Saturday, April 12, 2014

154.5 - Examples of the divide between us and them

Examples of the divide between us and them

Updated Okay, I said there is a basic divide. You want some examples of that divide? For now, I'll give you two:

For example number one, consider General Motors.

You know about the recall of 2.6 million older GM cars because of a faulty ignition switch that could jump from "run" to "off" or "accessory" while the car was moving - with loss of engine power, power steering, power brakes, and airbags. GM itself says it knows of 13 deaths and 32 crashes as a result.

The flaw was the result of a wrongly-designed part, a spring-type plunger that was too short for what it had to do and so could slip. The cost of the replacement part was just 57 cents. Now, some have leapt to their rhetorical feet to shout that the number is a distortion because it's only the cost of the part and so doesn't include the cost of redesigning the line to use the correct part. Which is true - so let's say it would have cost $1 million to redo the line while these cars were still in production. Hell, let's say it cost $10 million. Ten million dollars spread over 2.6 million cars is another $3.85 cents per car, for a total additional cost, including the new part, of $4.42 per car. Anybody think that'd be a deal-breaker on your purchase of a then-new car?

Here's where it gets worse.

GM knew about a problem with the ignition no later than February of 2002, when the supplier told the company that the part did not meet GM's specifications. In 2003, GM's own engineers were reporting the problems. The company "investigated," only to close the investigation in March 2005, having decided a fix would take too long and cost too much. That is, "none of the solutions represents an acceptable business case."

Even after learning of deaths from the failing switch, GM continued to stall, to "investigate" for years, and do, essentially, nothing - until the recall began in January. That was nearly 12 full years after GM learned of the problem and knew what caused it. Twelve years after they knew there was a problem, they are finally doing something about the risk of death they thrust onto unknowing customers. Because for 12 years, the "business case" was to do little and say less. Because for 12 years, the "business case" was more important than human lives.

And even now the corporation continues to stall, so much so that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the NHTSA, is fining the company the legal maximum of $7000 a day for its failure to turn over all the documents that the agency has called for in its investigation.

But still there are people defending GM, claiming it's "taking responsibility" and how it's "not fair" to expect the company to spend the money to repair the vehicles being recalled because of a potentially lethal problem that the company knew about all along. Those people defending GM and GM itself are on the other side of that divide.

GM is not on your side. And you should not be on theirs.

Here's another example:

Jairo Reyes was a 24-year employee of UPS, working at its facility in Queens, New York City. He was fired in February after the company accused him of clocking in early. Soon after, on February 26, 250 of his co-workers showed their support and solidarity by walking off the job for 90 minutes, after which they returned to work.

Union officials say the way Reyes was fired - without a hearing - was in violation of the collective bargaining agreement it has with UPS. Which it was: Under the agreement, an employee can be fired without a hearing only for two reasons: drinking on the job and "proven or admitted dishonesty." UPS claims that by clocking in early, Reyes was being dishonest - but as the union points out, that charge is neither proven nor admitted.1

No matter. UPS doesn't care. So UPS has responded by announcing plans to fire all 250 workers. Why, how, what for? The corporation claims the 90-minute stoppage was an “unauthorized walkout” and the delay "jeopardize[d] our ability to reliably serve our customers," although it offers no explanation of just how that is true.

As of April 8, 36 had been fired and the company says it will fire the rest as soon as replacement drivers are trained.

Which means that apparently the company is not concerned about jeopardizing its ability to reliably serve its customers through the use of an entire fleet of rookie drivers - not when the opportunity arises to dump 250 people who actually remember that the word "union" means "together as one" and making middle-class wages and replace them with a whole crew of others working at beginner pay and benefit levels, with the possibility of breaking the union hovering in the background.

UPS is not on your side. And you should not be on theirs.

Update: UPS has agreed to give all 250 workers their jobs back, but there are some serious costs, which I will discuss more on next week's show.


Update source:

1. To specific, Reyes admits to clocking in early but maintains it was done with the knowledge and permission of his supervisor.

154.4 - Congressional Progressive Caucus proposes a budget, media ignores it

Congressional Progressive Caucus proposes a budget, media ignores it

A couple of weeks ago, Rep. Paul Rantn', who is what passes for an intellectual in the right wing, got my uncoveted Clown Award, and not for the first time.

Well, he's back, because he recently went through his annual charade of presenting an ideological wish list of attacks on the poor and public employees, tax cuts for the rich, and increases for the War Department under the guise of a proposed federal budget.

It has been roundly and justifiably trashed as economic nonsense - even, hardly a bastion of radical left-wing activism, called it a "fantasy" - as economic nonsense and in fact as a political document to rouse the rabid faithful rather than an actual budget.

But here's the thing: It has been discussed. Debated. Denounced and even in some quarters defended - but discussed. Widely and even intensely.

Okay, a couple of weeks earlier, on March 12, so there is no news-cycle conflict here, on March 12 the Congressional Progressive Caucus released what it called its Better Off Budget. First things first, this is an actual budget with actual numbers and actual economic analysis, not a wish list of "don't worry, the Magic of the Market (pbui) will take care of everything" hand-waving of the sort that Ryan's "budget" spews out over everything.

This budget shows, again with actual numbers, that we can create jobs, improve infrastructure, protect and aid the poor, protect the environment, improve education, improve housing, expand healthcare, and a whole lot more without having to raise taxes on anyone making less than $1 million a year - all while reducing the deficit significantly over the next 10 years.

Sounds like something that should merit a headline or two. So how much press coverage did this get?

[long silence]

About that much.

Oh, there was some coverage in the expected places, such as The Nation, the New Republic,, and In These Times and some analysis from outfits such as Citizens for Tax Justice, the National Priorities Project, and the Economic Policy Institute - but after a fairly intensive search1, the closest I could come to any what could be considered mainstream coverage were opinion pieces in the LA Times, US News and World Report, two in the Huffington Post, and one in The Guardian, which is a newspaper in the United Kingdom, plus in terms of news coverage a couple of minutes for a single report on MSNBC the day before the budget was released and a report on al-Jazeera, which does cover a wide range of news and which most Americans can't see unless they know to search it out online.

Other than that, five opinion pieces and two news reports, there was pretty much complete silence. As far as I can determine, the New York Times never mentioned it2. Not a word. The Washington Post never mentioned it3. Not a word. The Wall Street Journal never mentioned it4. Not a word. The network news never mentioned it. Fox News never mentioned it5. CNN never mentioned it6. In fact, as far as I can tell, all of cable news - other than that those single mentions on MSNBC7 and al-Jazeera8 - never mentioned it. Not once. Not a word.

So while I'm sure you're all aware that Paul Rantin' released his "budget," I would not be the least surprised to hear that until now you didn't even know the Progressive Caucus budget even existed.

The fact is, the media - the supposedly oh-so "liberal" media - is trapped, has trapped itself, in way of thinking that what comes from the right by definition deserves serious attention even if it's to knock it down while what comes from the left by definition deserves to be ignored.

The result is the right wing repeatedly is allowed to set the terms of debate such that that Barack Obama is taken to represent to extreme left edge of permissible debate and that's only because he's president so the media can't ignore him, and the answer to every policy question is for the left (not the right, just the left) to "move to the center," the center being defined as midway between the left and the right. So if the left does "move to the center," that center will still be defined as midway between left and right, so the left get demands to "move to the center," which means moving to the right, after which the "center" will still be to their right, and so on and so on.

And one of the reasons they get away with this is that we let them. We, us, the American left, the real left, we let them. And I don't only mean that we let the media get away with it - although part of the reason the media behaves the way it does is that a good long time ago the right wing learned to work the refs, to screech and scream about anything and everything they didn't like until the media just goes along to avoid the hassle - but I don't only mean the media, I mean "our" (and I use that word very cautiously here) political leaders.

Or should I say leader. No matter how many promises he has broken, no matter how many times he has disappointed or even angered his supporters, no matter how much he increases spying, no matter how many drone strikes he authorizes, no matter how many new military actions he authorizes in Africa, no matter how many undocumented workers he deports - more than any previous president - no matter how many whistleblowers he prosecutes - more than all previous presidents combined - no matter how many times he pushes a corporate agenda or coddles corporate crooks, no matter how many times he says he wants to cut Social Security and Medicare as part of some mythical "grand bargain," no matter how many fill in your own blank, no matter what he does or doesn't do, still there are people going around with bumper stickers and buttons saying some version of "Don't worry, Mr. Prez, I got your back."

Hey, for all of you who have forgotten: We're not supposed to have his back, he's supposed to have ours. And the fact is, in all too many ways, he doesn't.

It's not a matter of agreeing or disagreeing about particular policies. It's not a matter of arguing over whether some program goes a little too far or not quite far enough. It a matter of the fact that there is a basic, an essential, divide in this country, one notably expressed in digest form if you will by the Occupy movement: the 1% versus the 99%. It's not a matter of isolated issues. It's a matter of being aware of that divide and of knowing which side of that divide you are on and of being willing to stand there, with all that entails - something too many of us, ducking and covering from the slings and arrows of the right wing, are unwilling to do.


1. searching via,, and
2. a search at on "Better Off Budget" returned no relevant results
3. a search at on "Better Off Budget" for the period 3/11-3/14 returned no relevant results
4. a search at on "Better Off Budget" for the period 3/11-3/14 returned no relevant results
5. a search at on "budget" for the period 3/12-14 returned no relevant results
6. a search at on "Better Off Budget" returned no relevant results
7. a search at returned no additional relevant results
8. a search at returned no additional relevant results

154.3 - Clown Award: District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer

Clown Award: District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer

Now it's time for our other regular feature, the Clown Award, given as always for meritorious stupidity.

This week, the big red nose goes to US District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer.

A suit had been filed in federal district court against Obama administration officials over the killings of three US citizens in Yemen in a drone strike in 2011.

The White House, not surprisingly, argued that this is a political matter, a policy question, and so is best left to Congress and the executive branch.

Judge Collyer said the case raises serious constitutional questions and is not easy to answer. But despite that, she granted the Obama administration's motion to dismiss the suit.

Now, it can be, and certainly has been, argued that addressing purely political questions usually involves the just the legislative and executive branches of the federal government, and the courts generally stay out of such questions unless there is some kind of impasse over conflicting authorities or a dispute over the proper interpretation of a law.

However, the fact is that under our system as it has developed, dealing with constitutional questions is a basic function of the federal judiciary.

Despite that, Collyer's attitude is that yes, this case raises serious constitutional questions but ya know what? The heck with it. The White House doesn't want to talk about it, so screw the Constitution, screw the court system, screw my responsibilities.

District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer - who, by the way, is also on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and isn't it good to know we have such aggressive protectors of our Constitutional rights on that court - Rosemary Collyer, you are a clown.


154.2 - Domestic spying: How they get away with it

Domestic spying: How they get away with it

One of the persistent questions about the government's domestic spying is, in some form, how do they do it; that is, how do they get away with it, how, in the face of the public's instinctive reaction against such intrusions into our privacy, can they still manage to keep on with it, scandal after scandal, revelation after revelation.

Well, let me give you some idea how.

First, a reminder of a definition: Phone metadata is all the information about a phone call except the actual content. It's what number called what number, from where to where, when, and for how long. Every technical detail of the call.

Okay. In January, months and months after Edward Snowden revealed documents proving that the US government was sucking up the metadata on tens of millions of Americans' phone calls without either warrant or reason to suspect criminal activity, Barack Obama, the Amazing Mr. O, announced that the government would "limit" collection of such phone metadata.

On March 27, the plan to do that finally appeared, one that claimed the program was coming to an end.

Now, remember, for all those months and months, we were repeatedly, loudly, insistently told that collecting this data is vital to national security. That the government had to do this, had to be allowed to do it, it couldn't not do it, because that would be putting the nation at risk, we would face more 9/11s, the terrorists would run free, and what's more, Edward Snowden is either a traitor or a Russian agent for telling us about it. Now, after all those months and months, it became "Aahh, we really didn't need to do this after all."

Under the White House proposal, which has to be approved by Congress, the records of metadata would not be held by the government but by the phone companies, with the government able to query them only with court approval.

The program would also be modified so that the government can only query within two “hops” of a selection term, that is, a particular phone number, rather than three as now.

Okay, there are already a number of red flags here. First, the records are still there, still being collected. The only difference is who holds them. And the government can still demand to see them. I'm not sure why that's supposed to make us feel better.

Second, the difference between warrantless search and search via a court-issued warrant is in this case little more than semantics if it's even that. Such warrants would be issued by the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISC, created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, in 1978. Another reminder: FISA was passed in response to revelations of earlier violations of privacy and rights by the spooks. This is by no means the first time we have dealt with this kind of thing.

So now consider the record of the FISC, In the period 1979-2012, that court was presented by the feds with 33,949 applications for warrants. Of those, only 504, a mere 1.5%, were even modified. Only 11, or 0.03%, were rejected and four of those were later modified and accepted. The idea that this court acts as a guarantor of our rights, a protector of our privacy, is ludicrous.

Another thing is the "hops." These are the degrees of separation from the original number. Under the plan, NSA can query the metadata of an individual if the court approves - and then the metadata of all of that person’s contacts, and then in turn the metadata of all of theirs. You know about the idea of "six degrees of separation," the idea that any person can be connected to any other person in no more than six hops. A 2011 study found that when you include online social media, the average number of degrees of separation between any two people in the world is not six, but roughly 4.74.

The point is, limiting the search to two hops means nothing, since by then you are already hitting the limits of actually useful information. Go beyond and you start to drown in data. You're no longer looking for a needle in a haystack, you have trouble even finding the right haystack.

So put bluntly, these so-called changes mean essentially nothing and despite the claim the program is "ending" it's really being continued, just in a slightly-different form. This is long-standing practice among the spooks and their enablers: J. Edgar Hoover used to do it all the time. Every time he was found having the FBI do something it shouldn't and was told to stop and to destroy the relevant files, we would just rename the program, refile the files, and declare to all and sundry that the old program no longer existed.

So at least give the White House credit for this: They learned from the best.

But that's not all. Because, as I said, this is how they do it.

An examination just last week of the White House proposal by Mark Hosenball and Alina Selyukh of Reuters found that the "more limited" program may well require phone companies to collect and maintain even more information about our phone calls than they already do, and do it for the specific purpose of having those records available to government spies.

In fact, the telcoms may now be collecting only 25-33 percent of the total US metadata they are authorized to collect. One reason is the popularity of flat-rate programs: Because the companies don't need to keep track of your calls so they know which are toll calls for which you would be charged, they don't collect the metadata on all calls because they don't need it.

But under the White House’s plan, telecoms “would be compelled by court order to provide technical assistance to ensure that the records can be queried and that results are transmitted to the government in a usable format and in a timely manner.” In other words, the spooks would have to be able to get the metadata they want, which means the phone companies have to have it in order for them to get it.

In other words, this "reform" of the government's spying on us not only does not in any effective way limit the government's ability to spy on us, it would enable them to spy on even more of us - while at the same time claiming the program is being put to an end.

And that, my friends, is how they do it.


154.1 - Outrage of the Week: Climate deniers suppress paper linking them to conspiracy nuts

Outrage of the Week: Climate deniers suppress paper linking them to conspiracy nuts

We're going to start off this week by plunging right into one of our regular features, the Outrage of the Week.

This involves something from about two weeks old but I'll include it here because I consider it a follow-up to my discussion last week of global warming and the latest report from the IPCC.

It starts with a 2012 research paper by Stephan Lewandowsky of the School of Psychology of the University of Western Australia and others. The paper showed a correlation between being a nanny-nanny naysayer on global warming and being a believer in a variety of conspiracy theories. That is, there is a connection between believing in conspiracies and refusing to accept the reality of climate change. As the title of the paper says, "NASA Faked the Moon Landing - Therefore, (Climate) Science Is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science."

The paper was published in the journal "Psychological Science." It produced a tsunami of nasty comments from the nanny-nanny naysayers - who didn't like it being pointed out how similar to, and connected with, conspiracy nuts they are. This even though their arguments against the reality of climate change are almost invariably based on some version of a conspiracy among climate scientists who apparently are all left-wing radicals out to destroy our way of life.

In the blogosphere, the primary theory that emerged was that most of the people who took the survey the formed the basis of the study were people who accept the science - but, who, instead of answering honestly, somehow all decided to pretend to be climate kooks, giving the craziest possible answers so as to make the contrarians look like the whack jobs which they are.

That is, a paper about a tendency among this group to believe in conspiracy theories was met by, yes, a conspiracy theory.

The reactions were so many and so intense that they provided the basis for another paper by Lewandowsky, this one titled "Recursive fury: Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation."

That paper was published in the journal "Frontiers in Psychology" in 2013.

Here's where the outrage comes in.

"Frontiers in Psychology" has formally retracted the paper after what the journal itself called "a small number of complaints" from the naysayers claiming the paper was defamatory.

The study was removed from the journal’s website last year while its editors evaluated the naysayers’ claims. And now they have retracted it, with a notice that says in effect that while they could find no academic or ethical problems with the study, they were not willing to risk a lawsuit.

Now, thanks to the University of Western Australia, the paper can still be found online, at least for now; if you want to see it, there is link below.

But the idea that "a small number of complaints" from people who dislike how they are described in a scientific paper can force that paper to be withdrawn through threats of lawsuits and that these threats are being wielded to hide the nature of much of the opposition to climate change, threats which thus serve only to protect the interests of the powerful, is nothing short of an outrage. It's the Outrage of the Week.


Link to Lewandowsky's second paper:

Left Side of the Aisle #154

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of April 10-16, 2014

This week:

Outrage of the Week: Climate deniers suppress paper linking them to conspiracy nuts

Link to Lewandowsky's second paper:

Domestic spying: How they get away with it

Clown Award: District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer

Congressional Progressive Caucus proposes a budget, media ignores it,0,2127070.story#axzz2xgALCyAS

Examples of the divide between us and them

Saturday, April 05, 2014

153.5 - Clown Award: Sen. James Inhofe

Clown Award: Sen. James Inhofe

That discussion about climate change slides very neatly and comfortably into our other regular feature, the Clown Award, given as always for meritorious stupidity. And oh boy do we have teh stupid this week.

The big red nose this week goes to a previous winner, Sen. James Mountain Inhofe - and yes, Mountain really is his middle name, which is appropriate because he clearly has rocks in his head.

A couple of weeks ago, Senate Democrats staged an all-night Senate session to discuss the importance of climate change. More than 20 Democrats participated, including members of the leadership.

Well, in response, Senator RocksInHisHead, who has previously insisted that climate change is a "hoax" - apparently there is some secret cabal involving thousands of scientists and scores of both governmental and independent scientific groups from around the world along with dozens of governments - the Senator said on the Senate floor that, quoting,
Tonight for all night long, you can say ‘[climate change] is real, it’s real, it’s real,’ but people have heard that before. We’ve gone through some cold spells that are shocking and setting records.
That's right: Even leaving aside the fact that a prediction of global warming is for more severe weather both hot and cold, Inhofe is actually saying, as a serious argument, that climate change can't be real because it gets cold in the winter.

In some cases, it can be hard to figure out why a nanny-nanny naysayer thinks the way they do. But in the case of Senator James Inhofe, it's easy: It's because he's a clown.


153.4 - Global warming: new IPCC reports describes dangers

Global warming: new IPCC reports describes dangers

Okay. The IPCC has released the second of three reports for this latest round of its periodic reports on the climate and global warming. The IPCC is the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an international, scientific and political attempt to address and understand climate change and how to respond to it. Each report is based on thousands of peer-reviewed research papers reviewed and summarized by hundreds of lead authors from 70 countries whose work is critiqued and refined before release.

The first report in the current series, issued last September, was about the level of scientific certainties on the topic, and confirmed what anyone at all familiar with the issue already knew: There is overwhelming agreement among scientists in relevant disciplines that the climate is changing, the world is warming, and human activities are the cause. And we could be no more than 25 years from a tipping point, beyond which we could no longer head off the most serious effects of global warming, effects which could become self-reinforcing.

So yes, despite what the nanny-nanny naysayers try to tell you, the science is settled. Period. There are questions about just how fast the temperatures will rise, just how high they will rise, and precisely what and how bad the effects of a given increase will be, but the basic facts, the facts that the world is getting hotter, we are to blame, and that is a bad thing which will become a very bad thing if we don't act fast and hard, are not in dispute and have not been for some time.

The data just does not allow for any other conclusion. And it's still happening. The warming is still going on.

NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said 2013, worldwide, was the fourth warmest year on record, with those records going back about 135 years. NASA said it was the seventh warmest; the difference, which amounts to a fraction of a degree, arises from differences in how the two agencies extrapolate data from weather stations to cover areas where there are no weather stations and so there is no data. The World Meterological Organization, combining NASA and NOAA data with that from the Climate Research Unit in the UK, says 2013 was the sixth warmest on record, tied with 2007.

Which means 2013 adds to the string of record warm years seen in this century: nine of the 10 warmest and 13 of the 14 warmest years on record have been in the 21st century - that is, every year from 2001 through 2013 is one of the 14 warmest on record.

What's more, the year also adds to the string of decades that have each been warmer than the last. To see climate patterns, you really can't look at individual years. You have to look at at least decades. Ideally, you should look at hunks of time of 30 years or so, but at least decades

With that in mind, notice the graph to the right. I find it amazing: With the exception of the 1940s, which were unusually warm, every decade since the 19-teens has been warmer than the decade before it. The 1980s clearly surpassed all previous decades to set a record. A record which was broken by the 1990s. Which was broken by the 2000s. Look at that graph: Do you see a trend?

Let me express what we've seen then past couple of decades another way: The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces, that is, for the entire surface of the Earth, for February 2014 was the 348th consecutive month - that's a full 29 years - with a global temperature above the 20th century average for that month. For 29 years, every January has been warmer than the average January for the 20th century. For 29 years, every February has been warmer than the average February. And so on.

So how much hotter will things get? That depends on what we do from here on out. It could be as little as about 2 degrees Celsius to even 6 degrees Celsius, or about 3.6 to nearly 11 degrees Fahrenheit. And what will that do? What will that cause? That's what the new report is about.

Here's the first thing to know; if you get just one takeaway from this report, make it this: The report tells us, confirms, that climate change is already, today, affecting every continent and every ocean. The effects, the first impacts of climate change, are not coming, they are not in the future, they are here. Now. Today. On every continent and every ocean.

In the words of IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri, "Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change."

Ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, glaciers in West Antarctica may be nearing total collapse, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct.

Some parts of the world could soon be at a tipping point; for others, it's already too late: Warm water coral reef and Arctic ecosystems both are already experiencing irreversible changes.

The oceans are rising at a pace that threatens coastal communities as global average sea level reached a new high in March of last year, much of the rise being caused by the expansion of ocean waters. The oceans absorb most of the excess heat of the Earth and as the water warms, it expands, so the water level rises. What's even more worrisome is that not only are the oceans rising, but for the last 10 years or so, the rate of rise has been increasing.

Water supplies are under stress and rising temperatures are already depressing crop yields, including those of corn and wheat. Crop yields could decline by 2% a decade over the rest of the century as the result of heat, drought, flooding, and changing rainfall patterns, leading to widespread hunger and economic disruption, including the potential for millions of environmental refugees and even resource wars.

Which means, of course to the point where it shouldn't be necessary to say it, the poorest people in the world, who have had virtually nothing to do with causing global warming, will the first and the hardest hit. The poor of Asia's coastal cities will be among the hardest hit.

You want to be angry as well as frustrated and frightened? The body of the report cites a World Bank estimate that poor countries could need as much as $100 billion a year to try to offset the effects of climate change. At present they are getting, at most, a few billion dollars a year in such aid from rich countries. That $100 billion figure was removed from a 48-page executive summary for policymakers, the summary that will be read by the world’s top political leaders. It was cut because those rich nations complained that the figure was too much, it was "unrealistic."

For comparison, that $100 billion is roughly 1/7 of our current annual military spending. Just to be sure that's clear, by "our" I don't mean the world, I mean the US.

In the light of that, what do you think are the real odds that we will actually do anything about global warming, about climate change, about the lives of our children and grandchildren? What are the chances when the response of some bozos in the House is to push a bill that would essentially require NOAA to stop researching climate change?

It's true that preventing global warming, heading off the severe damage that looms before us, will require something of a change in our lifestyles. It's just a fact. But I've said before that you should think about the way you lives in say the 1980s, consider the level of technology and creature comforts available to you in you daily life and ask yourself if that life was so bad that you would be willing to sacrifice a world to avoid living that way again.

It's doesn't seem like that big a sacrifice for the gain. But I still wonder if we are - no, that's not true, it's that I think we're not - up for it.


153.3 - Outrage of the Week: Obama whitewashes Iraq War

Outrage of the Week: Obama whitewashes Iraq War

In a speech in Brussels on March 26, our president, the Amazing Mr. O, rejected any comparison between Russia's seizure of Crimea and the US's invasion of Iraq. Specifically, he said this:
Even in Iraq, America sought to work within the international system. We did not claim or annex Iraq’s territory, nor did we grab its resources for our own gain. Instead, we ended our war and left Iraq to its people and a fully sovereign Iraqi state could make decisions about its own future.
Has he utterly taken leave of his senses? Or is he just counting on Americans' notoriously short memories and our cultural eagerness pat ourselves on the back with notions of how noble and self-sacrificing we are? There can be no other reason for him to make a statement that far removed from reality.

Work within the international system? We illegally invaded another country which had done us no harm and was no threat to us and we justified it not through truth or fact but through propaganda about "ties to al-Qaeda" which had never been, dark and deceitful hints about an Iraqi connection to 9/11 which wasn't there, and outright lies about "weapons of mass destruction" which did not exist. And we knew it all along. We - our government and I use the word "our" advisedly - knew it all along, knew it was propaganda, deceit, and lies.

We outright refused to seek a Security Council resolution to actually authorize force in Iraq because we knew we'd lose. We did it even though the government of our close ally and presidential lap dog UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, told the Shrub team the war would be illegal without one. We cheated, we deceived, we lied through our governmental teeth, as we first ignored and then violated international law to justify a war which was never about terrorism or 9/11 or WMDs but about petty revenge backed by economic greed driven by power hunger. Work within the international system? Is he insane?

What we did do was release what we called "shock and awe." We attacked, invaded, bombed, destroyed, and killed. Thousands, tens of thousands, scores of thousands killed. The Iraq Body Count, using a very conservative set of standards and looking only at civilian, that is, noncombatant, deaths, says it can confirm upwards of 136,000 Iraqi civilians killed by direct war-related violence. Other surveys, using standard techniques for doing surveys in war zones and looking for both combatant and non-combatant deaths from all causes, including such as lack of medicine or drinkable water due to the war, have death figures reaching into the millions.

We unleashed simmering ethnic divisions and hatreds - divisions clearly reflected in this map of voting patters in the 2010 elections in Iraq - divisions and hatreds that drove the country into a civil war from which it has yet to fully recover.

So yeah, Russia has illegally annexed part of another country, which I have previously condemned - but no, there really isn't a comparison between that and our war in Iraq.

Speaking of our war in Iraq, one very revealing thing Amazing Mr O said in that quote was "we ended our war." Not "the" war, "our" war. Which, first, acknowledges it was indeed "our" war - but more than that, there are two things here.

First, we did not end "our" war, the Iraqis did. The Iraqi government forced George Bush to accept a deal under which all US forces would be out of Iraq by the end of December 31, 2011. The alternative was being told to leave immediately. Our Nobel Peace Prize Prez came into office with that deal already in place. His administration pressured the Iraqis to let the deadline slip, to allow the US to continue to have tens of thousands of US troops in Iraq for "training" and "antiterrorism missions." But part of the deal was that US forces would be immune from prosecution under Iraqi law. That was a deal-breaker for the Iraqis, so the pressure failed, so Obama had to stick with the deadline. We didn't end our war, we got kicked out.

But there's the other thing: "our war." Not "the" war, "our" war. The war, the civil war, is not over for the Iraqis. The level of violence has ebbed and flowed but it has never stopped - and recently it has flowed. 2013 was the bloodiest year in Iraq in at least 6 years and 2014 is shaping up to be just as bad if not worse.

Just in the past couple of days, a series of attacks, including shootings, bombings, and a suicide bombing killed 22 people in Iraq: five in Tikrit, eight in Mosul, five in Ramadi, and four in a suburb of Baghdad. At least 27 more were injured.

Which brings us to "leaving Iraq to its people." The government of Iraq is technically a democracy - but in reality it is dominated by Shi'ites and much of the most recent violence can be traced to battles between government forces and Sunni rebels based on Anbar province in the east of Iraq.

The central government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and his Shi'ite coalition stands accused of oppression and favoritism. During his term, since 2006, thousands of people have been arrested, imprisoned, and tortured by the regime. Protesters have been shot at and killed and resistance is met with shelling that kills civilians as well as insurgents; indeed, since the US left, things have gotten worse and now there are nightly shellings and mortar attacks by the Iraqi army in addition to the terrorism that never stopped.

Political opponents have been persecuted; in fact a spark for the most recent upsurge in violence was the arrest of a leading Sunni politician on what appear to be bogus charges of aiding terrorism. That violence has lead to charges out of Ramadi and Fallujah that government forces have detained, tortured, and even raped citizens, while NGO workers accuse the government of war crimes, including preventing medical supplies from entering the cities.

Is the government of Iraq in a battle? Yes. It it a democracy in anything more than form? No.

Even looking beyond the violence, the government of Iraq looks more like a regime of reactionary repression than a democracy. Moves are being undertaken at various levels of government and in various areas of the country to undo the progress Iraqi women have made on protecting and expanding their rights.

For example, some government departments are requiring female employees to be veiled. Local governments in the provinces of Wasit and Muthanna want to force women who are members of the local authorities to be accompanied by their husbands, fathers, or brothers during their work and when they leave their houses.

Most notoriously, a draft law now before Iraq's parliament would legalize the marriage of girls as young as nine, legalize marital rape, and restrict women's rights in matters of parenting, divorce, and inheritance. It would also give men a strict guardianship role over their wives and automatic custody of the children in a divorce case if they are more than two years old.

This is not some far-out, never-to-see-the-light-of-day proposal of the sort we often see in the US, this was introduced by the Minister of Justice and was approved by Iraq's council of ministers more than two weeks ago.

That's the Iraq we have grandly, according to our Nobel Peace Prize prez, "left to its people." The country we so nobly freed to be a "sovereign state" as if it wasn't one before. The country we treated, it is supposed to appear, so gently and kindly: One marked by violence, death, repression, and turning back the clock on women's rights. And so no, despite everything, it's not like Crimea.

If we are in fact, as the Amazing Mr. O has said, "the people we have been waiting for," I'd rather wait for Godot.

And as for you, Mr. Obama, you are clearly in the correct right party, because you're acting like a jackass. And for attempting to whitewash a despicable chapter in our nation's history, you are the Outrage of the Week.


153.2 - Good News: World Court blocks Japanese "scientific" whaling

Good News: World Court blocks Japanese "scientific" whaling

Another bit of good news comes from another court: the World Court in the Hague.

In 1986, Japan signed off on an international agreement establishing a moratorium on whaling. However, every year Japan has continued to hunt hundreds minke whales in the Southern Ocean, which is the ocean that surrounds Antarctica, along with smaller numbers of fin and humpback whales. As justification, Japan cited a 1946 treaty that permits killing whales for the purpose of scientific research.

The problem was that Japan would catch and kill the whales for "studies" that often consisted of nothing more than counting the number of fish in the whales' stomachs - and then, well, you've got all these whales, you don't want to just throw them away, you want to do something with them, so hey, I've got a great idea, let's sell the meat on the commercial market.

It was clear to environmentalists and others for decades that the claims about "research" were just an excuse to evade the restrictions on commercial whaling.

Now, happily, the World Court has agreed. In a 12-4 ruling, the court ordered Japan to stop whaling, declaring that the program was not scientific.

Minke whale
The decision is a major victory for Australia, which brought the suit, and for environmental groups that oppose whaling on ethical grounds. However, it will not mean the end of whaling. First, Japan has another whaling program that was not part of the suit and two other nations - Iceland and Norway - openly hunt whales for commercial purposes, so they are not affected by the ruling either.

Second, the ruling only suspends the program until Japan can come up with a "better designed" program of "research" that does not involve killing so many whales - assuming, of course, that it can.

Despite those limitations, this is still a victory for the whales. Meanwhile, the demand for whale meat is declining even among the nations that still do whaling, enough that, for example, Norwegian whalers rarely reach the limit for their catch because the demand for the meat just isn't big enough.

So it's a step. A small step, but still a step, a step that says that maybe we actually can put an end to whaling.


153.1 - Good News: new poll says Virginia voters approve same-sex marriage

Good News:  new poll says Virginia voters approve same-sex marriage

Virginia is one of the states where a federal district court has struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage, a ruling that, as in other recent cases, is on hold until the Court of Appeals, in this case the one for the Fourth Circuit, rules on the matter. Oral arguments before that court are scheduled for May.

So here's hoping that those judges are made aware of the findings of a new poll by Quinnipiac University, which finds that a right to marriage equality is now supported by 50% of Virginia voters, with only 42% opposed.

Women support it by a margin of 54-38, while men split with 46 percent in favor and 48 against, a gap within the poll's margin of error. But what's particularly striking is that those aged 18 to 29 endorse same-sex marriage by a margin of 69-25.

Justice is coming.


Left Side of the Aisle #153

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of April 3-9, 2014

This week:

Good News:  new poll says Virginia voters approve same-sex marriage

Good News: World Court blocks Japanese "scientific" whaling

Outrage of the Week: Obama whitewashes Iraq War

Global warming: new IPCC reports describes dangers,0,1584240.story

Clown Award: Sen. James Inhofe

Friday, March 28, 2014

152.7 - And Another Thing: ripples in spacetime

And Another Thing: ripples in spacetime

So we'll finish up this week with an edition of And Another Thing. This is where we talk about stuff that's not political; usually it's some cool science stuff.

I was going to do this last week but I didn't have enough time so I'm doing it now even though the news is a couple of weeks old because it is just too cool to let pass.

You've undoubtedly heard about this big breakthrough, about seeing "the beginning of time." You may have been unclear as to what it means. I read several articles and some were written by scientists, very familiar with the territory, who because they were so familiar with it wrote way too far over the heads of most people. Other articles seemed - well, I'm sure you've had the experience of reading something someone wrote and you can just tell that while they can say the words they don't have a real understanding of the topic. So the coverage was either too complex or too basic.

I hope to come somewhere in between.

There is a scientific theory about how the universe began. Understand, a scientific theory is not a guess, it's not an opinion, it's not just someone's idea, it's something that explains different phenomena and has been confirmed by observation, including observations that it predicted in advance would be made.

This theory about how the universe began became known as the Big Bang.

There were problems with the original Big Bang theory, things it struggled to explain. What those issues were isn't relevant here, what's important is that they were there.

In 1979, an astrophysicist named Alan Guth proposed the Inflationary Universe model of the Big Bang, which served to address those problems. The original idea of the Big Bang was that the universe at one point was incredibly dense and hot and expanded outward from there. The Inflationary model proposed that in the first incredibly short fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a second of the universe, it expanded incredibly rapidly, then slowed down to a more moderate rate of expansion such as we see now.

The Big Bang theory got its biggest confirmation in the early 1990 by the COBE satellite, COBE standing for COsmic Background Explorer, and an image produced from the data gathered is the one you see here.

The image is of space, not Earth. And the variations in color are a graphic representation of tiny variations in the temperature, in the energy, that is coming at us from all directions, that energy being the cosmic microwave background. You could, if you wanted, liken it to a constant hiss everywhere in the universe (except, of course, it doesn't actually make a noise).

The point here is that this background "noise" filling the universe was a precise prediction of the Big Bang theory, down to the level of the energy detected. Which means the Big Bang fulfilled one of the base requirements of a valid theory: It predicted the results of future observations.

The COBE image was later supplanted by a more detailed image from data obtained by the Wilkerson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, or WMAP.

Here, however, is where an issue arises. These images graphically display tiny fluctuations in cosmic microwave background from a point in time about 380,000 years after the Big Bang. They are - again, you could think of it this way - kind of like the afterglow of the Big Bang.

We cannot see further back in time. This is not a technical constraint; if the theories are right, it's a physical constraint.

So when they say that scientists have seen "the beginning of time," that's not technically accurate.

But what we can do is consider our theories about the Big Bang, consider what is predicted, and examine the data we have about the cosmic microwave background, that is, to take what we know and what we predict in order to make further observations looking for evidence about the beginning of time, to look for the telltale signs of those first instants.

That's what the scientists involved did. And the image shows what they found.

Doesn't look like much does it? No, it doesn't. But those lines indicate or more accurately represent changes in light.

See, one of common predictions of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity is that gravity bends light. This has been proved multiple times; in fact, it's so well-established that astronomers use it as a tool. According to theory, the Big Bang should have produced gravitational waves that would polarize light, gravitational waves rippling through the universe like ripples on a pond.

That's what those lines represent: the polarization of light under the influence of gravity.

So this is actually what they found: They found ripples in spacetime, ripples imposed on the infant universe by gravitational waves.

Ripples in spacetime dating from roughly a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang.

Ripples in spacetime that are a "smoking gun" for inflation.

Ripples in spacetime that offer insight into fundamental physics, including the idea that the four fundamental forces of the universe - electromagnetism, gravity, and the weak and strong nuclear forces - were all united as a single force at the Big Bang.

Ripples in spacetime that by showing the existence of gravitational waves provide proof for the last, great, untested prediction of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, which was those very gravitational waves.

Ripples in spacetime, that is, that provide backing for three separate scientific theories all related to the fundamental nature of the universe.

And ripples in spacetime that represent the first real data we have - not conjecture, not hypotheses, not mathematical calculations, but actual data - about the first trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second in the history of the universe.

And if you don't think that's cool, there is no hope for you.


152.6 - Outrage of the Week: hang-ups about coat hangers

Outrage of the Week: hang-ups about coat hangers

Now we go to our other regular feature, the Outrage of the Week.

The DC Abortion Fund is a non-profit in Washington DC that helps local low-income women afford abortion care because, they say, "we believe that a woman’s right to healthcare should not depend on her wallet."

For the past four years, the group has been giving out coat hanger pendants to its donors. Why? Because the wire coat hanger has been a symbol of the reproductive rights movement for decades.

Before 1973, before Roe v. Wade, before abortions could be legally obtained, desperate women would go to desperate lengths to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Women would consume Lysol or other household poisons in the hope they would cause them to abort. They would stick knitting needles, Coke bottles, and, yes, wire coat hangers into their cervixes to end a pregnancy. The accounts of the women who were disabled or sterilized or bled to death from botched illegal abortions were legion.

I have said on more than one occasion in discussing abortion rights that I remember the symbolism of a wire coat hanger and I have no desire to return to those days.

So for four years, the DC Abortion Fund has been giving out coat hanger pendants to donors.

So just recently, the right wing noticed. And on cue, Pavlov's dogs went berserk.

The pendant was called "sick," "evil," "disgusting," "horrific," "despicable," "grotesque," "repulsive," "ghastly," while the folks who wear them are "monsters" who "love to wear death on their necks."

It's hard for me to understand, to grasp, the utter, stultifying, abysmal, depths of the ignorance of these people. It was clear in reading the comments, the reactions, the blather and braying, it was clear that these people have no idea, not a clue, not the vaguest notion, of what it is they are talking about.

They flip from screeching to scowling and back again, they pound and pontificate, they mewl and moan, they deride and denounce, and through it all it's clear that they have no idea what the symbolism of the wire coat hanger represents. They have no idea what it means.

And they have no interest in finding out. They don't want to know, they don't want to be told, they refuse to be told. Those few brave souls who ventured into the comments sections of places like National Review Online who tried to point out the the coat hanger was the symbol of a time to which we do not want to return were either ignored, attacked with irrelevancies, or called liars by people who insisted - seriously, literally - that women did not die from abortions before Roe v. Wade.

The appalling ignorance, the repellant bone-headed insularity - It's beyond my vocabulary to find the proper words. Because it's not stupidity, it's not. It's not that they can't know, it's that they refuse to know. They actively refuse to know, to understand.

And part of the reason they refuse to know is that they are so convinced that they already do know, they already do know everything there is to know. It's like a version of something called the Dunning-Kruger effect. This is an actual, demonstrated, psychological principle where people who are really incompetent at something have more confidence in their abilities than those who actually are competent at it, because the competent people tend to be aware of the limits of their knowledge or abilities and the really incompetent people... aren't. So they consistently think they are better at or know more about something than they truly do.

And so here we have the multitudes of mouth-breathers who biliously bloviate about the sanctity of life even as they would condemn women to the mercies of back-alley butchers because they are convinced beyond convincing that the clock of history began in 1973 and abortions did not exist before then.

Happily, the DC Abortion Fund is not backing down. Val Vilott, executive director of the group, noted that its coat hanger pendants predate most of the people on its board. She then said that
We're going to provide funding regardless of what the conservative media has to say about the pendants. The coat hangers aren't going anywhere, and we're not going anywhere.
Congratulations to her and to the group. But fact remains that the people who in their insistent ignorance, their determined denial, their absolute avoidance, of the most basic facts of the history of the issue called the pendants "sick" and "evil" and "disgusting," the idea that we are supposed to regard these as reasonable sentiments, that we are supposed to regard these as reasonable people making reasonable arguments with who we can reasonably reason....

That's just the Outrage of the Week.


152.5 - Update: fighting wage theft

Update: fighting wage theft

Just before we go to break, a quick update.

Last week, I spoke about low-wage workers opening a new front in their fight for a living wage, that of filing suits against McDonald's and a number of its franchisees, charging them with wage theft - that is, of not paying people money or giving them benefits which they've rightfully earned.

Well, this week I can report there has already been some progress on the issue. Although not directly related to those suits, the progress is related to the fight against wage theft.

Seven McDonald’s franchises in New York City, all owned by a single person, will pay nearly $500,000 to employees who were victims of wage theft. More than 1,600 current and former employees will receive payments. The settlement was reached by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

This comes six weeks after the Legal Aid Society won a three-year legal battle against a Domino’s franchisee, also in New York City, over charges of wage theft resulting in a nearly $1.3 million settlement for the workers involved.

Meanwhile, New York City Public Advocate Letitia James has announced proposals to crack down on wage theft in the fast food industry in the city.

Admittedly, this is all happening in New York City. But even so, these events are helping to bring to light the fact that wage theft has become almost a normal feature of too many low-wage workers' lives and too many low-wage industries, not just fast food. It's a small start - but it's a start.


152.4 - Clown Award: State Sen. Richard Ross and Robert Leclair

Clown Award: State Sen. Richard Ross and Robert Leclair

Now it's time for one of our regular weekly features, the Clown Award, given as always for meritorious stupidity.

Well, I thought I had my clown, but a last-minute shift has put a different contender - in fact, two different contenders - in the top spot. So this week, the big red nose goes to the winning pair of Massachusetts State Sen. Richard Ross and former Wrentham selectman Robert Leclair.

I was going to give the award to South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley - Queen Nikki, as an on-line friend calls her - who recently told an automotive conference that manufacturers with unionized workforces should stay the heck out of South Carolina.

Yes, she said that, in so many words: "It's not something we want to see happen," she said. "We discourage any companies that have unions from wanting to come to South Carolina because we don't want to" - still quoting - "taint the water."

So what could top that?

Ross did it by introducing a bill that would prohibit a divorcing parent from having sex in their own home. It says, quoting:
In divorce, separation, or 209A proceedings involving children and a marital home, the party remaining in the home shall not conduct a dating or sexual relationship within the home until a divorce is final and all financial and custody issues are resolved, unless the express permission is granted by the courts.
Ross has gruffly and grandly defended himself, noting that the bill was filed, as it says, "by request" from a petition filed by Leclair. Under Massachusetts' sometimes arcane procedures, any citizen can petition their representative to introduce a bill. The legislator who introduces it does not necessarily agree with the bill, which they can indicate by noting the bill was introduced "by request." Ross says he doesn't agree with this one and accuses those who have laughed at his actions of failing to understand the democratic process.

        Ross                       Leclair        
But ya know what? I don't buy it. Especially because a) Ross is from Wrentham, Massachusetts, as is Leclair and they are both former Wrentham selectmen. I don't know if they were on the board at the same time, but it still means that they ran in the same political circles in the same town. And b) this is not the first time Ross has introduced this bill for Leclair, having done so at least once before, in 2011.

So no, Sen. Ross, I don't accept that this is all about "respecting the democratic process" instead of being about clownishly wasting the time of the legislature and the legislative clerk by introducing a patently stupid bill that even you say is going nowhere and is not only inane but lacks both enforcement provisions and penalties, in order to show some love to a political crony.

As for Leclair, this former head of a fathers' rights group who went through his own bitter divorce, he actually claims that this bill is not inane, that it's a serious attempt to address domestic violence and is really ticked off that no one is taking it as seriously as it deserves.

Actually, Mr. Leclair, I think we're taking it exactly as seriously as it deserves.

Sen. Richard Ross and former Wrentham selectman Robert Leclair: The reasons are different, but you are both clowns.

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