Monday, February 27, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #45 - Part 6

And Another Thing: Seeds of past lives

Look at this picture.

It's a plant. Its scientific name is Silene Stenophylla. It's a live plant, fertile, with lacy white flowers and viable seeds. It was grown from seeds from immature fruit found in a squirrel's burrow containing various fruit and seeds. What makes this burrow and these particular seeds and this particular plant special is that burrow had been frozen in the Siberian permafrost for over 30,000 years.

This is the oldest plant ever to be regenerated by more than an order of magnitude: The previous oldest seeds to produce a viable plant were - by comparison in this context - "only" 2000 years old. These seeds are 15 times older.

This is not only major cool, no pun intended, it shows that ancient life forms, ancient DNA, can survive intact in the ice for thousands, even tens of thousands, of years - shades of the X-Files - which in turn opens up the possibility of resurrecting other life forms.

The fact that these seeds were found in the same strata as bones of large mammals, not only including such as bison, horse, and deer, but also mammoth and wooly rhinoceros, has got some people dreaming of the possibility of resurrecting - that is, having actual, live, walking around, eating, drinking - wooly mammoths.

That's not possible now - the necessary cloning technology is still iffy and we lack the intact DNA - so no, there's no Jurassic Park on the horizon, even the dim horizon, even if you ignore the slight time differential between mammoths and dinosaurs of about, oh, 60 million years. But is it in the foreseeable future to have a live mammoth walking around? Depending on the breaks - and finding a big enough sample of intact DNA may be the biggest hurdle - but depending on the breaks? Yes, it is possible. And that - again no pun intended - is really cool.

Oh, and one other quick thing, another anniversary which I missed: Monday, February 20, was the 50th anniversary of the day John Glenn took off to become the first American to orbit the Earth.

It's sometimes hard to think that only 7-1/2 years later, July 20, 1969, the first human walked on the Moon.


Left Side of the Aisle #45 - Part 5


I have not talked about Occupy for some time now - I did get in that one quick mention last week, which I will get back to, but I did want to spend a little more time on the subject of the movement.

Because contrary to what you would probably gather from our major media, the Occupy movement is not dead, not by a long shot. It's just no longer concentrated in encampments in big and medium-sized cities. Which means its not as media-friendly, there are fewer convenient shots of a mass of tents or clouds of tear gas, so much of the media lost interest.

Bu there are still encampments out there, and cities and towns continue to look for ways to make them go away and shut up. For example, the city of Boise, Idaho has had an encampment for the past couple of months. It turns out that camping on public grounds was not illegal - so what did the city just do? It passed a new emergency law to ban camping on public grounds in order to shut down that city's encampment. You don't like the encampment? Throw it out. It's not illegal? Change the law.

So yes, it's true there are a lot fewer high-profile encampments. But an important part of the reason is that Occupy has diffused through those cities, it has spread to the suburbs and even to rural areas. The people are still out there, still demonstrating, still on the streets, still sitting-in, still lobbying, still petitioning, still calling legislators, still carrying it on in whatever way they as individuals feel they can.

Firedoglake has a program of which you likely know, called Occupy Supply. People donate money to supply various occupations with needed equipment, which included not only for example electronic gear but even more often things like gloves and boots and insulated tents to deal with the winter. The point here is that they had a big tent that they were going to donate to one Occupy chosen from among those nominated by visitors to the website, that is, from people interested in Occupy Supply. A base requirement was that the Occupy group either had to have an on-going encampment or at least recent activity - that is, it had to be a live group. The initial list of Occupy groups with such on-going activities was posted on January 31 - and it contained over 150 locations.

Just this past week, in what shows the variety of approaches being taken,

- hundreds of occupy folks and prison reform activists joined forces outside the gates of San Quentin State Prison, rallying around a charge that state sentencing laws are too strict and calling for an end to solitary confinement, the death penalty, and to children being tried as adults;

- some Occupy Oakland protesters were arrested for disrupting a foreclosure sale and later tht same day some others forced a branch of a bank to close early in the face of a protest of a different foreclosure, this one of an woman who had been trying without success to get a loan modification;

- and a group calling itself Occupy the SEC sent a 325-page letter with detailed public comments about the proposed Volcker rule regulating certain bank transactions.

More locally, Occupy Providence, which voluntarily shut down after the city met its demand for a homeless day center, has re-emerged as Occupy URI, with a teach-in and a tent on the campus quad planned for later in the month along with plans for actions as part of Occupy Rhode Island Campuses, a new coalition of five colleges and universities in the state. And there has apparently been some discussion among a number of occupy groups about moving physical occupations onto colleges - the idea being, more or less, if you can't settle in the streets, camp on the campus.

Oh, and Occupy Maine now has a TV show. Welcome to Public Access TV, Occupy Maine.

What's more, on Wednesday, February 29, 60 cities across the country will see nonviolent actions with an overall target of at ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the right-wing outfit that brings corporations and other right-wing interests together with state legislators to provide model legislation the latter can bring home to push in order to advance the reactionary agenda.

But leave all that aside: If you really want to know about the impact of a movement, don't look at its supporters - look at its enemies.

I mentioned this last week but it bears repeating: On January 30, Just before the Florida primary, Newt Grinch accused Witless Romney of being a tool of Wall Street and said that big banking firms like Goldman Sachs are “rigging the game.” He even claimed that the negative ads run against him were financed by Wall Street outfits, including Goldman Sachs. Just think of what it means for the impact of Occupy when Newt Grinch thinks it's to his benefit to call a fellow GOPper a tool of Wall Street.

Not enough? How about the fact that Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JPMorgan-Chase who has made a career of late out of hyperbolic, hyperventilating attacks on any attempts to regulate the banks, recently said we absolutely should raise taxes on the rich, adding "I don't think people should be able to pass unlimited amounts on to their kids." So much for the "death tax."

Still not enough? How about the fact that a week ago last Friday, February 17, the Wall Street Journal said in an editorial that the only real way to prevent a repeat of the wild irresponsible financial speculation and wrongful behavior that resulted in the meltdown that produced the particular mess we are currently in is for, quoting here, "a Congressional plan either for allowing large banks to fail or for breaking them up."

You got that right: The Wall Street Journal wants to break up the banks.

But if you're still not convinced, this should be the clincher. Consider a recent column by one Judith Samuelson. She is the Executive Director of the Aspen Institute's Business and Society Program, and this is one example among many from a variety of people. In that column, Samuelson said that Occupy should "help give visibility to ideas that move beyond vilifying 'corporations' and 'capitalism' and begin to focus on the incentives and policies that create sub-optimal results from business and capital markets." In other words, she thinks Occupy should focus on smoothing off a couple of the rough edges of capitalism.

That is a way to measure impact: When you have a movement that has come to the point where so many people from across the political spectrum feel entitled and even obliged to offer their sage advice on what that movement should do now, especially when that advice mostly involves how to "tone down" your message and become "serious," you know you have something with power.


Left Side of the Aisle #45 - Part 4

Outrage of the Week: attacking Miranda

You know the famous Miranda warning, the "you have the right to remain silent and so on" warning. It grew out of a 1966 SCOTUS decision that involved police questioning of a man named Ernesto Miranda. Despite claims it would "tie the hands" of police and lead to mountains of crime and crooks getting off on technicalities if cops couldn't beat a supposed "confession" out of someone, the fact is most all police forces now live quite comfortably with it and in fact crime has gone down in the years since.

Even so, there have been a number of attempts to cut down the scope or the requirements of the warning, and those have met with some success in the courts. The big issue is that you don't need to be read your rights until you are "in custody," which has come to be understood in a legal sense as the point at which a reasonable person would think they cannot end the questioning and leave.

Okay. There is this guy named Randall Lee Fields. He was in prison on a 45-day sentence for disturbing the peace. During that time, a jail guard and some sheriff's deputies took him from his cell to a conference room. Deputies told him - supposedly several times - that he was free to leave at any time.

They then questioned him for seven hours about a charge he had sexually assaulted a minor. Fields eventually confessed and was charged and convicted of criminal sexual assault. He was sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison.

He appealed the use of his confession on the grounds he was never given his Miranda rights on the sexual assault charge. The district court and then the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati both agreed, throwing out confession and conviction, ruling it is required that police read inmates their Miranda rights anytime they are isolated from the rest of the inmates in situations where they would be likely to incriminate themselves.

(This does not mean he couldn't be re-tried, the prosecution just couldn't use his confession.)

On February 21, the Supreme Court, by a 6-3 vote, overturned that decision and reinstated the conviction. The Court ruled that despite being in prison, Fields was not in "custody" as defined by Miranda and therefore there was no need to tell him his rights.

Writing for majority, Justice Sam Alito said that "Imprisonment alone is not enough to create a custodial situation within the meaning of Miranda." He argued that questioning an inmate doesn't bring the "shock" of arrest that free people experience, that there is also no hope for a quick release if the inmate talks to police, like there would be for a free person, and there is also no chance of a lighter sentence or any type of reprisal for not talking because the person is already in prison.

So what Alito argued - and five of these great legal minds, supposedly the best legal minds of our nation, agreed with him - is if you're in jail for disturbing the peace, there is no "shock" involved in being presented with a charge of sexual assault of a minor, that there is no essential difference between 45 days and 15 years, and that a prisoner, alone in a room with a prison guard and a couple of cops, feels completely free to leave that room, go back to their prison cell at any time with no fear whatsoever of any sort of reprisal.

These people are idiots! And their decision is the Outrage of the Week.

The case is Howes v. Fields, 10-680

Left Side of the Aisle #45 - Part 3

"Terrorist" hackers

There are disturbing signs that US intelligence forces have come to regard the loosely affiliated group of hackers known as Anonymous as terrorists.

According to the Wall Street Journal, the Director of the National Security Agency, one Gen. Keith Alexander, has told various "high-level audiences" that Anonymous will soon have the capability to cause a power outage through a cyberattack. Meanwhile, "US intelligence officials" lumped Anonymous with al-Qaeda and Chinese and Russian cyberspies as some sort of newfangled cyber "axis of evil."

Ominously, those same officials have taken to referring to Anonymous as "a stateless group" - which in intelligence-ese usually refers to terrorist organizations.

Apparently Wikileaks is not the only group to be regarded as mortal threat to American way of secrecy. Uh, I mean life. Of secrecy.


Left Side of the Aisle #45 - Part 2

Stampeded to war on Iran

I talked last week about how we are being lied, manipulated, and stampeded into a war with - or, more exactly, a war on - Iran. Well, here we go again.

On February 16, Senators Joe Lieberman, Lindsey Graham, and Robert Casey introduced a resolution that would give us big shove down road to war. It is a "Sense of the Senate" resolution that would move the goalposts on what would justify a war.

The "red line" is the informal reference to the line which, if crossed by Iran, could trigger a US military strike. The Obama administration has said that what's unacceptable - where the "red line" is - is for Iran to develop a nuclear weapon. This resolution wants the "red line" to be at Iran having "a nuclear weapons capability." That is, Iran doesn't have to develop nuclear weapons in order to provoke US attack, it doesn't even have to be trying to build one, it merely has to have the hypothetical ability to build one if it ever chose to do so - an ability by some accounts it already has.

This resolution has 36 co-sponsors, including 15 Democrats - and among the GOPpers is our own Scott Brown, our supposed "moderate" senator.

A Sense of the Senate resolution is in effect an expression of opinion; it is not legally binding. But such resolutions, especially when pushed, as this one was, by the notorious and powerful pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, often return as binding legislation - and Senators usually find it difficult to vote against what you already said should be done.


Left Side of the Aisle #45 - Part 1

Citizens United hits Montana

The Supreme Court has handed another big victory to corporations wanting to control the outcome of election campaigns.

In December, the Montana state supreme court upheld a century-old state law banning independent corporation campaign spending in state elections. The law was passed in wake of clear proof of the copper barons in the state trying to quite literally buy elections. That is, the idea damage from money in politics was not a hypothetical, it was based on experience.

The US Supreme Court has now suspended that decision pending a ruling on whether the Montana law violates the notorious Citizens United decision. The result is that corporations can now spend as much as they want in Montana for the June 5 presidential primary as well as the November elections, since no one expects a Supreme Court decision will come down before then.

A bitterly amusing footnote is that article that served as the source for this said the Court's order "cleared the way for corporations, unions and other groups to spend unlimited amounts of money on ads and other political activities." Right, like unions and corporations are on equal footing here.

And in another, this one a revealing, footnote: You know all those Super-Pacs raising all that unlimited money in this year's presidential race? According to an analysis of their financial reports by USA Today, just under 25% of the entire amount raised by all of them has been put up by precisely five incredibly rich people.

Dallas industrialist Harold Simmons has donated $14.4 million; Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam put up $10M (and Adelson says he's ready to put up tens of millions more); Houston home builder Bob Perry came up with $3.6 million, and Peter Thiel, a venture capitalist and co-founder of PayPal, donated $2.6 million, a mere piker in this crowd.

The case is American Tradition Partnership v. Attorney General of Montana, No. 11-A762

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #45

This week:

- Quick hit one: Citizens United
American Tradition Partnership v. Attorney General of Montana, No. 11-A762

- Quick hit two: Iran

- Quick hit three: Terrorist hackers

- Outrage of the Week: Attacking Miranda
The case is Howes v. Fields, 10-680

- Occupy

- And Another Thing

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #44 - Part 6

Quick thought on Occupy

So much I've wanted to talk about and just haven't had time. I've been wanting for weeks to talk about events in Egypt and Syria. I've been wanting to talk about the economy and particularly about the deal with the banks about their foreclosure fraud. It's been weeks since I mentioned Occupy.

But I did want to get in this one thing about the impact of Occupy. A couple of weeks ago, just before the Florida primary, Newt Grinch accused Witless Romney of being a tool of Wall Street and said he - Grinch - would stop firms like Goldman Sachs Group from "rigging the game."

When someone like him resorts to that kind of language thinking it will help him, you know there is something going on.


Left Side of the Aisle #44 - Part 5

Hypocrisy of Obama supporters

Finally, another sort of hypocrisy, this one of valuing political expediency and party loyalty over human rights and basic decency. And while that sounds like an all-but-routine denunciation of the right wing, in this case it's not.

During the Bush years, liberal democrats and supposedly progressive activists screamed (and legitimately so) about how George Bush - Shrub - was undermining American values and shredding the Constitution. Barack Obama - President Hopey-Changey - campaigned on how just awful all that was and how he was going to change all that. That was not just a single plank in his platform, it was central to his campaign.

But once in office he went back on almost everything he said. His administration not only endorsed the Bush regime's arguments on how national security trumps all, it went beyond it, refusing to prosecute Bush administration crimes up to and including open admissions of approving torture from Bush and "The Big" Dick Cheney themselves, expanding executive power, broadening claims justifying official secrecy, pushing for renewal of expiring Traitor Act provisions, intensifying the technically secret drone war in Pakistan, expanding the ability of government to spy on our communications, allowing the FBI additional powers to poke, prod, pry, and probe into our privacy, waging an unprecedented war on whistleblowers, seeking to destroy WikiLeaks, and allowing the torture of Bradley Manning.

Sometimes the extensions of individual, even monarchical, powers are even more shocking:

In the case of Libya, Obama not only ignored the War Powers Act, he deliberately thumbed his nose at the very idea of Congress having any say at all on if, when, where, or even why American military forces would be employed. He essentially said "It's my Air Force and I'll do whatever I want with it."

He has endorsed the power of presidents to imprison anyone, even American citizens taken on American soil, indefinitely without charge, trial, or any legal rights whatsoever based solely on that president's own unchallengeable claim that the person - the disappeared person - was in some way connected to "terrorism." But don't worry, Howard Dean is safe.

And he declared for himself the power to order the extra-judicial murder of anyone, even American citizens, anywhere in the world, on the basis of that same sort of unchallengeable claim - while refusing to reveal whatever legal argument has been invented by his administration to claim that power. But again, Rudy Guiliani need have no fears.

And how has all that been treated by far too much of what passes for the left in this country? Beyond a few quiet grumbles about how there might be some legitimate criticism on the matter, it has mostly been silence. A silence most recently demonstrated and punctuated by a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

According to that poll, fully 77% of self-identified liberal Democrats endorse the use of drones in Pakistan and elsewhere - that is, they endorse the secret and illegal CIA war. What's more, 55% still approve of them even when the targets are identified as American citizens.

And what about that symbol of Bush-era undermining of human and constitutional rights, Guantanamo Bay prison? Iin February, 2009, shortly after Obama was inaugurated and a time when he was still talking about closing the prison, a Pew Research poll showed that 64% of Democrats supported closing it down; I think we can safely assume the portion of liberal dems who felt that way was even higher. But in the new Washington Post-ABC News poll, 53% of liberal Democrats now approve of his decision to keep it open.

This is more evidence, if it was even needed, of hypocrisy on a grand scale, a scale that envelops an entire political party and even more importantly, envelops far too many of the very people who denounced the immorality and illegality of the Shrub years but now find that the chant of "elect more Democrats" silences the whisper of conscience.

The evidence says that for a large segment of self-proclaimed liberals and progressives, the old right-wing charge that their opposition to George Bush was based on political expediency rather than actual commitment rings true and I say that these people, these hypocrites, these trimmers whose morality depends on whether the president has a D or an R after the name do not deserve to be listened to, do not deserve even to be believed when, quoting Glenn Greenwald,
they want to pretend to oppose civilian slaughter and civil liberties assaults when perpetrated by the next Republican President.
Greenwald also notes that 35% of liberal democrats say they oppose Obama's destructive and dangerous policies of the sort I've run through here. But while that is, as he says, "a non-trivial amount," it still marks us - those of us for who opposition to illegal wars and extra-judicial murder is a matter of conviction, not convenience - it marks us as a minority of all liberals who are a minority of the country as a whole. We are a minority of a minority.

And yet we must struggle on. We have to keep on trying. There is a reason my blog is subtitled "Surviving a Dark Time." Far too many believed - and have convinced themselves - that the darkness lifted in January 2009. They were wrong.


Left Side of the Aisle #44 - Part 4

Everything You Need to Know: How the right wing thinks of you

This is Everything You Need to Know in two sentences.

There is a new proposal circulating that would do an end run around the electoral college in order to guarantee that the presidential candidate who wins the popular vote will win the election.

Republicans and other right-wingers are against it on the grounds that winning the presidency by popular vote amounts to "mob rule."

And that is everything you need to know.


Left Side of the Aisle #44 - Part 3

Hypocrisy on "terrorism" prosecutions

This is not a new story, it first circulated late last summer, but I was unaware of it until recently (I was alerted to it by Glenn Greenwald, from whose work much of the following comes) and it’s on-going.

The Mojahedin-e Khalq, or Warriors of God, usually known by its abbreviation MEK, is an Iranian group that is on the State Department's list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. It's more like a cult than a movement, with its central fantasy of overthrowing Iran marked by a focus on total devotion to its leaders, Maryam and Massoud Rajavi, the former of who apparently regards herself as the rightful president of Iran.

A recent report by NBC news quotes two American officials as saying MEK was behind the string of murders of Iranian nuclear scientists since 2010, the most recent of which occurred in January.

Whatever you think of the group in particular or the State Department list in general, the fact remains that providing such a group with "material support" is a felony. And a number of people have been convicted on exactly that basis despite having the most tenuous connections to a terrorist group. Just a few recent examples:

In 2009 a satellite TV salesman on Staten Island was sentenced to five years in federal prison merely for including a Hezbollah TV channel as part of the satellite package he sold to customers.

Last July, a 22-year-old former Penn State student named Emerson Winfield Begolly was indicted for posting comments on a “jihadist” Internet forum including a comment that appeared to praise the shootings at a Marine Corps base.

In September, Jubair Ahmad, a 24-year-old Pakistani legal resident living in Virginia, was indicted for a 5-minute YouTube video critical of US actions and policy in the Muslim world on the grounds that he allegedly discussed the video in advance with the son of a leader of a group labeled as terrorist.

On December 20, Sudbury, Massachusetts resident Tarek Mehanna was convicted of material support of terrorism "for posting pro-jihadist material on the internet" - that is, strictly for what he wrote.

One person who was ultimately acquitted was Sami Omar al-Hussayen, a Saudi Arabian graduate student who was indicted on a charge of providing material aid simply by maintaining a website with links to supposedly "jihadist" sites.

How far can this go? Pretty damn far: The Humanitarian Law Project wanted to advise the Kurdistan Workers' Party, the PKK - which is on the US terrorist list - on how to file human rights complaints with the UN and on conducting peace negotiations with the Turkish government. That is, it wanted to advise the PKK on alternatives to violence.

In June 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that the government could ban that as "material support of terrorism" on the grounds that the government's interest in denying the "terrorist" group legitimacy outweighed any constitutional considerations. Put another way, the Court found that the government could have a legitimate interest - one strong enough to overrule any Constitutional rights - a legitimate interest in keeping terrorist groups from learning about alternatives to terrorism.

Why am I going through this history? This is why:

A rather large number of prominent political figures from both parties - including Michael Mukasey, Andy Card, Tom Ridge, Rudy Giuliani, Howard Dean, Ed Rendell, Bill Richardson, and Wesley Clark - have been paid tens of thousands of dollars by the MEK to speak in its support. The MEK is, again, listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the State Dept.

Not only have they been paid by the group to advance its cause and urge it be removed from that list, they have openly acknowledged repeatedly meeting with its leaders.

How much more obvious could "material support for a terrorist group" be - especially considering that in the Humanitarian Law Project case SCOTUS ruled that even peaceful advocacy on behalf of such a group is criminal if done in "coordination" with that group. And these people are being paid by, and meeting with the heads of, the MEK, which is pretty damn clear evidence of coordination.

So what possible justification can there be for Rudy Giuliani, Howard Dean, and the rest to be walking around free, collecting their fat terrorist paychecks, making speeches, going on TV, going to their fancy parties, and all the rest, while people you never heard of face years in prison for far less?

The question answers itself: People you never heard of. They will be investigated, they will be indicted, they will be prosecuted, they will be sent to prison - but Tom Ridge? Wesley Clark? The very idea of prosecuting such well-connected people is unthinkable. It can't even be broached. It would never occur to anyone in authority.

It's hard to imagine anything that could more clearly illustrate the fundamental moral corruption at the heart of our so-called justice system: the unknown go to prison; the elite go to parties. It's not new - there are many variations on the image of the law as being like a spider's web that can catch a fly but is easily broken through by a bird, some of those images quite old - but that makes it no less of an outrage.

Oh, and one more thing: That same NBC news report I mentioned at the top also quoted those two officials as saying that the MEK "is financed, trained and armed by Israel’s secret service" - which would make Israel, by definition, a state sponsor of terrorism.

But that's okay, it seems, because the MEK's terrorism is aimed at Iran. So in addition to everything else, Giuliani, et. al. are safe because they're working for the "good" terrorists, the terrorists who are on our side, the terrorists whose terrorism is good terrorism because we don't like the people these terrorists intend to terrorize.


Left Side of the Aisle #44 - Part 2

Outrage of the Week: gas attack

First, a footnote to last week’s outrage of the week, which referred to a report by the Bureau for Investigative Journalism that documented hundreds of civilian deaths due to US - more exactly, CIA - drone attacks in Pakistan, including cases of deliberate attacks on rescuers and funerals.

It turns out that the New York Times story I quoted may have been the only story in the US mainstream media on the report;according to media watchdog FAIR, only a story at and one on Democracy Now! come up in a news database search. So add to the outrage the fact that the story was ignored if not actively suppressed by our oh-so-self-righteously independent media.

This week we consider the story of Harold Wayne Hadley, Jr. He is 19 years old and a straight A student at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, Mississippi.

Recently, he was sitting in the men's room in the school library. He was doodling on some toilet paper, and he wrote "I passed a bomb in the library." Which, in a rational world, anyone would understand as meaning he passed gas.

But it's not a rational world. Someone found the note, gave it to a teracher who recognized his handwriting, and all hell broke loose. Eleven emergency agencies responded to the school, but there was - of course - no bomb.

In what I expect was an attempt to - you'll pardon the expression - cover their asses over this insane overreaction, officials had Hadley arrested and held on $20,000 bail under a charge of threatening to blow up the school. If convicted, he faces 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Our paranoia is so deep and so ingrained that Hadley is faced with a 10-year prison term for a fart joke. It sounds utterly nonsensical. And it is - which is why it is the Outrage of the Week.


Left Side of the Aisle #44 - Part 1

Hypocrisy on birth control

Part of the new so-called health reform law - I say so-called because I was among those who didn't like this law because it doesn't go nearly far enough, but that's an argument for another time - requires health insurance to include coverage of preventive care without co-pays; that is, the cost is completely covered by insurance. You surely know about the rending of garments and gnashing of teeth from the US Catholic bishops and their right-wing wannabe-allies over the intent to include birth control within the definition of such preventive care.

The proposal originally excluded specifically religious employers - such as the Catholic Church - but not employers in workplaces that are religiously-affiliated, such as Catholic hospitals or universities.

Well, the bishops started screeching that this is "an attack on religious freedom" and even more directly "an attack on religion" - which, it bears noting, means the bishops were equating Catholic doctrine with the very concept of religion itself. As revealing as that may be, what's more important here is that this was eagerly seconded by the reactionary right (which, generally these days, is almost identical to the Republican party) which was dreaming of all those Catholic voters they're going to pick up by joining in the screeching.

The White House responded by what has generally been called a tweak of the regulations, putting the burden for covering contraceptive services on the insurance companies rather than the employers in any case where the employer had a genuine religious objection.

Was that a reasonable compromise? Considered in isolation, considering just the change, of course it was. And if they were dealing with reasonable people, that would be the end of it. But out in the real world, things are different and they are not dealing with reasonable people. So it was a terrible idea.

First, because repeated polls showed a majority of Americans and an even larger majority of Catholics approved of the original policy. It proved yet again that Barack Obama cannot stand up to the right wing. He's great at thumbing his nose at the left, great at dismissing those to his left as whiners, but he has no spine at all for a fight with the right. In the face of their blathering and blustering, he'll back down even when a majority of people are on his side!

And second, it - of course - did nothing to appease the bullies. New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, who heads the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, dismissed it as nothing more than a "first step in the right direction" and later derided it as "a hill of beans." The Conference itself responded by demanding a complete surrender, arguing that the decision to guarantee that women have access to contraceptives, quoting, "remains a grave moral concern."

GOPpers in Congress eagerly chimed in, denounced it as an attack on religious freedom, and demanded votes on legislation that would allow any employer to deny birth control coverage to any employee if it runs counter to their religious or moral beliefs, or otherwise find it icky.

Why can't the White House get it through its head that bullies cannot be appeased? Backing up only invites them to step forward. And that's exactly what they've done.

There are three things to make clear here: One, remember this is not about abortion, it is about birth control. The Catholic Church is saying it should have the legal right to interfere with the ability of any employee of any Catholic-related institution to obtain birth control - interfere by virtue of increasing the cost, making it more difficult to obtain, since it would have to be paid for out of pocket.

For some time now, abortion rights advocates - advocates of choice - have been saying that the real issue isn't abortion, it's anything that gives women autonomy over their own bodies, including contraception, and the Church has now proved that beyond doubt.

I mean, you'd figure the church would support contraception on the grounds that by reducing unwanted pregnancies it would reduce the number of abortions, but you'd be wrong. The real opposition - from both the Catholic Church and much of the right wing - is to anything that enables women to be other than baby factories.

Second, remember we're not talking about Church employees here, we're talking about employees of Church-affiliated institutions. The blunt fact is that the people affected are in many cases not Catholic. What the Church is demanding is the right to force its beliefs on those employees.

If being a Catholic is not a job requirement, if adhering to Catholic doctrine and ideology is not part of the job description, than it should not, must not, logically cannot be a factor in what sort of health insurance coverage is available to you.

Finally, the gorilla in the room and this is just the latest example:
The bankruptcy hearings for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee have revealed more than 8,000 previously unreported instances of alleged sexual abuse of children, according to one attorney representing the victims. The charges cover a span of 60 years and implicate a group of 100 alleged offenders, including nuns, church workers and some 75 priests. 570 'victim-survivors' have filed claims in the case.
I'm going to quote a source with which I would hope the Church is familiar: the Bible. Specifically, the King James Version, quoting Matthew 7:1-5:
Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.
A beam, in this case in case you didn't know, is a wood beam.

The Catholic Church in this country doesn't have a single beam in its eye, it has a whole barn's worth. It is in no position to pass any sort of moral judgment on anyone and its position on this matter should be flat out ignored.


Another change here

Because so much more of my time is going to the cable TV show than to regular blogging and knowing that people may not feel like watching an entire half-hour show when they might only be interested in part, I'm going to start posting more-or-less transcripts of each segment as separate posts.

By their very nature, then, those posts will not be the sort of hot-off-the-presses things that a lot of political blogs deal in, but I still think they might be worth reading. Each such post will be titled "Left Side of the Aisle #whatever - Part whatever" and the first line will be the same headline as in the video post. If that's not clear, don't worry, it will be when you look at the first post done that way.

The advantage is being able to look at just the parts in which you're interested. The disadvantage is that because of how this is being done - as "more-or-less transcripts" rather than as regular posts - there will be no links within the text. Rather, all the sources used will be in one group at the end.

Any regular posts will, of course, continue to include links.

Left Side of the Aisle #44

This week:

- Hypocrisy on birth control,0,7257381.story

- Outrage of the Week: gas attack

- Hypocrisy on "terrorism" prosecutions

- Everything You Need to Know: How the right wing thinks of you

- Hypocrisy of Obama supporters

- Quick thought on Occupy

Friday, February 10, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #43

Left Side of the Aisle for February 9 - 15

This week:

- Good news on California's PropHate

- Good news on Planned Parenthood vs. Susan G. Komen for the Cure

- Outrage of the Week: Killing civilians in Pakistan and smearing those who report on it

- Beating the drums of war: Iran,8599,2106232,00.html

- And Another Thing: Valentine's Day

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #42

This week:

- Good news about transgender rights

- Are we a free nation?

- Everything you need to know

- The Outrage of the Week

- And Another Thing

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #41

This week:

- Some good news,0,4371456.story

- Outrage of the Week,0,2883556.story

- Global warming

- Citizens United anniversary

- And Another Thing
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