Sunday, July 24, 2016

254.5 - The world in numbers

The world in numbers

Finally for this week, we'll take a quick tour around the world using numbers.

The first number is 50,000. That is the number of people who have been fired or suspended from their jobs in Turkey in wake of last week's failed coup in what now has every sign of being a combination purge and witch-hunt intended to suppress any dissent to the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. More than 9400 people have been arrested. Amnesty International has called it "a crackdown of exceptional proportions."

Turkey had stood as the proof that a nation could be both Muslim and democratic, but in recent times there had been concern that Erdogan and his allies in the national legislature had been pushing the nation in an Islamist - by which I mean here a theocratic - direction. In the wake of the failed coup, Erdogan has taken steps to further centralize his power, intensifying that concern.

The next number is 30. That is the number of years for which the British parliament voted to renew the country's Trident program, Trident being a submarine-launched nuclear missile. Trident program is, that is, Britain's nuclear weapons program.

According to new prime minister Theresa May, apparently out to prove she is as Margaret Thatcher as can be, abandoning weapons of mass destruction would be "an act of gross irresponsibility" while she accused critics of the program of being "the first to defend the country's enemies."

The approval for extending the program came despite the fact that the government's own "National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review" found, quoting, "no direct threat to the UK or its vital interests from states developing weapons of mass destruction" - which means, put another way, there is no basis for the claim that Trident is needed to "defend" Great Britain.

The renewal passed handily, 472-117, but beyond absolutely dreaming of a time when 20% of the US Congress would vote to shut down our nuclear weapons programs, I do wonder how many of the "ayes" were based on the attitude expressed by UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon, who said he hoped the vote would somehow prove in the wake of the Brexit vote that the UK is still a player.

Because, it still seems, being able to commit mass murder is how you show you count as a nation.

Next up is the number "less than 9." According to Oxfam, that is the percentage of the world's refugees being hosted by the world's six richest nations combined - and of those six, one hosts a third of their combined total. Those six - the US, China, Japan, Germany, the UK, and France - together account for nearly 57% of the world's GDP.

By contrast, the six nations - Jordan, Turkey, the Palestinian Territory, Pakistan, Lebanon, and South Africa - that host more than half of the world's 24.5 million refugees and asylum seekers account for less than 2% of the world's GDP.

Those with the most are doing the least; those with the least are struggling to do what they can. Sadly, not an unusual situation.

As a quick footnote, these figures do not include people who have been driven from their homes by violence, war, and human rights violations but who have not left their country and so are not counted as refugees but as "internally displaced persons." Include those people and the number of displaced persons rises from 24.5 million to over 65 million, the highest total that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has ever recorded.

The next number is 8. That is how many of the nine primary uses for which medical marijuana is recommended for which prescriptions for corporate-produced drugs have declined in states with medical marijuana laws.

This is based on a detailed study of drug prescriptions over the period 2010-2013 which examined the difference between the annual number of prescriptions per doctor in each category of use in states with and without medical marijuana laws. Thus, for example, they found that a typical doctor in a state with medical marijuana issued nearly 1900 fewer prescriptions for pain killers each year than did doctors in states without medical marijuana.

And so on down the line: Fewer prescriptions per year for anxiety, nausea, psychosis, seizures, sleep disorders, depression, and spasticity, which is uncontrolled muscle stiffness or spasms and is often associated with conditions such as cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis. The only exception was glaucoma, for which prescriptions per doctor rose in states with medical marijuana.

To check their results, the researchers looked at prescriptions for other conditions, ones for which medical marijuana is not recommended, specifically, blood thinners, anti-viral drugs, and antibiotics. They found no difference between medical marijuana states and others, confirming that it was the medical marijuana laws, not something else, that made the difference.

Want to know why Big Pharma is fighting against medical marijuana? The answer is in the numbers: Medical marijuana is cutting into their profits.

Next comes 63. According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, that is the percentage of Americans who hold that race relations in the US are generally bad, with a majority of respondents saying they are getting worse.

The good news, if you can call it that, hidden in the bad is that the increase from 48 percent found in a Pew Research survey this spring was largely driven by white Republicans and white independents who had resisted seeing racial discrimination as a problem but now have been forced to acknowledge it.

Finally, 0.0067, or if you prefer 1/150, or 2/3 of 1 percent. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a company that invests in renewable energy, that is how much solar power per unit of output cost in 2015 as compared to what it cost in 1975. Meanwhile, the number of solar installations is now 115,000 times what it was then.

The company predicts that even as coal and natural gas prices stay low, within 15 years wind and solar will be cheaper in many countries and cheaper in most of the world not long after. In some places where solar energy is most easily available, it is already clearly cheaper: Dubai has received a bid to supply 800 megawatts of solar power at a rate equivalent to "US 2.99 cents per kilowatt hour." By comparison, the average residential price for electricity in the United States is 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.

It's not just the Middle East, either: Austin, Texas, and Palo Alto, California, have signed contracts for solar-generated power at under 4 cents/kwh. Even if you take out the federal investment tax credit, it still comes out at 7 cents/kwh, still well below that national average of 12 cents/kwh.

Unfortunately, this still means that we are truly up against it when it comes to global warming because the timelines involved reach out to 2040, by which time we may already be irrevocably committed to blasting through the 2 degrees Celsius target if in fact we have not already done so - but at least it offers some hope and a promise that the very worst can be headed off.

Sources cited in links:

254.4 - Clown Award: Rep. Steve King

Clown Award: Rep. Steve King

Now for our other regular feature, the Clown Award, give for meritorious stupidity and this week it's a real real winner.

The Big Red Nose this week goes to Rep. Steve King, right-wing flake from Iowa. He was on MSNBC the afternoon of July 18 as part of the network's coverage of the GOPper convention. He was on a panel moderated by Chris Hayes along with White House correspondent April Ryan and Charles Pierce, a writer for Esquire.

When Pierce said that the convention hall "is wired by loud, unhappy, dissatisfied white people" King said Pierce should "go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you're talking about. Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?"

Hayes, clearly taken aback, asked King "Than white people?" to which our clown said "than Western civilization," which he described as "rooted in western Europe, eastern Europe and the United States of America" - in other words, essentially white people - "and every place where the footprint of Christianity settled the world."

Hayes, obviously fearing things were about to fly out of control, cut off the segment.

Now, King is an old-line racist and often seems genuinely mentally disturbed. As one example, in 2013, talking about immigration reform, he declared that for every illegal immigrant in the country who becomes a valedictorian, "there's another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds, and they've got the calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert."

For another, earlier this year, he said the decision to have Harriet Tubman replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill was "racist" and "sexist" and part of attempts by Obama to "upset this civilization."

Rep. Steve King (R-Bedlam)
(One very pointed response was a commenter who suggested King should move for a new $15 bill with Tubman's image, calling that a 3/5 compromise. Even if he heard the comment, I expect King wouldn't get it. If you don't, please please look it up: the 3/5 compromise.)

Even against that background this latest descent into dumbness, this latest sinkhole of stupidity, is truly meritorious in its self-satisfied ignorance.

Leaving aside areas like philosophical and religious concepts, which King would likely sneer are of no "value" because not Christian, we should note that the very idea of civilization itself as we understand the term did not come from the Western world: The first settled communities arose in Mesopotamia.

The non-Western world also created astronomy, monetary systems, critical innovations in art and architecture, and games like chess and go, among other things.

Want more specifics? Among the contributions from China have been ink, paper, porcelain, gunpowder, some of the earliest clocks, and the compass, to name a few.

In addition to preserving knowledge from ancient Greece and other places while Europe hunkered in superstition and ignorance sufficient to become known at the Dark Ages, on their own Muslims came up with, among a bunch of other things, hospitals, coffee, perfume, the first university, and oh, yeah, our modern system of mathematics, which has made our entire modern world possible. Muslims developed it after adopting the concept of zero, which came from India.

In fact, the word algebra comes from the Arabic word al-jabr and the word algorithm, referring to a mathematical process following a set of rules, derives from al-Kwarizmi, the name given to a 9th-century Arabic mathematician. Or would you rather balance your checkbook in Roman numerals?

Oh, and one more thing that the non-western world contributed, something that lamebrain Steve King would have to regard as a big contribution? Christianity.

My gosh, looking at Steve King it is hard to believe that so little rational knowledge could be in such a fat head.

Rep. Steve King: bigot, bozo, buffoon, and world-class clown.

Sources cited in links:|main5|dl22|sec1_lnk2&pLid=1686787329_htmlws-main-bb

254.3 - Protesters plan "Fart-In" during Democratic convention

Protesters plan "Fart-In" during Democratic convention

Oh now here's something that sounds like it could be a put-on or a prank but I have to say I hope it's true. It's just too cool, too clever, to be a fake.

On July 28 at the Democratic National Convention, protesters outside the building - along with some Bernie Sanders delegates inside - intend to hold what they are calling a "Fart-In." The plan is for people to eat a bunch of beans and generate the expected results a few hours later.

Obviously people can't time their toots but the hope is to generate a certain let's call it atmosphere at about the time Hillary Clinton will be accepting the nomination. The idea, as described by former Philadelphia health commissioner Dr. Walter Tsou, who plans to take part, is to have "a whimsical way" of saying "There's a lot of things that stink about the whole Democratic primary process."

Sheri Honkala
That charge was given much-added weight by the resignation of Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz in the wake of WikiLeaks having released thousands of DNC emails containing proof that the self-proclaimed "neutral," "impartial" organization had actually been actively supporting Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, just as Sanders' supporters had long suspected.

The phew-test is being organized by Cheri Honkala of the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign from an idea apparently first suggested by Saul Alinsky.

It's unknown how many people inside the hall will take part and those that will are keeping quiet about it. And for those who would dismiss the Fart-In as juvenile or pointless, I'll note that it's the very oddness of the plan that has gotten it - and the concerns that are driving it - attention from the media, including such as US News + World Report, Fox, NBC, the NY Post, the Philadelphia Daily News, Time, and more. And getting attention for the concerns involved is what any protest is about. Which means this one is already a success.

Kudos to Cheri Honkala for putting together a protest truly worth a hill of beans.

Sources cited in links:

254.2 - Outrage of the Week: Supreme Court legitimizes corruption

Outrage of the Week: Supreme Court legitimizes corruption

Next up is one of our regular features: This is the Outrage of the Week.

This actually happened a couple of weeks ago but something happened this week that makes it relevant now.

On June 27, in its last decision of the term, the Supreme Court unanimously, 8-0, overturned the conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who had been convicted in 2014 of official corruption.

McDonnell and his wife Maureen, who was convicted of conspiracy on similar charges, received over $175,000 in loans and gifts, including vacations, designer clothes for Maureen, a Rolex watch, a $15,000 catered meal for their daughter's wedding, and the loan of a Ferrari, all from a businessman named Johnnie Williams who wanted help in promoting a tobacco-based dietary supplement.

The case hung on the question of what constitutes an "official act" under the law. And the Supreme Court found that, quoting Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the decision, "Setting up a meeting, talking to another official, or organizing an event (or agreeing to do so) - without more - does not fit the definition of an official act." And that's true even if the person doing all that is the governor, meaning those "other officials" to who he was talking cannot be on an equal footing with the person making the "request."

Peter Overby of NPR noted that "the Supreme Court said what a government official gets isn't important. What counts is whether that official makes any pledges." In other words and more bluntly, unless you can show some direct quid-pro-quo, unless you can show a case of "you give me this and I will do that," unless you can show that some politician is arranging meetings and make phone calls and so on because and only because they are being in some way paid to do so and that they are doing things they would not do for constituents absent that payment, then, according to the Supreme Court, it is not corruption.

On the basis of this, others convicted of corruption may be appealing their convictions based on this ruling. Not only Maureen McDonnell, but Sheldon Silver, former speaker of the New York State Assembly, and even former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez is under indictment on similar pay-to-play charges and his case, too, may now be thrown into question.

In fact, that's why I bring this up now, because it is already had an impact: On July 18, state prosecutors in Utah announced they are dropping charges against former state Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who had been charged with accepting lavish gifts from businessmen who were in trouble with state regulators.

While it wasn't the only reason they gave, prosecutors specifically cited the dismissal of the case against McDonnell as having left them with no way to pursue the case against Shurtleff.

The members of the Supreme Court sought to cover their philosophical behinds by calling the facts of the case "distasteful" and "tawdry" in a decision that dripped with solicitous concern about the hypothetical damage the case could do to the relationship between politicians and their constituents if were it not overturned. Not overturning McDonnell's conviction, the Court said in effect, would leave the poor beleaguered politicos terrified of - and this is the actual illustration Roberts came up with - leave them terrified of doing anything in response to "homeowners who wonder why it took five days to restore power to their neighborhood after a storm" for fear they themselves would be prosecuted for corruption on the grounds that, quoting Roberts again, "the homeowners invited the official to join them on their annual outing to the ballgame."

That this sort of pathetic nonsense is supposed to pass for rational understanding of the real world and the real lives of real people, that it really in its exalted legal analysis equates the influence and power of a rich businessman able to dole out $175,000 in gifts in pursuit of profit with that of a group of homeowners able to afford an "annual outing to the ballgame" is mind-boggling. It serves to bring to mind Anatole France's famous remark that "the law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets, and steal bread."

The court insisted that its decision leaves ample room for prosecuting corruption, but lacking evidence of outright, laid-bare bribery, it's hard to see how.

Noah Bookbinder, who is the Executive Director of the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, denounced the decision as making it harder to prosecute public officials for their corruption. "The Supreme Court essentially just told elected officials that they are free to sell access to their office to the highest bidder. If you want the government to listen to you," he said, "you had better be prepared to pay up."

Because that's how the game is played and the utter failure by the Supreme Court to recognize that, to present McDonnell as having engaged in nothing more than ordinary constituent service, is either appalling ignorance or willful deceit that in either case further entrenches the systematic corruption of money in our political system - with the blessing of the Supreme Court.

And that is an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

254.1 - Good News: win for voting rights in Wisconsin

Good News: win for voting rights in Wisconsin

We can start with some Good News. On July 19, voting rights scored a significant victory in Wisconsin. Which means it only affects one state, but any victory for voting rights anywhere is Good News. July 19 was the day that Federal District Court Judge Lynn Adelman ruled that Wisconsin voters without photo identification can cast ballots in this fall's elections by signing an affidavit swearing to their identity.

The result is that voting rights have been restored to thousands of Wisconsin voters who are not able to obtain the required IDs and would have been disenfranchised.

Wisconsin is one of the states that instituted a requirement that voters show a state-approved phto ID at the polling place in order to be able to vote. This was supposedly in response to an epidemic of "voter fraud" - an epidemic that exists only in the lying PR claims of the right wing, which knows full well it is all lies intended to serve their despicable cause.

How do we know that? Because they have said so. For example, after Pennsylvania passed its voter ID law in 2012, state House Majority Leader Mike Turzai told his fellow GOPpers at a Republican State Committee meeting that the law "is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania," a statement met with loud applause.

In the case of Wisconsin, Ari Berman of The Nation reports that when asked why the GOP would carry Wisconsin in November, Congressman Glenn Grothman responded, "Now we have photo ID." Arguing for the law, State Senator Mary Lazich told a closed-door meeting of the Senate GOP caucus that "We've got to think about what this could mean for the neighborhoods around Milwaukee and the college campuses around the state." The significance of this lies in the fact that in 2012, Wisconsin's black population favored Obama over Romney by, get this, 88 percentage points. Seventy percent of that population lives in Milwaukee. Meanwhile, 18-to-24-year-olds, those populating "college campuses around the state," went to Obama by 26 percentage points.

What's more, a chief of staff for a former GOP state senator said Republicans were "giddy" about making it harder for people to vote.

It's estimated that when Wisconsin's law was passed in 2011, 9% of registered voters - some 300,000 people - did not have the required ID and the state made no attempt to help with that: No money was allocated to educate the public about the law and the non-partisan agency tasked with overseeing Wisconsin's elections was replaced by a six-member board divided equally between Democrats and GOPpers, all but guaranteeing the same sort of political deadlock that has made the Federal Election Commission such toothless a joke. The state DMV is supposed to be issuing the required IDs, but as of last month, it had rejected nearly a fifth of all applicants, 85 percent of them black, Latino, or Native American.

The law was bad enough that in 2011, Adelman ruled that the law was unconstitutional. Unfortunately, he later was reversed by an GOPper-dominated appeals court in a ruling handed down literally just hours after hearing arguments and without citing a single basis for the decision or addressing a single finding Judge Adelman made.

Because of that prior ruling, Adelman could not strike down the law, but he could soften it. And by allowing people without the demanded ID to vote by swearing to their identity, he did just that, ruling that "a safety net is needed for those voters who cannot obtain qualifying ID with reasonable effort."

Technically, the ruling is a preliminary injunction, issued because Adelman found that those arguing for a way for voters without IDs to cast ballots were "very likely" to succeed in their suit.

Legal technicalities aside, the result is that thousands of Wisconsin voters, most of them young or people of color, will now be able to vote this fall despite the continuing efforts of Gov. Scott Walkalloveryou and his reactionary cronies to stop them.

And that is Good News.

Sources cited in links:

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Left Side of the Aisle #254

Left Side of the Aisle
for the weeks of July 21 - August 3, 2015

This week:

Good News: win for voting rights in Wisconsin

Outrage of the Week: Supreme Court legitimizes corruption

Protesters plan "Fart-In" during Democratic convention

Clown Award: Rep. Steve King|main5|dl22|sec1_lnk2&pLid=1686787329_htmlws-main-bb

The world in numbers

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Left Side of the Aisle #253

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of July 14-20, 2016

This week:
Why "Black Lives Matter" still matters

"There is too much death"

Hero Award: Najih Shaker Al-Baldawi

Hero Award: Allison in London

The little Thing

Chelsea Manning

Monday, July 11, 2016

Left Side of the Aisle #252

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of July 7-13, 2016

This week:
- Good News on guns
- Not Good News on guns
- Good News on LGBTQ rights
- Not Good News on LGBTQ rights
- Good News on resisting bigotry
- Not Good News on resisting bigotry
- How the media encourages fear of Muslims
- How the media misleads on the economy
- People are catching on that the economy is rigged

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Left Side of the Aisle #251

Left Side of the Aisle
for the weeks of June 23 - July 6, 2016

This week:

A tale of two assaults

Footnote: pushback

Good News: net neutrality wins

Good News: guns controls upheld

Good News: no increase in youth pot-smoking in Colorado

Good News: young Americans souring on capitalism

GMTA on demonizing the poor - cut assistance - less likely

A bit on Brexit

UN: 65 million displaced persons

One word on Senate gun votes

Saturday, June 18, 2016

250.8 - Update: what to expect from Hillary Clinton

Update: what to expect from Hillary Clinton

We'll wrap up the week with a quick update to my lengthy rant last week about the ending of the presidential primaries and what that will mean in terms of issues that will not be discussed - or to be more precise, issues that Hillary Clinton and Donald TheRump will do their best to avoid discussing - in the fall. It's a bit more about what we can expect from, in particular, Clinton.

1. She is the candidate of Wall Street, which has raised nearly $23 million for her campaign.

2. She is the candidate of the neocons, a number of who have crossed party lines to support her, declaring, in the words of one of them, James Kirchick, that "Clinton is the candidate of the status quo," one who will provide "continuity with the present," she is the candidate of reaction, the president who will resist "systematic change."

3. She is the candidate of the hawks; she is the true hawk in the race for president, far more prepared to be far more aggressive militarily than Obama was and far readier to give the generals whatever they ask for.

This should not be taken as an ad for TheRump; I said months ago and I still say that for all her faults - and they are legion - she is still clearly preferable to anybody the GOPpers had going; hell, even the status quo (with perhaps incremental change) she represents is better than where that crew would take (or at least try to take) us.

But if you are going to support Hillary Clinton, you should do it realizing what you are going to get.

Sources cited in links:

250.7 - Orlando and terrorism

Orlando and terrorism

[Note: I have broken my discussion of the Orlando shooting into four parts for convenience.]

But as the saying goes, "facts are stubborn things" and I have been somewhat encouraged by the fact that over the past day, that is, as I do this on Wednesday, the storyline is slowly, reluctantly, but clearly being dragged toward describing the heinous event as a hate crime rather than one of terrorism, particularly Islamic terrorism.

The difference matters in more than legal technicalities of what defines either hate crime or terrorism. It matters in understanding what happened and what is means for our society.

Calling something terrorism suggests that it was intended to affect more than the immediate target - that, in this case, it was intended to terrorize the entire LGBTQ community with thoughts of similar fates.

But frankly, I wonder, based on my reading of Omar Mateen, if such terrorizing was part of his motivation. Maybe it was, in which case this reasonably could be called terrorism, but I wonder if it wasn't more strictly, as I described it earlier, an explosion of self-loathing turned outward. An act of pure, unrestrained, blind, hatred.

There is also more than a hint here of what is called "suicide by cop," which refers to situations where someone acts in a way where they appear to be deliberately provoking police to shoot them, to carry out the death sentence they feel unable to impose on themselves.

If Omar Mateen had wished solely to carry out an act of terrorism, particularly one in support of some religious fundamentalism or another, he could easily have fled the scene, as the attackers in Paris, for example, or the Boston Marathon bombers, did. He had more than enough opportunity. But he didn't. Instead he stayed, he holed up, he announced via that 911 call that he was an ISIS terrorist, in subsequent conversations with cops he claimed things like he was going to strap bombs to various people and place them around the building, he did pretty much everything short of saying "Come get me, coppers!"

Until finally, perhaps to his ultimate relief, they did.

So why it is important that we see this more as a hate crime than terrorism? Because as long as we maintain the "terrorism" narrative, we can continue to tell ourselves that it is primarily a case of the "other," the "alien," not by citizenship but by nature, the "alien" in our midst, that it is not about us in any way other than as victims.

But if we face the fact, as we should, that this was not an act of terrorism by any but the most general meaning of the word, that this was an act of hatred based in homophobia, then we have to recognize that for all the strides that have been made over the past couple of decades, for all the celebrations we have been able to have over gains of rights, for all the gains in acceptance we have been able to watch, still, as Phil Ochs sang in a different context but still it fits, "beneath the greatest love is a hurricane of hate."

Orlando was a bursting forth of the hurricane of hate which our LBGTQ brothers and sisters still face, a hurricane of hate perfectly illustrated by a Baptist pastor from Sacramento, California named Roger Jimenez who just hours after the massacre preached to his congregation "Are you sad that 50 pedophiles were killed today? I think that's great. I think that helps society. I think Orlando, Florida's a little safer tonight."

A hurricane of hate of which Orlando is but one gale. A hurricane of hate that despite the gains has yet to blow itself out.

And that is what should be the lesson of Orlando - that, and that we have too damn many guns and they are too damn easy to get.

Sources cited in links:

250.6 - Orlando and the media

Orlando and the media

[Note: I have broken my discussion of the Orlando shooting into four parts for convenience.]

So it does look like Omar Mateen was a disturbed individual, disturbed in a way that makes him almost a poster boy for our "violence has nothing to do with us" evasions.

But unlike so many other mass killers, he is being denied that narrative as another narrative is foisted on us. And I can tell you exactly when that happened: when we found out his name was Omar Mateen.

Initially, news accounts called the tragedy a "shooting" and continued to do so for hours after officials said it was being investigated as an possible act of terror. But as soon as they knew his name, as soon as they knew that while he is a US-born citizen, his parents are from Afghanistan, the storyline changed.

For example: At 9:01am the morning after the attack, CBS News tweeted that the shooter has been IDed as Omar Mateen. Just 10 minutes later, its description of the event had changed from a "shooting" to a potential case of "Islamic terrorism."

Other media outlets quickly fell in line and what had been a "shooting" became a possible and soon thereafter an unquestioned act of Islamic terrorism. Once they knew the accused murderer was named Omar. That's all they needed.

In fact, an early version of Reuters' article about the shooting (since changed) spent the first two or three sentences going on about "missed red flags" of "Islamist leanings" and the need for "better security," and then immediately thereafter - literally the very next words - said quote "much remains unknown" about Mateen's motives. We don't know why he did it, but so what? Red flags! Islamist leanings! Security! Be afraid!

Every hint of some possible connection to some radical Islamist individual or group was reported breathlessly. Past FBI investigations were mentioned over and over and over. The fact that the FBI investigated him and found nothing there could not be allowed to be an indication that there is nothing there, it had to be proof of "missed red flags."

A big deal was made out of the report that Mateen and his wife Noor Zahi Salman visited Walt Disney World in April. Oh my God! He was scouting the site! The idea that maybe he was just going to Disney World with his wife and kid was beyond the imagining of our media moguls. I'm sure at some point went to local supermarket, another place where there can be a lot of people around with minimal security. Scoping it out!

But of course the big deal was that he claimed to be a supporter of Daeah - of ISIS - in a 911 call he made during the attack. Proof it's Islamic terrorism!

Except: He had previously claimed to be a supporter of both al-Qaeda and al-Nusra front, even though the three - al-Qaeda, ISIS, and al-Nusra are all bitter rivals, in fact the latter two are fighting each other in Syria - but he also claimed to be a member of Hezbollah, even though Hezbollah is Shiite and the other three are Sunni!

FBI Director James Comey said "It's not entirely clear at this point just what terrorist group he aspired to support." Or, as a senior US official put it more pointedly to the Wall Street Journal, "He seems to be looking for any opportunity to associate with the terrorist group du jour." Which sounds less like some religious fanatic and more like someone who feels powerless trying to feel more powerful by connecting to something "big."

Oh, and speaking of religious fanaticism, recall the description of him going to Pulse and getting drunk. You do remember hearing at some point that getting drunk is forbidden in Islam, don't you?

But of course none of that could be allowed to derail the narrative, so we had some "expert" saying that his conflicting claims of loyalty are to be expected from a "low-level" follower. That is, if you claim allegiance to some radical Muslim group, that proves you're an Islamist terrorist. Claim to follow a bunch of different, conflicting, groups, and that really proves you are an Islamist terrorist.

Likewise, the failure to find any connection between Mateen and any group simply proved he had been "radicalized online." The idea that, whatever his political belief may or may not have been, the idea that his murderous was not driven by religious fanaticism or indeed by any fanaticism other than fanatical hatred, hatred of LGBT people, simply was not entertained.

Our media has been, as is all too common, a miserable failure.

Sources cited in links:

250.5 - Orlando, Omar Mateen, and homophobia

Orlando, Omar Mateen, and homophobia

Omar Mateen
[Note: I have broken my discussion of the Orlando shooting into four parts for convenience.]

But having said all that, the thing is that the more we learn about Omar Mateen, the more the description of "troubled" seems to fit this case.

His first wife, from a marriage that lasted just four months until, in her words, her famiy rescued her, described Mateen as bipolar, as being violent, as having beaten her.

A co-worker at G4S Security described Mateen as "unhinged and unstable" and said he frequently made homophobic and racial comments. The co-worker said he quit after Mateen began sending him multiple texts a day.

A woman who went to middle school with Mateen called him a "troublemaker in school," including having "punched a teacher." Other stories and accounts along similar lines have emerged.
And then there is the issue of his sexuality. Multiple witnesses said Mateen was seen at Pulse, the club where the shooting occurred, on as many as a dozen occasions, with one person saying "Sometimes he would go over in the corner and sit and drink by himself, and other times he would get so drunk he was loud and belligerent."

He is also reported to have used the gay chat and dating app called Jack'd, including exchanging messages on and off for a year with at least one man.

Others reported related experiences, including one man who said Mateen asked him out on a date.

But the same time, there was that co-worker at G4S who said Mateen made homophobic statements and the claim of Mateen's father that Mateen had become enraged a few months before the shooting when they were in downtown Miami and he saw two men kissing each other.

And there of course was the blunt fact of the shooting. The shooting carried out at a LGBTQ nightclub of which he had been a patron.

What all this adds up to, to me, is someone brought up in a home that condemned homosexuality (In a recent video, his father declared "God will punish those involved in homosexuality.") and who hated and struggled with his own homosexual or bisexual desires and leanings until finally his own self-loathing was turned outward.

That is, it seems that this is a case where the label "unstable individual" we like to attach to mass murder actually seems to apply.

Sources cited in links:

250.4 - Orlando and guns

Orlando and guns

[Note: I have broken my discussion of the Orlando shooting into four parts for convenience.]

The topic of guns just leads us to the elephant in the room: Orlando. Orlando. Which will now be invoked in the same tones as Newtown, Aurora, San Bernadino, Columbine, and the rest.

In the early hours of Sunday, June 12, a man named Omar Mateen walked into a LGBTQ nightclub called Pulse in Orlando, Florida, armed with a Sig Sauer MCX, reasonably described as an "AR-15 type" semi-automatic assault rifle, and a .9mm Glock pistol. He opened fire.

When it was all over three hours later, 50 people, including Mateen, were dead and 53 more wounded.

And once again we have to face up to the reality, the reality we try so hard to ignore, to forget, of mass violence in America. And the reality that the common denominator in almost all of these cases is an "AR-15 type" assault rifle and don't give me any crap about "there's no such thing as an assault rifle" or the fallback that it isn't an assault rifle because it's not fully automatic and the rest of the evasive, self-serving bull. The fact that it can fire repeatedly as fast as you can pull the trigger - about 45 rounds a minute - and the fact that it can carry high-capacity magazines and that it has repeatedly proved its value in committing mass murder are more than enough to overcome those weasel word objections.

The exact number of mass shootings we experience and have experienced depends on how you define the term: how many have to die to call it a mass shooting; how many injured; do any of the victims have to die for it to be a mass shooting since the victims were, after all, shot; does it have to be a single incident or can it be multiple incidents - think the Virginia Tech shooting - and if multiple how close do they have to be geographically or chronologically; the arguments about the details of definitions go on. But what is clear is that by any definition, the home base of mass shootings is the US.

Using its own measure of mass shootings, the FBI found that from 1966 to 2012, just under a third of all the mass shootings that took place anywhere in the entire world too place in the US - even though we have just 5% of the world's population.

We have too damn many guns and they are too damn easy to get.

And even that dramatically understates the daily carnage guns bring to the US, the vast, vast majority of which do not involve mass killings or shootings but are the slow daily grind of blood.

The graphic comes from work compiled by the Washington Post and reflects figures for the US for the year 2015.

25,000 gun-related injuries. That's more than 68 a day.
12,000 gun-related deaths, half of them suicides. That's nearly 33 a day.
But just 39 deaths from mass shootings: just over 0.3% of total gun deaths.

Mass shootings, mass tragedies such as at Orlando, get our attention, but they do not truly reflect the daily death toll of guns.

We have too damn many guns and they are too damn easy to get.

And even when we are faced with the latest atrocity, when we are faced with such as Orlando, we have our escape clause, our one-size-fits-all excuse for gun-enabled mayhem: Oh, the shooter was mentally disturbed, not normal, they were "troubled," and what we really need to do is focus on better mental health treatment, certainly not guns!

But that's largely a myth. A satisfying myth that enables us to ignore the looming presence of guns, but a myth nonetheless.

Best and recent research shows no reliable predictive value in associating mental health and gun violence. Put another way, the research says that people with mental illness are no more likely to be violent toward others, especially to commit mass violence, than anyone else is.

We can't simply dismiss the harsh truth of mass violence with the slogan "better mental health programs." They are justified on their own account - but not because they will address the issue of mass shootings, because they will not. They are a gun lobby-pushed distraction.

Sources cited in links:

250.3 - Good News: Court of Appeals says no right to concealed carry

Good News: Court of Appeals says no right to concealed carry

Finally for now, some Good News on an unusual front: guns.

On June 9, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that there is no constitutional right to carry a concealed weapon.

The case, Peruta v. County of San Diego, was about a California law that required people to prove they have "good cause" to carry concealed firearms before they could get a license to do so. San Diego and Yolo counties do not consider "general self-defense" to be "good cause." Put another way, the counties say that "because I wanna" isn't good enough. The plaintiffs challenged those guidelines as, naturally, an affront to their sacred right to pack whatever heat they want however they want wherever they want.

However, the court ruled that "The protection of the Second Amendment - whatever the scope of that protection may be - simply does not extend to the carrying of concealed firearms in public by members of the general public."

The ruling covered a history of laws relating to concealed weapons from England in the 1500s right up to the Heller decision, the 2008 Supreme Court ruling that declared for the first time an individual constitutional right to own guns. Here, the Court of Appeals reminded us that that very same decision, authored by Justice Skeletor, said the right to own a gun is not absolute and cited restrictions on concealed carry as an example of how it isn't.

The ruling was narrow; the Court avoided the question of if the Constitution protects openly carrying a gun in public, saying that was not at issue. But since California also bans the open carry of weapons in public in most circumstances, the gun nuts will likely seek to make that an issue in the future.

Still, a win is a win is a win. And that's Good News.

Sources cited in links:

250.2 - Good News: Supreme Court upholds restrictions on mercury pollution

Good News: Supreme Court upholds restrictions on mercury pollution

We also have some Good News for the environment along with another indication of the unusual importance of the Supreme Court this election.

Start by taking one step back: The White House's Clean Power Plan is intended to take a step against global warming by reducing emissions of carbon dioxide from existing power plants by about a third by 2030. It's still in the planning stages but it includes a regulation requiring states to submit plans for shifting away from fossil-fuel power plants and toward alternative energy.

In February, in one of the last decisions of which Justice Antonin Skeletor was part, the Supreme Court made the almost unprecedented move of stepping in to block that part of the regulations even though it had not been reviewed by a lower court. That this was the result of a divided Court is clear from the fact that four justices - Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan - objected to the stay.

Fast forward to June 13 and we find the Scalia-less Supreme Court refusing to take up an appeal from 20 states to block federal environmental regulations that limit the emissions of mercury and other harmful pollutants that are byproducts of burning coal.

Coal-burning power plants, in addition to their other impacts, are the nation's largest source of human-made mercury pollution, but the states argued that the benefits of the rule do not measure up against the costs. However, in April the EPA, after revising the way it calculated the costs, concluded that "for every dollar spent to make these cuts, the public is receiving up to $9 in health benefits."

This is not, technically, the end of the matter since those new cost-benefit figures are subject to challenge, but since many utilities have already complied with the new requirements, the claim that they are unaffordable would seem to have lost a lot of punch.

Which just leaves one question for those 20 states: Are you advocates for the health of your citizens or the profits of your paymasters in the energy industry?

Sources cited in links:

250.1 - Good News: LIBOR suit moves forward

Good News: LIBOR suit moves forward

It was hard week for Good News, but I did manage to find a few bits.

Nearly four years ago, I told you about an emerging bank scandal involving what's called LIBOR, the London Inter-Bank Offered Rate. (Or Offer or Offering or Overnight, depending on who you ask.) It's derived daily from the estimates of a consortium of 18 international banks as to what interest rate they think they will pay for the overnight loans they take out from other banks and so by combining these estimates into one figure is supposed to serve as a measure of the actual market cost of such loans.

It's an important figure because it provides the baseline for the interest rates on a variety of other loans and transactions. It directly affects around $10 trillion in loans and it indirectly affects $800 trillion in economic activity. The influential finance magazine The Economist called it "the most important figure in finance."

And nearly four years ago it emerged that the banks, or least least a sufficient number of them, had been manipulating the rate for years to their own profit.

The scandal started with Barclay's and spread out from there. In the years since, about a dozen financial houses have paid almost $9 billion in fines to resolve government investigations by various nations around the world.

What's relevant here is that were also suits by investors who charged that by cheating to depress the LIBOR rate, the banks had cheated them by depressing their returns on investments pegged to the rate. In 2013, a US District Court dismissed the suits, saying the investors had failed to show that they were harmed in a way that would permit them to sue under US antitrust law.

So what's the good news? A couple of weeks ago, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision and said the suits can proceed, meaning that 16 of the world's biggest banks - including Bank of America, JPMorgan, and Citigroup - are still on the hook for the losses they caused by their unrelenting drive for profit.

The ruling, as one analyst put it, was "far from a home run" because the District Court could still look to dismiss the case on other grounds, but for the moment, enjoy the Good News of the sight of bankers sweating.

Sources cited in links:

Friday, June 17, 2016

Left Side of the Aisle #250

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of June 16-22, 2016

This week:

Good News: LIBOR suit moves forward

Good News:  Supreme Court upholds restrictions on mercury pollution

Good News: Court of Appeals says no right to concealed carry

[Note: I have broken my discussion of the Orlando shooting into four parts for convenience.]

Orlando and guns

Orlando, Omar Mateen, and homophobia

Orlando and the media

Orlando and terrorism

Update: what to expect from Hillary Clinton
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