Friday, December 28, 2012

Jon Swift Roundup 2012 is up

The Jon Swift Roundup 2012 is up at Vagabond Scholar.

Thanks as always to Batocchio for taking this on.

Twitter hatchtag: #jonswift2012

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #88 - Part 5

And Another Thing: Why Christmas is on December 25

Last year around this time I told you about New Year's, about why it was on January 1. This year I'm going to give you a very brief history of Christmas, of why it comes on December 25.

Right at the top: You know those people who say that "Jesus is the reason for the season?" He isn't. And he never was.

In prehistoric times, people believed that things like the Sun acted willfully - and watching it get lower and lower in the sky each year as winter approached, there was a fear that one year, the Sun would keep sinking until it disappeared, leaving them in perpetual darkness and cold. So each year, when the Sun stopped sinking and began to rise higher in the sky each day, it was reason to celebrate.

This is the time of the winter solstice, which occurs in the Northern Hemisphere around December 21. "Solstice" is derived from two Latin words which together mean that the Sun stands still - which is what it appears to do at the solstice: to come to a top and then reverse.

All over the Northern Hemisphere, this was a time to celebrate: ancient Egypt had celebrations, as did ancient Greece - in fact, in the earliest days, theirs involved a human sacrifice. The Druids celebrated, it was celebrated in Iran, Native American peoples, include the Pueblo and the Hopi, had their celebrations.

In pagan Scandinavia the winter festival was the yule. Great yule logs were burned; people drank mead around bonfires listening to tales of great stories of the past. A boar was sacrificed to the chief god Odin, who donned a broad-brimmed hat and magic blue cloak and sped around the world at night on his great white horse. Mistletoe, which was a sacred plant because it grew on the most sacred tree, the oak, was cut and a spray given to each family to be hung in doorways as good luck.

It's a reminder that a lot of our holiday traditions are drawn from pagan ones - including decorating with garlands, wreaths, and the Christmas tree itself.

For the date of Christmas, though, the most important celebration was in Rome. The solstice celebration there was called Saturnalia: It was originally a feast day to the god Saturn, but it grew to a gigantic fair and a festival of the home. It began with sacrifice of a pig and involved riotous merry-making, feasting, and gambling. Houses were decorated with laurel and evergreens. Schools were closed; the army rested; no criminals were executed. Friends visited one another, bringing good-luck gifts of fruit, cakes, candles, dolls, jewelry, and incense. Temples were decorated with evergreens. Processions of people danced through the streets, with masked or blackened faces and wearing fantastic hats. Masters feasted with slaves, who could do and say what they liked - supposedly.

On particular day within Saturnalia, December 25, was called the Birthday of the Unconquered Sun.

Before Christianity became the official religion of Rome in the 4th century, Christians wishing to celebrate the birth of the man they regarded as their savior had to hide it: being known as a Christian could get you killed. The thing is, no one knows what time of year Jesus was born but to the extent the Bible can be trusted as a source we know it was definitely not in the winter since shepherds did not watch their flocks by night at that time of year. In fact, it was most commonly done in the spring to protect the newborn lambs from wolves.

So since the time is purely symbolic and basically arbitrarily chosen, what better time to do it than during Saturnalia - when everyone else was celebrating and so no one would notice? And what better day to pick than December 25?

By about the year 350 CE, December 25 had been accepted in Rome as the date of the Feast of Christ, or Christ-Mass, Christmas. Gradually most of the Christian Church agreed, and the merry side of Saturnalia was adopted to the observance of Christmas. By 1100 Christmas was the peak celebration of year for all of Europe.

Around here, in Plymouth, Christmas got off to rocky start due to the opposition of the religious fundamentalists. The first time Christmas was mentioned in Plymouth’s oldest newspaper was in 1825. But once it got rolling, it developed quickly: By 1860 the paper was filled with ads of Christmas presents and by the end of the century Christmas was as much a part of Plymouth as it was the rest of the country.

"The Christmas Connection," lecture at Plymouth Antiquarian Society, November 15, 1979

Left Side of the Aisle #88 - Part 4

Outrage of the Week: NRA, the right wing, and gun violence

This week I have outrages piled on outrages.

Last week, I spent the entire show talking about guns. At that time, when I taped the show on Wednesday, the NRA, the Nutzoid Rabbit-brains of America, which claims to be an association of hunters and target shooters but actually is just a lobbyist for the gun manufacturers, hadn't spoken yet but was expected to do so in a couple of days. I said that I expected nothing new from them. I was right.

Instead of offering anything constructive or showing any sense of responsibility, NRA Chief Executive Wayne LaPepeLePew blamed the Newtown massacre on anything and everything except guns. It was video games. It was movies. It was the media. It was "monsters" in our midst.

Which is nonsense: For one thing, violent video games and violent movies are played and viewed in nations around the world without producing anywhere near the levels of bloodshed seen here. Indeed, some of the most violent games and movies come out of Japan, which has almost no gun violence at all.

Still, that was just prologue. LaPepeLePew's central contention was that the problem is that there are not enough guns around, that not enough people are packing heat, including in schools. In fact, his answer to Newtown was to have armed cops in every school in the US. Because, he said, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."

A quick reminder here that one of these mass shootings being ended by the shooter being taken down by a civilian playing Rambo has never happened - while there are examples of unarmed people subduing the shooter, the case of the shooting of Gabriel Giffords and others being one.

The NRA called it a press conference even though LaPepeLePew took no questions. His statement was widely regarded as anything from "tone-deaf" to "bizarre." But it may not have been the worst.

For example, the right-wing rag National Review, whose own editorial suggested Newtown was just the price we pay for the great freedom of the Second Amendment, published a piece from this twit named Charlotte Allen which argued that the massacre of the innocents happened because Newtown was a “feminized setting,” with no male teachers or other personnel present. As she put it:
Think of what Sandy Hook might have been like if a couple of male teachers who had played high-school football, or even some of the huskier 12-year-old boys, had converged on Lanza.
Principal Dawn Hochsprung and school psychologist Mary Sherlach were killed trying to rush the shooter. I guess Allen thinks that all that combat training you get in high-school football would have served better.

Then there are those who know the real cause: James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family, said Newtown was God's judgment for abortion and same-sex marriage. And Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association insisted that God did not protect the victims because organized prayer had been removed from public schools 50 years earlier.

But there's an even bigger outrage, which is that if we ask what to do about the levels of murderous gun violence in the US, it can be hard to say: In 1996, the Centers for Disease Control, the CDC, was effectively banned from doing any research related to gun violence. In 2011, that ban was extended to all agencies of the Department of Health and Human Services, including the National Institutes of Health. Washington and Florida have done similar things on the state level and similar bills have been proposed in seven more. I'd say it was like a twisted version of Don't Ask, Don't Tell, except that it reminds me more of some stereotyped Marlon Brando capo di tutti capi going "Don't tell me - I don't want to know."

But the biggest is the violence itself. As of Christmas Day, at least 190 people in the US had been killed by guns since Newtown. That is a minimum, by actual count based on newspaper reports.

There are about 36,000 deaths from car accidents each year in the United States and about 31,000 gun-related deaths. That includes all gun deaths: by murder, suicide, and accidental discharge. That's a rate of about 11.87 auto deaths per 100000 people and about 10.19 gun deaths per 100,000 people. So more people die in car accidents than by guns. But car deaths are down by 31% over the past 20 years and the number of gun-related deaths continuing to rise year after year. It is now projected that those two trendlines will cross in about 2015.

In fact, for ten states - Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, and Washington - those lines have already crossed. In those ten states, already more people die as the result of guns than in car accidents. And that will be the state of the entire nation in a couple of years.

And if you don't find that an outrage, you may be one of those "monsters" Wayne LaPepeLePew warned us about - either that or you are Wayne LaPepeLePew.


Left Side of the Aisle #88 - Part 3

Yes, there was a coordinated attack on the Occupy movement

I have to take a moment out to tell you I told you so. I did.

As early as November 2011, just two months after Occupy Wall Street sparked the nationwide Occupy movement, I was telling you that government officials from local cops up to federal agents were coordinating and cooperating on actions to break up and drive out the encampments that had sprung up in scores of places. I told you that the claims officials made, the methods chosen, and the language used to defend those actions were too similar to be a coincidence.

Now we know for sure. Documents pried from the FBI by a Freedom of Information Act filing by the Partnership For Civil Justice Fund show that the FBI and the Department for the Protection of the Fatherland were coordinating with local police to spy on, keep track of, and deal with Occupy. In some of these files, even nonviolent protest were viewed as "criminal activity" and even as "domestic terrorism." In fact, the surveillance began in August 2011, a month before the occupation of Zucotti Park in New York City - beginning and continuing even as the feds' own documents say that organizers explicitly called for peaceful protest and did “not condone the use of violence” at Occupy protests.

And it wasn't just law enforcement: Those same records show the feds coordinating with banks and other private firms about possible protests - and even the Federal Reserve in Richmond got in on the act, passing on to the FBI information it had gathered about Occupy.

So when I told you there was a coordinated effort to undermine the movement, that wasn't paranoia, that was prescience.

As a footnote to this, one news source developed a list of seven issues that Occupy helped to bring to the forefront of political discussion in the US. They are:

- income inequality
- the Robin Hood tax, otherwise known as the financial transaction tax
- student loan debt, now over $1 trillion
- the Volcker Rule, which limits a bank's ability to make speculative trades with its own accounts
- the foreclosure crisis
- political favoring of the rich
- corporate personhood


Left Side of the Aisle #88 - Part 2

Clown Award: Steve Lonegan of AFP

The Clown Award, given weekly for acts of meritorious stupidity.

There is a bill now before the House and Senate to provide $60 billion in aid for the Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts, to go mostly to efforts in Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey. The price tag of the damage Sandy did continues to rise.

The bill has been criticized for several reasons, not all of them without good cause. But since a majority in Congress, including a good number of GOPpers, agrees that the victims are in need of some kind of federal aid, the critiques and criticisms are the kinds of things you would expect to be ironed out in the course of debate and negotiation.

However, Americans for Prosperity, a right-wing outfit chaired by multi-billionaire David Koch, doesn't see it that way. Which brings to our clown, our dishonoree of the week: It's the New Jersey State Director of Americans for Prosperity, a surly fellow Steve Lonegan. He has demanded the entire bill be voted down, even saying it would be regarded as a “key vote” on AFP's Congressional scorecard - meaning senators who support sending money for reconstruction could face an avalanche of attack ads in their next election campaign.

In "explaining" why the bill should be rejected, Lonegan said bad things "happen every day. Having your shore house flood doesn’t rank. We need to suck it up and be responsible for taking care of ourselves." What's more, taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for a millionaire’s vacation home.

For someone who has supposedly lived in New Jersey all his life, Lonegan knows remarkably little about the state. Places like Toms River, Brick, Highlands, Sea Bright, Union Beach - these are not enclaves of millionaires, these are middle class and working class towns. Remember, this is where I grew up, where I still have family and friends. When I see pictures of the devastation along the Jersey shore, I see streets I have driven, rides I have been on, boardwalks where I had frozen custards and played miniature golf. I know these places in a way it is obvious Steve Lonegan does not.

Shore towns have been devastated. Families whose homes have been destroyed remain uncertain about where they will live even as the Federal Emergency Management Agency pays out hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and continues to try to find temporary housing for those in need of it. As many as 25,000 households throughout New Jersey have needed and continue to need assistance. Businesses have been destroyed, lives upturned - and some of them lost.

But Steve Lonegan just doesn't care. He doesn't care because he won't get any benefit, so he doesn't see why anyone else should. Need doesn't matter. In fact, helping victims of a natural disaster is, according to him, "unfair" to everyone else who was not a victim, whose lives were not destroyed.

Lonegan says he expects to get criticized. Well, you got that part right, fool.

But what really nailed down his nomination was this: Why should the bill be voted down? Because, he said, "Everyone is screaming about debt." No, dumbass, they're not. The people are still saying "It's the economy, stupid." Those "screaming" about the debt are you and the rest of your big red nosed cohorts at AFP - which shouldn't stand for Americans for Prosperity but for Associated Fatcats and Plutocrats.

Steve Lonegan -  you really really are a clown.


Left Side of the Aisle #88 - Part 1

Chained-CPI takes away benefits

Over the past few weeks I've been telling you bits and pieces about this so-called "Grand Bargain" nonsense, the one where the pundits are saying that because Barack Obama won re-election and the Democrats gained seats in both the House and the Senate, obviously they are the ones who must make concessions to the losers. That would be merely funny if it were not for fact that so many Dummycrats, including President Hopey-Changey himself, appear to agree.

One example is that after months of proclaiming to anyone within public earshot that he absolutely, positively, no doubt about it would not accept extension of tax cuts for those making over $250,000/yr, Obama now says well, okay, make it $400,000 a year. And now, since he's bent that far, there is no indication he won't bend further. There are other concessions in the tax plan he presented, but I'm going to leave those aside to focus on something you've heard about and I want to make sure you understand.

Obama has proposed a change in the way Cost Of Living Allowances, or COLAs, are calculated for federal benefits, particularly Social Security. Now the first thing to remember here is that this whole business is supposedly about the deficit - the most important issue EVAH. To be accurate, that is, the most important issue ever to those inside the Beltway: the well-paid pundits, the well-paid lobbyists, and their corporate paymasters, none of who actually depend on government benefits to keep food on the table or a roof over their heads. Out in the real world, where the rest of us live, Americans are much more concerned about issues like jobs and the economy than the deficit.

But no matter, not to these people. For them, it is all about the deficit - and all about Social Security, even though the second thing to remember is that Social Security has nothing to do with the deficit. It has its own, independent, revenue stream - the payroll tax - and does not contribute one single penny to the deficit.

But still, Obama has proposed cutting Social Security by about $112 billion over the next ten years and Nancy Pelosi, the top Dum in the House, has embraced it. The method, again, changes the way Cost Of Living Allowances, or COLAs, are calculated. COLAs have always been based on the Consumer Price Index, or CPI. It's the standard measure of inflation. The proposal is to change this to using what's called Chained-CPI.

It's based on the idea that consumer choices change as prices change. It assumes, in the most commonly used example, that if the price of beef goes up too much, you as a consumer will switch to cheaper cuts of meat. On it's face, that doesn't seem a wildly unrealistic assumption, but here is the effect: Bear in mind that this is a very simplified example; I'm only using two commodoties - beef and chicken - rather than an entire market basket and the numbers are just for the purposes of illustration. Suppose the price of ground beef goes from $4 per pound to $5 per pound, and that's getting a little pricey for you. So you switch to chicken, which has gone from $3 per pound to $4.50 per pound. Chained-CPI says that even though the price of beef has gone up 25% and the price of chicken has gone up 50%, your cost has only gone up from $4 per pound to $4.50 per pound, or 12.5%.

Chained-CPI assumes that there is always a cheaper alternative and that you always will - and always can - choose that cheaper alternative. By its nature Chained-CPI will always produce a lower inflation level than the traditional CPI and so smaller COLA increases than CPI. Using Chained-CPI means a cut in your future benefits, a cut that will grow over time, year by year, as a lower inflation figure continues to be presented. The reason politicos and pundits like it is because it's a hidden cut: You would still get a cost of living increase, it just wouldn't be as big as it otherwise would have been, so they're hoping you won't notice.

In fact, Pelosi claimed it's not a cut. Well, military spending is projected to go up by scores of billions of dollars a year over the next decade. But because of an earlier agreement, that increases will be less than originally predicted. That smaller increase is being called by literally everyone in Washington a "cut" in military spending. If a smaller increase in military spending is a cut, then why isn't a smaller increase in your benefit also a cut?

But instead, Pelosi echoed right wing blather that this change is "a strengthening of Social Security." This makes it stronger, she said. By which logic, actual cuts in benefits - not just smaller increases, actual cuts - would make it even stronger and the strongest program, the one impervious to fiscal catastrophes or budget strains would be one that was eliminated entirely. The strongest program is one that provides no benefits at all. This is what passes for thinking among leading Dummycrats.

Know this: Social security is not in trouble. It is not going under, it is not going broke. It may need a little tweaking; it's been tweaked any number of times across its history. In fact, there is one easy fix that would secure Social Security for as many years into the future as you care to look: eliminate the cap on income subect to the payroll tax.


Left Side of the Aisle #88

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of December 27, 2012 - January 2, 2013

This week:

- Chained-CPI takes away benefits

- Clown Award: Steve Lonegan of AFP

- Yes, there was a coordinated attack on the Occupy movement

- Outrage of the Week: NRA, the right wing, and gun violence

- And Another Thing: Why Christmas is on December 25

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Jon Swift Roundup 2012

Updated I just emailed my submission to the Jon Swift Memorial Roundup 2012. For those of you who don't know what that is, back in 2007 Al Weisel, who blogged under the name Jon Swift with such brilliant satirical skill that people unfamiliar with him often did not get the joke, had an idea of how lesser-known bloggers could help each other out: He asked them to submit what they thought was their best post of the year. He then posted links to those posts - with the result that a lot of us got to know of each other for the first time.

He did it again in 2008 - but sadly, he died early in 2010 and left a hole which is still unfilled: I have not come across anyone who did satire as well as he did.

In 2010, Batocchio at Vagabond Scholar took up the task of doing the round-up, dubbing it the Jon Swift Roundup. This is the third year. The post with all the links is not up and won't be for a few more days anyway; I will update this post with the link when it is. In the meantime, you can keep checking out Vagabond Scholar.

Just to self-promote here a little, I thought I'd put up a list of what I think were my Top 10 posts of 2012. The one from December 21, just below, was the one I chose to submit. But here's the whole list:

March 8: Eric Holder says Obama can order you to be killed
Holder manufactures a legal justification for the authority of the president to unilaterally order the murder of an American citizen abroad. My apologies to John Yoo, who only justified torture, not murder.

March 17: Afghanistan: Time to get out - now.
Not another couple of years from now, now. Every day of delay is a new crime.

April 28: The usual phony doom and gloom about Social Security
Claims that Social Security is about to "go under" or "go bankrupt" are lies intended to stampede us into accepting drastic cuts in the program.

May 19: The attack on The Commons, our sense of being in a shared society
The Commons, as used here, is the idea that everyone in a society is connected to and has obligations to (and a commitment from) everyone else. Unsatisfied with their gains in riches and influence over the past decades, the 1% are now attacking the very idea of the commonweal, of having to contribute to "the general welfare."

August 30: Voting rights under attack
Voter ID laws are a means of attacking the right to vote - but they are not the only way

September 13: First anniversary of Occupy Wall Street
Occupy Wall Street created a threat to the power of the elites. It had to be stopped.

October 4: Elections 2012: Why I am not voting for Barack Obama
Top 10 reasons I will not vote for Obama and why I am voting for someone else. (This was first runner-up in my consideration of what to submit.)

October 18: Clown of the Week: Antonin Scalia
Why in heaven's name does anyone think this bigoted twit is a great legal thinker?

November 2: Classism
The elites don't just think they are richer than the rest of us or more powerful than the rest of us, they honestly believe they are inherently superior to, better than, the rest of us. Worse, too many of the rest of us believe it, too.

December 21: Guns, gun nuts, gun violence, Second Amendment nonsense, and the bloody results
The Newtown massacre was hardly the first mass shooting and if we don't face down the gun nuts, realize how limited the reach of the Second Amendment is, and act on the knowledge, it won't be the last - or the worst.

If you think some other post was better or any of these suck, feel free to say so.

Updated to note that the Roundup is now up at this link at Vagabond Scholar.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #87 - Part 1

[Welcome to Jon Swift Roundup 2012 readers. If you're curious about what other posts of mine I thought about submitting, my Top 10 list is here. Just FYI, the posts are titled as they are because many are taken from my weekly show in local access cable - which, if you want to see, can be found on YouTube here.]

Guns, gun nuts, gun violence, Second Amendment nonsense, and the bloody results

One week ago, I gave my first "Hero Award" to Jason Whitlock and Bob Costas for having the courage to speak out about our gun culture. Little did they or I know how appropriate their words were about to become.

On Friday, December 14, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, wearing combat gear and armed with two semiautomatic pistols and a semiautomatic rifle, killed 27 people - 20 of them small children - in an attack in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Lanza was brutally efficient and chillingly accurate in his attack to the point of the evidence suggesting that the victims, including the children, were shot at point-blank range.

The names Sandy Hook and Newtown are now part of a grim and lengthening list that includes Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech, and dozens more names that now represent something other than mere geography.

The shock - especially the horror of six- and seven-year old children being methodically shot down - spurred the re-emergence of a phrase that has not been heard in the land for some time: gun control.

Gun control. The question is, are we going to get any of it. The answer is: Not if the right wingers and the gun nuts have their way.

It is worth noting that not a single pro-gun politician would appear on either Meet The Press or Face The Nation the Sunday after the massacre. The NRA - the Nutzoid Rabbit-brains of America - has been unnaturally and happily silent, with even its Facebook page taken down. They are supposed to be saying something later this week, after this show is taped (which occurs on Wednesday), but I don't expect it will be any different from the crap they have dumped on us for years.

Meanwhile, the other bozos have not been so reticent.

For example, Representative Mike Rogers says gun control is the "one thing I hope doesn’t happen."

Herman Cain, the man who proved that a black presidential candidate can be just as much a waste of air as a white one, declared himself "disgusted" by those who dared to suggest that golly gee whiz, maybe Newtown should make us think about, you know, guns 'n' stuff.

For his part, former Arkansas governor Mike HuckleberryHound insisted he knew why the massacre happened: It's because we have "systematically removed God" from public schools. "We don't have a crime problem, a gun problem or even a violence problem," he said. "What we have is a sin problem."

Rep. Louie Gohmert and Gov. Rick Perry, who together reduce the average IQ of Texas by 20 points, insist that they know that the answer to preventing future such massacres in the US is for more Americans to carry guns. Perry wants teachers and administrators to be able to carry concealed guns around school. Gohmert told Fox News - where else - "I wish to God" that Sandy Hook principal Dawn Hochsprung, who was killed while trying to rush Lanza, had had an M-4 in her office so that "when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out ... and takes him out and takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids."

Well, you know what? I don't want to hear it. I don't want to hear the gobbledygook, the nonsense, the lies, the garbage. I don't want hear to any of the noxious venom spewing from the fangs of the snakes at the NRA. I don't want to hear the slimy excuses, the shopworn slogans, the stale talking points obediently invoked by the gun nuts' bought off lackeys in Congress.

What's more, I also don't want to hear it from the Obamabots, the sycophants for who he can do nothing wrong and who will whine that he's doing the best that he can, what with those mean ol' Republicans - not when there are things he can do on his own, by executive order, without Congress, such as banning the import of assault weapons.

Which means I especially don't want to hear any of the mealy-mouthed blather from Mr. Nobel Peace Prize himself, President Hopey-Changey, who talks big about "meaningful action" after five years of doing absolutely nothing about guns - except expanding the areas where people can legally carry them. Thanks to legislation approved and actively defended in court by the glorious Mr. O, you can now transport a gun via Amtrak train. Even better, you can now carry a loaded, concealed gun around in a national park.

So don't expect me to get all gooey about Obama's supposed commitment to "meaningful action" - not when he has never been a leader on the issue of gun control. Not as a state senator, not as a US senator, not as president, and not as a candidate for a second term. In fact, during this last campaign he was faced with one question, just one question, about gun control. It was a question about a ban on assault weapons. He answered with pap about wanting to have "a broader conversation about reducing violence."

And especially don't expect me to get gooey when his press secretary, Jay Carney, is telling reporters that Obama does not want to politicize a tragedy. “There will be a day for discussion of the usual Washington policy debates, but today is not that day."

So what the hell day is the day?

How many more have to die before it's "the day?" How many more have to be shot down before it's "the day?" How many mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, wives, husbands, daughters, sons, have to lie in spreading pools of their own blood before it's "the day?" How many children have to cry out for mommy after a fall or a bee sting until someone has to gently as they can explain again that mommy is no longer there before it's "the day?" How many wives have to wake in the night and reach across the bed and have that moment of confusion before the pain of remembering - yet again - why there's no one there? How many parents have to suffer the repeated gaping empty ache of being in the grocery store and reaching for something before realizing - again - that they no longer have to buy that sort of cereal or that particular brand of peanut butter?

The days of those children, those spouses, those parents, are not measured in minutes but in pains; they are not marked by hours but by aches. So what day is the day? And why is today not the day?

So I don't want to hear it; I don't want to hear any of it. Not the time? Of course it's the time, it's way past the time. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, proving he's not a complete jerk, said that “Calling for ‘meaningful action’ is not enough. We need immediate action.”

Now Obama says he will support a bill to be introduced in the new Congress by Diane Feinstein to reinstate the ban on assault weapons. Well, whoop-tee-do. You'll "support" it. What are you going to do about it, Mr. President? What pressure are you prepared to bring? What political capital are you prepared to spend? Don't give me words, you've already given all of us lots and lots of words. Give me honest-to-gosh actions if you want me to take you seriously.

There are more than 310 million weapons in civilian hands in the US. That is about one-half of all weapons owned by civilians in the entire world.

There were 16,000 murders in the U.S. last year; 12,000 - three-quarters, 75% - were with guns. More than 60,000 more people were wounded, some of them permanently disabled mentally or physically. A gun in the home is 22 times more likely to be used in a homicide, suicide, or unintentional shooting than in self-defense. The US has a rate of 2.8 murders by gun per 100,000 individuals. That is the highest rate in the entire industrialized world and almost seven times higher than the next 22 countries combined. Compared to Great Britain, you are 100 times - remember, this is the rate, not the absolute number, it is the risk - you are 100 times more likely to be killed by a gun in the US than in Britain, which despite its strict gun laws and contrary to what the polluted fantasies of the gun nuts would predict, seems to have retained more than a modicum of political freedom.

Every day we wait, more people die, more people are murdered with guns.

There have been at least 62 mass killings in US over last 30 years. In at least 49 of those cases, the guns involved were obtained legally. Of the weapons used, 72%, nearly three-fourths, were either assault weapons or semiautomatic handguns. Oh, and by the way, do you know how many of them were stopped by some civilian who was packing heat and going "Make my day?" Zippo. Not one. It has never happened.

There have been 23 mass shootings in the US in the last six years - bear in mind that "mass shooting" is defined here as at least five people killed in a single incident. Let's go through that list:

February 12, 2007 - Salt Lake City, UT: An 18-year-old rampaged through the Trolley Square shopping center until he was killed by police. 6 dead, 4 wounded.

April 16, 2007 - Virginia Tech campus, Blacksburg, VA: Seung-Hui Cho, a senior at the school, shot and killed 32 of his classmates before committing suicide. 33 dead, 23 wounded.

October 7, 2007 - Crandon, WI: Tyler Peterson, 20, killed six people, including his ex-girlfriend, at a post-homecoming party. 7 dead, 1 wounded.

December 5, 2007 - Omaha, NE: Robert Hawkins, 19, went on a shooting spree at the Westroads Mall, killing eight people and then himself. 9 dead.

February 7, 2008 - Kirkwood, MO: A gunman opened fire on a public meeting in the city hall, killing six people before he was shot and killed by police. 7 dead, 1 wounded.

February 14, 2008 - DeKalb, IL: A former Northern Illinois University student, 27-year-old Steven Phillip Kazmierczak, opened fire on the campus, killing five people then himself. 6 dead, 21 wounded.

June 25, 2008 - Henderson, KY: After an argument with his boss at the Atlantis plastics plant, Wesley Higdon, 25, killed five colleagues and then himself. 6 dead, 1 wounded.

March 10, 2009 - Geneva County, AL: A 28-year-old man killed his mother then drove ten miles to kill several members of his extended family, neighbors and a bystander. The victims ranged in age from 18 months to 74 years old. 11 dead, 6 wounded.

March 29, 2009 - Carthage, NC: A gunman opened fire on a nursing home, killing seven residents and a nurse. 8 dead, 3 wounded.

April 3, 2009 - Binghamton, NY: Jiverly Wong, a naturalized immigrant from Vietnam, gunned down students and employees at the American Civic Association, where he had been taking English lessons. 14 dead, 4 wounded

November 5, 2009 - Fort Hood, TX: In the deadliest shooting to ever happen on an American military base, an Army Major serving as a psychiatrist went on a shooting spree that killed 13. 13 dead, 30 wounded.

November 29, 2009 - Parkland, WA: A Washington man walked into a coffee shop and shot four police officers execution-style. 5 dead.

August 3, 2010 - Manchester, CT: A driver for Hartford Beer Distributors killed eight people and then himself in a workplace shooting. 9 dead, 2 wounded.

January 8, 2011 - Tucson, AZ: Jared Lee Loughner, 22, opened fire in a Safeway parking lot, killing six people and injuring others including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head at point-blank range. 6 dead, 14 wounded.

September 6, 2011 - Carson City, NV: Eduardo Sencion opened fire in an IHOP and then shot himself. 5 dead, 7 wounded.

October 12, 2011 - Seal Beach, CA: Scott Evans Dekraai, 41, stormed a hair salon where his ex-wife worked and killed eight people. 8 dead, 1 wounded.

February 22, 2012 - Norcross, GA: A man shot and killed two of his sisters and their husbands and then himself in a Korean health spa. 5 dead.

April 2, 2012 - Oikos University, Oakland, CA: 43-year-old One Goh, a former student at the largely Korean Christian campus, entered the school and opened fire. 7 dead, 3 wounded.

May 31, 2012 - Seattle, WA: A man opened fire in a cafe, fatally wounding four people, then killed another in a carjacking before killing himself. 6 dead.

July 20, 2012 - Aurora, CO: During a midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises," a gunman opened fire on the suburban Denver movie theater, killing 12 and injuring dozens of others. 12 dead, 59 wounded.

August 5, 2012 - Oak Creek, WI: White supremacist Wade Michael Page entered a Sikh Temple, opening fire on congregants. He later shot and injured a police officer responding to the scene. 7 dead, 4 wounded.

September 27, 2012 - Minneapolis, MN: Andrew John Engeldinger, a recently laid off employee of Accent Signage Systems, entered the office building and opened fire. 7 dead, 2 wounded.

December 14, 2012 - Newtown, CT: The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary was the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, leaving 27 dead - including 20 young children. 27 dead.

And that's just the mass shootings. Here are six more shootings from just this year that didn't make the cut because fewer than five people were killed.

July 8 - Dover, DE: Three persons walked onto a soccer field and killed the tournament organizer and a 16-year-old player. Two persons were injured by random gunfire. 2 dead, 2 injured.

July 17 - Tuscaloosa, AL: A gunman with a military-style assault rifle went to the house of a man who he believed knew someone else and shot that man. He then walked into a crowded bar and began shooting. 17 wounded.

August 13 - College Station, TX: A 35-year-old man, a self-proclaimed gun enthusiast, killed a constable and a passerby, and wounded four others, before police killed him. 3 dead, 4 wounded.

August 24 - New York, NY: Ten people are shot, 2 fatally, by a disgruntled former employee named Jeffrey Johnson in a shooting outside the Empire State Building. 2 dead, 8 wounded.

October 21 - Brookfield, WI: A man walked into a spa, killed his wife and two other women, and wounded four before killing himself. 4 dead, 4 wounded..

December 11 - Portland, OR: A gunman wielding an assault rifle opened fire in a mall crowded with Christmas shoppers, killing two people and sending at least one person to a hospital before being found dead from apparently self-inflicted wounds. 3 dead, 1 wounded.

Did that list seem long, seem tedious? Imagine how it seems to the families and friends left behind, a list that is not words but real people, a list written not with type but with blood. And every day we delay, the list of the dead grows longer.

Oh, yes, we're told, it's unfortunate, it's terrible, but it's the price we pay for freedom! The freedom we are guaranteed by the Second Amendment, the Amendment that itself guarantees our freedom!


I'm going to have to get a little legalistic on you, but it's necessary because you can be damn sure that the gun nuts are going to trot out the Second Amendment argument over and over, the argument that goes "I can have my guns - the Constitution says so!" First, let's be clear on what the Amendment says: "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."

The first important Supreme Court decision about the Second Amendment was Presser v. Illinois, which was decided in 1886. In it, the Supreme Court found that the Second Amendment limited only the power of Congress and the national government to control firearms, not that of individual states. States could essentially put on whatever restrictions they wanted. That decision was affirmed in Miller v. Texas, decided in 1894. Now, this was before the idea of incorporation, the idea that the protections of the Constitution extend to the states as well as the federal government, became commonplace, so these decisions are not truly relevant the legal situation we face to today. But they do mean that right away this idea that the Founding Fathers wanted everyone to be able to own whatever and however many guns they wanted is totally bogus.

The next big case, the important one, was United States v. Miller. This was in 1939 and it concerned the National Firearms Act of 1934. That Act required that certain types of weapons be registered and taxed. A unanimous Court upheld the law, saying there was no conflict with the Second Amendment. The Court found that:
In the absence of any evidence tending to show that possession or use of a [weapon of the sort involved in the case] has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument. ...

With obvious purpose to assure the continuation and render possible the effectiveness of such forces the declaration and guarantee of the Second Amendment were made. It must be interpreted and applied with that end in view.
The syntax is rather stilted, but the meaning is clear enough.

For 69 years, that was precedent, relied on by all lower Courts and occasionally referred to by the Supreme Court itself. For 69 years, the legal standard was that states and the federal government were within their legitimate powers to regulate sale and possession of weapons which were not related to maintaining "a well-regulated militia" - which, in the absence of state militias (except to the degree that the National Guard could be considered such), pretty much meant any weapon at all.

Put another way, the guarantee under the Second Amendment was not an individual right but a collective one: It applied to the people as a whole, not to discrete individuals.

After 69 years, the narrowest majority of the Supreme Court, 5-4, decided to ignore those decades of precedent, or more to the point, to regard them as irrelevant. In 2008, in the case District of Columbia v. Heller, the Court ruled for the first time that the Second Amendment does provide an individual right to own a gun for "traditional lawful purposes," such as self-defense within the home. This decision only applied to federal enclaves - such as the District of Columbia. However, two years later, in McDonald v. Chicago, the Court ruled in another 5-4 decision that the finding in Heller applied to the states as well.

That is what the gun nuts now rely on, that is what they now argue: "Can't have gun control. Second Amendment. Supreme Court has ruled. Debate is over." The first thing is to ask those wackos if at any time during those 69 years that the Court said otherwise, in all that time did any of them just say "the Court has ruled, the debate is over." Of course they didn't. So don't expect us to do it now.

The other thing is more important: Those nuts - and, in fact, a lot of gun control advocates - don't know what Heller and McDonald actually said. I'm not going to discuss all the logical convulsions (the word is chosen deliberately) the majority had to go through to claim that the first half of the Amendment, about a militia, is completely disconnected from the second half, about bearing arms. The thing is, I don't have to.

In Heller and reasserted in McDonald, the majority of the Supreme Court actually embraced the concept of the 1939 Miller decision that the federal government and the states have the authority to regulate firearms and then argued that the Second Amendment only applies to weapons "in common use for lawful purposes." In fact, the Court said the ruling, quoting here,
should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.
The majority also said that other existing or potential prohibitions, such as banning concealed weapons or the carrying of "dangerous and unusual weapons" were unaffected by the decision.

In fact, here's the real kicker: In these decisions the Supreme Court said that the Second Amendment provided an individual right to possess a gun for "traditional lawful purposes," such as self-defense within the home. In other words, under this decision, you have an absolute right to have a gun in your house - but not necessarily anywhere else.

So the gun nuts who claim that the Second Amendment gives them the right to have pretty much any kind of gun they want and as many of them as they want wherever they want are, happily, completely wrong. Heller and McDonald are far more limited than gun nuts hope and control advocates fear.

Carrying concealed guns can be banned. Carrying guns into schools or government buildings - or, for that matter, on Amtrak trains or in national parks - can be banned. Assault weapons can be banned. Semiautomatic handguns can be banned. High-capacity magazines can be banned. Safety locks can be required. "Dangerous and unusual" ammunition such as hollow-point bullets and armor-piercing rounds can be banned.

Will any of that happen anytime soon? Maybe - I doubt it given the gross cowardice of too many supposed liberals in DC, but maybe, at least some of it. The shooting in Newtown has touched a national nerve in a way few things have of late.

But here’s one last thing, a bottom line: Based on current jurisprudence, the truth is that pretty much any kind of gun other than basic hunting rifles, shotguns, and ordinary handguns could be banned outright.

And dammit, they should be - ban them all. You want to hunt? Go with a basic rifle. Don't even try to tell me that you need an AR-15 to go after deer. In fact, why don't you use a bow? Or is the extra effort involved in having to track the deer to get close enough to take it down with a bow instead of dropping it from a couple of hundred yards away with your manhood too much for you?

You want to target shoot? Use a pellet gun. Yeah, yeah, I know they can be dangerous blah blah blah - but don't even try to tell me you need a Glock to shoot out a paper bulls-eye.

Ban them all. I know that's not going to happen. I know there is no chance of that in my lifetime and probably much longer, if ever. But it's not going to stop me from saying it and from wanting it - and as long as I am 100 times more likely to be killed by a gun here than in the UK, I'm going to keep on saying it and keep on wanting it.


Left Side of the Aisle #87

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of December 20-26, 2012

This week:

- Guns, gun nuts, gun violence, Second Amendment bullshit, and the bloody results

Friday, December 14, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #86 - Part 8

And Another Thing: 40th anniversary of Apollo 17

Wrapping up this week with And Another Thing, our occasional foray into things not political, usually some cool science thing or another.

This one starts with a memory: In 1962, I was in eighth grade. I can still remember how classes stopped so we could gather in one classroom and watch John Glenn take off to become the first American to orbit the Earth.

The was Mercury program, which was followed by the Gemini program and the Apollo program, capped - in a certain dramatic sense - by Apollo 11, when, on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to land on the Moon.

We sometimes forget that there were more Apollo missions after that - except of course when the movie "Apollo 13" comes on the TV again. But in fact there were six more Apollo mission after the first Moon landing, including the ill-fated number 13. But by the end of those, public interest had waned, NASA was facing budget stresses, and scientists were increasingly arguing that as much or even more could be learned by robotic missions - at less cost and less risk of life.

And certainly there have been some incredible advances and successes with so-called "unmanned" space shots. For example, we have sent a rocket to a comet to blow off a piece to look inside - and have gone back to same comet years later to see how it had changed in that time. We have landed a probe on an asteroid. We - and in all this by "we" I mean humans, not necessarily Americans - have taken a sample of an asteroid and brought it back to Earth. And of course there are the Mars rovers: Spirit, Opportunity, and now Curiosity. The judgment of those scientists has been proven correct.

But still it is worth noting, if only in passing, that Apollo 17 was the last Moon landing, the last time human beings landed on the Moon. And this past Tuesday, December 11, was the 40th anniversary of that event.


Left Side of the Aisle #86 - Part 7

RIP: Ravi Shankar

I just had to mention this quickly:

Pandit Ravi Shankar, the best known contemporary Indian musician, one of the great musicians of the world, who among many other things won three Grammies, worked with both the Beatles and Philip Glass, recorded with classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin, and brought 400,000 people to their feet at Woodstock, died December 11 in San Diego, Calif. He was 92.

He had performed as recently as November 4 - but the stress of recovery from recent heart valve replacement surgery was too much.

He will be missed.

The video below is not from Woodstock; unfortunately I couldn't find a good video of that performance online. I do remember the rain, however. Anyway, the video is from Monterey Pop, which was two years earlier, in 1967. In a way, this may be a better one anyhow since this is the performance through which most of us got to know of Ravi Shankar and since (unlike Woodstock) it took place in the daytime you can see the audience reaction.


Left Side of the Aisle #86 - Part 6

Clown Award: Rahm Emanuel

The Clown Award, given weekly for meritorious stupidity.

What got this award occurred a couple of weeks ago but I decided to include it because the dishonoree he is so thoroughly deserving. It is Rahm Emanuel.

Rahm Emanuel, the man who before spending a trillion - yes, with a T - dollars to bail out the banks, said "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste." The man who as Obama's chief of staff called progressive opponents of his boss "retarded." The man who left DC to become mayor of Chicago and now continues to show his command of nutzoid indifference to reality.

The Chicago Transit Authority has announced significant fare hikes for its buses and trains. Commuters are understandably upset about the increases - but Emanuel responded with “Fares stayed the same. Basic fares stayed the same, which you cannot say about gas prices.”

Yes, basic fares, single-trip fares, are staying the same - but the cost of passes are going up significantly and the commuters, who make up 55% of the system's traffic, are the ones you use the passes, you twit.

But that wasn't enough for him: He suggested commuters who don't like the new fares are free to get behind the wheel and drive, saying "you will make that choice" - it's just a "choice" whether you will drive or take public transportation, ignoring the fact that many of the people who rely on the CTA don't have cars and can't afford them.

Rahm Emanuel - we always knew it, but thanks for confirming yet again that you really are a clown.


Left Side of the Aisle #86 - Part 5

Outrage of the Week: Children are military targets

This one is a little hard for me to stomach but I'll do it.

Back in October, there was an "incident" in Afghanistan.

"Incident" - what a wonderfully vague, anesthetizing word. I think of how my wife, who is a heart attack survivor, finds it so amusing that among the community of women who have survived heart attacks, the current vogue is to insist on calling each other "champions." You're not a survivor, you're a "champion." The other thing is referring to the heart attack itself as an "event." You don't ask someone "When did you have your heart attack," you ask "When was your event."

We don't want to use words that actually express what we're really saying. We want to shield ourselves from the reality, to hide behind euphemisms. My wife says "I didn't have an 'event,' I had a heart attack. I almost died." A block party, now that's an event. A movie premiere is an event. A heart attack - is not. It's nothing like those others. We use words to hide ourselves from the harshness of what we're expressing.

So in October, we had an "incident" in Afghanistan. In this "incident," three children, aged 8, 10, and 12, were killed by NATO bombing while gathering dung for fuel, something often done in the area since there aren't a lot of trees around. Reports, as always, conflicted: One said insurgents were bombed as they were digging holes to bury mines and the children were killed by shrapnel from the blast: They were "collateral damage," which is one of the all-time great euphemisms. Another, the only on-the-scene account, said that they went to the site right after the attack and there were no adult bodies there, just the children. The US at first - of course - denied any civilians were killed only to later say yeah, maybe we did kill some innocent people. But we done got us three insurgents and that's what counts - whoo-hoo!

Here's the thing: On December 3, Military Times published a despicable piece by two staff writers arguing in effect that children are legitimate military targets because sometimes insurgents use kids. They quote an unnamed "Marine official" at a Marine base in Afghanistan as suggesting the children were not innocent and in fact they were the three insurgents killed.

A senior Army officer in Afghanistan, one Lt. Col. Marion Carrington, referred to, in one of the more chilling of the euphemisms, "opening the aperture," the "aperture" through which the military looks at the world, so that our "aperture" now is not just looking for military-age males, all of who are assumed to be insurgents, but for in his words "children with potential hostile intent."

But y'know, maybe we shouldn't be surprised: This is not new. Maybe we shouldn't even be outraged - or, that's not true, rather we need to realize that this is not the root outrage.

Back in the early '70s, during the Indochina War, there was an outfit called NARMIC: National Action/Research on the Military-Industrial Complex. It was a project of the American Friends Service Committee, which as you may know is the social action arm of the Quaker church in the US. Well, NAARMIC produced a slide show called The Automated Air War in Indochina. It was about the use of anti-personnel bombs and more particularly for us here, about the use of electronic sensors to detect supposed enemy movements and so to direct bombing. It talked about how even at that time attacks were being directed by people far from the battlefield and about the military's plans to increasingly automate its wars. What we're seeing today, the drones, has been in development for a long time. It's not new, it's just more advanced.

Well, the real reason I bring up this old slide show is that it contained a quote from an Air Force training manual. Now, this was 40 years ago; I don't remember the particular name of the particular manual, but I did manage to locate the quote. This was the definition of a military target contained in that Air Force manual. A military target is:
Any person, thing, idea, entity, or location selected for destruction, inactivation, or rendering non-usable with weapons which will reduce or destroy the will or ability of the enemy to resist.
A military target, that is, is anything you think destroying will help you win your war. Anything you think will hurt "them" is a legitimate military target. So if you think blowing 8-year old children to smithereens with drone strikes and bombing is what will help you win, that is what you will do, because 8-year old children are legitimate military targets.

So if you buy into war, that is what you are buying into. If you buy into the Afghanistan War, if you bought into the Iraq War, if you buy into the bombing and drone attacks on Pakistan, on Yemen, and elsewhere, if you buy into the argument that drone strikes are okay or even a good thing because they are "better than ground forces," that is what you are buying into: You are buying into the idea that it's okay to bomb children because they might have "potential hostile intent."

And that is perhaps the most outrageous thing of all.


Left Side of the Aisle #86 - Part 4

Means testing Medicare

Something else while we are on the topic of deceit and lies mean to harm the greater number of us. One of the proposals being kicked around to avoid the purely mythical fiscal cliff is the idea of “means testing” (or in the even more arcane version emerging recently, “income relating”) Medicare as a tradeoff for GOPpers accepting the increases in taxes on the very rich which the right wing is already conceding are going to come so why are the Dummycrats offering something in exchange which only goes to prove that yes, the Dimcrats are happy to cut Medicare, they just need a way to sell it to the public which overwhelmingly - even among a majority of Republicans - opposes any such thing.

But here is the really important thing about why the right wing would luuuv to "means test" or "income relate" Medicare. What "means testing" means is that you target benefits, payments, tax breaks, whatever, to people who fall below a certain income level while denying those same sort of benefits to people who are deemed too rich to need them.

Lots of federal benefits, both tax benefits and direct benefits, are means tested. Whether or not you get them and how much you get if you do is dependent on your income. However, for most of its life and still for the most part, Medicare is not. Once you reach age 65, if you have worked and paid Medicare taxes for at least ten years, then you’re eligible for benefits, no matter how high your income is. Medicare, that is, in insurance. You pay a premium, you get a benefit.

If you go to buy health insurance in the private market, they don't ask you how much money you make. The question is what level of coverage do you want. The benefit is based on the premium; the premium is not based on your income. If you buy life insurance, car insurance, homeowner insurance, renter insurance, travel insurance, whatever; when you go to insure your car, the agent doesn't ask for a copy of your latest income tax return. The benefit is based on paying the premium, not on having a certain income. Medicare is and has been insurance.

In 2007, a crack was opened in that foundation. Since then, the highest-income people who are enrolled in the program have to pay more for their benefits. That still only affects a very small part of the total: Only 5% of those who have Part B (which covers doctors’ office visits and outpatient care) and 3% of those enrolled in Part D (which is the prescription drug plan) pay the higher premium.

The right wing would love to expand this, would love to open that crack into a gulf. And it's not just the right wing. Dick Durbin is for expanding means testing of Medicare. Max Baucus is for it. Claire McCaskill is for it. Emanuel Cleaver, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, is for it. So is Obama - in fact, last year he proposed exactly that, presenting a plan that would raise Medicare premiums while keeping the income limits the same so that eventually 25% of those in Part B or D would be paying the higher premiums.

So what is the real problem? What is the problem with richer people paying more? Means testing Medicare fundamentally changes the nature of the program. Means testing Medicare changes it from insurance to "just another government giveaway," just more "welfare" for "the 47%" who "won't take responsibility for their lives." Means testing Medicare is just another right wing trap, just another snare the Dems will walk into with their eyes wide open, knowing full well what they are doing, knowing full well the weapon they are handing to the right wing to attack Medicare, because again, cutting the deficit is the most important thing evah because the banks must be served and whoever gets hurt as a result? Hey, what do they care about them? These people don't depend on Medicare.


Left Side of the Aisle #86 - Part 3

Michigan passes "right to earn less" law

Ever since GOPpers took control of the Michigan state government two years ago, they have been drooling at the thought of destroying the ability of workers to work together to defend and advance their interests. One of the plans was to make Michigan a so-called "right to work" state. But Gov. Rick Snyder said that "wasn't on the agenda" because it would be "too divisive."

But two things happened in November: One, a labor-backed proposed amendment to the state constitution that would have enshrined the right to collective bargaining suffered a clear loss, suggesting a moment of weakness for labor. Two, the GOPpers lost seats in the legislature, so their own position wouldn't be as strong once the new legislature was sworn in. Something had to be done and it had to be done now.

So last week, Gov. Snidelywhiplash announced at a press conference that he would support a bill to make Michigan a "right to work" state. That was at 11AM. By 8PM that same day, bills to do exactly that had been introduced in and passed by the state Senate without any committee hearings or opportunity for public comment. After a mandatory 5-day waiting period, the state House did the same and Snidelywhiplash signed it within hours.

Let's be clear about what the bull about "right to work" really means. First off, it doesn't have a damn thing to do with having a right to work; it has nothing to do with having a right to a job, so don't even think that. Legally, it means that workers can't be required to join a union or pay a fee equivalent to union dues in order to work at a unionized business. More exactly, these laws make it illegal for unionized workers to negotiate a contract that requires each employee who benefits from that contract to pay their share of the costs of negotiating and policing it.

In practical reality, what it means is the "right" to see unions undermined, the "right" to see unions forced out, and so the "right" to see workers returned to being serfs on the lords' feudal estates, the "right" to a shrunken future, the "right" to get less pay, lower benefits, and zero job security, the "right" to stand alone against the corporation and be told you are on equal footing. In other words, it is the "right" to get screwed.

These laws are being sold on two bases: One is More Jobs!

But studies have shown that "right to work" laws have not boosted employment growth in the states that have them. In fact, for states that are looking to high-tech jobs, to “knowledge” sector jobs, these laws can actually hurt their economies.

The other argument being used is “fairness” or, in its extreme version, “freedom.” Again, the "freedom" is the "freedom" to get paid less, the "freedom" to have no say, the "freedom" to have no protection, the "freedom" to be screwed.

But why the push? Why do these people want it? Why do they want it so bad? Because they know what they want to keep you from knowing, they understand what they desperately hope you don’t understand.

The top graph on the right is what they hope you don’t know, don’t understand: The red line is corporate profits as a percentage of GDP since the end of World War 2. The blue line is wages as a percentage of GDP over that same time. I want you to notice that blue line, the trend in that blue line since 1970.

Then look at the next graph. It's what's called a GINI graph, or more exactly a graph of a GINI index. The GINI index is a means of measuring the income inequality in a nation. The higher the GINI index, the greater the inequality. This graph shows how the GINI index for the US has changed since 1965.

So what has that got to do with this? What has that got to do with what I'm talking about?
Check the bottom graph: The blue line is the share of national income going to middle class over the last several decades. The red line is the portion of the middle class who are union members. You can see they go down together. The less unions, the less income. Do you really think there is no connection? Do you really think there is no connection between that graph and what's been happening? Do you really think there is no connection between that graph and the anti-union campaigns of these GOPpers and corporate flacks?

They look at the top graph and they know that they are the red line and you are the blue line and they see that blue line going down and they want it to keep going down. And they know that third graph is what keeps that red line going up and what keeps that blue line going down and that GINI graph going up.

When they say anything they do is for your benefit, they are lying to you.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #86 - Part 2

Hero Award #2: Joe Lueken

Joe Lueken of Bemidji, Minnesota, owns a small chain of three grocery stores. After 46 years in the business, Lueken, now 70, he has Parkinson's, so he is retiring to spend his time traveling the world with his wife. His sons were not interested in taking over the business and he had been presented with offers from large national chains to purchase his stores. So he decided to do what any decent retiring owner of a successful business would do: He is giving the business to his employees - giving as in it will cost those employees nothing. (Notice I said "decent" retiring owner, not "typical" retiring owner.)

“My employees are largely responsible for any success I've had, and they deserve to get some of the benefits of that," Lueken said. "You can't always take. You also have to give back."

The method chosen is an ESOP, an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. Such plans provide employees an ownership stake in the business: They own stock in it. The amount of shares each employee will receive in this case will be based on length of service and salary. The program is expected to pay the Lueken family off for the sale in three to five years.

ESOPs were popular for a time in the '70s - I was among the proponents - until the bosses started perverting them by setting them up and funding them with "loans" from employee pension funds: In essence, they were looting the employees' pensions in order to support the company's current stock price. One real difference here is that here, the employees are not among the stockholders, they are the stockholders. The employees own the company outright, or rather will when the transfer is complete. What's more, the fund is required to buy back the shares of any employee who leaves or retires - which means that it is always the current employees who hold the stock.

One of Lueken's sons said "We could have hired a gunslinger from Minneapolis, but that didn't sit well because the reward wouldn't go to the proper people." It's disturbing and revealing that getting the rewards to "the proper people" - the ordinary workers that Lueken said were largely responsible for his success - is so unusual. Even so, it is worth recognition when it does happen.

Joe Lueken - you are a hero.


Left Side of the Aisle #86 - Part 1

Hero Award #1: Jason Whitlock and Bob Costas

Something new on Left Side of the Aisle. I've got the Outrage of the Week. I've got the Clown Award, which was supposed to be an occasional feature but has become a regular one because there are just so many clowns out there. So I'm going to balance that some with what - given the state of the world - I am confident will remain an occasional feature: The Hero Award.

To kick this off, I have two Hero Awards, the first of which actually goes to two people.

Shortly before 8AM on Saturday, December 1, Jovan Belcher, a starting linebacker for the Kansas City Chiefs, shot and killed Kasandra Perkins, the mother of his 3-month old child. He then drove to the Chiefs' practice facility, thanked his coach and general manager, and shot himself in the head right in front of them, killing himself.

There was some criticism of the decision that was made for the Chiefs to go ahead with their scheduled NFL football game just 28 hours later. Others defended the decision, talking about "moving on" and even how unfair it would be to fans of the Carolina Panthers who had traveled to Kansas City to see the game.

Jason Whitlock, a columnist for Fox Sports, didn't see it that way. He wrote:
I would argue that your rationalizations speak to how numb we are in this society to gun violence and murder. We’ve come to accept our insanity. We’d prefer to avoid seriously reflecting upon the absurdity of the prevailing notion that the second amendment somehow enhances our liberty rather than threatens it.
Our current gun culture simply ensures that more and more domestic disputes will end in the ultimate tragedy, and that more convenience-store confrontations over loud music coming from a car will leave more teenage boys bloodied and dead.

Handguns do not enhance our safety. They exacerbate our flaws, tempt us to escalate arguments, and bait us into embracing confrontation rather than avoiding it.
NBC broadcaster Bob Costas used his halftime segment on "Sunday Night Football" to address the same issue. Mocking those who mouthed platitudes about "something like this puts it all in perspective," he said "Those who need tragedies to continually recalibrate their sense of proportion about sports would seem to have little hope of ever truly achieving perspective." He then quoted Whitlock's column, including his declaration that, even in the face of speculation about concussions and head injuries, quoting Whitlock, "What I believe is, if he," that is, Belcher, "didn’t possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today."

Costas, with his higher name recognition and bigger platform, got most of the backlash, including the predictable demands he get fired, but neither he or Whitlock have backed down.

At a time when federal courts are declaring that states can't ban the carrying of concealed guns, at a time when yet again again again we have someone walking into a public place and shooting it up, in this case a mall in Portland, Oregon, leaving three dead and another wounded, at a time when we tell ourselves the childish fantasy that even more people having even more guns will make us safer, at that time Jason Whitlock and Bob Costas said what needs to be said. And for that, they are heroes.


Left Side of the Aisle #86

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of December 13-19, 2012

This week:

Hero Award #1

Hero Award #2

Michigan passes "right to earn less" law

Means testing Medicare

Outrage of the Week: Children are military targets

Clown Award: Rahm Emanuel,0,793097.story

RIP: Ravi Shankar

Apollo 17 40th anniversary

Friday, December 07, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #85 - Part 6

Outrage of the Week #6: What's missing from "Grand Bargain" talks

Last for this week, and I have very little time for this, so it will have to be short. It's about the so-called "Grand Bargain to avoid the Fiscal Cliff" - which, as I keep saying, ain't grand, ain't no bargain, and there ain't no cliff. In fact, while some have called it more like a "slope," the truth is it's even more like stepping off a curb.

I've been trying to talk about this, but in a way, that's hard to do because everything we've seen is just posturing. There has been lots of talk and bloviating about tax revenues and "entitlements" and everyone staking out positions the know the other side won't accept, and all of it just for show. It's all Kabuki theater, all stylized drama and makeup. There's nothing there to really grab on to as a source of intelligent comment.

So what needs to be noted is what is not in the script. Instead of being a matter of "there is no there there," this is like some of the "there" that should be there but isn't.

First is that there are not two sides here. There is one side, the "cutting the deficit is the most important thing evah" side, a side that takes as a point of faith that benefits to ordinary people must be cut. The only dispute is over just how to cut and just how deep to cut - along with how small can tax increases on the rich and powerful be while still looking like you're being tough on them.

Get outside the Beltway, outside that intellectually-stunted isolation booth filled on the one hand with pandering politicos and on the other by pundits more concerned with access than accuracy, and you find the American people as a whole are saying they don't care nearly as much about the deficit as they do about jobs and the economy.

But here is the real thing I wanted to mention today, the real outrage or at least one of them in this business.

Look at that graph on the right and realize that in all the discussions about spending cuts going on now, all the talk about all the ways to step away from this fantasized cliff, there is no proposal to take anything from the top half of that graph.

Not one penny. It's not even mentioned. You tell me how that is not an outrage.

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