Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Annual Memorial Day post

I post this every year around Memorial Day.

In May 2002, someone on a mailing list I was on posted a message asking people to take a moment of silence on Memorial Day, saying "Let us ensure that those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom are not forgotten."

In response, I wrote:
And in that silent moment remember, too, the many nonviolent warriors who struggled, searched, sacrificed, for justice and freedom, who remain without songs or memorials to celebrate their lives or their passing, but who at some moment stood weaponless against the machinery of oppression and showed in their simple “No more” a force that can move history.
It is indicative of how we as a culture regard things that on the whole, we celebrate our soldiers while they are alive and our nonviolent warriors only when they are safely dead. Then again, I'm not so sure we're so different from others in that way.

And the Lack of Self-awareness Award goes to...

...Faux News Chief Roger Ailes, who in a speech last week at Ohio University called the New York Times a "cesspool of bias" run by "a bunch of lying scum."

What really secured the award was that Ailes also accused the Times of running - on the front page, no less - an false critical article about him, only to have it develop that he was totally wrong and the paper had done no such thing.

Projection and false accusation, together again. Well done, Rog.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #58 - Part 6

Attacks on our ability to participate in the political process

In my rant last week about loss of the Commons, I said there is an attack on political participation, on our ability to take part in the political life of the nation, one that went beyond restrictions on voting and the increasing power of money - and that I'd point out some examples this week. So here we go.

First, I just love this one because it is so revealing. In the summer of 2010, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates both announced a ban on BlackBerries on the ground that they were unable to monitor the communications conducted on those devices - that is, citizens could communicate in private without the government being able to listen in. the Obama administration condemned the ban, calling it “a dangerous precedent” and a threat to “democracy, human rights and freedom of information.”

Just six weeks later, the Obama administration proposed a mandatory “backdoor access” for all forms of Internet communication. That is, they wanted to force all companies dealing in Internet communication to build into their systems a convenient way for the government to spy on you.

They haven't won that particular battle yet, but they're still at it: Just a couple of weeks ago, CNet reported that the FBI is pressing Internet companies to decline to oppose a controversial proposal that would require firms, including Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, and Google, to build in backdoors whose purpose would be to enable government surveillance.

Blogger and columnist Glenn Greenwald wrote:
The hallmark of a Surveillance State is that police agencies secretly monitor and keep dossiers on not only those individuals suspected of lawbreaking, but on the society generally, including those individuals about whom there is no suspicion of wrongdoing.
We have seen that in an abundance of ways, such as the New York Police Department, often working in conjunction with the CIA, engaging in a wide-spread spying campaign aimed at Muslims in the US, including individuals, students, institutions, and mosques located even hundreds of miles beyond the borders of New York City, all without any prior indication that a single one of these people or organizations were doing or even planning anything illegal.

Along with the growth of the Surveillance State, we are seeing attacks on the freedom of the press. Last Friday, May 18, the Obama administration was at the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals insisting that New York "Times" reporter James Risen should be forced to testify in the trial of former CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling, who is charged with leaking classified information to Risen about a botched plot against the Iranian government.

The District Court had ruled that Risen had a qualified privilege not to testify against Sterling, saying "A criminal trial subpoena is not a free pass for the government to rifle through a reporter’s notebook." Astonishingly, in looking to have the Appeals Court overturn that ruling, the government argued that there is no such thing as a reporter's privilege. That is, the "balancing act" between freedom of the press and the public's right to know on the one hand and the government's desire for secrecy on the other must be decided in favor of the government. Even more: The Obama administration is arguing that such a balancing act does not even exist and the government's desire for secrecy must trump all else.

This is part and parcel of President Hopey-Changey's* attack on freedom of the press, which has included a record-setting number of prosecutions of whistleblowers, in the course of which the 1917 Espionage Act has been used against more accused leakers than all previous presidents combined.

A consensus has emerged during the presidency of Barack Obama: His administration is increasingly regarded as the worst on issues related to freedom of information and transparency. (Didn't he come into office promising "the most transparent administration in history?")

What's more, there is a different sort of attack on the press, on our ability to know and understand events, going on: An amendment that would legalize the use of propaganda on American audiences is being inserted into the latest defense authorization bill. Right now, the lies and propaganda which the State Department and Pentagon inflict on other people around the world can't be disseminated domestically. Some quaint idea about how the government should not actively lie to its own citizens. (I know, you don't have to tell me.) The amendment would “strike the current ban on domestic dissemination” of such materials, according to a summary of the law, enabling the government to treat us like the residents of a hostile foreign nation to be manipulated and duped. (Again, yes, I know.)

Meanwhile, there is an attack on both freedom of the press and freedom of assembly, as dozens if not hundreds of journalists and Occupy protesters have arrested for the supposed "crime" of attempting to document events as they happen, including, especially, the behavior of police. It's enough that nine free speech groups have appealed jointly to the Justice Department to protect the rights of media and protesters, saying "The First Amendment has come under assault on the streets of America."

However, even though the DOJ did take a good stand with regard to the Baltimore police department, those groups probably shouldn't expect an energetic response. Some weeks ago, a new pile of documents surrendered by the Department for the Protection of the Fatherland as the result of a Freedom of Information Act request made it increasingly evident that there was and is a nationally coordinated campaign to disrupt and crush the Occupy movement.

The documents are heavily redacted with much information blacked-out, but even so they indicate the extent of the government’s concern about the wave of occupations that started with Occupy Wall Street. They reveal “intense involvement” by the DHS’s so-called National Operations Center, which the DHS says is “the primary conduit for the White House Situation Room” and “facilitates information sharing and operational coordination with other federal, state, local, tribal, non-governmental operation centers and the private sector.”

What I found particularly interesting is that back in mid-November, I raised the possibility that the police attacks on encampments were coordinated because both the tactics employed and the official justifications offered were so similar: It was always about "unsanitary and unsafe conditions" in the particular encampment being forcibly shut down. So I found it particularly interesting that in the documents, there is on November 21 a reference to how to handle things "if a protest area is on federal property and has been deemed unsafe or unsanitary by the General Services Administration or city officials."

Then there is what can only be called the weaponization of police, where riot gear seems to be normal street wear for cops and armored vehicles are replacing squad cars. An outfit called the LRAD Corporation has developed a device of the same name: LRAD, or Long Range Acoustic Hailing Device. It can generate recorded sounds - the thing has an mp3 player in it - or produce a screeching siren, all at tremendous intensities of 137 to 162 decibels. To give you an idea of how loud that is, 130 decibels is threshold of pain.

The company insists it's to help police "provide clear instructions to protesters from long distances." "We really don't look at this as any kind of weapon," says the company's PR flaks. Right. Like the "instructions" involved will not consist of "stop protesting and leave now (or else)" - especially when you consider the device has already been used on Occupy protesters in Oakland, California.

Finally, there is the classic thing of an attack on dissent by means of police corruption and lying.

Last week I noted how cops can lie on the stand and expect to get away with it. Well, the NYPD has arrested thousands of protesters and journalists since Occupy Wall Street began in September - but the first actual trial of a protester ended last week. With an acquittal. What's important is how that happened.

Alexander Arbuckle is the name of the defendant, and he was arrested on January 1 with a bunch of others who were marching down 13th Street in lower Manhattan. The NYPD charged those arrested with disorderly conduct, claiming they were in the street blocking traffic. That's what the police report said, that's what a cop testified to under oath at the trial.

The problem was, photographs and video taken that night - including from the NYPD's own Technical Research Assistance Unit, which follows the protesters with video cameras (in almost certain violation of a federal consent decree) - clearly showed the protesters on the sidewalk and it was the cops who were in the street, on foot and on scooters going the wrong way down the one-street, blocking traffic.

There simply was no getting around it: The cops lied through their damn teeth. That's why Arbuckle was acquitted. But that should also make you think about all the other times when that particular set of fortunate circumstances does not arise and how many wrongfully-arrested, wrongfully-charged, wrongfully-convicted protesters have been the victims of official lying.

Sources:
http://www.salon.com/2012/05/06/surveillance_state_democracy/singleton/
http://www.dir.salon.com/2012/02/22/nypd_spying_program_aimed_at_muslims/singleton/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/18/reporters-privilege-obama-war-leaks-new-york-times_n_1527748.html
http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/2012/03/05/the-worst-administration-on-foia/
http://www.buzzfeed.com/mhastings/congressmen-seek-to-lift-propaganda-ban
http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/2012/05/03/groups-call-on-justice-department-to-protect-right-to-record/
http://www.correntewire.com/did_the_white_house_coordinate_the_police_crackdown_on_occupy
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/18/long-range-acoustic-haili_n_1526968.html
http://www.justiceonline.org/docs/dhs-occupy-2.pdf#page=3
http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/2012/05/in_the_first_oc.php

Left Side of the Aisle #58 - Part 5

Outrage of the Week: unemployment is the fault of uneducated, lazy workers

Jeffrey Lacker is the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. He's part of the Federal Reserve system. And he knows what the problem with our economy is, specifically, what causes unemployment. It has nothing to do with lack of stimulus, nothing to do with corporations sitting on two trillion in ready cash and doing nothing with it, nothing to do with lack of demand.

Oh, no, none of that. The biggest reason, he says, is "labor market inefficiencies" such as the difficulty of matching workers with skilled jobs. In other words, he means we need more job training - more exactly, job retraining - the same bumper sticker that has been fed to us for more than 40 years and that makes the inadequacies of workers' skills the sources of their problems - along, that is, with the reluctance of workers to just move wherever the jobs are without being concerned with silly things like having a stable life.

Those "inefficiencies," he claims, could account for as much as 5.9 percentage points of the 8.1 percent unemployment. That would make the unemployment rate just 2.2%!

And just like one of those late-night TV commercials for The Amazing Gizmo-thingy, "But wait! There's more!" You know what the other big thing is, the other main source of unemployment? Unemployment compensation! If it wasn't for unemployment compensation, Lacker tells us, allowing all those lazy slobs to loll around without working, the unemployment rate would drop another 1.7 percentage points!

So what part of unemployment is not due to the shortcomings of workers, according to this member in good standing of the Masters of the Universe? Just one-half of one percent!

Of course, even after that, Lacker might have some trouble dealing with the fact that while the "official" unemployment rate is 8.1%, a broader measure which includes discouraged workers is at 14.5%. What's more, the employed as a portion of the population was at an historically low level in April of just 58.4%. The number of long-term unemployed is down but still at a stunning 5.1 million, and even that decline is largely because of people having used up all their unemployment. And the number of part-timers who want full-time work was up in April to 7.9 million.

Meanwhile, half of American families are surviving on incomes no more than twice the federal poverty line and in a ranking of 34 countries with modern economies done by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the US ranked fourth in income inequality - or, if you prefer, 31st in income equality. Only Chile, Mexico, and Turkey came out worse.

But according to the president of the Federal Reserve bank of Richmond? The real problem is lazy, uneducated workers who dare to want to set down roots.

Fortunately for us, he is not the only voice in the Federal Reserve system; there are some others who are more rational. But Jeffrey Lacker - who is well-named as he seems to lack a lot of things, such as compassion, understanding, and a basic connection to the economic reality in which most of us live - Jeffrey Lacker is the Outrage of the Week.

Sources:
http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/2011/1202/Unemployment-rate-How-many-Americans-are-really-unemployed/Official-unemployment-rate-Down-in-April-to-8.1-percent
http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-05-07/lacker-says-fed-easing-cant-fix-structural-unemployment
http://www.dailyfinance.com/2011/12/16/census-shows-1-in-2-people-are-poor-or-low-income/
http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57343397/census-data-half-of-u.s-poor-or-low-income/?tag=strip
http://blogs.reuters.com/david-cay-johnston/2011/12/09/keeping-people-in-poverty-by-trying-to-bring-them-out-of-it/

Left Side of the Aisle #58 - Part 4

Everything You Need to Know: about corporate influence on the media

Everything You Need to Know is our occasional feature where you can learn a great deal about something in no more than a few sentences. In this case, it's everything you need to know about corporate influence on the media in just three sentences.

1. On Sunday, May 20, the Boston "Globe" carried a front-page article about the efforts of Partners HealthCare Inc. to lobby against a proposal for closer oversight of the prices and operations of hospitals and associated physicians groups, that is, outfits like Partners HealthCare.

2. In the fourth paragraph of the story, still on the front page, the "Globe" said this: "The Harvard-affiliated Partners has led the lobbying charge among hospitals deeply worried that the House legislation and other bills could harm their ability to provide high-quality care and cost jobs."

3. Which means that the Boston "Globe" has just presented as unquestioned fact the corporate propaganda that their real interest, what they're really worried about, is "high-quality care and jobs" instead of their bottom line.

And that is everything you need to know.

Sources:
http://articles.boston.com/2012-05-20/health-wellness/31779610_1_spending-on-medical-care-massachusetts-hospital-association-expensive-providers

Left Side of the Aisle #58 - Part 3

The Little Thing: "precipitous withdrawal"

Readers of my blog know that I occasionally refer to "the little thing." So this is I think the first in what might be an occasional series called just that - "The Little Thing." I often find that what really gets me, what really gripes me, about something is not the big thing that everyone else is talking about, but it's rather some little thing, some minor point, some aside, in a story that sets me off. So here's an example:

You know, or at least I hope you do, about the vote this past Thursday where the House of Representatives rejected an amendment that would have put a swift end to the war in Afghanistan by saying funds could be used only for the "safe and orderly withdrawal of US troops and military contractors." It lost; in fact it wasn't even close. The vote was 303-113.

Opponents did this despite admitting that Americans are tired of this pointless war and that it is as unpopular as Vietnam was in the early '70s. Americans now oppose the war in Afghanistan by a margin of well over 2-1. But that fact, to what should have been no one's surprise, didn't matter.

I wasn't surprised either by the result or even by the margin: After all, it wasn't until 1970 that the first significant move in Congress to cut off funding for the Indochina War was seen and Congress didn't actually cut off funding for combat operations in the area until after the Paris Peace Accords in 1973. So now as then, the people are, in the words of Rep. Barbara Lee, "far ahead of Congress."

So that wasn't the thing that got me. No, it was this little thing, quoting from the article: "Opponents of the amendment conceded that the public has grown tired of war, but they argued against a precipitous withdrawal."

I read that and was like AARGH! "Precipitous withdrawal?" What decade is this? Talk about your '60s flashback. "Precipitous withdrawal?" That's exactly, in those words, what calls to end the Indochina War were labeled - that is, when they weren't called "cutting and running" and we weren't called "nervous Nellies" (or "an effete corps of impudent snobs" or "nattering nabobs of negativism" - good times, good times).

"Precipitous withdrawal"- that means "getting out of a stupid, pointless, wasteful, idiotic, inane, cruel, bloody, mindless, destructive war any faster than the militarists already planned on doing because doing that would mean admitting how badly they screwed up in the first place and we just can't have that, the desires of the public be damned." It's what we heard then, it's what we hear now, it's what we hear every single freaking time that the people of the country suss out just how lame our misleaders really are when it comes to spilling our blood.

"Precipitous withdrawal." When you hear that, you know one thing: They intend for us to continue to kill and die - and they don't have one damn actual good reason for it.

Sources:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/17/defense-budget-house-gop_n_1523877.html
http://www.answers.com/topic/mcgovern-hatfield-amendment
http://www.answers.com/topic/case-church-amendment

Left Side of the Aisle #58 - Part 2

Global warming: hottest 12 months in US history

Since I just mentioned global warming, some recent global warming news:

The last 12 months - May 2011 through April 2012 - were the hottest 12 months in US history since record-keeping began in 1895. This according to NOAA's National Climatic Data Center. In fact, all of the ten hottest 12-month stretches have all come in the last 12 years. Now, to be fair and precise, these are not calendar years, they are 12-month periods, so they can overlap. That doesn't change the fact that the ten hottest have all been in the past 12 years.

April was the fifth warmest April on record worldwide; it was the third hottest April in the United States. April’s worldwide average temperature was nearly 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit, or 0.7 degrees Celsius, above the 20th Century normal, that is, above the average for April across the entire 20th century.

The last time the globe had a month that averaged below the 20th century normal for that month was February 1985. April makes it 326 months in a row of above long-term average temperatures. Nearly half the population of the world has never seen a month that was cooler than the norm established across the 20th century.

But oh no, we don't need to worry: One commenter, responding to one of the articles that reported this, wrote that we "only need to see past the data to know the world is actually cooling." We only need to be able to see past all the facts. That person was being sarcastic, but the attitude it expressed is quite real: Just last month, Pat Robertson, that well-known climatologist, claimed that global warming is a hoax and people can't possibly be affecting the climate because, after all, there are no SUVs on Mars. Yes, he said that.

The thing is, in recent years, some astronomers have detected a slight warming trend on Mars, and the nanny-nanny naysayers have seized on that bit of trivia to screech their "Fraud!" screeches. The thing is, however, variations in solar output from one decade to another are on the order of a fraction of a percent. On Earth, that's not even enough to provide a detectable signal in the surface temperature record. There is no model of solar radiance that can explain the warming of the past few decades. There is no climate model that can explain that warming without a significant input from human activity. There isn't one.

Sources:
http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2012/05/heat-records-shattered-us-past-12-months
http://www.care2.com/causes/april-2012-heats-up-as-5th-warmest-month-globally.html
http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/04/17/pat-robertson-global-warming-a-hoax-because-no-suvs-on-mars/

Left Side of the Aisle #58 - Part 1

Using the 14th Amendment to restrict reproductive rights

I mentioned last week that there had been arguments advanced about changing our understanding of the meaning of the 14th Amendment as to just who is a citizen. I said not much had been heard about that of late, but it turns out I was wrong at least in a way. I was referring to the idea of restricting the reach of the 14th Amendment to exclude children of immigrants. The 14th Amendment says that if you're born here and subject to the laws, then you're a citizen. Some folks want that to not be true for the children of certain immigrants. We haven't heard too much about that for a year or two.

However, it develops there is also a push, not to restrict the understanding of who is a citizen to eliminate some immigrants, but to expand the understanding of who is a citizen to include the so-called "unborn." And on that score, we're heard things much more recently.

(I'll note here as I always try to do when this comes up: There is no such thing as an "unborn child." Referring to a fetus as an "unborn child" makes exactly as much sense as referring to a tadpole as an "unborn frog." If it's not born, it's not a child. But leave that aside for now.)

Last fall, then-GOPper presidential candidate Rep. Michelle Bonkersman told a GOPper forum that she would rely on the part of the 14th Amendment that empowers Congress to pass legislation to enforce the guarantee of equal protection under the laws and support a bill to overturn Roe v. Wade by declaring "the unborn" to be "persons" under the meaning of the amendment.

And just recently, in a fundrasing letter dated May 14, Sen. Rancid Paul proposed a "Life at Conception Act" that would do just what Bonkersman proposed: define fetuses as "persons" under the 14th amendment.

This is - not surprisingly - complete nonsense, as Congress can't simply decide what the 14th amendment "means." Such interpretation is the job of the courts. What's more, the Roe decision itself specifically said that “the word ‘person,’ as used in the 14th Amendment, does not include the unborn.”

But simple facts won't stop them here any more than they do about things like evolution or global warming. It's another example of that "right-wing reading comprehension disorder" I mentioned last week, the inability of right wingers to recognize the meaning of the words right in front of them.

And as a footnote to this: Credit where it's due. The guy I mentioned last week who came up with the phrase "right-wing reading comprehension disorder" is Kevin T. Keith and the blog is LeanLeft.com.

Sources:
http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2011/09/06/312155/bachmann-will-openly-defy-supreme-court/
http://www.care2.com/causes/rand-paul-urges-congress-to-ignore-roe-v-wade.html
http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2012/05/14/483788/rand-paul-signs-fundraising-email-calling-for-congress-to-simply-ignore-roe-v-wade/
http://leanleft.com/

Left Side of the Aisle #58



Left Side of the Aisle for May 24-30

This week:
Using the 14th Amendment to restrict reproductive rights
http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2011/09/06/312155/bachmann-will-openly-defy-supreme-court/
http://www.care2.com/causes/rand-paul-urges-congress-to-ignore-roe-v-wade.html
http://thinkprogress.org/justice/2012/05/14/483788/rand-paul-signs-fundraising-email-calling-for-congress-to-simply-ignore-roe-v-wade/
http://leanleft.com/

Global warming: hottest 12 months in US history
http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2012/05/heat-records-shattered-us-past-12-months
http://www.care2.com/causes/april-2012-heats-up-as-5th-warmest-month-globally.html
http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2012/04/17/pat-robertson-global-warming-a-hoax-because-no-suvs-on-mars/

The Little Thing: "precipitous withdrawal"
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/17/defense-budget-house-gop_n_1523877.html
http://www.answers.com/topic/mcgovern-hatfield-amendment
http://www.answers.com/topic/case-church-amendment

Everything You Need to Know: about corporate influence on the media
http://articles.boston.com/2012-05-20/health-wellness/31779610_1_spending-on-medical-care-massachusetts-hospital-association-expensive-providers

Outrage of the Week: unemployment is the fault of uneducated, lazy workers
http://www.csmonitor.com/Business/2011/1202/Unemployment-rate-How-many-Americans-are-really-unemployed/Official-unemployment-rate-Down-in-April-to-8.1-percent
http://www.businessweek.com/news/2012-05-07/lacker-says-fed-easing-cant-fix-structural-unemployment
http://www.dailyfinance.com/2011/12/16/census-shows-1-in-2-people-are-poor-or-low-income/
http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-201_162-57343397/census-data-half-of-u.s-poor-or-low-income/?tag=strip
http://blogs.reuters.com/david-cay-johnston/2011/12/09/keeping-people-in-poverty-by-trying-to-bring-them-out-of-it/

Attacks on our ability to participate in the political process
http://www.salon.com/2012/05/06/surveillance_state_democracy/singleton/
http://www.dir.salon.com/2012/02/22/nypd_spying_program_aimed_at_muslims/singleton/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/18/reporters-privilege-obama-war-leaks-new-york-times_n_1527748.html
http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/2012/03/05/the-worst-administration-on-foia/
http://www.buzzfeed.com/mhastings/congressmen-seek-to-lift-propaganda-ban
http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/2012/05/03/groups-call-on-justice-department-to-protect-right-to-record/
http://www.correntewire.com/did_the_white_house_coordinate_the_police_crackdown_on_occupy
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/18/long-range-acoustic-haili_n_1526968.html
http://www.justiceonline.org/docs/dhs-occupy-2.pdf#page=3
http://blogs.villagevoice.com/runninscared/2012/05/in_the_first_oc.php

Monday, May 21, 2012

Something's fishy here

You likely know that a lot of the tuna sold in the US comes in cans with the words "dolphin safe" on the label. The labeling issue arose because it had been discovered that dolphins in part of the Pacific Ocean often swim above schools of tuna. So fishers would simply set large nets over the dolphins, netting both dolphins and tuna - and often drowning many of the dolphins in the process.

Since 1990, there has been a program in place to monitor compliance with tuna companies to insure they practice "dolphin safe" fishing practices and so can use the label on their products. As a result, dolphin deaths from tuna fishing have dropped an estimated 98 percent.

Well, last Thursday, May 17, an appeals panel of the World Trade Organization ruled that the “dolphin safe” labeling regulations used in the US unfairly discriminate against Mexico because Mexico allows its tuna boats to continue to use the method of setting nets on schools of dolphins. Reversing an earlier decision that the regulations were not discriminatory, the panel said they need to be changed to make an exception for Mexican fishers or dropped entirely.

There are, of course, other options for the Mexican tuna fishing industry: One, it could adhere to the regulations, as almost all other affected countries do. Two, if could market its tuna to the US without the label. However, both those options could hurt the bottom line; the first because the methods involved are a little more expensive, the second because people actually do pay attention to that label and as a result distributors aren't going to be willing to carry such tuna. But of course, hurting the bottom line was an unacceptable option. So instead, Mexico went to the WTO and - big shock - the WTO said "profit profit profit" and "Environmental issues? What are they?" and ruled in favor of Mexico.

There is a move on to push the White House to tell Mexico and the WTO to shove it despite the risk of sanctions against US products.

But here's what I was thinking: Mexico is claiming, and the WTO is agreeing, that the "dolphin safe" regulations must be changed because they "discriminate" against Mexican fishers because (in essence) they hinder their ability to continue to slaughter thousands of dolphins without anyone knowing about it.

Isn't that kind of like claiming that civil rights laws must be dropped because they "discriminate" against bigots?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Okay, it's not all doom and gloom

Updated A few posts down, in my rant about the attack on the idea of "the Commons," I mentioned briefly "moves being undertaken to restrict participation in the political life to the nation." One of the ways that has manifested itself over the past few years is cops harassing or even arresting people trying to take pictures or videos of them, taking their cameras and cellphones and deleting files. People even have been charged with felonies for recording what cops are doing on a public street.

Happily, this is an area in which there is some significant (in both senses of the word, strength and source) pushback:
In a win for technology, citizen journalism, and our Constitutional rights, the U.S. Department of Justice has issued a letter to the Baltimore City Police Department reconfirming that photographing, video- and audio-recording on-duty police officers is a Constitutional right protected by the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments.
The DOJ pointedly informed the Baltimore police that "recording police officers in the public discharge of their duties is protected by the First Amendment" and that "interference with recording of police activities except in narrowly circumscribed situations" should be prohibited.

What's more, "officers must not search or seize a camera or recording device without a warrant" and should not "threaten, intimidate, or otherwise discourage an individual from recording police officer enforcement activities or intentionally block or obstruct cameras or recording devices."

The DOJ took interest in the case, arising from a lawsuit filed by the ACLU on behalf of someone whose cellphone was seized, earlier this year. In response, Baltimore issued an order saying that citizens have an “absolute right” to record police, provided it doesn't violate any other laws, like obstruction of justice. I doubt you'll be surprised to hear that the response of the police department was to, um, broaden its understanding (let's call it) of what constitutes obstruction of justice and keep right on doing what it had been doing. The DOJ has now made it clear that this just won't cut it.

I have had a fair amount to say about the Obama DOJ. Some of it was good, as when it declined to appeal an Appeals Court ruling that part of the TRAITOR Act is unconstitutional and when it refused to continue to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court. Most of it was bad, as when AttGen Eric Holder endorsed the bogus "state secrets" privilege, signed off on a subpoena demanding reporter James Risen reveal his sources, urged a "carveout" in the Miranda warning, said he was personally overseeing attempts to find ways to charge Julian Assange with espionage, and, most notoriously, defended the claim that the president has the authority to have an American citizen killed based on evidence no one outside the president's inner circle gets to see.

But credit where it's due and this latest action definitely goes on the "good" side of the ledger.

Updated because a partially-finished draft was mistakenly posted instead of the completed version.

Thank you, I'm feeling much better now

One of the big talking points for the health insurance reform bill pushed by that '50s rock group Obama and the Obamabots in preference to an actual health care reform bill was how dramatically it would aid seniors facing back-breaking health costs.

Um, yeah. Right.
A 65-year-old couple retiring this year will spend $240,000 out-of-pocket for care before their deaths, after accounting for Medicare coverage, Fidelity [Investments] said in an annual estimate released today. That’s an increase of $10,000 from last year and includes premiums and co-payments under Medicare and supplementary coverage called Medigap, the Boston-based mutual-fund manager said.

Passage of the health law saved money for seniors who among other benefits gained additional coverage for prescription drugs, said Sunit Patel, senior vice president for Fidelity Benefits Consulting, who led the project. The cost of losing those benefits, should the court overturn the law, would be about $20,000, Patel said in an interview.
So for a couple retiring today the difference due to the law is that between $260,000 over the rest of their lives and $240,000. Now, yes, admittedly, that is a savings, in fact a savings of a touch under 7.7 percent. But it is still a quarter of a million dollars and quite bluntly those savings come nowhere near living up to their advance billing.

What's galling about this and why I am, as I surely will be accused of being, prepared "to fight old battles" is that those of us who opposed the measure as more about the benefit of insurance companies and less about the benefit of consumers and as, dammit, just not good enough, we predicted this. We predicted the results would not live up to the claims. And we were sneered at, called everything from being right wing agents to believing in "magical ponies" when we were not ignored entirely.

But here's what's really galling: On those rare occasions when we were not ignored when we pointed out the shortcomings of the program, shortcomings which some of the bill's most ardent supporters flatly denied only to openly acknowledge as soon as it was safely passed, we were assured that this was just the start. "We'll be back next year" - and yes, "next year" was the phrase used - "to make it stronger." Those of us in the "not good enough" camp knew better, we knew all the energy would go into defending the existing program rather than to improving it - and of course, we were ignored.

So, hey, when is that big push to "make it stronger" going to start?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #57 - Part 3

Outrage of the Week: Trayvon Martin gun range targets

You may have heard about this but you may not have seen the actual thing, so I wanted to make sure you had.

This involves a Florida man, usually described as an "entrepreneur" in the media, who decided he wanted to make some money off of a current issue. So, in the best tradition of good old free market US capitalism, he produced a bunch of gun range targets depicting a faceless, hoodie-wearing figure holding an iced tea and a bag of Skittles - the things Trayvon Martin was carrying when he was killed by George Zimmerman.

I find it hard to express the degree of contempt I feel for this man except to say I have an even lower opinion of people who, according to him, bought out his entire stock in two days.

As always, if you really want to get a view of the troglodyte brain in action, don't just read the stories, read the comments. Here are some typical ones from two different accounts of this:

- This whole Martin thing has turned into an assault aganst [sic] the white race
- Order me up a 100 please
- I hope he sells a million of them
- I changed my mind about this when I heard Al Sharpton and the panthers [?] got involved
- Martin was lowly thug [There were numerous variations on this.]
- He was a THUG and a VIOLENT CRIMINAL who was STOPPED before he could commit MORE CRIMES
- look i see travons face in the hoodie to bad he wont smile  - ah hahaha

And, of course, there was a lot of the usual “liberals are the REAL racists” because to these people, to object to racism is racist.

Several people said some version of "it's just a target, nothing to do with trayvon martin." A guy at a blog I read refers to what he calls "right wing reading comprehension disorder," where wingers simply refuse to face the meaning of the words in front of them. This is the complete description of the product when it was up for sale:
Everyone knows the story of Zimmerman and Martin. Obviously we support Zimmerman and believe he is innocent and that he shot a thug. Each target is printed on thick, high quality poster paper with a matte finish! The dimensions are 12"x18" (The same as Darkotic Zombie Targets). This is a Ten Pack of Targets.
The guy who designed and sold the targets said they were about the Trayvon Martin killing - and yet wingers will still deny it! Unbelievable.

Here's another comment I noticed:

- Remember the Bush and Reagan targets?

No, I don't. I remember Sarah Palin's gunsights, I remember the gunsight logo I got in an anonymous letter that included a line something like "we know where you are" (I threw it away - I wish I hadn't; it'd be a nice souvenir), but no, I don't remember any gun range targets with the figures of Bush (either one) or Reagan on them.

As a sidebar, it is nice to know that it's possible for there to be consequences for this sort of crap: The Miami-Dade Fire Rescue official who said Martin and young black men like him died because of their “failed, shitbag, ignorant, pathetic, welfare dependent excuses for parents” has been demoted two rungs to the lowest rank of firefighter.

Finally, there were a number of comments along this line:

- What is so wrong with them [that is, the targets]?

I simply can't even envision the sort of moral universe such people inhabit. I can't even imagine what degree of ethical vacuity is required to be unable even to understand what someone might find objectionable about a gun target inviting you vicariously to join in the fun of shooting an unarmed teenager.

You know what? I take it back: This is not the Outrage of the Week. It doesn't deserve that much respect.

Sources:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/11/trayvon-martin-gun-targets_n_1510080.html
http://www.theblaze.com/stories/trayvon-martin-gun-range-targets-reportedly-sold-online/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/14/miami-dade-fire-brian-beckmann-trayvon-martin-shitbag-parents_n_1516038.html

Left Side of the Aisle #57 - Part 2

Everything You Need to Know: Why innocent people get sent to prison

Everything you need to know about how and why innocent people get sent to prison in just three sentences.

1. Last month, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that plaintiffs cannot sue government witnesses for violating their constitutional rights in grand jury proceedings.

2. Government witnesses already had absolute immunity from suit should they perjure themselves or commit other wrongs in trial testimony.

3. So unless the government is going to pursue criminal charges against its own witnesses, police and other government witnesses can lie through their teeth secure in the knowledge that nothing will happen to them as a result.

And that is everything you need to know.

Sources:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/02/supreme-court-strip-search-jail-inmates-anthony-kennedy_n_1369532.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/15/carlos-de-luna-execution-_n_1507003.html

Left Side of the Aisle #57 - Part 1

The attack on The Commons, our sense of being in a shared society

[N.B.: This is a somewhat re-written, somewhat expanded version of a post from March 2011.]

I mentioned last week that what I have come to call The Commons is under attack by the right wing. I mentioned it very briefly in the course of referring to Rep. Paul Rantin's budget-which-isn't-a-budget, briefly because I thought I had already discussed it here. It now seems that I haven't, so I thought what I mean by the term deserves a longer look.

First, a definition and some history. Among the meanings of the word "common" is "of or relating to the community as a whole; public." That's the important sense here. Traditionally, "the Commons" referred to resources held in common by a community. Most often, that resource was land; most of the time that land was for pasture, sometimes it was land for farming - but the Commons could include things like the right to fish or to take wild game on that land.

In England, the practice dated back at least to medieval times. But the complex system of land ownership which existed in England involved levels of ownership with varying degrees of claim on the land: There was fiefhold, leasehold, freehold - you don't want to know. The point is that a claim on land sometimes was subject to a stronger underlying claim and this "common land" in point of law was actually not held in common but was owned by the lord of the manor. Over time and particularly after the late 1500s, those lords found it more profitable to enclose the land. Sometimes it was a literal enclosure where the land was fenced off; sometimes it was a legal enclosure without a fence. It didn't matter: In either case, resources that had been used by all were now unavailable so that the relationship of people to the land had been changed, often resulting in them being forced off the land entirely.

There were several waves of such enclosures, as they came to be called, from the late 1500s, through the 1600s, into the 1700s. They were disruptive enough that they lead to two armed peasant revolts in the early 1600s. But "elite opinion" - which really meant the opinion of the lords of the manors - favored the enclosures because they were more profitable for the landowners. By the 1800s, that concept of the Commons as resources available to all was largely limited to some city parks.

That idea of the Commons was not unknown in the US; we can point to a couple of examples. For an obvious one, there is Boston Common, which was used as cow pasture from the 1630s until 1830, a period of almost 200 years. Then there is Sheep Meadow, part of Central Park in New York City. There was a design competition for the proposed park in 1858, which was won by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux. Originally, a part of the park was to be set aside as a parade ground for military drills, but after winning the competition Olmsted and Vaux convinced the park’s commissioners to drop the military use as incompatible with their vision of a quiet space - and from 1864 until 1934, Sheep Meadow was home to a flock of sheep. The picture, which I love, is one of sheep grazing on Sheep Meadow sometime between 1909 and 1916.

There is also a more modern sense of the Commons that includes things and concepts such as the arts, information, and heritage sites, heritage sites being those important to a shared culture or history. We might cite Old North Church, the Statue of Liberty, the Washington Monument, and the Grand Canyon as examples of US heritage sites.

But when I talk about the Commons, I'm using the term in a rather broader sense not only as compared to its more usual economic understanding of referring to shared resources but in an even broader sense than that more modern understanding. I'm thinking of a philosophical Commons, a social Commons, of the idea of there being a public sphere in which all can participate, all have a stake, all have a part - and all have some responsibility. It is that space of socially shared and mutual duty, of what is or at least by rights should be equally available to all.

What I said last week is that this idea of the Commons, the idea that there are common interests and mutual responsibilities between and among all citizens simply by virtue of being in the same society, and the related idea of a social contract between the public and the government, is under attack from the right wing.

Now, it's true that this sense of the Commons has always been under attack from the elites of our society; indeed, that is likely true of the elites of any society. Elites never like the idea of all having a stake in their society and therefore all being deserving of sharing in its benefits, nor do they care for the idea of they themselves having responsibilities to others other than those self-imposed ones of noblesse oblige, the true purpose of which is to demonstrate that elite's superiority. But the intensity and range of the attack we are seeing now is nearly if not totally unprecedented for us here.

One example of this is the attacks on the franchise, on the ability of people to vote, "people" here referring mainly to the young, the poor, the elderly, and minorities - that is, to those who are in the eyes of our own lords of the manor the "wrong sorts" of people. I've talked about this before, and I surely will talk about it again; for now I just want to mention that this effort was just given another boost by New Hampshire, the state that continues to embarrass the rest of New England. The New Hampshire legislature already had a voter ID law in the works, and it has just passed an amendment that shortened list of acceptable forms of ID. Those in the legislature who are in favor of making it harder for the wrong sorts to vote insist, as their cohorts elsewhere always do, that it's necessary to prevent voter fraud. Amusingly, they then objected to opponents saying that there is no evidence of voter fraud in New Hampshire by saying that - this is a quote - "There is no effort to determine voter fraud in this state." In other words, they are saying the bill is necessary to prevent voter fraud when by own words, the most that could be said is that they have no idea if there is any fraud or not.

What I wanted to focus on now is the fact that the on-going, decades-long, and largely successful campaign to turn "government" and "taxes" into words to be spat out with unrestrained contempt is being broadened into an attack on the very concept of a public, that is, a whole-community, economic sphere. Put another way, what is being rejected is the very idea, the very root idea, of an economic Commons where there exists, at least philosophically, at least hypothetically, a notion that society as a whole and every member therein is required to have some measure of concern to see to it not only that none are left utterly destitute but that none may be without the means to improve their economic condition.

Just consider as an example to illustrate the point: How long ago would we have laughed off the public stage someone dismissing public school teachers as just overpaid part-timers whose workday ends at 2pm and who are just ripping off taxpayers? But now we have heard exactly that attack and such deliberately demonizing denunciations are becoming common currency even as teacher tenure is under attack and laws to allow for, in effect, the privatization of public schools have been filed in about a dozen states. And I don't mean to have private schools, I mean to turn public schools into private ones.

That latter fact in particular reveals what is important here, what is the true underlying objection here, what is the unspoken desire here: The problem for those making these attacks lies not in the word "school" or the word "teachers" but in the word "public." The problem for them lies in the fact that it is done through government, that by its nature it is a whole-community undertaking, one for which entire community - including them - has responsibility.

It's hard to underestimate the importance, the potential impact, of this targeting of the Commons yet at the same time it's hard to make crystal clear what the change, what the shift, is. So try this: This goes beyond the idea of "limited" or "small" government, beyond the idea of whoever it was who said he wanted government to be small enough that he could drown it in the bathtub, beyond the notion of arguing if government involvement in this or that is a good thing or not, beyond even arguing if government properly should be involved in this or that, to being an attack on very legitimacy of the idea of government as existing to serve the commonweal, the very legitimacy of idea of government "of, by, and for the people," the very legitimacy of concept of government as an instrument of "We the People." Indeed, an attack on the very concept of "We the People" itself.

It is the farthest reaches of libertarian daydreaming, souped up and mainstreamed by the powerful voices that stand to gain. At the same time, it is stripped of the comforting libertarian fantasy that voluntary private charity will step in where government vanishes and deal with all the have-nots, stripped of it because even that implies some sort of social responsibility on the part of the haves - and it is that concept of responsibility to others that is being denied.

That idea, that denial of an economic Commons, is marching in lockstep with a denial of a political Commons, with moves being undertaken to restrict participation in the political life to the nation. This is not just about the voting restrictions, it's not even just about the corruption of our political process by the power of money such that in the vast majority of cases, the candidate with the most money wins. It's about new restrictions on the right of protest, new limits on the rights of assembly, new assaults on our privacy, new attacks on the Fourth Amendment - all of which I will get to next week - even to calls to alter the 14th Amendment to change the understanding of just who is a citizen.

Which is really the point here: It's not that such dreams will be immediately fulfilled or even fulfilled in the foreseeable future, it's that what not long ago would have been thought proof of madness we are now supposed to accept as within the bounds of reasonable discussion. Even the baseline concept of who is a citizen is now supposed to be up for debate. That challenge may not succeed - in fact, nothing has been heard about it for a while now - but that doesn't change the fact that it's there and has been pushed not just by the fringes of the fringe but by central voices of the right wing: Sen. Mitch McConnell - old "Fishface" - has said he wants the Senate it have hearings on that.

And this is happening at time when not only the gap between the rich and the poor but between the rich and everyone else is growing and not only growing, but growing faster and faster. The top 1% has done progressively better in each economic recovery of the past two decades. During the Clinton era expansion, 45% of the total gain in income went to the top 1%. During the Bush recovery, the figure was 65%; in the current "recovery," it is 93%. In 2010, the most recent figures available, the income of households in the top 1% went up an average of 11.6%, while the income of households in the 99% went up, on average, by $80. Not $80 a week, not $80 a month, $80 a year.

We have tolerated this because we persist in clinging to this touching fantasy that any one of us with some hard work, some pluck, and a bit of luck can join the rich in their yachts and country clubs, a dream enthusiastically endorsed, advanced, underwritten, and cheered on by our own lords of the manor, who know better. In a survey in 1952, only 8% disagreed with the assertion that there was plenty of opportunity for such personal progress. That is, only 8% said there wasn't much opportunity for advancement. As recently as 1998, that figure was only 17%. However, that may at long last be changing: Last November, 41% said there is not much opportunity in America, two and a-half times the level of 13 years before.

Lord knows there is enough wrong with this country and its heritage - but dammit, there are some good things in that heritage, too. We have done much evil as a nation, but we have also done some good. There are ideals that we fail to live up to, fail on a daily basis, but they at least are there to strive for. There are rights and freedoms, the privileges and immunities of citizenship, that too often have been violated and transgressed, but they have survived and even in some ways - although it can be hard to see it at times - they have been expanded over the course of our history.

But every day now, those ideals are under attack, those rights and freedoms are being shrunk and circumscribed, those privileges and immunities are being stripped away, shredded, discarded by people more interested in their personal perks and positions and their private power trips than in what we as a society are supposed to be, what we like to tell ourselves we are as a people and as a nation. What we are seeing every day is sometimes done consciously and sometimes unconsciously (in the sense of being useful idiots), but still what we are seeing is a conspiracy against every notion of equality under the law. Against every notion of community responsibility. Against every notion of justice. Against every notion of decency and fairness.

What we are seeing is an unfolding pattern of betrayal - no, rather, an unfolding pattern of treason against every decent part of our heritage as Americans. To undermine the Commons is to undermine what it means to be a people and a society. It is a despicable undertaking.

An English folk poem from 1764 had it right:

They hang the man and flog the woman
That steal the goose from off the common,
But let the greater villain loose
That steals the common from the goose.

Sources:
http://www.thefreedictionary.com/common
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commons
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enclosure
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_Common
http://www.centralparknyc.org/visit/things-to-see/south-end/sheep-meadow.html
http://whoviating.blogspot.com/2011/03/its-common-wisdom.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/26/opinion/the-rich-get-even-richer.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/21/business/economy/tolerance-for-income-gap-may-be-ebbing-economic-scene.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/15/steve-vaillancourt-new-hampshire-lawmaker-voter-id_n_1518432.html
http://bostonreview.net/BR27.3/bollier.html
http://scrippsnews.com/content/gop-congress-attacks-14th-amendments-birthright-citizenship-clause
http://www.barkbarkwoofwoof.com/2010/08/more-attacks-on-14th-amendment.html

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #57



Left Side of the Aisle for the week of May 17-23, 2012

This week:

The attack on The Commons, our sense of being in a shared society
http://www.thefreedictionary.com/common
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commons
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enclosure
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boston_Common
http://www.centralparknyc.org/visit/things-to-see/south-end/sheep-meadow.html
http://whoviating.blogspot.com/2011/03/its-common-wisdom.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/26/opinion/the-rich-get-even-richer.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/21/business/economy/tolerance-for-income-gap-may-be-ebbing-economic-scene.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/15/steve-vaillancourt-new-hampshire-lawmaker-voter-id_n_1518432.html
http://bostonreview.net/BR27.3/bollier.html
http://scrippsnews.com/content/gop-congress-attacks-14th-amendments-birthright-citizenship-clause
http://www.barkbarkwoofwoof.com/2010/08/more-attacks-on-14th-amendment.html
 

Everything You Need to Know: Why innocent people get sent to prison
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/02/supreme-court-strip-search-jail-inmates-anthony-kennedy_n_1369532.html
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/15/carlos-de-luna-execution-_n_1507003.html
 

Outrage of the Week: Trayvon Martin gun range targets
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/11/trayvon-martin-gun-targets_n_1510080.html
http://www.theblaze.com/stories/trayvon-martin-gun-range-targets-reportedly-sold-online/
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/14/miami-dade-fire-brian-beckmann-trayvon-martin-shitbag-parents_n_1516038.html

Friday, May 11, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #56 - Part 5

Economy: Austerity and responding to the Ryan budget, which isn't one

April brought the government’s second consecutive subpar monthly-jobs report, leading to new concerns among our economic soothsayers that the economy is still stumbling - a revelation greeted with a resounding "duh!" by the rest of the population.

Unemployment dropped 8.2% in March to 8.1% in April but two big reasons are the expiration of the emergency unemployment-insurance program in a growing number of states and the number of people who have just given up altogether on finding work. Some 342,000 workers left the labor force in April.

In the first quarter of 2012, the economy grew at annualized rate of just 2.2%. By comparison, the average over the entire period 1947-2011 was barely under 3.3%, more than a whole percentage point higher - or, to put it another way, half-again as fast as the first three months of 2012.

But what are talking about? About where we can cut, where can do less. Some are predicting that after the election, both parties will be ready to work out a deal to cut spending - including on Social Security and Medicare - and that the argument will over just where to cut and how much to cut, not if to cut. Austerity is to be the watchword.

One would hope that the anti-austerity backlash by voters in Greece and France which shook the Eurozone would give them some pause: It showed there is at long last a limit to how much people will put up with. Austerity measures in Europe have produced 11% unemployment across the Eurozone, a double-dip recession in Great Britain, and four years of recession and wage and pension cuts in Greece which have produced nothing there except still-rising unemployment. They have proven again what has long been clear to everyone except the geniuses in charge of the economy that you don't get out of recessions by taking money out of the hands of the people who will spend it. That you can't grow by doing less. And that putting all your emphasis on reducing deficits in the face of a stagnant or even shrinking economy may help the banks but it won't help the people.

Despite that, the idea that "cutting the deficit" is the most important economic issue facing us is getting another replay in Washington, DC.

This is insanity. The most recent, the most blatant insanity is from Rep. Paul Rantin', whose new if I can stretch the word far enough "budget" not only proposes massive cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, Food Stamps, environmental programs, education, transportation, and more but makes them even deeper in order to spare the militarists of the Pentagon from any further cuts at all.

And I have something to say about that:

This is the budget that too many on the left have taken on and criticized as unworkable and doomed to failure. But that's a blunder because Paul Rantin' and the rest of his crew know it won't pass. And they don't care!

Don't you get it? They don't care. They really don't. This isn't a financial document, it's an ideological one. It's purpose isn't to pass anytime in the foreseeable future but to make it the basis for debate, to make it the standard to which comparisons will be made.

Sure you can take a critical look at the numbers, sure you can cite the analyses. But what you don't do is stop there. What you don't do is take it seriously. You don't approach it as if it was a serious proposal from serious people that was sufficiently reasonable to deserve careful rebuttal. Instead, you seek to put it outside the range of acceptable discussion.

Denounce it. Decry it. Demonize it. Call it names. They're easy enough to come by because they're true. Don't even just say it would "end Medicare," say it's wild-eyed fanaticism that would destroy the basic fabric of American society. Say it would decimate (probably without using that particular high-falutin'-sounding word) our economy, ruin our environment, dismember our society. Say it proves their utter disregard for the welfare of American families. Call it a program "of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich" that would plunge us back into the worst days of the Robber Barons. Call it part of a plot to undo more than a century of social and economic progress. Label it a fringe document created by and for a fringe element; a rejection of American principles of justice and fairness; call it beyond the pale, over the top, around the bend. Insist that it does not deserve the regard of decent people.

The attack should be unrelenting. One thing the right does at which the left too often fails is to be open about what it's after. Even if the ideas are unpopular, they will repeat them over and over and over, chipping away at the opposition, making what was unacceptably radical seem more reasonable if only because it has become more familiar, it seems less outrageous because it is no longer a surprise. It's a classic way of moving the Overton window: pushing ideas that are beyond the fringe to make current fringe ideas seem more acceptable. It is strategic thinking.

By contrast, the left seems incapable of such thinking, preferring to all but exclusively focus on the question of "What might pass this year?" and then call - more properly, ask - for that instead of for what the actual goal is. In the real world, in real politics, at the end of the day you will all but always end up with something less than you asked for - which means as long as instead of demanding what you want, you ask for the most you think might pass, you will inevitably end up with even less than that.

Which brings me back to the point: The reactionaries don't care if this so-called "budget" passes because it isn't one. It's a "cause." And that cause is the undoing of what I have come to call The Commons, the undoing of any notion of having common interests or mutual responsibilities between and among citizens, the undoing of the social contract between the public and the government. That is why this document must be attacked not as a "budget" with funny numbers but for what it is: part of an immoral cause born of selfishness, greed, and indifference to the injustice experienced by others. And it is also why it is a terrible mistake that actually plays right into the reactionaries' hands to treat it any other way.

If you're of a religious mind, in denouncing the "cause" you might refer to Rabbi Hillel's declaration that the "whole Torah" comes down to "That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow." Or, if Christian, you might refer people to the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) and call Rantin's "budget" the work of the priest or the Levite who crossed the road and passed by the injured man.

Oh, and "a plot to undo more than a century of social and economic progress?" Absolutely. The reactionaries have made no secret of it. This is a letter I wrote to my local newspaper some 16 years ago about a George Will column for January 2, 1995:
To George Will goes the honor of being called an honest man. Cutting through the nonsense of Newt and company, he opens the heart of his cohorts’ agenda: “‘Back to 1900,’” he says, “is a serviceable summation of the conservatives’ goal.”

“Back to 1900.” Back to a time before legal labor unions or effective anti-monopoly laws, a time of child labor and twelve hour work days. Back to a time before consumer or environmental protection laws, before regulations requiring safe working conditions, a time when being killed at work was a major cause of death. A time before Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment or disability insurance.

“Back to 1900.” Back to when poor people were considered genetic defectives who deserved their condition. Back before civil or voting rights laws, when wives were chattel, blacks were either “good niggers” who got called “boy” or “uppity niggers” who risked being lynched, racism (against Irish, Italians, and others as well as blacks) was institutionalized, sexism the norm, and gays and lesbians, as far as “polite society” was concerned, didn’t exist.

Back, in short, to a time when the elite were in their mansions and the rest of us were expected to know our places, live lives of servitude without complaint, and then die without making a fuss. “Back to 1900" is indeed “a serviceable summation” of the right wing’s goal, which is to undo a century of progress toward economic and social justice in order to selfishly benefit their morally stunted lives.
That's what they're after. They said it themselves. We should say it, too.

Sources:
http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2012/05/02/bloomberg_articlesM3DY0T1A74E901-M3E5S.DTL
http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/07/us-eurozone-idUSBRE8460N420120507?feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews&rpc=408
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/greece-at-new-risk-of-being-pushed-off-euro/2012/05/07/gIQAD9z18T_story.html
http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/2012/05/they-see-london-they-see-france-but.html
http://www.lakewyliepilot.com/2012/05/04/1523855/april-jobs-report-suggests-slowing.html
http://www.tradingeconomics.com/united-states/gdp-growth
http://www.correntewire.com/the_overton_window_illustrated

Left Side of the Aisle #56 - Part 4

Update on CISPA

I mentioned this very briefly last week, just a sentence or two at the end of the show: CISPA, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, a bill that threatens - quite literally - to make online privacy a thing of the past, with everything we say, do, write, or read online subject to being shared with any government agency, has passed the House of Representatives with bipartisan support and has moved to the Senate.

As I mentioned when I first discussed this bill a few weeks ago, it is supposedly about protecting network security and would allow the NSA to share data with ISP's and telecommunication corporations, who also could share data with each other. As Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger said, it would allow them to share "formulas, Xs and Os, the virus code." (I think we can assume that instead of "Xs and Os" he meant "ones and zeros." It's nice to know bill's co-sponsor is so familiar with the technology about which he wants to write laws.)

That sharing, however, is the problem: The bill contains no real limits on what could be shared. It allows companies to share information "pertaining to the protection of" a system or network, a definition that positively invites the broadest possible interpretation. It also contains a "cybersecurity exception" which overrides every single law about privacy protection.

So a real source of concern was that once info was obtained for "cybersecurity" purposes, there were no restrictions on how else it could be used. To put it in more legalistic language, it allowed the government to use the data obtained under the bill for any non-regulatory purpose as long as it has one cybersecurity or national security purpose. So by claiming a cybersecurity purpose, corporations and government agents could do an end run around every privacy protection, quite possibly including the Fourth amendment.

Perhaps - repeat, perhaps - in response to that, just before the final vote an amendment was passed supposedly to limit what information gathered under the act could be used for. The bill originally referred to "cybersecurity" and "national security" purposes. The amendment added three more: investigation and prosecution of cybersecurity crime (such as network disruption and hacking), protection of individuals, and protection of children. Adding those three specifics was supposed to head off the open-ended nature of the authority, but whether this made the bill better or worse is up for debate. As one writer at Tech Dirt said, it "closed a loophole but opened a door."

It takes away some of the language that allows overreach of the bill, but then explicitly endorses the exact things people were worried the government would do with that language—as in, start using the data to investigate and build cases against American citizens without regard for the laws that would normally protect their privacy.

Obama had promised to veto the bill if it reached his desk "in its present form" because of its lack of privacy protections, but that was before the last-minute amendments. No word yet on if the changes were enough to give him enough wiggle room to sign it.

Right now, though, the focus is on the Senate, where two things are happening: One, for the moment anyway it looks like the House-passed version of CISPA may be going nowhere. That's because the White House and the Senate Democratic leadership have endorsed an alternative bill from Sens. Joe Lyingman and Susan "I'm outta here" Collins which has tougher privacy protections and would authorize the Department for the Protection of the Fatherland to set mandatory security standards for critical infrastructure, which CISPA does not address.

However, the very idea of government-set standards produces a Pavlovian response in the right wing, which is of course against the alternative. They call it "big government overreach" - as if the wholesale destruction of online privacy under CISPA is not.

The point is, right now the Dems do not have the 60 votes needed to break a GOPper filibuster and they know it. Democratic aides say the leadership is in talks with "multiple members" to adjust the language of the bill to make it palatable enough to enough GOPpers to get it passed. But as the veep of a technology company trade association said, with the election just a few months away, "the clock is ticking" and the longer this goes on, the harder it will be to get anything passed.

To which I can only say "Hooray for gridlock."

Sources:
http://www.cinemablend.com/games/ACTA-Gets-Killed-Score-Partial-Win-Internet-42194.html
http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-pn-cispa-hit-with-veto-threat-prior-to-friday-vote-in-the-house-20120426,0,2584558.story?track=rss
http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/cispa-whos-for-it-whos-against-it-and-how-it-could-affect-you/2012/04/27/gIQA5ur0lT_story.html
http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120427/08375418687/did-cispa-actually-get-better-before-passing-not-really.shtml
http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120426/14505718671/insanity-cispa-just-got-way-worse-then-passed-rushed-vote.shtml
http://thehill.com/blogs/hillicon-valley/technology/225607-senate-dems-revamping-cybersecurity-bill-

Left Side of the Aisle #56 - Part 3

Outrage of the Week: Obama administration wants to conceal evidence of torture from military tribunal

As I expect you know, five people suspected of being involved in plotting the September 11th attacks are on trial before a military tribunal at Guant√°namo Bay prison in Cuba. The best known among the five is probably Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the man who was waterboarded 183 times before being sent to Gitmo.

But you won't hear about that at the trial. In fact, if the government has its way you will not hear a single word about torture or other mistreatment of the five. Because the rules under which the defendants are being held are set by the commandant of the Guant√°namo Bay prison, a Navy admiral who has decided that the issue of torture is of such importance to national security that lawyers for the defense are forbidden to talk about it with their clients.

It's called presumptive classification and it means that anything the detainees say that bears on the "sources and methods" of their capture and imprisonment - that is, their torture - is a state secret. The chief prosecutor claims “they can talk to their clients about anything,” which is true except that they can't make any reference to any classified document that describes or refers to what the accused were subjected to - as if the five don't already know.

At the same time that the government is making it difficult if not impossible for defense attorneys to talk with their clients about the torture they suffered, the Obama administration is moving to censor any testimony in the actual proceeding that might refer to that mistreatment.

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a motion challenging that attempt, revealing as it does so that the government has proposed a “protective order" that would allow the state to suppress defendants’ statements about their detention and treatment and so prevent anyone, including the public, the press, and even trial observers from hearing them. What's more, the government wants a 40-second delay in the audio feed of the commission proceedings so that if any defendant or attorney ignores the "protective order," there is ample time to censor the record.

This should not surprise us. This is the Obama administration, remember, the same outfit that has declared the authority to kill citizens based on secret evidence with no due process, that has refused to prosecute or even investigate self-admitted war criminals, and that now looks away and whistles a tune as this lizard-brain Jose Rodriguez, the man in charge of the torture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the man who admitted destroying evidence of illegal CIA interrogations, appears on “60 Minutes” to smirk and preen and plug his book and go on about pleased he is with himself about his crimes against humanity.

And what gets me even more is how little outcry there is about all this. How little outrage there seems to be. How little anger there seems to be as these criminals, these moral degenerates, smugly strut about, confident they won't be touched for things that when people of other countries did them, we hung them for it. How little we seem to care as our moral core evaporates and we more and more become that which we claim to oppose.

The Outrage of the Week is us.

Sources:
http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/2012/05/03/obama-administration-moves-to-censor-torture-testimony-from-911-suspects/
http://www.aclu.org/files/assets/aclu_motion_for_public_access_5_2_12.pdf
http://www.bendbulletin.com/article/20120507/NEWS0107/205070322/
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/05/08/messy-legal-rules-and-procedures-make-khalid-sheikh-mohammed-trial-doubtful.html

Left Side of the Aisle #56 - Part 2

Possible plot to attack US airliner

I want to mention very briefly the business about the supposed foiled plot to blow up a US airliner. (I call it "supposed" because there's been no trial yet. So right now we should consider it an allegation, not a fact.)

I note that after a little hemming and hawing, it develops that the supposed suicide bomber was either a plant, possibly from Saudi intelligence, or someone who became an informant early on in the planning of this business and the people involved had been tracked for several weeks.

And so another dastardly plot, the revealing of which is supposed to leave us trembling in fear of what could have happened and whose primary purpose seems to have been justifying the use of the full-body scanners - the strip scanners - at airports, turns out in fact to have been another plot that had no real chance of going anywhere.

Understand, there was good work done here (assuming guilt, of course). I am not mocking the work. But I do feel the need to point out that over 10 years ago, on January 5, 2002, in an unpublished op-ed, I wrote that
patient police work of effective investigation and intelligence has done and will do more to oppose terrorism than all our bombing sorties combined.
I think this latest case is just another proof, if proof was still needed, of that simple truth.

Sources:
http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/09/us-usa-security-plot-idUSBRE8471AX20120509
http://www.stltoday.com/news/national/double-agent-was-key-to-halting-plot/article_787d158c-de0c-5291-9081-7c2c069a8120.html

Left Side of the Aisle #56 - Part 1

Bad news and good news on same-sex marriage

I've often enough started with good news on this topic; I might as well start today with the bad news.

North Carolina has become the 29th state, including all of the South, to enact a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as one man and one woman. Indeed, this one goes further than most, declaring such marriages to be "the only domestic legal union that shall be valid or recognized in this state."

Which means it not only bans same-sex marriage, it bans civil unions and domestic partnerships for both same-sex and straight couples. It threatens the domestic partnership health benefits now available for local government workers in the state. It could strip unmarried couples, both same-sex and straight, of their rights to make financial or emergency medical decisions for an incapacitated partner. It could even deprive unmarried women of protections against domestic abuse, while restricting child custody and visitation rights for, again, both unmarried same-sex couples and unmarried straight couples. It is truly hideous.

I've wondered if some of those effects could make the provision subject to a constitutional challenge in federal court. Remember that California's Proposition 8 - or PropHate as it came to be known - has been successfully challenged in federal court (pending appeals, of course) largely because it took away a right that already existed, which this North Carolina amendment could well do. But no one seems to be talking about that, so perhaps for some legal or political reason that's unfeasible.

Six states and Washington, DC now recognize same-sex marriage; two more states - Washington and Maryland - have passed appropriate laws but those are not yet in effect. So in effect, eight states and DC.

Bringing up those laws brings up - well, I don't want to call it a silver lining; perhaps a break in clouds is a better description.

The first, of course, is that literally an hour before I was to do the show, Barack Obama came out in support of the right to same-sex marriage. While not a surprise, still, actually having him say it is a boost to the cause.

Getting back to North Carolina, though, there is also a point to be made: Since 1996, the state had a law defining marriage as one man and one woman. So why go to the trouble of enacting a constitutional amendment to do what the law already said? Because, proponents said, the amendment was needed to keep "activist judges or politicians" from overturning the law. Note well: It wasn't just the perpetual right-wing boogeyman "activist judges," it was "activist politicians." They were (and are) afraid that some future state legislature, some future elected state government, would overturn that law. And they wanted to keep that from happening.

Equally revealing was the statement of one Tami Fitzgerald, chair for the victorious coalition of cretins, who said after the vote “We are not anti gay, we are pro marriage.” Now, besides the obvious absurdity of being pro-marriage by preventing people from getting married, Fitzgerald's statement unintentionally revealed the necessity of concealing the anti-gay bigotry driving her group's efforts.

And here's the point: These people are on the wrong side of history and they know it. They are losing and they know it. They know the polls. They know that even in places like North Carolina the next generation will come to adulthood wondering what all the fuss over same-sex marriage was about. What, they will say, is big deal about two men or two women getting married?

These people, these haters, these bigots, they know that history will come to regard them with the same contempt it has come to regard those who insisted that not that long ago that blacks and whites must not marry each other. And they just want to do as much damage, to do as much harm to the tide of justice, as they can before they - happily for the rest of us - die off.

I've said it before but it bears repeating: It's still a good ways off but we can say that on this cause, justice will come.

Sources:
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-gay-marriage-20120509,0,1850058.story
http://www.dailytarheel.com/index.php/article/2012/05/4fa9ef88d090a
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Proposition_8_%282008%29

Left Side of the Aisle #56



Left Side of the Aisle for May 10-16, 2012

This week:
 

Bad news and good news on same-sex marriage
http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-na-gay-marriage-20120509,0,1850058.story
http://www.dailytarheel.com/index.php/article/2012/05/4fa9ef88d090a
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Proposition_8_%282008%29
 

Possible plot to attack US airliner
http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/09/us-usa-security-plot-idUSBRE8471AX20120509
http://www.stltoday.com/news/national/double-agent-was-key-to-halting-plot/article_787d158c-de0c-5291-9081-7c2c069a8120.html

Outrage of the Week: Obama administration wants to conceal evidence of torture from military tribunal

http://dissenter.firedoglake.com/2012/05/03/obama-administration-moves-to-censor-torture-testimony-from-911-suspects/
http://www.aclu.org/files/assets/aclu_motion_for_public_access_5_2_12.pdf
http://www.bendbulletin.com/article/20120507/NEWS0107/205070322/
http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/05/08/messy-legal-rules-and-procedures-make-khalid-sheikh-mohammed-trial-doubtful.html

Update on CISPA

http://www.cinemablend.com/games/ACTA-Gets-Killed-Score-Partial-Win-Internet-42194.html
http://www.latimes.com/news/politics/la-pn-cispa-hit-with-veto-threat-prior-to-friday-vote-in-the-house-20120426,0,2584558.story?track=rss
http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/cispa-whos-for-it-whos-against-it-and-how-it-could-affect-you/2012/04/27/gIQA5ur0lT_story.html
http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120427/08375418687/did-cispa-actually-get-better-before-passing-not-really.shtml
http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20120426/14505718671/insanity-cispa-just-got-way-worse-then-passed-rushed-vote.shtml
http://thehill.com/blogs/hillicon-valley/technology/225607-senate-dems-revamping-cybersecurity-bill-

Economy: Austerity and responding to the Ryan budget, which isn't one

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/g/a/2012/05/02/bloomberg_articlesM3DY0T1A74E901-M3E5S.DTL
http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/05/07/us-eurozone-idUSBRE8460N420120507?feedType=RSS&feedName=topNews&rpc=408
http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/greece-at-new-risk-of-being-pushed-off-euro/2012/05/07/gIQAD9z18T_story.html
http://digbysblog.blogspot.com/2012/05/they-see-london-they-see-france-but.html
http://www.lakewyliepilot.com/2012/05/04/1523855/april-jobs-report-suggests-slowing.html
http://www.tradingeconomics.com/united-states/gdp-growth
http://www.correntewire.com/the_overton_window_illustrated

Quick thought on Obama

There was something that I found interesting in Obama's statement of support for same-sex marriage on which no one else (as far as I've seen) has commented. It was in the particular words chosen:
I’ve just concluded that for me personally it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married.
That, and his tone, struck me as coming from someone who really didn't want to be saying this, who knows he is taking a political risk (and whether it's coming rather sooner than he planned doesn't really matter on that score), but has come to feel that he just can't continue with the lame "evolving" dodge any longer. It had, that is, a personal feel of someone who had become uncomfortable with the gap between what he said and what he thought to the point where, damn it, that he didn't want to do it any more.

You all know me well enough, I expect, to know what a cynic I can be and it's easy to be cynical here and think of it in terms of fundraising - but despite that, there was something about the way it was said that came across to me at heartfelt. And I figure credit where it's due.

Footnote: I did a bit of a double-take when I saw Robin Roberts' name on a story because to me, this is who Robin Roberts will always be.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

What the heck

I thought about not even bothering, but I decided what the hell, I'd mention it in passing.

Some time over the weekend I got my 100,000th hit. I know that for some folks that's just an average afternoon, but it's one of those nice round numbers we like to notice.

I gave up blogging for several months at one point, wondering (as I still do) if I was accomplishing anything worth continuing to do. Since I came back, my average hit rate has never gotten back to where it was before. C'est la vie.

Demon alert!

They just can't help themselves, can they?

This is the opening paragraph of a May 5 AP article:
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has spent much of his career praising the socialist ideas of famed atheists such as Karl Marx and Fidel Castro. Now in the thick of a prolonged battle against cancer, however, the leftist leader is drawing inspiration more than ever from a spiritual leader: Jesus Christ.
Oh, chuckle-chuckle, the hypocrisy snicker-snicker.

But a question: When has Chavez said he is an atheist?

Go with the obvious answer: Never. He's a Catholic. The AP gets around to mentioning that in the 17th paragraph of the story, having first established the basis for doubting him on the matter by spending a fair amount of time going on about the political necessity in Venezuela of being Christian. Further, the acknowledgement that Chavez "describes himself" as a Catholic (what a wonderfully indefinite way of putting it) comes immediately before referring to what AP calls his "recent expressions" of faith and his "rocky relationship" with the church hierarchy in Venezuela.

Hugo Chavez was subjected to demonization well over a decade ago and once you are given that status, anything and everything you do is to be interpreted as proof of your demonic nature until it just becomes second nature, to the point where a Catholic praying to Jesus must carry suggestions of hypocrisy.

I meant it: They really can't help themselves.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #55 - Part 5

Afghanistan and the advance of the national security state

This past week saw the first anniversary of the execution of Osama bin Laden, an event the Obama crowd has been more that willing to exploit for its own political gain. As Glenn Greenwald recently noted, in the wake of bin Laden's death, there were those who thought that the War on Terror(reg.)(c)(pat.pend.) might wind down some. After all, International Enemy #1 was dead and the minions of the national security state kept going on about how badly al-Qaeda had been damaged, so it would seem logical that we might step back a bit.

As you obviously know, it hasn't worked out that way. In fact, Greenwald came up with a list of things that have happened since the killing of Osama bin Laden:

- Congress renewed, and PHC* signed, the Patriot Act without a single reform. During Senate debate, Harry Reid claimed that anyone seeking reforms was putting the country at risk of a terrorist attack. (Remember when the Patriot Act was controversial?)

- A US citizen was murdered by the CIA on orders from the President. It was done far from any battlefield without a shred of due process or presentation of any evidence. Two weeks later, his 16-year-old American son was also killed by the US government.

- The Attorney General gave a speech claiming the President has the legal authority to order US citizens be killed by government agents, with no oversights or checks on that power, based solely on unproven, secret accusations of connections to terrorism.

- With large bipartisan majorities, Congress enacted, and PHC* signed, the National Defense Authorization Act, which contains provisions codifying into law the power of a president to order the indefinite detention without trial or charge of any "suspected terrorist" anywhere in the world, including potentially within the US. The bill also contained an expanded statutory definition of the War on Terror(reg.)(c)(pat.pend.).

- In Utah, construction neared completion for a sprawling new site to enable the National Security Agency to engage is massive domestic surveillance and to achieve what Greenwald accurately called “the realization of the ‘total information awareness’ program created during the first term of the Bush administration.”

- PHC* authorized the use of “signature” drone strikes in Yemen, under which the CIA can target people for death “even when the identity of those who could be killed is not known.”

- The US expanded its use of drone attacks in Somalia, even reopening a base in the Seychelles to make it easier.

- The FBI increased aggressive attempts to recruit young Muslim-American males into phony terrorism plots which the FBI concocts, funds, encourages, directs, and enables, and then uses as a pretext to prosecute those it manages to lure in. Meanwhile, more and more American Muslims are being prosecuted for crimes that are about their political views rather than their actions.

- NATO airstrikes have continued to kill Afghan civilians.

Even at that, Greenwald's list is incomplete: It leaves out the continued refusal to prosecute self-admitted war criminals, including those who have publicly acknowledged their crimes during this past year. It leaves out his ignoring of the War Powers Act in Libya and his essentially declaring unilateral control over all war and peace decisions, denying Congress any role at all. It leaves out the continued attacks on whistleblowers. It leaves out the persecution of Bradley Manning. The list could go on for some time.

But that last item on Greenwald's list brings up the recent news from Afghanistan.

So the Great Mr. O zipped into Afghanistan, where we have achieved so much in 12 years of blood, death, and treasure that he had to go in secret into a fortified compound and give his speech to we serfs flanked by armored vehicles.

No matter, he earlier told the assembled troops, there is a light at the end of the tunnel! No, wait, that's not right. A light at the end of the tun- sorry - "there is a light on the horizon." We will withdraw from Afghanistan, he declared, but we must do it "responsibly." "Peace with honor," as we used to call it.

But wait - withdraw? Are we? It now seems we're going to have some as yet unknown number of military "advisors" and "trainers" in Afghanistan for another 12 years - until the end of 2024.

There are 88,000 US troops in country now, a number that is supposed to be down to 68,000 by September. But there are no indications, no announcements, of any more withdrawals after that. Now, all "combat" troops are supposed to be out by the end of 2014 - but "combat troops" has no particular meaning, it's however the military and the White House choose to define the term. There is already talk of some 20,000-25,000 troops (and maybe more) staying after 2014, troops that will "train" Afghan soldiers "and fight alongside them where necessary."

So I hope you enjoy a pleasant little war - because it seems were going to have one for a long time to come.

Enjoy your Nobel Peace Prize, Mr. President.

Sources:
http://www.salon.com/2012/05/01/since_bin_ladens_death/singleton/
http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/OTUS/billions-dollars-thousands-lives-lost-afghanistan-war/story?id=16256292#.T6DyFNWpOSo
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/barackobama/9240356/Barack-Obama-in-Afghanistan-we-must-finish-the-job.html
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/02/opinion/missed-chance.html
http://whoviating.blogspot.com/2012/04/left-side-of-aisle-52-part-5.html
http://whoviating.blogspot.com/2011/05/little-more-bad-news-so-is-this.html
 
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