Friday, June 28, 2013

Weekly reminder

As of June 26, at least 5,443 people had been killed by gunfire in the US since Newtown, at least 57 of them in Massachusetts.

Left Side of the Aisle #114 - Part 5

Clown Award: Clarence Thomas

And since we're still talking about the Supreme Court, I might as well make it a clean sweep. This is our other regular feature, the Clown Award, given for acts of meritorious stupidity. This week, the recipient of the big red nose goes to that ever faithful source of "What?" - Justice Clarence Thomas.

The case here involves a somewhat technical legal point about the proper interpretation of a previous Court decision regarding affirmative action in college admissions. By a 7-1 vote in a decision announced on Monday, June 24, the Supreme Court told an appeals court that it misinterpreted the justices' precedent when reviewing the policies of the University of Texas at Austin. The majority reiterated that affirmative action is constitutional means to further states' compelling interest in fostering a diverse student body, but said the Appeals Court had not looked closely enough at the school's race-conscious admissions program.

The decision is a sad one because it means such programs must be subjected to "strict scrutiny," meaning, in essence, that to defend such a program the school must be able to show that it is absolutely necessary to achieve diversity on campus, that there is no "race neutral" means of achieving the goal. Which is, as I think is obvious, a very high standard to meet. It's another cut in the death by 1,000 cuts to which affirmative action is being subjected.

Okay, but what about Thomas?

Well, y'see, Clarence is against affirmative action altogether. He wrote his own concurring opinion saying what he has said before: He would not only do away with the school's admissions program, he would do away with all affirmative actions programs of all sorts,everywhere. This despite the fact that Thomas is himself an affirmative action baby. In fact, he did it consciously: He acknowledged in his autobiography that when he applied to Yale Law School, he asked that his race be taken into account.

But that's not why he gets the big red nose, not quite. He also said that when he graduated from Yale, he couldn't find a job. He went on job interviews with "one high-priced lawyer" after another and got treated dismissively; they even, he wrote, "unsubtly suggested that they doubted I was as smart as my grades indicated."

And why, according to Clarence Thomas, did this happen? Because Yale had an affirmative action program. That's why these "high-priced lawyers" wouldn't believe the evidence of his grades. Because Yale had an affirmative action program.

Now frankly, I can think of a much more obvious reason why these "high-priced lawyers" at a time less than 10 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act might have thought this black guy was not smart enough for their exalted company - but not Clarence Thomas. Oh, no, not him.

Clarence Thomas, a man so stuck in his ideology that in the case at hand he compared the University of Texas's admissions program to "slaveholders and segregationists," a man so stuck in his ideology that he insisted that getting into college via an affirmative action program is worse - worse for that student - than not getting into college at all, is a man so stuck in his ideology that he was incapable of recognizing racism when it walked up and smacked him in the face. Clarence Thomas is a clown.


Left Side of the Aisle #114 - Part 4

SCOTUS makes it harder for employees to sue for discrimination and retaliation

That SCOTUS decision I just talked about was not the only - I started to say lamebrain decision but that's wrong; as I said before, these people know exactly what they're doing - was not the only destructive decision that the filthy five pushed through. The day before, on Monday, they handed down two corporate boot-licking decisions that make it harder for employees to sue businesses for discrimination and retaliation.

First, they said that in order to be considered a supervisor in a discrimination lawsuit, that person must be able to hire and fire someone - which essentially leave employees no recourse against a management that fails to deal, or at least fails to deal effectively, with harassment or discrimination against employees by lower-level managers.

The court then decided to limit how juries can decide retaliation lawsuits, saying victims must prove employers would not have taken action against them but for their intention to retaliate. That is, if, for example, as in the case at hand, you leave your job after complaining about harassment only to be denied a promised job with a new employer after your old employer blackballs you, you have to prove that the only reason the old employer did that was to retaliate against you for your complaints, that they would not have done it but for an intent to retaliate. The desire to retaliate can't be part of the reason, it's got to be the driving cause without which the blackballing could not have happened.

What do you think are the chances of anyone ever being able to prove that?

The minority was disturbed enough that Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who wrote both dissents, took the unusual step of reading them from the bench as Sam Alito rolled his eyes and shook his head. Ginsburg slammed, quoting, "the court's disregard for the realities of the workplace" and, in another unusual step, directly called on Congress to pass legislation to overturn the decision, as it did in the case of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which effectively overturned a Supreme Court decision that had strictly limited workers' ability to file lawsuits over pay inequity.

These, by the way, were just two of a long list of pro-corporate decisions SCOTUS has handed down this term. One way of measuring the pro-corporate tilt - although "tilt" considerably understates it - the pro-corporate tilt of the Court is used by the Constitutional Accountability Center, which tracks in which cases the US Chamber of Commerce submits an amicus, or friend of the court, brief and how it does. This year, the Chamber came out on the winning side in 14 of 17 cases.

Like I said before, the filthy five know exactly what they are doing. And it's all about power to the powerful.


Left Side of the Aisle #114 - Part 3

Outrage of the Week: SCOTUS guts Voting Rights Act

You know what this is. You know what it's about. It's the Outrage of the Week and how could it have been anything else? Most of the time I like to use this time to bring up something of which you're less likely to be aware, something that hasn't gotten the coverage it should. This time, however, it's something that's been all over the news but is so morally outrageous and ethically repugnant that there is no way I could not address it.

On Tuesday, June 25, a day that will live in its own sort of infamy, the Supreme Court announced its decision in the case of Shelby County v. Holder and effectively gutted enforcement of central provisions of the Voting Rights Act. It did so on the spurious grounds that, quoting, “things have changed dramatically” since the Voting Rights Act was enacted in 1965.

In other words, the Supreme Court - or, more precisely, the reactionary flakes making up the by-now traditional 5-4 majority - has decided that when it comes to voting, racism, racial discrimination, it just isn't a problem any more. Nope. All fixed, all gone.

At issue were Sections 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Section 5 is the part of the law that requires districts with a history of racial discrimination in voting to have any changes in their voting laws approved either by the Justice Department or a special federal court. Section 4 contains the formula for deciding what jurisdictions are subject to Section 5. Most, but not all, of those jurisdictions, which included several whole states and part of some others, were in the South. There were nine states covered, one of which was Alaska. But there were sections of California, Michigan, and New York - among other places - covered as well.

The troglodyte majority of the Court let Section 5 stand but declared that Section 4 is unconstitutional. That is, the Court said the federal government could require areas with a history of discrimination to preclear changes in their voting laws - but left the government with no way to say that any area had such a history - so there's no one, no jurisdictions, to which the law could be applied. They let the law stand but stripped out any means of enforcing it.

This is insane. In the words of civil rights hero and longtime congressman John Lewis, the Court has "put a dagger in the heart of the Voting Rights Act."

The opinion was written by John Roberts, whose picture is used to illustrate the word "smug" in the dictionary.

He wrote, quoting, “Our country has changed, and while any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions. There is no doubt that these improvements are in large part because of the Voting Rights Act. The Act has proved immensely successful at redressing racial discrimination and integrating the voting process."

In reaching that conclusion, that racial discrimination in voting has been "redressed," the majority looked at only two things: rates of voter registration and rates of voter turnout. The majority quite literally ignored the racial, ethnic, and class impacts of modern voter suppression means, such as voter ID laws, racial gerrymandering, and reducing voting hours. When Congress renewed the Voting Rights Act in 2006, it did so by overwhelming bipartisan majorities - in fact, it was passed unanimously in the Senate before being signed by George Bush. At the time, Congress produced what was called a mountain of evidence about the continuing need for the Act and the continuing justification for Section 4.

In fact, writing for the minority, Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote that "the record for the 2006 reauthorization makes abundantly clear [that] second-generation barriers to minority voting rights have emerged in the covered jurisdictions as attempted substitutes for the first-generation barriers that originally triggered preclearance in those jurisdictions." That is, while the barriers to voting were different, the same areas were still erecting them.

None of that evidence figured in the majority's decision.

So go back to Roberts' statement, that the very improvements which the majority claims renders the formula used in Section 4 as obsolete are largely due to the Voting Rights Act. Think about that: The majority is saying that the very improvements that make the law "obsolete" are due to the law. This is exactly, precisely, like saying that "Since we put a traffic light at that intersection, there have been a lot fewer accidents there. So the fact that there are fewer accidents there now proves that we no longer need the light."

Or maybe you'd prefer Ginsburg's version; she said the majority's reasoning was "like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet."

This decision is insane, it is twisted. It ignores - deliberately ignores, deliberately because it must have been because it's too obvious to have been overlooked - the reality on the ground; ignores even how the Act is still being (or, now, has been) used. Just some recent examples:

- In 2011, Florida attempted to cut early voting hours, but a DOJ objection under Section 5 forced the state into a compromise - and even with that compromise, Florida and scandalously long voter lines became synonymous.

- Just last summer, a Texas redistricting plan was knocked down under Section 5 after a federal court found that, quoting, "the plan was enacted with discriminatory intent” and was designed to protect white incumbents while targeting minority incumbents. The court said that there was "more evidence of discriminatory intent than we have space, or need, to address here.”

- Later that same week, Texas was blocked under Section 5 from implementing a photo ID law by a federal court that found that the law "imposes strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor, and racial minorities in Texas are disproportionately likely to live in poverty." It was bad enough that Texas's own data said the law would have a disproportionate impact on Hispanics.

- Earlier this year, the DOJ forced South Carolina to accept a very broad interpretation of a provision in a new voter ID law that provides an exception to the requirement that voters have an ID if they provide a reason for not having one.

- A voter photo ID law had been on hold in North Carolina for fear it would run afoul of Section 5. Now there's nothing to prevent it proceeding. Mississippi is doing the same

That's not the only immediate impact of this putrid decision. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has already announced that the state's voter ID law, the one with “strict, unforgiving burdens on the poor," the one where even the state's own data said it's discriminatory, is going into effect "immediately" and the redistricting maps, the ones with the "discriminatory intent" to protect white incmbents and target minority ones, is following right behind.

The bigots and bozos of the right will tell you "Calm down. Racial and ethnic discrimination in voting is still against the law. Don't get so emotional."

Well, first, racism and bigotry is not something I'm prepared to be unemotional about. But more directly, yeah, sure, it's still illegal. So after the discrimination, after you are prevented from voting, after you're subjected to 8-hour lines to vote, after Texas gerrymanders its minority officials out of office, after the damage has been done, after your rights have been taken away, after that, then you can undertake a years and years long, expensive, draining legal fight with all the burden of proof on you even as your vote and your representation continues to be taken from you the whole time that's going on. That's your answer?

Oh, but wait, but wait! There's another answer! The filthy five, the malevolent majority, also said that Congress could just come up with a different formula for Section 4. The fact that when Congress renewed the Act in 2006 it found the old formula still valid, again, did not even come up in the majority's decision. Beyond that: What do you think are the chances of Congress any time in the forseeable future, any time in the next century, agreeing on a new formula to determine where an historical pattern of discrimination exists?

And do you think for one minute, for one second, that the filthy five don't know that? That they are unaware of the long-term effects of their ruling, that they are unaware of the potential flood of bigoted laws to which they have opened the gates, the stranglehold they have put on means to guarantee racial and ethnic justice in voting?

If you do think that, you're a damn fool. As John Lewis said, they stuck a dagger in the heart of the Voting Rights Act. And they knew exactly what they were doing.

At some point, at some point, after more pain, after more discrimination, after more denials of rights, after more years of struggle that should not have been necessary, at some point, if justice ever does arrive, this decision will be as embarrassing to us as Plessy v. Ferguson and Dred Scott are now.

This decision is, as I said at the top, morally outrageous and ethically repugnant and the filthy five injustices who voted for it - John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito, Clarance Thomas, and Anthony Kennedy - are despicable.


Left Side of the Aisle #114 - Part 2

Good news: "Pray away the gay" ministry apologizes, shuts down

From there, a quick shot of related good news, news that shows that sometimes - just sometimes, but yes, people can surprise you.

For nearly nearly forty years, a large Christian ministry called Exodus International has been claiming to offer a "cure" for homosexuality.

On June 18, Exodus released a statement apologizing to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community for years of harsh and hurtful judgment, both by the organization and from the Christian Church as a whole. The next day, the group's board of directors announced the ministry is shutting down.

Alan Chambers, president of Exodus, said “Exodus is an institution in the conservative Christian world, but we’ve ceased to be a living, breathing organism. For quite some time we’ve been imprisoned in a worldview that’s neither honoring toward our fellow human beings, nor biblical."

So it's good riddance to this outpost of "pray away the gay" and to Alan Chambers, I say that I'm not among those who would have been targets of your ministry, so it's not for me to accept your apology, but it does seem sincere so I hope those to who it's directed, can.


Left Side of the Aisle #114 - Part 1

SCOTUS smacks down DOMA, leaves PropHate in the dust

To paraphrase Gabriel Heater, ah, there's good news this afternoon. Or whenever you're watching this.

The Supreme Court watchers got it right: The Court has struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. DOMA was the bill that denied marriage-related federal benefits to same-sex couples even if they were legally married in their state. Now, those couples have access to those benefits. The decision does not expand same-sex marriage, it does not increase the number of same-sex couples who can be legally married, but it is a very real step toward same-sex marriage justice.

Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority, wrote that the law "violates basic due process and equal protection principles" and that "no legitimate purpose" could justify its effect, which, he said, was "to disparage and to injure those whom the state, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity."

What's more, the Supreme Court watchers got it right both ways: The Court punted on California's Proposition 8, saying the people filing the suit lacked standing to bring it after the state government very pointedly declined to appeal the decision of the Appeals Court that struck the provision down. The result of the Supreme Court's decision is to leave the Appeals Court ruling in place.

The Appeals Court had stayed the effect of its ruling until the Supreme Court ruled on the appeal. Now it has and the Appeals Court is expected to lift the stay very soon. Gov. Jerry Brown has said county clerks must be ready to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

These decisions were, to put it simply, as good as anyone could have rationally hoped for. We could dream of SCOTUS using the Prop8 case to strike down all such provisions in all states, but it was precisely that: a dream. Nice to imagine, but not realistic.

As a footnote, Justice Antonin Scalia read parts of his dissent about the DOMA decision from the bench. He described the majority ruling as "a lecture on how superior the majority's moral judgment in favor of same-sex marriage is." To which my answer is "uh, yeah."

He also said the court should have deferred to Congress's wishes. Remember that. It becomes important later.

Of course this doesn't mean it's over, not by a long shot. Even before the decisions were announced, the bigots and bozos were pledging themselves to the preservation of their prejudice, even throwing around words like "revolution" and "civil war."

In a letter released last Thursday, more than 200 conservative activists vowed to ignore any ruling in favor of same-sex couples, claiming marriage - which of course they insist means one man and one woman, how could it be anything else because "the Bible says" even though the Bible actually says it could be a lot of different things including polygamy - claiming marriage is defined by "Natural Moral Law" and what's more, the Supreme Court doesn't have the authority to say otherwise, nyah, nyah.

The letter ends with a clear threat that conservatives will refuse to comply with any court ruling in support of marriage equality, although it's not clear just what that could involve or what the group intended to do if the Court ruled that way, which of course it now has.

One possibility could be some TV appearances, which could be at least part of the point, since the signers are mostly anti-LGBT Christian conservatives, many of whom have fallen from prominence in recent years and likely miss the attention.


Left Side of the Aisle #114

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of June 27 - July 3, 2013

This week:
SCOTUS smacks down DOMA, leaves PropHate in the dust

Good news: "Pray away the gay" ministry apologizes, shuts down

Outrage of the Week: SCOTUS guts Voting Rights Act

SCOTUS makes it harder for employees to sue for discrimination and retaliation

Clown Award: Clarence Thomas

Friday, June 21, 2013

Weekly reminder

As of June 18, at least 5,192 people had been killed by gunfire in the US since Newtown, at least 55 of them in Massachusetts.

Left Side of the Aisle #113 - Part 10

More on NSA spying: significance of leaks can be measured by ferocity of the response

So Edward Snowden was responsible for the information about the massive phone surveillance, the sweeping up of data about millions of phone calls a day and will everyone please stop with the crap that they only know what number called what number, not the name on the account? Don't be an idiot: In almost every case, if you know the number, you know the name.

Haven't you heard of reverse look-up phone books? I tried it last night: I put my phone number into a search engine and it came up with my name and address. I tried it with my ex-wife, it worked for her. I tried with my brother and his kids and it worked with them, too. They know who you are.

But getting back to the leak directly, this is indeed one of the most significant leaks, especially when combined with the revelations about PRISM and other programs of massive government surveillance. How do we know how significant it was? By the ferocity of the reaction.

Rep. Peter King said not only Snowden and whoever leaked the info about PRISM should be prosecuted, but the reporters should be as well.

Attorney General Eric Holder says national security has been damaged.

Sen. Lindsey Graham said “I hope we follow Mr. Snowden to the ends of the earth to bring him to justice,” verbally connecting him to the way we used to talk about Osama bin Laden.

Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that the disclosures risk “long-lasting and irreversible harm to our ability to identify the threats facing our nation.”

Other were, let's just say, more blunt.

House Speaker John Boehner called Edward Snowden a "traitor." Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson called the leak "an act of treason," as did, in the same words, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Remember, these are all people who knew about this and could have done something about it but didn't do a damn thing.

But at the same time as these rantings, we have some among the punditry yawning loudly and dismissing the whole thing as yesterday's news. Time's Joe Klein argued that "we pretty much knew everything that has 'broken' in the past week." Walter Pincus took the same tack in the Washington Post, citing a couple of articles from 2006 to 2012 which covered the same general ground as the current revelations.

Which is true enough, although those articles, significantly, lacked the documentation the current round has. Pincus could even have gone back a bit further, to 2004.

But then what does that mean? Is all this ho-hum, BFD material? Or is it gross treason, a threat to our very existence as a nation? It's neither. Those are just two different ways of dodging the issue of the government asserting the right to poke, pry, and prod into every part of our lives.

Another way to know how significant this is, is how the number of "terrorist plots" from which we have supposedly been saved keeps growing. First was two, but when news media started throwing cold water on those cases, the number grew to "dozens." It's now more than 50 plots in 20 different countries, that have been supposedly foiled, the total getting the Joe McCarthy "I have in my hand" treatment.

But Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, who have tried repeatedly to raise the alarm on this, declared in a joint statement that “We have not yet seen any evidence showing that the NSA’s dragnet collection of Americans’ phone records has produced any uniquely valuable intelligence. All of the plots that were mentioned appear to have been identified using other collection methods.”

In other words, all of them, up to and including President Hopey-Changey himself, who declare that this sweeping surveillance is "a critical tool in protecting the nation" are lying through their teeth. And don't you forget it, not for one second.


Left Side of the Aisle #113 -Part 9

Hero Award: Edward Snowden

I said last week I was going to talk more about the NSA spying, and I am, but I'm going to start by giving out a Hero Award, given as the occasion arises to someone who just does the right thing, whether big or small.

This week, as you might have guessed, the award goes to Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and former employee of the defense contractor Booz-Allen-Hamilton. He is, as I expect you know, the individual responsible for one of the most significant leaks in US political history.

In a note accompanying the first set of documents he provided to the Guardian, a leading newspaper in the UK, he wrote: "I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions," but "I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant."

In a subsequent interview with the paper, he said does not fear the consequences of going public, only that doing so will distract attention from the issues raised by his disclosures. "I know the media likes to personalize political debates, and I know the government will demonize me." Both of which have come true in recent days as pundits delight in pop psychology speculation and government flacks try desperately to change the subject from the leaks to the leaker.

As for Snowden, he said "I feel satisfied that this was all worth it. I have no regrets."

The words of a hero.


Left Side of the Aisle #113 - Part 8

Outrage of the Week: SCOTUS says no right to remain silent before arrest

Okay - I had some good news from the Supreme Court this week, so it's only right that it get returned to the place we usually find it. This is the Outrage of the Week.

You know about the Miranda warning, the one cops on every TV show read out starting with "you have the right to remain silent." It's drawn from a 1966 SCOTUS ruling based on a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. What you likely do not know is how many loopholes, limitations, and exceptions to that rule the Court has created in the years since. Now it's come up with one of the worst.

Part of the rule is that prosecutors can't use a defendant's silence against them in court. Exercising your right to remain silent is just that, your right, and just as juries can't properly regard a defendant's refusal to testify on their own behalf as any sort of indication of guilt, so too prosecutors can't raise the possibility that refusing to answer police questions indicates guilt.

Now, however, the Supreme Court says prosecutors can use a person's silence against them if it comes before they are told of their right to remain silent.

The case is that of Genovevo Salinas, who was convicted of a 1992 murder. While he was being questioned by police, but before he was arrested or read his Miranda rights, Salinas answered some questions but did not answer others, including when he was asked if a shotgun he had access to would match up with the murder weapon - which is kind of a "have you stopped beating your wife" kind of question, but leave that aside.

Prosecutors in Texas emphasized his silence on that question in the summation to the jury, saying it helped demonstrate his guilt. Salinas appealed, saying his Fifth Amendment rights to stay silent should have kept lawyers from using his silence against him in court. Prosecutors argued that since Salinas had answered some questions and since he wasn't under arrest and so wasn't compelled to speak, his silence on the incriminating question doesn't get constitutional protection. Texas courts agreed with the prosecutors, saying pre-Miranda silence is not protected by the Constitution.

The Supreme Court has now upheld that decision by the usual and predictable 5-4 ideological split.

The logic, if you can call it that, the logic of the decision, written by Sam Alito, is that Salinas' "Fifth Amendment claim fails because he did not expressly invoke the privilege against self-incrimination in response to the officer's question."

Follow that? In other words, because he remained silent and didn't answer the question rather than saying something like "I am invoking my Constitutional rights under the Fifth Amendment's provision regarding self-incimination to remain silent," prosecutors were justified in claiming that silence proved his guilt. Remember, this refers to a question asked by the cops before he was arrested, so before the time he had to be informed of his right to remain silent.

That is, the Court has essentially ruled that prior to an actual arrest, anything you say or don't say can be used against you unless you specifically and in so many words invoke your rights to silence, rights which you are not expected to know about which is why the cops have to tell you about them if you are arrested.

This decision is the product of diseased minds prepared to twist logic and law into any shape necessary to say "cops and prosecutors win" - and it is an outrage.


Left Side of the Aisle #113 - Part 7

Clown Award: Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein

Now for one of our regular features, the Clown Award, given for acts of meritorious stupidity.

This week, the winner of the big red nose is the CEO of the Goldman Sachs, Lloyd Blankfein, or, as he is also known, Dr. Evil.

He told Politico last week that when people are gloomy about the economy, they get scared and that can hold back economic growth. "[The] culture of America has gotten too negative," he said, and "sentiment matters."

In other words, what's wrong with the economy, what's keeping it from growing as it should? You! You're not happy enough.

The US is currently in the the weakest labor-market recovery since World War II. The unemployment rate is still above pre-recession levels. And the jobs that are being created are mostly low-paying: 60% of the jobs lost in the recession were middle-wage jobs, while 58% of those gained in the recovery were low-wage jobs. About a third of working families in the US, representing about 47 million people, are in low-wage jobs today.

But the problem is, you're not happy enough.

Hourly pay has grown by just 2 percent per year, on average for the past four years, the weakest four-year stretch on record, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, hourly pay for nonfarm workers fell at a 3.8 percent annualized rate in the first quarter - the biggest quarterly decline since the BLS started keeping track in 1947.

But the problem is, you're not happy enough.

The unemployment rate for African-Americans rose to 13.5 percent. The U-6 unemployment rate, which includes the jobless and people who are working part-time because they can't find anything better, is at 13.8 percent. And the number of long-term unemployed - people out of work for 27 weeks or more - is 4.4 million. The percentage of people working part-time is still higher than it was before the recession - nearly 19 percent of all workers.

The economy is still 2.4 million jobs short of where it was in January 2008. At the current pace of job growth, the economy may not be back to full employment until 2021.

But the problem is, you're not happy enough.

Meanwhile, corporate profits are at an all-time high. Which I'm sure makes Lloyd Blankfein, who made $26 million last year working for a company that only still exists because of a $10 billion taxpayer bailout in 2008, very happy indeed.

He's still a clown. A happy clown, but a clown.


Left Side of the Aisle #113 - Part 6

George Zimmerman's father releases e-book; claims African-American organizations are "the real racists"

Pierre Beaumarchais, author of the play versions of 'The Barber of Seville' and 'The Marriage of Figaro,' once wrote that "I hasten to laugh at everything, for fear of being obliged to weep." I often feel the same way. Here's an example:

Robert Zimmerman is George Zimmerman's father; George Zimmerman, in case you've forgotten, is the man standing trial for murder for killing 17-year-old Trayvon Martin.

Well, Robert Zimmerman has released an e-book called "Florida v. Zimmerman: Uncovering the Malicious Prosecution of my Son, George." It's - well, you can tell what it is from the title. It's his views on the "how and why" of the case.

He loudly declares that racism had nothing to do with what happened, that no way is his son a racist; in fact, he actually says some of his best friends are African-American.

In fact, he thinks the racism - he actually says that until this case he believed that racism "was a thing of the past" - apparently he had never come across anything like this:

or this:

or this:

So with racism against blacks obviously banned to a distant past, he insisted that the racism involved in the case is coming from elsewhere and he devotes an entire chapter of his book, entitled "Who Are The True Racists," to the question of where.

Who are the true racists, according to Robert Zimmerman?

For one, the Congressional Black Caucus, which he calls "a pathetic, self-serving group of racists ... advancing their purely racist agenda” who "are truly a disgrace to all Americans.”

The NAACP, which he says "simply promotes racism and hatred for their own, primarily financial, interests” because “without prejudice and racial divide, the NAACP would simply cease to exist.”

NAACP President Benjamin Jealous was labeled "what I would expect of a racist.”

Even Trayvon Martin’s funeral director got dragged in, being called a “racial activist.”

Others on the list include: the National Basketball Players Association, the Black Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers, the National Black United Fund, and the United Negro College Fund. Are you seeing a pattern here?

While he doesn't outright call Barack Obama a racist, he does claim that he has “shamelessly” sought to exploit the case “to obtain great advantage in the African-American community.”

And to, to use a wonderful old phrase, cap the climax, Zimmerman says that because of Eric Holder’s "politically motivated decision" to investigate whether Trayvon Martin’s death violated federal civil rights laws, the FBI did not have “adequate resources to investigate clearly identified potential terrorists in the Boston area.”

That's right, he's blaming the Boston Marathon bombing on the investigation of George Zimmerman.

And the laughs just keep on coming.


Left Side of the Aisle #113 - Part 5

Feel-good news #2: Five-year-old Jayden Sink leaves Westboro Baptist Church fuming and frustration with "Pink Lemonade for Peace" stand

The feel-good story you may not have heard about comes from Topeka, Kansas. A couple of months ago, in March, in fact, I mentioned the house directly across the street from the compound of the Westboro Baptist Church, a house which was being painted in the rainbow colors of gay pride. It's called The Equality House and is maintained by a group called Planting Peace, which campaigns for human rights, gay rights, and anti-bullying efforts.

Last week, five-year-old Jayden Sink of Kansas City decided to set up a pink lemonade stand in front of the house after her parents explained its meaning to her. She put up a sign saying "Pink Lemonade for Peace: $1 Suggested Donation." Supporters came in droves and $1 turned into hundreds.

By the end of the day she had collected $400 - plus another $1000 through an online campaign, which had ballooned to $16,000 by Tuesday. All the money is going to Planting Peace.

The bigots in the compound across the street tried to shut her down. They tried to get the police called in. They failed. Like the losers they are, they resorted to yelling profanities at those who stopped by and, later, putting up a sign with an anti-gay slur.

The mighty, mighty, God-is-on-our-side Westboro Baptist Church, left fuming and frustrated by a 5-year-old girl. Now, that is a feel-good story.


Left Side of the Aisle #113 - Part 4

Feel-good news #1: Sebastien De La Cruz sings national anthem again in face of racist tweets

I've got two feel-good stories involving giving a stick in the eye of the bigots. I know you heard about the first one, how could you not have, but I wanted to mention it anyway.

Before Game 3 of the NBA finals in San Antonio between the Spurs and the Miami Heat, an 11-year-old mariachi singer named Sebastien De La Cruz performed the national anthem. That set of a flood of racist tweets, such as referring to him as a "beaner" and, worse, a wetback" who "just snuck in 4 hours ago" and who was singing "the Mexican hat dance" and demanding to know why this "Mexican kid" - who was born and has lived his whole life in San Antonio, by the way - was singing "our" anthem.

The response by the San Antonio Spurs? They had him come back and do it again before Game 4. Which he did to an ovation and loud cheers.

That was a class act, Spurs. Along with the fans and especially De La Cruz.

Like I said, I know you heard about it, but it deserved to get mentioned.


Left Side of the Aisle #113 - Part 3

Good news #3: SCOTUS says drug companies' "pay for delay" deals can be challenged as violating antitrust laws

The third SCOTUS decision is one that got much less notice than the others, but could - could - have a real impact on the cost of medications for Americans.

The big pharmaceutical corporations have become notorious for manipulating the patent laws to keep their greedy hands in our pockets. Patents on drugs usually last for 20 years but BigPharma has often succeeded in getting patents renewed by claiming a "new use" for an existing drug (thus extending the monopoly) or in getting a new patent for a "new" drug which is nothing but a minor reformulation of an existing one.

Generic drug makers sometimes challenge these patents on various grounds; if a challenge succeeded, it would enable a generic version of the drug to be on the market years sooner than it would otherwise. The brand-name makers usually respond by suing the generic maker. So they reach a "compromise" under which the brand-name maker pays the generic maker a sometimes hefty settlement in exchange for the generic version being held off the market for some number of years. The overall effect is that the extremely over-priced brand name drugs for which there is no generic alternative continue to be big profit centers for BigPharma and big drains on the budgets of many, particularly seniors.

Drug companies had wanted the Supreme Court to immunize these agreements from possible antitrust attack in court. By 5-3, the Court said no. The ruling said that "precedents make clear that patent-related settlement agreements can sometimes violate antitrust law," which would make them illegal.

The Court resisted motions to make all such so-called "reverse payment settlements," or "pay-for-delay" deals as they're sometimes called, illegal, but did say they can be challenged. And as their invariable result is to guarantee a delay in a generic alternative reaching the market, that's good news.


Left Side of Aisle #113 - Part 2

Good news #2: SCOTUS says states can't require demand additional ID to register with federal form

Another bit of good news coming out of the Court came on Monday, June 17, when by 7-2 the Justices ruled that states cannot demand proof of citizenship from people registering to vote in federal elections unless they get federal or court approval to do so.

The issue is that of the voter-registration form produced under the federal "motor voter" registration law. In striking down an Arizona law, Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote the majority opinion - good lord, what is the world coming to - said federal law "precludes Arizona from requiring a federal form applicant to submit information beyond that required by the form itself."

To do that, they would need permission from the federal Election Assistance Commission or a federal court ruling overturning an adverse decision by the commission.

The decision was a clear slap in the face to the Arizona reactionaries who, despite their orchestrated whines about "voter fraud," seem much more frightened by brown skin than by busted ballots.

However, the state can still demand the extra information from anyone who registers via state offices rather than via the federal motor-voter form. And state officials say they will ask the Election Assistance Commission to approve the citizenship proof for the federal form and will fight any denial in court.

That's the process laid out in the Supreme Court's ruling, which Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne called "a clear path to victory for the people of Arizona."

I think a victory is what the people of Arizona just won.


Left Side of the Aisle #113 - Part 1

Good news #1: SCOTUS says human DNA cannot be parented

I always like to start off when I can with some good news and this week there are three good news items, all of them from a truly unexpected source: the US Supreme Court.

On June 13, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously in a suit brought by the Association for Molecular Pathology that companies cannot patent parts of naturally-occurring human genes, reversing three decades of patent awards by government officials.

The opinion was written by Clarence Thomas, who wrote that patents held by Myriad Genetics Inc. on an increasingly popular breast cancer test are invalid because they violate patent rules. The court has said in the past that laws of nature, natural phenomena, and abstract ideas are not patentable, standards that have been long ignored by the US Patent Office.

Myriad had claimed a patent on two specific human genes it used to come up with its BRACAnalysis test, which looks for mutations on the breast cancer predisposition gene, or BRCA. Those mutations are linked to an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Myriad sells the only BRCA gene test because it can use the patents to keep other researchers from working with the BRCA gene to develop other tests.

The Court ruled that "a naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated."

The Chicken Littles who say that research will collapse if companies can't patent things like genes and plants and other natural phenomena are either foolish or corporate shills. For one thing, the Court also ruled that synthetically created DNA, known as complementary DNA or cDNA, can be patented “because it is not naturally occurring,” that is, it doesn't exist in nature.

And as Thomas pointed out, there are ways for Myriad to make money off its discovery. For one example, it could have sought a method patent on the particular way its test works. You just can't patent nature. And that's good news.

There's an amusing - sort of amusing, anyway, because it doesn't make a difference here but could under other circumstances - anyway, a sort of amusing footnote:

Justice Antonin Scalia voted with the majority, but wrote his own concurrence to make it clear that he didn't agree with parts of Thomas's opinion. He said "I join the judgment of the Court, and all of its opinion except Part I–A and some portions of the rest" because "I am unable to affirm those details on my own knowledge or even my own belief."

What's section I-A? That's the part where Thomas recited the basic fundamentals of molecular biology, stuff any first-year college student - or maybe even high-school senior - would have to know to pass a biology course, stuff Scalia is "unable to affirm on my own knowledge or even belief." Antonin Scalia, it seems, doesn't believe in genes.


Left Side of the Aisle #113

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of June 20-26, 2013

This week:
Good news #1: SCOTUS says human DNA cannot be parented

Good news #2: SCOTUS says states can't require demand additional ID to register with federal form

Good news #3: SCOTUS says drug companies' "pay for delay" deals can be challenged as violating antitrust laws

Feel-good news #1: Sebastien De La Cruz sings national anthem again in face of racist tweets

Feel-good news #2: Five-year-old Jayden Sink leaves Westboro Baptist Church fuming and frustrated with "Pink Lemonade for Peace" stand

George Zimmerman's father releases e-book; claims African-American organizations are "the real racists"

Clown Award: Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein

Outrage of the Week: SCOTUS says no right to remain silent before arrest

Hero Award: Edward Snowden

More on NSA spying: significance of leaks can be measured by ferocity of the response

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Weekly reminder

As of June 11, at least 4,924 people had been killed by gunfire in the US since Newtown, at least 46 of them in Massachusetts.

Left Side of the Aisle #112 - Part 5

NSA spying

All right, you have to know that I was going to talk about this. The big news of the past week was the twin revelations about massive warrantless surveillance of Americans.

One revelation was that the federal government has been actively and secretly collecting the telephone records of every telephone call, both landline and mobile, made within, into, or out of the United States. Data about all your phone calls is being sucked up by the feds and stored for later retrieval.

That's been reported before, yes, in fact I mentioned it twice last year on this show, once in May and again in September. But two things broke through the "ho-hum" these reports have gotten in the past. One was that this was the first clear evidence that the Obama crowd was continuing and even expanding the sweeping surveillance of Americans that the Bush gang initiated.

Second, this time there was a smoking gun: The Guardian, a leading newspaper in the UK, got hold of a copy of the court order authorizing a three-month renewal of an order to Verizon to turn over "metadata" records on an "on-going, daily basis."

Those records don't include the content of the calls, but they do include what number you called from, what number you called, when you called, the routing information to transmit the call, which can reveal where each party was as the time of the call, and how long you talked. For every single Verizon phone call in the US. It doesn't include the content? As even Joe Biden pointed out, you don't have to listen to the content of the calls to create a picture of your life that is, quoting him, "very, very intrusive."

The court order obtained by the Guardian only mentions Verizon specifcally but it would be bizarre to imagine that other companies were not also so ordered, and in any event, NBC News soon reported that the government has been collecting records on every phone call made in the US - all of it being done without even making a pretense of the "individualized suspicion" that's a hallmark of what's required by the Fourth Amendment.

That report about the blanket collection data on all phone calls was quickly followed by the revelation of a program code-named PRISM, which involves connecting directly into the central servers of nine leading US Internet companies, those being Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple, with Dropbox, the cloud storage and synchronization service, described as “coming soon.” The NSA can extract audio, video, photographs, e-mails, documents, and connection logs. Remarkably, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper admitted to the program's existence.

All the companies have denied involvement in or in some cases even knowledge of PRISM, but it's quite possible they're hanging their denials on a very small nail: The documents describing the program refer to being plugged into the companies' central servers, but another classified report refers to NSA “collection managers" sending instructions to equipment installed at company-controlled locations - that is, the NSA can't send instructions to the central servers, just to its own equipment that is linked to the central servers. In terms of the issue at hand, that's an example of what I call a distinction without a difference.

Because PRISM obviously involves collecting content - in fact, in the case of Skype calls, it can include audio and even video - the spooks have to make at least something of a nod to Constitutional protections, especially since the NSA is barred by law from actual surveillance of Americans within the US, it's only supposed to do it to "foreigners."

So the PRISM program is not a sweeping dragnet like the phone data. The NSA is capable of pulling out anything it likes from a company's data stream, it's all there for the taking, but under current rules the agency does not try to collect it all.

Instead, analysts key in search terms that are designed to produce at least 51 percent confidence in a target’s “foreignness,” which is hardly what anyone could call a tough standard to meet; in fact it's about the weakest standard you could have and still claim to have one. In a great line, John Oliver said on the Daily Show that "it's flipping a coin plus one percent."

The result is that even when no American is singled out for targeting, the NSA routinely collects a great deal of American content. That is described as “incidental" and training materials for new analysts tell them “it’s nothing to worry about.”

But of course it is. Analysts are typically taught to chain through contacts two “hops” out from their target. That means, at a minimum, everyone in the suspect’s inbox or outbox is swept in along with everyone in all those people's in and out boxes and everyone in all those people's in and out boxes and the “incidental collection” expands exponentially. This is “six degrees of separation” played out in the real world.

The response from the White House to all this was, not surprisingly, that this was all perfectly legal, all according to law, nothing to see here, move along, go back to watching The Bachelorette or whatever. In fact, The Amazing Mr. O inisted that the program is essential - Remember what I said last week in reference to DNA testing that whenever official types get a tool it instantly becomes absolutely essential for the preservation of all that is good and decent and chaos will reign if it's taken away? Well, he said these programs are essential to combatting terrorism. Quoting him, the program "may identify potential leads with respect to folks who might engage in terrorism."

That is, again, his defense for this spying being "essential" is that they "may identify potential leads with respect to folks who might engage in terrorism." Just how many weasel words can you fit into one sentence?

If you're looking to Congress for relief, don't. One thing the White House is right about is that members of Congress knew about this. Every member of the Senate was informed. Ron Wyden and Mark Udall tried to raise the alarm, but as members of the Senate Intelligence Committee they were bound by an oath to not reveal the details, because they were classified. The point, however, is that members of Congress, particularly in the Senate, had multiple opportunities to rein in the program or at least establish some transparency and tighter controls - and they failed to do so time and time again, being willing - most of them - to sacrifice the rights and privacy of the public rather than risk being accused of voting against "national security" or of being "soft on terrorism."

So what you heard instead was a boatload of CYA.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said "I know that people are trying to get to us. This is called protecting America."

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, ranking member of the committee, said "This is nothing particularly new," a sentiment echoed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, who said "Everyone should just calm down and understand this isn't anything that's brand new."

So it's been going on for years. That's supposed to make me feel better?

Sen. Lindsey Graham, demonstrating his usual grasp of reality, said that he was "glad" the NSA is collecting the phone records before saying that "you just can't track people's phone calls," that there must be a reasonable belief that the people being surveilled are involved in terrorism - which is exactly what the program does not do. He is such a twerp.

Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a conservative GOPper who was one of the authors of the provision of the Patriot Act which the White House and its defenders are using to claim this is all legal, made that same point: In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, he asked “How could the phone records of so many innocent Americans be relevant to an authorized investigation as required by the Act?”

In fact, it can't. But don't expect Congress to do a damn thing about it, not when that would involve admitting they had screwed up so badly for so long.

More on this and on the hero who revealed the phone spying, next week.


Left Side of the Aisle #112 - Part 4

Outrage of the Week: Privacy? What's that?

It's time for our other regular feature, the Outrage of the Week.

You know, sometimes I think when you ask a government official - at the federal or even the state level - about privacy, they'll think you mean their privacy, their ability to keep secrets, not your ability to do it. It's becoming a mixture of amazing and frightening how cavalierly government officials will propose programs that involve more and more tracking of individuals without, it sometimes seems, even realizing the implications of what they are saying.

The latest example of this is the plan by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation to no longer accept cash at Tobin Bridge* tolls beginning early next year. Over the next several years, the Department hopes to transition to electronic-only payment systems on the Massachusetts Turnpike and at the Logan International Airport tunnels as well.

And oh, aren't they all a-flutter about all the benefits accruing to us, the driving and riding public, as a result of this! It will reduce congestion! You'll be able to fly right through the toll plaza without even slowing down! Isn't that wonderful? Not like having to slow down to a crummy 15 miles per hour or even to - gasp! - have to stop for a toll!

The new system does away with toll booths entirely and replaces them with overhead sensors that can read your E-ZPass. The E-ZPass system, currently used in 15 states, allows commuters to pass through toll booths without stopping. An electronic scanner identifies an E-ZPass transponder in the vehicle and charges the cost of the toll to the driver’s account, which is linked to a debit or credit card.

Wait - what if you don't have an E-ZPass? Well, yeah, says State Secretary of Transportation Richard Davey, the plan will necessitate a wholesale shift to E-ZPasses. But that's no big deal, we'll provide them for free! See? Problem solved!

Okay, what if you still don't have an E-ZPass? Again, no problem: Cameras will capture the license plates of drivers who don’t have passes, and they will receive a bill for the toll in the mail.

The state estimates that once the $120 million project is fully implemented, the state will save around $50 million a year - most of which will come from firing three-quarters of the people currently working the toll booths.

So let's run it down: In order to provide you the enormous, incalculable benefit of not having to slow down at a toll booth, the state is proposing a program that involves throwing 300 people out of work, essentially requiring you to open a credit or debit account to which the state has access with the alternative of having to effectively pay a penalty (the postage cost of returning a bill for a toll), and - and here's that privacy part - enabling the state to create, if it chooses, a database of every car that uses the MassPike, the Tobin Bridge, or the Logan tunnels, when it did, and where it was on the MassPike when it did.

The program itself I think is bad enough. The idea that it enables the state to build that sort of citizen-tracking database is an outrage - and the fact that state officials may honestly have not even thought of this when they proposed it is an even bigger one.

*For those of you unfamiliar with the area, the Tobin Bridge carries US Route 1 over the Mystic River between Charlestown and Chelsea, just north of Boston.


Left Side of the Aisle #112 - Part 3

Frustration about Obamacare

Time here for a quick personal note before we take a break.

It's been a little over three years since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare, was signed into law. During the months of the debate over the law, there were persistent polls saying that a majority or at the very least a sizable minority of the country was against it.

But to my own great frustration, those polls all but never asked people who said they were against it why they were. When polls finally did get around to asking, several months into the argument, they found pretty consistently that about 1/3 of those who were against it - generally around 16-18% of the total sample - felt that way because the proposal was not liberal enough, was not broad enough, did not regulate the insurance industry enough, did not provide enough access to care, it was, bottom line, just not good enough.

I was among those who felt that way. I still do. At the time, those of us who thought that way were denounced by those who supported the bill. We were fools, unrealistic, we didn't understand politics; the quote on the right side here saying I "live in a magical fantasy world" comes from that time. "This is what can pass," we were told and "when it goes into effect people will love it."

I said at the time that if you start by calling for "what will pass" you'll inevitably wind up with less than you could have gotten. Which is, of course, exactly what happened.

What brings this up is a CNN poll from the end of May, which found that 43 percent of Americans support Obamacare, thirty-five percent oppose the law because it’s too liberal and 16 percent oppose it because it isn’t liberal enough - which is pretty much the same breakdown there was three years ago when the law passed. So much for everyone will love it.

But while that poll is what brought this up, this is why I brought it up: Something else people like me were told over and over again at the time was that we should get on board because, it was said, "this is just the start, we'll come back next year to make it better!" I said at the time that you wouldn't be fighting for improvements, the only thing you'd be fighting for was to protect the program against attacks and cutbacks. Which, again, is exactly what happened.

So I just want to say to everyone who said "we'll be back, we'll make it better" in any form to anyone: Just where the hell have you people been these last three years? Where are your campaigns for improvements? Where is your "fight to make it better?" When does "next year" get here?

If your real interest was in access to health care for everyone rather than in access to a political victory for Barack Obama, I ask you again: Just where the hell are you?

Unhappily, saying "I told you so" never actually fixes anything. But it does allow me to vent some frustration.


Left Side of the Aisle #112 - Part 2

Clown Award: Bill O'Reilly

The whole preceding item could be taken as a very long introduction to one of our regular features, the Clown Award, given for acts of meritorious stupidity.

This one starts with the news that Tippecanoe School for the Arts and Humanities in Milwaukee recently celebrated School Spirit Week with a series of events for students in kindergarten through eighth grade. As part of that, the student council chose Friday of the week to be what they called "Gender Bender Day," a voluntary event that called for boys to dress like girls and girls to dress like boys.

And of course some parents hit the roof. It was called “ridiculous,” “creepy," "the wrong lesson," it's "having students dress as transvestites," and in one particularly revealing comment, one mother claimed the event promotes the acceptance of homosexuality among students - and we all know what a horrible thing being accepting of gay people is.

The school tried to cool things off by renaming it "Switch It Up Day" but that of course failed. Still, what happened is that the day came and went, some participated, some didn't, and the world, naturally did not come to an end.

Despite that, those parents are not the winners of the big red nose this week. No, this week, it goes to that supremo of stupidity, that icon of idiocy, the clown's clown, Bill O'Reilly.

The topic of "Gender Bender Day" came up on his show, and he denounced the school's teachers as his favorite long-since cliched epithet "pinheads" while claiming the whole thing was a "politically correct" "anti-bullying" project. Which first off shows how, typically, he has no idea what he is talking about: recall this was done by the student council, not the teachers or administration, as part of "school spirit week" and had nothing to do with any anti-bullying effort.

But that sort of base ignorance is not enough for the high standards BO usually sets. In response to BO's "it's an anti-bullying tactic" rant, his guest, comedian Adam Carolla, said "I have a six-year-old son, I have twins. He had to ride in his sister's pink car seat the other day for a mile and he screamed like a stuck pig the entire time."

O'Reilly says, quoting, "That's a good sign. That's a good sign because, if he had liked that, you might have to send him to camp."

That's right, according to Bill O'Reilly, if a boy likes pink, there's something wrong with him. He needs correction. He needs treatment, he needs to be sent to - just what sort of camp were you thinking of, Mr. BO?

This kind of rigid, doctrinaire, sexist thinking is stupid, it is bigoted, it is damaging to children, it is the notion of a complete and total clown.

Oh, and by the way: Apparently, according to BO, a boy liking a pink car seat is a sign of - well of something being wrong with him. I wonder if the same applies to pink ties.


Left Side of the Aisle #112 - Part 1

Progress on marriage equality

The Supreme Court is expected to issue its rulings on two cases related to marriage equality within the next two or three weeks, those cases being whether or not to uphold California's Proposition 8, or PropHate as it came to be called, which stripped away an existing right to same-sex marriage in the state, and the question of DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act, a section of which defines marriage as one man-one woman for all federal purposes, meaning that even same-sex couples legally married in their home state are denied marriage-related federal benefits.

While obviously no one can say for sure what will happen, legal observers are predicting that the Court will strike down the relevant section of DOMA on the grounds that it creates two groups of legally-married people and treats them differently - which you can't legitimately do. As a result, legally-married same-sex couples would have the same access to marriage-related federal benefits that legally-married straight couples do.

Those observers are also predicting that the Court will punt on Proposition 8, avoiding a decision. If that happens, it will leave intact a Court of Appeals decision that struck down Prop8, making same-sex marriage again legal in California without affecting the laws of any other state.

So with that coming up, I thought I'd take a couple of minutes to check out some recent news on this front.

I've said a number of times before that this may be the only area about which it's true, but on this issue, on marriage equality, we - that is, we progressives, we believers in justice - are winning.One example of that is how attitudes about same-sex marriage have changed in California since the passage, in 2008, of Prop8 by a margin of 52-48.

According to a USC/Los Angeles Times poll two years later, that is, in 2010, 52% of registered voters in the state favored gay marriage and 40% opposed it, a 12-point spread and a dramatic shift from the Prop8 results.

Now, just three years after that, in 2013, another USC/Los Angeles Times poll shows 58% of the state's registered voters believe same-sex marriage should be legal, compared with 36% against, a margin of 22 points and a gap 10 points wider than just three years earlier. The poll showed that support for legal same-sex marriage had increased, sometimes dramatically, across every age group and every region of the state. Only those over 65 and those living in the Central Valley did not show majority support for marriage equality and even in those categories opinion was evenly split. Which is itself telling, since those even splits mark clear gains from three years before, at which time Central Valley residents opposed marriage equality by a margin of six points and those over 65 did so by a margin of 19 points.

In fact, the change in the US in general, not just in California, is notable enough that both supporters and opponents of marriage justice agree on one thing: ultimate legal recognition has become inevitable. According to a recent poll from the Pew Research Center, nearly three-quarters of Americans say same-sex marriage is certain to become legal. That includes 85 percent of supporters of the idea and 59 percent of those who oppose it.

Even places that have supposedly iced same-sex marriage out entirely may find change coming their way: Michigan is one of the states that adopted a state constitutional amendment defining marriage as one man-one woman. In 2004, that measure passed by the substantial margin of 58-42. But a poll released last month found that 55% of likely voters in the state said they would vote to amend the state constitution to allow same-sex marriage.

That number needs to grow; conventional wisdom says you need 60% support for a referendum to be confident of passage when the votes are finally counted. Even so, the shift to date is clear enough that marriage justice activists are planning a ballot drive in 2016 aiming to overturn Michigan's constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

Even the traditional arguments against same-sex marriage are falling apart. Consider the famous "the Bible says" argument, the claim that the Bible defines marriage as one man-one woman. Three Iowa-based Biblical scholars recently ripped that apart in an op-ed in the Des Moines Register.

In fact, they noted, the Bible offers multiple descriptions of marriage. For example, it endorses polygamy, practiced by both Abraham and David. 2 Samuel has God telling David "I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom. ... And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more.”

Deuteronomy says that rape victims must marry their rapist. Genesis, Deuteronomy, and Ruth all say a man is obligated to marry his brother’s widow, regardless of his own marital status. Ezra forbinds interracial marriage and orders those who already had foreign wives to divorce them immediately. Paul said it's better to not marry at all and remain celibate, and the gospel of Matthew has Jesus encouraging those who can to castrate themselves “for the kingdom” and live a life of celibacy.

So while it wouldn't be true to say that biblical texts specifically allow same-sex marriage, saying the Bible defines marriage as “one man and one woman” is complete claptrap.

That, of course, doesn't mean the bitter and bigoted opposition won't continue. Just consider Illinois, where the hope for a legislative victory has been put on hold. The state Senate has passed a same-sex marriage bill, the governor has said he will sign it, but a vote in the state House of Representatives has been put off until the fall.

It now develops that the Catholic Church is trying to financially force local groups in the state that work with the poor to oppose same-sex marriage. The groups in question receive grants from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, the anti-poverty arm of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. They are also part of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.

On May 23, the coalition issued a statement in support of “marriage equality” for same-sex partners. In response, Catholic Church officials contacted the groups involved that receive grants and told them that they either withdraw from the coalition and renounce its position in favor of marriage equality or forget about the funding.

So faced with a choice between aid the poor and immigrants and "protect our bigoted notion about marriage," the Church has made its very revealing choice.


Left Side of the Aisle #112

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of June 13-19, 2013

This week:

Progress on marriage equality

Clown Award: Bill O'Reilly

Frustration about Obamacare

Outrage of the Week: Privacy? What's that?

NSA spying
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