Saturday, July 19, 2014

167.5 - Not Good News: Turning back the 20th century

Not Good News: Turning back the 20th century

This actually follows on from what I was just talking about. The connection may not be obvious at first, but it's there.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that just days after the city of Seattle enacted legislation to rise the city's minimum wage to $15/hour over the next several years, a group of corporations had filed suit to overturn the law.

As I said at the time, some of the suit's arguments are laughably frivolous, such as the claim that it violates the employers' First Amendment rights of free speech because higher wages could reduce the amount of money they have to advertise.

More importantly - and let me say that I am indebted to an article at Think Progress, linked just above, for much of what follows - the suit seeks to re-energize some long-rejected legal theories, including "liberty of contract" and a prohibition on "class legislation."

"Class legislation" was defined as "legislation that picks out a group of people for special benefits or special burdens without adequate public justification." Sounds like a reasonable idea, but the problem is that nearly any law can be characterized as discriminatory if a judge really wants it to be.

As an example, consider an infamous case from 1904, People v. Lochner. The state of New York had passed a law limiting the number of hours a bakery worker could be required to work to 10 per day and 60 per week. A bakery owner named Joseph Lochner was convicted of having one of his employees exceed the 60-hour limit. He appealed his conviction.

He lost in lower courts, but one dissenting judge claimed that a law prohibiting bakery owners from overworking their workers was unconstitutional class legislation because it only applied to the "small fraction of the community who happen to conduct bakeries or confectionery establishments." That is, a law regulating bakeries was unconstitutional because it only applied to bakeries.

The case then went to the Supreme Court, where it became known as Lochner v. State of New York. The Supreme Court struck down the New York law, but not on the basis of "class legislation." Rather, it threw the law out on the basis of "liberty of contract" - that is, by virtue of accepting the job, the workers had "agreed" to work those very long hours and the courts certainly should not interfere with that "freedom!"

Using that same argument, later Supreme Court decisions in what became known as "the Lochner era" struck down minimum wage laws (because that took away your "freedom" to "agree" to work for less) and laws protecting the rights of workers to form unions (because that took away your "freedom" to "agree" to deal with the bosses on your own).

The point here is that both these doctrines, "class legislation" and "liberty of contract," had over the course of the 20th century become regarded as invalid and improper. Lochner has been taught in law schools as an example of how courts should not act, alongside such abominations as Plessy v. Ferguson (which declared racial segregation under "separate but equal" was constitutional) and Dred Scott v. Sandford (which found that African-Americans could not be US citizens but were "beings of an inferior order ... so far inferior that they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.")

But now, some high-powered legal talent - the lead litigator in the suit over the Seattle minimum wage law is Paul Clement, former US Solicitor General under George Bush and all-around right-wing go-to guy - some high-powered legal talent seems to think that with a Supreme Court apparently willing to go out of its way to say corporations are just like living beings, that this is the time to bring those legal notions back, to strike with arguments that, if adopted by the courts, would essentially invalidate the 20th century because any government regulation of or restriction on businesses would be subject to being found unconstitutional.

Every minimum wage law. Every law protecting the rights of workers to organize. Every environmental regulation. Every law about overtime. Every health and safety law. Every consumer protection law. Every law barring discrimination in hiring and promotions. Every law barring discrimination in public accommodations. All of them would be as risk. And more.

And don't think this is a one-off. George Will, the man all right-wingers turn to when they want to pretend they have any intellectual authority, and the man who once wrote that "'Back to 1900' is a serviceable summation of the conservatives' goal," said not long ago that Lochner was "correctly decided" based on our "individual possess[ion of] inalienable rights," including apparently, our "right" to "choose" to be desperate enough to submit to being overworked, underpaid, and exploited until we're no longer of use and can be dumped by the side of the road.

Meanwhile, right-wing legal theorist David Bernstein wrote a whole book devoted to, in the words of the title, Rehabilitating Lochner.

Bringing back the legal theories of "class legislation" and "liberty of contract," theories used in years past to strike down health and safety regulations and the rights of workers, these theories are continuing threads in right-wing legal circles and Paul Clement, who is no fool, has decided that now is the time to bring them into court, with his briefs for the Supreme Court doubtless already in preparation.

Make no mistake about it: George Will said it - "back to 1900." At the time he wrote it, he probably thought of it as a dream. Now there are those who can see it on the horizon. The right wing in this country is looking to undo the social progress of the entire 20th century. And if we don't pay attention and fight back, they just might do it.

Sources cited in links:
http://whoviating.blogspot.com/2014/06/1636-update-even-imf-says-raise-minimum.html
http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2014/06/12/3448134/the-completely-bonkers-lawsuit-seeking-to-kill-seattles-minimum-wage-repeal-the-twentieth-century/
http://thinkprogress.org/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lochner_v._New_York
https://www.soc.umn.edu/~samaha/cases/people_v_lochner_excerpts.htm
http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=198&invol=45
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dred_Scott_v._Sandford
http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-liberals-fear-the-lochner-decision/2011/09/06/gIQAZapUAK_story.html
http://www.amazon.com/Rehabilitating-Lochner-Defending-Individual-Progressive/dp/022600404X/ref=la_B001K7PO08_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1405501263&sr=1-1

167.4 - Footnote: confidence in SCOTUS at all-time low

Footnote: confidence in SCOTUS at all-time low

As a brief footnote to that, I suspect that rulings such as these - not the Hobby Lobby one in particular, because it came down after the poll was conducted, by the trend of cases of late - rulings such as these are part of the reason that public confidence in the Supreme Court has dropped seven percentage points in the past two years and is now at a record low: Just 30% of the public has a "great deal" or a "quite a lot" of confidence in the Court.

Confidence in all three branches of the federal government have dropped, but confidence in the Supreme Court had remained relatively steady - ranging between 42% and 50% approval - since 1991, until, interestingly, right after Sam Alito joined the Court in 2006, replacing the relatively moderate Sandra Day O'Conner, after which the Court took its dramatic right turn and its approval rating hasn't reached the 40% level since.

Sources cited in links:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/30/supreme-court-poll_n_5544322.html
http://www.gallup.com/poll/171992/americans-losing-confidence-branches-gov.aspx

167.3 - Outrage of the Week: Hobby Lobby and corporate personhood

Outrage of the Week: Hobby Lobby and corporate personhood

Now it's time for our other regular feature, the Outrage of the Week. For this week's Outrage I'm going to go back to something I've talked about before - the Hobby Lobby decision - but I'm going to look at a different aspect.

Because amid all the discussion about the impact on availability of contraceptive care, something else was largely lost in the shuffle and so was not getting the attention it deserved.

In it's decision on the Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court found as a practical matter that a profit-seeking corporation, a commerical business, can have a religious belief and has rights of conscience. It has never found this before. This is a dramatic, far-reaching, expansion of the ill-founded and Constitution-twisting notion of "corporate personhood," the idea that in some ways - an increasing number of ways, now - a corporation is just like a living, breathing, person with the same fundamental rights.

What Citizens United did for the idea of corporate freedom of speech, Hobby Lobby did for corporate freedom of religion. In fact, more: In this case it didn't expand the "freedom," it created it.

That the foul five, the maleficent majority, knew what they were doing is evident in the effort they went to, to try to play down the meaning. It's no big deal, nothing to see here, move along, nothing new or radical about creating new rights for corporations. In fact, in his majority opinion, Justice Sam Alito wrote that "a corporation is simply a form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends."

That is a declaration so utterly at odds with both the real world and the law as to brand it a deliberate lie meant to conceal the decision's impact. Because that decision is, in fact, as one commentator put it, "a radical reimagining of both First Amendment and corporate law."

Corporations are not just another "form of organization used by human beings to achieve desired ends." Corporations are different from other forms of organization. They are intended to be different, they are designed to be different, that is their whole point: to be different in the way that they are.

In his dissent to Citizens United, John Paul Stevens wrote that corporate "personhood" "often serves as a useful legal fiction. But," he added, "they are not themselves members of 'We the People' by whom and for whom our Constitution was established."

It is important - it is vital - for us to remember that corporations are legal fictions, they are legal constructs. They are "creatures of law" that have no existence apart from their definition under such law. Corporations do not actually exist in the physical world. There is no building to which you can point and say "that is the corporation." You can say "that's where the headquarters of the corporation is, that's where it does most of it's business," but you can't say "that is the corporation." There is no person, no group of people, to who you can point and say "that is the corporation." You can say they are officers of the corporation or executives of the corporation or employees of the corporation or stockholders of the corporation, but they are not "the corporation." Oh, various facilities owned by the corporation do exist - but the corporation itself is a creation of the state, one which by design exists apart from any of the actual people involved in it. Even in a case where a single person incorporates themselves, you can't point to that person and say "there is the corporation," because they are not: The corporation, again, exists apart from them.

Corporations exist apart from those involved with them in order to offer those people protection against certain kinds of risk - that is their whole point! And it is altogether possible for a corporation to exist without any facilities, officers, employees, agents, income, or debts, to exist solely on paper. It would be incapable of action - but legally, it would still exist.

On the other hand, unincorporated groups, organizations, associations, clubs - that is, actual "organized groups of people" - whether political or otherwise, long-term or ad hoc, exist only as the aggregate of their members. No members, no group. If any unincorporated organization owns property, there will be actual people on the hook for actual debts. If there is a lawsuit, it is against people, not some disembodied legal formality. Corporations, by design, by their nature, by intent, are different and it is inane to suggest otherwise.

That's the point here: Corporations are, again, designed to protect involved persons against certain types of risk. That is, by incorporating, those people gain special protections and that corporation occupies a special status, one not available to others. It is entirely reasonable, logical, and I say Constitutional to expect that in return for that special status, that those corporations - not the individuals, the corporations - face certain restrictions on what they can do in the public arena as compared to what individuals, actual, living, breathing, human beings, can.

Even so, courts have long held that corporations can assert some, but not all, of the Constitutional rights of individuals, straining to make distinctions as to what rights are "purely personal" and so unavailable to corporations and which are not.

But even that idea, that corporations have any rights beyond certain basic universal guarantees, specifically those of equal protection and due process (including the right to sue and to own and use property in accordance with the law), that notion may rest on a - to use an old phrase - foundation of stubble and straw.

The modern idea of corporate rights - that is, corporate "personhood" - comes from an 1886 SCOTUS decision called Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. Except it doesn't: The phrase "corporations are persons," the entire foundation for the doctrine that corporations are "legal persons," does not appear anywhere in the ruling; rather, it was in a summary of the arguments presented in the case written by a court reporter. Such summaries are not legally binding. What the court said was that the 14th Amendment guarantees of due process and equal protection applied to corporations such as were parties in that suit, not that "corporations are people, my friend."

In fact, for the first 100-plus years of our history, that was not the fact or the law. In a case decided in 1819, Chief Justice John Marshall said
A corporation is an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law. Being the mere creature of law, it possesses only those properties which the charter of its creation confers upon it.
That is, the rights of a corporation depend on “the object for which it was created.”

Which is why, by the way, profit-oriented corporations can be and have been treated differently than specifically religious institutions and nonprofits - or at least they were.

Of course, that was before corporations, just like the Velveteen Rabbit, became "real" (although the love in this case was that of money and power).

Still, for the very reason that the case was decided in 1819, just 31 years after the ratification of the Constitution, it could be argued that it's more likely than the Santa Clara case to reflect the intentions of the framers vis-à-vis corporations and the political process - which should have been of concern to those "strict constructionists" among the foul five who always claim to be looking for "the original intent," but of course it wasn't.

I say we are entirely within our rights and authorities as a free people to define the rights, protections, and authorities of corporations in whatever way we choose, including imposing whatever limitations we care to place on them, limited only by those baseline guarantees which have been there since the beginning of the republic - which were, again, equal protection and due process, access to the courts, and the right to own and use property in accordance with the law. Beyond that, well, we offer the privileges and protections that corporations provide for their participants, so we get to set the conditions under which they are available. You don't want the restrictions? You don't incorporate.

But the Supreme Court continues to go the opposite direction, to provide corporations and the rich elite who run them more power, more authority, and fewer restrictions; giving them by judicial fiat more and more of the rights previously held to be, in what is an increasingly anachronistic phrase, "human rights."

And now it has declared that perhaps the most human of rights, the most distinctive of human qualities, the right of conscience, also describes corporations. That corporations can have consciences, that entirely apart from actions of their directors (because remember that is the point of a corporation, to be separate from the people that comprise it) they can pray, they can express devotion to a god, that corporations can have their own emotional and spiritual existence as we continue to strip away what is "human" in service to the corporate state.

And That. Is. An. Outrage.

Sources cited in links:
http://mediamatters.org/blog/2014/06/30/supreme-court-embraces-discrimination-against-w/199935
http://whoviating.blogspot.com/2010/02/footnote-to-everybodys-talkin-parts-1.html
http://theusconstitution.org/text-history/2169/next-big-test-corporate-personhood
http://sblog.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/3rd-CA-decision-on-mandate-7-26-13.pdf
http://whoviating.blogspot.com/2004/02/important-thing-to-know.html

167.2 - Clown Award: Bill O’Reilly

Clown Award: Bill O’Reilly

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

A couple of people have been retired from contention for the award because they would wind up dominating the rankings. One is Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, of who I will just say I can't  understand why some supposedly knowledgeable people say he is this great legal mind. Ithink it'd be more accurate to replace the words "great legal" with "never."

Another is Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas, the man who puts the "Gomer" in Gohmert, and who can be counted on to say something stupid at pretty much regular intervals.

But there is another, someone who I just had to bring out of retirement because of - well, you'll see.

So this week the winner of the Big Red Nose is the man with the world's most perfect initials: Bill O'Reilly

On his July 14 show, after citing a recent Harris poll saying that 46% of Americans who are not retired report living paycheck to paycheck, he proceeded to tell those people what to do about it.

He started by saying that you should have at least $25,000 on hand, money you can immediately access in case you get fired or some financial crisis hits your family. He then proceeds to tell people how they can easily amass such an amount.

I'm quoting now:
First of all, never waste money. Ever. That trinket? You don't need it! Then, look at your life. See what your vices are. See what you overdo - and cut back. Then, go to websites like Groupon, get discounts on stuff that you have to buy. Never - never pay full price. Also, every time you have loose change in your pocket, put it in a big jar. That'll add up fast, pay your cable bill some day. But most important is what my father drummed into my head: every dollar you make, save ten cents. No excuses.
First bear in mind that this is the multi-millionaire who recently called income inequality "bull" and "a fabricated, political thing."

And then let's go through what he said: First, every dollar you spend should be on absolute necessities. No frills, no "trinkets," nothing just for fun, nothing to make your life brighter or more colorful. You're not rich enough to deserve it. Oh, and your "vices?" Don't have any.

Speaking of trinkets and vices, I wonder what Bill O'Reilly's loufa bill is.

Getting back to what he said, Groupon and the rest are "deal of the day" sites. If you didn't happen to need that day's deal so you had to go pay full price for a loaf of bread and some cereal, well, apparently according to Mr. B.O. you paid full price and that somehow was your fault, you wasteful loser.

Oh, and a jar for spare change! Oh yeah, that will mount up so fast that "some day" it may pay one month's cable bill. What a bonanza!

Which also means, by the way, cable is apparently a necessity, not a waste or a trinket or any other sort of unnecessary expense which you can survive without. It's a necessity - because, after all, if you don't have cable, you can't watch Bill O'Reilly.

But here it is, the putrid poetry of the pontificating pinhead: "Every dollar you make, save ten cents. No excuses." You have to save 10% of your total income. No excuses.

Remember, this is being addressed to people he had already described as living paycheck to paycheck. Which means by definition they have little if anything to spare. Saving 10% of that current income is, in effect, a 10% cut in the amount of money you have now for current expenses. How are people who are, again, already living paycheck to paycheck supposed to do that?

The utter cluelessness, the utter disconnect, between this bozo and the life he presumes to judge and the people he does judge as just needing a little more self-discipline because if you're poor or struggling it's your own fault, you're either lazy or a spendthrift or both; the utter disconnect between this self-important nitwit and the people he condescends to advise, is just - well, I was going to say stunning but actually it's not, it's exactly what we should expect.

Which is why Bill O'Reilly is and always will be a clown's clown.

Sources cited in links:
http://mediamatters.org/video/2014/07/15/millionaire-oreilly-lectures-struggling-america/200103
http://mediamatters.org/video/2012/05/14/oreilly-income-inequality-is-bull-nobody-gives/185720
http://mediamatters.org/video/2014/05/30/bill-oreilly-income-inequality-is-a-fabricated/199524

167.1 - Good News: a bit of common sense in the "War on Drugs"

Good News: a bit of common sense in the "War on Drugs"

I'm starting, as I try to do every week, with a bit of good news - in this case the good news coming from an unexpected source: It consists of common sense in something related to our perpetual "War on Drugs."

Which is actually something I want to talk about sometime, because it has been a colossal failure that by throwing everything into one pile labeled "drugs" as if everything from marijuana to methamphetamines to heroin were all exactly the same and presented exactly the same dangers, the "War on Drugs" may well have created some of the drug use it aimed to stop by sowing mistrust about warnings about the drugs that do present real dangers: "Hey, you lied to me about that; why shouldn't I think you lied to me about this other?"

Anyway, the good news. Back in 2008, voters in Massachusetts approved a ballot measure to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, making getting caught with less than an ounce of pot punishable by a civil fine of $100; no criminal penalty involved.

Because of that, in 2011 the state's Supreme Judicial Court ruled that the smell of burnt marijuana was not enough of a basis for police to suspect criminal activity. Since possession of less than an ounce was a civil offense and the smell alone did not give police reasonable suspicion that there was a criminal amount of marijuana present, there was no legal basis to treat the situation as if it involved criminality.

Now, in 2014, on July 9 to be exact, the SJC has ruled that police also can't use the smell of raw, that is, unburnt, marijuana as a pretext for assuming criminal activity and so, in this case, searching a car.

"The strength of a smell is ... at best a dubious means for reliably detecting the presence of a criminal amount of marijuana," the court very reasonably concluded. "(The smell of unburnt marijuana) points only to the presence of some marijuana, not necessarily a criminal amount."

So again, the cops can't treat a civil offense as if it were a criminal one just because the horror word "drugs" is invoked.

I say that's good news.

By the way, as a brief Footnote to that, 23 states and the District of Columbia now approve medical marijuana and Florida is one step away from joining the ranks.

Sources cited in links:
http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2008/11/05/voters_approve_marijuana_law_change/
http://boston.cbslocal.com/2011/04/20/sjc-burnt-marijuana-odor-not-enough-to-suspect-criminal-activity/
http://plymouth.patch.com/groups/police-and-fire/p/smell-of-pot-cant-be-used-for-car-searches-mass-supreme-court-rules47979
http://www.mass.gov/courts/docs/sjc/reporter-of-decisions/new-opinions/11481.pdf
http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000881
http://www.news4jax.com/news/medical-marijuana-on-floridas-horizon/26943942

Left Side of the Aisle #167




Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of July 17 - 23, 2014

This week:

Good News: a bit of common sense in the "war on drugs"
http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2008/11/05/voters_approve_marijuana_law_change/
http://boston.cbslocal.com/2011/04/20/sjc-burnt-marijuana-odor-not-enough-to-suspect-criminal-activity/
http://plymouth.patch.com/groups/police-and-fire/p/smell-of-pot-cant-be-used-for-car-searches-mass-supreme-court-rules47979
http://www.mass.gov/courts/docs/sjc/reporter-of-decisions/new-opinions/11481.pdf
http://medicalmarijuana.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=000881
http://www.news4jax.com/news/medical-marijuana-on-floridas-horizon/26943942

Clown Award: Bill O'Reilly
http://mediamatters.org/video/2014/07/15/millionaire-oreilly-lectures-struggling-america/200103
http://mediamatters.org/video/2012/05/14/oreilly-income-inequality-is-bull-nobody-gives/185720
http://mediamatters.org/video/2014/05/30/bill-oreilly-income-inequality-is-a-fabricated/199524

Outrage of the Week: Hobby Lobby and corporate personhood
http://mediamatters.org/blog/2014/06/30/supreme-court-embraces-discrimination-against-w/199935
http://whoviating.blogspot.com/2010/02/footnote-to-everybodys-talkin-parts-1.html
http://theusconstitution.org/text-history/2169/next-big-test-corporate-personhood
http://sblog.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/3rd-CA-decision-on-mandate-7-26-13.pdf
http://whoviating.blogspot.com/2004/02/important-thing-to-know.html

Footnote: confidence in SCOTUS at all-time low
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/30/supreme-court-poll_n_5544322.html
http://www.gallup.com/poll/171992/americans-losing-confidence-branches-gov.aspx

Not Good News: Turning back the 20th century
http://whoviating.blogspot.com/2014/06/1636-update-even-imf-says-raise-minimum.html
http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2014/06/12/3448134/the-completely-bonkers-lawsuit-seeking-to-kill-seattles-minimum-wage-repeal-the-twentieth-century/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lochner_v._New_York
https://www.soc.umn.edu/~samaha/cases/people_v_lochner_excerpts.htm
http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=198&invol=45
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dred_Scott_v._Sandford
http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/why-liberals-fear-the-lochner-decision/2011/09/06/gIQAZapUAK_story.html
http://www.amazon.com/Rehabilitating-Lochner-Defending-Individual-Progressive/dp/022600404X/ref=la_B001K7PO08_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1405501263&sr=1-1

Saturday, July 12, 2014

166.6 - Supreme Court ignores own ruling to benefit anti-contraceptive crowd

Supreme Court ignores own ruling to benefit anti-contraceptive crowd

One last thing to talk about very quickly because while you may well have heard this, it's important enough to mention anyway. It's about the Hobby Lobby case. I'll have more to say about it another day, because I want to address the related issue of corporate personhood. But this is about something else.

In the Hobby Lobby case, the court said that requiring the company to include contraceptive care in its health coverage was a "substantial burden" on the religious beliefs of its owners, even if the company did not have to pay for that part of the coverage.

(As a sidebar, let me note that 10 years ago I was warning that the opposition to abortion was not just about abortion; that was just the starting point. Ultimately, it was about the whole idea of birth control. As the current cases increasingly conflate abortion and contraception, we are seeing that coming to pass. Now back to our story.)

To prove that it was not the “least restrictive alternative” to achieving the goal of contraceptive coverage, the majority cited the accommodation available to religiously-oriented non-profits, which can simply file a form stating a religious objection to contraceptive coverage and so be relieved of paying for it, with the insurance companies picking up the tab.

That, Sam Alito wrote, “achieves all of the government’s aims while providing greater respect for religious liberty.”

But just days later, on July 3, in an unsigned order, a majority of the court granted a temporary emergency injunction to Wheaton College, an evangelical Protestant liberal arts college in Illinois, allowing it to refuse to comply with the very accommodation the court had just held up as the answer in the Hobby Lobby case.

What Wheaton College argues that simply filling out the form is akin to providing abortions because it triggers a process by which women will obtain contraceptive care - and while this is an injunction, not a final decision, it does give reason to think the majority will agree with that bizarre stretch of I can't call it logic.

The foul five's ignoring of precedent, their intent to simply remake Constitutional law in their own right-wing image has gotten so bad, so marked, that even precedents just three days old can be ignored if it serves their ends.

It really has gone beyond disgusting.

Sources cited in links:
http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2014/07/wheaton_college_injunction_the_supreme_court_just_sneakily_reversed_itself.html

166.5 - Footnote: that is, some presidents get buffer zones

Footnote: that is, some presidents get buffer zones

As a Footnote to the preceding post, under the Supreme Court decision about the Secret Service agents, it appears that not only are they empowered to just decide that a political opponent of the president is an immediate physical threat, they are free to do this in a grossly politically partisan way:

During the 2009 debate over the health care law, there several confirmed reports of people carrying guns to Obama rallies; in at least two of those cases, the guns were loaded. Although a couple of the people were questioned briefly, there were no reports in any of the news accounts I saw of the Secret Service telling people they had to move "out of weapons range" of the president.


Apparently some types of opponents are more "threatening" than others and loving peace is more "threatening" than loving high-powered weapons.

Sources cited in links:
http://www.startribune.com/local/minneapolis/59288822.html
http://talkingpointsmemo.com/muckraker/gun-toter-from-obama-event-i-like-my-pastor-want-the-president-to-die
http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread490906/pg1

166.4 - Outrage of the Week: presidents get buffer zones; women don't

Outrage of the Week: presidents get buffer zones; women don't

Now for our other regular feature, it's the Outrage of the Week and yet once again, the source of the outrage is that bastion of bone-headedness, the US Supreme Court.

But this is a special week because this time it's not the foul five, the maleficent majority, that are the dimwits and doofuses, it's the whole damn lot of them.

I will tell you too, that this was delayed because I wanted to talk about it last week but the calendar demanded otherwise. So this is actually not from this past week, but it's too important to let pass.

The story begins on May 27, when the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Secret Service agents cannot be held liable for violating the constitutional rights of protesters. They are, in essence, above the law and the Constitution.

That was the effective meaning of a decision involving a protest against then-President George Bush in 2004.

Bush was making a campaign stop in in Jacksonville, Oregon and unexpectedly decided to eat outside on the patio of the restaurant. Two groups of protesters, one pro- and one anti-, had assigned areas for protest and were in those areas. But when Bush decided to eat outside, the 200-300 anti-Bush protesters were a half-block away and could be heard where Bush was. So the Secret Service told the police to force that group two blocks away while the pro-Bush crowd could stay where it was, a block closer.

Seven of the protesters sued, claiming viewpoint discrimination. Lower courts agreed - but Johnny Roberts and the Supremes did not, saying the two agents who issued the order were immune from a lawsuit because they had good reason to move the protesters farther away.

And what was that good reason? Writing for the majority, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, whose concern for civil rights now seems to start and stop at contraception, said it was that the anti-Bush crowd was - and this is an exact quote - "within weapons range." You know, because one of them might have had an Uzi under their coat or they might have gone to the rally with a grenade in their back pocket just in case Bush might suddenly decide to eat outdoors.

Getting back to Ginsburg, she wrote that "Given that situation, the protesters cannot plausibly urge that the agents had no valid security reason to request or order their eviction."

Yes, they can. They can because, as Steven Wilker of the ACLU, who acted as attorney for the protesters, noted, this was just one of more than a dozen incidents in which the Secret Service singled out for removal from a Bush event someone expressing opposition to Bush, even if the "threat" consisted of nothing more than a slogan on a t-shirt. The Court ignored that history in order to find that the Secret Service can, without needing anything to back it up, without needing to have any articulable reason, simply assume that anyone expressing opposition to a president's policies is for that reason alone a physical threat and force them to leave the area.

So says the Supreme Court.

But what really make this outrageous, what really makes it the Outrage of the Week, is that a month later, on June 26, this same Supreme Court, this same unanimous Supreme Court, ruled that a Massachusetts law creating a 35-foot buffer zone around the entrances to abortion clinics in the state was an intolerable and unconstitutional affront to the First Amendment. For presidents, two blocks is entirely reasonable; for women, 35 feet is way too far.

Why? Because, in the words of Johnny R., "Petitioners wish to converse with their fellow citizens about an important subject on the public streets and sidewalks." It's all about, as described by the lead plaintiff in the case, one Eleanor McCullen, "gentle and loving conversations."

Right. So how gentle and loving were the conversations that happened before this law was passed in 2007? Under an earlier law from 2000, the state established a "floating buffer zone" that barred people from approaching unwilling listeners any closer than 6 feet if they were within 18 feet of the clinic. If you think that's complicated and confusing when you try to apply it to a real-life situation, you're right.

Under that law, according to an ACLU friend-of-the-court brief, antiabortion protesters blocked entrances, surrounded arriving cars, intimidated and harassed arriving patients, and even assaulted patients and staff. Patients and their escorts were subjected to a barrage of harassment, verbal and sometimes physical, with one clinic staff member recalling how a protester pushed her into a moving car entering the facility.

Most of these incidents occurred around Boston and the Boston police found that the floating buffer zone was a failure, difficult to monitor and almost impossible to enforce.

None of that, none of that history, none of that reality, mattered to the numbskull nine.

In the Bush protest case, the decision supposedly came down to the idea that presidents must be protected at all costs, including, apparently, at the cost of the Constitution. As Roberts said during oral argument, "There are people out there who want to kill the president."

And there's no one who wants to kill people working in abortion clinics? The shootings, the firebombings, the assaults, none of this ever happened? The shouting, the screeching, the pushing, the spitting, the threats, none of that happened?

A two-block buffer zone, in effect, around the president goes without saying. A 35-foot buffer zone to protect women seeking abortions is an assault on free speech.

On top of everything else, to - in a great old saying - cap the climax, the Supreme Court has its own buffer zone, a buffer zone far larger than that afforded to protect the clients of abortion clinics: A 1949 federal law bars protests of any sort from the white marble plaza of the Supreme Court building.

In fact, until 1983, you couldn't even protest on the public sidewalk surrounding the building.

Which points up what's really going on here: This is not about protecting either the president or free speech: It's about protecting the powerful from being annoyed by the hoi polloi. That's why presidents can be shielded from seeing dissenters, that's why the Supreme Court can say "not on our turf," while women seeking a medical procedure can be forced to run a gauntlet of hatred.

It is foul, it is disgusting, it is an outrage.

Sources cited in links:
http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/wood-v-moss/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/supreme-court-says-secret-service-agents-are-immune-in-bush-protest-lawsuit/2014/05/27/ce88db08-e5b3-11e3-8f90-73e071f3d637_story.html
http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-supreme-court-free-speech-protesters-20140527-story.html
http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2014/05/27/supreme-court-bush-protest-speech/9172707/
http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/06/26/supreme-court-abortion-clinic-buffer-zones/6698787/
http://bostonherald.com/news_opinion/local_coverage/2014/06/high_court_voids_abortion_clinic_protest_free_zone
http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2014/06/26/supreme-irony-court-has-own-buffer-zone/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/a-question-of-where-protesters-take-a-stand/2014/02/16/1bc57ee0-9720-11e3-afce-3e7c922ef31e_story.html?wprss=rss_politics

166.3 - Clown Award: American liberals

Clown Award: American liberals

This discussion of the minimum wage and its opponents now, lets us slide easily right into one of our regular features, the Clown Award, given for meritorious stupidity.

Now, I was seriously considering giving the Clown Award to the folks involved in this thing called "Rolling Coal," what one site pointedly (and accurately) called "Pollution Porn for Dudes With Pickup Trucks."

Simply put, some truck fans are spending anywhere from $500 to $5000 to pull out pollution controls and install switches that will trick the engine into thinking it needs more gas - diesel fuel - than it actually does. The fuel is incompletely burned and the excess is churned out as copious amounts of black soot.

This is being done as a matter of political and social protest against all things perceived as liberal - including hybrid cars - or as Obama: One said that the attitude is "If Obama's into the environment, then we're not." The trucks become a way of giving the environment the finger.

Which seemed really, really stupid. But then it occurred to me that these folks are spending money, sometimes thousands of dollars, to make their trucks run less efficiently, to make them waste gas - and thus even more money. And I realized that this does not even rise to the level of stupidity. This is not stupid, this is moronic. So that got put aside.

Instead, following on our discussion about opposition to raising the minimum wage, the Big Red Nose this weeks goes to - significant numbers of American liberals.

The Pew Research Center is doing a massive survey of American politics. As part of that, they have divided the populace into seven typology groups, ranging from "steadfast conservatives" to "solid liberals" but with shades of meaning and attitudes between.

One of the attitudes considered in establishing these typologies was about poverty. And the results are astonishing and disturbing.

First off, four-fifths of the typologies considered conservative think that poor people have it easy, that they have an easy life, that they can just live off government bennies without having to do anything.

But notice something else, and this is what I find important: Significant parts of the typologies considered "liberal" agree with that. Even 6% of the "solid liberals," the most liberal, the most "left" of all the typologies, agree. It's not just the right wing saying this.

When you ask why people are poor, it's the same: Most conservatives say it's "lack of effort," but so do significant numbers of liberals, even some among the most hard-core. If you're poor, it's your own damn fault, you lazy bum.

So overall, on the question of do the poor have hard lives or easy lives, there is nearly an even break. Nearly half of the people in this country think that poor people have easy lives.

How can anyone think that? How can anyone rationally argue that?

Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post's "Wonkblog" offered a quick and abbreviated list of how easy the life of the poor is:

- Compared to middle and upper-income Americans, the poor are three times less likely to have health insurance, and so more likely to put off or skip necessary medical treatment.
- They are three times more likely to be victimized by crime.
- The daily stresses of living in poverty actually impair mental function to a degree equivalent to losing 13 IQ points.
- Poor children are three times more likely to be affected by food scarcity and obesity;
- Poor children receive a lower quality education in public school, and the ones who make it to college are more likely to drop out;
- Poorer Americans breathe dirtier air, they sleep less, they even have less sex;
- Their life expectancy is somewhere around 15 to nearly 20 years less than that of more affluent Americans.

[Links to his supporting data can be found at the site]

Someone else put it this way, and I'm going to quote this:
Being poor. It means stretching a dollar to be sure that your children can eat every day. It means deciding whether you can skip a car payment or a mortgage payment this month, because one more missed electricity bill will get the power turned off. It means ignoring the pain in your chest because even if you have insurance you can’t cover the deductible for the doctor’s visit, or skipping your medication because the copay is just a little too much. It’s trying to decide between buying a shirt without a hole for a job interview or having the gas you need just to get to it.
Several years ago, I came across a website that was having people post what being poor meant to them - that is, based on their own personal experience, what symbolized, what summed up, the experience? Unhappily, I can't find it now; I found another one, but not that one; perhaps it's no longer there. But I do remember my answer. I'm not poor; I'm not affluent, but I'm not poor. Barring some serious medical disaster, my wife and I will be fine. But I grew up poor, and I remember. My answer was that being poor was having a phone but always being afraid to answer it because it was another bill collector. More recently, at a time things were harder for us than they are now, it meant seeing the dismissive condescension in the attitude of the person who was supposed to be helping us but was irritated because I objected to being ignored for some minutes by the receptionist - irritated, that is, because I apparently did not know my place as a supplicant.

Being poor is facing every day a hundred limitations on what you would want to provide for your family, your spouse, your children; it's facing every day a hundred barriers, some little but some not, to a better life; it's being subjected every day to the judgments, the looks, the questioning eyes that see you as lazy or shiftless, the eyes that see you as a failure, as a leech, no matter how many hours or how hard you may actually be working.

Our classism, our contempt for the poor no matter their race, is another of the afflictions we suffer from as a people.

We would expect the right wing to embrace this economic bigotry, we would expect them to follow the lead of the powerful self-serving elements of our society; that, after all, is what conservatives do.

But it's not just the right; significant numbers of liberals, those who proudly, even arrogantly, declared they constitute the "reality-based community," even some among the "solid liberals," the most liberal of the liberals, share in that bigotry. You are the ones we could expect, we should expect, to know better. But too many of you don't.

And that makes those of you won't don't thoroughgoing clowns.

Sources cited in links:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/06/rolling-coal-photos-video_n_5561477.html
http://www.vocativ.com/culture/society/dicks-pick-trucks-meme-rollin-coal/
http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2014/07/rolling_coal_conservatives_who_show_their_annoyance_with_liberals_obama.html
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/06/26/more-than-three-quarters-of-conservatives-say-the-poor-have-it-easy/
http://www.care2.com/causes/do-the-poor-have-it-easy-most-republicans-say-yes-they-do.html
http://whatever.scalzi.com/2005/09/03/being-poor/
http://www.classism.org/about-class/what-is-classism

[And something I will add here for anyone hung up on such trivia, this is the 5000th post here at Lotus - Surviving a Dark Time. My very first post was on November 13, 2003. I shut it down in late November 2005 only to "succumb to the addition" in February 2007 and for a few months past seven years now I have managed to have something up on a reasonably regular basis. Now I will sit back and wait for the praise and plaudits to flow in.]

166.2 - Not Good News: attacks on minimum wage continue

Not Good News: attacks on minimum wage continue

On this same topic of the minimum wage, however, we also have some Not Good News.

Last month, I mentioned that the city of Seattle had decided to raise the minimum wage in the city to $15/hour over the next seven years. Three weeks ago, I mentioned how just days after the law was enacted, a suit was filed on behalf of some large corporations saying the law is unconstitutional.

It turns out that there is a second effort underway to overturn that new law, this one by a group representing restaurants, merchants, and other businesses and bearing the typically-misleading name Forward Seattle. That group has been gathering signatures in attempting to get a ballot queston to revoke the law into the November election.

According to the group's leader, who insists this is a "principle-based fight," the group has submitted enough signatures to get the question on the ballot.

The signatures still need to be verified and based on prior general experience about the proportion of petition signatures that are thrown out, there is a question as to if they have enough, but they may well. And Seattle will have to fight the whole battle over again.

The simple reality is that you cannot try to do something that benefits the lowest-paid workers among us without getting major pushback. Too many powerful people, too many powerful forces, in our society benefit from the current arrangement.

It's notable, I think, that Forward Seattle Co-Chair Angela Cough ran out all the old "they're so powerful, we're so oppressed" lines the right wing seems to spout at the least opportunity. She claimed, for example, that her group is under-funded because members are being intimidated by opponents: They are are "simply too scared" to do more.

By the way, what was this horrible intimidation? According to Cough, it consisted of suggesting boycotts of businesses that support the attempt and making negative comments on Facebook and Yelp.

Oh, and Cough also claimed her group is not opposed to raising the minimum wage. Oh, no, it's that they object to the process by which the law was passed, to which her members offered alternatives. In other words, the city didn't do what the businesses wanted, so it's a matter of principle to get the whole thing thrown out. Which is likely true; you just have to think about what that principle is.

But like I said, you always have powerful voices saying no. You always have powerful voices telling the lowest-paid among us that they have it as good as it's going to get and they should be happy with what they have and don't dare try to make it better because you'll only make it worse.

The latest example of this is Andy Puzder, the head of CKE restaurants, the parent company of Hardees and Carl’s Jr., who says that minimum-wage workers - the kind his industry employs - would actually be hurt by an increase in their income because other people would start competing for their jobs, leading to more youth unemployment, higher prices, and increased automation. Omigod, it's too horrible to think about because, ya gotta understand, I'm just thinking of the little people, says the man who made $4.4 million in 2012, about 291 times what a minimum wage worker makes in a year, working full-time, year-round, at the federal minimum wage.

What's his solution? Quoting,
Government needs to get out of the way. If government gets out of the way, businesses will create jobs and wages will go up.
That is, just let us do whatever we damn please and everything will be great. Not surprisingly considering the source, that is utter crap. Because on this score, the federal government has been staying out of the way. The federal minimum wage has not risen in five years and - as illustrated by the graph to the right - measured in 2014 dollars, that is, in actual purchasing power, it is below where it was in 1998. In fact, the highest purchasing power reached by the federal minimum wage came in 1968, 46 years ago, when it was, again measured in 2014 dollars, $10.86. Which means that even if Congress were to enact Obama's proposal of a minimum wage of $10.10 an hour, it would still, in real terms, in purchasing power, be below where it was nearly 50 years earlier.

Andy Puzder? More like Andy Putz.

As a quick footnote, Putz's 2012 income of 291 times the federal minimum wage is low by industry standards. According to the Economic Policy Institute, in 2013 the average fast food CEO made 721 times what minimum wage workers made.

Sources cited in links:
http://whoviating.blogspot.com/2014/06/1636-update-even-imf-says-raise-minimum.html
http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/07/07/seattle-business-group-clears-major-hurdle-toward-repealing-15-minimum-wage/
http://finance.yahoo.com/news/the-downside-of-minimum-wage-hikes-200357186.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/07/andy-puzder-minimum-wage_n_5563975.html
http://www.epi.org/publication/top-restaurant-industry-ceos-721-times-minimum/
http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/anth484/minwage.html
http://www.dol.gov/whd/minwage/chart.htm
http://www.epi.org/

166.1 - Good News: state and local moves to raise minimum wage

Good News: state and local moves to raise minimum wage

As whenever possible, let's start off with some good news.

Over the past couple of weeks I have been able to give some good news regarding the minimum wage wage. This wee, I have some more.

Eleven states now plan to raise their minimum wage to at least $9 per hour between now and 2018, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. This does not include other states which will reach those levels because of previously-enacted provisions that automatically adjust the state minimum wage according to some formula that state has adopted. These are additional states.

Nine of those 11 states will have minimum wages of above $9 per hour. Eight of them will be above $10 per hour.

And one will have an $11 per hour minimum wage by 2017. That state is Massachusetts, by legislation signed into law on June 26. At that point, Massachusetts will have the highest minimum wage of any US state.

Another thing we're seeing on this front is some companies that are making a point of paying their employees decent, or at least improved, wages, regarding that as good for business. It kind of goes back to the old Henry Ford idea of paying your workers enough to be able to afford the stuff that you sell.

Is it worth pointing out, however, that we're still talking about a minimum wage, not a living wage: According to a standard method of calculation, in Massachusetts a full-time worker needs get $11.31 an hour to pay for food, housing, transportation, and other regular expenses. In the Boston area, it’s $12.65 an hour. So no, the raised minimum is still not a living wage - but it is an improvement and that, and perhaps even more importantly the increasing awareness of the necessity of action, is good news.

Sources cited in links:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2014/07/01/chart-eleven-states-will-have-breached-a-9-minimum-wage-by-2018/
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/sns-rt-us-usa-minimum-wage-massachusetts-20140626,0,3654096.story
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/26/companies-minimum-wage_n_5530835.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2014/06/26/minimum-wage-increase-doesn-add-living-wage/ZXSpmdWx2PBFVMj1OuDXdI/story.html

Left Side of the Aisle #166




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

This week:

Good News: state and local moves to raise minimum wage
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2014/07/01/chart-eleven-states-will-have-breached-a-9-minimum-wage-by-2018/
http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/sns-rt-us-usa-minimum-wage-massachusetts-20140626,0,3654096.story
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/26/companies-minimum-wage_n_5530835.html
http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2014/06/26/minimum-wage-increase-doesn-add-living-wage/ZXSpmdWx2PBFVMj1OuDXdI/story.html

Not Good News: attacks on minimum wage continue
http://whoviating.blogspot.com/2014/06/1636-update-even-imf-says-raise-minimum.html
http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2014/07/07/seattle-business-group-clears-major-hurdle-toward-repealing-15-minimum-wage/
http://finance.yahoo.com/news/the-downside-of-minimum-wage-hikes-200357186.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/07/andy-puzder-minimum-wage_n_5563975.html
http://oregonstate.edu/instruct/anth484/minwage.html
http://www.dol.gov/whd/minwage/chart.htm
http://www.epi.org/
http://www.epi.org/publication/top-restaurant-industry-ceos-721-times-minimum/

Clown Award: American liberals
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/06/rolling-coal-photos-video_n_5561477.html
http://www.vocativ.com/culture/society/dicks-pick-trucks-meme-rollin-coal/
http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/politics/2014/07/rolling_coal_conservatives_who_show_their_annoyance_with_liberals_obama.html
http://www.vocativ.com/culture/society/dicks-pick-trucks-meme-rollin-coal/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2014/06/26/more-than-three-quarters-of-conservatives-say-the-poor-have-it-easy/
http://www.care2.com/causes/do-the-poor-have-it-easy-most-republicans-say-yes-they-do.html
http://whatever.scalzi.com/2005/09/03/being-poor/
http://www.classism.org/about-class/what-is-classism

Outrage of the Week: presidents get buffer zones; women don't
http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/wood-v-moss/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/supreme-court-says-secret-service-agents-are-immune-in-bush-protest-lawsuit/2014/05/27/ce88db08-e5b3-11e3-8f90-73e071f3d637_story.html
http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-supreme-court-free-speech-protesters-20140527-story.html
http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2014/05/27/supreme-court-bush-protest-speech/9172707/
http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/06/26/supreme-court-abortion-clinic-buffer-zones/6698787/
http://bostonherald.com/news_opinion/local_coverage/2014/06/high_court_voids_abortion_clinic_protest_free_zone
http://blogs.wsj.com/washwire/2014/06/26/supreme-irony-court-has-own-buffer-zone/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/a-question-of-where-protesters-take-a-stand/2014/02/16/1bc57ee0-9720-11e3-afce-3e7c922ef31e_story.html?wprss=rss_politics

Footnote: that is, some presidents get buffer zones
http://www.startribune.com/local/minneapolis/59288822.html
http://talkingpointsmemo.com/muckraker/gun-toter-from-obama-event-i-like-my-pastor-want-the-president-to-die
http://www.abovetopsecret.com/forum/thread490906/pg1

Supreme Court ignores own ruling to benefit anti-contraceptive crowd
http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2014/07/wheaton_college_injunction_the_supreme_court_just_sneakily_reversed_itself.html

Saturday, July 05, 2014

165.5 - Thoughts for the Fourth: on patriotism

Thoughts for the Fourth: on patriotism

I have a whole bunch of other things I wanted to talk about, other Supreme Court decisions, Iraq, lots of stuff. But I will have to put that off because I need to do this this week.

This show will be seen in the week including the Fourth of July. I hope you enjoyed your Fourth, I hope you got to see some fireworks or watch a parade or have a barbecue or a picnic or just loll in your yard or chill on your couch with a cool drink. The Fourth is a time for fun and I hope you had your share.

For the rest of the show I'm going to reprise something I said last year around this time. Maybe I'll do it every year. Kind of like my annual Fourth of July show.

Because the Fourth is not just a time for fun; it's also, of course, traditionally a day of patriotism, of celebrating our nation and our heritage. And that's what I want to talk about: what it means to be, as I see it, an American patriot.

So let me start by reminding you just what it is we are supposed to be celebrating, what heritage we are supposed to be honoring.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
That is the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence, which was adopted on July 4, 1776, which is why July 4 is the holiday.

Which means the Fourth is about celebrating a history of revolution, celebrating the right and duty of people to resist oppression and to achieve independence. That history, that principle, should form the basis of our patriotism.

I never used to think of myself as patriotic; I never used to think about it much one way or the other. I used to be somewhat confused about the notion of are you proud to be an American; I would think "How can I be proud of it; I had nothing to do with it. I was born here. how can I be proud of something I had nothing to do with?" I thought - and still think, in fact - that the only people who could legitimately be proud of being american are immigrants, people who made the conscious decision to come here. For me it was really a matter of chance; I might just as well be proud of being left-handed, because I had every bit as much to do with that.

At one point, though, I started thinking about a better way to phrase the question "Are you proud to be an American," one that involves the "you" in a way beyond an accident of birth - thinking, that is, of the question as being "Are you proud of what it means to be an American; are you proud of what the concept 'American; says to the rest of the world."

That point, that thinking of patriotism that way - thinking of principles, beliefs, and so on, thinking of it in that context - came during the presidential campaign of 2008. Barack Obama made a speech defending his own patriotism, which had been under attack. In the course of that speech he went out of his way to attack the antiwar activists and the counterculture of the 1960s. And it was "out of his way." If you read the speech - which I did - you could see that that whole section could be removed without impinging on his overall argument. It was just a ritualistic denunciation of an entire era and the people who symbolized it. Bluntly put, Barack Obama was defending his patriotism by attacking that of others - including mine. And yes, I took it personally.
Sadly, too many people, especially among politicians, follow suit, making patriotism a matter of political or social gain rather than substance, a matter of ostentatious display, of flag pins and the Star Spangled Banner and swirling music and fluttering flags. Next time you see a political debate, amuse yourself by noting how many of the men are dressed in red, white, and blue: red tie, white shirt, blue suit.

I say that patriotism measured in terms of wearing flag pins, of having your hand over your heart during the national anthem, and the like is worthless, dangerous, and shallow. It is a hollow "patriotism," a shell that prefers form to substance and too easily, as we too often have seen over the last years, slides from "patriotism" into jingoism, as even now people who, had they done the equivalent against the British government in 1776 our school history textbooks would be calling heroes, are instead now being labeled as traitors and yes, I am thinking of Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, among others.

Before I go any further, don't anyone bother claiming I said wearing a flag pin or whatever is "hollow." I said no such thing. I said that a patriotism measured in those terms is hollow. And it is.

So here is my understanding of patriotism, of what it means to be a patriotic american:

Some years ago I read the comment about patriotism that "it is natural to have an abiding affection for the land of one's birth." I completely agree with that. But going beyond that, I say being a US patriot means being dedicated to the ideals on which this country was supposed to have been founded and which, at its best moments, it strives to uphold in as full a measure as we can manage: Ideals such as "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," as the right to rebellion against oppression, as "promoting the general welfare," as political freedoms, as representative government "of, by, and for the people" - the ideal of, to sum it up in a single phrase from the Preamble to the Constitution, the ideal of an intent to "establish justice," a justice I say must include the economic and the social as well as the political if it is to have real meaning.

Patriotism, that is, lies in the devotion to the ideals, not in any symbolic outward expression of it.

I do not wear a flag pin. I do not put my hand over my heart during the national anthem (which, I'll note in passing, I was taught as a child was something that some folks did but was not required). I do not sing along with the national anthem. In fact - and I know this will provide ammo for some and lead others to say I undermine my argument, but I don't care, it's the truth - I don't even stand up for the national anthem. Because patriotism does not lie in symbols or gestures.

Further, patriotism also does not lie in support for or opposition to any particular party or policy except insofar as that support or opposition is an expression of that internal commitment to those ideals.

For example, We are supposed to be a free people. Which means - since we're talking about Iraq take 3 these days - that an opponent of the Iraq war who was angered by the Executive branch's usurpation of power is much more patriotic than a war supporter who kept referring to the president as "the commander-in-chief" as if we were all soldiers expected to obey orders rather than citizens with the obligation held by any free people to "question authority."

We are supposed to be a daring people. We applaud ourselves for how we "dared" to cross the oceans, how we "dared" to cross the plains and prairies, how we "dared" to step out into space. Which means that an opponent of NSA spying is more patriotic, is more in keeping with what we tell ourselves about our heritage, than those who applaud the stripping away of our privacy and our rights as they cower in fear of a dark and vaguely-defined "other."

So I'm not patriotic as the term has unhappily come to be understood by too many: no flag pins, no singing of the national anthem, none of that. But if patriotism can be understood as embracing the ideals of our nation, as striving to hold this country to the highest of those ideals instead of the lowest of its prejudices, if it can be understood as committing to a notion of what the US, of what we as a people, can be and have at times approached being, then I submit to you that I am about as patriotic as they come. And I have neither patience with nor tolerance for those who would make patriotism a matter of empty gestures and ostentatious decorations rather than conviction.

So you have a great Fourth - and remember the radical, the revolutionary, heritage it celebrates.

Sources cited in links:
http://whoviating.blogspot.com/2008/07/point-of-personal-privilege.html

165.4 - Outrage of the Week: Hobby Lobby decision

Outrage of the Week: Hobby Lobby decision

Now for our other regular weekly feature, the Outrage of the Week.

You know about the Hobby Lobby decision. I know you do, you can't not know unless you are consciously avoiding all news in which case you wouldn't be watching this.

But just to summarize: On June 30, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that "closely-held" corporations can refuse to provide coverage for contraceptives and contraceptive care in the health insurance required by the Affordable Health Care Act, aka Obamacare, based on a claim of a "religious objection."

You've heard about that. Maybe you've even heard about Ruth Bader Ginsburg's blistering dissent, in which she called the ruling "a decision of startling breadth" that can "introduce" "havoc."

Ruth Bader Ginsburg
She blew away the idea that providing contraceptive coverage as part of health insurance is a "substantial burden" on the religious views of corporate owners, noting that "[t]he requirement carries no command that [corporations] purchase or provide the contraceptives they find objectionable" and that a woman's decision to claim birth control benefits in consultation with her doctor is not equivalent to a moral action on the part of her employer.

You may also have heard it observed that the majority in the case were all men and all three women on the court were among the dissenters.

But there are some bits you may not have heard about the case and I wanted to point out some of those.

One is that the reactionary majority went out of its way to say this only applied to "closely-held" companies and so there was the usual crowd of pundits and analysts going on about how it's really no big deal, it only affects a few people, what's the big deal, nothing to see here, move along, and so on.

But the term "closely-held" is defined by the IRS as no more than five people holding at least half of the stock. As Adam Winkler of the UCLA School of Law noted, that description covers the vast majority of corporations in America. A 2000 study estimated that more than 90 percent of American businesses are closely held. A 2009 study by Columbia University found that closely held corporations employ about 52 percent of the US labor force. This is no "limited impact" ruling.

What's more, this was the first time the Supreme Court has ruled that profit-seeking businesses can hold religious views under federal law. Which becomes even more surprising when you consider what hypocrites it makes of the reactionary five, who perpetually crow about their devotion to original intent and precedent. (Or maybe it's not surprising after all.)

For example, in 1968, Maurice Bessinger, the owner of a chain of restaurants, wanted a religious exemption from civil rights laws because he believed that segregation was justified by the Bible. The Supreme Court said no, his belief did not exempt him from the law.

For another, the very law the majority cited in this case, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, was prompted in part because of a Supreme Court decision.

In 1993 the court refused to allow a religious exemption for members of the Native American Church over peyote, a hallucinogenic drug which was traditionally used by the natives during their religious services. The court said that “We have never held that an individual's religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the State is free to regulate." That majority opinion was written by Antonin Scalia, one of the foul five in the Hobby Lobby case.

In fact, the entire Hobby Lobby decision is let's just call it disingenuous.

For example, the foul five insisted that the decision is limited to contraceptives under the health care law and "should not be understood to hold that an insurance-coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer's religious beliefs."

Which is nonsense. Because how do you decide? Once you decide that profit-seeking corporations can have religious beliefs, where do you draw a new line? How can you draw a new line without favoring one religion over another? How can you say you can have religious convictions about contraceptives but not anything else?

If now a Christian Scientist employer claimed they wanted to be exempt from covering blood transfusions, how do you say no?

Go wider, but still within the healthcare mandate: If an employer wants to be able to refuse to provide any coverage for a same-sex spouse of an employee because of their religious objections to such marriages, how do you say no?

Wider still: If a Muslim business owner claimed a religious objection to hiring women who would not wear the burqa, how can the Court now say no?

The claim of a "limited" ruling affecting "only contraceptives" is crap and I say the foul five know it. This decision is likely to open the floodgates to a host of religious wackos of one sort or another who want to have their personal predilections enshrined as national policy. This is not the end. It's the beginning. And it is an outrage.

Sources cited in links:
http://www.aol.com/article/2014/06/30/justices-cant-make-employers-cover-contraception/20922400/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/06/30/ruth-bader-ginsburg-write_n_5544111.html
http://talkingpointsmemo.com/dc/how-many-americans-impacted-by-hobby-lobby-ruling
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/07/01/rachel-maddow-hobby-lobby-scotus_n_5547211.html
http://newsok.com/peyote-hobby-lobby-and-the-religious-freedom-law/article/3946316

165.3 - Clown Award: Ann Coulter (cancelled)

Clown Award: Ann Coulter (cancelled)

Now it's time for the Clown Award, given as always for meritorious stupidity. Or, rather, it would have been time for it.

See, I was going to give this week's Big Red Nose to Ann Coulter for her amazingly brain-dead column that proposed that the increasing interest in soccer in the US is proof of the moral decay of US society.

But then I realized that the poor dear was just trying to get some attention, to have somebody notice her, as she slips into the gray fog of living in memories of the glories of days gone by.

And I just didn’t have the heart.

Sources cited in links:
http://www2.thepostgame.com/blog/daily-take/201406/ann-coulter-fifa-world-cup-immigration-ted-kennedy-american-soccer-usa
http://www.clarionledger.com/story/opinion/columnists/2014/06/25/coulter-growing-interest-soccer-sign-nations-moral-decay/11372137/

165.2 - Racism (on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act)

Racism (on the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act)

I'm recording this show on July 2, an important day in history. Today, July 2, is the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

We have, admittedly, come some distance since then. Some things are better, at least somewhat. For example, The income gap between whites and blacks has shrunk. Its still there, but it has shrunk. The difference in life expectancy has shrunk. Again, there still is a gap, but it's smaller. As compared to 1964, the percentage of blacks who have completed high school has more than tripled; the number of black undergrads is now more than 10 times what it was then; and the percentage who have completed four years of college is nearly six times what it was.

In fact, we have come so very far that even though blacks still are twice as likely to be poor or unemployed than whites and still get paid less when they do have jobs, we have come so very far that with the election of Barack Obama in 2008, pundits began talking about how we are living in a "post-racial society"

The right wing was especially intense on this, going on and on about how race just doesn't matter anymore, so that if you ever pointed out racism, that just proved that you were "the REAL racist." That attitude has been reflected in the actions of the right-wing majority of the Supreme Court to repeatedly constrain, restrict, and sometimes even deny colleges and universities the authority to consider race as even one factor in trying to achieve what even the reactionaries are forced to admit is a good thing: a diverse student population.

In one of those decisions, John Roberts - who continues to define the word "smug" - in the course of throwing out yet another school's attempt at some kind of affirmative action in enrollment, said, "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race." In other words, the only thing standing between us a colorblind society is all those icky programs like affirmative action and the best way to deal with racism is to pretend it doesn't exist.

Would, oh would, that were true.

The hard fact is, racism not dead in our society and the election of Barack Obama did not get us past racism; if anything, it inflamed it.

The evidence is all around us and I don't mean just in the big things like poverty statistics or the murder of Trayvon Martin - I mean the everyday slaps and slams, the everyday reminders that if you are African-American, you are still "other" in the eyes of too many.

You want the evidence? Pretty much all you have to do is look at the online comments to any news article that in any way relates to a black person. Here's one, from May:

The article described how media and locals had converged on a street corner in southeast Houston, Texas, after a shooting there earlier in the day. A man for whatever reason drove his car into a crowd of about 20 people there. No one was hurt; the driver was arrested at the scene. That was the story.

The following were all from first 20 comments on this article, and they are quoted:

- Frickin blacks. Look how many they were just standing around in the middle of the day! I know in my neighborhood. You don't see that because everyone is at the magical place called WORK! Where you actually have to WORK for money. Instead of sit on your ass and wait for the mail man to bring it to you!

- Work is a 4 letter word that will soon be banned in those communities.

- Did you hear about the little black boy that had diahhrea? He thought he was melting.

- Luckily for the driver he wasn't a white guy, we all the know the hell that would have broken loose if he was don't we!

- [To which someone responded] No white man would have been in that neighborhood.

- [To which someone else responded] Actually there were 2 or 3 white men in the video. They were the reporters and camera men. You know....the men that were out working to support themselves and their families.

- I don't expect any less of Blacks they have no respect of the law Period

- I am surprised there are that many of them awake during the day! They usually stay up carousing all night and sleep all day on the taxpayers nickel!

When Obama commented on the racist remarks of Donald Sterling, these were some of the initial comments:

- Is this clown for real. "O" is, along with his ag [i.e., Attorney General] the biggest RACIST of all. This guy is a joke,and unfortunately, a JOKE ON OUR COUNTRY...just ask REV. WRIGHT.

- Obama has racist feeling toward White America. [This same person complained that the VA "has replaced 41% of its hired help with Blacks during Obama's terms."]

- No worse than he or Eric Holder playing the race card against anyone who stands up to them, and not to forget about Al Sharpton

- He is the one who is the true racist-he has set relations back to the 60's.

And don't think it's just the loud-mouthed extremists. It's just out there all around us.

For one example, a new study, drawing on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the US census, has shown that African-Americans college students are about as likely to be able to get a job as white high school-dropouts.

Here's another: For 10 years, Massachusetts has had a program under which judges have been quietly and anonymously rated by the lawyers who appear before them. An evaluation of that 10 years of data by two Harvard sociologists brought in to evaluate the program revealed a consistent pattern of racial bias against black judges.

The researchers also convened several focus groups of lawyers and judges and concluded that what emerged was "the idea that persons of color do not match the expectations of what a judge should look like."

Here's a third: a few years ago a study of Boston hospitals showed that physicians, presented with hypothetical cases of patients coming to the Emergency Room with signs of a heart attack, consistently proposed treating whites more aggressively - that is, ordering more tests, engaging in more direct intervention - than they did African-Americans. Even after allowing for other factors including age, physical condition, previous medical history, and other relevant factors, the racial difference remained.

What's important is that in both of the latter two studies, the people who were treating blacks differently than whites denied doing so. And they were probably being honest: They probably honestly didn't realize doing it. But that is an essence of racism: the difference in attitudes and actions based on unspoken, even unrecognized, assumptions.

Racism survives on built-in assumptions. Several weeks ago I talked about "white privilege," how by being white you are privileged in multiple ways, often in terms of what people, simply because you are white, do not assume about you. These studies are just the other side of that; they reveal what is assumed about non-whites.

We are a society suffused with racism, infused with racism, infected with racism, a society in which a young black man is "suspicious" simply by virtue of being a young black man. More, not just "young" and not just "man." Black bodies - simply by virtue of being black - are associated with behavior and actions that are deemed anything from lazy to threatening to just "not the way it should be," regardless of what they actually do.

When are we going to admit to ourselves that racism and bigotry, that rancid, putrid, vomit-inducing ignorance and paranoia, are alive and thriving in our society and have been since the beginning? And yes, not only against blacks: Hispanics, for example, are just the latest target of our isolationist xenophobia. We can trace that particular affliction back generation by generation, group by group, target by target: Asians, Poles, Italians, Irish, Jews, Catholics - any wave of immigrants that was in any way "different," to be blunt, that wasn't a WASP, any time there was a wave of "different" people, we heard the same things: It's going to destroy the country, undermine it, these foreigners, they're dirty, they're filthy, they're criminals, they're all the rest of this nonsense. We can trace this right back to Native Americans, who weren't even immigrants.

Our record on this is a shameful one. It may not be the worst, it may not even be all that bad compared to some other nations. That doesn't change the fact that it is shameful.

So I don't want to hear a single breath, a single hint, a single whisper, they we are are a "post-racial society." Anyone who says that to you is lying, either to you or to themselves, I don't know which. But the fact is that we are suffused with racism along with sexism and homophobia - we are steeped in our bigotry until it penetrates our souls.

Yes, it's getting better. Yes, it has been worse in the past. Yes, we can see an impact, we can see how bigotry now is usually expressed more with a wink and a nod, with dog whistles, not with overt filth of the old sort.

Yes, we have made at least some progress, painfully slow, painfully limited, but considering we're talking about a span of 50 freaking years, that's really not saying much.

Sources cited in links:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_Rights_Act_of_1964
http://whoviating.blogspot.com/2013/08/1235-50th-anniversary-of-march-on.html
http://whoviating.blogspot.com/2014/04/1565-outrage-of-week-scotus-ignores.html
http://www.aol.com/article/2014/05/08/man-tries-to-run-over-crowd-at-crime-scene/20882757/
http://www.aol.com/article/2014/04/27/obama-weighs-in-on-racist-comments-by-clippers-owner-donald-sterling/20876560/
http://www.studentimpactproject.org/reports
http://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2014/06/27/white-high-school-drop-outs-are-as-likely-to-land-jobs-as-black-college-students/
http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/06/10/judging-judges-effort-address-racial-bias-judicial-reviews-has-created-racial-firestorm-bench/Iq3x11bGAJuDWJbsIGLkpM/story.html
http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2014/06/12/3447645/lawyers-systematically-rate-black-judges-less-favorably-study-finds/
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2219763/
http://whoviating.blogspot.com/2014/04/1565-outrage-of-week-scotus-ignores.html
 
// I Support The Occupy Movement : banner and script by @jeffcouturer / jeffcouturier.com (v1.2) document.write('
I support the OCCUPY movement
');function occupySwap(whichState){if(whichState==1){document.getElementById('occupyimg').src="https://sites.google.com/site/occupybanners/home/isupportoccupy-right-blue.png"}else{document.getElementById('occupyimg').src="https://sites.google.com/site/occupybanners/home/isupportoccupy-right-red.png"}} document.write('');