Thursday, March 29, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #50 - Part 3

Outrage of the Week: Schools punishing students for non-school activities

First a quick update: That bill in Tennessee, last week's Outrage of the Week, to sneak creationism into public schools through the subterfuge of calling it “encouraging critical thinking about scientific theories” has passed and gone to the governor for his signature.

This week's outrage comes from Indiana, which is becoming a regular contributor here.

Recently, an Indiana high school senior named Austin Carroll sent a Tweet that contained some obscenities. I'm going to tell you what he said - you just need to know that in each case, "bleep" is the f-word.*
Bleep is one of these bleeping words you can bleeping put anywhere in a bleeping sentence and it still bleeping makes sense.
Yeah, kinda crude - although hardly beyond the reach of some conversations I've heard and I doubt beyond the reach of some conversations you're heard, either - but still it's silly and obviously done as a joke, done just to be funny.

He was expelled.

Carroll agrees that the tweet was "inappropriate" - but expulsion? Just weeks before graduation?

But here's real thing, the real reason this gets Outrage of the Week status: The Tweet was sent from his home on his own personal account. Not at school, not on school grounds, not on school time. The school, that is, is asserting the authority to punish him for something done on his own time that has nothing whatsoever to do with school, lacking even the limp justification that what he did would somehow disrupt the school or interfere with some educational function - because no one would buy an argument that lame.

By extension, the school is claiming it can oversee and discipline - that is, punish - any student for doing whatever the school thinks is "inappropriate" any time, anywhere, regardless of its impact on the school.

And here's a question, one which occurred to me and perhaps occurred to you: How did school even know about this since, it develops, the Tweet was sent at 2:30am? It turns out that when you log on to a school computer, the system automatically goes back and tracks all your Tweets.

This is inane.

But nothing is too inane for Indiana these days. Current law in the state says:
a student may be suspended or expelled for engaging in unlawful activity on or off school grounds if the unlawful activity may reasonably be considered to be an interference with school purposes or an educational function; or the student's removal is necessary to restore order or protect persons on school property.
In January, the state House of Representatives passed a bill that would delete the word "unlawful." In effect, do something of which the school disapproves, any time, anywhere, and you are in the disciplinary cross-hairs - even if it’s entirely legal.

What makes this more important is that it's not just this school and not just this state. Other schools, other states, have adopted similarly sweeping rules to direct students' outside lives. It's all part of an on-going trend for those in power to want more and more power over those over who they have power - such as, for another recent example, employers taking advantage of a still-tight job market to demand of applicants that they hand over their Facebook password so the employer can go rummaging around the applicant's account.

Happily, there has been some pushback: Facebook is threatening to sue companies that demand job applicants give up their password and some states will be considering legislation to make the demand illegal. And for Indiana's students, the state Senate effectively killed the bill at least for now by replacing it with "a 'study commission' on best practices in school discipline."

But despite that, the school still is arguing that you are under their authority day and night, everywhere and all the time so you had just better watch your step. And Austin Carroll is still expelled. And that is still an outrage - the Outrage of the Week.

*No, I have no problems with saying "fuck" here, but remember these posts are supposed to reflect what was on Left Side of the Aisle, which comports with the rules of the local community access TV outlet, which require that shows using such language are only shown after 10pm, which obviously limits the potential audience.


Left Side of the Aisle #50 - Part 2

New proof of damage from the Deepwater Horizon blowout

As a sort of Footnote to the Preceding: April 20, 2010, was the date of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, when a well operated by BP in the Gulf of Mexico blew out, spewing over 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf.

On Monday, after months of laboratory work, scientists announced they can definitively identify oil from the blown-out well as the cause for the massive damage to a coral community on the bottom of the Gulf a mile under water, seven miles from the well.

The occasional coral colonies that are found in the Gulf are vital oases for marine life - and this one has been severely damaged with unknowable future impacts on that other marine life that depends on it. The colorful thing you see in photo is a starfish. The rest is the coral. It should be bright pink.

Last spring, in one of my first shows, I noted it was right around the first anniversary of Deepwater Horizon. I said at that time that you should not believe the hype that the Gulf was "recovering" or even "had recovered." I said that the ecology of the Gulf is complex and not well understood yet - it is, after all, pretty much an ocean - and that what you might well see as the result of the oil blowout was a slow motion disaster, with the damaging effect emerging only over time.

Now, nearly a year after that and nearly two years after the blow-out, we see newly-determined proof of on-going damage.

The lesson is: Do not believe corporations. Do not believe their paid flunkies in and out of public office. Do not believe those who have a selfish interest in lying to you. Do not believe those whose profit depends on keeping you passive and pacified. They are lying to you and they will continue to lie to you as long as they can get away with it and they will lie to you even after that. Do not believe them.


Left Side of the Aisle #50 - Part 1

Good and bad news on the environment; global warming

I start, as I like to do when I can, with some good news. This is tempered, rather limited good news, but still overall it's on the plus side.

The Obama administration has finally, finally proposed standards to cut carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants.

The new rules would have their primary impact on new coal-fired plants, as such plants typically produce about double the amount of greenhouse gases as more efficient natural gas-fired plants do. Under the proposed rules, new coal plants would have to be as efficient as natural gas ones - which some are suggesting will mean an end to new coal-fired power plants. The power industry of course opposes the rules as it opposes anything that doesn't let it do what it damn well pleases, as do its bought and paid for lackeys among the GOPpers and the Dims, in the latter case especially those from energy-intensive states.

There is a downside to the rules, which is why it's tempered good news: The rules do not effect existing plants or modified or retro-fitted plants. Only new ones are covered. That rather limits the impact. Still, it's better than not doing it at all.

However, there is also a hidden downside, a serious one: Supporters of the new regulations argue, among other reasons, that they are okay because of a current trend toward natural gas over coal. Natural gas is relatively clean as fossil fuels go (and certainly cleaner than coal), relatively cheap as fossil fuels go, and abundant. The snag lies in the cheap and abundant part.

That's because a real reason that part is true is because of the increased use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in drilling operations.

Very simply put, fracking involves forcing fluid down a drill pipe under high pressure to cause fractures in the surrounding rock, allowing gas and oil trapped in that rock to be recovered. Again simply put, the idea is to create a tiny earthquake in the rock around the drill head, freeing any gas and oil that had been trapped and making it available to be pumped out.

The problem is, fracking is - well, the polite term is controversial; the less-polite term is another industry scam to maximize profit without giving a damn about the effect on people's health. Particularly in the past few years, there have been a number of charges of contamination of air, land, and most particularly of water supplies related to fracking. Cases have been seen in Alabama, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Wyoming, and Louisiana and perhaps other states as well.

The industry, of course, claims all this has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with them or their drilling; apparently these people have been drinking benzene-laced water all along but just now for who knows what wacky reason decided to make a fuss about it.

As of February 2012, fracking is being done in 31 states, largely unregulated, largely out of sight and mind except for those directly affected. Only four of those 31 states have significant rules regulating drilling; only five have adopted disclosure rules, rules which largely mean nothing because they allow for concealing "proprietary trade secrets." What's more, fracking actually is exempt from at least portions of seven major federal environmental regulations and laws, including the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (which pertains to companies dealing with the hazardous waste they produce), and the Superfund law.

In complete fairness, there is one thing the industry says which is true: Fracking is not a new process. It was demonstrated in 1947 and first used commercially in 1948. So it's not a new technology. But an important thing here is that the hydraulic fracturing that has gotten some attention in the last few years is different in many ways from how it was done earlier:

- The pressure used is much higher, in fact 50% to 100% higher, than it was years back.
- The length of operation is longer, up to 3-4 days, which means a lot more rock is fractured and also that the volume of water used is much higher.
- The use of fracking with horizontal drilling, as opposed to the old vertical wells, is relatively recent.
- The complexity of the chemical cocktail used in the process is greater.

On that last point, we often don't know just what those cocktails contain, since the companies do not have to reveal the mixture. But we do know they can include benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene, all known carcinogens.

This, apparently, is why we can regulate coal-fired power plants, because we have "cheap, abundant" natural gas obtained by fracking to replace coal so we can once again trust both our health and our energy and environmental future to very people who profit the most by protecting them the least.

It just shows that once again, with PHC*, no good deed goes unpunished.

As a sort of footnote to that, dozens of grass-roots environmental groups in New York state have joined together to oppose allowing fracking there. Governor Andrew "Damn straight I'm not my father" Cuomo says a decision is likely in several months. He said this just after blocking a $100,000 appropriation for an independent study of the health effects of fracking, which would appear to make it pretty easy to predict on which side that decision will come down.

But getting back to our only president, he has taken to bragging about how much oil drilling has expanded under his administration. He did that just recently while announcing he had ordered federal agencies to fast-track an oil pipeline from Cushing, Oklahoma, to refineries on the Gulf coast of Texas.

Why is this particular pipeline so important that it deserves a special public announcement? Simple: It's the southern portion of the Keystone XL pipeline intended to carry tar sands from Alberta, Canada to Texas. When TransCanada, the outfit that wants to build the pipeline, couldn't get quick approval - in fact, I mentioned as good news just two weeks ago that the Senate had blocked fast-tracking the project - it split the proposed route in two parts, the southern part of which The Amazing Mr. O is now pushing his administration to approve.

I've talked about this pipeline, I've talked about the tar sands it is to carry, a couple of times before, so here I'll just make a quick mention that tar sands are about the worst, the environmentally-dirtiest, way to get oil there is. In 2010 the EPA determined that on a well-to-tank basis, oil from tar sands produces 82% more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional crude oil does: nearly double.

That in turn brings up something I haven’t talked about in a while, something that, as someone noted recently, has almost disappeared from discussion about the Keystone XL pipeline: global warming or if you prefer, climate change. (They do, after all, mean the same thing.)

But it has to be put back in the discussion. It has to. Evidence that the effects of climate change are not somewhere off in future but are here now grows by the day.

According to a study published in the peer-reviewed science journal Nature Climate Change on Sunday, March 25, extreme weather events have increased over past decade and, quoting the study,
It is very likely that several of the unprecedented extremes of the past decade would not have occurred without anthropogenic global warming.
Quoting again:
There is now strong evidence linking specific events or an increase in their number to the human influence on climate.
The decade just past was probably the warmest globally for at least 1000 years. It has seen record hot summers in Europe and, in 2010, the hottest Russian summer in over 500 years. It has seen a year with a record number of tropical storms and hurricanes in the Atlantic. It has seen severe floods in Europe; in Pakistan, it has seen the worst flooding in that nation's history.

In 2011, the US was hit with 14 weather events, each of which caused losses of more than $1 billion. The period of March 13 - 19 of this year saw record-breaking heat recorded in more than 1000 places in North America.

Want to know how bad it is? In the 30-year period 1951-1980, about 0.1-0.2% of the Earth's land area experienced extremely hot summers. Such summers are now found across 10% of the planet's land area.

If that's not bad enough, it may be accelerating: According to a study just published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Geoscience, by 2050, global average temperature could be between 1.4oC and 3oC warmer than it was just a couple of decades ago, when, as the graph shows, the clear warming trend was already well under way. That's as much as 0.75oC warmer than the scenarios presented in the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Now, three-quarters of a degree may not sound like much but what it means is that temperatures could be going up 25% faster than previously thought.

The fact is, as climate scientists at an international conference in London on Monday March 26 warned, the world close to reaching tipping points, points beyond which that effect of warming will continue to grow, with all that entails, no matter what we do after that. A point, that is, of no return.

Examples of areas subject to tipping points are the melting of ice sheets and the loss of rainforests. Both of those help reduce the impact of our effect on the climate and so to help contain global warming: ice sheets by reflecting sunlight back away from Earth, rainforests by soaking up carbon.

But as rainforests shrink and dry, they will at some point switch from carbon sinks to carbon producers, from mitigating the effects of global warming to accelerating them. As for the ice sheets, the tipping point has probably already been passed and the loss of ice will continue.

The bottom line here is that scientific estimates do differ but there is a general agreement that the world's temperature could rise by 6oC by 2100 if greenhouse gas emissions are allowed to rise uncontrollably, that is, under business as usual. Six degrees may not sound like a lot - although it will probably seem like more when expressed in the terms more familiar to use as about 11oF - but let me tell you flat out that this would be catastrophe: It would mean crippling heat waves, coastal inundation, with huge swaths of coastline underwater, it would mean loss of cropland, loss of fresh water supplies, it would mean hunger, thirst, it would mean the spread of disease and the spread of insect pests, it would mean hundreds of millions of environmental refugees, it would very likely mean resource wars as people and nations compete ever more bitterly for ever-shrinking resources.

Despite that urgency, the target date for agreement on a new global climate treaty that would force the world's biggest polluters - particularly the US and China, we're the biggest - to curb our emissions is the year 2015, with that treaty to go into force in 2020. If we're lucky and there is no more of the delay after delay after delay we have already seen.

I have to tell you: As Americans, we face this because we as a people are lazy. We don't want to know about, we don't want to face, the possible inconvenience dealing with this might cause us. So we'd rather listen to the nitwits and nutjobs like Sen. James Inhofe ranting about the "hoax" of global warming - by the way, his middle name really is Mountain, which his parents probably gave him because even then knew he had rocks in his head. And we'd rather trust our health and our future to the very same people who gain the most by lying to us about it.

This is insane. So I'm going to ask you something, something I've asked before but which bears repeating. I want you to think back 10 or 20 years. Hell, if you're as old as I am, think back to the '60s if you want. But just think back 20 years and think about the lifestyle you had then, about the level of technology around you then, about the conveniences you had then, and ask yourself seriously: Was that way of life so bad that you would be willing to sacrifice a world and the future of your children to avoid living that way again?


Left Side of the Aisle #50

Left Side of the Aisle #50, for the week of March 29 - April 4, 2012

Good and bad news on the environment; global warming,0,2379987.story

New proof of damage from the Deepwater Horizon blowout

Outrage of the Week: Schools punishing student for non-school activities

Friday, March 23, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #49 - Part 5

Homophobia and racism are not "yesterday's news."

This is a topic that deserves a much fuller treatment than I'm going to give it here, but do want to raise it this way; maybe I will do it more justice in a future show.

The topic is quite simple, the outrage quite obvious: It's the persistence of bigotry in our society. I'm going to give you two recent examples.

Indiana has a large number of specialty automobile license plates where for an extra fee, you can have a plate showing your support for a particular organization or cause. When I worked there, there were dozens and I understand there are even more now. This year, an outfit called the Indiana Youth Group was approved for a specialty plate after several years of trying.

This is it, this is the plate:

Obviously your own license plate number would go where the word "pride" is.

What's the problem? It's that Indiana Youth Group is a support group for gay and lesbian young folks.

Well, when the fine upstanding members of the Indiana legislature heard about this, well, they weren't going to stand for it - especially not after the notoriously right-wing American Family Association - labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center - told them the plates amounted to the state "promoting the homosexual agenda to children."

In the last week of the legislative session, members tried different ways to revoke the group's specialty license. When those failed, they turned to getting the group's contract with the state canceled based on a claimed technical violation of the contract - one which, if it is a violation, is one of which almost every other group with a specialty plate is equally guilty, a fact confirmed by a representative for the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

No matter, on March 16 the plate was cancelled - a day after that BMV spokesperson was fired.

And then we have this.

This image went viral, with some folks claiming that it was photo-shopped, that it couldn't be real. But some folks at Yahoo! news were able to locate a website that sold it. It is quite real.

The owner of the site insisted that that's not racist. She doesn't have a racist bone in her body! After all, she likes black children! In fact, she's so not racist, she insisted that the word "nigger" is not racist. (By the way, says the word "is now probably the most offensive word in English.")

Another site that it appears actually produced such stickers and well as others was called Stumpy's Stickers. Among the entries in its catalog of delights was this charmer:

That is something I don't even want to have to know exists.

I'll tell you something else I don't want: I don't want to hear a single breath, a single hint, a single whisper, they were are a "post-racial society." Anyone who says that to you is lying, either to you or to themselves, I don't know which. But the fact is that we are suffused with racism and sexism and homophobia - we are steeped in our bigotry until it penetrates our souls.

Yes, it's getting better. Yes, it has been worse in the past. Yes, gay rights are gaining ground. Yes, even in the torrent of anti-women legislation, even in the backsliding, there still is only so far back the troglodytes will be able to turn the clock. We do not and will have to re-fight all the old battles. Yes, we can see an impact, we can see how bigotry now is usually expressed more with a wink and a nod, with dog whistles, not with overt filth of the sort I just showed. We can even see it in the fact that that woman is no longer selling that bumper sticker and Stumpy's Stickers has disappeared entirely.

But if you as an adult sitting there reading this think, if you want to argue to me, that the attacks on women's rights are not about sexism, if you want to argue to me that homophobia did not take down that Indiana license plate, if you want to argue to me that racism has nothing to do with why Trayvon Martin is dead and George Zimmerman is still walking around free, then I want nothing to do with you nor should any decent person of decent conscience with two synapses to rub together.


Left Side of the Aisle #49 - Part 4

Outrage of the Week: sneaking anti-science into Tennessee schools

Tennessee strikes again.

On March 18, the Tennessee state Senate passed a bill which would allow teachers to "help" students "understand, analyze, critique and review in an objective manner the scientific strengths and scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories" like "biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming and human cloning."

The main sponsor of the bill said that the idea behind it is that "students should be encouraged to challenge current scientific thought and theory." That is, they should be encouraged on a topic like evolution to substitute their own judgement or that of their pastor for the consensus arrived at after 150 years of research and discovery. And encouraged to insist that global warming is a hoax because, well, Sean Hannity says so.

Still, face facts: Evolution is not the only target here, but it is the primary one. The go-back-to-1900 crowd can't teach creationism; it's religion. They lost that one. They can't outright teach the nonsense called "intelligent design," because when they have tried, they have lost there, too, as soon as it got into a forum where they actually had to try to defend it logically. But they don't give up and this is just one more attempt to create wiggle room to get intelligent design into schools.

The Tennessee House had already passed a version of the bill last April, so now it's just a matter of ironing out the details.

Indiana has a related bill moving through its legislature; Oklahoma, New Hampshire, and Missouri have considered similar bills.

At a time when the federal National Assessment of Educational Progress says that less than half of US students are proficient in science, Tennessee's "close your eyes and it will go away" approach to science surely is the Outrage of the Week.


Left Side of the Aisle #49 - Part 3


I've been wanting to talk about this for weeks, but it always got pushed aside, there always was something else that took precedence. I tried to get in a much-shortened version of it last week, but again I ran out of time.

The revolt in Syria is just over a year old now. The government of Bashar al-Assad marked the occasion with what one person accurately called "a Potemkin rally" in Damascus, a sort of command performance in support of the regime.

Opponents also tried to mark it with demonstrations in a number of cities only to find those gatherings being shot at by the military - as pretty much any gathering of nonviolent protesters can now expect there.

That's the way the movement started: massive street protests, particularly in Damascus, against the 40-year dictatorship first of Hafez al-Assad and now of his son Bashar, massive unarmed street protests that were being fired on by soldiers loyal to Assad. But the protests continued. The government couldn't break the protesters and the protesters couldn't break the government. As the protests continued and continued to be met with deadly violence and repression, they spread and hardened and what began as street protests has now evolved into what can only be called an armed insurgency.

The protests started as part of so-called Arab Spring, the wave of protests that swept away regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, and just last month in Yemen. But the level of violent repression in Syria dwarfs that seen in those three. In Yemen, the new government said that over 2,000 people were killed over the last year of protests - but that number is just a fraction of those killed by the Assad regime: Independent estimates put that figure at perhaps over 9,000.

Assad's mass murder of his own people has earned him condemnation even from some unexpected quarters: Sometime back the Arab League suspended Syria's membership and has called for Assad to step down. They want him out, gone.

But it doesn't seem likely that will happen anytime soon: US intelligence reports suggest that Assad still has the support of most of the army as well as the nation's elite and that his downfall, if it is to come, will be a matter of months, not weeks. And now opposition forces in and out of Syria are calling for international military intervention and, along with Saudi Arabia and Qatar, urging the rebels be armed by the international community.

Two things here. One is that I am not going to give the rebels a free pass: When you turn to violence, you turn to what comes with it: The rebels have employed car bombings; in fact, there were two this past weekend in Syria, killing scores and wounding hundreds.

At the same time, as is often true, the levels of violence don't begin to compare: We have scores on one side versus over 9000 on the other. That does not constitute a balance or even, at least in some senses of the term, a moral equivalence. And the destruction and death that Assad has brought to the people of Syria has raised anger and fury all across the world.

But here is the real thing, the real reason I so wanted to bring this up: Months ago on this show I condemned Barack Obama, I said he had disgraced himself and his office by ignoring the War Powers Act and actively snubbing Congress in his eagerness for military intervention in Libya. The justification for that, you may recall, was the hypothetical threat of a possible massacre in the Libyan city of Banghazi if Muammar Qaddafi's forces could capture it.

Now, in face of a real, ongoing, day-by-day massacre in Syria, the response pretty much limited to a sternly worded letter.

Let me be clear: I do not want intervention in Syria; I find it to be an extremely rare occasion when the best response to a pile of bodies is making a bigger pile of bodies.

But what I do want is for someone to explain to me, explain to me in very simple words, why in face of a possible massacre in Libya intervention was absolutely necessary, so necessary that neither the law nor the Constitution could serve as barriers, but in the face of a real massacre in Syria any such action of any sort is completely off the table - and explain it, if you can, in words that do not involve the letters o-i-l.


Left Side of the Aisle #49 - Part 2

Everything You Need to Know: The right-wing knows it's on the wrong side of history in just three sentences.

As sort of a footnote to the preceding, we have everything you need to know about how you know they know they are losing (if you follow that) in just three sentences:

1. On January 1, 2010, same-sex marriage became the law in New Hampshire, replacing an earlier law allowing for civil unions, which had been legal since January 1, 2008.

2. Last week New Hampshire state Rep. David Bates proposed a bill that would undo same sex marriage and revert to the earlier law, which established civil unions.

3. This bill has the support of the Catholic Church in New Hampshire and the National Organization for Marriage, both of which, along with Bates, bitterly opposed civil unions when that law was under consideration but who, having lost on same-sex marriage, now find civil unions not so bad after all.

And that is everything you need to know.


Left Side of the Aisle #49 - Part 1

The on-going war on women's choices

A few dispatches from the ongoing war on women and their freedoms of choice.

On the Forrest Gump "stupid is as stupid does" front, there is Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas. He favors allowing religiously-associated institutions - not religious institutions, but religiously-associated institutions such as Catholic schools and hospitals - to deny their employees access to birth control as part of their health insurance. Faced with the question of the women employees who work at such places who want or need such coverage, he had a simple answer: Find a new job.

Actually, Governor, the only one here who needs a new job is you.

Next, on the "picture them wearing a bulls-eye" front, a new bill is moving through the Tennessee House of Representatives that would require the state to obtain and publish the name of each doctor who performs an abortion and the location of where it was done - along with, get this, the age, race, county of residence, marital status, education level, and number of children of the woman patient, plus how many times she has been pregnant.

The chief sponsor of the bill says the only purpose is for everyone on both sides to learn just how prevalent abortion is - and if any doctor or woman is harassed or even murdered, well, that of course would have nothing to do with him, of course not! It never does with these people.*

On yet another front, the Idaho state Senate has passed one of those idiotic ultrasound bills, the ones that are based on the premise that a pregnant woman who wants to terminate the pregnancy just doesn't understand what being pregnant means - has to have it explained to her. And if after having this ultrasound, the woman still wants to end her pregnancy, she has to have a second ultrasound.

But don't worry about the cost: The state will maintain a list of sites where women can get free ultrasounds - a list consisting entirely of so-call "pregnancy counseling centers," which are just fronts for rabidly anti-abortion group.

In the course of the debate on the measure, Sen. Chuck Winder, the assistant majority leader, noted that there are no exemptions even in the case of medical emergencies, rape, or incest. He defended that, saying
I would hope that when a woman goes into a physician, with a rape issue, that that physician will indeed ask her about perhaps her marriage, was this pregnancy caused by normal relations in a marriage, or was it truly caused by a rape.
Oh but no, he didn't mean that women would lie to get an abortion, oh no, the thought never crossed his mind! No, it's just that you need to ask about this sort of stuff. If you're a doctor and a woman comes to you and says she's been raped, you need to cross-examine her about her sex life to see if any "normal relations" were involved.

God, these people are creepy.

But I'm going to go beyond stupid, bloodthirsty, and creepy to outright horrifying. I have to say that, again, this is not new but I just learned of it recently.

A woman named Bei Bei Shuai has now been in jail in Marion County, Indiana, for just over a year.

This started in December 2010. Shuai was 8 months pregnant. That's when her boyfriend told her that he was already married to someone else and had another family, to which he was returning. She begged him to stay, but he threw some money at her and left her on her knees, alone, crying, in a parking lot.

She was utterly distraught. She was in despair. So she tried to commit suicide by swallowing rat poison. Friends found her and got her to the hospital just in time. To give the fetus the best chance of survival, it was delivered by Caesarean section. Unhappily, the child, named Angel, died four days later of a cerebral hemorrhage.

Three months later, she was charged with the deliberate murder of the fetus. If convicted, she faces forty-five to sixty-five years in prison.

Indiana is just one of at least 38 states that have enacted so-called “unborn victims of violence” laws. These laws were sold as protection of women from abusive partners. They say, in essence, that in cases such as assault and homicide that the fetus (in some cases, even the zygote) is a separate person and so harm to the fetus is a separate crime from harm to the women.

But, as many opponents predicted at the time, the main targets of enforcement of these laws have not been abusive partners but pregnant women. Hundreds of pregnant women have been brought up on charges under these laws with claims that something they did or didn't do caused harm to the fetus.

But this also raises something else. This - all this - is not new. So why the push now? I noted last week that over 1000 anti-abortion rights measures were introduced in state legislatures in 2011. Of those, something over 13% passed. Why this big push?

I say it is similar to the earlier push several years ago to get states to amend their constitutions to define marriage as one man and one woman: They knew they were losing. They knew they were on the wrong side of history. It's the same here. They know they are losing. They know in the long run they will lose. They know that at some point the tide will turn and they will be ground up and washed away with the rest of the detritus. And they are just trying to do as much damage as possible before that happens.


*See Rule #12.

Left Side of the Aisle #49

Left Side of the Aisle for March 22-28, 2012

This week:

The ongoing war on women's choices

Everything You Need to Know: The right-wing knows it's on the wrong side of history in just three sentences.


Outrage of the Week: sneaking anti-science into Tennessee schools

Homophobia and racism are not "yesterday's news."

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Just learned yesterday of the sad news that Peter Bergman, a founding member of Firesign Theater, died March 9 of leukemia.

I remember years ago when my wife, who never quite grasped the joys of Firesign Theater, realized that when my friend Craig and I were saying things to each other that seemed to her utterly baffling, that we were quoting from the albums.

So while he didn't win on "Beat the Reaper," perhaps Peter has reached the Antelope Freeway exit. RIP, guy. The world is a bit more linear without you. Unfortunately.

The Adventures of Nick Danger, Third Eye
Part One
Part Two
Part Three

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #48 - Part 5

Everything You Need to Know: The extreme danger to our freedoms in just three sentences.

A bit of introduction here. I recently spoke with a man who had seen some of the show. He told me he was concerned about Barack Obama "taking away our freedom." I remarked to my wife later that he was right, but not in the way he intended. He was referring to things like the new health insurance law and no, that is not taking away your freedom no matter how many times Sean Hannity tells you otherwise.

However, PHC* is threatening our freedom. So herewith, everything you need to know about the danger of the moment in just three sentences.

1. I spoke last week about a recent speech by Attorney General Eric Holder laying out a claimed legal rationale for the authority of the president to order the murder of a US citizen abroad without the need for any outside review of any sort.

2. On March 7, during his testimony before the House Appropriations Committee regarding his agency's budget, FBI Director Robert Mueller was asked if Holder's logic could also be applied to a citizen inside the US.

3. Mueller said he didn't know - that is, he didn't know if the president has the legal authority to order the extrajudicial murder of an American citizen on American soil.

And that is everything you need to know.

Footnote: This was not in the show due to lack of time, but it's surely worth including. Asked about Mueller's response, the DOJ said the answer is "pretty straightforward. ... The legal framework laid out applies to US citizens outside of the US."

Um, we know what Holder said. The question was is if that logic could apply elsewhere. It is more than a little disturbing that the DOJ did not answer that question.

*PHC = President Hopey-Changey


Left Side of the Aisle #48 - Part 4

Afghanistan: Time to get out - now.

I haven't talked much about Afghanistan; one reason is that it's hard, even emotionally painful, to think about it. But some recent events have brought it to a focus that can't be ignored.

This is our longest war: about ten and a-half years now, since October 2001. The longest war in our history. Some 90,000 US troops are there now, and by current plans we will have some there more than two and a-half years from now, until the end of 2014. And even that date comes with an asterisk: There are ongoing talks with the Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai for a "strategic partnership agreement" that would involve keeping US troops - some reports I have seen say it could be up to 25,000 - in Afghanistan for another 10 years, until 2024. They just wouldn't be called "combat" troops, so I guess that makes it okay.

The war has cost over $500 billion. Over 1900 US troops have been killed; nearly 3000 NATO troops in total have died in the war.

But that raises the first thing that causes me that pain: Whenever you see media reports of casualty figures, that's it: US deaths and sometimes those of other NATO forces. What about the Afghans? Don't they have a military? Haven't their soldiers died? Why are they invisible?

You actually have to dig some to discover that according to the Congressional Research Service, as of the end of January, over 6,000 Afghan soldiers and police have been killed in the war - more than twice as many as NATO forces and more than three times as many as the US. Yet those deaths very rarely gets mentioned. They just don’t count.

And even then, something missing: civilians. How many Afghan civilians have been killed? Do you know? I can guarantee that whatever number is in your head, whatever you might be thinking, it's just a guess. You have no idea - because no one does. For the first six years after our invasion, from 2001 through 2006, no one kept track of civilian deaths. It was not until 2007 that anyone start trying to keep count. Those figures say that since 2007, 12,000 have been killed.

Again, you have to actively dig to find that number. And something else: I absolutely guarantee you that if you do search out that number, you will at that same time be told that most civilian deaths are caused by "the anti-government forces." As if it mattered to the dead who pulled the trigger - especially when it is our presence there that is causing the violence. It may surprise you to learn that we are seen not as saviors or liberators, but as invaders, as occupiers. And that's assuming the death figures are accurate: At a conference between military leaders of NATO forces and Afghan politicians and security experts that was held in Afghanistan on March 4, claims that insurgents caused 77% of civilian deaths were greeted with scorn and called laughable.

But wait - those figures must be right. After all, we said it. Besides, whenever we kill civilians, it's a "mistake," a "regrettable accident." One recent news article said the war had become "a series of US missteps and violent outbreaks." Note the passive voice on "violent outbreaks," which just sort of happen without any causative factor. Meanwhile, when we do something wrong, it's a "misstep." An "unfortunate incident." Like accidentally burning a Koran.

You know about this; I don't need to tell you about it. But there are a couple of things that you should understand. First, the riots were not about the burning of the Koran; that was just the proximate cause. It was, that is, the breaking point of built-up resentment and frustration.

As I believe it was Glenn Greenwald had it, we have occupied their country for more than a decade. We have killed what Gen. Stanley McChrystal himself called an “amazing number” of innocent Afghans in checkpoint shootings. We have repeatedly killed civilians in air strikes. We continue to imprison their citizens for years without charges amid credible reports of torture. Our soldiers, the pride of our nation, have shot Afghan civilians for fun, urinated on their corpses, and displayed them as trophies.

And we wonder why they don't like us.

Second is that to Muslims, the Koran is not just another holy book. Rather, as I have been given to understand it, the recited Koran invokes the “real presence" of God. It's suggested that rather than comparing it to the Bible, a better comparison would be to the consecrated host at the Catholic Mass, which believers regard as the body of the living Jesus Christ.

Which, by the way, raises something else for me. How did this happen? I can understand how it got burned: there's a pile of trash, you're soldiers, you're ordered to burn it, you burn it; you don't look at it to see what's in it. The question is, how did it get in trash? I supposed it may have been completely innocent, a pure accident, but it still seems to me that at some point someone had to have picked up this book - any book - and just decided to throw it in the trash. How do you do that? You don't even know what it is. It was probably in Pashto or one of the other languages of Afghanistan, so you can't read it. (At least I hope you can't read it, because if you can you know it's a Koran, which makes it worse.) How do you pick up a book and just decide to throw it in the trash? I just don't get that.

But maybe was entirely innocent. Maybe it was just another accident, another "unfortunate incident." Because they all are. Every "misstep" is an accident, a regrettable mistake. Either that, or it's some poor schmuck driven nuts by the pressures of war who guns down 16 civilians in cold blood in their own homes.

Again, you've heard about this; I don't need to tell you about it. But it does serve to bring up another thing about the war in Afghanistan that causes me pain.

A headline about this in the Boston "Globe" read "Shooting deaths of civilians complicate Afghanistan mission."

Yeah, because that's what's important about the murder of 16 people: It complicates "the mission." It's another "unwelcome challenge." Another article expressed concern that this could delay signing of the Strategic Partnership Agreement.

But don't worry, the Obama administration has vowed that the killings will not alter US plans for the war. Rather, they increase his determination to get us troops out of Afghanistan. Still, there must be no "rush to the exits" because the withdrawal must must be carried out in a responsible way even as the killing spree could be exploited by the Taliban to gain new recruits and anti-Americanism might deepen.

In other words, it's all about us. It's all about our plans, our intentions, our desires, and the plans, desires, and intentions of the people of Afghanistan don't even enter the picture except as a backdrop for our self-centered narrative, their lives little more than placeholders on our scorecard.

I don't care what you thought about the original invasion of Afghanistan; I know there are good people who supported it, people who wouldn’t and didn’t support any of other pointless wallows in blood of past few decades, and supported it because they believed the government of Afghanistan could be directly linked to 9/11 through its having allowed al-Qaeda to act freely within its borders. I'm not going to argue that. Because no matter what justification, stretched or otherwise, could have been offered in the fall of 2001 has long since been drowned out by the hum of the drones, the blasts of the mortars and the IEDs, and the shrieks of the wounded and the mourning. All there is left is the steady drip of blood and the slow grind of death amid the tatters and remnants of flesh. It is time - it is long, long past time - to just stop.

that's not even a radical position. A new ABC News/Washington Post poll says that 54% of the US say US troops should withdraw from Afghanistan on schedule no matter what. Some 60% say the war has not been worth fighting. Only 30% believe the Afghan public supports the US mission there. Even conservatives agree: George Will has been calling for withdrawal for nearly three years. A year ago, March 2011, 16 House Republicans joined a failed effort to require withdrawal in 60 days; 26 voted in favor of a narrowly-defeated a bill to scale back the war.

It's time to stop. And I don't mean in two and a-half years. I mean now.


Left Side of the Aisle #48 - Part 3

Outrage of the Week: The continuing attack on choice and birth control.

We have seen another week of attacks on women, on women's ability to make choices, on women's autonomy. Attacks, more specifically here, not only on the choice to terminate a pregnancy but on the choice of pregnancy - attacks, that is, on birth control.

This last year, 2011, was a big year for the "keep 'em barefoot and pregnant" crowd. State legislators introduced over 1,000 anti-abortion laws, of which 135 passed. Seven states either defunded or made moves toward defunding Planned Parenthood and GOPpers used Planned Parenthood as a bargaining chip during budget negotiations. They also introduced mandatory ultrasound bills, tried to narrow the definition of rape to include only "forcible rape," whatever the hell that's supposed to mean, and barred the District of Columbia from using its own locally-raised funds to help low-income women pay for abortions.

More recently came the failed attempt to overturn the new mandate for full coverage of contraception under health insurance by way of amendment which would have allowed employers to deny any employee any kind of health coverage for vague "moral reasons." Despite the breathtaking reach of that language, no one on either side denied that the real target was birth control.

But this is the Outrage of the Week, so here are a few recent examples: On March 8, International Women's Day no less, the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution held a hearing on bill that would make it illegal for anyone other than a parent to accompany a young woman across a state line to get an abortion - even if her parents are abusive, even if they are absent.

In Kansas, there is a bill making its way through the legislature that would bar women who obtained abortions from deducting the costs on their taxes as a medical expense and - get this - would levy a sales tax on the procedure. There is no exemption even for rape victims.

The sponsor of the bill is one Lance Kinzer. He did not return call for comment from the media. A staffer said he rarely speaks to the press; if this is kind of crap he normally produces I can see why.

But this is what really got me. I admit didn't know about this, I only learned it though reading the articles about the latest developments and I was truly shocked to discover that what I'm about to tell you is already true in nine states.

Last week the Arizona state Senate passed a bill that will prohibit medical malpractice lawsuits against doctors who withhold information from a woman if they think that information could cause her to have an abortion.

I'll say it again: Under this bill, a doctor could knowingly and willfully withhold information from a pregnant patient if that doctor thinks that information might move her to have an abortion - could knowingly and willfully withhold relevant medical information from a patient and be completely free from any possibility of a malpractice suit.

What's more, if as the result of that withholding of information a child is born with a disability, the doctor couldn't be sued on that basis, either. Put more bluntly, to keep you from seeking an abortion, doctors can lie through their teeth to you - and get away with it.

The Arizona legislator who sponsored the bill said it was because claimants shouldn't be able to blame a doctor for a baby born with disabilities. But best way to prevent that is not to hide information but to reveal it, to tell the women that child will be born with these sort of disabilities, so that she - hopefully together with her significant other is there is one - so she can decide whether or not to proceed with the pregnancy. So when the child is born with disabilities, she knew it going in and was prepared for it. This bill is not about sparing doctors frivolous suits. That's crap. It's a lie.

Shockingly, nine states - Pennsylvania, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Idaho, Indiana, Missouri, Minnesota, and North Carolina - already have such laws on the books. It is also a provision of the Kansas law just mentioned. The Pennsylvania law was upheld by a federal appeals court!

I can't get my head around the idea that it can be lawful, it can be proper, it can be legitimate, it can be decent, to empower doctors to actively lie to patients not to protect the patient but to enable doctors to force their sense of "morality" on their patients no matter what the patient might desire or believe.

So I know some of this not new, but it is still an outrage - this or any other week.


Left Side of the Aisle #48 - Part 2

Good News #2: Voter photo ID laws in Texas and Indiana have been blocked, the first by the DOJ, the second by state courts.

The other good news is a two-fer. Two more states have joined South Carolina in seeing their reactionary attempts to interfere with the ability of poo and minority communities to vote blocked, at least temporarily.

First, on March 12 the Obama admin blocked implementation of the new law in Texas requiring voters to show photo identification before they can vote.

The Justice Department said data from Texas showed almost 11% of Hispanic voters, a rate more than twice that of non-Hispanic voters, don’t have the required photo ID and plans to mitigate those concerns by expanding the availability of such IDs are "incomplete."

Significantly, the DOJ also said that Texas did not submit any evidence of cases of voter impersonation which are not already addressed under existing state laws - that it, the state produced no evidence that the law would accomplish anything other than suppress the Hispanic vote.

Second, also on March 12, in Wisconsin, Circuit Judge Richard Niess issued a permanent injunction barring enforcement of that state’s new voter ID law, which required a government-issued photo ID in order to vote. Declaring that “Voter fraud is no more poisonous to our democracy than voter suppression,” Niess held that the Wisconsin law unconstitutionally burdens the rights of eligible citizens and thus could not stand.

The simple fact is, these laws are about one thing and one thing only: hindering ability of the poor and minorities to vote solely and precisely because the reactionaries know those populations more likely to vote for Democrats than Republicans. They are not about preventing fraud or protecting the integrity of the vote or any of rest of the bilge they spew out. They are about power. Period.

In as editorial, the Washington Post noted that Virginia might be in trouble on this same score: Like South Carolina and Texas, Virginia is among the states whose voting laws are subject to DOJ approval because of their past history of voter discrimination - and while it's new voter ID law, passed by the legislature but as of this moment not yet signed by the governor, is not as bad as these others, it has many of the same failings.

But for me, this was the real takeaway from that editorial:
In a conversation with senior Virginia GOP lawmakers recently, we asked if there was any evidence of a pattern of voting fraud in state elections that would justify more stringent voter ID rules. One state senator said he had “heard” of instances of fraud. We asked our question again: Was there a pattern of fraud that would raise systemic doubts about the integrity of Virginia elections? The senator said no. None of his fellow Republicans contradicted him.
They're not even pretending any more that these laws are about preventing fraud.


Left Side of the Aisle #48 - Part 1

Good News #1: The Senate has refused to fast-track the Keystone XL pipeline.

Last Thursday, the Senate rejected a GOPper attempt to fast-track the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The proposed amendment to a transportation bill would have stripped the State Department of its authority to approve the pipeline (which it has because the route crosses an interntional border), handing that power to Congress.

This pipeline would transport tar sands from Alberta, Canada to refineries in Texas. I've talked about this before. Tar sands are about the ugliest, messiest, dirtiest way to get oil there is; the stuff is so thick, gummy, and sludgy it has to be heated and mixed with water just to get it to flow though the pipes.

Supporters of the project prate on about two things: First, "It means jobs. I won't call that a lie exactly, but it is misleading: According to current independent estimates, it will create a small number, perhaps as few as 2500, jobs - and they will be temporary jobs. On second thought, bearing in mind that a good definition of a lie is a statement made with the intent to deceive, yeah, the talk about jobs is a lie.

The other claim, that the pipeline would "reduce our dependency on foreign oil," is a lie, no definition required. First, this is Canadian oil. It is foreign oil. I know there's that old Goldie Hawn movie where she says Canada is "kind of attached," but Canada is still a foreign country.

Second, oil is sold on a world market. The idea that "refined in Texas equals stays in the US" is inane. Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying or has no clue what they are talking about. There is no third option here.

Bottom line is yeah, anything that hinders that pipeline is good news.


Left Side of the Aisle #48

This week:

Good news #1: Senate refuses to fast-track Keystone XL pipeline.

Good News #2: Voter photo ID laws in Texas and Indiana have been blocked, the first by the DOJ, the second by state courts.

Outrage of the Week: The continuing attack on choice and birth control.

Afghanistan: Time to get out - now.

Everything You Need to Know: The extreme danger to our freedoms in just three sentences.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #47 - Part 5

RIP Scroogle

A brief item here to offer an RIP to a website. It was called Scroogle. The name came from the idea that it was a "Google scraper."

Google has been notorious for obtaining and maintaining information about the searches of people who use Google. Google always has been - and remains - an information vacuum cleaner, sucking up whatever it can. Those of us still trying to preserve what online privacy we can were loath to use it.

What Scroogle - which was a non-profit outfit - had done since 2003 was to take a search request entered on its site and send it to Google, "scrape" off the top results, and return them to the Scroogle user. Thus your search would appear to Google as if it had come from Scroogle, not you, so you remained invisible to Google.

Scroogle proudly proclaimed "We don't use cookies, we don't retain search terms, and logs are deleted within 48 hours."

Scroogle began to have more and more trouble with Google after 2010, as Google increasing did what is called throttling, with Google detecting the higher level of traffic coming from Scroogle and blocking its access for about 90 minutes. That is, Google essentially regarded Scroogle as some kind of spambot.

That was a hassle but it was perhaps survivable. What killed Scroogle was a series of DDOS's, or "Directed Denial of Service" attacks where someone, using an automated system, directs so many inquiries at a site so quickly that the attacked site grinds to a halt, drowning in a backlog of still-to-be-answered inquiries. The attacks went on for days on end until finally the owner of the site, Daniel Brandt, pulled the plug.

There are other sites that offer privacy-protecting searches; I've started using one called But Scroogle was a five-star player. It's passing deserves a bit of notice.


Left Side of the Aisle #47 - Part 4

Eric Holder says PHC* can order you to be killed

So last week Attorney General Eric Holder gave a speech at Northwestern University to explain why it is legal for the president to issue an order to have you killed.

This goes back, of course, to the case of Anwar al-Awlaki, a natural-born American citizen living in Yemen. He was assassinated in drone-attack this past September. He was killed amid US government accusations that he was involved with al-Qaeda and had been in contact with some 9/11 hijackers and the so-called "Underwear Bomber," Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab - but no proof or any sort, no evidence, was offered and there certainly was nothing that any normal person would regard as the due process that if nothing else would seem would be his due as an American citizen.

The administration still has not released the memo containing the claimed legal grounds justifying the attack, despite requests from members of Congress and FOIA requests from the ACLU and the New York Times. But Holder had a go at offering what might be called an unclassified version.

And what was the argument? In sum total, it was "It's legal because we say it is." Or, as Richard Nixon once said, "When the president does it, it's legal."

In fact, contrary to what you might have thought, according to the amazing Mr. H the idea of "due process" does not mean that anyone can offer a check on this executive power to execute executions, does not mean the White House has to show its evidence to anyone, does not mean that anyone outside the president's circle need be involved at any point.

“Due process and judicial process are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security,” Holder said. “The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.” You could almost hear the echo effect being raised as he intoned the phrase "national security."

So what does constitute due process, according to Mr. H? When the Executive Branch, meaning the president - again alone - decides the accused is guilty.

In the case of national security, when the prosecution decides you are guilty, that is the end of the matter. No need to present evidence, no need for any sort of outside process, no need for any independent judgment, no need for anything that could in any way be called a trial, even a trial in the court of public opinion. There simply is nothing to restrain the president either in making that declaration of guilt or acting on it in the way he or she prefers. The president is the prosecutor, the judge, the jury, and the executioner all in one.

Oh, but surely I'm being unfair, because Holder insisted there is a system of “robust oversight” - which consists largely of telling some selected members of Congress what has been decided or done after it already has been decided or done. I'm reminded of the fact that there is another meaning to the word "oversight."

Still, you have to understaaaand, he pleaded. He quoted JFK's line about “defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger” and declared we are again in "an hour of danger." "We are a nation at war" and "Where national security operations are at stake, due process takes into account the realities of combat."

But the "war" here is one without a specific target - "terrorism" hardly constitutes a specific target - and without geographic limit, and with no way to determine what constitutes "victory." It is literally a war without end. It's a war in no particular place, it's everywhere all the time, a war then in which almost anything can be justified as "combat," as "acts of war," as occurring "on the battlefield" and thus beyond the reach of any law other than the so-called "law" of war.

More Holder: "We must also recognize that there are instances where our government has the clear authority - and, I would argue, the responsibility - to defend the United States through the appropriate and lawful use of lethal force.”

Now, I doubt any non-pacifist would disagree that the use of lethal force is sometimes necessary for legitimate national self-defense. The question is, who decides what is "appropriate" and when it's appropriate? Who decides and how do you decide who decides?

The point here is that by “government,” Holder means the president, alone, whoever that is. The president is, quite literally, the decider over life and death. As one commentator said, if the vice-president disagrees, tough. Shoulda been top of the ticket. If the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court thinks preaching against the United States is not a capital offense, again, tough. Shoulda taken up politics instead of the law. If the Congress objects that the president’s “surgical strikes” kill too many random men, women, and children, well, they can cry me a river. If the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings expresses concern, well, who cares about him, anyway?

In fact, it's not even desirable to get outside input because time is of the essence! We must act now! Because, according to Holder, this authority to order murder will only be used against someone who is an "imminent threat." Which could have been a little reassuring if it weren't for the fact that Holder also said that "the evaluation of whether an individual presents an 'imminent threat' incorporates considerations of the relevant window of opportunity to act."

Which if it means anything at all means that being an "imminent threat" does not require that you are about to launch an attack, it does not even require that you are planning anything, it requires only that a-we think you will be planning something sometime in the future and b-we have an opening to get you now.

In fact, Holder said as much: "The Constitution does not require the president to delay action until some theoretical end stage of planning when the precise time, place, and manner of an attack become clear."

When George Bush said stuff like that, we screamed about the dangers of pre-emptive war. In fact, Shrub's team did say stuff like that - remember I think it was Condoleeza Rice justifying the coming invasion of Iraq on the grounds that "we can't wait for the final proof to come in the form of a mushroom cloud?" Holder's language is more nuanced, but the meaning is the same: We don't need no stinking proof.

So that is the Obama administration's position: Not only do we not need to show proof, we don't even need to have proof. All we have to do is believe. And our belief is all the legal justification that we need to kill you.

But don't worry, if it turns out later we were wrong or that we killed a whole lot of innocent people along with you, we'll write a personal note of apology.

And speaking of apologies, I offer one to John Yoo.

Footnote: Here’s one more quote:

“As president, I will close Guantanamo, reject the Military Commissions Act, and adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Our Constitution and our Uniform Code of Military Justice provide a framework for dealing with the terrorists … Our Constitution works. We will again set an example for the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers, and that justice is not arbitrary.”

As I expect you guessed, those were the words of 2008 presidential candidate Barack Obama. Well, Guantanamo is still open, the military commissions are still going, and we have ignored the Geneva conventions. The stubborn rulers with their arbitrary justice are not so far distant in either space or time as we would like to tell ourselves.

*PHC = President Hopey-Changey


Left Side of the Aisle #47 - Part 3

Outrage of the Week: the travails of the rich

A very quick OOTW this week.

While we’ve been selfishly worrying about affording health care, pay the mortgage or our rent, feeding our kids, and all the rest, we’ve been failing to realize how much tougher the rich have it.

Last Wednesday, February 29, Bloomberg News spent nearly 1700 words giving the 1% room to grouse about how tough it is to make it on $350,000 or more a year and whine about how “People who don’t have money don’t understand the stress" involved in, for example, having to give up a $7500 a year country club membership because your bonus was only $125,000 this year.

I could go on but I think the point is already made. Not everyone who makes over $350,000 a year - which is what puts you in the richest 1% - is a grasping, out-of-touch, scumbag with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement, but enough are. And those people are the ones who define the term "the 1%." And they are an outrage this or any other week.


Left Side of the Aisle #47 - Part 2

The misogyny of Rush Limbaugh and the right

[Note: I posted most of this just a couple of posts down; this is a somewhat expanded version of that which is also closer to what was on the show - including, um, cleaning up some language.]

Okay, much as I would like to never have to even mention right-wing blowhard Lush Dimblah, I can hardly not be among those taking note of my delight at his having put his foot in it big time.

Sandra Fluke is a thirty year old law student at Georgetown. She was to testify at a hearing before a House committee about insurance coverage of birth control, but the GOPper majority refused to allow her to. So the Dimcratic minority had their own hearing at which she testified. And the right wing propaganda machine went nuts, with Dimblah taking the lead.

For three days he called her a slut, a prostitute, said she is "having so much sex, it's amazing she can still walk," labeled her an "immoral, baseless, no-purpose-to-her life woman," said her parents should "go into hiding." The outcry that came in response to this stream of misogyny, undoubtedly to his surprise, was so massive that even he couldn't stand up to it, especially when his advertisers started deserting him in droves.

So Rust (not a mispronunciation, a reference to the contents of his skull) offered what some folks unfamiliar with the concept of "dictionary" called an "apology." No matter, he is still in free-fall. At last count, the total of advertisers who have cancelled is well over 30 and at least two stations have dropped him. The likelihood is that he will survive, but two important and related things have come out of this: One, his brand has been permanently damaged and two people will be less fearful of crossing him.

Others have covered this more than adequately, but I had a few quick thoughts that I haven't noted elsewhere (although maybe I just haven't looked in the right places).

1. If nothing else, it's gratifying to see that the "I was joking! Jeez! Doncha have a sense of humor?" crap won't - or at least won't always - fly anymore. That line has served as a Get Out of Jail Free card for all sorts of racist and sexist crap for far too long.

2. "Thirty years old, a student at Georgetown Law, who admits to having so much sex that she can't afford it anymore," he said. "She's having sex so frequently that she can't afford all the birth-control pills that she needs."

What the hell? Is Limburger really as abysmally ignorant as he comes on? Can any grown man be so uninformed, so totally out of the loop (and his mind), such a total twit as to think, as he apparently does, that the cost of birth control pills is directly related to how much sex you've having? The rational mind reels.

3. He also groused that his failing in his three days of vituperation - excuuuse me, "humor" - was that he "became like the people we oppose." That is, us. Now, it is true that those of us on the left can't claim we don't engage in name-calling - consider this post, for example - even though our name-calling in many cases would better be called mockery than name-calling.

No matter. The thing is, there is an important difference: When we go after people, it is all but exclusively the famous, the rich, the powerful, while all too often the right goes after people like Sandra Fluke: an ordinary private individual of no particular power or influence of who you would likely still be unaware if Darrell Issajerk had had the minimal brains required to allow her to testify in the first place. The language used by the opposing forces may often enough be similar - but the status of the targets is not.

4. This has been mentioned but I think not often or loud enough: How in blazes did requiring insurance companies to cover contraceptive care become "a new welfare program?" How did that become some kind of taxpayer subsidy for sex? This has become almost the fallback position of the right - I even got it in comments here. Bill O'Reilly took it up, making the same idiotic claim that having insurance cover birth control is somehow the government - that is, taxpayers - "paying for you to have sex." It makes no sense - not that what the right has to say often does.

5. Last but by no means least, an urgent message to the entire left half of the American political spectrum and most particularly to those who could actually be called progressive (rather than liberals re-branding themselves as "progressives" because they wanted to scuttle like the political cowards they are from the mean ol' righties going on about "the L-word"): Stop playing by the right wing's rules! Stop accepting their framing of the issue!

What raises this here is that much of the response on the left - I was going to say "defense of Sandra Fluke" but then I realized that there actually has been little of that because it was unnecessary because she did nothing requiring defending - but much of the response from the left has revolved around "Limbaugh doesn't understand that some medical conditions can require birth control for the woman's health." That's quite true, both parts: Some medical conditions are treated with birth control and Limbaugh doesn't understand that. But the argument has a flaw: It essentially concedes that wanting birth control in order to have sex without fear of pregnancy is something bad or shameful or in some way should not be addressed if not avoided entirely.

Screw that! (A particularly appropriate double entendre in this case.) So the right wing charge is that women are sexually active and get birth control to avoid getting pregnant? So freaking what? What, is this Armageddon? Are we going to see plagues of locusts? Are the mountains going to tremble, is the sky going to rip open, are the seas going to boil? Women want to have sex! Oh, the horror, the horror! Let there be wailing, gnashing of teeth, and rending of garments!

Yeah, we know the right has hang-ups about sex. No news there. Consider that the Republican Party of Laurens County, South Carolina wants you to sign a pledge with 28 principles before you can get on the primary ballot, principles that including swearing that you never had premarital sex and that from that day forward you will never look at pornography.

But for that very reason, we should not let them even implicitly, even by suggestion, set the grounds for debate such that we limit ourselves to "birth control can be medically necessary for some conditions." I said on my show a week ago and here a few days ago that part of the reason right wing ideas get mainstreamed is that the rightists often enough will say what they want without mouthing platitudes while too often we're too concerned with what sounds good but not too dramatic - which frequently means "nice" - right now.

So to any rightist who goes about birth control and "morality," I say - and we all should say - "Good! Because women have just as much right to sex and sexual pleasure as men do. And we're sick and tired of you trying to deny that. Bug off."


Left Side of the Aisle #47 - Part 1

Successful labor sit-in with support of Occupy

This is old news as the Internet flies, but it's still worth noting.

Some of you may remember the case of Republic Windows and Doors. This was a company outside Chicago that in 2008 closed its factory without the legally-required notice to its 250 employees - which also meant denying them the severance, accrued vacation time, and temporary health benefits to which they were entitled.

Instead of passively accepting this like good little drones were supposed to, the workers, members of the United Electrical Workers, occupied the plant, refusing to leave. In one of those happy unusual occasions, the sit-in caught the attention of the media and the public, attention that got intensified when it was revealed that the reason the plant was closing was that Bank of America, which just a few days earlier had received $25 billion in bailout funds from the federal government, had cut off the company's credit line.

After six days, the workers won: BoA agreed to renew the credit line so the company could pay the workers what it owed them. What’s more, a new company, Serious Energy, bought the factory and pledged to rehire all of the fired workers. Serious began production with a fraction of the former workforce, hoping that business would soon pick up. But it didn't.

The union agreed the company wasn't doing well, but was still blindsided by the company's announcement on February 23 that the company wqs closing immediately. When the union said it wanted time to find a buyer for the factory so workers would not lose their jobs, the company refused.

So the plant is closing. Again. So what's the good news?

The good news is that "it's déjà vu all over again." There was another sit-in at the plant, this one aided by outside support from Occupy Chicago, which organized media coverage, food for occupiers of the plant, and a presence on the street outside that dissuaded - and I mean dissuaded, not blocked - the police from arresting the union members inside the plant. In less than 24 hours, an agreement had been reached for the plant to remain open an additional 90 days to give time to find a buyer or for the workers to buy it themselves.

By the way, members of the union credited the involvement of Occupy for the quick resolution, saying the corporation "panicked" when they heard Occupy Chicago was present and quickly came to an agreement.

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