion in profit, not proceeds, profits, in the first three months of this year alone, I think they can afford to pay it.
Matt Yglesias chimes in on Sen. Joe Lieberman's proposal to strip citizenship from Americans who choose to affiliate with foreign terrorist groups. It's part of what the Nation's Chris Hayes calls a "zombie argument" against Miranda rights. And really, it just doesn't make sense.
[W]hile I suppose there's a case for saying that convicted terrorists should be stripped of their citizenship this would be part of the punishment that follows a conviction. You can't have a system where a cop comes up to me and says "you're a terrorist, therefore you have no citizenship rights, therefore I'm putting you under arrest and you don't get any due process and now it's off to jail with you--no rights, no warning." You would need to arrest the citizen for something, mirandize him, and only then initiate some citizenship-stripping process. It seems to me there's a case for doing this, but it's totally irrelevant to the trumped-up Miranda issue.
The Michael Steele saga just keeps on giving, and we're back on the case tonight. Just look at the last two weeks for the Republican National Committee chairman. Steele has faced headlines saying:
All of which led Rachel Maddow last night to argue that Steele can't hold on, that "he has to resign." Chris Hayes, Washington editor of the Nation, said that's not necessarily so:
"Here's the reason that I think he won't. One is that of the things I've learned in Washington - it's the Donald Rumsfeld rule, which is that, after Abu Ghraib, there's all this pressure and this mounting pressure. People start speculating if they're going to resign. If you just refuse to do it, eventually it goes away. I think Michael Steele understands that because I think he's enough of a loose cannon. "
Chris Hayes, Washington editor for the Nation, is sitting in for Rachel Maddow tonight. In addition to being generally amazing and decent, Hayes has tracked the life and death and life (and...) of the public option in health reform about as closely as anyone. We'll post his latest column below, by way of further introduction.
"CPR for the Public Option"/The Nation, 02.25.10
By Christopher Hayes
I'll admit that like almost everyone in this town, I thought the public option was dead. In late October when Joe Lieberman announced he'd filibuster any bill that included it, I figured it was time to conduct an autopsy (cause of death: blows administered in quick succession by an obstinate insurance industry and "centrist" senators), commence the mourning process and move on.
But now, improbably, the cadaver is twitching and kicking, threatening to push its way out of the casket. As of this writing, twenty-four Democratic senators have signed a letter calling on majority leader Harry Reid to include a public option in the package of changes the Senate will pass through reconciliation. The list of signers isn't just made up of the usual progressive suspects; the letter was written by Colorado's Michael Bennet and signed by New York's Kirsten Gillibrand--neither known for a commitment to the progressive base--and has attracted the support of conservative Democrat Tim Johnson and the extremely politically savvy Chuck Schumer.
This doesn't mean it's going to work. Jay Rockefeller, who had advocated strongly for the public option when it was being debated in the Senate, dismissed the possibility of passing the public option through reconciliation, and the White House quite ostentatiously omitted it from its proposed changes to the Senate bill. Their lack of support has to be read as opposition.
And yet, the public option is like the Terminator of progressive politics: every time the insurance industry and conservative Democrats think they've killed it, it just keeps coming.
Why does it persist? First, people like it. Despite relentless scaremongering about government-run healthcare, poll after poll shows that among independents and progressives, it's one of the most popular--if not the most popular--parts of the entire healthcare reform package. Second, it's good policy. It would mandate competition, reduce costs and cut the deficit by $104 billion over ten years.
But in the dysfunctional institution that is the US Congress, popular and good aren't enough to ensure a proposal's passage, or even its discussion. What's really kept the public option alive has been the remarkably spirited, disciplined and creative work of a variety of progressive groups. Take this latest iteration. It started with a few activists at the start-up Progressive Change Campaign Committee. PCCC has been around only a little more than a year, but it's already had a significant impact, thanks to its smart tactical approach and very small footprint. Started by former MoveOn organizers, the group has a staff of nine and, like MoveOn, raises all its money from members online.
In the wake of Scott Brown's victory in Massachusetts and the chaotic, shellshocked response from Democrats, PCCC saw a vacuum and moved to fill it. "People didn't know what to do," says PCCC's Stephanie Taylor, "so we showed them through polls, which is the language they understand." PCCC commissioned polls of Massachusetts Obama voters who had voted for Brown, as well as voters in ten frontline Democratic Congressional districts, and found widespread support for the public option in each. In concert with PCCC and its partners Democracy for America (DFA) and Credo Action, two freshman Democratic House members, Jared Polis and Chellie Pingree, wrote a letter calling on Reid to include the public option.
"If the Senate is going to pass something with a straight up-or-down vote," asks Taylor, "shouldn't it be the best bill possible? The one that's best politically and that's best policy-wise?"
On January 27, PCCC, DFA and Credo sent news of the letter to their e-mail lists and urged members to contact their representatives. They set up WhipCongress.com, where users could track who had signed on, and within eight days the letter had attracted 120 signatories in Congress. "There's no doubt we would have had far less than 120 signers without the netroots community," says Polis. "The phones were really ringing off the hook in members' offices." Not only did progressives use constituent contact to push members to support the public option; they also, Taylor notes, went out of their way to reward their "heroes," raising more than $26,000 each for Polis, Pingree and Alan Grayson, who appeared at an event delivering petitions to Reid.
They then turned their attention to the Senate. According to PCCC's Adam Green, Polis reached out to fellow Coloradan Michael Bennet, who had been a supporter of the public option. Bennet released the letter along with signatures from Jeff Merkley, Sherrod Brown and Gillibrand. Once again, the groups sent the letter out to their members and urged them to whip the Senate, and within a week of its release, it has gained twenty-four co-sponsors. Once again PCCC and DFA rewarded those who took the lead, raising $40,000 for Gillibrand and $68,000 for Bennet. Reid now says he'll include a public option in reconciliation if he can get the votes--and White House support. But the White House's silence has been deafening. That's at least part of the reason why, by the time you read this, it's quite possible the public option will be dead, once again.
But PCCC's success in reopening the debate highlights some of the emerging approaches in online organizing. Much of the recent online-based progressive infrastructure was built during the Bush years and developed effective strategies for opposition. It's been a steep learning curve this past year as these groups wrestle with reinventing those techniques to push legislation, especially when it comes to finding allies in Congress and then working with them. "I think this campaign was a really good example of the importance of a strong relationship between folks on the Hill and activists outside the Hill," says Taylor. "We put a lot of time and attention on those relationships." Pingree agrees: "Things always work best when you have an inside/outside strategy."
The incentives on Capitol Hill push toward risk aversion, minimalism and conservatism. The job of progressive activists, as PCCC understands it, is to alter those incentives and encourage those who go out on a limb. "Members want to be bold," says Taylor, "and they need to know they have
grassroots constituent support."
This column appeared first in the Nation.