Thursday, October 31, 2013

132.1 - Clown Award: Maine Gov. Paul LePage

Clown Award: Maine Gov. Paul LePage

We will start this week with one of our regular weekly features, the Clown Award, given for acts of meritorious stupidity.

This week, the winner of the big red nose is Maine Gov. Paul LePage. A week or so back he was speaking to a group of right-wing women. According to a secret recording of his remarks, he told them that, quoting him,
About 47 percent of able-bodied people in the state of Maine don’t work. About 47 percent. It’s really bad.
First of all, just what is it with right-wing bozos and the figure of "47 percent?" What's the deal there? Is it some secret handshake? Or just used as a figure high enough to be shocking to their audience with a number unusual enough - "47" - to sound authoritative?

Never mind that. So 47 percent aren't working? How many of those are students? How many are non-working spouses? How many are retired? How many are unemployed?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics of the Department of Labor has something called the Labor Force Participation rate. It's the percentage of working-age people who are either employed or searching for work. In August, Maine's Labor Force Participation rate was 65.3 percent - which was above the national average of 63.2 percent. Considering that Maine's population is also older than the country as a whole, they actually sound like a pretty hard-working group of folks.

By the way, according to calculations of the far right-wing Heritage Foundation, of those working-age people who are not in the labor force, once you take away the people not working because they are taking care of family members, are ill, disabled, or retired, or are students, those left over for the category of "other" reasons for not working amount to just 1.1% of the total labor force.

But getting back to our clown, Gov. Pepé Le Pew was not done denouncing the residents of his own state: "One in three are collecting welfare," he claimed. "Highest in the country."

Uh.., no. As of this past March, fewer than 16,000 families in Maine were receiving TANF benefits, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Maine has something over 550,000 households, which means less than 3% of households were receiving such benefits. Even if Le Pew wants to claim he only meant a third of the 47%, that still makes it just 6% of households. Not exactly one-third.

When the recording came out, the wingnuts acted as wingnuts always do. Susan Dench, founder and president of the appallingly-misnamed Informed Women's Network, the group to which LePage was speaking, called the secretly-done recording "pathetic" and those who captured it "hapless little girls." Rule #2 of my popular list of right-wing tactics is "Attack, attack, attack."

For his part, when asked to confirm or deny that it was in fact the governor on the recording, his office replied with a statement saying Le Pew believes everyone can contribute to society and that "liberal activists" are determined to "increase the welfare rolls" while not answering the actual question. Which is a repeat of Rule #2 plus Rule #6, which is "Never answer a question."

Here's one question that doesn't need an answer: If Paul LePage a clown?


Left Side of the Aisle #132

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of November 1-7, 2013

This week:

Clown Award: Maine Gov. Paul LePage

Update 1: Same-sex marriage

Update 2: McDonald's McFails again

Outrage of the Week: Shopping while black

More on NSA spying

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Weekly reminder

As of October 22, at least 9,722 people had been killed by gunfire in the US since Newtown, at least 89 of them in Massachusetts.

Remember, too, that this figure is a minimum: It includes only gun deaths reported in the media. Many such deaths are not reported; suicides rarely are. Include those, and based on estimated by the Centers for Disease Control there have been over 28,000 deaths by gun in the US is 2013.

131.6 - Outrage of the Week: Voter suppression in VA and TX

Outrage of the Week: Voter suppression in VA and TX

It's not new, it's not just happening now, it's not even something I haven't mentioned before. In fact, I talked some about it just last week. It's on-going, so much so that it could be a topic every week. It's voter suppression - and it is again the Outrage of the Week.

Voter suppression doesn't seem to register much in Massachusetts, it just doesn't seem to have the same traction here as in some other places: For one example, either last year or the year before there was a move for a signature campaign for a ballot question to require voters to produce photo ID at the polling place in order to vote. The fact that I'm not sure what year it was is evidence of how badly the effort fizzled.

In fact, the state legislature recently advanced a state constitutional amendment to facilitate early voting and more widespread use of absentee voting here, concepts the those who want to suppress the vote oppose.

But you need to realize this and make no mistake about it: There is a nationwide, conscious, coordinated campaign by the right wing to restrict voting rights in America, to make it harder and harder for people to vote, particularly to make it harder for students, minorities, the poor, and the elderly - the first three of which groups lean left in their politics and the latter of which is the main support for two programs the reactionaries would love to bring down because they stand as symbols of progressive changes over the past 75 years: Social Security and Medicare. The main method has been to demand more and more specific means of identification in order to register and then to vote, means of identification that those four groups are less likely to possess.

But that's not the only way, which brings us to two events of the past week.

First comes news from Virginia that a federal district judge has refused to stop the state from purging up to 57,000 names from the voter registration rolls. This purge is being done through a system used by a number of states called Crosscheck. The purpose is to weed out those who are registered in more than one place, something the most usually happens when a voter moves from one voting precinct to another and the first precinct never removes their name so even though they never vote in the first place again they are still listed as a registered voter there. It's real purpose, that is, is to remove deadwood from the rolls.

However, this purge is occurring just weeks before state-level elections in Virginia, including for governor, and local election officials complained that they were not given sufficient time to research the names and find out if they really should be removed. As a result, some officials dropped people from the rolls without even checking.

Those who wanted to check were under the gun: Loudoun County Registrar Judy Brown said she wanted to delay the purge because there wasn't enough time before the election to research the names. But her local election board ordered her to proceed. She had a week - and she's already heard from people who have actually been voting there for the last couple of years, meaning they should not have been on the purge list.

One registrar, Lawrence Haake of Chesterfield County, flatly refused to purge any voters after he conducted a preliminary review that found nearly 10 percent of the names given to him by the state for potential purging were, in fact, eligible voters.

The state Democratic Party sued to stop the purge and have the 38,000 names already removed reinstated, but despite the experiences of Brown and Haake and the rest of the evidence presented in the case, including county officials reporting error rates of 11% to 13% in the lists of voters to be purged provided by the state, District Court Judge Claude Hilton did his best Sgt. Schultz impression and denied the motion, claiming the evidence did not convince him that anyone had been disenfranchised.

Which when you think about it is a pretty creepy position since it means that you can't act to prevent your right to vote from being taken away, you can only try to get it back after the fact.

A particularly interesting aspect to all this is that the legal advisor for the Virginia Board of Elections is Attorney General Ken "Vaginal Ultrasound" Cuccinelli - who also happens to be the Republican candidate for Governor. Just a coincidence, I'm sure.

As an aside, the good news here is that in polls, Cuccinelli has been consistently clearly behind Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe. Not that I have any hots for McAuliffe, but he's not Cuccinelli.

Okay, moving from the right wing to the wacko wing, we move to Texas, which has a new voter ID law going into effect November 5. And credit where it's due, you have admit they've come up with something creative. They've already done their best to hinder the ability of blacks, Latinos, college students, and the poor to vote; now they've come up with a way to do the same to women.

The new law says that as of November 5, Texans must not only show a photo ID to vote, it must be a photo ID with their up-to-date legal name. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 34% of voting age women do not have ready access to a photo document that will satisfy Texas's requirements, largely because young women have not updated their documents with their married names.

And for such women who lack ID, getting one is becoming more difficult: A birth certificate is not enough, because that's not your current legal name. They will have to show legal proof of a name change and they have to be the original documents. The inevitable result is that a number of women in Texas who as of today are legal voters in another week or so suddenly won't be. Like I said, give the devil his due for creativity.

But what puts the exclamation point to all of this is the utterly amazing, even stunning admission from Judge Richard Posner about the case Crawford v. Marion County Election Board.

What was Crawford v. Marion County Election Board? It was the case arising from a challenge to a voter photo ID in Indiana, the case that lead to the Supreme Court upholding a ruling by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals that the law did not disenfranchise or unduly burden voters.

Who is Richard Posner? He was the circuit court judge who wrote that court's opinion, the one the Supreme Court upheld.

And what was his admission? They got it wrong. And he said it in so many words. Asked in an interview “Do you think that the court got this one [that is, Crawford v. Marion County] wrong,” he answered “Yes. Absolutely."

So the person who wrote the opinion that lead to the Supreme Court decision that has formed the basis for every legal defense of increasingly harsh voter ID regiments - many of which quote the case inaccurately - the person who wrote the opinion that initiated the entire superstructure of legal gobbledygook, double-talk, and baloney in service to the denial of the right to vote, that person is now shuffling his intellectual feet and going "golly gee whillikers."

Of course, though, it wasn't his fault. Of course not.

“I think we did not have enough information,” he said. “If the lawyers had provided us with a lot of information about the abuse of voter identification laws, this case would have been decided differently.”

Yeah, well, he should have paid more attention to the information he got: The Brennan Center, which does a lot of work on voting rights, filed an amicus brief describing how the Indiana law at issue could disenfranchise a significant number of voters. But even if he was aware of it, I'm not sure he would have cared, as he was rather dismissive of those concerns, saying in his opinion that the "benefits of voting to the individual voter are elusive."

That, I said at the time, means that as far as Posner is concerned, as an individual your very right to vote is an "elusive benefit" of little value - so it's not that important if it's lost.

Which, I have to say in fairness, actually makes his change of heart - he noted in that interview that photo ID laws are "now widely regarded as a means of voter suppression rather than fraud prevention” - all the more remarkable. It changes nothing about the case or the law or or the Supreme Court's decision or any of the other voter suppression laws, but maybe, just maybe, it can help to begin to turn the tide back to voting as a right to be exercised, not an obstacle course to be negotiated only by the chosen few.


131.5 - Hero Award: Malala Yousafzai

Hero Award: Malala Yousafzai

And this week, guess what, we have another Hero Award, given as occasion arises to someone who on some matter big or small just does the right thing.

This is actually the fourth straight week with a Hero Award. The universe must be having a good month.

In this case, the who is someone I'm sure you know about, but you may not have heard about the why.

The who is Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old Pakistani girl who a year ago was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman because of her advocacy for education for girls.

That's the who, and that itself would clearly be enough. But this is the why: She recently visited the United States, a visit widely covered by major media, during which she met with President Obama on October 11.

In a statement released after the meeting, Malala said she was honored to meet with Obama, but that she told him she's worried about the effect of US drone strikes in her country.
I thanked President Obama for the United States' work in supporting education in Pakistan and Afghanistan and for Syrian refugees. I also expressed my concerns that drone attacks are fueling terrorism. Innocent victims are killed in these acts, and they lead to resentment among the Pakistani people. If we refocus efforts on education, it will make a big impact.
Interestingly and revealingly, the White House statement on the encounter didn't find room to mention that part of the discussion.

For the most part, the mass media, which was so interested in her visit, also avoided that part of the news. But as the media watchdog group FAIR points out, that's not unusual: This past April, a Yemeni writer and activist named Farea al-Muslimi testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the effect of drone strikes on his country: "What the violent militants had previously failed to achieve, one drone strike accomplished in an instant. There is much anger against America." FAIR found that with the notable exceptions of the New York Times and the Washington Post, the mass media largely ignored the hearing.

But getting back to the case here: For speaking truth to power, particularly power that doesn't want to hear it, Malala Yousafzai is a hero.

Footnote: A group called Roots Action is trying to initiate a movement for an international agreement to ban weaponized drones. A petition to that end has now gathered around 100,000 signatures. A small start, but such movements always start small. You can find a link to the petition below.


Roots Action petition:

131.4 - Clown Award: Sen. James Inhofe

Clown Award: Sen. James Inhofe

Now for the Clown Award, given as always for meritorious stupidity.

The big red nose this week goes to Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who said on October 20 that he "probably wouldn't be here" if he had been insured under the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.

During a colonoscopy earlier this month, in which doctors were unable to remove a stick, it was discovered that Inhofe had multiple blocked arteries and required immediate heart surgery. He received an emergency quadruple bypass earlier this month.

In a radio interview, Inhofe said he could be treated right away because of his health care plan, but that under the Affordable Care Act, quoting, "with my age, that would have been about a six-month wait" because he did not actually have a heart attack.

Now you probably know without my telling you that this is insane: The idea that the Affordable Care Act would bar anyone above a certain age - Inhofe is 68 - from getting needed emergency surgery is so ridiculous that simply stating it is sufficient refutation.

But I can tell you where it comes from: The ACA includes provisions about setting up advisory panels to make recommendations about "best practices" based on clinical research and actual clinical experience, which is hardly a new, a radical, or even an unusual idea. But in the minds of paranoid reactionary nitwits like Inhofe, that turns into the federal government dictating what medical procedures and treatments your doctor can prescribe for you and when they can and can't prescribe them.

In the same interview, Inhofe went on to claim that Obama is trying to "impose" socialized medicine on America, "the single pay, and we know that's what he's trying to do." Your lips to God's ear, bro'.

By the way, Inhofe, who voted against aid for victims of superstorm Sandy but wanted relief for victims of tornadoes in Oklahoma because that was, to use his words, "totally different," is also the Senate's leading nanny-nanny naysayer on global warming, claiming it's "outrageous" to suggest human activities can affect the climate because "God's still up there." His middle name - really - is "Mountain." Which is appropriate as he clearly has rocks in his head.

James Inhofe: complete, thoroughgoing clown.


131.3 - Good News #3: Ex-Kansas AttGen Phill Kline's law license suspended

Good News #3: Ex-Kansas AttGen Phill Kline's law license suspended

Finally, one bit of good news on a different topic, a bit of news that may not have much impact on the world at large but just does my heart good.

Former Kansas state Attorney General Phill Kline first appeared on my radar in February 2005 when I wrote about his demand that abortion clinics in the state turn over the complete and unedited medical records of nearly 90 women and girls, claiming he needed the material for some bogus fishing expedition about "underage sex" and "illegal" abortions. Kline, who I dubbed Attorney General Slime, was also the man responsible for the prosecutorial persecution of Dr. George Tiller, the abortion provider who was later murdered by a fanatic wacked out over Slime's failure to get Tiller thrown in prison.

Well, last week, the Kansas Supreme Court suspended Kline's law license for misconduct in office. The court unanimously found that Kline’s “overzealous advocacy” and “improper motives” in his prosecution of abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood and George Tiller, led to “significant and numerous” violations of professional conduct.

The 154-page report cited “clear and convincing evidence” that Kline violated 11 separate rules governing the professional conduct of attorneys during his tenure as Johnson County district attorney and later Attorney General and that he "repeatedly" violated rules prohibiting "engaging in false or dishonest conduct.”

The state’s disciplinary administrator for attorneys had wanted Kline to be disbarred, but the court wasn't willing to go that far, limiting the ruling to indefinite suspension.

In a bit of unintentional humor, Kline's attorney, one Thomas Condit, said the court’s action was based on a “cherry picking” of oral and written comments over a period of many years.

Um, yeah - so the evidence was of an on-going pattern of misconduct over a number of years, not a single incident. Thanks for the confirmation.

Phill Slime is now an assistant professor of law at Liberty University in Virginia - yeah, Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, ranked on Forbes' magazine list of US colleges and universities as #636 out of 650. So I don't think he'll be needing his law license and he's unlikely to run for office again: Even the GOPpers in Kansas got tired of him.

Even so, like I said, this does my heart good.


131.2 - Good News #2: Same-sex marriage comes to New Jersey

Good News #2: Same-sex marriage comes to New Jersey

But on the other side of the country, half-steps were not on the agenda. The right of same-sex marriage has come to the great state of New Jersey.

Three weeks ago, I told you that on September 27, Mercer County Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson had ruled that same-sex couples could marry in the Garden State starting October 21.

New Jersey had allowed for civil unions, but that status still denied such couples access to a large number of federal benefits available to married couples. With the demise of the sections of the Defense of Marriage Act that denied federal benefits to same-sex couples legally married in their home states, a clear difference in treatment between civil unions and marriage emerged, one Jacobson said violates the equal protection guarantees of the state constitution. Significantly, she refused to stay the effect of her order pending a possible appeal.

So New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie asked the state Supreme Court to issue a stay.

On Friday, October 18, the state Supreme Court rejected that request in a unanimous 7-0 decision. Although it was only ruling on a stay, not on the underlying case, its response pretty much settled the issue.

Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, writing for the court, said "same-sex couples who cannot marry are not treated equally under the law today" as the court rejected Christie's legal arguments and emphasized he was unlikely to win if he continued to appeal Jacobson's ruling.

That, in the words of Colin Reed, speaking on behalf of Christie, "left no ambiguity about the unanimous court's view on the ultimate decision in this matter." So, at 12:01 AM on October 21, same-sex couples began marrying across New Jersey, including ones such as the nine weddings in Newark officiated by Mayor and Senator-elect Cory Booker and the three performed by a former priest in Asbury Park.

And, just hours later, the Christie administration announced it was dropping its appeal of Judge Jacobson's ruling. And that's it: The ruling stands and a10-year-long legal battle is over.

Christie, who had previously vetoed a bill to provide for same-sex marriage in the state, said in a statement that he strongly disagrees with the court substituting "its judgment for the constitutional process of the elected branches or a vote of the people" but he will follow the law.

What people like him never seem to get through their heads is that constitutional rights are not a matter of political popularity. That's why they're called "rights" rather than mere privileges.

I've addressed this in a little more detail than I normal would because New Jersey is my home state. In some ways, it still feels like home; I heard somewhere the saying "home is where your memories lie" and by that standard, yeah, New Jersey is still home. Anyway, I'm glad to see my home state moving in the right direction.

Marriage equality is still a long slog: Some 35 states have some sort of constitutional or legal restrictions on it. But 14 states and the District of Columbia now have same-sex marriage and, as is often forgotten, six more have some form of civil unions or domestic partnerships - altogether accounting for 43% of the population of the US. Less than 10 years ago, that percentage approached zero. (New York City allowed domestic partnerships in 1998; California did so in 1999 and DC in 2002; Vermont had civil unions starting in 2000. All now have full marriage equality.)

Footnote: On the same day that New Jersey began allowing same-sex couples to marry, four same-sex couples in Tennessee filed a federal lawsuit seeking to force the state to recognize their legal marriages.

These couples had been married in New York or California but upon moving to Tennessee discovered that as far as the state was concerned, their marriages had just vanished because Tennessee will not recognize them. So they are suing, claiming discrimination based on sexual orientation, violation of due process and the right to travel without having one's rights taken away, and denial of equal protection under the law. Will it get anywhere? Who knows? But again, just 10 years ago the answer likely would have been clear.


131.1 - Good News #1: Marriage justice advances in Oregon

Good News #1: Marriage justice advances in Oregon

Gabriel Heatter strikes again. Ah, there's good news tonight.

First, some news on the area where most of the good news comes these days - I suppose in some sense, too much because it means there's not a lot of good news on other fronts - but still, good news on this front: same-sex marriage.

First is the fact that there is movement on this in Oregon. For one thing, according to polls, opinion on the matter has improved enough that a group called Oregon United For Marriage is collecting signatures for a November 2014 ballot question intending to overturn the state's 2004 ban on same-sex marriage.

More immediately, in mid-October a lawsuit was filed in federal court, calling the ban unconstitutional. Both methods have worked in neighboring states: a referendum brought same-sex marriage to Washington while court action did so in California.

What's really notable, however, is that just two days after that suit was filed, Oregon’s chief operating officer Michael Jordan, acting on a decision from the Oregon Department of Justice, issued a memo stating that all state agencies are required to recognize the unions of same-sex couples who wed outside the state.

That is, same-sex couples still can't get married in Oregon, but if they get married somewhere else, the state will recognize those marriages as valid. It's what one commenter called "an interesting half-step toward marriage equality."


Left Side of the Aisle #131

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of October 24-30, 2013

This week:

Good News #1: Marriage justice advances in Oregon

Good News #2: Same-sex marriage comes to New Jersey

Good News #3: Ex-Kansas AttGen Phill Kline's law license suspended

Clown Award: Sen. James Inhofe

Hero Award: Malala Yousafzai

Outrage of the Week: Voter suppression in VA and TX

Roots Action petition:

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Weekly reminder

As of October 15, at least 9,388 people had been killed by gunfire in the US since Newtown, at least 89 of them in Massachusetts.

130.11 - Outrage of the Week: Kansas moving toward two-tier voting rights

Outrage of the Week: Kansas moving toward two-tier voting rights

So having just looked at the financial side of the right wing's plan to turn the word "democracy" into a vapid slogan to be paraded out on special occasions to provide an opiate for the masses, let's check out some recent news on the voting side, on the efforts to make it ever harder for people to vote. This is the Outrage of the Week

The state of Kansas is planning on instituting a two-tier voter system, restricting what races you are allowed to vote in based on what kind of voter registration form you use.

The move is the brainchild of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who wants to force people to provide proof of citizenship in order to register to vote. This, just to be clear, is to register; it's entirely separate from the demand to show photo ID at the polling place when you actually go to, as is increasingly true, try to vote.

The thing is, if you register to vote with a federal form rather than a state form, there is no requirement to prove citizenship. Instead, the person registering signs a statement swearing under penalty of perjury that they are a citizen.

That, of course, is not good enough for Kobach - who, by the way, was also a driving force behind Arizona's infamous SB 1070, the "your papers, please" ethnic-profiling law and ran for his present office on a pledge to stamp out “voter fraud” in Kansas before winning and then not being able to find any. In the present case, Kobach has sued the federal government to force it to include with the federal form the state's requirement to provide proof of citizenship in order to register.

Meanwhile, Kobach has sent a memo to all the state’s county election officials instructing them to keep track of which voters register with the federal form and which use the state form so that the former group can be limited to voting in federal-level elections and barred from voting in state or local races.

What's more, anyone who submits the state form without the demanded proof of citizenship will be barred from voting in any election until they do. As a result of this law, which went into effect on January 1, about 17,500 previously-registered voters are "in suspense"  - that is, have had their voting rights suspended.

Kobach calls that memo a contingency plan in case he loses in court. I call it a cynical, disgusting scheme because he knows he's going to lose, considering his "prove you're a citizen" law is under challenge and the Supreme Court has already struck down a similar law in Arizona. Kobach’s legal analysis of that decision is that it only applies to federal elections. Quoting him: “The federal government doesn’t have the authority to tell Kansas what to do in Kansas elections.”

Actually, unfortunately for him and happily for the right to vote, it does. The 14th and 15th Amendments provide more than enough legal backing to undo the legal sleight of hand Kobach is trying to pull off. So in the moderately long run, this particular scheme may well fail, although it's difficult to know how many people will have their right to vote stripped away or limited in the meantime.

But Kobach and the others of his ilk don't care about that. They shoot for the win, but for the moment at least they are happy even if all they succeed in doing is creating FUD - fear, uncertainty, and doubt - about their ability to cast a ballot in the minds of the people, the poor, the young, students, minorities, the people they want to keep from voting.

The battle for the right to vote goes on.

Oh, and as a footnote to this: State Rep. Jim Ward, who opposes the "prove it" law, says he once asked Kobach how voter registration workers should collect the documentation now needed to register under the new law. Kobach's answer: “Carry a copy machine with you.”

Which attitude pretty much tells you all you need to know about Kris Kobach's commitment to the right to vote.


130.10 - Worse than Citizens United?

Worse than Citizens United?

This is something you absolutely need to know about.

Last Tuesday, October 8, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, a case that could do more to undermine any hope of putting limits on the influence of money in political campaigns than even the infamous Citizens United case did.

Wrapped in the flag and parading as a blow for free speech, the Citizens United decision in 2010 gave corporations and the rich an opening to pour vast and often anonymous amounts of cash into political campaigns. That, combined with the rise of super PACs, has already flooded the election system with huge amounts of money. But so far we’ve managed to keep a little distance, a little daylight - or at least the appearance of a little distance - between the money and the candidates themselves. McCutcheon would eliminate even that porous barrier to buying members of Congress.

Here's the deal: Under current law, there are limits on the total amount of money an individual can donate to state and national party committees as well individual candidates per federal election cycle, that is, two years. Put simply, during a single election cycle an individual can donate no more than $48,600 to all federal candidates for office and no more than $74,600 to party committees that make contributions to candidates, for a total of $123,200 every two years. You can spread out that money any way you want, but you can't exceed those limits. McCutcheon v. Federal Elections Commission could eliminate those limits, allowing our millionaires and billionaires even more control over political campaigns - and candidates - than they have now.

The "McCutcheon" of the case is Shaun McCutcheon of Alabama, the chair of the Conservative Action Fund, who says it's a horrendous violation of his free speech rights that he and his fat cat cronies can't dump as much money as they please directly into the coffers of their preferred puppets. (Parenthetically, he's also a climate change denier, but that's not surprising with these people.)

At oral arguments, observers said it appeared that a slim majority of the Court was receptive to McCutcheon's free speech claims although I frankly wonder if that's out of some deep philosophic commitment to the First Amendment - a commitment that's rather spotty in some other areas, such as speech rights of students - or rather a deep philosophic commitment to the power of money.

Now, to be more specific and entirely as fair as possible, Shaun McCutcheon is looking to get rid of the aggregate limits on donations. He's not seeking to have the individual limits overturned - that is, the limits on how much you can give to one committee or one candidate - but only the overall ceiling. Put simply, he says he's okay with, for example, "you can only give X dollars to a candidate." He just wants to be able to max out those donations to as many candidates as he wants without a limit on the total he donates. That would be bad, but it could be worse.

Because the real hand grenade in this, the real danger, the thing that threatens to blow up limits entirely, is that Senate Minority Leader Fishface McConnell is trying to use the case as a vehicle to get the Supreme Court to dismantle contribution limits altogether - and, perhaps indicating the Court's leanings, his lawyer was permitted to intervene in the case and given an opportunity to make that argument during oral arguments.

In 1976, in the case Buckley v. Valeo, the Supreme Court ruled that campaign contribution limits are constitutional on the grounds that such limits were only a “marginal” restriction on speech, one which was justified by the government’s interest in preventing corruption and the appearance of corruption. Unfortunately, in an often-overlooked part of its Citizens United decision, the Court narrowed its definition of “corruption” to exclude buying access to politicians or ingratiating oneself with them, characterizing corruption as something closer to outright bribery. Justice Kennedy wrote for the court majority that "[i]ngratiation and access, in any event, are not corruption.” That is, during an election campaign, go to a politician and say "I'll raise this much money for your campaign if you'll vote this way on bill such-and-such," that's corruption. After an election, go to a politician who knows damn well how much money you raised for their campaign which is why they're so happy to make time for you and say "I think you should vote this way on bill such-and-such," that's not corruption.

I like to call such things a distinction without a difference.

But it's that hair-splitting that Fishface is using to justify a call for turning our elections into a true financial free-for-all. According to the Sunlight Foundation, most of the funding for congressional and presidential campaigns already comes from the top one percent of the one percent of the rich, who they call "the elite class that serves as gatekeepers of public office in the United States."

If the Court embraces Fishface's arguments, it not only would make political campaigns even more the playground of the rich than they already are, not only would make access to elected officials even more the prerogative of the powerful than it already is, it would also leave alternatives to our already-squashed political debates even more in the wilderness as third parties become even more disadvantaged than they already are. It could make participation in electoral politics almost pointless.

The justices will issue their opinion in McCutcheon before the end of next June. Hang on, this could be bad or it could be really bad.


130.9 - RIP: Joe Bell

RIP: Joe Bell

I'm going to spend a little more time on the other RIP because it's for someone I expect you did not hear about. His name was Joe Bell.

Joe Bell's 15-year-old son Jadin killed himself in February after being bullied by classmates over his homosexuality. In response, Bell vowed to walk across the whole county, speaking and raising awareness about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth along the way.

He set out from his home state of Oregon in late April, planning to walk 15 to 25 miles a day and speak on behalf of the group Faces For Change, an anti-bullying foundation established in his son's memory.

On October 9, he was struck and killed by a semi-truck while walking through Colorado.

The driver, who may have fallen asleep, was charged with reckless driving.

Ogden OUTreach of Utah held a memorial service in his memory. I would say that the best way to memorialize Joe Bell would be to make future such pilgrimages unnecessary.

RIP, Joe Bell.


130.8 - RIP: Scott Carpenter

RIP: Scott Carpenter

Two brief RIPs this week.

On the first I'll be especially brief because I'm sure you know about it already:  Former astronaut, aquanaut, and techno-thriller author Scott Carpenter died on October 10 at the age of 88 after suffering a recent stroke.

Carpenter was the fourth American to fly in space and the second to orbit the Earth, taking off on May 24, 1962.

He swung both ways, if you will: Besides flying in space, an experience he described as "transcending" and one he wished everyone could have, he also spent a record 30 days on the ocean floor aboard the Navy's SEALAB II, an experimental habitat located off the coast of California.

RIP, Scott Carpenter.


130.7 - Clown Award: Rep. Steve Pearce

Clown Award: Rep. Steve Pearce

And one more thing before the break, the Clown Award, given for meritorious stupidity. Feel free to laugh.

This week the big red nose goes to Rep. Steve Pearce, a GOPper from New Mexico, who posted this bit of sage wisdom on his personal Facebook page:
"If you are a furloughed government employee, we encourage you to reach out to your financial institution as soon as you worry you may miss a paycheck. Financial institutions often offer short-term loans and other resources. Don't wait until you are behind on a bill; call now and explore your options."
That's right, if you've been laid off because of the stupidity and venality of right-wing bozos like Steve Pearce and are worried about paying your bills, don't worry, be happy: just take out a loan!

Of course! Why didn't we all think of that? Of course borrowing money on no income, going even further into personal debt, is a great idea! And of course banks will be happy to lend you money just on your signature without knowing when you will be able to start paying it back. Of course!

What a clown.

And doubling his clownishness, the post was taken down and his office lamely if predictably blamed the "badly worded post" on an unnamed "staffer." Exactly why unnamed staffers are able to put up uncleared posts on Pearce's personal Facebook page was unexplained. Predictably.

Pearce says he is working without pay during the shutdown, but considering that he's worth about $8 million, I doubt that he's really feeling a financial pinch. Or needs to take out a loan.

ProgressNow New Mexico, noting that Pearce's constituents are among the poorest in the country, suggest they should call him to ask him for a loan. After all, the group says, if he's so sure that private loans are the answer, he should be the first to offer them.


130.6 - Hero Award: Nancy Salgado

Hero Award: Nancy Salgado

Finally, a slam-dunk Hero Award.

Nancy Salgado is a 26-year-old single mother with two children. She is also a cashier at a McDonald's in Chicago. She makes $8.25 an hour. She has been working at McDonald's since she was 16 and has never gotten a raise.

Last week she interrupted a speech by Jeff Stratton, President of McDonald's USA, at some fancy-schmancy dinner or another, telling him she's worked for McDonald's for 10 years and can't even afford to buy shoes for her two children.She was promptly arrested, but not before leaving Stratton tongue-tied and flustered, his only comeback being "I've been there 40 years" as if that was relevant.

No one asked him how many raises he'd gotten in that time or how his kids were fixed for shoes.

By the way, there are moves in Massachusetts to raise the minimum wage and to require employers to provide earned sick time. One group is now working to get initiatives on the November 2014 ballot should legislative efforts fail.

But getting back to Nancy Salgado: Nancy, you are not only a hero - you positively rock.


130.5 - Hero Award: Drew Reisinger

Hero Award: Drew Reisinger

Okay, our third Hero Award is smaller by comparison, but still worthy.

Drew Reisinger is the Register of Deeds for Buncombe County, North Carolina. He is creating a challenge to a 2012 amendment to the state constitution which bans same-sex marriages. He says he will accept marriage license applications from same-sex couples - and then hold the licenses and ask North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper for legal advice.

Reisinger said he had been forced to deny same-sex marriage licenses to "upstanding citizens," and he felt like that was not fair.

Reisinger's announcement came just hours after Attorney General Cooper revealed that he supports same-sex marriage. But Cooper also said his personal views won't prevent him from defending the ban in court.

Which may well be true and it's possible, even very probable, that Reisinger's actions will go nowhere, at least in the short term. But it does put the question to Cooper and by extension others: Will you actually defend in court a provision you believe is wrong - or would you, could you, might you, as Eric Holder did in the case of the Defense of Marriage Act, just decide to not mount a defense?

For using his official position to raise that question, Drew Reisinger is a hero.


130.4 - Hero Award: Human chain in Pakistan

Hero Award: Human chain in Pakistan

Okay, our next Hero Award is again a group one.

About three weeks ago, a suicide bomber hit All Saints church in Peshawar, Pakistan. The attack occurred after Sunday mass and killed over 100 people. It is believed to be the country’s deadliest attack on Christians.

In response, the following Sunday a group called Pakistan For All, described as a collective of citizens concerned about the growing attacks on minorities, formed a human chain outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Karachi to protect the congregants and to declare their solidarity with the victims of the attack under the slogan "One Nation, One Blood."

Last week, they did it again, flying from Karachi to Lahore to form a human chain of as many as 200-300 people outside St. Anthony’s Church, bringing Muslim and Christian communities came together in a show of solidarity against religious bigotry and terrorism.

Mohammad Jibran Nasir, the organizer who made the calls for the event, said “Well the terrorists showed us what they do on Sundays. Here we are showing them what we do on Sundays. We unite.”

Heroes all.


130.3 - Hero Award: Rep. John Lewis

Hero Award: Rep. John Lewis

I have four, yes, four, Hero Awards this week. The Hero Award is something we give out around here for people who on some matter big or small just do the right thing.

First off, you need to know that last week eight Democratic members of Congress joined with thousands of activists in a rally and march in DC in favor of comprehensive immigration reform that have stalled in the GOPper-ruled, actually, effectively, the Tea Bagger-ruled, House.

How stalled? The House GOPper leadership says there will be no vote on the Senate immigration bill or anything else that a majority of House GOPpers oppose. In other words, part of a part of a part of the Legislative Branch can not only prevent any legislation from passing, it can even prevent there being a vote. A hero is something that House Speaker John Boner in not.

Anyway, the DC demo was one of more than 160 such actions for immigration reform were held across the country on the same day.

After a rally on the National Mall and a march to the west lawn of the Capitol, those eight members of Congress - specifically, Reps. Luis Gutierrez, John Lewis, Keith Ellison, Raúl Grijalva, Joe Crowley, Al Green, Jan Schakowsky, and Charlie Rangel - joined about 200 others in blocking traffic as an act of nonviolence civil disobedience. All 200-plus of those people are heroes.

But I wanted to single one out for special note: John Lewis. After the rally, his office issued a statement noting the fact that this was the 45th time Lewis has been arrested for civil disobedience. Lewis, an icon of what's been called "the civil rights era" of the 1960s, was arrested 40 times during that period and has now been busted five times as a member of Congress: twice to protest apartheid, twice to protest genocide in Darfur, and now to push for immigration reform.

That man is a hero.

As a footnote, I should mention that four Republicans turned out for the rally as well. They were Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart, David Valadao, Jeff Denham, and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. They did not participate in the civil disobedience, but they did appear on the stage at the rally. Good for them.


130.2 - Good news: US signs Arms Trade Treaty

Good news: US signs Arms Trade Treaty

The other bit of good news has a connection to the first bit. It's from a couple of weeks ago but it's still worth mentioning because I'd be willing to bet real money that you hadn't heard about this one.

On September 25, acting on behalf of the United States, Secretary of State John Kerry signed the Arms Trade Treaty.

What this treaty does is to require the governments that sign it to not sell or transfar arms when there is an “overriding risk” that the weapons will support genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes. It also requires those governments to establish effective arms import and export control systems and to cooperate and share information about the international arms trade, which now is often conducted in the shadows.

More than 90 other nations have already signed, but many of the top arms exporters have yet to do so. That's one of the reasons that this is important: The US is the world's largest arms dealer, and its signing is seen as critical to the success of the treaty even though the action is mostly symbolic because existing US laws would very likely be enough to satisfy the requirements of the treaty. Those laws are all too often not enforced or wished away with some presidential "finding" or another, but that for the moment is a different issue.

The issue right now is that the signing is doubly symbolic because the chances of the Senate endorsing the treaty are let's be optimistic and say minimal. Beyond the expected GOPper response, as it is to everything, to act like a 6-year-old brat stamping their foot and going "No!" is the fact that at least some of the dim bulbs of the other party - and this is the real connection to the other good news bit - will embrace the bull that the treaty "violates the Second Amendment!"

The fact is, the treaty only applies to the international arms trade; indeed it specifically and explicitly leaves it up to the nations that sign the Treaty to decide how they are going to regulate and control their domestic arms trade. Anyone who says this treaty limits, violates, or even has anything to do with the Second Amendment is either lying or has no idea what they are talking about.
And considering that we are referring here to members of Congress and assorted right-wingers, it could easily be either.

Even so - for all its symbolic nature, signing this treaty was still the right thing to do and still good news and still good on the Obama administration for doing it. I don't get to say that too often, so I'm taking advantage here.


130.1 - Good news: SCOTUS won't hear MD gun law challenge

Good news: SCOTUS won't hear MD gun law challenge

For the first half of this week's show, we're going to be happy. I've got two bits of good news and four - count 'em, four - Hero Awards.

Start with the good news.

Up first, it develops that there is a limit to how far the Supreme Court is willing to push the Second Amendment in service to the Nutzoid Rabbit-brains of America, otherwise known as the NRA, and the gun-makers lobby.

The Court has refused to hear a challenge to a law in Maryland that requires people who want permits for handguns to demonstrate a "good and substantial reason" for carrying a weapon outside their own home or business.

The challenge came from Raymond Woollard and the Second Amendment Foundation, who say - of course - that the law violates the Second Amendment.

Woollard obtained a permit after a 2002 home invasion but was denied a renewal in 2009. The Maryland law doesn't recognize a vague threat or general fear as enough to get a permit, and state officials said Woollard failed to demonstrate any ongoing danger seven years after the home invasion.

The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law and SCOTUS has now said "let 'er ride." Finally.


Left Side of the Aisle #130

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of October 17-23, 2013

This week:

Good news: SCOTUS won't hear MD gun law challenge

Good news: US signs Arms Trade Treaty

Hero Award: Rep. John Lewis

Hero Award: Human chain in Pakistan

Hero AWard: Drew Reisinger

Hero Award: Nancy Salgado

Clown Award: Rep. Steve Pearce

RIP: Scott Carpenter

RIP: Joe Bell

Worse than Citizens United?

Outrage of the Week: Kansas moving toward two-tier voting rights,_uncertainty_and_doubt

Friday, October 11, 2013

Weekly reminder

This week, an extended reminder.

As of October 8, at least 9,095 people had been killed by gunfire in the US since Newtown, at least 89 of them in Massachusetts.

First extension:

The FBI's definition of mass murder is the killing of four or more people in a single incident with no distinctive time period between the murders. By that definition, as of September 16, there had already been at least 17 mass murders with guns in the US this year.

Second extension:

A subreddit called "Guns Are Cool," which apparently doesn't actually think so, came up with a definition of mass shooting as a case when four or more people are shot in a spree, likely without a cooling off period between shootings. It's much the same as the definition of mass murder except no one need die. As of October 9, they had collected a list of 285 mass shootings in the US in 2013.

Sources: /gun_death_tally_every_american_gun_death_since_newtown_sandy_hook_shooting.html

129.7 - Outrage of the Week: Hobby Lobby’s antisemitism

Outrage of the Week: Hobby Lobby’s antisemitism

Now for our other regular feature, the Outrage of the Week.

This week, the target of the mockery and disgust is Hobby Lobby; more particularly, its owner, David Green.

Green is already notorious for suing the government over the Affordable Care Act because he doesn't want to cover birth control for his employees. Green won at the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals - remember what I just said about it being one of the most reactionary courts in the country - and the case is going to the Supreme Court.

That could be the Outrage of the Week, but that news isn't from this week so it's not. This is:

Hobby Lobby recently opened a new store in Marlboro, New Jersey and a shopper went in looking for a bar-mitzvah card only to discover there were none. When she asked about it, she was told there wouldn't be any. Why? According to the customer, the answer was: "We don't cater to you people."

Another customer to the same store was surprised to find that even though there already was a lot of Christmas merchandise on display, there was none for Hannukah. Not a single menorah. Not a single dreidel. And there wouldn't be any. That customer called the home office only to be told that Hobby Lobby doesn't have Hannukah on its list of holidays.

A third person, being unwilling to accept those reports of such ugly exchanges without confirmation, called the Marlboro store and asked if it would be stocking any Hannukah merchandise. No. And, it developed, the same answer applied to Passover. Why not? The answer was, quoting, "Because Mr. Green is the owner of the company, he's a Christian, and those are his values."

Those "values," which already included imposing his beliefs on his employees by hindering their access to birth control, now also include some of the crudest antisemitism I have seen outside of the darker corners of the Internet. "We don't cater to you people," indeed.

That really, really, is an outrage.


129.6 - Global warming

Global warming

So we've recently seen the release of the latest climate assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC. What do we learn there?

Well, for one thing, scientists are 90% sure that 1981-2010 was the warmest such span in the last 800 years and there's a 2/3 chance that it was the warmest 30-year period in the last 1,400 years. There hasn't been a below-average temperature month in over 28 years. Each of the last three decades has set a new record for the warmest decade since 1850, which was about when reliable records of actual temperature observations began.

More: There is increasing evidence that ice sheets are losing mass, glaciers are shrinking, Arctic sea ice cover is diminishing, snow cover is decreasing, and permafrost is thawing in the Northern Hemisphere, so much so that over 180 native communities in Alaska may have to be abandoned due to flooding and land loss. Tide gauges and satellite data make it "unequivocal" that the world's mean sea level is on the upswing and could rise as much as over two and a-half feet by the end of the century.

And while it remains impossible to blame any particular weather event on global warming, there is increasing evidence that global warming is connected to an observed overall increase in severe weather, with more storms here, more droughts there, and more floods somewhere else.

With the release of this report, scientists can now say it is "extremely likely," that is, can be said with 95% confidence, that human activity is the dominant and perhaps the only significant cause of the warming of the global climate since the 1950s. To really understand the significance of that, you have to realize that 95% confidence is virtually always as far as scientists will go in matters where they can't actually do controlled laboratory experiments. It's as close to certainty as we're going to get.

Humans are screwing with the climate to their own detriment. Period. Worst-case predictions are that by 2100, temperatures could increase by as much as 3.7 degrees Celsius (6.6 degrees Fahrenheit). That, I have to tell you, would be utterly disastrous. That is a worst case scenario, yes, but it still means it's within the realm of possibility unless we as a species stop being so damn stupid about the environment.

One of the ways we are so stupid, at least in this country, is the unwarranted and utterly bizarre attention and credence we give to a tiny handful of nanny-nanny naysayers who for whatever reason will twist, distort, nitpick at, and where necessary simply ignore the ever-growing mountain of scientific and observational evidence that we are digging our own climate grave.

I have never, ever, not once, gotten into a dispute with someone claiming that global climate change is anything from "uncertain" to "over-hyped" to an outright "hoax" in which I have not been faced with the same, hoary, long-since disproven claims originated by the professional naysayers more interested in keeping the funding from the fossil fuel industry flowing than in either facts or the future.

I loved the line at the website SkepticalScience that "arguing with some climate change contrarians is similar to attempting debate with a well-trained parrot [that] has memorised some twenty statements that it can squawk out at random." That is an excellent description of the experience.

But I have to admit there are two relatively new nanny-nanny naysayer claims I've seen rather often of late of which you might have heard, so I'll deal with those quickly. First is the relatively new claim of a "pause" in global warming over the past 15 years, a "pause" climatologists are, it's claimed, "unable to explain" - which of course then means, the argument goes, that the entire notion of global climate change has to be tossed aside and it's Woo-Hoo! coal-fired power plants for everyone!

Let's start with a simple fact: There is no pause in global warming. Atmospheric warming - and remember, the atmosphere is not the only place heat can go, there is also the land, which is not very efficient as a heat sink, and the oceans, which are outstanding as a heat sink and where most of the heat energy is actually stored - but atmospheric warming has not increased as fast over the past 15 years as it had in the years previously. But it's still going up. Just not as fast. Calling that a "pause" is exactly like saying that a car that was going 45 mph that has slowed to 25 mph is no longer moving forward.

The claim of a "pause" is based entirely on deliberate statistical deception. It's done by comparing 1998 temperatures with those of 2010. Right off the bat that's improper: Climatologists have long said that because of natural year-to-year variability, to assess climate trends you should look at time frames of at least 30 years.

But no matter: We can even accept the unreasonably short time frame and still put the lie to the claim of a "pause." 1998 was an outlier, a year with an unusually strong El Niño, which causes warmer temperatures, a year significantly warmer than those just before or after. Until 2010, it was the warmest single year on record. So using that as a starting point is clearly bogus, clearly cherry-picking data. Simply shift the range a couple of years - say, compare 1996 to 2008 or 2000 to 2012 - and a clear upward trend is visible even over that short term.

The other new claim is that the IPCC's predictions for temperature increases have been consistently too high so that (weak version) the danger is overblown or (strong version) the computer models used to make the predictions are trash so the whole idea of climate change is as well. The naysayers do this primarily by looking at predictions made in 1990, 23 years ago, when the models were much less sophisticated and the computers that produced them far less powerful than now.

Even so, unfortunately for the naysayers and their trained parrots, the claim is simply not true. This is a bit subtle, so follow this. When the models are run and these predictions are made, they are made in the form of a range. That is, "We think temps will go up at least this much in this time frame but no more than this much and the actual increase will probably be around the middle of that range." What's happened, and the basis for the argument, is that the actual increases have overall run below that midpoint - but they have still been well within the predicted range. Which means the models - even the less sophisticated 1990 models - have held up quite well.

Face reality, people: If we want our children and even more our grandchildren to grow up in a healthy world, we are going to have to make some dramatic changes and fast.

Will that mean cutting back some, doing with a little less? Yes. But do this: Think back to the 1980s, to the way you lived, the amount of stuff you had, the level of technological convenience you had - heck, if you're as old as I am, think back to the '60s - and ask yourself if the way you lived then was so terrible that you would be willing to sacrifice a world rather than live that way again. And if the answer is, as I expect it would be for most of us, "no," then let's get to it. We know the why, let's focus on the how.

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