Saturday, April 28, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #54 - Part 3

And Another Thing: Some cool science bits from life on Earth to life among the stars

Sunday, April 22, was the 42nd Earth Day, started in 1970 by Senator Gaylord Nelson. I remember the first Earth Day; I skipped classes - I think integral calculus was one I missed - to spend the day on 14th Street in New York.

Earth Day is a good day to be reminded of how much we have yet to learn about Earth. For one thing, undiscovered species are still out there. Lots of them. Over the past year, researchers have found seven new forest mice species in Philippines, a a “psychedelic” gecko in Vietnam, and a new type of dolphin in Australia. They also found in the Philippines four new species of crab that sport some wild colors: That one over there is not a false color image; the crab really is purple with pink claws.

A purple crab. Now that is cool.

But moving out from Earth, you have probably seen one of the devices pictured here, at least on TV. It's a tricorder, and it was a staple of the Star Trek universe from the original series right through The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, and the rest. It was used by Spock, Sulu, Geordi, Data, and the rest, including a good number of redshirts, A truly remarkable instrument, it could do pretty much anything the plot required: It could measure the atmosphere of a new planet, show composition of rocks, and far more. In Sick Bay it could be used to identify diseases and examine injuries.

Well, a tricorder is still a long way in the future, but we might have taken a tiny step closer to one. The picture just below is of a hand-held X-ray machine. Not some big, honking device taking up its own room but one you literally can hold in your hand.

There is a phenomenon in physics that involves producing electromagnetic energy, i.e., some form of light, by purely physical means. You can try it yourself: Take some adhesive tape into a nice dark closet and pull some tape off the roll very hard, very fast. With some luck you might see little flashes of light. Those are not optical illusions, you really have generated light by pulling a piece of adhesive tape. This device, under development, apparently uses a version of the principle to produce X-rays, which are even more energetic than visible light.

Because is so small it can be carried around and it is focused enough to limit dangerous, unnecessary exposure to the X-rays, if successfully developed it could be used in multiple ways: It could, for example, diagnose a bone fracture right on the spot. It could determine the metallic composition of a piece of jewelry. It could find a stud in a wall.

On there other hand, there is a downside: The first experience most of us would have with such a device would likely be seeing it in the hands of a cop who stopped us for speeding or some such thing and now wants to X-ray us and our trunk.

Leave that downer aside for the moment. Since I've already brought up Star Trek, let's move out into space.

The picture on the right is of a galaxy cluster. The blue halo is an overlay showing where the dark matter should be.

Dark matter?

Dark matter. It's one of the great mysteries in cosmology.

Einstein's General Theory of Relativity explains how gravity works. In the simplest possible terms, mass causes space (actually, spacetime) to warp. It's often pictured by imagining a stretched rubber sheet with balls of different weights placed on the sheet, causing it to warp in different ways. At the same time, the warping of space (spacetime) affects the paths bodies take as they move through space(time). Think, for example, how your movement changes going over hilly terrain as opposed to a flat surface. Physicists say that "mass tells spacetime how to warp; spacetime tells mass how to move."

Anyway. The point is that astronomers look at stars in galaxies and at groups of galaxies and observe how they move. Using relativity, they can say how much mass must be present - and therefore how strong gravity must be - to make them move the way they do.

Here's the problem: The amount of mass we can see not enough - not nearly enough - to explain the motion we see. In fact, we can see only about 1/6 of what would be required. That remainder - that 5/6 of stuff which we can't see - is dark matter.

Exactly what dark matter is, we don't know. There have been lots of candidates but they all failed to explain enough. The most generally accepted idea among scientists now is that dark matter is composed of a new type of particle, one that interacts normally with gravity but only very weakly with the other known forces of the universe. That particle has not been found; until and unless it is, dark matter remains a mystery.

And it just got more mysterious.

According to accepted ideas, the neighborhood around the Sun should be filled with dark matter. Billions of these particles should be rushing through us every second. But the most accurate study yet of motions of stars in the Milky Way, recently completed, has found no evidence for dark matter in a large volume of space around the Sun. That is, the matter we can see can account for the motion we see, leaving no sign of dark matter.

No one knows why. It could be that a bigger survey, now planned, that will examine the motion of millions of stars instead of just hundreds, will show the evidence of dark matter which this one didn't. On the other hand, it's also possible that the whole idea of dark matter is wrong. The trouble is, none of the alternatives are even as good.

One such alternative, called Modified Newtonian Dynamics, tweaks how gravity works at large scales. But not only does it not explain as much as the idea of dark matter does, it also would be contradicted by these latest observations.

Another alternative is MOG, or "modified gravity." which involves taking relativity and adding three new fields, one of which has mass and therefore an associated particle. The problem here is that instead of invoking a new, unknown particle à la dark matter, it invokes these three new fields and still has to add a previously unknown particle to give mass to one of the new fields.

Then again, it could be that the idea of dark matter is correct but that the particles involved in dark matter behave somewhat differently than thought or are distributed in space somewhat differently than thought.

Or it could be that the latest observations are just wrong.

The thing is, right now, nobody knows - but we do know that current observations challenge the hypothesis, which raises new questions to be answered. It's a good reminder that science is not about knowing the answers, it's about how you find out the answers.

One more leap outward. On Earth, all life is dependent upon the nucleic acids DNA and RNA. The chemical structure of nucleic acids isn't all that complex: It's the now-familiar double helix, consisting of two long polymers of sugars linked together by phosphates. Hanging off each sugar is one of four bases. It's the order of those bases which provides the genetic information.

The question is, did it have to be that way? The perhaps surprising but surely exciting answer is no.

The phosphate can be replaced by a sulfate and the resulting molecule can still transmit genetic info back and forth with regular nucleic acids. You can replace the sugars with related, ring-like structures, and it still works.

Now, this works in the lab but not in actual biological systems because the enzymes that prepare and copy DNA, for example, will only work with the sugars and phosphates. But there is no reason that other enzymes could not work with other chemical structures. Which means we have proof - not a hypothesis, but proof - that life does not have to be life as we know it and life on Earth using sugars and phosphates rather than some other possible combination may have been just by chance.

It also means by increasing the ways that life can function, it also increases the ways it could have started on any given planet. With current estimates of the number of habitable planets - defined as rocky planets neither too cold nor too hot for liquid water - in our galaxy alone running to the tens of billions, the chances there could be a Horta out there somewhere are going up.

And that is even cooler than a purple crab.


Left Side of the Aisle #54 - Part 2

Outrage of the Week: Reuters on voter suppression moves

I have to start with an update: Last week, I noted that Rep. Allen West, the man who puts the wack in wacko, claimed that about 80 Democrats in the House are members of the Communist Party.

It turns out that inanity actually can have some consequences. West was to be the keynote speaker at a fundraiser for his district chapter of the NAACP on April 21 (although why in hell they wanted him I've no idea). The group canceled the event and told West not to come back for the rescheduled date. The reason, a representative of the group said, was "a certain statement he made about Communists."

But you can't keep a good bozo down: On April 23, he criticized the FBI for removing culturally offensive material from a training manual. He called that an act of "cultural suicide" and said it meant that US was taking policy direction from the Muslim Brotherhood.

This week's Outrage comes from a Reuters report on these new laws being pushed and sometimes passed in a number of states that restrict the ability to vote. These go beyond those hideous, anti-democratic, voter photo ID laws I've talked about before. Laws passed in a dozen states have sharply restricted voter-registration drives, which typically focus on young, low-income, and minority voters. Sixteen more are considering bills that in various ways would make it more difficult for people to register to vote.

To show how bad some of these laws are, one enacted in Florida under Governor Voldemort requires groups doing voter registration drives to register with the state - and would subject them to fines of at least $5000 if signed registration forms are not turned in within 48 hours of being collected, a requirement so onerous that even the League of Women Voters is not trying to register voters in Florida this year.

In Wisconsin, land of Governor Walkalloveryou, new laws require that anyone who registers someone else to vote must have a license to do so - and the rules for being licensed vary from town to town.

There are laws eliminating election-day registration, shortening the period for early voting, restricting absentee balloting, and more. All these laws have one thing in common: the people affected are overwhelmingly the poor, students, minorities, and the elderly. And the thing they all have in common is that they are groups who are less likely to vote for right-wingers.

Not so long ago, the discussion about registering and voting was around how we can get more people out to vote, how we can get more people involved, and how shockingly low our turnout rate is. Now, for the right wing, the argument is all about how many roadblocks to voting they can throw in the path of the "wrong" sorts of voters.

But the laws themselves are not the outrage I'm focusing on here, but the opening sentence of the Reuters report:
New state laws designed to fight voter fraud could reduce the number of Americans signing up to vote in this year's presidential election by hundreds of thousands, a potential problem for President Barack Obama's re-election bid.
These laws have noting to do with voter fraud. Voter fraud is a vanishingly small problem. It's tiny, minuscule, hardly big enough to measure. "Voter fraud" is right-wing propaganda desired to push a reactionary agenda to restrict the voting rights of everyone who is not reliably right-wing.

For Reuters to absorb that lie and spew it back out as if it was uncontested truth that "voter fraud" is what these laws are about and that the effect on the poor, students, minorities, the elderly - that is, the very people the right wing wants to disenfranchise - to suggest that that effect is nothing more than an unfortunate side effect is the worst imaginable sort of journalistic malpractice.

The Reuters news agency: the Outrage of the Week


Left Side of the Aisle #54 - Part 1

The usual phony doom and gloom about Social Security

The latest report from the Social Security trustees is out - and it was greeted with the usual doomsaying in the media. For example, AP's article on the report started this way:

Social Security is rushing even faster toward insolvency, driven by retiring baby boomers, a weak economy and politicians’ reluctance to take painful action to fix the huge retirement and disability program. The trust funds that support Social Security will run dry in 2033 - three years earlier than previously projected - the government said Monday.

After a couple more paragraphs of doom and gloom, the article declared that

[u]nless Congress acts - and forcefully - payments to millions of Americans could be cut.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post has taken to calling Social Security that all-purpose epithet "welfare" that is "slowly and inexorably crowding out the rest of government" and and called opposition to cuts in the program result of "self-centered, shortsighted intransigence" among seniors.

Well, I for one am sick and tired of baby boomers (or, if you prefer, the '60s generation) being blamed for every social and economic ill the country faces. To show how bad it's gotten, did you know, for example, that the rise of the armed right-wing militias of the sort that produced Timothy McVeigh were the fault of the '60s? It's obvious: In the '60s people said "question authority," and these people mistrust government, so, QED, right? That lame argument was actually made in the New York Times several years back.

In any event, getting back to Social Security: Bluntly, the idea that it's in some kind of desperate trouble - that it's "rushing even faster toward insolvency" - is utter crap. It's complete, total, nonsense.

I know I've addressed this before, but I'll keep doing it. Whenever the bilge gets sprayed, I'll call out the spewers for their lies and ignorance.

The fact is, for most of its history Social Security has been "pay as you go." But the baby boomers - the '60s generation, my generation - constitute a demographic bulge. It was realized decades ago that our retirement could strain system. So in 1977 payroll taxes were raised significantly for the specific purpose of creating a surplus that could be drawn on when time came. That's what's happening now: We are tapping the reserves set aside for this very purpose.

And by the way, who paid for that surplus through those increased taxes? We did - the baby boomers who are now being accused of sucking the life out of the system.

Here's another thing: When the doomsayers tell us that "the trust funds will run dry," what they actually means is that the surplus - the one created to deal with the baby boomer bulge - will be used up and Social Security will go back to the "pay as you go" system it has used for most of its existence. At that point, that is, in 2033, if do nothing at all in the interim, the system will be able to pay about 75% of scheduled benefits for as far out into future as the trustees calculate.

"Scheduled" is an important word here: The trustees make calculations of future costs and benefits based on various scenarios of how the economy might play out over the years. Initial benefits for a new retiree are calculated on a wage base. The thing is, over time, wages tend to rise a bit faster than inflation. Which means projected - that is, "scheduled" - initial benefits also rise a bit faster than inflation. The bottom line is that 75% of scheduled benefits in 2033 will provide about the same standard of living as current benefits do today.

That standard of living provided by those benefits not great; the average Social Security benefit is approximately $14,800 per year. But to say the system being able to provide the same standard of living in 2033 as it does now equals the system being "insolvent" or "busted" at that point is transparent nonsense.

If want avoid those reductions and provide full scheduled benefits - that is, to "fix" Social Security, we can. In fact, it has been tweaked any number of times over history. Indeed, in 1983, the trust fund was not 21 years away from running out of its surplus, it was a few months away from it - but some tweaking based on recommendations from the Federal Reserve fixed the problem. That was a far worse situation that anything faced now and now almost no one even remembers it. Dealt with and done.

Of course, the simplest and best way to fix the system for as far into the future as anyone cares to calculate (about 75 years) is to remove the ceiling on income subject to payroll taxes. In fact, you wouldn't even have to remove it (although I would desire that). The ceiling was traditionally set at a level to "capture" - that is, make subject to the levy - about 90% of wage income. The current level is considerably below that. Just raising the ceiling to the traditional level would solve any problem.

Oh, and there is another scare tactic being used: The ration of workers to retirees. Over the next decades, the number of workers compared to the number of retirees is predicted to shrink - that is, there will be fewer workers to support retirees. That, we're told in the darkest tones possible, will bring an intolerable burden on "ordinary wage earners" and thus the economy.

But workers don't just support retired people, they support all non-workers, including their children and their spouse or partner if they don't work. Even as the number of retirees is growing, family size is shrinking. So over those next few decades, even as the ratio of workers to retirees is expected to go down, the ratio of workers to non-workers is expected to go up. The burden on workers will be much that same, it's just that in effect, some portion of that burden will have shifted from supporting their children to supporting their parents.

Social Security is under no danger of collapse. Period. Not unless we are stampeded by ignorant, sloppy, lazy media driven by fear-mongering politicians and their 1% paymasters into undermining it. And make no mistake, that's what we're seeing: As far back as 1983, a plan was hatched at a conference at the Heritage Foundation with the avowed intention of wrecking Social Security. The right wing hates Social Security; it always has - because it works, it has worked for 77 years, and it will continue to work into the future. And the only thing the right wing hates more than taxes is government programs that work.

I have to say, though, that the fear mongering has had an impact; the steady drumbeat of impending disaster has had an effect. Gallup polls over the past six decades have consistently shown that some 70% of the public strongly supports Social Security. But increasing numbers of young folks are becoming convinced that the system will not be there for them when they retire and so - and this has been part of the plan all along - their commitment to the program is weakened, making it easier to dismantle it entirely.

So I want to say to anyone out there who has absorbed the meme that Social Security won't be there for you when you want to retire is that the people telling you that either don't know what they're talking about or they are lying through their teeth.


Left Side of the Aisle #54

Left Side of the Aisle for April 26 - May 2, 2010

This week:

The usual phony doom and gloom about Social Security

Outrage of the Week: Reuters on voter suppression moves

And Another Thing: Some cool science bits from life on Earth to life among the stars;_ylt=Ao5FUCgqBwYMToDNdfW7heYPLBIF;_ylu=X3oDMTNuNTJsYzczBG1pdAMEcGtnAzI0MmVkODVjLTY0MTktMzQ5OS05OWQzLWY3MmRiOGI0OGFhNgRwb3MDMTUEc2VjA2xuX1NwYWNlQXN0cm9ub215X2dhbAR2ZXIDYjYzZTE0MDAtOGFkZS0xMWUxLWI1N2QtMGYwNTdiYjZhNTQ3;_ylv=3;_ylt=AshzGu9RB51DwuoUTx5XqjcPLBIF;_ylu=X3oDMTNuNTYyc3E3BG1pdAMEcGtnAzMwZDkzNTIwLTRiYWUtMzNkOS1hOWRmLTY0YjM4NmNhMGYzNwRwb3MDMTgEc2VjA2xuX1NwYWNlQXN0cm9ub215X2dhbAR2ZXIDODQyMjk3OTAtOGEyOC0xMWUxLWIyNWQtY2NmODcxY2RiMjVh;_ylv=3

Friday, April 20, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #53 - Part 5

Who am I and why am I doing this?

I said at the top of this week's show that it's number 53. So we've completed 52 shows in 52 weeks and now are doing number 53. So that makes this the first anniversary show of Left Side of the Aisle. So Happy Anniversary to me!

To note the event, I'm going to reprise some of what I said about myself on the first show, which I did avowedly so viewers could put what I said in some sort of context. So here it is:

I am, in many ways, a child of "the 60s," having come to political awareness during that brief (and, some would have it, mythical) time marked at one end by the Sgt. Pepper summer and at the other by Altamont - or, if you prefer to measure it politically, by Flower Power and the Days of Rage. Like most (at least male) members of my generation, it was Vietnam that initially drew me beyond vague "concern" into concrete involvement: Even for those of us "safe" with draft deferments - and if you don't know what I mean by that, good and I hope you never do - but even for those of us "safe," the war was always there, swirling around us like a fog, tugging at us like an undertow, threading in and out of our consciousness, ignored only by being repressed. And each "answer" our government offered to the whens, wherefores, and, most importantly, whys of the war seemed to raise at least two new questions.

I had been to that time what I now call a "right wing liberal," what people sometimes now call a "liberal warhawk," that species of American political animal that's clearly liberal on domestic issues and clearly conservative on foreign policy, a type whose philosophy I later summed up as "hooray for justice, beauty, truth, and Kill Commies." But increasing alienation as the war dragged on amid repeated promises that it was, really, already over and mounting evidence of what the governments we supported in South Vietnam were really like eventually prompted me to - very shyly - attend a meeting of a local peace group. (I still recall being greeted with "Welcome" by a tall man with a beard and a not-inconsiderable resemblance to Abraham Lincoln. In fact, he later added a mustache because he was tired of the Lincoln jokes.) That was, if memory serves, in the fall of 1968.

You can relax; it's over now. I've no intention of inflicting my autobiography on you. But knowing the roots of my involvement in the movement may help to explain where I've wound up: As I say here in the right-hand column,
I'm an aging hippie, an educator, and a political activist, the terms' order of presentation depending on circumstances and my mood of the moment. I'm also a democratic socialist/green with an anarchist bent and a civil liberties absolutist who has, by both logical conclusion and moral compulsion, a commitment to active nonviolence. The only isms I wholeheartedly endorse are skepticism and eclecticism.
In a different context I have called myself a socialist-anarchist-communalist-capitalist-eclecticist-iconoclast.

I'm guided by four, if you will, "editorial" principles:

1) "To thine own self be true." (Shakespeare)
2) "The US isn't the worst - but it is the biggest." (Joan Baez)
3) "Sometimes a bit of humor contains more inner truth than the most serious seriousness." (chess grandmaster Aron Nimzovich)
4) "No one but no one, no matter their ideology, political perspective, or status as 'left' or 'right,' 'revolutionary' or 'counter-revolutionary' can be by that reason exempt from either criticism or praise." (me)

I've always believed that in any political movement, everyone has some skill they can use, some skill they can contribute. Mine happens to be words.

So this, ultimately, is just another way I think I can be of use, another way to help advance the cause of justice, another if you will candle in the rain.

Left Side of the Aisle #53 - Part 4

Thousands of temperature records set in North America in March

A quick note about global warming: The last time I was talking about it I said that there was a week in March when over 1000 heat records were broken in North America. Turns out I was a little off: For the entire month, over 15,000 local heat records were broken. This was the warmest March in the US in our recorded weather history, which dates back over 115 years.

Now, this does not prove global warming: I've said many times that one hot spell no more proves global warming than one cold spell disproves it. Global warming is about the trend over time, not about short-term variations in local weather. But what it is, is one more data point in an ever-growing mountain of data points.

Gabriel Vecchi, a climate scientist with NOAA, described it well: He likened it to a baseball player on steroids. You can't say that any given home run he hits is due to the steroids and would not have happened otherwise, but you can say with great confidence that the fact he hit 25 more this year than last year does have to do with the steroids. So it is with our weather data.


Left Side of the Aisle #53 - Part 3

Outrage of the Week: Three right-wing idiots

For the Outrage of the Week we consider recent nonsense from a troika of turnip-brains.

First up is Rep. Allen West, Republican of Looney Tunes. He told constituents at a recent town hall event that he's "heard" that around 80 Democrats in the House of Representatives are members of the Communist Party.

It turned out that the people he was referring to are the members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. According to West's office, "The Communist Party has publicly referred to the Progressive Caucus as its allies."

The best response came from the Communist Party itself, which replied that it agreed with the Caucus on some things but that hardly makes them commies. In fact, they went on to say, the CP supports public parks and they assume West does, too - which by his own logic makes him a communist. The only shortcoming in that response is that I'm not sure Allen West does support public parks.

Next we have Newt Grinch. He was speaking to the NRA convention last week and he told those assembled they had been "too timid" - yes, that the NRA had been "too timid" - in promoting gun rights. He said the US should push the United Nations to adopt a treaty giving everyone on the planet the right to bear firearms.

Leaving aside the bizarre notion of Newt Grinch and the NRA pushing for UN action, Cenk Uygur had the best response: "We've already tried that. It's called Somalia."

Finally, we have Senator James "Rocks in his head" Inhofe. This one is a bit old but it fits here.

Not long ago he was on a Christian radio program during which he argued that human-driven climate change is impossible because “God’s still up there.” He cited Genesis 8:22, which in the King James version reads “while the earth remaineth seed time and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease."

Now, no one says that global warming will cause day and night or summer or winter or whatever to cease, but rather that it will make life very unpleasant for a very large number of us. So what is the relevance of the quote? It doesn't even say that the climate can't change.

So I have no clue why Inhofe says this proves humans can't change the climate - unless, that it, he believes the climate can't change, period, not even through natural processes. In which case, does James Inhofe believe in ice ages?

By the way, he also quoted Romans 1:25 to criticize people who accept the scientific reality of climate change as "worshiping the creation instead of the creator." The unseen connection is again assumed.

These people are idiots - and they are, collectively, the Outrage of the Week.


Left Side of the Aisle #53 - Part 2

Bigotry visible in reactions to Travon Martin case and John Derbyshire article

I said last week I was going to talk more about bigotry, especially as revealed in the reactions to the Trayvon Martin case and a recent bit of slime spewed out by right-wing jackass - but I repeat myself - right-wing jackass John Derbyshire.

I'll note at the top that, again, I'm looking at the reactions to these events, not so much at the events themselves.

But I have to start by correcting myself. When I first talked about Trayvon Martin, I asked what would have happened if everything had been the same except that the colors of their skin were reversed. "You know the answer to that question," I said.

Apparently, I was wrong:

According to a USA Today/Gallup poll, only 33% of non-Hispanic whites said George Zimmerman would have been arrested had Trayvon Martin been white. Fully half of non-Hispanic whites said it would have made no difference. Admittedly, the poll only asked what if Trayvon Martin had been white, not if in addition Zimmerman was black, but still: What country have you people been living in for the past 50 years? Are you really telling me you have learned nothing in that time?

Maybe you haven't: Roy Edroso, who writes a column about the right-wing blogosphere for The Village Voice (and to who I'm indebted for good number of the following quotes) wrote recently that
[o]ne of the enduring myths of American conservatism is that there's still racism in this country - and it's suffered by white people at the hands of blacks and white liberal race-traitors.
Think he's exaggerating? The American Thinker, a leading right-wing blog, recently said this:
The truth of the matter is that "civil rights" cases are often little more than reverse lynch mobs. ... Certainly it's true that in the past, blacks have been victims of whites.  But today the reality is quite different.
The right wing did everything it could to minimize and (you'll pardon the expression) whitewash the obvious truth of what went down in this case. A lot was made of the fact that George Zimmerman "looks Hispanic" as if that was supposed to make a difference for some who knows what reason. Actually, Zimmerman is half-Hispanic; his mother is white, his father is Hispanic. But so what? And even before that was confirmed, there was all this "he looks Hispanic" as if that was supposed to prove racism was not part of this. I still don't see how, but then again logical argument was never a strong point with the bigots.

It gets weirder. Dan Riehl, a leading right-wing blogger, whined about "the race-based ignorance" of blacks who criticized him for an attempted smear of Trayvon Martin, "when they should be criticizing the media." He was not clear about for what.

Weirder still: Neal Boortz agreed in a post that Trayvon Martin would not have been killed were it not for the color of his skin. He also wrote that he believed that George Zimmerman saw a young black male in his neighborhood at night and just immediately assumed that he was some kind of criminal - and then went on to say that the real problem is not the shooting, it's that "the entire situation is now being used by various race pimps to grab a little publicity while agitating the crowd." Because we all know how dangerous it is to rile up them black folks.

It also gets more vicious; Powerline, one of top-ranked right-wing blogs by traffic, resorted to the "black murder rate" meme - although what that has to do with the murder of an unarmed black teenager, not surprisingly, goes unexplained.

Meanwhile, a captain of the Miami-Dade Fire-Rescue Department posted on Facebook that he could "rewrite the book" on our "urban youth" - gee, I wonder who he meant by that - who were "products of their failed, shitbag, ignorant, pathetic, welfare dependent excuses for parents." No racism there, nosiree.

Sometime back I talked about my list of "right-wing rules of debate."  One of them was "When facts are undeniable, change the subject." Another was "Denounce 'the left' using the form 'What about...,' being sure to include words 'hypocrites' and/or 'hypocrisy.'"

This whole business was chock-a-block full of examples. There, for example, were typical and classic right-wing attempts to change the subject. Case in point:, another leading right-wing blog, demanded to know why everyone wasn't focusing on the real issue, which according to them is "incursions into the U.S. by Mexican drug cartels."

Comments on these blogs and others were full of "refutations" of charges of racism along the lines of "what about Marion Berry" (Seriously!) or a link to some account of some crime committed by some black somewhere.

I've already mentioned Dan Riehl's sniffling that real problem is the media. He wasn't the only one. We also had Wayne "Il Duce" LaPierre, Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association,
saying it's all the media's fault for reporting the story.

The media is ignoring crimes against "everyday victims," he declared.
Everyday victims aren't celebrities. They don't draw ratings, don't draw sponsors. But sensational reporting from Florida does.
Now, until that moment I wasn't aware that Trayvon Martin was a celebrity. Still, Il Duce is right: Not every crime case gets national attention. Here's one example:

In February 2005, four white Chicago cops stopped black man named Howard Morgan for going the wrong way on a one-way street. Morgan was an off-duty cop, working as a detective for the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad.

The cops claim that for some never-determined reason, Morgan, outnumbered four to one, just opened fire with his service weapon when the cops tried to arrest him. They responded by shooting him 28 times.

Amazingly, he survived - and was charged with attempted murder of the cops. In his first trial, he was acquitted on three counts, including firing his gun. But the jury deadlocked on a charge of attempted murder, which seems strange to me, as it means that some jurors were saying he was guilty of attempted murder even as they agreed he didn't fire his gun. Even so, he was retried on the deadlocked charges at the end of 2011.

Consider: Not only are we to accept that an individual black man suddenly, inexplicably, started shooting at four cops, but:

- His van was crushed and destroyed without notice or cause without any forensic investigation being done.
- He was never tested for gun residue to see if he actually fired his gun.
- One cop testified that Morgan fired at him and it hit his bullet-proof vest. The State, the prosecution, never produced that vest; it only produced a replica.

Despite that, in January Howard Morgan was convicted on four counts of attempted murder. On April 9, he was sentenced to 40 years in prison - which essentially is a life sentence, as Morgan is 61.

There's a crime case that hasn't made the national news. But I really doubt that's the kind of case that our gun nut Pepe LePew was thinking of.

And we still have John Derbyshire. Just as a quick reminder, he wrote a column about "the talk" he would have with his children about dealing with black people. The advice included:

- Avoid groups of blacks.
- Stay out of black neighborhoods.
- If you're at a public event and the number of blacks swells, leave immediately.
- Do not settle in a city with a black mayor.
- Do not act the Good Samaritan to blacks in apparent distress.

And he claimed that the average black person is “much less intelligent” than the average white.

The piece contained links to sources supposedly backing up his claims - but he apparently relied on the adage that people don't follow the links, because if you did, you found that his sources didn't say what he claimed they did. Except, that is, for one that linked to an overt racist and white nationalist.

This was too much even for National Review. They fired him.

And right-wing blogs flipped out. How dare they fire him! The cowards! He's a martyr to truth!

One called the piece "honest" and "brave" and Derbyshire's firing a matter of that all-purpose right-wing bumpersticker "political correctness." Because, as Roy Edroso remarked, this guy could find no racism in the idea that white people should avoid black people because if they don't, they'll be killed.

Another, who goes by the name of Vox Day, called the bucket of raw sewage Derbyshire sloshed all over the Internet a "profile in intellectual courage" and ranted how disgusting it was that some right-wingers rejected his brand of overt racism. He declared that "Racial equality is a failed myth," that segregation is the natural state of affairs, and - get this - we had better start a government program of re-segregation or face the increasing level of violence "that will eventually be required to recreate the historic balances that were originally brought about by the natural processes of group behavior." I fully expected to see some noble incantations of "the white man's burden." Except he probably thinks of that as too liberal.

Understand: I am not talking about the undercurrent of racism that ripples through our society and stains our entire political spectrum from right to left and back again. I'm not talking about the casual racism, the ignorant racism, the racism expressed in the offhand remark made without thinking of what it actually means, the remark you don't realize how hurtful it is until someone points it out to you; I'm not talking about the racism that embarrasses you, that upsets you, when you discover it in yourself, the kind you try to eliminate from yourself once you're aware of it. That is an important issue that deserves discussion - but that’s not what this is about.

This is not about ignorant racists. It's not about casual racists. It's about people who are racist to their very marrow. These don't want to eliminate racism, they embrace it, they celebrate it as if it were, even regard it as, some sort of revealed truth.

We have to realize that in dealing with a significant part of the American right, we are not dealing with rational people. We are dealing with committed bigots.


Left Side of the Aisle #53 - Part 1

Good news: Connecticut ends death penalty; ALEC loses sponsors

Two bits of good news to share:

First, the Connecticut legislature has passed a bill to end the death penalty in the state. Gov. Dannel Malloy says he will sign the bill as soon as it reaches desk, which should be in about a week. That will make Connecticut the 17th state, and the fifth state in the past five years, to eliminate the death penalty.

I am delighted that this symbol of savagery, this badge of brutality, will be gone from yet another state. I got involved in politics at time when "law and order" - or "lawn ordure," if you prefer - was the cry of the day and death penalty opponents were fighting a losing battle against a tide of "fry 'em" spreading across the country. So I am glad to see that tide now flowing in the opposite direction.

But I am also old enough - I wasn't really aware of it at the time but I can remember - the case of Caryl Chessman. If you don't know the case, you should look it up.

The other good news is that ALEC - the American Legislative Exchange Council, which exists to bring together right-wing state legislators with right-wing corporations and right-wing lobbyists to push right-wing legislation at the state level has lost a number of its corporate sponsors in face of a campaign by Color of and several other progressive organizations.

ALEC has announced the it is shutting down its Task Force on  Public safety and Elections, the one that has pushed both the infamous "stand your ground" laws and restrictive voter ID laws.

And it has been hilarious to watch the right wing sputter, fume, and froth about the "fascist tactics" - and that was the term used - about the "fascist tactic" used by these groups; those fascist tactics consisting of telling corporations that we're going to tell your customers where your money is going. Fascism!


Left Side of the Aisle #53

Left Side of the Aisle for the week of April 19-25, 2012

This week:
Good news: Connecticut ends death penalty; ALEC loses sponsors,0,6052264.story

Bigotry visible in reactions to Travon Martin case and John Derbyshire article!/thinkprogress/status/183229789153411072/photo/1,1#12

Outrage of the Week: Three right-wing idiots

Thousands of temperature records set in North America in March

Who am I and why am I doing this?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #52 - Part 7

Why do we resist recognizing racism?

Updated On April 6, five apparently randomly-chosen black men were shot in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Three are dead. Police arrested two white suspects on Sunday and say are investigating whether the shootings were a hate crime.

Um, excuse me? They are "considering the possibility" this was racially-motivated? Now, all props to the police: They acted quickly to follow up on tips to arrest the two suspects. But, come on: "considering the possibility?" Now one guy, assuming these guys are guilty, may have snapped: His father was killed two years ago and a few months ago his girlfriend killed herself right in front of him, leaving him with their 6-month child to care for. So he may have snapped. But it's also true he described the man who killed his father as a "fucking nigger"* - and police are "considering the possibility" of a racial motive?

Again, props to the cops for their investigative work - but why is it so hard for us to face the reality of bigotry?

It stares us in the face all the time, everywhere we look. It stares at us from the poverty figures. It stares at us from the unemployment figures. It stares at us from repeated psychological studies revealing discrimination in everything from job applications to everyday encounters.

We can even see it in hacked highway signs.

And we can see it in open view: John Derbyshire is a right-wing writer formerly with the righty rag National Review. He recently wrote a truly noxious piece about "the talk" he would have with his children about dealing with black people. Among his bits of advice, beyond saying that the average black person is much less intelligent than the average white person, were these:

- Avoid concentrations of blacks not all known to you personally.
- Stay out of heavily black neighborhoods.
- Do not attend events likely to draw a lot of blacks.
- If you are a public event at which the number of blacks suddenly swells, leave as quickly as possible.
- Do not settle in a district or municipality run by black politicians.
- Do not act the Good Samaritan to blacks in apparent distress.
- If accosted by a strange black in the street, smile and say something polite but keep moving.

This was too much even for National Review; he was fired. But even more revealing than Derbyshire's words are the supportive reactions they got from a number of quarters. I'll be talking about that next week. In the meantime, we need to keep thinking about that question: Why do we resist recognizing racism?

Update: The men were charged with a hate crime, but hadn't been at the time of taping.

*Cleaned up as "an effing n-word" for airing.


Left Side of the Aisle #52 - Part 6

Everything You Need to Know: about income inequality in the US in just two graphics.

I've talked numerous times about how the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer - and so are the rest of us. Just last week, for example, I mentioned that the average pay for a CEO is now about 1000 times that of an average worker; as recently as 1970, it was just 40 times.

There is something called the GINI coefficient. It is a standard measure of income inequality in a society or a country. It's set up so that if the coefficient is zero, it would mean that everyone has exactly the same amount of money; if it's one, then one person has all the money. Obviously no nation fits either description and the rankings generally run from 0.23 at the most equal end to 0.70 at the most unequal end.

Here's graphic one: It's a world map showing nations of the world arranged and color-coded by their GINI coefficients. (The nations in gray are ones where there is not enough data to make a judgment.)

I know that graphic is a little confusing, a little hard to read, so I'll make make it simple: The next graphic shows the nations that are more unequal than US, that have a worse, a less fair, distribution of income than the US, in red. Those nations that are less unequal, that have a more equal, a fairer, distribution of income than the US are in blue. Here it is:

And that is Everything You Need to Know.


Left Side of the Aisle #52 - Part 5

CISPA and the threat to privacy

There is a bill in Congress scheduled to be voted on during the week of April 23, which is being pitched as "Cybersecurity Week." The bill is called the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA, and it could obliterate any semblance of online privacy in the United States.

The supposed aim of the bill is to prevent theft of "government information" and "intellectual property" - but it also could enable ISPs to block your access to the whole Internet. That is not likely to happen, but the things that are more likely to happen aren't any better.

The bill does one straightforward thing, which I won't say is a good thing for reasons I'll get to in a second: The NSA has what are called cyber threat indicators, technological indicators of cyber attacks. The bill would allow NSA to share that information with corporations and ISPs looking to protect the security of their own networks. Those corporations and ISPs could also share cybersecurity-related info with each other and with the government. Which is why I say it's not an unalloyed good, not in the face of the knowledge about government and corporate secrets we have gained over time via hackers. At the same time, we have to balance that against the current risk to such as our credit card data. The point is at least arguable.

Regardless of that point, there are very real problems with the law:

For one, it makes no effort to list specific categories of cyber threat indicators that may be shared. Instead, it contains a definition of what can be shared that is almost unlimited: It allows companies to share - with each other and with the government - any information "pertaining to the protection of" a system or network. But any digital communication could contain a cyber attack, and ISPs and other communications providers routinely scan all their traffic to protect their networks. Put those together, and the law clearly appears to allow all of that traffic to be shared with government, because it "pertains to the protection" of that network.

At same time, the bill creates a sweeping "cybersecurity exception" to every federal and state law, including all privacy laws. This law trumps everything: every law, every protection. The net effect is to allow private companies holding our private communications to share them not only with each other, but with the NSA, with other intelligence and defense agencies, and in fact all other agencies of the federal government.

And once shared, there is nothing in the bill to limit the use of that information to issues of cybersecurity. The data, once obtained, could be used for just about anything. Corporations could use it for ad placements. The government could use it to investigate groups or individuals without having to worry about icky things like search warrants or probable cause or any of that: You don't have to search for the information, you already have it.

And it could be used to establish and keep a record of everything you say, do, read, write, or look at online.

Our rights being stripped away - and the only screeching we hear is about the one that's under the least threat: your freaking guns. No - no one is coming for your guns. No one is going to take them away. There are no black helicopters flying over your house. No one is going to pry your gun from your cold, dead fingers.

Meanwhile, our ability to vote is being restricted, especially if you are poor, minority, or elderly. Our control over our political future is being eroded by the power of corporations and the 1%. Our privacy is being stripped to the bone by corporations and the government. Our rights and freedoms, including our freedom of speech, our freedom of assembly, are being restricted in the name of "security." Almost any action taken against us becomes justified by the courts if it's done by a cop. And again, the only one not under threat is the one being screeched about the most.

Hey, memo to everyone out there, including myself: Maybe there's a connection between the amount of screeching and the lack of a threat?


Left Side of the Aisle #52 - Part 4

RIP Jack Tramiel

A bit of nostalgic news this week: Jack Tramiel, founder of Commodore International, died recently at the age of 83.

Who was that? Why should anyone remember him? Because of this:

If you don't know what that is, or rather was, let me explain.

Jack Tramiel was born in Poland in 1928. He was a Jew and during World War II, he and his family were imprisoned in concentration camps, including Auschwitz. After the war, he moved to Canada and then the US. He started a typewriter repair business which over time turned into a company making pocket calculators and then into computers.

In 1977 he introduced the Commodore PET, or Personal Electronic Transactor. One person recently described it as looking like a 1990 point-of-sale cash register, which is a pretty good description. It was clunky, it was clumsy, it didn't do much - but then again, few things short of mainframes at the time did.

In 1980 he followed that up with the VIC-20. Two years later, in 1982, came what's pictured above: the Commodore 64, so called because it had a whopping 64K of RAM. It was the first truly mass market personal computer and became (and remains) the best-selling personal computer of all time. Production ran for 10 years, from 1982 to 1992, and during that time something approaching 20 million were sold.

In 1985, I bought my first computer because I wanted to organize the newspaper clippings that were overrunning my filing cabinet. It was a Commodore 64. I loved that machine.

RIP, Jack.


Left Side of the Aisle #52 - Part 3

War on Women: equal pay

The war on women is not just about birth control and other health issues, it's about economic ones as well: On the Thursday before Easter, with as little fanfare as possible, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walkalloveryou signed a bill repealing the state’s Equal Pay Enforcement Act. The law, passed in 2009, allowed victims of workplace pay discrimination to seek damages in state courts, which is easier and less expensive than having to go through federal court.

The Equal Pay law was not just about women; it also offered protection from pay discrimination based on race, age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, and other factors. But it was enacted largely in response to the large pay gap between men and women. At the time the bill was passed, Wisconsin ranked 36th among states in terms of workplace gender pay parity. In the two years after law passed, Wisconsin improved to 24th. True, the law had strict requirements for bringing suit in state court, so rigorous that in those two years, not one equal-pay lawsuit was filed. But the very presence of the law put employers on notice that they had to watch their step.

And that, supposedly, was the problem: According to the law's opponents, even the threat of lawsuits put an intolerable burden on business. Now, it seems to me that the best way to avoid a suit for violating the Equal Pay law is don't violate the Equal Pay law. But the reactionaries can't go with that - because they say the whole concept of pay discrimination is bogus. The repeal bill's chief sponsor - by the way, the same guy who last year proposed a bill labeling single parenthood as a cause of child abuse - says pay discrimination against women doesn't exist. According to him, it's all because women value child-rearing over their careers.

Now, it's true that women taking time off from their careers to have a family explains some of the gap in pay, but by no means all of it. A 2007 study by the American Association of University Women concluded that college-educated women earn only 80% as much as similarly-educated men a year after graduation. They went on to say:
After accounting for college major, occupation, industry, sector, hours worked, workplace flexibility, experience, educational attainment, enrollment status, GPA, institution selectivity, age, race/ethnicity, region, marital status, and number of children, a 5% difference in the earnings of male and female college graduates one year after graduation was still unexplained.
After 10 years in workforce, that gap, unexplained by anything other than discrimination, had grown to 12%.

This year, April 17 is Equal Pay Day. That date symbolizes how far into 2012 a woman working in 2011 must work in order to earn what a man earned in 2011 alone. Pay discrimination is real, it is serious, and almost every state in the country has a law allowing for redress in state courts. But not Wisconsin. Not any more.

Why is this happening, especially now? I have an opinion: Walkalloveryou is facing a recall election. I think he expects to lose that election and I think the reactionary majority in the legislature also expects him to lose - and they just want to do as much damage as they can before that happens.


Saturday, April 14, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #52 - Part 2

Outrage of the Week: Arizona inanity

For Outrage of the Week this week, we go back to one of the usual suspects: Arizona.

Last month, I told you about a bill in the Arizona legislature that would empower doctors to deliberately lie to pregnant patients in order to not release information that they think might cause that woman to have an abortion. They could do this without fear of a malpractice suit. Even if the child was born with birth defects or a disability, you would be banned from suing for malpractice on behalf of the child.

Well, the Arizona legislature passed that bit of crap on the afternoon of April 10. That same afternoon, they also passed a bill to prohibit abortions after the 18th week of pregnancy. That is the strictest limit in the nation and was done by redefining the definition of when pregnancy starts to the first day of the woman's last menstrual period, rather than two weeks after. (Which, technically, means they are measuring the start of pregnancy from before the woman is pregnant.) This bill is clearly in violation of Roe v. Wade not only because it outlaws abortions prior to fetal viability but also because it lacks adequate exceptions for protecting health of mother.

That same afternoon, they also passed a bill that requires schools teach students that in case of an unwanted pregnancy, the acceptable choices are giving birth and keeping the child or giving birth and giving it up for adoption. In other words, schools are being required to teach students that they must never, ever have an abortion.

The state of Arizona is the Outrage of the Week.


Left Side of the Aisle #52 - Part 1

Aung San Suu Kyi elected to Parliament

Some good news from an unusual place: the nation of Burma. I stuck this in very quickly at the end of last week's show, just a sentence or two, but I wanted to give it a little more attention, even though the news is more than weeks old now.

Go back to 1990, when the National League for Democracy overwhelmingly won elections in Burma: It got 59% of vote and won 81% of the seats in Parliament. But the military blocked Parliament from convening because, simply, it didn't like who won. That lead to a continuation of the years of brutal military dictatorship.

Even before that election, the previous July, the General Secretary of the National League for Democracy (or NLD, as it was known) had been put under house arrest by the military. Her name was - and is - Aung San Suu Kyi, and she became one of the best-known political prisoners in the world as she spent 15 of the following 21 years under house arrest before finally being released in 2010.

In 1990 Suu Kyi received both the Rafto Prize, a human rights award, and the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. In 1992 the government of India gave her its Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding and the government of Venezuela gave her its International Simón Bolívar Prize. In 2007, Canada made her an honorary citizen; at time, she one of only four such people with that honor. In 2011, following her release, she was awarded the Wallenberg Medal.

Why all this matters is that in 2010 there was a national election in Burma, after which the new president instituted some political reforms which the military realized it had no choice but to allow. As a result, the NLD participated in the elections held on April 1. It was the first time in years the group had done so, regarding previous elections as shams.

The election was limited; it was for only the 45 open seats out of the total of 664 seats in the two houses of Parliament. The important point here, however, is that the NLD competed for 44 of those seats and won 43 of them - including one to be occupied by Aung San Suu Kyi.

The party is still a small minority in Parliament - but it is there and its popularity and therefore its potential can't be denied.

There is still a long way to go for Burma: The military appoints fully 1/4 of the members of each house of Parliament and remains firmly in control even as Burma remains deep in poverty. But there has been movement and it is a reminder that change is possible: A year ago, you could be arrested for holding a portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi. Now she's in parliament. And that's good news.

PS: Notice I call it Burma, not Myanmar. Myanmar is what the junta calls it. The democracy activists call it Burma. So should you.


Left Side of the Aisle #52

Left Side of the Aisle for the week of April 12-18, 2012

Aung San Suu Kyi elected to Parliament

Outrage of the Week: Arizona inanity

War on women: equal pay

RIP Jack Tramiel

CISPA and the threat to privacy

Everything You Need to Know: about income inequality in the US in two graphics

Why do we resist recognizing racism?

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #51 - Part 4

Outrage of the Week: strip searches and security theater

I expect you've heard about this, but there's an aspect to it which you may not have heard about.

The Supreme Court just ruled by the usual, ideologically-driven 5-4 split that it is okay for prisons to strip search people sent to jail for any offense - even for something as minor as an unpaid parking ticket.

Anything that gets you admitted into the general prison population can involve a strip search. Again, this is for an arrest. It is without having been convicted of any crime. Jail officials don't even have to suspect that you're carrying contraband. They can do it, well, just because they can.

The case arose from the arrest of a man named Albert Florence in New Jersey in 2005. He was in the passenger seat; his wife was driving. She was pulled over for speeding. A records search revealed outstanding warrant for an unpaid fine.* This had happened to him before, so he made a practice of carrying with him proof that the fine had been paid. He showed it to the cops. They didn't care.

Florence was arrested and wound up in jail for a week, during which time he was twice subjected to strip searches: once when he was first sent to jail and again when he was transferred to another jail - even though he had just come from a different jail.

Now, it's the law of the land. It's A-OK with SCOTUS.

But here's why this is here as Outrage of the Week: Writing for the Court, Anthony Kennedy argued that "admission of inmates creates numerous risks" to everyone involved, prison staff, other prisoners, even the person being brought it. There's all this risk, even for the person arrested. In other words, part of this argument is that you are being strip searched for your own good. This is for your benefit.

But this is the real reason I bring this up. In justifying strip searching people, cavity searching people - when Florence was brought into prison, he was told to "squat and cough" and "spread 'em" - and in justifying this, Anthony Kennedy actually - I am not joking - he invoked 9/11.

Even after all these years, saying "9/11" still justifies everything. Every intrusion into our rights, every invasion of our privacy, every indignity visited on us. It's all okay because - "9/11."

And that is the Outrage of the Week.


Left Side of the Aisle #51 - Part 3

Trayvon Martin: racist reactions

There is one part of the military budget reactionaries are willing, even eager, to question: the DoD’s adoption of solar power and other forms of alternative energy. The Army, for example, wants to get at least 25% of its energy from renewable sources by 2025, and well, can't have that, can we?

So last week, House Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness held hearings intended to question any such expenses under the cover of considering "energy security." A lot of the, you'll pardon the expression, energy went out of the hearings when it developed that for the most past, most of the programs the Pentagon was involved in involved private investments and cost taxpayers almost nothing - and the energy obtained from these projects will cost less than if they had gotten it from conventional sources. It will actually save money.

Truth be told, there have been times when the military has taken the lead in progress and this case, alternative energy, is one of them. It's because they recognize the security implications of relying on fossil fuel, so they're actually taking the lead on a form of progress here. And it's not the only case: The military was integrated well before the rest of society was. It started during World War 2, it was formalized by presidential decree in July of 1948, and by 1953 almost every soldier was serving in an integrated unit. Meanwhile, the first significant civil rights legislation since the post-Civil War years did not come for another 11 years. So sometimes, the military's been out in front.

By saying that, I don't want to suggest and I don't want anybody to think I was suggesting that racism is no longer a problem in our society. It is, of course, still a very real problem in our society and in our lives - and we can see that very easily by looking at the case of Trayvon Martin. And here I'm not even really concerned with George Zimmerman, with the shooter himself. I'm more concerned with the reactions to the event.

First, there's the reaction of the cops. They took at face value Zimmerman's claim of self-defense. The cops drug-tested the dead victim but not the live shooter. They did a background check on the dead victim but not on the live shooter. Instead, they let the live shooter walk free without charge, without arrest. I have to ask you very simply, very seriously: If the situation was identical except that the colors of their skin were reversed, do you really think that was how that would have played out?

You know the answer to that question. And you know what that answer tells you about our society.

Another concern I have is with the broader reaction, the broader reaction in society as a whole. There have been numerous attempts to smear Trayvon Martin. He's been called a thug - that's a popular one - in fact one cop called him "a thug who deserved to die." There were charges that he had a history of violence, seemingly based on some reference to a single incident in which someone who may not even have been Martin threw a punch at a bus driver. There have been claims was drug dealer. There have been menacing pictures of him, increasingly menacing pictures, some of them so menacing that they weren't even him.

These are all intended to whitewash the crime, intended to make it okay for Trayvon Martin to be dead, intended to make it okay for George Zimmerman to have shot him - because in these people's minds it can't be wrong for a white guy to have killed a black kid.

So I'm going to ask that question again: If everything about the situation was identical except that the colors of their skin were reversed, do you really think that those people would be smearing the victim? Would the reaction of these people have been the same? Again, you know the answer to that question and you know what it tells us about our society.

So again, I'm not talking about George Zimmerman, in fact at this point I don't even care about George Zimmerman. There are a lot of indications that George Zimmerman may be a racist - but even if he's not, it doesn't matter. That broader reaction still shows our society and it still shows it in a very unhappy light.


Friday, April 06, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #51 - Part 2

Military spending and the budget
All the economic talk now is about the new, which actually isn't new but is new for this yea, budget proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan - or Paul Rantin' as I call him. So we've got the Rantin' budget. It's been passed by the House but it's going to die in the Senate but that's hardly the point now. It proposes cuts in food assistance, Medicaid, housing, jobs programs, job training, education, environmental protection, cuts across the board, everything getting cut and slashed. It proposes replacing Medicare with a voucher system. And despite the cuts, it would increase total deficit by $4 trillion because of the massive tax cuts for the rich he wants.

The other day, Barack Obama called this budget "social Darwinism" - which is actually a pretty good description of it, I have to say. And I would be very happy with the way President Hopey-Changey denounced this budget if I really had any faith that he was actually going to do anything about it. But the truth is, I don't. Because his argument is not against cutting social programs, it's how much you cut and just where. He has acknowledged that he wants to cut Social Security, he wants to cut Medicare, that he wanted that to be part of any program to balance the budget. He said this over and over again. So he doesn't disagree with all these cuts, just where and how much.

Rantin' had to walk something back the other day: He suggested in considering the military budget that the generals weren't being honest in what they were saying about the budget. He had to walk that back real quick. Rantin' said that what he really meant was that Obama had announced that there was going to be $500 billion in cuts over 10 years - it was actually $487 billion, but close enough - and that the Pentagon had to form the strategy meet that figure. He said it should have been the other way around. That is, the Pentagon, unlike any other agency of the federal government, should have been able to say "this is what we want and you are going to have to come up with however much money it's going to take to do that."

Senate Minority Leader Mitch "Fishface" McConnell said "We're going to make sure that America still is number one in the world in defense, and we're not sure that with these cuts we're going to be able to do that, to stay number one." So they want to be number one in defense. Number one in anything else? Not so much. Being number one in clean air and clean water? Not important. Being number one in access to health care? Not important. Being number one in the lowest rates of poverty or hunger? Not important. Being number one in the ability to kill people? That's what's important.

Buck McKeon chairs the House Armed Services Committee. He was in California recently talking to a group of Northrop Grumman workers and he said "I implore you, no, I beg you, to stop" cuts in military spending from happening.

Because yeah, they want to cut spending, but you can't cut military spending. Everything else gets cut, but not the military, no way.

The problem is, it's not just the GOPpers. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said recently it would be "irresponsible" to cut any more than already agreed to, that $487 billion over 10 years.

This even though the entire defense program is rife with waste, so much so that if it was a civilian program, there would be demands it be shut down. At his hearing on his nomination to be head of acquisition for the Defense Department, Frank Kendall said "I am not confident any defense program will not have cost overruns." That is, you can be confident that they probably will. In fact, the Senate Armed Services Committee says that "nearly half" of all Pentagon weapons systems go over budget by at least 15 percent.

We spend more on defense than on anything else. More than on Social Security, more than on Medicare. For FY 2013, the budget that's now being worked on, the budget calls for $851 billion for security spending. "Security spending" is for all of it; in includes the Department of Defense as well as other "security" areas such as the part of the Energy Department budget that relates to nuclear weapons.

For the DoD base budget for FY 2013, Obama has requested $525 billion. That is a cut from the year before of about $5 billion - a cut of less than one percent. And in fact in the year after, in FY 2014, the Pentagon budget is supposed to go up $533 billion.

Wait - I thought we we supposed to be cutting spending. How come it's going up? This is something important to understand: When these people talk about "cuts" in military spending, they don't mean cuts, they mean smaller increases. That it won't go up as much as had been previously predicted. That's what they mean by "cuts."
How big is our military budget? How big is our budget compared to other nations of the world? According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute - this is an internationally-respected outfit that keeps track of these kinds of things - the United States alone accounts for 43% of all the military spending in the entire world. The UK, China, Russia, and France together account for a little over 18%. We account for two and a-half times as much military spending as they do combined.

This is insane. It really is. The numbers are all out of proportion with any rational notion of defense. And there are ways to cut military spending that do no affect any rational notion of military or security defense. In fact, in 2010, there were four different proposals of how you can cut military spending.

There was one by the Sustainable Defense Task Force, organized by Reps. Barney Frank and Ron Paul, which outlined a plan to cut $960 billion by 2020.

The libertarian Cato Institute had a proposal for $1.2 trillion in cuts over ten years.

The centrist Bipartisan Policy Center a proposed plan that would save $1.1 trillion over the coming decade.

And Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, the co-chairs of so-called National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, also known as the Cat Food Commission, suggested in their co-chair report cuts that could amount to $650 billion to $1 trillion over those same ten years.

There are ways, there are solid, well-thought out ways, as to how we can cut the military budget without affecting any rational notion of security. But the right wing just won't listen to them - and neither will a lot of supposed moderates and liberals.

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