Friday, April 18, 2014

155.7 - Update: losing while "winning" against UPS

Update: losing while "winning" against UPS

We finish up the week with an Update of something from last week.

Last week I told you about how UPS had fired a 24-year employee at its distribution center in Queens, New York City over a time-card dispute. This violated the union contract, which barred such firings without a hearing. In response, 250 co-workers went on a 90-minute work stoppage protest. I refuse to call it a strike because: 90 minutes? That's like a long lunch. These drivers probably spend that much time tied up in New York City traffic on a typical day.

UPS responded to the protest by firing all 250 workers for their supposedly "illegal" action. That, I said last week, was evidence of how UPS is not on your side and you shouldn't be on theirs.

Well, here's the update: UPS has agreed to rescind the firings. All 250 workers - plus the original person fired over the time-card issue - have their jobs back. That has been the headline, usually phrased as some form of "UPS agrees," as if the company just went "Well, hey, y'know what? The heck with it, bygones and all that, okay?" The result has been cheered as "a victory for working-class New Yorkers" and the result of "an inspiring, relentless campaign."

However, it should be noted that this may not have come from the union's "relentless campaign," at least not directly. UPS had been adamant about the firings, refusing to budge, until after Letitia James, who happens to head the Office of the Public Advocate for the City of New York, wrote UPS to remind it that the company has contracts with the state worth $43 million, including $2 million with the city as well as other perks, including, significantly, a virtual exemption from parking tickets in New York City that saves UPS additional millions of dollars every year - and which, she didn't say but didn't have to, is a privilege that could be revoked at any time.

As someone commented, apparently UPS realized it does not have the power to summarily fire city officials, so at this point UPS goes "Oh well, of course we're ready to sit down with the union and work something out."

Which in turn raises something else, something that at least for me casts a pall over the celebrations. The something that was worked out between UPS and the union involves more than the workers getting their jobs back. Yes, they get their jobs back - but they, each and every one of them, will get hit with a 10-day unpaid suspension. And the union will pay UPS some kind of damages or penalty for the "lost productive time."

So let's just summarize what happened. At the start: UPS fires an employee without a hearing, in violation of its union contract. Other workers object to this with a 90-minute protest.

At the finish: All 250 of those workers face 10 days loss of pay and the union will pay UPS some money, while the cost to UPS for violating the contract is zero.

This is what now we are supposed to regard as a victory. This is how bad it's gotten, this is how far we have fallen, this is how much ground we have to recover, when we are supposed to celebrate because people who actually remember what a union is supposed to be, who actually care about solidarity and their fellow workers, we're supposed to celebrate, to declare victory, because those people "only" lost 10 days pay.

Last week in talking about this I said there is a fundamental divide in our society and that it's important to know which side of that divide you are on and to be willing to stand there. A case like this points to that divide and the details highlight it. I know which side I'm on: I'm on the side of those workers.

If you want to be on the side of UPS, I can't stop you - but you'd better do it knowing damn well that even if you're on UPS's side, UPS is not on yours.

Sources cited in links:

155.6 - The Clown Award: South Fayette High School of McDonald, PA

The Clown Award: South Fayette High School of McDonald, PA

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

This week, the big red nose goes to the administration of the South Fayette High School in McDonald, Pennsylvania.

Christian Stanfield is a 15-year-old boy who suffers from comprehension delay and anxiety disorders, as well as ADHD. What that means is that he is slow to grasp things, more particularly, he has a low mental processing speed, which means not only does he take time to understand things, he does everything slowly.

He had been in a special education math class at South Fayette High School, where he is a sophomore. He had been getting harassed and bullied by other students in the class, up to and including having books slammed against his head. His mother, Shea Love, contacted the school several times about the bullying to no avail.

Finally, Christian got tired of it. So he used his iPad to make a 7-minute recording of the bullying, which he showed to his mother. She went and confronted school officials with the evidence.

The response of Principal Scott Milburn of South Fayette High School in McDonald, Pennsylvania was to call police and accuse Christian of felony wiretapping. A city cop named Robert Kurta questioned Christian and, he said, based solely on what the principal told him, charged christian with disorderly conduct, which, as a local attorney said, "is a catch-all for disposing of a case." That is, it's what cops charge you with when they want to charge you with something but have no idea what that something might be. School officials demanded Christian destroy the recording and punished him with Saturday detention.

To make this even more absurd, South Fayette District Judge Maureen McGraw-Desmet upheld the disorderly conduct charge, fining Christian $25 plus court costs.

By the way, the students tormenting Christian? Nothing happened to them at all. Not a thing.

So a student is being harassed and bullied. His mother repeatedly notifies the school. Nothing is done. The student records the bullying and the school is presented with the evidence. As a result, the lamebrain school wants the victim charged with a felony, the lamebrain cop charges him with disorderly conduct, and the lamebrain judge convicts him. All while the actual guilty parties walk without even getting a sour look.

So the South Fayette High School in McDonald, Pennsylvania - in fact, forget that, everyone involved, the school, the cops, the courts: You are, all of you, clowns.

Sources cited in links:

155.5 - The Little Thing: Tennessee says religious beliefs trump facts in schools

The Little Thing: Tennessee says religious beliefs trump facts in schools

Now we have one of our occasional features, one about times when there is something in a news article that gets little or no comment but I think it’s important or revealing or sometimes just annoying. We call it The Little Thing.

Recently, the Tennessee legislature passed a bill claiming to "protect religious liberty” for students in public schools. It passed overwhelmingly;it passed the state House by 90-2 and the state Senate by 32-0.
The bill says that student-organized religious exercises such as student prayer groups and religious clubs will have the same access to school facilities as any other non-curricular group - without, as far as I can tell, anyone claiming that they can't now. It then says, quoting,
a student may express beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions. A student would not be penalized or rewarded on account of the religious content of the student’s work.
American Civil Liberties Union says the law “encourages religious coercion” and would allow students to express their religious beliefs "in a variety of inappropriate settings, from the classroom to school-day assemblies and school events."

That is, the law is less about protecting religious liberty than it is about establishing a religious tyranny of the majority and opponents concerned that the law opens the door to anti-LGBT bullying and discrimination under the guise of "religious freedom."

All of that is true and all of that is more than enough reason to condemn the measure as another attempt by right-wing wackos, particularly right-wing religious wackos, to force their own biases, their right-wing wacko fundamentalism, into civil law.

But there's still the little thing. Maybe you've already noticed it. It lies in the last sentence of the part of the law I quoted: "A student would not be penalized or rewarded on account of the religious content of the student’s work."

Do these people even think about what they're saying, what they're writing, in these laws? By this law, a student could turn in a paper to a science class studying geology and claim the Earth is 6,000 years old and they couldn't be marked down.

They could turn in a biology paper saying evolution doesn't exist and the grade could not be lowered.

They could declare the Sun revolves around the Earth and it could make no difference in their grade.

They could go to history class and insist on the reality of Noah's ark, they could argue that slavery is morally acceptable, that women should be submissive to men, that gays and lesbians should be stoned to death - and none of it could matter.

Apparently, Tennessee, still ticked off that John Scopes did not wind up in prison, has now decided that "religious liberty" involves students in public schools being able to ignore the unpleasant facts of modern knowledge. Like the man in the play said, "fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy and needs feeding." Tennessee is ready to open a buffet.

Sources cited in links:

155.4 - Outrage of the Week: NSA knew about Heartbleed bug

Outrage of the Week: NSA knew about Heartbleed bug

Now for one of our regular features, the Outrage of the Week.

Okay, you've heard about the recently-revealed Heartbleed bug, the one that threatens a significant portion of the internet because it targets a vulnerability in OpenSSL, the most common encryption software used by websites to secure their data. Estimates are that about 2/3 of all websites, including an equal proportion of the largest, more traveled sites, use OpenSSL.

Major websites have been spending sleepless nights designing patches and users have been advised to change their passwords in an attempt to block or at the very least limit the potential for damage. Unlike all those "the internet is crashing" emails you've been getting from your Aunt Harriet or whoever for years, this is no hoax and no joke. This is very real and very serious.

So yes, change your passwords. And very seriously consider limiting your future exposure by limiting how much personal information you put out there and frankly, where there is an alternative, don't buy stuff online with a credit card. Do it by mail order. And don't bank online.

Okay, that's the scary part; here's the outrage part: According to a report by Bloomberg news, the NSA has known about this security flaw for at least two years and told no one about it. Instead, the agency kept the information to itself and regularly used it to gather intelligence.

Quoting the report:
Putting the Heartbleed bug in its arsenal, the NSA was able to obtain passwords and other basic data that are the building blocks of the sophisticated hacking operations at the core of its mission, but at a cost. Millions [I would say tens of millions] of ordinary users were left vulnerable to attack from other nations’ intelligence arms and criminal hackers.
The Heartbleed bug was actually created accidentally by a minor adjustment in the protocols of OpenSSL. The NSA, which has more than 1,000 experts whose job it is to find and exploit just such vulnerabilities, found Heartbleed shortly after its introduction and made it a basic part of the agency’s toolkit for stealing account passwords and otherwise penetrating accounts and stealing information - and leaving no trace, which is one of the deep problems with Heartbleed: There is no way, at least no easy way, to know if you site has been attacked.

Now, I have to add that the NSA, after first refusing to comment, flatly denied knowing any single little thing about Heartbleed before it was revealed by a private security report. But through the papers released by Edward Snowden, we've known since at least last September that the NSA, together with British intelligence agencies, had successfully cracked most online encryption - and that a basic function of the agency is, as I already said, to find and exploit security holes.

But, the spooks deny it, so here's what I have to decide: Who am I going to trust - a respected news agency or the NSA?

Hmm. What a toughie.

The National Security Agency: It's definition of "security" is the Outrage of the Week.

Sources cited in links:

155.3 - Good News: NYC shuts down program spying on Muslims

Good News: NYC shuts down program spying on Muslims

Yet another bit of good news is out of New York City, this one on a different topic.

In 2002, the New York Police Department, the NYPD, established what it called the Demographics Unit. What this unit did, in the name of "counterterrorism," was, in short, spy on Muslims and not only in the city but well beyond.

The unit, conceived with the help of a CIA agent working with the NYPD, assembled databases on where Muslims lived, shopped, worked and prayed. Plainclothes officers infiltrated Muslim student groups, put informants in mosques, monitored sermons, and cataloged Muslims in New York who adopted new, Americanized surnames.

They eavesdropped on conversations in restaurants and bookstores. They monitored Muslims’ social media activity, their websites, their blogs. They watched community centers, businesses, and even elementary schools.

This went on for years, continuing even after it was exposed in a Pulitzer-prize winning series by the
Associated Press. Continued despite the blatant bigotry in the bottom-line concept that the Muslim community is the place to look for quote "budding terrorist plots." In fact, in a deposition related to a suit against the program, Assistant Chief Thomas Galati described how police gathered information on people even when there was no evidence of wrongdoing, simply because of their ethnicity and native language.

And you know what all this produced? Nothing. Not a damn thing. In that same deposition, Galati said that in the six years he had been commanding officer of the NYPD's Intelligence Division, the Demographics Unit never generated a lead or triggered a terrorism investigation.

Those two things together - the blatant bigotry and the fantastic failure - lead, on April 15, to the only good news that can come out of such an abomination: The program has been shut down. The unit has been disbanded.

But I have to add: Hold the applause. Remember I told you last week that one of the ways the spooks get away with continuing to spy is when they're caught, they change some names, shuffle some papers, and say "oh well, that old bad program, that's all gone now" while they continue to do the same things under a different name.

What we need to be satisfied - or, more accurately, reasonably reassured - is a flat-out statement that the NYPD will no longer spy on or surveil any individual, community, location, or organization without actual suspicion of wrongdoing and that the information gathered by the Demographics Unit - which, by the way, had been renamed the Zone Assessment Unit (Remember what I said about just renaming things?) - has been destroyed, including any copies that may have been distributed to other units or agencies.

No loopholes. As one leader of the Muslim community in New York put it, "The concern wasn't just about the fact that this data was being collected secretly - it was about the fact that this data was being collected at all."

The good news is that the NYPD has been forced to react. Now it's necessary to make sure it's more than words.

Sources cited in links:

155.2 - Good News: win for marriage justice in Indiana

Good News: win for marriage justice in Indiana

Another bit of good news about marriage justice comes from next door to Ohio, in Indiana, where on April 10 federal District Court Judge Richard Young granted an emergency request to force Indiana to immediately recognize the marriage of a lesbian couple who wed in Massachusetts.

The judge issued a temporary restraining order, which will last for 28 days, allowing time to schedule a hearing on a preliminary injunction. For the moment, it means for those 28 days, Amy Sandler and Niki Quasney are married. That ruling could be overturned, but Young found that the couple had met the requirements for emergency relief and there is a reasonable likelihood that they will win their overall case.

The reason for the emergency order was that this is good-news-bad-news: Quasney has ovarian cancer and is terminally ill. The concern here is accessing federal and state safety nets for surviving spouses and their children.

The state argued that Indiana's marriage statute does not allow for hardship exceptions, and - get this - that if the law changes after Quasney dies, thus validating the couple's marriage, Indiana could amend her death certificate.

So Indiana, the state arguing against recognition of one marriage here, the state that bans same-sex marriage only by statute and despite what is happening in the rest of the nation - and a good part of the world, in fact - is moving ahead with a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, is now grandly allowing as how if at some point in an unknowable future which the state hopes will never come, same-sex marriage becomes legal in Indiana, they will deal with this issue then - long after, they must by the meaning of their own arguments hope, everyone involved has died and so the whole thing is moot.

Indiana, the state that would make Birch Bayh roll over in his grave - were it not for the fact that he's not dead.

This case is part of one of five suits against Indiana's ban on same-sex marriages, all of which have been consolidated under Judge Young. Proponents of marriage justice took heart from the ruling because it could indicate the judge's thinking on the broader questions involved.

Ultimately, all this is going to wind up in the lap of the Supreme Court because it's unlikely that all the Courts of Appeal that are now involved in appeals from District Court rulings in five different states will rule the same way, which will leave it to Johnny Roberts and the Supremes to resolve things.

Which leaves me with just two things to say for now, both of which I have said before: One, Antonin Scalia has seen his dissent from the decision tossing out central parts of the grossly-misnamed Defense of Marriage Act quoted at least twice in recent decisions upholding marriage equality and throwing out state bans on same-sex marriage. It will be fun to see him try to deny the meaning of this own words.

And two, no matter the outcome of these cases at any level of the judiciary, including the Supreme Court, this remains true: Justice is coming.

Sources cited in links:

155.1 - Good News: win for marriage justice in Ohio

Good News: win for marriage justice in Ohio

Starting off, as I always like to do when I can with some good news, we have the fact that on April 14, federal district court Judge Timothy Black ordered the state of Ohio to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples who were legally married in other states. Ohio thus joins Oregon, Kentucky, and Tennessee as states that have been ordered by federal courts to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.

Judge Black said the Ohio ban on recognizing such marriages is unconstitutional and unenforceable.

This does not mean that same-sex couples can get married in Ohio; that was not an issue before the court. It does mean that such couples who were married before they came to Ohio still are married after they get there and they will have the same privileges and benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex couples in the state.

The context of this case is a bit different from other cases. It involved four same-sex couples, three female and two male, all legally married. The female couples had each conceived a child through artificial insemination while the male couple had adopted a child from Ohio. Each couple wanted to have both names listed as parents on their child's birth certificates, which Ohio refused to do because it won't recognize them as married. (I should mention parenthetically, to be clear, that Ohio does allow opposite-sex couples who adopt children to be listed as parents on the birth certificate.) Under Black's order, the parents will get their wishes.

Black held off deciding whether to stay his order to give the two sides a chance to argue if he should. However, his did say he was inclined to allow his ruling to take effect for the particular four who filed the initial lawsuit, even if he held off enforcing it on the behalf of others.

Black was blistering in his ruling, saying that the ban had been enacted “with discriminatory animus and without a single legitimate justification.” He also wrote that the ban "embodies an unequivocal, purposeful, and explicitly discriminatory classification, singling out same-sex couples alone, for disrespect of their out-of-state marriages and denial of their fundamental liberties” and labeled the by-now moldy argument that the court should "respect the voters' wishes" even where fundamental rights are concerned, "specious" and the supposed "state interests" involved as "vague, speculative, and/or unsubstantiated."

In my favorite passage, Black wrote that
The record before this court ... is staggeringly devoid of any legitimate justification for the State’s ongoing arbitrary discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
"Staggeringly devoid of justification" describes all the opposition to marriage equality. It was good to see it said so directly.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #155

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

This Week:

Good News: win for marriage justice in Ohio

Good News: win for marriage justice in Indiana

Good News: NYC shuts down program spying on Muslims

Outrage of the Week: NSA knew about Heartbleed bug

The Little Thing: Tennessee says religious beliefs trump facts in schools

The Clown Award: South Fayette High School of McDonald, PA

Update: losing while "winning" against UPS

Saturday, April 12, 2014

154.5 - Examples of the divide between us and them

Examples of the divide between us and them

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

For example number one, consider General Motors.

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

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

Here's where it gets worse.

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

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

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

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

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

Here's another example:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Update source:

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

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

Congressional Progressive Caucus proposes a budget, media ignores it

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[long silence]

About that much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

154.3 - Clown Award: District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer

Clown Award: District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


154.2 - Domestic spying: How they get away with it

Domestic spying: How they get away with it

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

Well, let me give you some idea how.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's where the outrage comes in.

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

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

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

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


Link to Lewandowsky's second paper:

Left Side of the Aisle #154

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

This week:

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

Link to Lewandowsky's second paper:

Domestic spying: How they get away with it

Clown Award: District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer

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

Examples of the divide between us and them

Saturday, April 05, 2014

153.5 - Clown Award: Sen. James Inhofe

Clown Award: Sen. James Inhofe

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

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

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

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

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


153.4 - Global warming: new IPCC reports describes dangers

Global warming: new IPCC reports describes dangers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


153.3 - Outrage of the Week: Obama whitewashes Iraq War

Outrage of the Week: Obama whitewashes Iraq War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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