Friday, February 22, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #96 - Part 7

And Another Thing: the Higgs boson and the fate of the universe

To finish up this week, we have an edition of And Another Thing, our occasional foray into things not expressly political and usually, like today, about some cool science thing or another.

Sometime back I told you that scientists believed they may have discovered the Higgs boson, which some nicknamed the God particle because it could answer one of the most fundamental questions in all of physics: Why do things have mass?

Put another way, all the fundamental particles which make up matter are "point particles" - which means they essentially all have the same dimensions of basically zero. So why do they have such enormously different masses? (For example, a proton has over 1800 times the mass of an electron.) Indeed, how can they have mass at all? The Higgs boson (and the associated Higgs field), if it actually has been observed, would provide the answer.

It's still not certain that the Higgs has been observed, and work on related particles, which is necessary for confirmation, continues - but it does seem that confidence is growing.

With that in mind, scientists are starting to consider what it means for the future of the universe for a particle to have the characteristics of the Higgs boson.

Well, according to theoretical physicist Joseph Lykken
If you use all the physics that we know now and you do what you think is a straightforward calculation, it's bad news. It may be that the universe we live in is inherently unstable and at some point billions of years from now it's all going to get wiped out.
The idea is, assuming of course this is all correct, which Lykken would be the first to remind you is still an assumption at this point, but if it's correct, at some point in time a little bubble of what you might think of as an "alternative" universe will simply appear somewhere and then will expand out and destroy this universe.

Which raises an interesting, if likely unanswerable, question for me: Did our universe destroy some earlier universe in its expansion?

That aside, if you're concerned, don't be: For one thing, this bubble will expand at the speed of light. Since information can't be transmitted faster than the speed of light, you wouldn't know about the event until it happened to you, and then you wouldn't be there to know about it. It's kind of like when Bill Cosby said his grandfather told him not to worry about getting senile because "when it happens to you, you won't know it."

The other thing is that when this happens, if it happens, you will be long dead - and so in fact with the Earth, which will be burnt up by the expanding Sun about 4.5 billion years from now. So you can make plans for the weekend.


Left Side of the Aisle #96 - Part 6

Guns: States and individuals push back against the gun nuts

The Clown Award leads right into this week's discussion about guns, which will focus on the fact that there is pushback against the gun nuts and that they no longer are the only voices being heard.

It comes against a backdrop of yet another multiple shooting, this one in Orange County, California, where 20-year-old Ali Syed killed a woman in his home, sped off in his parents' car, and went on an hour-long rampage of carjackings and shootings that left two more people dead and two wounded, and several more targeted but unhurt, before he killed himself.

But yes, there is pushback. Both legislators and the public are starting to fight back against our modern Murder, Incorporated.

On the federal level, there is some prospect for a few touch-ups around the edges: Arizona Senator John McPainInTheButt said on Sunday that support is coalescing around a bipartisan plan whose centerpiece is an expansion of background checks on gun purchasers. However, prospects for anything more substantial, such as a renewed assault weapons ban, appear to be small. Note that in his State of the Union speech, Obama didn't say a bill to renew the assault weapons ban should be passed but that it "deserved a vote," which says pretty clearly that even getting a floor vote on the measure will be a battle.

That was predicted from the start; you may remember that several weeks ago I accused gun control advocates in and out of Congress of what I call pre-emptive capitulation, of giving up even before the battle was joined. With Harry "Macho Man" Reid, who is against - against - an assault weapons ban saying he'll only deal with legislation that has a chance of passing the House, well, do the math.

But just as it was on the state level, not the federal level, where the real attacks on sanity occurred, so it is on the state level, rather than the federal level, where the move to restore sanity is being felt the most. Out of more than 190 gun-related bills filed in statehouses the first few weeks of this year, three-fifths looked to strengthen gun regulations.

As you may have heard, New York has enacted the toughest gun control law in the nation. It has a stricter assault weapons ban, limits on high-capacity magazines, requires instant background checks for ammunition sales, and has provisions to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill who make threats.

In Maryland, Gov. Martin O'Malley has offered proposals, now before the legislature, that would include banning assault weapons, limiting the size of magazines, instituting what he called "common sense" licensing requirements, including mandatory fingerprinting, background checks, and gun safety training, and improving mental health services and school safety.

Delaware Governor Jack Markell and state Attorney General Beau Biden have announced a series of gun measures, including background checks for sales at gun shows and curbs on both high-capacity magazines and assault weapons.

Legislators in Massachusetts and Connecticut have also announced plans for stricter gun controls. In fact, such proposals are even appearing in places you would not have expected, such as Virginia and Colorado.

In fact, on Monday, the Colorado House of Representatives passed a package of gun-control measures. They were passed by a narrow margins, but they passed. The bills limit the size of ammunition magazines, require background checks on all gun purchases, including those purchased online, and allow colleges and stadiums to ban concealed firearms.

And this came after the state Senate rejected a bill that would allow teachers to carry concealed weapons on school grounds.

Governor John Hickenlooper supports most of the measures. The bills face another fight in the state Senate - but remember, not long ago the idea that they would get this far seemed unthinkable.

Even in Missouri, there is pushback against the NRA zombies. There is one bill in the state General Assembly to require that all sales or transfers of firearms be done through a licensed firearms dealer. Another would ban assault weapons and large capacity magazines. Admittedly, there isn't much chance for either bill to pass, but the fact that they exist, that the gun lovers have to respond to them rather than just push their own mad agenda forward, has meaning.

Individuals, too, the general public, they are moving. Last month, in rallies in several cities around the country, thousands of people demonstrated at Walmarts. Petitions with more than 300,000 names were delivered to Walmart headquarters, demanding the corporation live up to a promise it made years ago to stop selling assault weapons and ammunition.

And even back in DC, there is hope: Personally, in terms of public safety and reducing the daily carnage in this country, I think that what's more important than banning assault weapons is limiting the size of magazines. And while the former - banning assault rifles - is still, bizarrely, regarded as politically toxic, lawmakers seem increasingly open to a ban on high-capacity magazines - and even conservatives have to admit that a ban on large magazines is well within even this Supreme Court's expansive view of a personal right to firearms.

But this, this may be the real thing to note: There is a special election in Chicago coming up to fill the seat left open by the resignation of former Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. The party primaries are next Tuesday, February 26. It's a heavily Democratic district, and whoever wins the Democratic primary is very likely to win the seat.

So it's worth noting that just nine days before the primary, one of the leading contenders on the Democratic side, State Sen. Toi Hutchinson, dropped out of the race after being hit with an ad criticizing her for having an "A+" rating from the NRA. And instead of endorsing the person who had been thought the front-runner, former US Rep. Debbie Halvorson, who also has an "A" rating from the NRA, she endorsed ex-state Rep. Robin Kelly, who has been loudly and proudly touting her "F" rating from the Nutzoids and is the strongest challenger to Halvorson, who has been desperately trying to run away from her past support of and from the NRA.

Yes, it's Chicago and yes, Chicago has seen a lot of gun violence of late, which may have impacted the way people view things - but seriously, ask yourself, when was the last time a candidate for federal office actively ran away from the NRA?

Finally for this week, amid all the past failures and present frustrations, something else to help keep hope alive:

A big reason why the Nutzoid Rabbit-brains of America, acting on behalf of its paymasters, the gun manufacturers, is so keen on preventing a new assault weapon ban is that the industry's customer base is shrinking. Thirty years ago, about 50% of households had a gun. Now it's less than a third. Thirty years ago, about 30% of the population owned guns. Now, it's just 20%. So the only way to keep profits up is to sell more - and more expensive - guns to that shrinking number of people. I don't know how long it will take or how many will die needlessly in that time - but it does appear that time and truth are on our side.


Left Side of the Aisle #96 - Part 5

Clown Award: MO state Rep. Mike Leara wants to make it a felony to propose gun control

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

The winner of the big red nose this week is Mike Leara, a member of the Missouri House of Representatives. Missouri is the state that threatens to move ahead of Kansas on the list of states that embarrass the rest of the country the most. Last April, the House actually passed a bill that made it a crime for any federal official to try to enforce the Affordable Care Act in the state. And for the third year in a row, the legislature is debating a bill that would claim the right to nullify - that is, to just ignore - federal laws the state doesn't like. In at least one of those three years, the bill passed the House.

Mike Leara is doing his part to maintain that level of stupidity. He has introduced a bill that would make it a felony punishable with up to four years in prison for any legislator to "propose a piece of legislation that further restricts the right of an individual to bear arms, as set forth under the second amendment of the Constitution of the United States."

In other words, it would be a felony to propose any gun control laws. Truly, truly, a complete and utter clown.

By the way, as a footnote to this: In the summer of 2007, Missouri repealed a law requiring gun buyers to get a license before purchase. In 2008, the gun homicide rate went up 34% over the pre-repeal average.


Left Side of the Aisle #96 - Part 4

RIP: Richard Briers

A brief RIP. I expect you don't know who the person in the photo is, but that's okay: He was much better known in the UK than here. His name is Richard Briers; he was a British actor. He died of emphysema on February 17 at the age of 79.

Although a few people around here might know him for having played the Chief Caretaker in "Paradise Towers," a Sylvester McCoy Doctor Who story, I remember him best as Tom Good in the British sitcom "The Good Life," which was shown in the US under the title "The Good Neighbors."

It is my all-time favorite sitcom. All-time. It revolved around a couple trying to live a self-sufficient lifestyle in an upscale suburb of London. My first wife, Linda, and I used to dream of being the Goods.

RIP Richard, and thanks for the dreams.


Left Side of the Aisle #96 - Part 3

Outrage of the Week: Fox News' solar power stupidity

Appearing recently on that font of intellectualism, Fox & Friends, Fox Business reporter Shibani Joshi agreed with host Wretched Carlson that the future of solar energy in the US is "dim." Whether that was a conscious pun or are they really that self-unaware, I don't know. The point is, when she was asked why Germany is doing so well with solar power, why its solar-power industry is doing so much better than ours, Joshi knew the answer:

"They're a smaller country, and they've got lots of sun. Right? They've got a lot more sun than we do. The problem is it's a cloudy day and it's raining, you're not gonna have it." Sure, California might get sun now and then, she admitted, "but here on the East Coast, it's just not going to work."

Now, to really understand what is so outrageous here, you have to know three things: One, Germany is indeed way ahead of the US in developing solar power. It produces over 21 times more solar power per capita than the US and about 24 times more solar power per GDP than the US. In the summer of 2012, solar power peaked at 40% of power demand in Germany and only 0.5% of demand - 1/80 as much - in the US.

Second, because it's a smaller country? What? I have no idea what that's supposed to mean or by what logic it was being argued - and neither does she.

Third, no, Germany does not get more sun. Instead, the US gets far more. The map shows the amount of solar energy for various regions - Germany, Spain, and the US, measured in kilowatt-hours per square meter per year. The bluer the area, the less solar energy; the redder, the more solar energy. Notice that Germany is about on a par with Alaska. Almost the entire continental US plus Hawai'i far outstrips anywhere in Germany on this scale. In fact, in terms of solar potential, the US beats out famously sunny Spain.

So why is Germany doing better? Because it made a commitment to solar power based on government subsidies and decentralization: 80 percent of the solar installed in Germany is on rooftops and built to a local scale as opposed to the large, centralized generation favored by private US utilities.

That is so obvious that Joshi herself had to admit it a few days later, writing on the Fox News website - but not, notably, going back on Fox & Friends to say it to their far larger audience - that the difference between the US and Germany "comes down more to subsidies and political priorities and has nothing to with sunshine." In fact, she even provides a link to Greentech Media in acknowledging that, as the linked article says in its opening sentence, "every energy source in the last 400 years has been subsidized."

But stupidity will not be denied, so she immediately turns to dissing solar power on a completely different basis, that it's not a "standalone" industry because it still relies on subsidies, that is, government support, to grow. This right after admitting, remember, that this is normal for newly-emerging energy sources.

But it's true that the solar industry does get various forms of government support - so let's look at how much.

This is a graph of the average annual subsidies given to fossil fuels, nuclear, biofuels, and renewables over the history of the subsidies for each sort. (Click for a larger image.) The figures are inflation-adjusted so it's a level field for making the comparisons. Over the lifetime of their subsidies, fossil fuels have averaged nearly $4.9 billion in subsidies per year. Nuclear has gotten an average of $3.5 billion; biofuels, a little over a billion; renewables, just $370 million. In a typical year, biofuels get nearly triple the federal support that renewables do; nuclear gets 10 times the support; and fossil fuels, the kind we should be cutting down on, get 13 times the support renewables do.

In fact, you remember that article that Joshi linked to, the one that said that all energy sources have been subsidized, the one she linked to right before grousing that solar still needs federal assistance? The second sentence of that article says, quoting,
By most metrics, renewable energy sources have received far less in subsidies in their early years than any of these other energy sources.
And to top it off, she declares that we don't need no stinking solar because we have something much better: fracking! That destructive, water-wasting, water-source fouling, chemical cocktail to fracture rock, a process that would make us even more dependent on global-warming-driving fossil fuels than we already are.

Such stupidity with the future of the world at stake really is an outrage.


Left Side of the Aisle #96 - Part 2

Some peace and justice-related anniversaries

A few anniversaries in history this week that I wanted to mention, just because I felt like it.

The first is from World War II. After Nazi Germany conquered Norway, there was a plan to use Norway as a sort of laboratory for promoting Nazism in conquered lands.

In the autumn of 1941, Vidkun Quisling, the puppet prime minister who gave us a new term for "traitor," declared that teachers must educate their pupils in Nazism and must join a new Nazi-oriented Teachers' Association.

There were 14,000 teachers in Norway. On February 20, 1942, 12,000 of them - all on the same day, all in the same words - wrote to the Quisling government, refusing to join.

The government threatened to fire them all. When that didn't work, the schools are closed. Over 1000 teachers were arrested, 700 of those sent to forced labor camps in the Arctic.

None of it worked. Quisling's Teachers' Association never came into existence and by May, 1942, he was reduced to screaming at a group of teachers "You have destroyed everything for me!"

Next, a quick happy note: On February 21, 1975, 38 years ago, former Attorney General John Mitchell, his aide Robert Mardian, and former White House aides H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman were sentenced to 2-1/2 to 8 years in prison for their roles in the Watergate cover-up. They were variously convicted of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, fraud, and perjury. This from back in the days before we came to prefer to legalize White House criminality after the fact rather than challenge it.

It was February 22, 1974, when, in the first act what's known as direct action, of civil disobedience, against nuclear power in the US, an organic farmer named Sam Lovejoy took a few hand tools to the weather tower for a proposed nuclear power plant in Montague, Massachusetts - and left 349 feet of twisted wreckage behind. He then went and turned himself in to police. His action and subsequent trial galvanized the national anti-nuke movement and increased local opposition to the plant. At his trial, the charge against Lovejoy was dismissed on a technicality - which Lovejoy urged the judge not to use: He wanted a verdict.

Just under a year earlier, on February 27, 1973, came the occupation of Wounded Knee, South Dakota by hundreds of Oglala Lakota Sioux and members of the American Indian Movement. The occupation lasted 71 days. Despite the violent nature both of the occupation and the government siege against it, the occupation did bring the outrages still inflicted on Native Americans to the attention of the broader public, often for the first time.

Finally, this is actually for next week, but I wanted to include it here: Next Wednesday, February 28, is the 55th anniversary of the founding, in 1958, of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the United Kingdom. The CND still exists, still advocating for unilateral nuclear disarmament by the UK and negotiated nuclear disarmament by the rest of the world.

The group felt it needed a symbol, so it designed one.

It took the semaphore sign for N, for nuclear - like this -

and the semaphore sign for D, for disarmament - like this -

- and overlapped them in a circle, creating this:

I do have to say, however, that the symbol to the right is the one that I more identify with: The broken rifle is and has been literally for some scores of years the logo of the War Resisters League. The WRL, having been founded in 1923, will sometime later this year be celebrating its 90th anniversary. Which actually makes me feel quite old - because I helped to draft the statement the group released on its 50th anniversary.


Left Side of the Aisle #96 - Part 1

Good news: IL Senate passes same-sex marriage bill

A quick hit of good news. The Illinois state Senate has made a love offering of sorts: On, appropriately enough, Valentine’s Day, it passed a bill to allow for same-sex marriage in the state. The vote was 34-21 with 2 abstentions.

The measure now goes to the House, where the fight is expected to be tougher. But with the victory in the Senate and the support of Gov. Pat Quinn, there is reason for optimism.

Slow but steady progress. It's a small step, but small steps are still steps.


Left Side of the Aisle #96

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of February 21-27, 2013

This week:

Good news: Illinois state Senate approves same-sex marriage,0,5929022.story

Some peace and justice-related anniversaries

Outrage of the Week: Fox News' solar power stupidity

RIP: Richard Briers

Clown Award: Missouri state Rep Mike Leara wants to make it a felony to propose gun control,0,1787720.story!/content/29474/leara_gun_bill_reaction?coverpage=2749

Guns: State and individuals push back against the gun nuts,0,5165926.story?track=lat-pick,0,5885704.story

And Amother Thing: the Higgs boson and the future of the universe

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #95 - Part 7

Outrage of the Week: White paper whitewashes murder

As I'm sure you've heard, NBC news got hold of and released a 16-page "white paper" outlining the administration’s rules for drone strikes against US citizens abroad. Reading it is like reading an essay consciously designed to illustrate Hannah Arendt's famous reference to "the banality of evil." By its very cold, legalistic, language and attitude, by having everything filed and orderly, by replacing consideration with procedure, it looks to whitewash its meaning.

That meaning is this: We of the White House, we on the inside, we get to kill our own citizens abroad based solely on our own say-so. You - Congress, the public? - we don't need your involvement, we don't need your permission, we don't even have to tell you, and we don't even need evidence.

You think that last part goes too far? You think I overstate the case? You think, as too many like to think, that only "the bad guys" get targeted? Unthink it.

Consider the very title of the memo: "Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al-Qa’ida or An Associated Force." First, just what is an "associated force?" What constitutes being "associated?" The memo never says.

And how do we know the person to have a bomb dropped on them - which after all is what an armed drone is - is a "Senior Operational Leader?" Because an “informed, high-level official” says so, that's how.

And when can they be killed? When they pose an "imminent" threat. Oh, well, that's okay - except, wait, what does "imminent" mean?

It turns out that in White House world, "imminent" doesn't necessarily mean "specific" or "immediate." No, the memo declares it has a "broader" understanding of "imminent." In fact, it says that if that supposed “informed, high-level” official decides that the targeted American has been “recently” involved in “activities” posing a threat of violent attack and “there is no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities,” that's enough. The memo does not define “recently” or “activities” or what would be required to show a "renunciation" of the undefined "activities." In other words, they don't have to have any evidence of a current threat at all.

When this first started coming out, nearly three years ago, I wrote a letter to the president about it. I never got an answer or even a pro-forma acknowledgement, which I have to say doesn't really suprise me. I'm going to read that letter. It's dated April 8, 2010:
Having been out of touch for a few days, it was only last night that I became aware of the reports in the New York Times and Washington Post that President Obama had ordered the “targeted assassination” of Anwar al-Awlaki. I note that the references were not to “capturing” or “kidnapping” him so he could be brought here for trial, but to assassination. The question that arises is:

Mr. President, just who the hell do you think you are?

Who do you think you are that you can order the cold-blooded murder - and let’s be honest, that’s what we’re talking about - of an American citizen? An American citizen who has been convicted of no crime, who has had no day in court, but is to be stabbed or shot down or ripped to shreds by a bomb based solely on the kind of intelligence that has served us so well in the Middle East, from the fall of the Shah to the supposed existence of WMDs.

Mr. President, just who the hell do you think you are?

You are claiming for yourself a power, an authority, that even the Bush administration - that shredder of the Constitution, that underminer of privacy and civil liberties, that embracer of torture, that invader of foreign lands without justification - did not claim for itself: the power to order, on your own authority, subject to no oversight and no need for proof beyond your personal belief, the murder of American citizens.

It is bad enough that we even talk about “targeted assassinations,” bad enough that we openly embrace methods for which we previously denounced ideological enemies - and hypocritical enough that we will still do so. But with this, a bright red line is to be crossed, a line that once crossed can’t be uncrossed: the officially-sanctioned, cold-blooded murder of an American citizen, someone supposedly protected by Constitutional guarantees of due process at least from their own government even if they are outside the US, guarantees that apparently evaporate in the face of the all-powerful mantra “terrorism.”

Mr. President, just who the hell do you think you are?

Once that line is crossed, where can you draw a new one? How can you draw a new one? Bluntly, Mr. President, if some future administration approved a domestic “targeted assassination,” how could you object? Because “domestic” is different from “foreign?” That sort of absolute distinction was supposed to exist regarding US citizens. If the one can be ignored, why not the other?

Once that bright red line is crossed, what is to prevent the slippery slope, what is the impenetrable roadblock on the path, to the targeted murder of some future administration’s domestic political opponents based on a claim that they are a danger to “security?” If that seems far-fetched, just remember that it was not that long ago that an administration embracing torture or ordering the murder of a US citizen would have seemed equally unthinkable.

Mr. President, I say again: Just who the hell do you think you are?
Because now, when we see this memo - and remember, these are not the actual legal arguments, which are still classified, but essentially an unclassified summary of the argument - when we see this memo we see what I have to describe as, I can't help but describe as, the acts of a tyrant.

Now, I am not saying Barack Obama is a tyrant - but I am saying that this is the act of one. Presuming to yourself, with no oversight, no checks and balances, no counterweight, arrogating to yourself, the power, the authority, to assassinate, to murder, a citizen based solely and completely on your own unquestionable, unchallengeable, claim that this person was "an enemy," can you, can anyone, give me a better example of what you would call tyranny?

This is the act of a tyrant.

And the fact that we as a people are even considering this, that we as a people are actually discussing this seriously as if this was a rational idea - "Oh, I may disagree with it, but I understand" - no, we shouldn't understand.

We're supposed to be better than this - and every single day, we prove that we're not.


Left Side of the Aisle #95 - Part 6

Guns: Gun control from the start

For each of the past four weeks, I've been talking about guns, about some aspect of gun control. I'm going to do it again this week and probably for two or three weeks more.

This week we're going to look at a little history of the Second Amendment. To do that, we're going to go back before the Second Amendment, before even the Constitution, to the Articles of Confederation, which were drafted in 1776 and ratified in 1781. Article VI of that document required that:
every state shall always keep up a well regulated and disciplined militia, sufficiently armed and accoutred, and shall provide and constantly have ready for use, in public stores, a due number of field pieces and tents, and a proper quantity of arms, ammunition and camp equipage.
Note that these arms were in public arsenals, not private hands.

The Constitution was drafted in 1787 after the Articles of Confederation proved hopelessly inadequate to the task of binding the states into a nation. It was adopted by enough states to go into effect in 1788.

Article I, Section 8 of gives to Congress, among other powers, these:
To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years;

To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions; [and]

To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the Militia, and for governing such Part of them as may be employed in the Service of the United States, reserving to the States respectively, the Appointment of the Officers, and the Authority of training the Militia according to the discipline prescribed by Congress."
Article II, Section 2 also mentions militias:
The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States....
Note that the Second Amendment was not the first time in the document where there is a reference to a militia and that the clear intent was to rely on the militias of the states to "execute the Laws, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions" while avoiding the dangers of a standing army (which is why appropriations for an army could not be for longer than two years).

The Bill of Rights was drafted by James Madison in 1789. Faced with continuing concern over the possibility of a standing army and the threat that would create for a fledgling government, Madison offered a guarantee that states could continue to have militias. That was the purpose of the Second Amendment. Significantly, however, this was the original proposed text: “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed; a well armed and well regulated militia being the best security of a free country: but no person religiously scrupulous of bearing arms shall be compelled to render military service in person.”

There is no way any rational, sane person can read that text without recognizing that it was specifically referring to a militia - not to any "gimmie my guns" bull.

Firearms have been regulated in the United States from the very start. Laws banning the carrying of concealed weapons were passed in Kentucky and Louisiana in 1813, in Indiana in 1820, Tennessee and Virginia in 1838, Alabama in 1839, and Ohio in 1859. There were similar laws in Texas, Florida, and Oklahoma. In 1893, the governor of Texas said that the “mission of the concealed deadly weapon is murder."

While people were allowed to have guns at home for self-protection or while they were out on the prairie, where they might need protection from animals or bandits, frontier towns usually barred anyone but law enforcement from carrying guns in public.

For example, a visitor arriving in Wichita, Kansas in 1873, in the heart of the Wild West era, would have seen signs declaring, "Leave Your Revolvers At Police Headquarters, and Get a Check."

No later than 1876, Dodge City, Kansas, had a gun control law. Check out the picture of a sign on Front Street in Dodge City in 1878: It says “The Carrying of Firearms Strictly Forbidden.” When by 1882 it had proved inadequate, the response was not to declare more people should have more guns, but to pass a stricter law, one that banned anyone "except County, City, or United States Officers” from carrying "any pistol, bowie knife, slung shot or other dangerous or deadly weapons."

Tombstone, Arizona, banned the carrying of deadly weapons in 1881. In fact, the famous "gunfight at the OK Corral" occurred in part because the Clanton and McLaury brothers refused to surrender their guns.

Turning to the courts, the first important Supreme Court decision about the Second Amendment was Presser v. Illinois, which was decided in 1886. In it, the Supreme Court found that the Second Amendment limited only the power of the national government to control firearms, not that of individual states. States could essentially put whatever restrictions on guns that they wanted. That decision was affirmed in Miller v. Texas, decided in 1894.

Now, this was before the idea of incorporation, the legal concept that the protections of the Constitution extend to the states as well as the federal government, became commonplace. So these decisions are not truly relevant to the legal terrain of today - but they do give more evidence to the fact that gun control laws have existed throughout our national history.

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

"With obvious purpose to assure the continuation and render possible the effectiveness of such forces the declaration and guarantee of the Second Amendment were made. It must be interpreted and applied with that end in view.
Put another way, the guarantee under the Second Amendment was not an individual right but a collective one: It applied to the people as a whole, not to discrete individuals. For 69 years, that was precedent, relied on by all lower courts and occasionally referred to by the Supreme Court.

For 69 years, that was the legal standard - until 2008, when our current reactionary Supreme Court, in the case District of Columbia v. Heller, by the narrowest of margins, 5-4, created out of thin air an individual right to own and keep guns.

So when people like Scalia and Alito and Thomas and Roberts claim they are interested in "original intent" and "plain meaning" and declare their devotion to "precedent," never forget that they are lying through their teeth. And the blood of thousands of victims of guns is on their hands: As of midday Tuesday, February 12, nearly 1,800 people in the US had been killed by guns since Newtown, twelve of them in Massachusetts.


Left Side of the Aisle #95 - Part 5

Follow-up 3: Boy Scouts and bigotry

Two weeks ago, I noted that the Boy Scouts of America, the BSA, is expected in the near future to rescind its ban on participation by gays.

To no one's surprise, the BSA has driven the right wing BSC - and it you don't know what that means, email me and I'll tell you but know now that the B is for "bat" and the C is for "crazy."

For example, some 42 wacko groups ran an ad in USA Today calling on the Scouts to maintain the ban, claiming the change is being considered only because of the threat of loss of corporate support - which is rather funny because about 70 percent of all Boy Scout troops are sponsored by church groups, many of which are threatening to withdraw their own financial and logistical support if the change goes through. Indeed, the public policy agency of one of them - the Southern Baptist Convention - signed the ad.

There are three particularly disgusting parts of this ad. The first is the wild claim that criticism of the BSA's bigotry is an attack on "free thought." This is a standard trope of the right: Call them out for their racism, their sexism, their homophobia, their bigotry, their greed, their stupidity, their callousness, their whatever, and they'll screech that it's an assault on their freedom of speech. The claim, at bottom, is that they can say whatever they want without challenge.

The second is the assertion that banning gays, this bigotry, is a "moral principle."

The third and last is the worst. It makes reference to the so-called "perversion files" the BSA released last year. The group had kept a secret list of people banned from scouting because of having molested scouts - which it kept secret, never informing authorities. The ad refers to this and then says, quoting, "How will parents be able to entrust their children to the Boy Scouts if they trade the well-being of the boys for corporate dollars?"

In other words, the ad makes the old, bigoted, paranoid, and utterly false connection of homosexuality to pedophilia. It is completely, totally, bogus without a shred of evidence. But still they will use it to deny gays participation in society. You want it even clearer? Bryan Fischer, director of Issues Analysis for the American Family Association, one of the groups signing the ad, recently declared than ending the ban on gay membership would mean that pedophiles will soon be “bunking down with your kid at jamboree.”

These people are both incredibly vile and mind-bogglingly ignorant. Then again, those two qualities often go together.


Left Side of the Aisle #95 - Part 4

Follow-up 2: Aaron Swartz

Four weeks ago I talked about Aaron Swartz, the internet wunderkind who committed suicide as he faced trial on 13 felonies for trespassing into a computer closet at MIT to download articles from a database of scholarly journals.

I said at the time that the case was one of egregious prosecutorial overreach and abuse on the part of the US Attorney for Massachusetts, Carmen Ortiz. I said that the intent was to make Swartz their scarecrow to frighten others, that is, to use him to "send a message." I also said Ortiz was thinking of running for governor and that I wanted you to remember this case if she ever did.

Well, now it develops that, according to a report in the Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, state prosecutors had intended to let Swartz off with a stern warning. The Middlesex County's district attorney had planned no jail time, the report said, "with Swartz duly admonished and then returned to civil society to continue his pioneering electronic work in a less legally questionable manner." The expectation was for what's called "continuance without a finding," where the charge is held in abeyance and if the defendant stays out of trouble for some period, usually some months to maybe a few years, the charge is dismissed. That's what was expected. Until Carmen Ortiz seized control of the case and turned it into 13 felonies.

Remember this case.

By the way, as a footnote, it's worth noting that last July the Boston "Phoenix" gave Ortiz it's top Muzzle Award for the year, given for violations of free speech. In this case it was for prosecuting Tarek Mehanna, who was convicted of "material aid to terrorism" and sentenced to 17 years in prison totally and entirely for what he said and wrote, not for anything he actually did. Remember, indeed.


Left Side of the Aisle #95 - Part 3

Follow-up 1: Tom Harkin

Something I think I haven't done enough of is doing follow-ups on some of the stuff I talk about. I'm going to try to do some more of that. So I'll kick off the idea with three follow-ups.

First, five weeks ago, I gave Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa a Hero Award, which is given around here as the occasion arises to someone who just does the right thing.

I gave it to him for being the only liberal or so-called "progressive" Senator to vote against that supposed budget deal, that dodge of the mythical "fiscal cliff." He accurately described the "fiscal cliff" as a manufactured crisis and the deal as benefiting the richest Americans at the expense of the poorest. He also mocked those who want to "redefine the middle class as those making $400,00 a year."

Tom Harkin, an old-style populist from a time when the term actually meant something worthwhile, has announced he will retire at the end of his current term in 2014 (actually, technically, January 2015). I can't say I agreed with Tom Harkin on everything or even on a lot of things, but he is an honorable and decent man at a time when such are in short supply in our national government. He will be missed.


Left Side of the Aisle #95 - Part 2

Clown Award: Group wants "no gays allowed" dance

Sullivan, Indiana, is a town of 4200 people in southwest Indiana. There, a group of parents, teens, and even a teacher at Sullivan High School is fighting for a separate "traditional" high school prom that would ban gay students, because they just don't think it's "right" that they should have to - well, they actually weren't very clear about just what the problem is except that "it (I assume they mean being gay or lesbian) is offensive to us."

Among those supporting the plan, hatched at a church meeting on February 10, is Diana Medley, a special education teacher, who not only compared being homosexual to being one of what she called "my special needs kids" but insisted that being homosexual is a deliberate choice and that gays and lesbians have no purpose to their lives.

There is some pushback: A Facebook page called "Support The Sullivan High School Prom For All Students" has appeared and already has over 1,000 likes.

One of the students involved in the plan for a "no homos allowed" dance said "we want to make the public see that we love the homosexuals, but we don't think it's right nor should it be accepted." Yeah, right: "I love you, you abomination in the eyes of god that I can't even stand to share a high school gymnasium with." Funny way to show love.

Then again, what can you expect from a collection of clowns?


Left Side of the Aisle #95 - Part 1

Good news: DOD expands benefits available to same-sex couples

I always like to start with good news, so here is some: On Monday, as one his last acts as Secretary of Defense, Leon Panetta announced that the DOD is expanding military benefits available to gay and lesbian couples. The Pentagon hopes to offer the additional benefits by August 31.

The list of expanded benefits includes education, hospital visitation, casualty notification, travel, transportation, identification cards, family counseling, relocation assistance, recreation programs, access to base facilities, and more than a dozen more.

The list does not include health-care coverage for same-sex spouses or on-base housing privileges because of limitations imposed by the bigoted Defense of Marriage Act - but Pentagon officials are saying they are studying whether they can extend certain housing benefits without running afoul of the law, an effort that may prove unnecessary if the Supreme Court strikes down DOMA.

The Pentagon estimates that about 5,600 active-duty and roughly 3,400 National Guard servicemembers have same-sex spouses.

Panetta said "While it will not change during my tenure as secretary of defense, I foresee a time when the law will allow the department to grant full benefits to service members and their dependents, irrespective of sexual orientation."

Happily, Mr. Secretary, so can I.


Left Side of the Aisle #95

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of February 14-20, 2013

This week:

Good news: DOD expands benefits available to same-sex couples

Clown Award: Group wants "no gays allowed" dance

Follow-up 1: Tom Harkin

Follow-up 2: Aaron Swartz

Follow-up 3: Boy Scouts and bigotry

Guns: Gun control from the start

Outrage of the Week: White paper whitewashes murder

Friday, February 08, 2013

The Big One... on the way. We don't have to find Nemo, Nemo is finding us.

We're about as ready as we're going to be. A neighbor said he was ready: "I've got a snow shovel and food." I told him we were one up on him: We have a snow shovel, food, and snacks.

Since the predictions include warnings of power outages, we also have flashlights with new batteries, lots of candles, matches, some wood for the fireplace, a couple of oil lamps for reading, lots of blankets, and several gallons of water.

There's talk around here that this is going to top the (in)famous blizzard of 1978. I don't know about that - especially since I wasn't living here in 1978 and so have no point of comparison - but unless the entire meteorological world has gone off its rocker, it's going to be bad.

Hang in there: Spring is less than six weeks away.

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #94 - Part 6

Guns: They do not make you safer

Okay, guns. One of the most offensive parts, and the most commonly cited part, of the SCOTUS decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, the decision that threw out DC's handgun control law, was that it was the first time the Court had found that the Second Amendment provided for an individual, as opposed to a collective, right to own guns. But in what I think is an even more offensive part, the Court found that a purpose of the Second Amendment was to allow for an individual right to self defense. Now remember, this is what the Amendment says:
A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.
But the reactionary majority on the Court ruled that one purpose, one original intent, of that Amendment was to enable you as an individual to have a gun to protect yourself and your particular home from some sort of criminal attack. This was created out of whole cloth. There is nothing in the Amendment, in the record of the debates over its adoption, or in judicial precedent to say that individual self defense was a purpose for it. They made it up.

But that's the argument we get now: Guns are about self-defense. As NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPepe LePew said, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." So that's what we're going to talk about today. How true is that? How really effective are guns at self-defense?

The short answer is, really not very much at all. In fact, guns do not make you safe. Period.

How many times do we have to prove this? These are all studies published in peer-reviewed professional journals:

In 2000, from the "Journal of Trauma": Across high-income nations, more guns equals more gun homicides. This was true even when data from the US is excluded.

2002, the "American Journal of Public Health": Across US states, for every age group, again more guns equals more homicides, even after controlling for poverty and urbanization. The same researchers later repeated their work using statistics from later years and controlling for rates of aggravated assault, robbery, unemployment, urbanization, alcohol consumption, and resource deprivation such as poverty. That one was published in "Social Science and Medicine" in 2007. The results were the same. More guns means more murders.

2004, in "Aggression and Violent Behavior: A Review Journal": A review of the literature showed that "case-control studies, ecological time-series and cross-sectional studies indicate that in homes, cities, states and regions in the US, where there are more guns, both men and women are at higher risk for homicide, particularly firearm homicide."

Also in 2004, published in the "American Journal of Epidemiology": Persons with guns in the home were at greater risk of dying from a homicide in the home than those without guns in the home. They were also at greater risk of dying from a firearm homicide outside the home. Overall, having a gun inside a home tripled the likelihood of homicide. It quintupled the risk of suicide. And this was true regardless of storage practice, type of gun, or number of firearms in the home. Having a gun there was associated with an increased risk of both murder and suicide by gun.

A 2009 study at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found that individuals in possession of a gun were 4.5 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those who were not packing heat. Among gun assaults where the victim had at least some chance to resist, the likelihood increased to 5.5 times more likely. The right wing gun lovers have tried to mock the study, but it used the same methodology that epidemiologists have historically used to establish links between such things as smoking and lung cancer or drinking and car crashes.

In 2011, a study published in the "American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine" examined previous research on guns. It considered both various risks of having a gun in the home (including accidents, suicide, homicide, and intimidation) and possible benefits (including deterrence and thwarting crimes, that is, self-defense). It found that homes with guns were not safer and did not deter more crime than those without them. In fact, in homes with children or women, the health risks increased and in any event the risks greatly outweighed the actual or perceived benefits.

Finally, just this past October, a report by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found, among other things, that "right-to-carry" gun laws do not reduce violent crime but are associated with up to a nine percent increase in aggravated assaults. Plus, it found that the homicide rate in the US is seven times higher than the average of all other high-income countries because the US firearm homicide rates are 22 times higher.

Oh, but the cry rises, what about the good guy with the gun stopping the bad guy with the gun? What, you'd rather we all be defenseless?

Frankly, the idea that some gun-wielding hero is going to come swooping in like, I dunno, Spiderman or something, whip out their trusty Beretta and take down the evil bandit just before he opens fire on the helpless, unarmed crowd - it's delusional.

Oh, no no no, the manhood-challenged legions come back. What about all the times guns are used in self-defense? What about the 2.5 million times a year when an armed citizen deters or stops an armed criminal?

The number, often promoted by the acolytes of the death lobby, comes from a sloppy study done in the 1990s by two criminologists, a study based entirely on self-reported claims with no way to to determine whether they were true. It has been widely discredited. Not only were there major problems with methodology and wildly inconceivable results - to mention just one, the study concluded that armed citizens kill or wound their attacker with a gun 207,000 times per year, which is more than double the yearly average of the total number of emergency rooms visits for all types of gun-related injuries - not only were there those sorts of problems, but a study published in 2000 in the professional journal "Injury Prevention" found not only that guns are used to threaten and intimidate far more often than they are used in self defense, but that most self-reported "self defense" gun uses may not have been self defense at all and in fact they may well have been illegal.

Around the same time as the lousy study, a survey by the Department of Justice found the number of defensive gun uses to be about 108,000 annually, or a little more than 4% of the figure claimed by the gun nuts - and a figure which, significantly, includes police officers using their weapons in the line of duty.

But just how delusional the notion of the gun-wielding civilian savior is can be seen in an experiment ABC News did back in 2009, in conjunction with the Bethlehem, Pennsylvania police department. It sought to test the ability of ordinary people without specialized crisis training to protect themselves with a gun under stress. Without going into the details - you can find a link below - the results were, in a phrase, repeated failure. In the test situation, not one was able to effectively defend themselves. Life is not like a video game and as much as we all like to imagine ourselves turning into Bruce Willis in Die Hard at such a moment, neither is life like a movie.

Because, as Salon political reporter Alex Seitz-Wald wrote recently,
The truth is that it’s extremely difficult for anyone, let alone a lightly trained and inexperienced civilian, to effectively respond to a shooter. The entire episode can take a matter of seconds and your body is fighting against you: Under extreme stress, reaction time slows, heart rate increases and fine motor skills deteriorate. Police train to build muscle memory that can overcome this reaction, but the training wears off after only a few months if not kept up.
Even trained cops can have trouble. According to a RAND study of the NYPD in 2008, officers involved in gunfights typically hit their intended targets only 18% of the time: They miss four times out of five. In most cases, the study said, the cops involved experienced sensory distortions including tunnel vision and loss of hearing. Afterward, they are sometimes surprised to learn that they had fired their weapons at all.

Which also helps to give the lie to the notion that more armed guards in schools is the answer, at least to school shootings. Consider: Columbine had a police officer stationed there. Taft Union High School in Taft, California, where a shooting took place a couple of weeks ago, normally has an armed guard on campus. Virginia Tech has a whole police department on campus. There was an armed guard at Lone Star College, where a shooting took place just over a week ago. Fort Hood is a military base, for pity's sake. The list is partial.

And then again, obviously not all mass shootings take place at schools. Should we have armed guards at every mall, every movie theater, every house of worship, every health center? And virtually all shootings are not mass shootings. Should we have armed guards on every bus, every train, in every doctor's office? In every apartment building, every office building, on every corner? Just how far are we prepared to go?

The fact is, difficult though it may be to admit, it’s often impossible to stop a shooter no matter how many guns are present. As Seitz-Wald pointed out, John Hinckley managed to nearly kill Ronald Reagan and to permanently disable James Brady despite the fact that they were surrounded by dozens of heavily armed men with the best training imaginable, Secret Service agents who were trained and prepared to literally take the bullet in order to protect the president.

Our safety does not lie in guns. It lies in the absence of guns. And the best way to do that is to make them as hard as possible to get.


This is the ABC News video:

This is the story about the experiment:

Left Side of the Aisle #94 - Part 5

Outrage of the Week: the Applebee's flap

You very likely have heard about this, but there are so many ways to be outraged that it's worth going over.

A woman was part of a party of five adults and five children at an Applebee's recently. As is becoming increasingly common in restaurants when there is a large group, the check included a tip of 18%. The woman, a storefront minister, was irritated by that, so she scratched out the tip, changed it to zero, and wrote "I give God 10%, why do you get 18" on the bill. In other words, she stiffed the waitress.

Another waitress on duty, named Chelsea, saw the note, thought it both insulting and comical, and posted an image of it on Reddit. The image went viral and while the customer's name was not easy to read, it was legible and people figured out just who it was. The minister heard about it and called the restaurant demanding everyone on duty in the restaurant, wait staff and managers, the night she was there be fired. Well, Applebee's stood strong in the face of such an over-the-top demand: It only fired Chelsea.

Applebee's management justified the firing on the grounds that "our Guests’ personal information – including their meal check – is private, and neither Applebee’s nor its franchisees have a right to share this information publicly."

First, it's outrageous how this minister, who went around the bend  - what happened to love they neighbor, forgiveness, and all of that - is now coming on like she's the victim here, that her reputation has been "ruined." She's also gone on about how she's "broken-hearted" over the whole thing and how what she did "has been blown out of proportion" - which is rich coming from someone who wanted Applebee's to fire everyone in sight. She also says this was just a single lapse in her usual - we're apparently supposed to accept - high ethical standards. All of which would be more convincing if at any point she said Applebee's should hire Chelsea back.

Another outrage of this is how much of the coverage was about how Applebee's was handling its "PR disaster" as if the impact on Applebee's corporate image was the really important thing here.

A third outrage is the corporate hypocrisy here. Supposedly Chelsea was fired for violating the customer's privacy by having her name remain legible. Meanwhile, this fawning note, full of praise for Applebee's - and with a clearly legible customer name - was posted on the corporation's website. When this was pointed out, the image was taken down, as if to go "What image? What are you talking about?" Too late.

Finally, the real outrage here is that in all the coverage, in all the buzz and discussion in the media, the person for who the least concern has been shown is Chelsea. The only one who suffered anything more than some embarrassment is the one getting the least amount of sympathetic attention. Not in sections of the Internet, mind you: There is a petition calling for her to be rehired and a Facebook page dedicated to boycotting Applebee's until she is. I'm talking about in the more mainstream media. There, she just appears as the person who posted the image and then she disappears, just like she was disappeared from Applebee's.

Which means, ultimately, this is yet another tale of media misdirection and corporate callousness. Not new, but still an outrage.


Left Side of the Aisle #94 - Part 4

Clown Award: Man wants his dog killed because it's "gay"

The Clown Award, given for meritorious stupidity

This week, I can't give you the name of our winner of the red nose, because his name appears to be unknown or at least unreleased. But I can tell you he is from Jackson, Tennessee and he was the owner of a male pitbull-American bulldog mix.

It seems that our unnamed and no doubt thoroughly macho man saw the dog humping another male dog. That's actually normal canine behavior for both males and females and while it's often an expression of dominance, it can also be done out of nervousness or excitement or just as play. But oh, no, our highly-evolved Tennesseean decided it meant his dog was gay - and he just couldn't have that!

So on January 29 he turned the dog over to the Jackson Rabies Control Animal Shelter, a "high-kill" shelter, to be killed, which term I inist on using instead of whitewashing euphemisms like "put down" or "put to sleep," or particularly in this case, even "euthenasia," which means mercy killing and is supposed to be applied to cases where the intent is to put an end to great suffering - and the only suffering this dog, which is quite healthy, was experiencing at this time was abandonment.

Happily, the pup was saved literally just a few hours before he was to be killed. He was taken by a woman named Stephanie Fryns, who is affiliated with an animal rescue group. She named him Elton and after neutering, a health check, and a temperament test, he'll be placed in a suitable home.

Now, let it be said here that it is possible the dog is gay. Homosexual behavior has been recorded in more than 1,000 different animal species, including dogs, and a number of mammal species, including giraffes, dolphins, and bonobos, have been observed having homosexual sex just for the fun of it.

But that doesn't change the fact that whoever this guy in Tennessee is, he is a homophobe, a bigot, utterly ignorant of canine behavior, and a complete, thoroughgoing clown.


Left Side of the Aisle #94 - Part 3

Citizens United and DOMA

Onto something else. Since I was speaking of Citizens United, which we often forget is an organization, and of same-sex marriage rights, how fitting that they come together in a bit of news about the case before the Supreme Court about the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. DOMA is the federal law which limits the definition of marriage to one man and one woman for determining eligibility for benefits for all federal programs.

Citizens United has filed an amicus brief in support of DOMA, arguing that it is constitutional. Okay, fine, whatever. The issue is the argument the group makes in support of that claim. It's an illustration of how the right wing will openly, unhesitatingly, advance the most wild-eyed, radical, bizarro-world propositions for the very purpose of making those wild-eyed, radical, bizarro-world propositions part of common discourse, to make them seem if only by some level of familiarity not nearly so vicious and reactionary and destructive as they really are. This is something that we need to be more aware of, something that we need to pay more attention to.

So what is the group arguing? Quoting the brief:
It is past time for this Court to bring to an end the line of atextual cases begun with Bolling v. Sharpe in 1954, and to place itself back under the authority of the Constitution as it is written.
Bolling v. Sharpe is a landmark civil rights case. The decision was announced the same day as the more famous case Brown v. Board of Education. That second decision cited the "equal protection" clause of the 14th Amendment in finding that "separate but equal" in public education was inherently unequal.

In Bolling, which was about discrimination in Washington, DC schools, the Court relied on the "due process" clause of the Fifth Amendment. It found that while
the Fifth Amendment does not contain an equal protection clause, as does the Fourteenth Amendment, which applies only to the States, the concepts of equal protection and due process are not mutually exclusive
because, the Court ruled, "it would be unthinkable that the same Constitution would impose a lesser duty on the Federal Government" to not discriminate than it does on the individual states.

Citizens United declares this a "judicial fiction" and a "mythical component" of the Fifth Amendment. What it is arguing, that is, is that the Constitution provides no protection for anyone against discrimination by the federal government. The states, yes, the federal government, no. The feds are free to discriminate against anyone they want. Blacks, Latinos, women, Arabs, anyone - especially, it seems, gays and lesbians who want to get married to the people they love.

And what is it in particular about this case? Well, CU argues, quoting, "by secularizing marriage," the court of appeals in this case, which found DOMA unconstitutional, has
disregarded the historical interrelationship between Biblical Christianity and the American Constitutional Republic. ... Indeed, the courts give no regard whatsoever to the originator and definer of marriage who created us male and female (see Genesis 1:26-28) and enabled male and female couples to procreate offspring in his image (see Genesis 5:1-3).
So much for separation of church and state and freedom of religion. It's all about "Biblical Christianity." Apparently we can add Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and any other non-Christians to the list of people against who the feds can freely discriminate. Oh yeah, and atheists. Especially atheists.

Here's the point here, though: One commentator called it "one of the more hilarious briefings I've had the pleasure to derisively laugh at." But that misses the point. I don't think that Citizens United expects to win its argument here. The point right now is not to win it, but to raise it. To make it a topic of conversation, to legitimize it, again if only by familiarity, to make it an idea worthy of serious consideration by the Serious People in media and within the Beltway.

It is another item in the long list of items giving a lesson that the left, to my decades-long frustration, just refuses to learn: the right thinks long-term. They think strategically. And we have to do the same or we're going to keep getting rolled.


Left Side of the Aisle #94 - Part 2

Good news 2: Proposed amendments to overturn Citizens United

A second bit of good news is that the movement to overturn Citizens United has taken a concrete legal form. Citizens United is that despicable SCOTUS decision that corporations are people with free speech rights to unlimited spending on elections - a decision the Court reaffirmed last June when it extended the ruling to cover state elections as well as federal ones. Ever since the original decision, people have been considering various ways to overturn it or at least mitigate the impact.

Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts has introduced into the House two Constitutional amendments to accomplish that. Cleverly, his office didn't just issue a press release - it posted them on Reddit generating a quick and enthusiastic response.

McGovern's first proposed amendment, HJ Res 20, would tackle campaign finance reform by specfically stating that Congress and the states "shall have power to regulate the raising and spending of money and in-kind equivalents" in their respective elections. That would enable passage of campaign finance rules that could not be overturned by even this Court.

The second proposed amendment is to my mind the more important one. It would overturn Citizens United outright but more importantly, it would do so by openly declaring that the rights protected by the Constitution are those of actual people and that, quoting the proposal, "the words people, person, or citizen as used in this Constitution do not include corporations, limited liability companies or other corporate entities."

In other words, it would specifically reject the bizarre notion that, at Witless Romney infamously put it, "corporations are people, my friend." I've talked about this before, about the fact that the idea that corporations are "legal persons" which underlay Citizens United is nonsense based not on any SCOTUS decision by on some Court clerks' description of a decision.

Actually, however, this is good-bad news because frankly, the prospects for these bills are not good. The GOPpers in the House, especially the top ranks, they love them some corporate cash and are unlikely to be interested in anything that would challenge that. That's why previous attempts along similar lines in the last Congress vanished into the black hole of the Judiciary Committee, never to be seen again. What's worse, the top Dems may be coming to the same decision as evidence mounts that the Obama campaign and a prospective Hilliary Clinton campaign may be embracing the exact massive influx of untraceable corporate money that Citizens United allowed.

Still, it is good news that some have not given up on the idea of returning some minimal level of honesty to campaign financing.


Left Side of the Aisle #94 - Part 1

Good news 1: Same-sex marriage advances in France the the UK

Starting with some good news, as I always like to do, and it comes from an area which, I keep telling you, is perhaps the only area where it seems that good changes are clearly happening: the area of same-sex marriage. Herewith, two bits from the international front.

Number one: On February 2, the French parliament adopted the main clause of a reform bill that would allow same-sex marriage and grant gay couples the right to adopt children. The vote was 249-97.

There is still a lot of debate to be had; there are more than 5,000 proposed amendments and debate is expected to last two weeks.

There have been large-scale protests against the proposed law, but according to polls, public support for the change has continued to rise in spite of them. In late January support stood at 63% of the public.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the Chunnel, comes number two: On February 5 the British House of Commons voted 400 to 175 to approve a draft law allowing same-sex couples to marry in England and Wales. (Scotland has its own devolved Parliament, which has authority over areas such as marriage.) What's really significant is that while the bill had overwhelming support among the members of the Labour Party, it also had the backing of Prime Minister David Cameron of the Conservative Party along with, as it turned out, about half of his party's members in the chamber. The bill may well have passed without Conservative support, so the level of support is significant because whether they voted for it out of conviction or, knowing it would pass anyway and they couldn't stop it, out of a political fear of being seen as being on the wrong side of history, it doesn't matter: Both options tell the same story, one of change.

Meanwhile, here at home, there is a developing movement to press for same-sex rights across the South, an area that had been written off as unwinnable. Called the "We Do Campaign," it's organized by the Campaign for Southern Equality and its first action has been for same-sex couples in seven Southern states to apply for marriage licenses. They knew they'd be turned down, but it was the opening step, a way to raise the issue, in what promises to be a long effort: Opposition to same-sex marriage is higher in the South than in any other region of the country. According to the Pew Research Center, 56% of people in the central Southern states oppose same-sex marriage, as opposed to, for example, merely 29% here in New England.

However, note this and note it well: Opposition to same-sex marriage in the South is about what is was for the country as a whole just 10 years ago.

The time is coming. We just have to survive global warming and economic dismemberment long enough for it to get here.

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