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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

May 12, 2008


Governor Philip Norman Bredesen

Phil Bredesen is the Governor of Tennessee. Allow me to re-state that: Phil Bredesen is the two-term Democratic Governor of Tennessee who swept all 95 counties in the Volunteer State during his re-election bid in 2006. In fact, Bredesen garnered more than twice the number of votes which his Republican opponent Jim Bryson had cast for him.

Bredesen came out and lambasted Obama for his "bitter voters" comment, although many think the statement was taken out of context.

"And it's not surprising then they (small town dwellers) get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
-Senator Barack Obama

It was s dumb comment for Obama to make, and a statement which gave those in the Democratic Party who speak out loud no choice but to disagree with. After all, being a Democrat in a Fox News world means never being able to make a mistake.

Even though Bredesen hasn't yet jumped on the Barack Obama bandwagon, which is getting more and more crowded every day, he should be a man on the Illinois Senator's short list for Vice President. A popular Southern Governor who managed to shake the "Liberal" tag and still get important legislation passed, such as bringing education to the forefront, Bredesen makes for a good possibility as Obama's Number Two.

Although Bredesen doesn't have the military experience which would be nice to see in a VP running mate, his upside is considerable. He was born in New Jersey in 1943, but spent his early years on a farm in New York, educated at Harvard and has real health care experience as the founder of HealthAmerica Corp, a company which he sold some twenty years ago. Although his experience spans business, health care and agriculture, it doesn't seem to end there.

Bredesen popularity was helped by his ability to lure both the National Football League and National Hockey League to Tennessee. Both the Tennessee Titans and Nashville Predators (NFL and NHL, respectively) have found homes during his years as Nashville Mayor (the Titans, whom he lured away from Houston where they played for years as the Oilers, also play in Nashville). And whether or not you consider the attraction of two major sport's leagues as accomplishments, the people of Nashville thought of it as a really big deal. (We here in new Jersey almost lost the NHL's New Jersey Devils to Tennessee in 1996.)

But Bredesen's greatest accomplishment appears to be what he has done, and is doing, in health care. he has done what every Republican claims to want to do with every single government program that benefits the poor - trim the fat. The TennCare program, which fed off of Medicaid, was out of control. Bredesen made it a priority to fix the system and apparently, has. The new Cover Tennessee program, while not comprehensive, is a good start in a state whose medical bills were out of control.

From www.covertn.gov
-CoverKids offers comprehensive health coverage to uninsured children in Tennessee, age 18 and under, and pregnant women.
-AccessTN provides a comprehensive health insurance plan for seriously ill adults who have been turned down by insurance companies.
-CoverTN partners the state, private employers and individuals to offer guaranteed, affordable basic health coverage for employees of Tennessee's small businesses. Complete the qualification form to find out if your business qualifies.
-CoverRx offers affordable medication to low income, uninsured Tennesseans.
-Cover Tennessee is not an entitlement program — it is voluntary health insurance coverage that is affordable to participants and affordable to the state.

Whereas I am a proponent of mandatory coverage, this program offered by Tennessee is a good place to begin.

There are many possible VP candidate which Senator Obama will have to choose from, and even though Governor Bredesen wasn't, and isn't, on board right now doesn't mean he should be excluded from the list.

-Noah Greenberg

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2008 Journal-Register Newspapers, Inc.

As I watched the funeral of Philadelphia police Sgt. Stephen Liczbinski on May 9th, that dreadful feeling of deja vu came over me. I’d been here before, at the funeral of a valiant Philadelphia cop killed in the line of duty.

And I knew I would be here again.

As much as Mayor Michael Nutter, who sat in the front row at the Basilica at the funeral and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey represent the “new” Philadelphia augured in with Nutter’s inauguration in January, the criminal element in the city is still the same: Violent, gun-toting, murderous, sociopathic career criminals with no regard for anyone else–not cops, not civilians, not children.

Funerals are sad affairs and Liczbinski’s was sadder than most. It wasn’t just that he leaves behind a wife, Michelle, and three children: Matt, Stephen and Amber. It’s that he represents yet another Philadelphian who lost his life to the seemingly unstoppable violence in our city.

By all accounts Liczbinski was one of those guys who would do anything for anyone. His final words as he lay bleeding to death from a severed artery on a street in Port Richmond was “Tell my wife and kids I love them. Tell my wife I’ll miss her.” He had been shot five times.

There were few dry eyes at the Basilica on Friday. Despite the pouring rain, phalanxes of police officers lined the Parkway outside, while others filled the pews inside behind Liczbinski’s wife, children, eight siblings and their families.

There *should* be tears throughout Philadelphia. Not just because Liczbinski was murdered three days shy of his 40th birthday, was still married to his high-school sweetheart, was a dedicated husband, father and 12-year veteran of the police force who had just gotten a promotion, but had still decided to stay in the dicey 24th district. There should be tears because of what Liczbinski stood for: he stood for decency. He was a Philadelphian who wanted to make this city better. Not just for his own wife and children or his own neighborhood, but for everyone.

He died trying.

When Liczbinski was killed–executed, said eye-witnesses–on May 3rd, he was one of several officers responding to a bank robbery. The three male suspects had dressed like Muslim women, in full Burkas and head scarves as they held up the Bank of America in Port Richmond.

Howard Cain, who allegedly shot Liczbinski with an SKS automatic rifle, was killed at the scene after firing at the officer with the shout to his accomplices “Bang him!” Levon Warner was arrested that day. Eric Floyd was arrested on May 8th, after a nationwide manhunt. All three men had long arrest records that made it difficult for ordinary Philadelphians to understand why they were on the streets to commit yet another crime. The Germantown Masjid Mosque has refused to conduct funeral services for Cain. A spokesperson for the mosque said that murder is contrary to Islamic law and that Cain’s actions were contrary to Islamic tradition.

The horror and sadness of Liczbinski’s murder have cast a pall over the city as flags fly at half mast and black drapes police stations.

While Liczbinski’s viewing was being held in the Northeast on Thursday night, national newscasts were talking about police in Philadelphia, but not about the murder. They were showing police videotaped in what appeared to all who viewed it as a Rodney King-style beating of three suspects in a triple shooting in Feltonville on May 5th, just days after the Liczbinski murder.

The video–shot by a Fox 29 news helicopter–is hard to excuse, even in the atmosphere created by yet another cop killing and when one of the suspects was still on the loose. For 11 minutes of footage the three suspects were kicked and punched by the police, even after all of them were subdued and on the ground. For many Philadelphians the scene was a reminder of the bad old days when police ruled the city with night sticks and Billy clubs.

I remember those days vividly. I was the star witness in the first federal police brutality trial in Philadelphia in 1977, after having witnessed a beating much like the one most of America has now seen either on the evening news or on YouTube. I reported the incident to the police and the FBI and as a consequence became the star witness in the case. For nine months I dealt with line ups, police surveillance and threats, FBI investigations, constant interviews and prepping by the U.S. attorney’s office. I wanted justice: for the victim of the beating (who was not a criminal and who had never been in trouble with the law), justice for the city, which at that time was known as the police brutality capital of the nation, and justice for all the cops who were doing their jobs without violence and retribution.

A lot can happen in 30 years. In the three decades since I was a college student on a witness stand testifying against police officers who had beaten a man unconscious on a Society Hill street corner, the police department is no longer run by mob rule as it was in the Rizzo era. In 2008, police beating suspects is an anomaly, not the norm. Which makes the May 5th incident that much more terrible.

The change in atmosphere in Philadelphia also makes it incumbent upon both Mayor Nutter and Chief Ramsey to review the circumstances of the May 5th incident as expeditiously as possible and punish the officers involved. There are no excuses. Not for the three gunman who were involved in the killing of Sgt. Liczbinski and not for the 13 police officers who have been re-assigned pending an investigation for the beating of the three suspects on May 5th.

There are those who insist that since the suspects in the May 5th incident are criminals, it doesn’t matter what the police did to them. But anyone who says that insults the memory of good cops like Liczbinski or Chuck Cassidy who was murdered on Oct. 31, 2007 or Gary Skerski who was murdered on May 8, 2006–all killed in the line of duty, all killed doing their job protecting Philadelphians, all leaving wives and kids behind.

In his emotional and deeply moving tribute to Liczbinski at his funeral, Ramsey said “As long as there is breath in our bodies, we will honor Sgt. Liczbinski.”

Part of honoring the fallen cop is making sure other cops aren’t behaving like criminals.

The day before the funeral, Ramsey and Nutter were both on national morning newscasts answering questions about the alleged beating by a sergeant and 12 other officers.

Three suspects in a North Philadelphia drug-related triple shooting--Dawayne Dyches, 24, Brian Hall, 23, and Pete Hopkins, 19–were the ones alleged to have been beaten by police. Rev. Al Sharpton has said the alleged beatings were racially motivated, because like the three suspects in the Liczbinski shooting, the suspects arrested in the North Philadelphia shooting are African American. The accused police officers are white. Ramsey has said repeatedly that he does not believe the incident was racially motivated but was, rather, a response to the outrage police officers were feeling about Liczbinski’s murder.

Nutter agreed, insisting the incident has “virtually nothing to do with race, it has to do with crime.”

And therein lies the real problem in both these events: Crime.

Crime is pandemic in Philadelphia. Guns are endemic to Philadelphia. The combination has earned the city the national moniker “Killadelphia.” We have a city filled with career criminals who have not just guns, but automatic weapons. Those weapons are being used on cops and civilians with equal lack of concern for the consequences.

While Eric Floyd was on the run–which he described to police as “being like a rat in a hole”–his mother and other relatives refused to tell police where he was. (He was hiding out with his girlfriend, who has also been arrested.)

After the three suspects alleged to have been beaten by the police were arrested, members of their families were quick to state that the three could not have been involved in the triple shooting. Two of the three suspects have criminal records, despite their youth.

Nutter and Ramsey are trying not to equivocate on the beatings, but Nutter said on ABC that “The video is the video. We have no audio. You don’t know what was going on at that moment when the officers approached the vehicle. There will be an investigation and we will move on.”

Nutter also said, in defense of all police officers, “This is very dangerous work. We had an officer assassinated on Saturday. Everyone has to understand that this entire city has been affected.”

What our city really has been affected by is crime and criminals. What compounds and complicates the endless cycle of violence is the atmosphere of complicity created in and by the families and communities of career criminals that allows these men to continue committing crime after crime.

The tragedy of Stephen Liczbinski’s murder is no more and no less than the tragedy of any Philadelphian killed by what some call “senseless” violence. But is it “senseless” or is it really cold-hearted, sociopathic crime perpetrated repetitively by the same career criminals and gang-bangers?

The three suspects in the Liczbinski murder had long arrest records. Each had received early parole for their most recent crimes. The alleged trigger man, Cain, had been paroled after serving a third of a nine to 18 year sentence.

Each of these men spent their entire adult lives and the majority of their teen years committing serious crimes against Philadelphians and Philadelphia, culminating in the murder of Liczbinski.

It is unclear whether the other three suspects–the ones allegedly beaten by police–are guilty of the triple shooting for which they were arrested. Dyches and Hopkins have criminal records; Hall does not. But Hall is hanging out with criminals, which suggests it will only be a matter of time until he, too, is involved in crimes other than the one he has been charged with.

We have choices as Philadelphians: We can support the kind of decency and lawfulness that guys like Stephen Liczbinski symbolize. Or we can pretend the criminals in our families and communities aren’t criminals and continue to look the other way as our city gets more and more dangerous and violent.

There is no acceptable level of criminality in Philadelphia, whether it’s shooting a cop or beating a suspect. Every Philadelphian needs to adopt a no-tolerance policy when it comes to crime. Until we do, there will be more tragedies, more murders and more lives lost, one way or another.

In response to "Gas Options", Dorothy Schwartz writes:

The only good thing about rising gas prices was your column today: Very funny.

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-Noah Greenberg