Sunday, October 15, 2017

35.6 - We Are Not Alone: Burma

We Are Not Alone: Burma

I have been meaning for some time to take a more internationalist view here. Too often we, not just me but all the political shows and podcasts and blogs and whatnot, tend to focus almost exclusively on domestic issues and address the rest of the world only when and only in terms of how events there affect us. We act like we are alone on the earth.

But we're not and so I've decided on a new weekly feature, called, appropriately enough, We Are Not Alone. The first thing back from break each week, we are going to spend at least a couple of minutes addressing some event or events beyond our borders even, perhaps especially, if they don't affect us.

This week, it's Burma, also known as Myanmar.

Rakhine province in southwest Burma has been the site of ethnic cleansing directed at the Rohingya, a stateless Muslim people. The UN human rights office has blamed the Myanmar military for brutally driving well over a half million Rohingya from northern Rakhine state into Bangladesh in the past several weeks, torching homes, crops, and villages to prevent those fleeing from returning.

There are survivor accounts of mass killing and rape as part of that ethnic cleansing.

Rohingya are not classified as an indigenous minority in Myanmar and so are denied citizenship under a law that links nationality to ethnicity. That is, they are not just not citizens, they are specifically barred from becoming citizens.

This is part of what to means to be stateless: There is no place where they can say "we are part of this nation." By comparison, the Kurds, for example, don't have a Kurdistan, but they are not stateless: The Kurds in Iraq may want independence, they do want independence, but even so they are citizens of Iraq. The same is true in Iran and Turkey. In Turkey, the Kurds may be accused of being terrorists, but they still are a recognized group in Turkey.

Not so the Rohingya. Despite having lived in Rakhine province for generations, they are regarded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They face restrictions and discrimination and are derided by much of the wider, largely Buddhist population of Burma, which has experienced a surge in Buddhist nationalism recently.

The Myanmar army's onslaught in Rakhine was triggered by a small-scale attack on clearly military targets in August by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, which is demanding full citizenship rights and recognition of Rohingyas as an indigenous community. Even before the government offensive, the small, lightly armed ARSA was only capable of hit-and-run raids - which is why it would be a more accurate description to say the August raid "was used to justify" rather than "triggered" the army's brutal response.

By the way, a quick sidebar to explain the Burma-Myanmar thing. The formal name of the country is Myanmar, a name that was imposed by the ruling military junta in 1989. Burma is the historical name and the one used by the common people. You'll find both names used pretty interchangeably except in formal legal settings and, usually, in reference to the military.

Anyway, in what was billed as the first part of a major push for improved relations among followers of different faiths in Burma, mass interfaith rallies were held in several places on October 10, attended by Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, and Christian leaders calling for peace and understanding.

Which sounds good: pleas for amity and reconciliation including in Rakhine. Except for one thing: These rallies were organized by the National League for Democracy, which is the ruling political party in the country. These were government-sponsored, government-organized rallies intended to push back against the international condemnation of the government by a show of gushing, gooey appeals to "unity" and in some cases directly defending the government and attacking its critics as lacking "understanding."

They existed, that is, to promote a message equivalent to an event in the US responding to issues of racism by solemnly intoning the greeting-card sentimentality of "All lives matter." The insistence - there as here - is that the one thing you can't do is hold anyone responsible.

It's not good enough. The government - and particularly the army that despite the outward frame of democracy, still is effectively in charge - is responsible. And should be held accountable.

There is some talk, vague, but talk, along those lines: The European Union and the United States are supposedly considering targeted sanctions aimed specifically at top generals of the Myanmar military, sanctions that were not even on the table a month ago. There is also some talk of increased humanitarian aid to Rakhine province.

Which unfortunately will be hard to do because the government will not allow international observers or aid workers into the area. Which very likely in a good indication of what those observers and workers would find, including seeing who is to blame.

35.5 - Outrage of the Week: backlash against kneeling NFL players

Outrage of the Week: backlash against kneeling NFL players

Next up, one of our regular features; this is the Outrage of the Week.

This week, the outrage revolves around the backlash against the NFL players who are players taking a knee during the pre-game playing of the national anthem, or are not coming onto the field until after it's played, or some other quiet protest.

It started with Colin Kaepernick, who did it as a quiet personal protest, saying he could not stand with his hand over heart in light of the repeated killings of young black men by police.

The protest caught on and spread. We have seen whole NFL teams kneel as well as teams at other levels; a few times we have even seen NFL owners joining the team.

What we have also seen, however, is pushback from government officials and those in the media who duly parrot the claptrap that such protests are "disrespectful," even "insulting" to the anthem and even somehow to the US flag.

Which is bullshit. The protests cannot be "disrespectful" or "insulting" because they are not about the anthem and they are not about the flag.

They are about police brutality.

They are about police murders of unarmed young black men.

They are about the bigotry of automatically seeing black men as thugs, as menacing, as dangerous.

They are about racism as expressed through the behavior of our police forces.

They are not about the anthem, even less are they about the flag. The anthem is just the organizing point, the symbol around which the protest is organized, not the target. Saying the protest is "about" or "directed at" or "disrespectful to" the anthem is like saying a march in Washington, DC is protesting Pennsylvania Avenue. It's like saying if there is a protest at the White House, that protest is not about some law or social condition or some policy of the current administration, it's about - and "disrespectful" to - the building itself and through that is "insulting" the very idea of the presidency, indeed the very idea of our constitutional form of government.

It's like saying that when Martin Luther King made his famous "I have a dream" speech in August 1963 that he was protesting the Lincoln Memorial. (After all, remember that he turned his back on the statue of Lincoln to give that speech!)

If that sounds silly, the idea that the NFL protests are "disrespecting" anything other than racism is equally silly.

Those who raise the claim know it. They know it. What they are trying to do is not to honesty critique the protests, they are trying to change the subject - because they don't want to deal with the actual topic. They don't want to deal with painful truths involved so they want to demonize the protest by demonizing the protesters.

They are, that is, lying to you, actively trying to mislead you. Lying to you to avoid facing their own bigotry and the bigotry they support though their official duties and their media maunderings and lying to you to enable you to avoid facing your own bigotry.

That's what the pushback is about: not "respecting" the anthem or the flag but about ignoring racism.

And there's one other aspect of this, one that I find particularly infuriating: the claim that kneeling for the anthem is "disrespectful" to "our soldiers," to "our fighting men and women."

Soldiers? Kneeling is wrong because it's disrespectful to soldiers? The anthem, the flag, is directly connected to soldiers?

That is positively un-American. Equating the anthem or the flag with one particular group - any particular group - is un-American. Period.

But this is worse: This is symbolically equating soldiers - symbolically equating the military - with America. Saying the military equals America.

You don't see it? You don't see what the problem is? Try changing "soldiers" to any other group. Say that kneeling during the anthem is insulting to teachers, who after all we call "the guardians of our future." It's insulting to hard-working American union members. It's insulting to peace and social justice activists, who raise the standard of free speech, free association, and the right to petition the government. It's insulting to civil rights lawyers, who are the voices of justice in the courts.

Does any of that sound like it should be the standard? (Remember that there are 2.7 times as many active teachers as active duty military.)

You still don't see it? What if we picked yet another group and said that it was insulting to whites? That seeing these (mostly black) NFL players kneeling during the anthem is insulting to white people?

Does that sound appropriate? No? Then why is it okay to single out soldiers as who are represented by the anthem, by the flag? In fact, what does that say about us as a people?

That threatens to get me off into a different topic, to our devotion to the military and to the militarism that runs though our national veins, so let me leave it for now except to say once more that saying the players' protest is insulting to soldiers, and so identifying soldiers with the anthem and the flag, is flatly un-American.

Let's get back to the actual target of the protest, because on that, the facts speak for themselves.

First off, know that there is no definitive data on the number of people killed by police and the government does terrible job of keeping track. So there is some play in the numbers, but the trends they show are unmistakable.

For one, blacks are far more likely to be killed by cops than whites are. In fact, compared to their percentage of the population, blacks are 5.5 times more likely to be killed by cops than whites are.

Black males aged 15-34 are nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by cops.

Black males aged 15-19 are 21 times more likely to be killed by cops than white males of the same age group.

That racial disparity persists among unarmed victims: Counting all racial minorities, not just blacks, an unarmed minority person is nearly three times as likely to get shot and killed by police than an unarmed white person. When you consider just African-Americans, the rate is five times higher.

And no, it has nothing to do with the crime rate and all the "well, they commit more crimes" mutterings: Multiple studies have found no correlation between police shootings and the local crime rate.

And its not because police are in such terrible danger that they have to repeatedly defend themselves in some supposed war:

Again, there is some play in the numbers, but according to, as of October 12, 931 non-cops had been shot and killed by ops in the US in 2017.

According to, as of that same day - October 12 - the figure was 941.

According to the Washington Post, using a more cautious methodology, the number was 770 as of October 8, which the paper noted is more than at the same point in 2016.

Meanwhile, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, which is devoted to memorializing police who died in the line of duty, there had been, as of October 9, just 37 cops shot and killed by non-cops in the whole US in 2017, a number that is, the page noted, 16% below what it was at the same point a year earlier.

Cops shot and killed by non-cops, down. Non-cops killed by cops, up. And a kill ratio of somewhere between 21:1 and 25:1.

Here's a comparison for you, another way of looking at this: In 2016, 266 of the 1093 killed by cops were black. That's 24.4% of the total. If the proportion so far in 2017 is the same, then using lowest figure, the one from the Washington Post, 188 blacks have been killed so far this year by cops. Which means that cops have killed five times as many blacks as the total number of cops killed by everyone, blacks, whites, Hispanics, and anybody else.

There comes a point, one we are or at least by all that's rational should be well beyond, where despite the desperate fantasies such as the recent invention by an FBI Terrorism Task Force of a new threat of "black identity extremism" concocted out of the deaths of eight cops in six incidents spread over three years;

there comes a point where no honest person, no one with basic human decency and cognitive facilities outmatching those of a rabbit;

there comes a point where you simply cannot deny the truth reflected in these numbers. You simply cannot chalk these numbers up to any cause other than flat out racism.

And the fact that there are voices, powerful voices in government and media, that would do and are doing exactly that, that would and do deny that reality, that would and do insistently, persistently lie to you about those trying to raise awareness of that reality, that fact shows that those voices lack that honesty, lack that basic human decency, and that is the deepest sort of outrage.

35.4 - Not Good News: Dakota Access pipeline to continue operations during review

Not Good News: Dakota Access pipeline to continue operations during review

Unfortunately, this week we also have some Not Good New.

You remember, I surely hope, the activism and protest around the Dakota Access Pipeline, a 1,200-mile oil pipeline to be part of the system to get tar sands oil from Canada across the Midwest and ultimately to the Gulf Coast.

Still, a bit of history to get you up to date. The planned route of the pipeline, being built by a corporation called Energy Transfer Partners, crossed the Missouri River just upstream from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota, threatening lands sacred to the tribe as well as its source of drinking water.

The outpouring of support that lead to the mass protests at the site were undoubtedly part of what moved the Obama administration to deny the final permits to cross the river and to promise a full environmental review that considered the Tribe's treaty rights as well as alternative routes.

And of course almost immediately on taking office, TheRump reversed all that and gave the permits.

The Tribe filed a lawsuit to challenge this decision, but construction went ahead and was completed while the case was proceeding.

In June, just weeks after pipeline operations had begun, the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers had not complied with environmental review laws before issuing permits for the pipeline to cross the Missouri River. The court ordered the Corps to do a new analysis of critical issues it hadn't properly addressed.

Here's where the Not Good News comes in: The court also ordered a separate briefing to assess whether the pipeline should be shut down while this so-called "remand" process is going on.

On October 11, the DC District Court ruled that the pipeline can keep operating. It rejected the claim that shutting it down would cause substantial economic harm to the company, noting that Energy Transfer Partners got itself into that situation by starting operations while the case was being litigated, but also ruled that because it is "possible" that when the remand is complete the Corps can justify its decision not to conduct a full review, the gunk can keep moving.

The Tribe had also asked for additional measures to reduce the risk of oil spills; that is still before the court.

For now, the Tribe intends to focus on the remand process and has a team of experts assisting it in providing input. The Corps of Engineers has stated that remand process should be complete by April 2018 and the court admonished the Corps not to treat this process as a "bureaucratic formality" but to give "serious consideration" to the errors identified by the court.

So the fight goes on, but right now the news is not good.

35.3 - Good News: cop who dragged nurse from hospital is fired

Good News: cop who dragged nurse from hospital is fired

Finally for this week, do you remember Alex Wubbels? She is the nurse who in July was arrested and physically dragged out of a hospital by a Salt Lake City cop named Jeff Payne after she - entirely properly - refused to let him take blood from an unconscious patient without a warrant.

Video of her arrest went viral and she was quickly released without charges.

The Good News here is that on October 10, Jeff Payne was fired - and to top it off, his supervisor, who told him to go ahead and arrest Wubbels, was demoted from lieutenant to regular officer.

Wubbels did have three advantages here: It was recorded - which while too often making no difference, without the video nothing would have been done here - she is white, and she is a nurse, a profession with a high degree of respect among Americans.

While none of that protected her from the mistreatment, together they did mean that, as too rarely happens, there were consequences for being a bad cop. And that is Good News.

35.2 - Good News: anti-nuclear weapons group wins Nobel Peace Prize

Good News: anti-nuclear weapons group wins Nobel Peace Prize

The 2017 Nobel Peace Prize has gone to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a coalition of grassroots non-government groups in more than 100 nations.

The award going to a relatively a little-known group was something of a surprise, leading some to suspect that it was intended as a kick in the shin to TheRump over his bellicosity over North Korea and the expectation that he will try weasel out of the Iran nuclear weapons deal.

The Nobel committee denied that, saying it was a call to states that have nuclear weapons to fulfill their earlier pledges to work towards nuclear disarmament.

Either way, the renewed attention to the threat of nuclear war, a threat which has never actually gone away and now appears to be increasing, is welcome and in helping to generate that attention, this is Good News.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

35.1 - Good News: majority of GOPpers say society should accept homosexuality

Good News: majority of GOPpers say society should accept homosexuality

Starting off with some Good News, a recent survey by the Pew Research Center included a notable result: For the first time, a majority - 54% - of Republicans and Republican leaners say homosexuality should be accepted by society.

By contrast, only 35 percent of that same group felt that way in 2007.

Democrats and Democratic leaners, not too surprisingly, were more emphatic: 83 percent said homosexuality should be accepted by society.

On a related noted, because it also comes under the heading of LGBTQ rights, Stiles Zuschlag is a 17-year-old Maine boy who had been attending Tri-City Christian Academy in Somersworth, New Hampshire.

Stiles Zuschlag
That all changed when he came out as transgender in 2015. The school knew of his gender change, but he wanted to be clear that he should be addressed as Stiles and no longer as Alija.

So he spoke to a counselor at the school in August, who gave him an ultimatum: He had to confess his sins, renounce that he was a male, stop taking testosterone treatments, and go to Christian counseling - or find a new school.

So this year he found a new school, a public one: Noble High School, in North Berwick, Maine.

When an email began circulating asking for nominees for the position of this year's homecoming king, as a joke he asked for his name to be put in. You know what's coming: Not only was he nominated, on October 6, he won.

It's a small thing, even a very small thing; nonetheless, it's another little sign of progress, of acceptance of people for who they are. And just like GOPpers gradually coming around, that is Good News.

Friday, October 13, 2017

What's Left #35

What's Left
for the week of October 13-19, 2017

This week:
Good News: majority of GOPpers say society should accept homosexuality

Good News: transgender boy forced to leave Christian school; elected homecoming king at new one

Good News: anti-nuclear weapons group wins Nobel Peace Prize

Good News: cops who dragged nurse from hospital is fired

Not Good News: Dakota Access pipeline to continue operations during review

Outrage of the Week: backlash against kneeling NFL players

We Are Not Alone: Burma

Saturday, October 07, 2017

34.10 - The meaning of the White House response to Puerto Rico

The meaning of the White House response to Puerto Rico

Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on Sept. 20. It was the worst storm to hit the island in 90 years.

The hurricane completely destroyed the island's power grid, leaving all 3.4 million residents without electricity. Communication networks were crippled, with 95% of cell networks down and 85% of above-ground phone and internet cables knocked out. Many interior roads were impassable. Cities were flooded.

As a measure of how bad it was, as of October 5, two weeks after the storm hit, over 90% of the island was still without electricity and nearly half the inhabitants still did not have access to safe drinking water. The economy has come to a virtual halt because only a quarter of the island's ATMs are dispensing cash - and virtually none of the limited number of stores that are even open are in a position to accept credit cards.

And what did The Rump do? He delayed sending the Navy ship Comfort, an ocean-going, complete medical facility fashioned out of a supertanker, on the flimsy grounds that it could not get close enough to any port to avoid using helicopter support to get patients to and from the ship - which is what the Comfort usually does! It was a damn supertanker, for pity sake. It normally can't get closer than a mile or two offshore and has a helipad for just that reason.

The Comfort didn't finally arrive in Puerto Rico until October 3.

It took him eight days to waive the Jones Act, a 1920 law requiring that goods going by ship from one US port to another be on US-flagged vessels. By comparison, in the case of Hurricane Irma, that Act was waived even before Irma made landfall in Florida.

And when, more than a week after the storm hit, the mayor of San Juan went on the media to beg for more help, he responded in tweets that it was a partisan attack and that there was "such poor leadership by the mayor and others who are not able to get their workers to help. They want everything done for them when it should be a community effort."

And then wrapped that up by saying during his self-congratulation tour of the island that Hurricane Maria was not a "real catastrophe" like Hurricane Katrina.

So in short, TheRump is saying that Puerto Ricans are a people who whine about nothing, don't want to work, and want everything done for them.

My gosh man, why not just hang a sign around your neck reading I am a racist and be done with it?

It's long past dog whistles, it's foghorns. It's not winks and nods, it's billboards. It's like an episode of "Name That Tune" except instead of giving hints by playing just a couple of notes the band plays on and on and louder and louder until everyone's head aches with the noise.

We all know it. You base surely knows it and probably doesn't care. You are a slimy, racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, white supremacist bigot. We all know it - so why not just get it over with and say it and stop wasting our time with your halfhearted evasions?

34.9 - For the Record: UN death penalty vote, IRS no-bid contract, Warren torches Equifax executive, Yahoo data breach growing

For the Record: UN death penalty vote, IRS no-bid contract, Warren torches Equifax executive, Yahoo data breach growing

Next up, we have one of our occasional features. This one is called For the Record, where we cover a few things quickly just to make sure the don't get ignored.

So first, For the Record: On September 27, the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on the death penalty. It called on countries "that have not yet abolished the death penalty" not to use it for "crimes" such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery, and consensual same-sex relations; to ensure that it is not applied in a discriminatory fashion; and not to apply it to persons with mental or intellectual disabilities or who are under 18 or to pregnant women.

That is, it didn't even call for an end to the death penalty but only that those nations that have it do not apply it unjustly. The resolution passed 27-13. The US voted no.

Note that homosexuality is illegal in over 70 countries. In 13 of them, the penalty is death.

For the record: On September 30, the IRS issued a $7.25 million no-bid contract for services to "verify taxpayer identity" and "assist in ongoing identity verification and validations" at the IRS.

The contract was given to Equifax.

For the record: As a natural follow-up that, at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs on October 4. Sen. Elizabeth Warren scorched former Equifax CEO Richard Smith, who retired after the September disclosure of a massive security breach that exposed personal information of nearly 150 million Americans.

She forced Smith to admit that Equifax actually profits from data breaches because they create business opportunities for the company to sell services such as credit monitoring to people who now face increase risk of fraud and identity theft.

She was even able to quote Smith as calling fraud a "huge opportunity for us" and noted that Equifax's profits had gone up 80% since 2013 despite having admitted to four separate data breaches in that same time.

Smith didn't even try to refute Warren's argument, perhaps because he doesn't care: Despite being CEO at the time of the breach, he still will collect a $90-million retirement payout.

Finally, For the record: On the other hand, perhaps Smith could have tried to insist the breach was no big deal: After all, it only affected nearly 150 million people.

Meanwhile, the number determined to be affected by Yahoo's 2013 data breach keeps growing. It's now thought to encompass all user accounts, which brings the number of compromised accounts to something like three billion.

34.8 - Footnote: media adopts right-wing framing

Footnote: media adopts right-wing framing

As an  important Footnote to that, I have many times expressed my frustration with the fact that we are uninformed, malinformed, and misinformed by our major news media. What I just spoke about raises another example.

CBS News, which is about as mainstream as you can get, had an article about that anti-choice bill the House passed, banning abortions after 20 weeks. It ended this way, and this is a direct quote:
Several anti-abortion groups, who argue fetuses are capable of feeling pain at 20-weeks, support the bill, while pro-abortion voices have spoken out against it.
Do you have to adopt the right-wing frame?

Do you feel some obligation to do so? Or are you just too lazy and incompetent to realize it?

Nobody is "pro-abortion!" I defy you to find one person anywhere, anytime, who went around advocating abortions, who went around saying "Abortions are great! You should have one! In fact, every woman should have at least one!"

Media, get a freaking clue! You can call people pro-choice, you can call them pro-freedom, you can call them, pre-abortion rights, pro-reproductive rights, pro-women having the power to decide about their own bodies, but you can't call them "pro-abortion" because no one is!

"Pro-abortion" is the right-wing framing of the issue, trying to stir up visions of hordes of women cavalierly having abortions as casually - and as frequently - as they change their socks. It is just another example of the frequent failures of our news media that they so thoughtlessly embrace that framing.

34.7 - Outrage of the Week: payments to "safety net" hospitals cut, Children's Health Insurance Program expired, due to Congressional inaction

Outrage of the Week: payments to "safety net" hospitals cut, Children's Health Insurance Program expired, due to Congressional inaction

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

Over the summer and into early fall, the Senate found time to spend weeks in yet another attempt to undo whatever good the Affordable Care Act has done and then after that failed they found weeks more to try again with an even worse bill - the Graham-Cassidy catastrophe - and when that failed they still found time to talk about trying again later.

That, the Senate had time for.

The House found time to pass a bill on October 3 banning abortions after 20 weeks and imposing a five year prison sentence on women who attempt to get abortions after that time and the doctors who would do them.

The bill is based on the lie that 20-week old fetus can feel pain, a lie that keeps circulating even though the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists considers the case to be closed as to whether a fetus can feel pain at that stage in development: Simply put, a fetus at 20 weeks just does not have enough of a brain to perceive pain and won't until about 27 weeks.

More: The bill was passed despite fact that its chances of passing the Senate, where it would have to overcome the 60-vote barrier, are at most negligible.

Even so, that the House had time for.

You know what they didn't have time for?

The Disproportionate Share Hospitals payments, for one thing. They are a part of Medicaid and Medicare which since the 1980s have offset a portion of the uncompensated care hospitals provide to patients every year.
But because of a quirk in the way Obamacare was implemented, those payments were facing $43 billion in cuts over the next few years, cuts set to kick in on October 1.

And safety net hospitals - which care for low-income patients as part of their mission - will, naturally, be hit the hardest: They provide on average eight times more uncompensated care than other hospitals - because again, part of their mission is to care for those who are the least likely to be able to pay.

Congress was supposed to pass an extension of those payments to head off the cuts, which, again, will hit the neediest the hardest. But they were too busy with bullshit to find the time to deal with it. That, they didn't have time for.

CHIP is the Children's Health Insurance Program. It provides matching funds to states for health insurance for families with children, geared to cover uninsured children in families with incomes too low to afford insurance but too high to receive Medicaid.
About 9 million children have health insurance thanks to the program, which is a big part of the reason that the US has - or at least had - almost eliminated the specter of children without health insurance.
It expired on September 30. Because Congress was too busy with bullshit to renew it. That, they didn't have time for.

Now I have to add that because the program piggybacks on Medicaid, this doesn't mean states will run out of money for the program immediately. But 10 states are projected to run out of matching funds by the end of the year and 22 more and Washington, DC will hit that wall by March if Congress does not act very soon.
We'll have to see if they can find the time. In the meantime, this is and will remain an outrage.

34.6 - Clown Award: Sen. Ron Johnson

Clown Award: Sen. Ron Johnson

And that in fact leads us right into one of our regular features, the Clown Award, given as always for meritorious stupidity.

It leads us in because our first nominee this week is Pat Robertson, who attributed the Las Vegas mass shooting to "disrespect for authority" including, particularly, disrespect for President TheRump.

Quoting Robertson,
we have disrespect for authority - there is profound disrespect of our president, all across this nation. They say terrible things about him - it's in the news, it's in other places.
He also blamed, among other things, "disrespect for our national anthem," which apparently means that Stephen Paddock saw NFL players kneeling for the anthem and went "That's it! Their disrespect justifies me killing a whole bunch of people."

I thought all this was pretty clownish but thent I thought "Does anyone still take Pat Robertson seriously?"

Realizing the answer is "no," I decided to move on to our second nominee, Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, a favorite of the far-right anti-choice crowd who brags about how anti-abortion he is.

Turns out that back in January this "family values" bloviator was having an extra-marital affair with a woman who was concerned she may have gotten pregnant as a result. He told her to get an abortion.

A real clown! But wait, it's really just plain old run-of-the-mill right-wing hypocrisy. And it turns out that he has gone with the "spend time with my family" route and won't run for re-election in 2018. (Update: He resigned.)

So we turn to this week's winner of the Big Red Nose, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.

Sen. Ron Johnson: Clown
On September 28, when asked by a high school student whether he considered health care a right or a privilege, Johnson not only went with privilege, he also said that food and shelter and clothing should also be considered "privileges," reserved to those who can afford them.

"What we have as rights," he said, "are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Past that point, everything else is a limited resource that we have to use our opportunities given to us so that we can afford those things." He also referred to Rand Paul's statement from a few years ago describing a universal health care system as the imposition of slavery.

So in other words, there's only so much health care - or food or clothing or shelter - to go around, so it's up to you to be able to pay whatever the market demands and if you can't, well, you just didn't "use your opportunities."

Missing from Johnson's blathering was an explanation how you can have a "right to life" if you don't have food, shelter, clothing, or health care.

What was not missing is the fact that Ron Johnson is a smug, self-satisfied, prig - and a clown.

Footnote: Of the 25 wealthiest nations in the world, the United States is the only one not to recognize health care as a right by providing some measure of universal health care to its residents.

And it's worth noting that Article 25 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the US has endorsed and had a major hand in creating, says:
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.
It's doubtful Sen. Clown Johnson knows - or cares.

34.5 - Las Vegas and gun control

Las Vegas and gun control

Consider this: A man carefully plans a mass murder. He checks out locations in Chicago and Boston before settling on Las Vegas. He amasses an arsenal. He sets up a base on the 32nd floor of a hotel a few days in advance. He has a hammer to break the room's windows to give him a clean line of fire. He has cameras to track the approach of police. He has at least 23 firearms with him. He has so-called "bump stocks" that enable a semi-automatic weapon to fire almost as fast as a fully-automatic one, hundreds of rounds a minute - devices that are entirely legal.

On October 1, he opens fire on the crowd at a country music festival.

Several minutes later, 58 people are dead and over 500 more are injured - many wounded by gunfire, but others trampled in the rush and crush to escape.

It was by any measure the worst mass shooting in US history and using a definition of mass shooting of four or more shot - not necessarily killed, but shot - in single incident, it was, as of October 5, the 275th mass shooting in the US this year. And the rate of mass shootings has been increasing since the 1960s, dramatically so the most recent several years.

And when a few voices now are raised to suggest, in Rep. Chris Murphy's pointed phrase, that Congress should "get off its ass" and enact at least some measure of gun control, what do we hear?

We hear that "Now is not the time." No, it's a time for reflection and mourning. Now is not the time. Oh, there can be a time for that debate, but it's not now. Later, yeah, later.

We hear that now instead is the time for "hopes and prayers" offered up like trinkets and baubles by the hypocrites with the bloody hands who feed at the trough of the NRA.

We hear it was the victims' own fault, as Senator John Thune says people have to "take precautions, protect themselves, and in situations like" Las Vegas - and this is a quote - "get small."

We hear the whole thing should be dismissed as, as Bill O'Reilly called it, "the price of freedom" and isn't it sad people died but it doesn't affect me personally so what do I care.

We hear that even raising the issue of too damn many guns too damn easy to get, too damn many dead the the end of a gun - nearly 34,000 in 2015, including 11,000 murders - to even raise that is - How dare you! - to "politicize a tragedy." It's "beyond disgusting," says Sen. John Cornyn, who blathered on that "Unfortunately I think some of the statements that have been made are fairly predicable," blissfully unaware of the mountainous irony.

"Now is not the time" is what we hear, droningly chanted by people for who it never has been and never will be "the time."

But of course it's the time. It's always the time. As Martin Luther King said, "The time is always right to do what is right."

But to be blunt I have no hope that will happen. I have no hope this Congress or bluntly any other Congress we can reasonably envision doing much of anything. Oh, maybe a few tweaks around the edges - even the NRA is allowing as how maybe, y'know, maybe bump stocks should be regulated more - and yes those tweaks will help but they will not fundamentally change the calculation or the nature of a nation steeped in violence and in an ideology that celebrates selfishness and praises power.

I have hope for a lot of things; truly strict controls on guns is not one of them.

And yet, and yet - that does not free us (me) from the responsibility to do what we (I) can do. We have to carry on as best as we can, if not in hope, then in anger.

34.4 - Not Good News: DOJ claims job discrimination against transgenders is legal

Not Good News: DOJ claims job discrimination against transgenders is legal

It's good that we have those opportunities to smile because we also have some Not Good News and it's on a more serious and significant note.

On October 4, Attorney General Jeff "I am not a bigot, I swear" Sessions sent a memo to US Attorneys' offices saying that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which addresses workplace discrimination, only prohibits discrimination on the basis of biological sex, and not gender identity.

That is, according to Mr. Not-A-Bigot, under federal law it is entirely legal to fire someone for being transgender. Or to refuse to hire them in the first place. Or to otherwise discriminate against them in the workplace.

This not only reverses the earlier interpretation of the law under the Obama administration, it also - and here is if you will the silver lining in this - it also flies in the face of the trend in federal appeals courts decisions over the past several years, which are gradually coming to recognize "gender" as a matter of personal psychological identity rather than a fixed biological category.

So this Not Good News is actually a result of Good News and may well be another example of the reactionaries trying to hold back the tide of change and becoming King Canute*.

*The story of King Canute as arrogantly demanding the tide of obey him is untrue; in the real recorded version of the story Canute was so fed up with the fawning of his courtiers that he staged the scene to show how helpless he was against the forces of nature. Still, the popular version of the story makes a useful point here.

34.3 - News to make you smile: an organizer of the Nazi rally in Charlottesville indicted for felony perjury

News to make you smile: an organizer of the Nazi rally in Charlottesville indicted for felony perjury

And finally, one more bit of news of a type intended just to make you smile.

Jason Kessler was one of the organizers of that Hooray for Nazis rally in Charlottesville.

Back in January, he gave a statement to a local magistrate claiming that he had been assaulted by one James Taylor while trying to gather signatures on a petition.

However, Kessler later pleaded guilty to assaulting Taylor and charges against Taylor were dismissed.

As a result, Kessler now has been indicted for felony perjury.

Again, not really Good News because it doesn't change anything or portend a change in anything - but still, yeah, it made me smile.

34.2 - News to make you smile: Sen. Elizabeth Warren rips CEO of Wells Fargo

News to make you smile: Sen. Elizabeth Warren rips CEO of Wells Fargo

Another bit of Good News - although, really, it's less Good News than something that felt good to see.

During a Senate hearing on October 2, Sen. Elizabeth Warren ripped into Tim Sloan, CEO of Wells Fargo. A year ago, it was revealed that between 2011 and 2015 the bank had opened more than 2 million customer accounts without their knowledge and ripped those customers off by charging them fees on those unapproved accounts. Apparently Warren doesn't think the bank has done enough to make up for the damage.

Warren pointed to quarterly earnings calls, which she said showed Sloan - who was at the time of the scandal Chief Financial Officer at the company - aggressively promoted Wells Fargo's ability to open new accounts for customers and she held that no one, not even then-CEO John Stumpf, "bragged more" about the bank's commitment to opening new accounts for existing customers.

"Wells Fargo cheated millions of people for years," Warren said. "The Federal Reserve should remove all of the current board members who've served during the fake accounts scandal scam. And Mr. Sloan you say you've been making changes at Wells Fargo for 30 years but you enabled this fake accounts scam, you got rich off it, and you tried to cover it up. At best you were incompetent, at worst you were complicit, either way you should be fired."

Sloan's only response was mealy-mouthed cliche ad copy about how "Our job is to satisfy our customers financial needs."

Like I said, it's not really Good News as I define the term because it doesn't change anything - but still it was fun to see.

34.1 - Good News: White House cybersecurity coordinator wants to end the use of SSNs as ID

Good News: White House cybersecurity coordinator wants to end the use of SSNs as ID

Starting off the week with some Good News, it seems that the reality is finally sinking in. Speaking at the Washington Post's annual Cybersecurity Summit on October 3, Rob Joyce, who is the White House's cybersecurity coordinator, said the US should end the use of a Social Security number as a form of ID. It has "outlived its usefulness," he said.

Joyce noted that every time you use your Social Security number as ID, it increases the chance it could be compromised - and if it is, you can't even change it.

This is something I've been advocating for a long time and I have for a good number of years been refusing to give my Social Security number to anyone when it is not legally required, which essentially meant my employer, my bank, and the IRS. So it's Good News to see that even TheRump's White House can get something right.

What's Left #34

What's Left
for the week of October 6-12, 2017

This week:

Good News: White House cybersecurity coordinator wants to end the use of SSNs as ID

News to make you smile: Sen. Elizabeth Warren rips CEO of Wells Fargo

News to make you smile: an organizer of the Nazi rally in Charlottesville indicted for felony perjury

Not Good News: DOJ claims job discrimination against transgenders is legal

Las Vegas and gun control

Clown Award: Sen. Ron Johnson

Outrage of the Week: payments to "safety net" hospitals cut, Children's Health Insurance Program expired due to Congressional inaction

Footnote: media adopts right-wing framing

For the Record: UN opposes death penalty for consensual same-sex relationsp; US votes "No"

For the Record: IRS gives Equifax no-bid contract to "verify taxpayer identity"

For the Record: Sen. Elizabeth Warren forces CEO of Equifax to admit company profits of data breaches

For the Record: number of accounts compromised in Yahoo's 2013 data breach now estimated at 3 billion

The meaning of the White House response to Puerto Rico

Saturday, September 23, 2017

33.6 - The little Thing: Airlines ripping off last-minute passengers is emblematic of capitalism

The little Thing: Airlines ripping off last-minute passengers is emblematic of capitalism

Finally for this week, one of our occasional features, this one called The little Thing, where I was struck by something in a story which was being overlooked, not getting the attention or comment it deserved.

We start by noting that as Hurricane Irma approached Florida, there were, not surprisingly, a lot of people trying to leave.

One person, Leigh Dow, was looking for a flight online. Instead of what she expected for last-minute flyers, that is, flights for about $400-500 one way, the prices were running to $1700. When she found a Delta flight on Expedia for over $3200, she got mad enough to tweet about it - a tweet which went viral, sparking outrage and even moving two US Senators (Richard Blumenthal and Ed Markey) and Representative Charlie Crist to write letters to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, asking her to look into reports of possible price gouging.

After a lot of harrumphing and fuming and fussing, Delta got Dow a flight for $315, the Expedia price was chalked up to some kind of screwup, some airlines capped their fares out of south Florida, and some others, such as JetBlue, cut their one-way fare to $99.

George Hobica, the founder of, chalked up the increases to standard industry practice and dismissed the notion that the airlines were taking advantage of the emergency, saying "I don't think airlines would be callous or stupid enough to be consciously jacking up fares."

"Sure," he said, "some are high, but last-minute fares are often more expensive in general."

And, in fact, airfare data by Hopper, an airfare search engine, shows that the price hikes that took place the week immediately before the storm were similar to those from two weeks before that.

So all's well and no price gouging, right?

Except for The little Thing, the thing I didn't hear any comment on even though this certainly should have provoked it.

"Last-minute fares are more expensive." Well, of course they are, we all know that, but what does that truly mean?

It means that it is standard operating procedure for airlines to rip off passengers who need to get a flight last-minute for whatever reason. It's standard practice to jack up the price when people are in a take-it-or-leave-it situation.

It has nothing to do with cost: Certainly the incremental cost to the airline of the last passenger to book a flight is no greater than that of the first passenger to do so; in fact having the plane be fuller is to the airline's advantage. There is no economic necessity whatsoever for last-minute fares to be so much more expensive.

Except, that is, for the "necessity" of the logic of capitalism, the "logic" of "maximize profit any way you can," the "necessity" of "get more," and if you can take advantage of someone's situation to do that, then you not only can, by that controlling logic you "must." The fact that last minute walk-up passengers are for the most part business fliers trying to close a deal or make a meeting or whatever and who are working on expense accounts doesn't change any of that.

I've said before that it's not profit itself, it's the love of profit, where profit is made out to be the goal of economic activity, not the means of driving it, the love of profit is the baseline cause behind economic inequality and all the poverty, homelessness, hunger, and the rest that goes along with it. And the fact that airlines so casually taking advantage of last-minute flyers as a normal part of business, the fact that this provokes so little response, is proof of how wound into our psyches that destructive love is.

33.5 - Clown Award: Air Force chaplain Captain Sonny Hernandez

Clown Award: Air Force chaplain Captain Sonny Hernandez

Next, let's lighten things up a little bit - a very little bit, as it turns out - with the Clown Award, given out here on a regular basis for some act of meritorious stupidity.

First among the nominees is former Milwaukee sheriff and man who wears a hat to keep his brains from falling out David Clarke, who has been given 100 days to revise his master's thesis after he was found to have failed to properly attribute sources - that is, he had plagerized - at least 47 times.

The dean of the school said he didn't think it was "intentional deception," which is maybe true: It could have been plain old incompetence and besides, intentional deception would require a degree of cleverness and subtlety which appears to lie entirely beyond this bozo's grasp.

Next up is that generic GOPper senator (because he's an old white man) Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

Speaking to a group of Iowa reporters on September 20, Grassley explained his support for the catastrophically bad Graham-Cassidy health care destruction bill the GOPpers are desperately trying to get through the Senate, saying that, quoting,
You know, I could maybe give you 10 reasons why this bill shouldn't be considered. But Republicans campaigned on this so often that you have a responsibility to carry out what you said in the campaign. That's as much of a reason as the substance of the bill.
So yeah, it shouldn't even be considered but heck, we said it in a campaign so whaddaya gonna do, y'know, because of course no GOPper (or any other politician) ever broke a campaign promise before and so it's better to condemn people to a premature death from lack of affordable health care than to admit we screwed up.

I could ascribe that to sheer cold-blooded inhumanity, but I'm feeling kind for some reason so I'd just ascribe it to advancing senility.

But our winner this week has no excuses for being an evil clown.

evil clown Sonny Hernandez
So the winner of the Big Red Nose is Air Force chaplain Captain Sonny Hernandez, who ministers to thousands of men and women at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

On September 12 he posted an article on a right-wing website saying that, quoting,
Christian service members who openly profess and support the rights of Muslims, Buddhists, and all other anti-Christian worldviews to practice their religions - because the language in the Constitution permits - are grossly in error, and deceived.
What's more, such "counterfeit Christians," as he called them, ultimately "serve Satan." (And I'm sure lots of people just heard The Church Lady in their heads.)

In other words, actually believing in freedom of religion, actually upholding your oath to support the Constitution, an oath with Hernandez took, is to be a devil-worshipper.

Sonny Hernandez: religious bigot, fanatic, and clown.

As a footnote to that, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation says that the number of complaints it has received from servicemen and -women in the Army, Air Force, Marines, and other branches of the military has doubled since Trump's election.

33.4 - And the wars drag on: Afghanistan, Syrian, Iraq, and Yemen

And the wars drag on: Afghanistan, Syrian, Iraq, and Yemen

Updated And we should be ready take any Good News we can find, because the world at large doesn't appear to be offering much of it.

On September 18, Secretary of War James Mattis announced that more than 3000 additional US troops are being sent to Afghanistan. He had already said two weeks ago that more would be going, but he hadn't said how many. This will bring the total US deployment in Afghanistan to at least 14,000.

This comes in the wake of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's statement on August 22 that "this entire effort was intended to put pressure on the Taliban, to have the Taliban understand that you will not win a battlefield victory. We may not win one, but neither will you."

Which if it means anything at all, it means a literally unending war stretching unknown years into the future of military stalemate. And so what had been Bush's War and became Obama's War is now undeniably TheRump's War. And nothing changes except the length of the list of the dead.

And speaking of wars, oh yeah, there's still one in Syria, isn't there?

Deir Ezzor is the largest city in the eastern reaches of Syria. It sits on the southern (or western) shore of the Euphrates River, a river which serves as a convenient demarcation line between what is informally considered southern (and western) Syria on the one side and northern (and eastern) Syria on the other. The city had been under siege from Daesh - that is, ISIS, but I prefer the insulting name Daesh - but while the siege has been broken on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by Iranian forces backed by Russian air cover, fighting around the area, still a Daesh stronghold, continues.

And continues on more than one front: US forces and allied militias are also closing in on Daesh from the other side - the eastern side - of the Euphrates River, bringing into uncomfortably close proximity Russian and Russian-backed forces on the one hand and US and the US-backed SDF, or Syrian Democratic Forces, a militia made up mostly of Kurdish fighters, on the other.

So we shouldn't be surprised at competing claims of being attacked. On September 16, the SDF said its positions had been attacked by Syrian or Russian aircraft, injuring six. There were US troops present at the time; none were hurt.

On September 18, the SDF said that any further attempts to advance on the eastern Euphrates would be met with retaliation.

On September 21, Russia claimed that its forces had twice come under mortar attacks from the SDF and threatened that further attacks "will be immediately suppressed with all military means."

And of course, the Russians deny any involvement in the September 16 attacks and the SDF denies that any mortar attacks have been launched.

This had lead to a highly-unusual face-to-face meeting between high-ranking Russian and American military officers to try to keep this from getting completely out of control - but the tensions will remain and very likely increase.

That's because for one thing, political credit for defeating ISIS in the area is at stake. But the underlying and even more important issue is the one of ultimate influence and control in eastern and northern Syria, with Assad wanting it all back under his direct noxious control and the Syrian Kurds unwilling to give up the relative autonomy they have gained as a result of the civil war, as indicated by the fact that they are holding elections as part of a plan to set up a federal system in Syria.

So bluntly, it's hard to see how direct US-Russian conflict can be avoided forever, unless the two were to agree to let Assad and the Kurds fight it out on their own for control of eastern and northern Syria - which of course isn't really a solution for anyone except the Russian and American soldiers who would not die.

And which probably wouldn't be possible anyway because Turkey is sending troops into Idlib, supposedly as part of a "de-escalation" agreement for Syria but is really about suppressing Kurdish forces, who Turkey regards as "terrorists" amid fears that any autonomy for Syrian Kurds would increase calls for Turkish Kurds to have the same rights.

So let's see, Afghanistan, Syria, and um - oh yeah, Iraq. Even as our traditional national amnesia mixes with our short attention span, there is still fighting in Iraq:

US and "coalition" airstrikes continue in Iraq, including one along the Syria-Iraq border in western al-Anbar province on September 18 that according to the journalistic monitoring group Airwars killed at least six civilians and wounded up to two dozen more.

Meanwhile the Iraqi military says it is beginning an offensive to retake Hawija, one of two remaining  ISIS bastions in the country.

And as it loses ground, ISIS turns more to suicide attacks, including one on September 15 that killed more than 80 people in an attack on a restaurant frequented by Shia Muslim pilgrims in Nasiriyah in southern Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq is planning on a September 25 non-binding referendum on independence, a move which has gotten opposition from multiple fronts, each for their own reasons: The central government just doesn't like the idea of independence - to be fair, central governments never do - but also because any such state would be in possession of some of what are now Iraq's oil fields; Iran and Turkey, each because they fear it could promote ideas of autonomy or even independence among their own Kurdish populations; the US, for fear it would hurt Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's re-election chances; and even UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who says it will "distract" from the battle against ISIS.

It is to the point where Turkey, Iran, and Iraq - who could hardly be considered mutual friends - have jointly agreed to consider unspecified "countermeasures" against Kurdish northern Iraq over the referendum.

The upshot is that on September 18 Iraq's Supreme Court ordered the suspension of all preparations for the referendum "until it examines the complaints it has received over this plebiscite being unconstitutional."

Which leaves Massoud Barzani, president of the KRG, in what one analyst called a "very delicate position" politically because if he's going to back down on this referendum, he needs to get something in return. The question is what that could be beyond vague assurances of the sort that the US, for one, has given the Kurds for years about how we really really do support greater Kurdish autonomy - someday, just not now. I don't think that would be good enough.

One last quick reminder on the "Yes, there are still wars" front:

On September 12 Human Rights Watch charged the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen with war crimes, with airstrikes on civilian targets carried out deliberately or recklessly in violation of international law. The group called on the UN to immediately return the coalition to its annual "list of shame" for violations against children in armed conflict.

And as I pointed out in July, the US is directly complicit in these war crimes, which Saudi Arabia would be unable to carry out without US assistance.

And so to slightly paraphrase what folksinger Mick Softley said of Vietnam in 1964, "and the wars drag on."

Updated with the the news that the Kurdish referendum took place as scheduled on September 25 in defiance of the Iraqi Supreme Court and the international pressure. Despite some earlier claims that holding the referendum was controversial even among the Kurds, turnout was estimated at 76% with (at that time) an hour of voting still to go. Turkey is now threatening to block the export of oil from northern Iraq (the pipeline passes through Turkey) and the Iraqi army has started "major maneuvers" with the Turkish army at the border, suggesting the possibility of a coordinated retaliation against the Kurds.

33.3 - Not Good News: SCOTUS reinstates TheRump' ban on refugees while case is on appeal

Not Good News: SCOTUS reinstates TheRump' ban on refugees while case is on appeal

And that Good News is extra nice to have because we also have some Not Good News regarding TheRump's bigoted attempts to ban refugees and many Muslims from entering the US.

Back in June, the Supreme Court agreed to take up the issue of those attempts and said that while the case was under consideration it would partially reinstate the ban, "partially" meaning the ban would only apply to people without "a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States."

The question ever since has been what that phrase means. TheRump's administration, to no one's surprise, interpreted it very narrowly. It said it covers only what amounts to little more than the immediate family of an American resident, just if you will one step out from that person, so only parents, children, siblings, and in-laws could enter and what's more, that refugees were not covered because a connection to a resettlement agency was not "a bona fide relationship" with a US entity.

On September 7, a panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling rejecting both those contentions. It expanded family connections to include grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, and cousins as well as saying that yes, a connection to a refugee agency is a bona fide relationship.

Which would appear to be Good News, but the Not Good News is that on September 12, the Supreme Court - without any recorded dissents - blocked the part of that ruling relating to refugees from going into effect wile the government appeals, leaving the 24,000 refugees affected by the ban in an ever-stretching legal limbo, with oral arguments not until October 10 and a decision not until who knows how long after that.

But there is some Good News among the Not Good News. The administration did not even challenge the other part of the 9th Circuit ruling, the part that smacked down the White House's restrictive definition of what constituted an immigrant having a relationship with someone already in the US. So that part of the ruling, with its expanded definition, stands. And so yes, that is Good News within the Not Good News.
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