Sunday, September 21, 2014

175.4 - Mr. Obama's War

Mr. Obama's War

I'm not going to spend lots of time on the day-to-day details of our Nobel Peace Prize president's latest celebration of the benefits of bombing. I am, however, going to make some general observations.

The first and most important observation is that we are being stampeded into another war. Or more correctly, into re-expanding a war that never actually ended.

Bombing in Iraq. Bombing in Syria now. Over 1500 so-called "advisers" on the ground in Iraq, "advisers" who have already been in firefights, all amid cries from jackasses like Buck McKeon, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, and BFFs Lindsay Graham and John McCain to "go all in now" because they just can't wait to see the spurting blood amid the shrieks of the wounded writhing in pain because after all why should ISIS have all the fun.

Stampeded by the hawks, stampeded by the ideologues, stampeded by the media, stampeded with cries of "9/11" and "the gates of hell," and "kill them there or they don't kill us here," stampeded into, as we keep on doing, creating even more extremism by seeing threats against the US - that is, against us - that don't actually exist, as neither the FBI nor Homeland Security nor the Pentagon nor the National Counterterrorism Center, none of which have a reputation for downplaying dangers to the Glorious Fatherland, find any cause for alarm. The stampede has become a crashing wave, a tsunami of equal parts ideology, paranoia, bigotry, and bloodlust.

And the Amazing Mr. O rides his surfboard through the tube, the wave breaking over his head as he uses it to go along as he damn well pleases, taking step after step into the Big Muddy. Yes, all that is a horribly mixed jumble of metaphors. It still fits.

Make no mistake, we are being set us up for years of this, years of bombing and death and fear-mongering that will extend far beyond Obama's presidency, setting up his successor, whoever that is, to deal with a volatile and incomplete war against an enemy - terrorism - that, unlike some group of terrorists, can never be defeated, because you can't defeat a tactic, as the scenes from 1984 about a population kept subdued by perpetual reports of perpetual wars perpetually far away become a daily reality. Obama came into office dealing with Bush's Iraq war; the next president will come into office dealing with Obama's Iraq and Syria war.

Some in Congress, bless their day-late-dollar-short little hearts, are mumbling questions about just what is Obama's authority to carry out these attacks even as most of that august body are more concerned about campaigning than about doing their jobs and so will just dump the whole thing until the lame-duck session after the election - assuming they'll actually address the issue of authority even then.

But here's the thing that gets me about this, what especially gets me about this:

More than four years ago, I was asking what is the authority? Where is the authority? What gave Obama the right, the legal right, the legal power, to do what he was doing? "Mr. President," I asked, "just who the hell do you think you are?"

That was in response to the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, the American citizen murdered with a drone strike - put more directly, they dropped a bomb on him - without a pretense of anything a rational person would call due process. But it wasn't the only case.

Three years ago, in the case of Libya, I was making the same demand to know "by what authority." At the time, I said that instead of calling Obama "PHC," for "President Hopey-Changey," as I had been calling him, I would start calling him "GHC" - for Generalissimo Hopey-Changey - because he had apparently decided that the US military is his to use in any way he sees fit, any time he thinks appropriate, anywhere in the world he in his own personal, not-to-be-judged opinion thinks merited. So much so that Hillary Clinton, who was then secretary of state, told members of Congress that the White House would simply ignore any attempts by Congress to invoke the War Powers Resolution.

The questions beginning to be raised, oh so tentatively, oh so gently, oh so don't-rock-the-boatly, should have been asked four years ago - at least four years ago.

It is so incredibly frustrating to be always expected to deal with these sorts of things after the fact. After four years - and more - of standing by, of watching the bombings, the drone strikes, the assassinations, after four years - and more - of letting all this slide because you didn't want to make a fuss, to now be saying "golly gee whiz, um, do you have any authority," well, there is an old saying about barn doors and horses that applies here.

But be fair, Obama has claimed a basis for his supposed legal authority to not only bomb Iraq but to expand the campaign into Syria. a legal basis that, what did you expect, does not require any Congressional vote. And he knows it's true 'cause gosh darn it, he had "top lawyers" at the Office of Legal Counsel at the DOJ check it out and what do you know, they told him exactly what he wanted to hear.

And what is that legal authority? What is the Congressional authorization?

Why it's the AUMF, the Authority to Use Military Force that was passed in a rush without significant debate in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. The same legislation that over a year ago Obama called "outdated."

The guts of that act is the statement that, quoting,
the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons.
So how does ISIS fit that description?

It doesn't.

ISIS was founded in Jordan in 1999 under the name Group of Monotheism and Jihad. After the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, it became involved in the resistance to the US occupation.

In 2004, to build its prestige as compared to other radical groups in the Iraqi resistance, it declared itself faithful to al-Qaeda and became commonly known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq,even though that was never the actual name.

It later broke off from al-Qaeda, claiming in effect that the older group had gone soft. It's now a rival of al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda has even denounced ISIS for the extreme nature of its violence.

So sum it up: ISIS was not involved in 9/11. It did not harbor anyone involved in 9/11. It was not active in Iraq until after our invasion. It had no connection to al-Qaeda until 2004, and now is a bitter rival.

So I ask again: How does ISIS fit the definition of those covered by the AUMF? And I answer again: It doesn't. Obama's claim is crap.

So where is the actual authority to militarily attack ISIS?

There isn't any.

And Obama knows it. Of course he knows it, he's not stupid. Of course he knows it - but he just doesn't care. Because as long as he can make some claim that he has some sort of authority, even if it's transparently bogus, he knows that enough people in Congress will fold like a beat-up accordion.

You've got to realize, this has nothing to do with whether or not you think ISIS is a threat to the US, even though it's not. This has nothing to do with whether or not you think bombing ISIS is a good idea or not or the right thing to do or not and it has nothing to do with whether or not you want to see "boots on the ground" or I should say more boots on the ground.

It has to do with the legal, the Constitutional authority to commit the US to year upon year of war and death and destruction. That is a power no one person should ever have and one the Constitution was originally designed to prevent, but it's one that Obama is claiming for himself and one that the members of Congress - or at least a good number of them - are prepared to passively let him take. It is disgraceful, it is dangerous, it is frightening.

The other day someone asked me what I as a believer in nonviolence would do about a group like ISIS. Now I'm not going to get into a discussion about nonviolence, because that's not relevant here. What is relevant here is that the first thing I said was that I wouldn't be in this situation because I wouldn't have done the things that got us into it.

And maybe, just maybe, if people had started asking "where's the authority" four - or more - years ago, we might not be in this situation now.

Sources cited in links:
http://www.vancouversun.com/news/world/Pressure+mounts+ground+troops+Iraq/10198813/story.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/03/isis-media-iraq-war_n_5761996.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/08/brian-stelter-isis-war-panic_n_5783120.html?cps=gravity
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uXnJVkEX8O4
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/11/world/middleeast/extending-a-legacy-of-war.html?google_editors_picks=true
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/11/congress-isis-war-powers_n_5807032.html
http://whoviating.blogspot.com/2010/04/its-just-question.html
http://whoviating.blogspot.com/2011/04/most-important-fact-about-libya-is-not.html
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/2014/09/11/e64774b2-39e0-11e4-8601-97ba88884ffd_story.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Authorization_for_Use_of_Military_Force_Against_Terrorists
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jama%27at_al-Tawhid_wal-Jihad
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_State_of_Iraq_and_the_Levant

175.3 - Update: whaling

Update: whaling

After that, we have an Update which I was going to say was to lighten things a bit, but actually it doesn't do any such thing.

Last week, I offered the Good News that the population of California blue whales had, due to conservation efforts, recovered to nearly its historical, 19th-century levels.

The Update here is the reminder that they are not the only sorts of whales out there and that various types are still hunted for commercial profit.

The two biggest whaling nations in the world are Japan and, sadly, Iceland, sadly because Iceland is one of my favorite countries and having the chance to go there is probably the biggest item on my bucket list.

Japan annually kills over a thousand whales in the Antarctic: minkes, humpbacks, and fins. It uses a loophole in the 1986 international ban on commercial whaling which allows for taking of whales for "scientific research." Japan simply declares that it alone gets to decide what constitutes such research for the whaling permits it issues, even though that "research" has for some time consisted of simply counting the numbers and types of fish in the stomachs of the whales that are killed - after which, it's "hey we have all this whale meat, no point in just throwing it away, and hey, what a coincidence, whale meat is a popular dish in Japan, so let's sell it there!"

After years of protest, that argument came crashing down in March when in response to a suit by Australia, the International Court of Justice ruled that Japan's "scientific" whaling was not scientific.

Now, Australia and New Zealand are taking the lead at the current meeting of the IWC, the International Whaling Commission, to press that body to incorporate the court's judgment into the actual policies and practices of the Commission. New Zealand has put forth a resolution which would restrict the ability of governments which are members of the Commission to issue permits for "scientific" whaling until those permits undergo a full review by the IWC itself.

Japan says it will establish a "highly transparent" process of scientific review as it goes back to whaling in the summer of 2015-16 (which will be the winter of 2015-16 for us here in the Northern Hemisphere) but it opposes any IWC review of permits. In other words, Japan proposed to keep on doing just what it has been doing. In fact, a lobbyist for Japan told the Australian paper the Sydney Morning Herald that the New Zealand resolution will probably pass - but that Japan will simply ignore it.

Meanwhile, Iceland, which has openly resumed commercial whaling, has received a sharply worded complaint from the European Union, the US, and other nations including Brazil, Mexico, and Australia. Like Japan, Iceland claims its killing of whales has a scientific basis; unlike Japan, it doesn't pretend that science rather than making money is the purpose. But again like Japan, Iceland says it will simply ignore the protest.

The diplomatic note does not threaten government sanctions against Iceland, but does note that
public opinion in the countries that are Iceland's main trading partners is very much against the practice of whaling
and that if Iceland does not stop whaling, international boycotts of Icelandic products could damage the nation's economy.

Yeah. From their mouths to your ears - to your wallets.

Sources cited in links:
http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/australia-drives-home-whaling-win-at-global-summit-20140915-10hdwt.html
http://www.chron.com/news/world/article/Japan-s-whale-hunt-under-scrutiny-at-IWC-meeting-5755991.php
http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/international-court-of-justice-upholds-australias-bid-to-ban-japanese-whaling-in-antarctica-20140331-35ude.html
http://af.reuters.com/article/commoditiesNews/idAFL6N0RG4RD20140915

175.2 - Footnote: Israel and Hamas both under criticism

Footnote: Israel and Hamas both under criticism

As a quick footnote to that, it's worth noting that there are other forces pushing on both Israel and Hamas that may have something to do with those slivers of daylight which may be appearing.

One pressure point is that Israel has been condemned by a number of sources for various human rights violations in its war on Gaza. Most recently, Human Rights Watch accused Israel of committing war crimes in three specific cases involving attacks on UN-run schools in Gaza while at the same time expressing skepticism about the investigations announced by the Israeli military. "Israel," the group declared, "has a long record of failing to undertake credible investigations into alleged war crimes."

That position was echoed by the Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, which said in a statement that based on past experience, it isn't holding out hope that the military investigation will lead to anything other than a whitewash.

For its part, under pressure from international news reports, Hamas has admitted that "mistakes" were made during the summer war in launching rocket attacks on Israel from sites too close to residential areas or civilian facilities. The group insists that usually rocket launchers were placed 200-300 meters (about 220-330 yards) from sites such as schools and hospitals but admitted that sometimes they were closer, sometimes too close. And the UN sharply criticized Hamas for two instances where rockets were stored inside schools. The schools were closed for the summer, there were no students there, but still they were schools, civilian facilities where those rockets simply should not have been.

So both sides have been smarting under international attention in the wake of the war, so maybe both feel the need to at least try to make nice for a little while. I fear it will simply dissolve into another missed opening because, as I have said so many times before, I believe that the Israeli government does not want peace because that would hinder the goal of a "greater Israel" encompassing all of the West Bank - but I can still hope that I am wrong and that by some combination of war-weariness and political boldness on either or both sides this will turn into a Sadat-goes-to-Israel moment.

Like they say, hope springs eternal.

Sources cited  in links:
http://www.hrw.org/
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/middle-east/Human-Rights-Watch-accuses-Israel-of-war-crimes-in-Gaza/articleshow/42287335.cms
http://www.btselem.org/
http://www.btselem.org/press_releases/20140910_response_to_investigations_launched_by_idf
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/12/hamas-rocket-attacks_n_5808760.html

175.1 - Good News: Searching for hope in the Middle East

Good News: Searching for hope in the Middle East

>We always like to start with some Good News, so we have this, this week - which I don't know if it's good news or not, but I hope it is, I want it to be; but the fact is we have been down this road too many times before to have much hope that it really is the good news I want it to be. But it's true that "little hope" is not the same as "no hope," so hope there is.

The ground in the Middle East appears to be shifting - at least slightly - in the wake of the brutal war over the summer.

One big thing is that last week Musa Abu Marzouk, the second-ranking leader in Hamas, stated that Hamas is willing to talk directly to Israel. Previously, Hamas had rejected the idea of doing so unless Israel first totally lifted its economic embargo against the Gaza strip and opened all border crossings and even then there was no guarantee it would happen.

Musa Abu Marzouk
But now, Marzouk says that "Just as you negotiate with weapons you can also negotiate by talk. Up till now our policy was no negotiation with (Israel), but others should be aware that this issue is not taboo."

Okay, to go from here you  need a little context.

Back in 2007, in the wake of elections in the West Bank and Gaza, the two big Palestinian parties, Hamas and Fatah, worked out a coalition government after some months of painful negotiations. The US and Israel refused to recognize or even deal with this government, even though it arose out of the very elections they demanded take place.

The result of that intransigence is that the unity government fractured, leading to civil war among the Palestinians. The result of that war was that Fatah, in the form of the Palestinian  Authority, remained in control of the West Bank while Hamas had the lead in Gaza.

Okay. In April of this year, the two reached a new unity agreement so that a new Palestinian government, composed mostly of technocrats, took office on June 2.

Now, wasn't it just two weeks ago that I said that a coalition government would by the nature of the political realities involved push Hamas to moderate its positions? I say that's what we're seeing happening here.

Still, there was a quick reaction from the Hamas press office, saying that direct talks with "the Zionist enemy" are "not even under consideration." Those conflicting statements can be seen as in line with reports from media sources with contacts inside Hamas which say that the party's leadership is divided on the question of direct talks. Even that, however, is a shift, if only in that, as those contacts revealed, the idea has come up before but has never before been broached publicly.

Which means, even if you want to dismiss this as not representing formal Hamas policy, you would in that case still have to regard it as a trial balloon, as throwing the suggestion out there to see what the reaction is.

Which means the real issue for the moment is how Israel will react. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu broke off talks with the Palestinian Authority after it reached the reconciliation deal with Hamas, saying he - Netanyahu - would not return unless Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas broke off all contacts with Hamas. And Israel does have a history of responding to any signs of moderation among Palestinian radicals with some kind of provocative action - for example, as I mentioned two weeks ago, marking the end of the summer war by engaging in the biggest ever illegal seizure of Palestinian land in the West Bank.

So which path will Israel take? It could say something like, in appropriately vague diplomatese "Well, if Hamas is serious about that, we certainly would be open to the idea."

Remember, that's how the first significant peace agreement between Israel and an Arab state - Egypt - came about: Anwar Sadat said in a speech that he would go anywhere, "even Jerusalem," to discuss peace. In response, the Israeli government of Menachem Begin said that if Israel thought that Sadat would accept an invitation, Israel would invite him, to which Sadat said, in effect, "Thanks for the invitation! When can you have me there?" The ultimate result was the Camp David Accords of 1978.

But unfortunately, Israel's history of the past few decades points in a different direction, points to it rejecting the possibility of moderation on the part of Hamas, points to it grabbing on to the reference from the Hamas press office about "the Zionist enemy" to dismiss Marzouk's statement out of hand except, possibly, as representing an effort to "distract the world from Hamas's terrorism," slamming the door shut rather than seeing - just seeing - if it will open wider.

In fact, Israel has consistently said it will not talk directly to Hamas until the group recognizes Israel's right to exist and renounces violence. Which seem like conditions laid down in the full knowledge that they could never be accepted because what does Hamas have to offer in negotiations other than recognition and security guarantees? What Israel is demanding is that Hamas come to the table not as an enemy with who you make peace or even as an opponent or even as a "negotiating partner," but as a supplicant. So for Israel to take advantage of the open Marzouk provided would be a real change in policy.

Still, still, just maybe, that outright rejection is not what will happen. That may be false hope, but sometimes false hope is better than no hope so while this may be false hope, I'll take it.

That false hope lies in the fact that AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a lobbying group so totally pro-Israel that they should just drop the word "American" from the name and register as a group lobbying for a foreign government, appears to have shifted its position about the new unity Palestinian government.

In the wake of the agreement between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, AIPAC pushed Congress to enact sanctions against the Palestinian Authority for daring to reach that agreement.

But now AIPAC has signed on to a letter circulating among Senators which while claiming Hamas "has no interest in peace," nonetheless drops the demand for the sanctions that were intended to undermine the new unity agreement.

This is significant because AIPAC generally reflects Israeli government policy, and if it's doing it here, it would be hinting that Israel is softening its own position. And that would also be good news.

On the other hand, the letter itself is not helpful if your interest is actually some measure of peace with some measure of justice rather than in advancing the interests of Israel. The letter is ultimately a call for efforts to enable the Palestinian Authority to exercise real power in Gaza over and above Hamas. That is, it's picking sides in what is still an exceedingly delicate situation between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas and it will hardly help maintain that still-tenuous unity government if you enable the most militant elements of Hamas to claim that the policy of that unity government is being dictated by AIPAC.

Sometimes it seems to me that the hardest thing about finding peace, about ending a conflict, is not both sides wanting peace but both wanting ii at the same time. I still don't know if that condition exists between Israel and the Palestinians, I just say there is some glimmer of hope. Sometimes that's the best you can do.

Sources cited in links:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/11/hamas-israel-direct-talks_n_5804420.html
http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/09/12/hamas-deputy-leader-calls-for-direct-talks-with-israel-but-group-denies-plan-to-negotiate-with-zionist-enemy/
http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/09/hamas-israel-talks.html#
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camp_David_Accords
http://www.jta.org/2014/09/10/news-opinion/politics/senate-letter-calling-for-pa-return-to-gaza-has-aipac-backing
http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2014/09/08/Is-the-Hamas-Fatah-honeymoon-coming-to-an-end-.html

Left Side of the Aisle 175



Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of September 18-24, 2014

This week:

Good News: Searching for hope in the Middle East
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/11/hamas-israel-direct-talks_n_5804420.html
http://news.nationalpost.com/2014/09/12/hamas-deputy-leader-calls-for-direct-talks-with-israel-but-group-denies-plan-to-negotiate-with-zionist-enemy/
http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2014/09/hamas-israel-talks.html#
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Camp_David_Accords
http://www.jta.org/2014/09/10/news-opinion/politics/senate-letter-calling-for-pa-return-to-gaza-has-aipac-backing
http://english.alarabiya.net/en/News/middle-east/2014/09/08/Is-the-Hamas-Fatah-honeymoon-coming-to-an-end-.html

Footnote: Israell and Hamas both under criticism
http://www.hrw.org/
http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/world/middle-east/Human-Rights-Watch-accuses-Israel-of-war-crimes-in-Gaza/articleshow/42287335.cms
http://www.btselem.org/
http://www.btselem.org/press_releases/20140910_response_to_investigations_launched_by_idf
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/12/hamas-rocket-attacks_n_5808760.html

Update: whaling
http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/australia-drives-home-whaling-win-at-global-summit-20140915-10hdwt.html
http://www.chron.com/news/world/article/Japan-s-whale-hunt-under-scrutiny-at-IWC-meeting-5755991.php
http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/international-court-of-justice-upholds-australias-bid-to-ban-japanese-whaling-in-antarctica-20140331-35ude.html
http://af.reuters.com/article/commoditiesNews/idAFL6N0RG4RD20140915

Mr. Obama's War
http://www.vancouversun.com/news/world/Pressure+mounts+ground+troops+Iraq/10198813/story.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/03/isis-media-iraq-war_n_5761996.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/08/brian-stelter-isis-war-panic_n_5783120.html?cps=gravity
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uXnJVkEX8O4
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/11/world/middleeast/extending-a-legacy-of-war.html?google_editors_picks=true
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/11/congress-isis-war-powers_n_5807032.html
http://whoviating.blogspot.com/2010/04/its-just-question.html
http://whoviating.blogspot.com/2011/04/most-important-fact-about-libya-is-not.html
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/2014/09/11/e64774b2-39e0-11e4-8601-97ba88884ffd_story.html
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Authorization_for_Use_of_Military_Force_Against_Terrorists
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jama%27at_al-Tawhid_wal-Jihad
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_State_of_Iraq_and_the_Levant

Sunday, September 14, 2014

174.7 - Clown Award: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy

Clown Award: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy

Last but never least, it's the clown award, awarded weekly for meritorious stupidity.

The winner of the Big Red Nose this week is GOPper House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and few have deserved it more.

Okay. Start with the fact that the USDA has a website, gasp, which includes a blog, again gasp.

On August 29, Kathryn Sosbe of the US Forest Service posted on that blog. Her post was titled "How Does Your Marshmallow Roast" and was in honor of National Roasted Marshmallow Day and yes there is such a thing; it was August 30.

Anyway, in the post Sosbe talks about s'mores, which, as she says, is for some people the best possible use of the humble marshmallow. She goes over how to make them and a brief history.

She then gives some safety tips for roasting, especially if children are the ones doing it - safety tips which, oddly, the children in the accompanying pictures are not following.

Next, she suggests some variations on s'mores, such as substituting grilled pineapple slices for the chocolate, before closing out with some other ways to use marshmallows as campfire treats

It's like one of those silly filler things you can find in the free newspaper you picked up somewhere, right? Nothing of importance, right?

Kevin McCarthy
Not to Kevin McCarthy! He knows the real agenda here and it's horrifying, I tell you, horrifying! And he told other House GOPpers about it in a memo last week.

“This perfectly captures what is wrong with our government," he rages. "Hard-earned tax dollars supporting bureaucrats who can’t pass up an opportunity to tell us how to live our lives."

Yes, because a blog post including alternatives to traditional s'mores is undermining American initiative! It's telling us how to live our lives, says Kevin McCarthy, who offered no calculation of how many "hard-earned tax dollars" he had spent getting out this vital missive.

Kevin McCarthy, the man who knows what's really wrong with government: dictating how we roast our marshmallows!

Kevin McCarthy: clown.

Sources cited in links:
http://blogs.usda.gov/2014/08/29/us-forest-service-asks-how-does-your-marshmallow-roast/
http://www.aol.com/article/2014/09/06/republicans-up-in-arms-over-governments-healthy-smores/20958350/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/in-the-loop/wp/2014/09/04/gop-leader-mccarthy-to-forest-service-dont-tell-me-how-to-make-a-smore/

174.6 - Update: fast-food workers' strike

Update: fast-food workers' strike

Here's an update for you. Last week I said that fast food workers were planning another one-day strike to push for a living wage but it was kind of odd telling you much about it because it was to happen the day after I recorded the show - which meant that it hadn't happened yet when I did the show but would have happened by the time you saw the show.

Well, it's a week later, and it all happened and frankly I think it was terrific. Protests and strikes occurred in over 100 cities, involving thousands of workers at  places like McDonald's, KFC, Taco Bell, Wendy's, and more. There was nonviolent civil disobedience - generally sit-ins blocking traffic - at a number of sites. A representative of Fight for 15, the group organizing the walkout, said nearly 500 people had been arrested or cited - that is, given the equivalent of a traffic ticket without an arrest - during the actions.

This was a country-wide protest: Police arrested 47 people in Kansas City; 27 in West Milwaukee; 19 in New York City; 30 in Detroit; 11 in San Diego; 8 in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania; seven in Miami; three in Denver. Nineteen citations were issued in Chicago; 10 in Indianapolis; 13 in Hartford; 10 in Las Vegas.

Detroit
Now, I will say that there are people who don't think the movement's goal of a living wage of $15 an hour is wise on the grounds that such a wage will encourage more highly-educated people to compete for those jobs, leaving the less educated even further behind. This "argument," I will note, is based on nothing but their own assumptions, one of which is that raising the wages for these low-paid workers, in effect creating a baseline for the prevailing wage in an area, would not affect other wages for other jobs in that same area, raising the wages for more skilled work with higher educational requirements, which would do away with that supposed incentive of more educated people to go flip burgers.

Still, the reason I mention that at all is that even some of those people will admit the strikes have been what one called "a stunning success," saying that, again quoting,
Kansas City
[f]or the cost of a few Super Bowl ads, the SEIU and some dedicated fast food workers have managed to completely rewire how the public and politicians think about wages.
As I noted last week, these strikes have been central to the effort to keep the twin issues of the minimum wage and wage inequality in the public debate even as corporate America, the rich, and many in government, to the extent those don't overlap, would rather not have us thinking about them.

And there is a lot to think about.

According to a survey by the Federal Reserve released last week, the gap between the richest Americans and the rest of the nation widened after the Great Recession, worsening the already-bad  income inequality in the US.
Chicago

From 2010 to 2013, average income for U.S. families rose about 4 percent after accounting for inflation. All of the income growth was concentrated among the top 3 percent of earners, who sucked up 30.5 percent of all income.

Looking at wealth rather than income made it worse: In 1989, the richest 3 percent held 44.8 percent of the net worth in the country. By 2007 that was up to 51.8 percent and by 2013, it was 54.4 percent.

According to a new study out of the Harvard Business School, release September 8, that widening gap is "unsustainable" and will ultimately be damaging not only to the economy as a whole, but to the corporations that depend on it for their profit.

Even so, the same study concluded, the situation is unlikely to improve any time soon and workers will continue to struggle to make ends meet while corporations continue to reap the benefits of that inequality.

Janet Yellen
Although that study doesn't say this, one reason it's unlikely to get better without seeing people in the streets was found in the response of Fed Chair Janet Yellen - Janet Yellen was another of those "great choices" that we were all obliged to love because Obama nominated her and so this is what you get when you do that - Janet Yellen responded to evidence of growing income inequality by calling it a disturbing trend, attributing some of it to the weak jobs market but also to underlying trends like technology and globalization.

Note the passive voice. In other words, income inequality, she's saying, is not the result of conscious decisions by corporate leaders to maximize their profit by squeezing their workers, it's not the result of a decades-long right-wing campaign to contain, undermine, and ultimately destroy unions, it's not the result of any refusals or failures of the Congress and the White House - or the Fed - to address it, it's not, that is, the result of anything anyone actually did. It's all about disembodied "trends" such as "technology and globalization." Forces of economic nature not subject to or driven by human control or direction. It's "a disturbing trend," but hey, what can you do?

That's what you get when you forget that when it comes to the interests of corporate America and our economic elite, people like Janet Yellen are not on your side. Barack Obama is not on your side. The workers in the streets are on your side. And don't you forget it.

Sources cited in links:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/04/fast-food-protest-arrests_n_5765592.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/04/fast-food-strikes_n_5768714.html
http://www.nbcnews.com/feature/in-plain-sight/were-movement-now-fast-food-workers-strike-150-cities-n195256
http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2014/09/07/the_fast_food_strikes_a_stunning_success_for_organized_labor.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/04/wealth-gap-recession_n_5767320.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/08/wealth-gap_n_5783550.html

174.5 - Unintentional Humor: Bill O'Reilly speaks the truth

Unintentional Humor: Bill O'Reilly speaks the truth

We're going to lighten things up for just a moment with an installment of our occasional feature, Unintentional Humor, where something that's not intended to be funny, just is.

And my oh my do we have a knee-slapper this time.

It came from the TV on September 3 when in an attempt to trash John Stewart of "The Daily Show," Bill O'Reilly ringingly declared to his audience "When you hear something on a partisan-driven program, do not believe it!"

You heard the man.

Sources cited in links:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/04/bill-oreilly-jon-stewart-ferguson_n_5764992.html?ir=Media

174.4 - Outrage of the Week: Air Force bars atheist from enlisting

Outrage of the Week: Air Force bars atheist from enlisting

Now it's time for one of our regular weekly features, it's the Outrage of the Week.

The United States Air Force has apparently decided that the Constitution doesn't apply to it.

The case is that of an unnamed technical sergeant at Creech Air Force base in Nevada. His service time is coming to an end in November and last month he tried to re-enlist. But he was refused. The Air Force wouldn't take him. They told him he's got to go.

Why? Was he a troublemaker? Did he have a bad reputation? Was he insubordinate? A security risk? What?

None of the above. He's an atheist and since he enlisted, the Air Force has changed its rules about the oath you have to take to join (or re-join), which ends with "So help me god." Formerly, someone joining the Air Force could opt for a different phrase, but in October 2013 the Air Force said no, you have to say it, no option, no choice: You have to declare a belief in God or you can't be in the Air Force. The USAF is the only branch of the US military with the requirement.

If the Air Force doesn't budge, the sergeant is prepared to sue in federal court. The American Humanist Association has taken up his case and will represent him if need be.

It's hard to see how this could not be unconstitutional, not only based on the First Amendment but on the fact that Article VI of the Constitution says that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

While it appears from the rest of that clause that it is thinking about elected or appointed offices, don't forget that at the time the Constitution was framed there was no expectation of a standing army and they would not have even imagined an air force. Given that, and given that we have both a standing army and air force, it surely seems that being a member of the Air Force should be considered a "public trust" under the meaning of that article.

This may seem like a minor thing for an Outrage of the Week - after all, who cares about atheists, there are so few of them - but don't forget that this involves a basic constitutional right and it's not only atheists who would be affected. It could impact agnostics, depending on how strongly they feel about saying they believe in God, and even more directly, there are religions that are not monotheistic, that don't believe in God as a single entity, and still others that don't hold a belief in a "God" that is anything like the Judeo-Christian version.

But all of that is ultimately irrelevant because the issue here remains the same: basic rights. The basic - the fundamental - right to be able to fully participate in society and stripping away that right from a group does not become unimportant just because a majority, even a large majority, of the population feels it is not affected.

It's important for another reason: This is not the first time this sort of evangelizing has been found in the Air Force. Several years ago, the US Air Force Academy faced accusations that evangelical Christians exerted a dominating influence over the institution.

When the Air Force responded with what seemed an honest attempt to emphasize respect for all belief systems, even setting up a pagan/nature religions worship area at the Air Force Academy, it was assailed by right-wing Christians and their allies in Congress on the wacko claim that the efforts to avoid religious favoritism were actually an attack on freedom of religion - "freedom of religion" being defined here as "evangelical Christians being able to say and do whatever they want, including officers telling subordinates what religious practices they should follow."

It was after that -  not immediately after, but not much more than a year after that - that the Air Force started requiring enlistees to declare they believe in God. And then a month later, this is now last November, the Air Force Academy, the same academy earlier found to be overrun with evangelicals abusing their authority, hired a long-time advocate and practitioner of the thoroughly-bogus and often harmful "gay conversion therapy" to oversee its counseling program for young cadets.

So you may still think it's unimportant that an atheist is barred from the Air Force - even though it's not - but I doubt you think it's unimportant that it appears that the most conservative forms of right-wing Christianity still are finding a warm and welcoming embrace at the Air Force academy to the point of controlling the sort of counseling cadets get. That, I suspect you will agree, is an outrage.

Sources cited in links:
http://news.yahoo.com/atheist-must-swear-god-leave-us-air-force-232153866.html
http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/articlevi
http://www.alternet.org/story/67385/the_evangelical_christian_takeover_of_the_military
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wildhunt/2012/06/the-air-force-and-the-increasing-misuse-of-the-term-religious-freedom.html
http://www.towleroad.com/2013/11/advocate-of-gay-cure-therapy-overseeing-cadet-counseling-at-us-air-force-academy.html

174.3 - Not Good News: the string is broken

Not Good News: the string is broken

And, unfortunately, we also have some not good news on this same front.

The unbroken string of more than 20 straight victories in federal court on marriage justice has come to an end. We knew it would come eventually; we can't expect to win every single decision. But still it's a disappointment when it happens, even if it's not unexpected.

It came in the case of Louisiana, where U.S. District Court Judge Martin Feldman declared that no “fundamental right” was at stake and the state needed only to show a legitimate reason for barring same-sex couples from marrying - which, he declared, the state did, that "legitimate reason" being, quoting him, "linking children to an intact family formed by their two biological parents." By which logic, as I just noted a minute or two ago, divorce and adoption should both be banned.

His only other argument is the classic slippery-slope one that allowing for same-sex marriage would of necessity mean allowing for parents to marry their children and brothers to marry each other and so on. As Richard Posner said, such an argument "cannot be taken seriously."

It really is a rather bizarre ruling and I expect that opponents of marriage justice who give any thought to it will not want this to be the case on which their argument rests.

Consider that after dealing with the technical legalities, that is, the background of the case and the requirements for a summary judgment, he starts his actual argument by referring to being gay or lesbian as a "lifestyle choice," placing him firmly among the scientific ignoramuses who still insist that people "choose" to be homosexual. Do me a favor: If you ever meet one of those folks, ask them when and why they "chose" to be straight.

He claimed that the fundamental right at issue was not marriage, but "same-sex" marriage, the idea of which, he went on, is too new to be a "fundamental" right. New? The legal battle in the US over same-sex marriage has been going on for 42 years and male-bonding ceremonies date to the 12th century or earlier. And of course the "right to marry" is the right at issue: If Feldman was considering a voting rights case, I doubt he would try to make this type of nonsensical differentiation between a "right to vote" and a "black right to vote."

His finding that Louisiana need only show a "legitimate reason" for its bigotry was based on a confusion between "strict scrutiny" and the somewhat lower "heightened scrutiny," two different standards of the level of justification a state must be able to offer for a law for a law to withstand a legal challenge.

And he completely and blatantly misstated what the Constitution says. In trying to dismiss a comparison to Loving v. Virginia, the famous Supreme Court case that struck down bans on interracial marriage, Feldman claims that was because the 14th Amendment "expressly condemns racial discrimination as a constitutional evil." But it doesn't. It makes no reference to race at all. It says all persons have the protections of due process and that no person can be denied the equal protection of the laws.

I've mentioned several times that it seems to me that each of the decisions in favor of marriage justice has some line, some bit of phrasing, that is notable for its insight if not its elegance. Somehow it seems fitting that the decision upholding what is the old, the outdated, the fearful, the bigoted, should lack any trace of either.

Sources cited in links:
http://www.buzzfeed.com/chrisgeidner/louisiana-marriage-ban-is-constitutional-federal-judge-rules
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/03/louisiana-gay-marriage_n_5760012.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/03/louisiana-gay-marriage-ruling_n_5761112.html
http://www.freedomtomarry.org/pages/history-and-timeline-of-marriage
http://theweek.com/article/index/228541/how-marriage-has-changed-over-centuries
http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/amendmentxiv

174.2 - And the beat goes on

And the beat goes on

On Thursday, September 4, a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld lower court decisions that that declared the bans on same-sex marriage declared by Indiana and Wisconsin are both unconstitutional.

The decision came down just a week after hearing oral arguments, which can be taken as an indication of how clear the judges thought the legal and constitutional issues are.

Writing for the court, Judge Richard Posner called the states' arguments against same-sex marriage "totally implausible" and that the argument that same-sex couples should not be allowed to marry because they can't conceive children "is so full of holes that it cannot be taken seriously." Later in his ruling, he sarcastically observed that
Heterosexuals get drunk and pregnant, producing unwanted children; their reward is to be allowed to marry. Homosexual couples do not produce unwanted children; their reward is to be denied the right to marry. Go figure.
Then, just four days later, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held oral arguments on same-sex marriage bans in Idaho, Nevada, and Hawaii - and the members of the three-judge panel made no secret of their disdain for the arguments for bigotry.

Attempting to defend the bans in Idaho and Nevada, Monte Stewart of the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage argued that male-female marriages presents a message that, quoting one news report,
strengthens a child’s “bonding right” with his or her biological parents. Widening that institution to include same-sex couples, he continued, “weakens the social expectation of the child’s bonding right,” and sends the “social message that fathers are not a valuable part of child rearing.”
That didn't go over well.

Judge Marsha Berzon responded that Stewart was sending a message that families headed by same-sex couples were "second-rate" and "less desirable."

Judge Ronald M. Gould questioned where the very term “bonding right” came from. Stewart seemed to have invented it.

Something I noticed but the judges apparently did not address was Stewart's reference to this "bonding right" a child's biological parents. But if that is so important, shouldn't Idaho and Nevada be banning adoption? Shouldn't giving a child up for adoption - the very thing these same sorts of people are constantly proposing as an alternative to abortion - be illegal on the grounds that it denies the child its "bonding rights" with its biological parents?

While they didn't note that, Judge Stephen Reinhardt did ask why in the case of this "bonding right" Idaho does not ban divorce. Stewart's only answer was the thoroughly lame "They may."

Reinhardt, who wrote the 2012 ruling overturning California's infamous Proposition 8, also observed that people who are attracted to their own gender “also have the right to live their lives as human beings.”

Which is pretty much all that the advocates for marriage justice are looking for.

The 7th Circuit was the third federal appeals court to strike down bans on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional; by all appearances, the 9th circuit will make four.

Overall, more than 30 state and federal courts have ruled in favor of marriage equality since the Supreme Court  down a central part of the Defense of Marriage Act last year. Same-sex marriage is now recognized in 19 states and in Washington, D.C.

The Supreme Court is widely expected to weigh in on the matter during its upcoming term, which runs from October to next June.

Sources cited in links:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/04/wisconsin-indiana-gay-marriage_n_5767710.html
http://mic.com/articles/98034/a-federal-appeals-court-just-struck-down-gay-marriage-bans-in-indiana-and-wisconsin
http://news.yahoo.com/appeals-court-invalidates-indiana-wisconsin-gay-marriage-bans-193756415.html
http://pdfserver.amlaw.com/nlj/7th%20Circuit%20same%20sex%20marriage.pdf
http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/post-doma-9th-circuit-weigh-gay-marriage-idaho-nevada-hawaii
http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/hawaii-idaho-nevada-gay-marriage-laws-court-25338944
http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-gay-marriage-hearing-20140908-story.html

174.1 - Good News: "Save the Whales"

Good News: "Save the Whales"

We start the week the good news of proof that activism and conservation - or, to be more accurate, activism-driven conservation - can and does work. "Save the whales" almost became a joke a rather few years back, the phrase adopted by right wing trolls and numbskulls to mock all things radical, progressive, or merely liberal as foolish nonsense.

But guess what: because of that mocked activism, whales have been saved. Including, it now develops, a population of the largest animal that has ever existed on Earth: blue whales.

According to a new survey, the population of California blue whales, once near extinction as the result of whaling, has made a remarkable comeback and now stands at about 2,200, or 97 percent of 19-century historical levels.

They are the only population of blue whales known to have recovered from the depredations of whaling. Some others have, in fact, become extinct. But it still shows, in the words of Cole Monnahan, a doctoral student at the University of Washington who lead the study, "the ability of blue whale populations to rebuild under careful management and conservation measures."

Blue whales can grow to be 100 feet long and weigh more than 190 tons - twice as much as the largest known dinosaurs.

The comeback would be even more dramatic were it not for the fact that at least 11 of the whales are struck and sometimes killed by ships along the west coast each year - nearly four times the level allowed under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, a law that exists precisely because of the sort of activism the bozos of the right tried to ridicule. The deaths aren't enough to reduce the population, but they are enough to hinder its growth.

That said, this is still a remarkable success story for conservation efforts that quite bluntly exist only because a bunch of silly lefties thought it made sense to not kill off what is, again, the largest animal ever to exist on Earth.

Sources cited in links:
http://in.reuters.com/article/2014/09/05/us-usa-california-whales-idINKBN0H01YY20140905
http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/blue-whale/

Left Side of the Aisle #174




Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of September 11-17, 2014

This week:

Good News: "Save the Whales"
http://in.reuters.com/article/2014/09/05/us-usa-california-whales-idINKBN0H01YY20140905
http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/blue-whale/

Good News: and the beat goes on
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/04/wisconsin-indiana-gay-marriage_n_5767710.html
http://mic.com/articles/98034/a-federal-appeals-court-just-struck-down-gay-marriage-bans-in-indiana-and-wisconsin
http://news.yahoo.com/appeals-court-invalidates-indiana-wisconsin-gay-marriage-bans-193756415.html
http://pdfserver.amlaw.com/nlj/7th%20Circuit%20same%20sex%20marriage.pdf
http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/post-doma-9th-circuit-weigh-gay-marriage-idaho-nevada-hawaii
http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/hawaii-idaho-nevada-gay-marriage-laws-court-25338944
http://www.latimes.com/nation/nationnow/la-na-nn-gay-marriage-hearing-20140908-story.html

Not Good News: the string is broken
http://www.buzzfeed.com/chrisgeidner/louisiana-marriage-ban-is-constitutional-federal-judge-rules
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/03/louisiana-gay-marriage_n_5760012.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/03/louisiana-gay-marriage-ruling_n_5761112.html
http://www.freedomtomarry.org/pages/history-and-timeline-of-marriage
http://theweek.com/article/index/228541/how-marriage-has-changed-over-centuries
http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/amendmentxiv

Outrage of the Week: Air Force bars atheist from enlisting
http://news.yahoo.com/atheist-must-swear-god-leave-us-air-force-232153866.html
http://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/articlevi
http://www.alternet.org/story/67385/the_evangelical_christian_takeover_of_the_military
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wildhunt/2012/06/the-air-force-and-the-increasing-misuse-of-the-term-religious-freedom.html
http://www.towleroad.com/2013/11/advocate-of-gay-cure-therapy-overseeing-cadet-counseling-at-us-air-force-academy.html

Unintentional Humor: Bill O'Reilly speaks the truth
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/04/bill-oreilly-jon-stewart-ferguson_n_5764992.html?ir=Media

Update: fast-food workers' strike
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/04/fast-food-protest-arrests_n_5765592.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/04/fast-food-strikes_n_5768714.html
http://www.nbcnews.com/feature/in-plain-sight/were-movement-now-fast-food-workers-strike-150-cities-n195256
http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2014/09/07/the_fast_food_strikes_a_stunning_success_for_organized_labor.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/04/wealth-gap-recession_n_5767320.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/08/wealth-gap_n_5783550.html

Clown Award: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy
http://blogs.usda.gov/2014/08/29/us-forest-service-asks-how-does-your-marshmallow-roast/
http://www.aol.com/article/2014/09/06/republicans-up-in-arms-over-governments-healthy-smores/20958350/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/in-the-loop/wp/2014/09/04/gop-leader-mccarthy-to-forest-service-dont-tell-me-how-to-make-a-smore/

Saturday, September 06, 2014

173.7 - Clown Award: Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders

Clown Award: Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders

The Outrage of the Week slides smoothly over into our other regular weekly feature, the Clown Award, given as always for meritorious stupidity.

This week we have a double winner, a shared award. This week the Big Red Nose goes to Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders for defending the right of Israel to bomb hospitals and schools.

At a recent local town hall meeting in Barnstable, Warren was criticized for her vote in favor of sending $225 million in military aid to Israel.

Warren defended herself by saying, this is a quote, "America has a very special relationship with Israel. Israel lives in a very dangerous part of the world, and a part of the world where there aren't many liberal democracies." She also said Hamas attacks "indiscriminately" and referred to them as "terrorists" but that civilian casualties are "the last thing Israel wants" and when pressed about that, she said that Hamas used civilians as human shields and "Israel has a right to defend itself."

Okay, you tell me: Is there a single original thought in there? Is there a single line not lifted from an Israeli government press release?

During the most recent war, Israel shelled schools and hospitals on the grounds that rockets and militants had been located nearby. Not in the schools and hospitals - although there were two cases where Hamas stored rockets in a school - but not in the schools and hospitals, not on the schools and hospitals, but near the schools and hospitals. Which means, first, so much for the "precision attacks" Israel is always claiming to make. And as I've mentioned before, the Gaza Strip has about the same population density as the city of Boston. Just how far away from a civilian target could some crew with a rocket launcher get?

Even more to the point, the Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War prohibits attacks on hospitals, "unless they are used to commit, outside their humanitarian duties, acts harmful to the enemy." Even under those circumstances, civilian hospitals can only be attacked "after due warning has been given, naming, in all appropriate cases, a reasonable time limit and after such warning has remained unheeded."

But for Warren, simply having a military asset somewhere close to a hospital makes shelling that hospital legitimate self-defense. Providing, that is, the shelling is done by Israel.

And when asked about the idea of conditioning future US aid on a halt to more settlements in the West bank, settlements which are, again, clearly illegal under international law and recognized as such for years by US policy, Warren said "I think there's a question of whether we should go that far" - while making no suggestion of, in that case, how far we should go.

For his part, Bernie Sanders got into a testy, even heated, exchange with constituents at a recent town meeting over his defense of Israel. Sanders supposedly ended on a note of what was called resignation. "This is a very depressing and difficult issue. This has gone on for 60 bloody years," he said. "If you're asking me, do I have a magical solution? I don't. And you know what, I doubt very much that you do."

True, I don't have a magical solution. But a good start would be for people to stop saying that "It must be okay because Israel did it." In other words, stop being clowns.

Sources cited in links:
http://www.capecodonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20140821/NEWS/408210325/-1/news11
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/28/elizabeth-warren-defends-_n_5733164.html

173.6 - Outrage of the Week: Israel steals West Bank land

Outrage of the Week: Israel steals West Bank land

Okay, this is why Cee Lo Green got outranked. This is the Outrage of the Week.

Last week, I said the big Good News was the "unlimited ceasefire" reached between Israel and Hamas, putting at least a temporary end to the bloodshed in Gaza. (Yes, I know it wasn't only in Gaza but so much of the blood that was shed was there that it is reasonable to refer to events that way. Over 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, died in the war, as opposed to 71 Israelis, 65 of them soldiers.)

How bad is it in Gaza now? According to a new report by Shelter Cluster, an international organization involved in assessing post-conflict reconstruction, unless Israel stops blockading the import of concrete and other building materials into Gaza, it will take 20 years to rebuild the area's battered housing stock - and that doesn't even include reconstructing damage from fighting between Israel and Hamas.

Shelter Cluster is chaired by the Norwegian Refugee Council with the participation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency - the UN refugee agency - and the Red Cross.

The assessment said that 17,000 housing units in Gaza were destroyed or severely damaged during the most recent war and 5,000 units still need repairs from damage sustained in the previous Israeli attacks. In addition, it says, Gaza has a housing deficit of 75,000 units. In short, there are scores of thousands without proper shelter.

So in light of that, what does Israel do?

It steals land on the West Bank.

On August 31, Israel announced the biggest land seizure in the occupied West Bank in 30 years.

Nearly 1,000 acres in the Etzion Jewish settlement bloc near Bethlehem were summarily declared "state land" by the bogusly-named Civil Administration, bogus because it is actually run by the Israeli military.

The military gave no reason for the land theft, but Israel Radio said the step was taken in response to the kidnapping and killing of three Jewish teens by Hamas militants in the area in June, an incident that lead to rapidly soaring tensions, exchange of fire, and the  outbreak of the most recent war. So obviously the way to avoid a repeat is to take an outrageously provocative action in that very same area. Of course.

Israel has been condemned around the world for its settlements on the West Bank, which are illegal under international law, and faced a new round of condemnation over this latest land grab. The US, the UK, France, the European Union, Japan, and the General Secretary of the UN joined other nations including Turkey and Norway in condemning the seizure and calling for it to be reversed.

The Israeli peace group Peace Now said the appropriation was meant to turn a site where 10 families now live adjacent to a Jewish seminary into a permanent settlement - but the Israeli government claimed it would not constitute a new settlement because the site is officially designated a neighborhood of an existing settlement several miles away. I wonder if the government's media person managed to keep a straight face while saying that.

A local Palestinian mayor said Palestinians owned the tracts that had been taken and harvested olive trees on them. But that's never made a difference in previous land grabs, so why should it matter now?

Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, called on Israel to cancel the seizure. "This decision will lead to more instability. This will only inflame the situation after the war in Gaza," he said.

That is unlikely to sway Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who broke off talks with Abbas in April after the Palestinian leader reached a reconciliation deal with Hamas and who declared in the wake of the ceasefire that Israel would not resume talks with Abbas until he breaks ties with Hamas - even though a Fatah-Hamas coalition would mean Hamas participating in a government that openly recognizes Israel, which would mean of necessity Hamas having to tone down its anti-Israel rhetoric and very likely reduce the chances of renewed rocket attacks from Gaza.

Why wouldn't Israel want that? Why wouldn't Israel want developments that would by their nature lead to the at least partial moderation of Hamas? Bluntly, I suspect it's because of what I have maintained for some time: Israel does not want peace. Or, more exactly, the right-wing coalitions which dominate the national government do not want peace. They do not want a settlement, they do not want an actual end to the conflict - or, again more exactly, an end to the conflict which does not involve the complete subjugation of Palestinians.

Consider this: The platform of the Likud Party, the party of Benjamin Netanyahu, said several years ago, quoting now,
The Jordan river will be the permanent eastern border of the State of Israel.
If you note on the map where the Jordan River is, you'll realize immediately that this means that by this platform, the entirety of the West Bank is Israel.

Quoting again,
- Jerusalem is the eternal, united capital of the State of Israel and only of Israel. The government will flatly reject Palestinian proposals to divide Jerusalem.
- The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river.
- The Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are the realization of Zionist values. Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel.
That platform has been modified some since 2005, after Israel withdrew its settlements from Gaza, the better to turn the Strip into an outdoor prison. But the Likud Party has never in its statements of principles accepted a Palestinian State. As recently as mid-July, Netanyahu declared that Israel will never "relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan." That is, there could be a Palestinian state, maybe - provided that it is an unarmed, defenseless vassal of Israel.

This is nothing new. In a recently-discovered video from 2001, Netanyahu is talking to a group of Israeli West Bank settlers at a time he thought the camera was off.

In the video, he boasted about derailing the Oslo peace process, described American foreign policy as easily manipulated, and said the only way to deal with the Palestinians was "beat them up, not once but repeatedly, beat them up so it hurts so badly, until it's unbearable."

He also said that the US will "make statements" but that it won't do anything; it won't, he said, "interfere with us." Which is spot on and why the statements from the State Department about the land grab, which urged Israel to "reverse this decision" because it's "counterproductive," will have no effect because they will no more be followed up with any actual actions - such as cutting off military aid - than any of the previous statements over the years were.

So Israel celebrates a ceasefire in Gaza by refusing to negotiate with the Palestinian authority, stealing land in the West Bank for illegal settlements, and avoiding any possibility of a long-term settlement while pursuing its dreams of "greater Israel" involving taking all of the West Bank - and the US responds by harrumphing and tsking and doing nothing.

Altogether enough to say: It's an outrage.

Sources cited in links:
http://www.aol.com/article/2014/08/31/rebuilding-gaza-will-take-20-years-group-says/20954997/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/31/israel-west-bank_n_5745498.html?utm_hp_ref=mostpopular
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/03/international-response-israel-land-grab_n_5758256.html?cps=gravity
http://peacenow.org.il/eng/
http://www.juancole.com/2014/08/charter-destruction-palestinian.html
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6TG0vdzrmt4&feature=youtu.be

173.5 - Failing to take violence against women seriously

Failing to take violence against women seriously

Before we go to break, here's something that easily could have been the Outrage of the Week.

Here's the story: In July of 2012, one Thomas DeCarlo Callaway, better known as musician and singer Cee Lo Green, was having dinner with a 33-year-old woman. He slipped a drug, supposed to have been Ecstasy, into her drink, a fact acknowleged in a documented phone call he later made.

The next thing she remembers is waking up in her bed in her hotel room, naked, alongside Green.

Prosecutors did not file any charges of sexual assault, citing lack of evidence - which is, of course, the whole point of drugging someone: the lack of later evidence. Green did admit to sexual contact, he just insisted - Surprise! - that it was "consensual." Even so, Green was charged with one felony count of giving her the drug.

Here's where we get to the outrageous part.

At a preliminary hearing on  August 29, Green pleaded "no contest" to the charge. Technically, it's nolo contendere, which translates to "I do not contest the charges." It allows the accused to offer no defense without admitting actual guilt. However, in terms of potential penalties, it is the same a a guilty plea or a conviction.

So what was his punishment? Remember, to be a felony a crime must have a maximum penalty of at least a year and a day in prison. So what did Green get for drugging a woman, leaving her either unconscious or so stoned as to be incapacitated, and then having sex with her under conditions which by any sane definition of the term constitute rape?

He got three years probation and was ordered to do 360 hours of community service and attend 52 Alcoholic Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings, along with paying some restitution to his victim.

We continue to fail to take violence against women seriously.

Despite all that is in front of us, despite all we have seen and heard, we still will not take it seriously.

Cee Lo Green certainly doesn't: In a series of tweets after he avoided the slammer, he bizarrely claimed that, quoting,

"If someone is passed out they're not even WITH you consciously! So WITH implies consent… women who have really been raped REMEMBER!!!"

And so, it seems, we are back to "legitimate" rape, where "with" implies consent and not remembering it means it didn't happen.

An online petition campaign in response to the tweets, demanding his new show "The Good Life" be canceled, got more than 30,000 signatures in less than three hours.

On September 1, Green took to twitter again to "apologize." What he actually said was "I sincerely apologize for my comments being taken so far out of context." Besides the fact that this doesn't even rise to the level of an "if anyone was offended, I apologize" non-apology, it's Twitter! It's 140 characters! Just what is this greater context his statements were taken out of?

Happily, that sort of lame non-apology didn't help his cause and neither did the fact that he deleted not only the original tweets, but the "apology" as well. The next day, TBS and Time-Warner canceled "The Good Life." Which is the best thing to come out of this: actual consequences.

One final thought: as part of his non-apology, Green declared "I'd never condone the harm of any women." Which in his own mind might actually be true: He might think of what he did as not involving harm.

Because we do not take violence against women seriously.

Sources cited in links:
http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-cee-lo-green-no-contest-plea-20140829-story.html
http://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/gossip/cee-lo-green-pleads-contest-slipping-ecstasy-woman-article-1.1921615
http://www.aol.com/article/2014/08/30/cee-lo-green-pleads-no-contest-in-drugging-case/20954860/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nolo_contendere
http://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-news/news/ceelo-greens-show-canceled-by-tbs-after-controversial-rape-tweets-201429
http://www.usmagazine.com/celebrity-news/news/ceelo-green-voices-controversial-rape-opinion-deletes-tweets-201429

173.4 - Update: war hawks still at it

Update: war hawks still at it

Our other, linked, Update is this one:

Last week, I gave the Clown Award to the war hawks, particularly those in Congress, for loudly and repeatedly insisting that Obama "do something" about ISIS while refusing to offer any suggestions or proposals as to what that something might be. That is, they want to be on record as being tough, but not in any way that involves them taking any actual responsibility.

Well, guess what, this week they were still at it.

Rep. Mike Rogers, who heads the House Intelligence Committee, said Obama's foreign policy “in absolute free-fall.” Meanwhile, Rogers' equivalent in the Senate, Diane Feinstein, said Obama is “too cautious” in combating ISIS. Both offered dire predictions of attacks on the United States or Europe if ISIS is not crushed, with Rogers raising the specter of hundreds of ISIS-trained Americans coming home to wreak havoc.

John McCain kept up his barrage of Sunday morning news show appearances, demanding fast action to not just contain but outright defeat ISIS, echoed by Rep. Peter King, who said “The longer we wait, the more dangerous” it becomes.

Not one of these brave people with their strong voices offered any hint of what it was that should actually be done. It was a massive chorus of "do something, just don't ask me what or expect me to take any responsibility for it."

So I guess the bottom line is that I shouldn't be surprised that Obama figures he can do whatever he wants with the military, since that's pretty much what major members of Congress are telling him. They're even insisting on it.

Sources cited in links:
http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/lawmakers-push-white-house-take-action-islamic-state-risk/

173.3 - Update: US raid on Somalia

Update: US raid on Somalia

We have two linked Updates of things we have addressed before. The first Update comes in the form of a reminder.

On Monday, September 1, US military forces carried out an attack in Somalia targeted against the militant Islamist group called al-Shabaab.

In an unusual move, the Pentagon acknowledged the attack; however, it gave no details. According to journalists in Somalia, the strike was a drone missile attack near the port city of Barawe, an al-Shabaab stronghold.

The reminder here is that this was not the first covert US military operation in Somalia in recent years. In October 2013, the Pentagon deployed a small team of "advisers" to Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, to coordinate operations with troops from the African Union who were fighting against al-Shabaab. Those "advisers" almost immediately got into a firefight with the militants during a house raid.

Since then, US commandos have conducted raids and operations in Somalia, raids and operations the military does its best to keep secret.

So here's the update: Does anyone recall any Congressional authorization for this? Or is this, as it appears to be, yet another case of Mr. Nobel Peace Prize President figuring he can do anything he likes with the military and he don't need no stinking authorization?

Don't try to use the AUMF, the Authorization to Use Military Force, which was used as the legal basis for the invasion of Iraq and has been used since to justify attacks on groups "affiliated" with al-Qaeda in places such as Yemen and Pakistan. But you can't use it for this: As far back as May 2013, the Amazing Mr. O himself called the AUMF “outdated.”

So what's the authorization? Or do I again ask, Mr. President, just who the hell do you think you are?

Or maybe I should ask instead when we will see the "covert actions" in Ukraine. Or is that a different story because, unlike the other places where we conduct our "limited air strikes" and our secret drone wars, in the case of Ukraine we'd be dealing with people who really can shoot back?

Sources cited in links:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/us-carries-out-counter-terrorism-strike-in-somalia/2014/09/01/19067e8c-323b-11e4-8f02-03c644b2d7d0_story.html
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/range-of-options-to-combat-islamic-state-are-under-discussion-senior-official-says/2014/08/22/f745619a-2a2a-11e4-8593-da634b334390_story.html
http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/09/02/us-ukraine-crisis-idUSKBN0GS10C20140902

173.2 - Good News: Texas anti-choice law blocked

Good News: Texas anti-choice law blocked

Our other bit of good news can be filed under the heading "Take It Where You Find It."

Last year, the Texas legislature, which has become so frothingly reactionary that even Molly Ivins wouldn't have been able to find an amusing story about it, passed some of the worst anti-choice, anti-women's-freedom bills in the country.

The bill requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and required that all procedures take place in a surgical facility, that is, one that meets hospital-level standards - requirements that are made of no other clinics of any sort in the state. Another part of the bill, passed by people who in another context would screech about the horrors of "a government take-over of health care," limits when and where physicians may prescribe medications that can induce abortions.

In March, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a district court decision and upheld several of those restrictions in what Planned Parenthood accurately called a "terrible" ruling.

So where's the good news? Like I said, it's take it where you can get it but here it is:

On August 29, US District Judge Lee Yeakel sided with plaintiffs going after the part of the law which was not at issue in the earlier case, the requirement that clinics meets hospital-level standards, including operating rooms and air filtration systems. These are excessively stringent demands that would have left just seven such clinics in the entire state of Texas, population 26 million. The previous decision by the 5th Circuit upholding the law had already forced the closing of more than a dozen clinics; this rule would force the closing of 18 more.

As a result, Yeakel found that "The overall effect of the provisions is to create an impermissible obstacle as applied to all women seeking a previability abortion."

This victory may be short-lived: Yeakel also was the judge whose decision striking down other parts of this exercise in "back to 1900" ideology was overturned by the 5th Circuit.

But like I said, with good news you take it where you get it, in this case by knowing that those who believe in a woman's right to choose have not given up.

Sources cited in links:
http://www.nbcdfw.com/news/health/US-Appeals-Court-Upholds-New-Texas-Abortion-Rules-252750191.html
http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/federal-judge-halts-key-part-texas-abortion-law-n192281
 
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