Saturday, August 30, 2014

172.11 - Footnote: WBC are wimps

Footnote: WBC are wimps

By the way, just as a very quick Footnote, I had another potential clown this week but I passed it up because it was just way too easy:

The hate-filled Westboro Baptist Church apparently wanted to issue the ice bucket challenge to Equality House, the rainbow-painted house run by Planting Peace that stands across the street for their compound.

You know, the deal where you nominate someone to get doused with a bucket of ice water and they either accept the challenge and then challenge another or donate $100 to the ALS Foundation.

So the Westboro Baptist Church - which is not part of any Baptist Convention and is not a church - wanted to challenge Equality House. And how did they do it? By dumping the ice water on a sign on their lawn.

Not only are they bigots and clowns - they are wimps, as well.

Sources cited in links:

172.10 - Clown Award: war hawks

Clown Award: war hawks

Now for our other regular feature, it's the Clown Award, given for meritorious stupidity

The Big Red Nose this week goes to the war hawks in Congress, exemplified by Senators John McPainInTheAss and Lindsey Grahamcracker.

They are eager, champing at the bit, straining at the lead, they want more war.

Rep. Paul Rantin' said on August 23 that the United States military needs to “finish [ISIS] off because we will either fight them here or we will fight them there,” even if that means deployment of ground troops to Syria or Iraq, which should not be “off the table.”

Sen. Grahamcracker, for his part, argued Monday that Obama “is derelict in his duties by not aggressively confronting ISIL wherever they reside, including Syria” because anything less than "attacking their safe haven in Syria" is "placing the American homeland at risk."

(Sidebar: Do you get creeped out the way I do whenever one of these bozos starts talking about the "homeland?" How did that militarist-hyper-nationalist term get popular?)

The Washington Post editorial board says the US needs to pull together a coalition of “Kurds in Iraq and Syria, Sunni tribal leaders in Iraq, the Iraqi government if it can become more inclusive, what is left of the Free Syrian Army,” put some "boots on the ground," and launch a war in the cross-border area of Iraq and Syria.

They're all-out for war, perhaps missing "the smell of napalm in the morning," all ready for the blood and gore and guts and veins in your teeth and eating dead burnt bodies and shrink, I wanna kill - but there is one thing they are not all out for: taking any responsibility.

For example, on August 26, Rep. Michael Turner blasted Obama as not having a “coordinated plan” to defeat ISIS. But asked whether he would support US airstrikes targeting ISIS in Syria, he avoided the question.

In fact, Politico reports that few lawmakers really, truly want to take a vote on military action so close to the November elections. But that is not the only reason: In 2013, a non-election year, many lawmakers were privately relieved when Obama dropped his request for Congressional authorization for strikes on Syria after support collapsed on Capitol Hill.

Robert Chesney, a professor at the University of Texas who specializes in national security law, said that “The preferred position for many in Congress is not to be on record one way or the other in this situation.”

I disagree: They want to "be on record," they want to "be on record" with tough talk and sweeping claims about the necessity of regional war and blather about "the homeland" and "fight them there or fight them here" and lots of macho-talk fear mongering. They just don't want to be on record in any way that involves them taking and responsibility.

They are, all of them, not just these two, they are without doubt, clowns.

Sources cited in links:

172.9 - Hero Award: John Stewart

Hero Award: John Stewart

I have to stop there in order to give out a Hero Award, which we give as the need arises to people who just do the right thing on a matter big or small.

This time, the award goes to John Stewart of The Daily Show. On his show for August 26, he spent the first roughly 10 minutes on a truly, truly righteous rant about the refusal of white America to recognize the pervasive existence of racism and the insistence of too many that they are "tired" of hearing about race as an issue.

"If you're tired of hearing about it, think how exhausting it must be to live it," Stewart notably declared.

I encourage you, I plead with you, I beg you, to get online or get to the library or something and watch this segment. I would have been proud to have done it myself.

Sources cited in links:

172.8 - More on Ferguson

More on Ferguson

Last week, I said that the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, were not really about the shooting down of Michael Brown but rather were really about everything that had happened before. I mentioned the increasing poverty, the increasing unemployment, and the fact of a militarized police force that looks nothing like the community.

I want to touch on that again, that "what happened before" with regard to relations with the police from a somewhat different angle: the question of whether or not there was racial profiling of blacks in the city by the 95% white police force. How, to put that another way, did the bulk of the community experience their contacts with police?

An NPR story asked that question of people in Ferguson and got the sort of answers that should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. One said "Every time you see a cop, it's like, 'Am I going to get messed with?'" A father said "I should not have to teach my kids how to be arrested. I should not have to teach my son to do everything possible to make sure that you're not killed when a police officer pulls you over." A woman told the story of her 12-year-old son coming home in tears after being stopped and patted down by a cop while walking home. "He said, 'Mom, how long will this happen to me?' And I said, 'For the rest of your life.' "

And if you want to persist in thinking this is all fantasy, all hyperbole, some hard figures: In 2013, the Ferguson Police Department made 5,384 stops and 611 searches. 86 percent of the stops and 92 percent of the searches were of black people. Only about 65 percent of the town's population is black.

Oh, the bigots will cry, that just shows that black people are more likely to be criminals. Except - same year, same police figures: Once you allow for the difference in population, it works out that African-Americans were nearly twice as likely to have been subjected to a search as whites were and were twice as likely to get arrested - even though whites were more than one and a-half times more likely to have been found with contraband. They were 1-1/2 times more likely to have contraband but only half as likely to get arrested. And if that does not demonstrate a clear pattern of racial discrimination in the policing of Ferguson, I can't imagine what would short of a signed confession.

Look, let's face facts: Most cops are good cops. Most cops are trying to do the best they can for the communities where they work. But when you have people who you give a badge and a gun, people who you give the authority to kill people, people who are trained to smack down any challenge to their authority, who will tell you, as an LAPD cop recently did in an op-ed in the Washington Post, and I'm quoting now, "if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you," that is, in other words, just shut up and passively submit to anything I want even if it violates your rights and abuses my authority because I'll just beat the crap out of you (if you're lucky) and arrest you (if you're still alive) and whatever happens will be your fault - even though, by the way, it's not illegal to argue with a cop, it's not illegal to give a cop lip, it's not illegal to be obnoxious to a cop -  when you have people who are increasingly trained to think in terms of "us versus them," when you have people who are increasingly being armed with weapons of war to patrol the streets, when you have that, then "most" is simply not good enough.

Because Ferguson is not the exception.

Kimberly Norwood is a law professor at the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis. She confessed recently that when driving, she has a bit of a lead foot. But, she said, "the few times I have been stopped in my suburb, the first question I'm asked is whether I live 'around here.'" Not one of her white friends, she said, had ever been asked that question when they were pulled over.

On August 22, TV producer Charles Belk was in Beverly Hills to attend a pre-Emmy event. He was suddenly arrested, handcuffed, made to sit on the curb, then booked on a charge of taking part in an armed robbery of a Citibank, with bail set at $100,000. His car was impounded, he was denied a phone call, and he wasn't given a very good explanation as to why he was being held.

The reason turned out to be that he is a tall, bald, black man, which was the description the cops had of one of the robbers. So, apparently, they just grabbed the first tall, bald, black man they saw. Six hours later, after he made repeated requests, the cops actually looked at the security film from the bank. It wasn't him. They let him go. He's supposed to be grateful.

On August 23, Kametra Barbour was driving in Forney, Texas with her three young children, ages six to nine. She was stopped by police. She was made to get out of the car and walk backwards toward the cops, where she was handcuffed.

Why? The cops tell her that they had a 911 cal4l about "a vehicle matching your description and your license plate, waving a gun out the window."

Here's the problem: The 911 call was about four black men waiving a gun out the window of a beige- or tan-colored Toyota. This was a woman with small children driving a burgundy red Nissan Maxima. Only one thing matched: the color. And not the color of the car.

The cops realized their "mistake" when Barbour's 6-year-old son got out of the car and, in a heart-breaking moment, started walking toward the cops with his hands up.

Because Ferguson is not the exception. It happens to people of color in this country everywhere, every day. Everywhere, every day, African-Americans are assumed to be criminals, are stopped, hassled, harassed, for no reason other than the color of their skin. That's why there is such a dramatic difference - a 20 percentage point difference - between the attitudes of whites and blacks on the question of "trusting the police" - it's the dramatic difference in their day-to-day experience.

So yeah, most cops are good cops. But when we face the reality we do, "most" just isn't nearly good enough.

Sources cited in links:

172.7 - Outrage of the Week: NSA goes Google

Outrage of the Week: NSA goes Google

Now for one of our regular features, the Outrage of the Week.

We have known for some time now that the NSA has been spying on Americans, collecting huge amounts of information about the metadata of our telephone calls, recording what number called what number, when, and for how long. That information is supposedly only available to a limited number of NSA employees who can access it only in terrorism-related investigations.

But beyond that and beside that, the NSA has swept up some 850 billion records about phone calls, emails, cellphone locations, and internet chats. These are supposed to relate to foreign intelligence, but the reality is that data on unknown millions of Americans is included in that figure, either accidentally or deliberately.

Now it develops that the NSA has developed what some are calling its own version of Google, a massive searchable database called ICREACH, a database to which more than 1,000 analysts at 23 government agencies that perform intelligence work have access - agencies including purely domestic agencies such as the FBI and the DEA.

Information shared through ICREACH can be used to track a person’s movements, map out their networks of associates, and potentially reveal religious affiliations or political beliefs.

In fact, part of the idea was to enable "pattern of life analysis," which involves monitoring who individuals communicate with and the places they visit over a period of several months, in order to observe their habits and so predict their future behavior.

Rather than being a repository, ICREACH appears to be a querying tool that can scan a variety of databases. The information in those databases was swept up by programs authorized under Executive Order 12333. Collection of data under this order does not have court oversight and receives minimal congressional scrutiny because it targets foreign communication networks rather than domestic ones. But despite that supposed limitation, the very nature of the program means that data about millions of Americans will be included, even if they are not suspected of any wrongdoing.

And that information, which is supposed to be applied only to investigations related to foreign intelligence, is now and for several years has been shared with domestic law enforcement. And the difference between what is foreign intelligence and what is domestic intelligence, the difference between "the Constitution applies because it's domestic" and "the Constitution doesn't apply because it's foreign" becomes ever more blurred, and what what supposed to be a bright red line separating one from the other now is as best a dusty rose.

They fake it, they fudge it, they finagle it, but at the end of the day it merges into one giant spy network that is spying on anyone and everyone - and yes, that means us and every other person they can find, whether guilty or innocent.

It's an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

172.6 - Unintentional Humor: a new definition of "freedom"

Unintentional Humor: a new definition of "freedom"

Talking about the Delsea Drive-In raises an example of what we around here call Unintentional Humor, where something that's not intended to be funny, just is.

When the story first came out about a diabetic being barred from the theater because he had with him some food to protect against a potential crash in his blood sugar levels, a lot of people were wondering how theater owner John DeLeonardis knew what was in the bag.

Well, the "House Rules" for the theater say that "Trunks/hatches must be popped and interior lights must be on upon approach to box office." That is, they are going to more or less search your car to make sure you don't have a stray candy bar before they will let you in.

There's also a section that indicates that employees are roaming the lines between the cars and can at any moment demand you produce your ticket to avoid getting kicked out.

And after that, the rules point to "the increased freedom resulting from an open-air environment."

Ah yes, the free wind blowing in my hair.

Sources cited in links:

172.5 - Update 3: John DeLeonardis

Update 3: John DeLeonardis

The last of our Updates involves John DeLeonardis, owner of the Delsea Drive-In theater in Vineland, NJ. Last week I gave him the Clown Award because of his refusal to allow a 16-year old diabetic to enter the theater with his emergency kit because it contained "contraband" - his diabetic supplies, including a juice box and some candy to protect against a potentially life-threatening crash in his blood sugar levels.

"No food. No drink. Bottom line," DeLeonardis said. "Sorry your kid has an affliction but what can I tell you?"

He later told local media he had no plans to change his policy against outside food.

Uh-huh. Amazing what a little bad publicity will do. The theater website's section on "House Rules" now contains a section specifically stating that diabetic supplies including Glucerna-type drinks (a family of drinks which are specifically intended for people with diabetes), hard candies, and bottled water are "not considered outside food or beverages."

I'm just not sure if this makes him less of a Clown because he changed the policy or more of one because he doesn't admit what drove the change.

Sources cited in links:

172.4 - Update 2: homelessness

Update 2: homelessness

On another front, last week I condemned New Orleans for joining the ranks of US cities striving to make homelessness invisible rather than trying to do something about it - and just shunting people into shelters is not an answer.

The Update here is that some places are trying to actually do something:

For example, the city of Portland, Oregon, is nearing approval of a project to construct communities of tiny homes on public land in order to house homeless and low-income residents.

The houses are indeed tiny, measuring only 192 square feet, but they are well-designed and more importantly provide a stable place of residence. Not a bed in an overcrowded shelter, but a stable place; a place, if you will, to plant your feet so you can stand back up. They would cost $250-$350 a month in rent, allowing people making as little as $5,000 a year to afford them.

Other tiny house projects of various sorts have already borne fruit in a half-dozen places, including in Wisconsin, Texas, and New York, with the houses often built by members of the local Occupy movement.

Portland hopes to have its first micro-community in place by February 2015.

Sources cited in links:

172.3 - Update 1: special prosecutor in John Crawford case

Update 1: special prosecutor in John Crawford case

I have three very brief - and this time I mean it - Updates to things I've mentioned recently.

The first refers to the case of John Crawford. Two weeks ago I mentioned how he had been shot by police in the aisle of the toy section of a Walmart in Ohio. Police demand that he "drop the weapon" - an unloaded BB gun - and when he didn't obey instantaneously but instead said "It's not real," they shot him to death. Crawford, I'm tempted to say "of course," was African-American.

The update is that the Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine has appointed a special prosecutor to look into the case. The family wants the DOJ to step in as it did in the case of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, but DeWine suggested that the DOJ will probably wait until after the state makes its determination and then decide if federal action is necessary.

Sources cited in links:

172.2 - Good News: marriage justice advances

Good News: marriage justice advances

We have other good news on a by-now familiar front: marriage justice.

On August 21, federal District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that Florida's ban on same-sex marriages is unconstitutional. Previously, four different county-level state courts had ruled the same way, but this federal court decision affects the entire state.

Hinkle noted this his is now one of 19 federal courts that have struck down state laws that bar same-sex couples from marrying. While most of the those decisions - including this one - have been stayed pending appeals, they have all reached the same conclusion: The bans violate the "due process" and "equal protection" provisions of the Constitution.

Hinkle noted that it took the Supreme Court 200 years to invalidate laws prohibiting interracial marriage and declared that "When observers look back 50 years from now, the arguments supporting Florida's ban on same-sex marriage, though just as sincerely held, will again seem an obvious pretext for discrimination. Observers who are not now of age will wonder just how those views could have been held."

The decision also covered Florida's ban on recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states.

I've said before that it seems just about every one of these pro-justice has some memorable line, so here is Hinkle's: After saying that the institution of marriage had survived the ending of bans on interracial marriage and it would surely do so after ending the bans on same-sex marriage, he said that "Liberty, tolerance, and respect are not zero-sum concepts."

Which is well said.

There is more good news on this front: During oral arguments on August 26, the members of a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals were barely short of openly hostile to arguments from the states of Indiana and Wisconsin, each of which is appealing a decision by a district court to throw out their bans on same-sex marriage.

For example, Judge Richard Posner blew away Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Timothy Samuelson's attempts to use "tradition" as justification for barring same-sex marriage: “It was," Posner said, "tradition to not allow blacks and whites to marry - a tradition that got swept away.” He called prohibition of same sex marriage as drawn from “a tradition of hate … and savage discrimination.”

Lawyers for the states also fell back on the same cliched arguments about "regulating procreation," which didn't appear to impress the judges here any more than in all the other cases where they have been tried and flopped.

This was the fifth time a federal appeals court has heard arguments in a marriage equality case since last year’s Supreme Court ruling striking down central parts of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act: Previously, the 10th Circuit Court had done it twice and the 4th and 6th Circuits had done it once each. Three of those cases have seen decisions: the two in the 10th Circuit and the one in the 4th. All three upheld lower court rulings in favor of marriage justice.

The 6th Circuit hasn't ruled yet, but many advocates for marriage equality are bracing for that to be their first loss in federal court. Even so, with what looks like things going well in the 7th Circuit, that would make three circuits out of four and four decisions out of five where justice rose.

Same-sex marriage is now legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia. That is in addition to all the states affected by cases now in federal court. I say again: On this, justice is coming. It's just a question of how soon.

Sources cited in links:

172.1 - Good News: Israeli-Hamas truce

Good News: Israeli-Hamas truce

We start, as I always like to do when I can, with Good News and this week we're going to go with the real big good news.

Israel and Hamas have agreed to what an Israeli government official called an "unlimited" ceasefire, putting an end, at least for now, to the 50-day slaughter in Gaza.

According to one source, the deal supposedly includes opening of the blockaded border crossings and a widening of the area of the Mediterranean where residents of Gaza can go to fish without worrying about being attacked by Israeli gunboats, but the Israeli daily newspaper Ha'aretz says Hamas gets no immediate gains from the ceasefire. So that point is unclear. Negotiations are to resume next month in Cairo on a long-term agreement involving a permanent re-opening of the border crossings, a prisoner exchange, and the construction of a Gaza seaport. Those talks are where the real test of the "unlimited" ceasefire will arise.

But for the moment, Ha'aretz says that the sense is that this time, the truce will hold because "both sides seem interested at putting an end to this terrible summer." Still, the paper says, the feeling among Israelis and Palestinians as well is that "the war did not end in victory or failure, but rather in a somewhat doleful tie." That does not bode well for the future because it could lead each side to settle into a sort of sullen determination to achieve at the negotiating table what they did not achieve in the fighting.

There is, however, one note, one little ding, of hope that I see: Another report in Ha'artez says that "the significance of the cease-fire is that Israel has recognized militant groups as an inseparable part of the Palestinian polity." That is, Israel is coming to admit that it cannot simply dismiss groups such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad as having no role in the future of a Palestinian state.

Since, as is too often forgotten, a possibility of a more-complete settlement several years ago broke down because Israel and the US refused to recognize a coalition government of Hamas and Fatah, even though Hamas had won the right to help govern by doing well in the very elections which the US and Israel demanded take place, the fact that Israel may finally be  coming to accept the political realities involved is a good thing.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #172

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of August 28 - September 3, 2014

This week:

Good News: Israeli-Hamas truce

Good News: marriage justice advances

Update 1: special proscutor in John Crawford case

Update 2: homelessness

Update 3: John DeLeonardis

Unintentional Humor: Delsea Drive-In

Outrage of the Week: NSA goes Google

More on Ferguson

Hero Award: John Stewart

Clown Award: war hawks

Footnote: WBC are wimps

Monday, August 25, 2014

171.8 - Outrage of the Week: making homelessness illegal and invisible

Outrage of the Week: making homelessness illegal and invisible

We finish today with the Outrage of the Week and while the issue is much broader than this single incident, it serves to illustrate. It comes from New Orleans.

An informal community of about 160 homeless people developed under an overpass in the city. Unfortunately for them, this overpass was only about a mile from the Superdome, somewhere football fans or other tourists might see them.

That couldn’t be tolerated.

So the city gave them two and a-half days to gather whatever belongings they had and get out. The city claimed there are enough bed in shelters to house them, but many of the homeless in various cities say the overcrowded shelters are worse than living on the streets.

No matter. When the deadline passed, city workers wearing gloves - and a few in face masks - threw sofas, armchairs, quilts, and whatever else they could grab into garbage trucks, hauling it all away to be dumped, leaving many among the evicted homeless with even less than they had before.

The city claimed that they did this because the area attracted rats, but as some of the folks there noted, you have rats wherever you have trash and that Bourbon Street has got a whole lot of rats which hasn’t resulted in either business or tourists being driven out of the area.

The timing of the eviction, with its absurdly short notice, was just days before the New Orleans Saints, who play at the Superdome, were to have their first preseason home game. That, of course, was purely coincidental. Of course.

This is just the latest example of a city – and there are dozens of US cities doing it now – in essence making it illegal to be homeless. Because we as a nation are more determined to make homelessness invisible than we are to end it.

And that is an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

171.7 - What Ferguson is really about

What Ferguson is really about

Which brings us to the events in Ferguson, Missouri. As I have said many times about other issues, I'm not going to discuss day-to-day events because a weekly show is a very poor format for such an endeavor and what is said here could well be obsolete by the time you hear it.

But I will make some observations as well as, as you'll see, taking advantage of others' observations.

The first thing, the most important thing, to know about the protests and conflicts in Ferguson is that they are not because of the shooting down - the murder - of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown by a cop, a cop who may or may not have had an altercation with Brown before the shooting.

No, they are not. They are about everything that happened before Michael Brown was killed. The desperation; the doubling of the poverty rate in Ferguson since 2000; an unemployment rate of 22%, also doubled since 2000; the militarization of a police force so separated from its community it was like an occupying army and so unlike its community that the mayor could quite literally count the number of black cops on one hand; the frustration, the growing anger, the seething resentment: these are what the protests are about. The killing of Michael Brown, whose body lay in the street for hours as cops never called for EMTs or even checked his pulse, that was the precipitating event, the immediate cause - but it was not the cause, it was, rather, the lens through which all the causes got focused.

And yet we refuse to see it. We still refuse to see it. Even as it stares us in the face, we refuse to recognize the dramatic difference there is in the lives of blacks and whites in America, refuse to recognize that white and blacks all but live in separate nations.

A new national survey by the Pew Research Center points this out without aiming to. It found that 44% of the overall populace think Brown's shooting does raise important issues about race that require discussion, while 40% say the issue of race is getting more attention than it deserves.

So, pretty close to an even split. But then consider these other responses: On the question of if the police went gone too far in their response to the shooting’s aftermath, fully 65% of African-Americans say yes, they did. Only half as many whites, 33%, felt that way. Another 32% said the police response was appropriate, and 35% just aren't sure.

Meanwhile, whites in the survey were nearly three times as likely as blacks to express at least a fair amount of confidence in the investigations into the shooting. Just over half - 52% - of whites felt that way, compared with just 18% of blacks. Over 30% of blacks have little confidence in the investigations, with 45% saying they have no confidence at all.

With those differences in mind, it should be no surprise that going back to the original question, on the importance of race as a related issue, that while overall the public splits 47-40, 80% of blacks say the incident does raise important issues about race, while a plurality of whites, 47%, say race is getting too much attention.

Those very figures, the very dramatic differences in response to the cops and faith in an investigation, prove that race is an important issue here. Blacks and whites in this country do live in different worlds, do experience day to day life differently; we may as well not be in the same nation.

But we - and by "we" I mean white people - continue to just refuse to see it. We create a mental system of assumptions – racist assumptions – that we use to justify our willful ignorance, a system that results in the media often treating whites accused of crimes better than blacks who were victims of crime. Look at the picture to the left. The person in the bottom picture, a picture and a headline drawn from media coverage, is Michael Brown. The person in the top picture, also a photo and a headline from media coverage, is James Holmes, who killed 12 people and wounded 70 more when he shot up a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.

As others have noted, this is not standard media protocol, it's not s.o.p., but it happens frequently, consciously or unconsciously, and too frequently to be dismissed as mere coincidence.

Related to that is the question of how far, in the face of that ignorance, that blindness, have we actually come. Look at this picture. During the 1968 wildcat sanitation strike in Memphis, Tennessee, the strike that Martin Luther King was there to support when he was murdered, strikers declared "I am a man." Forty-six years later, a protester in Ferguson felt he had to make that same demand for basic human respect.

Cops stare down civil rights activists marching to Montgomery, AL in 1965...

...and cops stare down a group of protesters in Ferguson in 2014.

Armed National Guardsmen advance toward a little boy during the Newark Riots in 1967...

...and armed cops advance toward an unarmed protester in Ferguson in 2014.

A protester holds a sign reading "Killer cops will not go free!" during Harlem protests in 1964

...and a sign reading "No killer cops in our community" is held by a protester in Ferguson in 2014.

And if this looks like Ferguson in 2014...

it’s not: It’s Watts, 1965.

Decades of protest, decades of effort, decades of supposed advance, and we are seeing the same scenes, the same images of poverty, the same seething anger, the same injustices, the same abuses at the hands of police.

And we continue to do our damnedest to avoid facing what stares us in the face. I would call it an outrage but it strikes me more as a tragedy.

And there is one more thing that the Ferguson protests raise, illustrated by the fact that I find this to be the iconic picture of the protest in Ferguson:

Our local police forces have become so militarized that we have Iraq War veterans saying the cops in Ferguson have heavier equipment and more body armor than they did.

That is something I pledge to talk more about in the near future. But for the moment I’m going to wrap this up by going back to the top and reminding you again that the protests in Ferguson are not because Michael Brown was killed; they are because of everything that happened before that. And until we face that, there will be more Fergusons in a nation where by all that is just there should be none.

Sources cited in links:

NOTE: I have misplaced the link to the site from where I got the pictures making the comparison between the 1960s and today. If anyone knows the link, please let me know so I can include it here and give proper credit.

171.6 - Everything You Need to Know: racism

Everything You Need to Know: racism

A footnote to the previous item about the disgraceful way the media treated the brutal beating of Christy Mack actually serves to bring up one of our occasional features, called Everything You Need to Know, where you can learn a lot about something in a very short time.

In this case, it's everything you need to know about the existence of racism in this country in just one sentence:

A significant number of the comments on Christy Mack being severely beaten by ex-boyfriend Jonathan Koppenhaver which included any denunciation of Koppenhaver, such as calling him a thug, did so under the assumption that he must have been black.

And that is Everything You Need to Know.

171.5 - Media downplays violence against women

Media downplays violence against women

I have many times complained that we are uninformed, misinformed, and malinformed by our corporate media. He is another example of the media's disgrace.

Early on the morning of August 8, a woman named Christy Mack was severely beaten up by her ex-boyfriend, a mixed-martial arts fighter by the name of Jonathan Koppenhaver, who brawls under the name War Machine.

He stabbed her, sawed off her hair, and left her with 18 broken bones in the face, a broken nose, a cracked rib, a ruptured liver and several missing teeth. When she arrived at the hospital she was unable to chew or see out of her left eye and could not walk without assistance.

He ran and was on the lam for a week before cops caught him, during which time he sent out tweets whining about how he must be "cursed."

Oh, and another thing: Christy Mack makes her living working in adult films.

Why is that relevant to her being beaten half to death by a professional fighter? It's not.

Around 1.3 million women are the victims of domestic violence every year in this country and it's been estimated that one in four women will experience some form of domestic abuse sometime in her life. It's safe to say that relatively few of those women are in adult films. So Christy Mack being one of them is clearly irrelevant.

So why did the media almost if not invariably begin their coverage by referring to her, in the very first line of the story, as a "porn star?" The Huffington Post, for example, did it twice that I know of. Both Faux News and the New York Daily News even did it in their headlines.

Why? What is the point? Mentioning it somewhere down in the body of the article, in the way that some details of a victim's life are often mentioned - you know, where they say the person was "a mechanic" or "a shop keeper" or whatever or "had lived in the area for x number of years" or "was studying to be a this or that" or whatever else - that I could see. But in the lede? In the headline? That suggests purpose.

So what was it? Was it to minimize the importance, to minimize the link to the connection to the broader issue of violence against women? Oh, she was "a porn star," not like, you know, a normal, decent woman or something. A dramatic story, to be sure, but with no broader meaning, no significance beyond the individuals directly involved. Was that the point?

There certainly was enough "blame the victim" going around to justify that possibility. For example, "Hollywood Life" reported that early in their relationship, Koppenhaver made a rape joke about Mack on Twitter, thus suggesting, well, she should have known better so it was her fault.

Fox News says friends told her to stay away from him, so it was her fault for ignoring the warnings; in fact they were so eager to promote the "it was her fault" line that they even quoted the owner of a gossip site as saying "she provoked him" - all while ignoring the fact that he was, again, the EX-boyfriend: She had broken up with him and he went to her house and beat her up.

And, as is common, if you really want to see the memes in action, read the comments. "Blame the victim" was in full bloom. Some samples, and these are quoted:

-You could have easily have prevented this - your lifestyle leaves you open to violence and other abuse.

-Certain women do know how to pick them and love to be mistreated.

-Stop buying into the liberal press's propaganda; when you lead a certain lifestyle bad  things happen to you.

-No sympathy.  She chose that lifestyle on her own.  She can heal on her own.

-This broad ... getting her 15 minutes of fame,

-[He] Caught her getting her ho on.

In addition, she was called among other things a "mud shark," a "dumpster," and "tatted-up white trash."

It was all, as Ximena Ramirez suggested at, "our way of distancing ourselves from the victim," of telling ourselves that we would have known better. But more than that, it is our way of distancing ourselves from the harsh underlying reality of the astonishing, shameful levels of violence in this country - violence not only against women but yes, particularly against women.

And our media seems more than ready to encourage us to keep our eyes closed. It's a disgrace.

Sources cited in links:

171.4 - Clown Award: John DeLeonardis, owner of the Delsea Drive-In in Vineland, NJ

Clown Award: John DeLeonardis, owner of the Delsea Drive-In in Vineland, NJ

Now it's time for one of our regular features, it's the Clown Award, given as always for acts of meritorious stupidity.

The winner of the Big Red Nose this week is John DeLeonardis, owner of the Delsea Drive-In theater in Vineland, New Jersey.

The incident involved occurred earlier in August, but the news is just getting out now so I figure this is still time-appropriate. So it was that a couple of weeks ago, 16-year-old Ben Weidner and a group of friends went with his parents to watch a movie at the drive-in.

Ben has Type 1 diabetes, often called juvenile-onset diabetes, celiac disease, also known as gluten intolerance, and various food allergies. As a result, he, as type 1 diabetics and sufferers of celiac disease often do, carries with him an emergency kit in case his blood sugar drops suddenly or he has an allergic reaction, either of which could be life-threatening. In this case, the kit contained insulin, an EpiPen, a juice box, and candy to eat.

The Delsea Drive-In wouldn't let him in. The theater allows no outside food or drink of any sort at any time, no way no how, even if it's to head off a potential health emergency. So Ben's emergency bag was declared "contraband."

Ben's father, Phil Weidner, argued with DeLeonardis, but the theater owner was unmoved. "No food. No drink. Bottom line," he said.

DeLeonardis later made the unsurprising but still-asinine claim that if he allowed emergency packs in, "They," that is, all people, "will abuse it." That is, suddenly everyone will claim to have diabetes and want to bring in their own food and drink - and, I would assume, their own insulin and EpiPens.

John DeLeonardis
He also insisted that revenue from the concession stand is what keeps the place open and that several diabetic- and celiac-friendly foods are available for sale there - which of course there was no way to know until after you got in the theater. That claim also ignores two salient facts: The food at a concession stand is harder to measure for safety or effectiveness in the event of need and more importantly, the kit is intended to head off an emergency, and with some reviews of the theater complaining of half-hour-long lines at the concession stand, relying on that doesn't seem a reasonable alternative.

Interestingly, a similar event occurred in April at the Lakewood Ranch Cinemas in Lakewood Ranch, Florida.

16-year-old Ryan Symens, newly-diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, was carrying his emergency kit, consisting of testing equipment, glucose tablets, insulin, an emergency injection called Glucagon, a pack of Kleenex, two 4-ounce juice boxes, and two protein bars.

He was stopped by a manager who refused him entry to the movie, claiming allowing him in would be "unfair" to the other customers. Exactly how it was unfair to them for Ryan to have diabetes remains unclear.

So it was a similar incident. Except this time, theater management later apologized and said they would revisit the policy for patrons with medical conditions, saying "Obviously a diabetic situation is a medical issue that needs specific handling." They chose to not be jerks about it.

In fact, it's possible that banning such emergency packs is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. For example, in 2003, the DOJ reached a consent agreement with Clear Channel wherein the company promised to not discriminate against diabetics who need to bring diabetic supplies and their own food into concerts run by a corporate subsidiary. (This actually meant they agreed to stop discriminating, but consent decrees do not require any admission of guilt, so it was phrased the way it was.)

Getting back to this week's clown, DeLeonardis says the theater is a private business and he has no plans to change his policy forbidding outside food.

In fact, is response to the appeals of Ben's father, DeLeonardis said "Sorry your kid has an affliction but what can I tell you?"

What you could tell him, John DeLeonardis, but I don't expect you to, is that you will stop being a clown.

Sources cited in links:

171.3 - Update 3: Barack Obama and war powers

Update 3: Barack Obama and war powers

Finally on the Update front, last week I said Barack Obama was the Outrage of the Week because of his decision to start bombing ISIS targets in Iraq. The issue had nothing to do with whether or not the bombing could be justified on military or humanitarian or any other grounds, the issue was his authority to do it; his authority, that is, to start bombing Iraq on his own say-so without any authorization from or involvement by Congress.

Well, on August 17, the Amazing Mr. O sent a letter to Congress notifying members of his authorization of the airstrikes - as if they didn't know about them - saying he was doing so "as part of my efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution."

However, and this is the important part, he did not appeal to the War Powers Act for his authority to do the bombing. Instead, he said he did it "pursuant to my constitutional authority to conduct U.S. foreign relations and as Commander in Chief and Chief Executive."

In other words,  it's no longer just implied, he is outright asserting that he can do anything with the military he wants and he don't need no stinking Congressional authorization. "I'm Commander in Chief. So there. Deal with it."

I said last week this is an outrage, it still is. It's an on-going outrage and an affront to Constitutional principles of a balance of powers among the branches of government.

The right-wing keeps going on and on about impeaching Obama over health care or whatever else their fetid little minds concoct. They have the right idea - but for all the wrong reasons.

Sources cited in links:

171.2 - same-sex marriage justice delayed

Update 2: same-sex marriage justice delayed

Our next update is some news that isn't truly bad, but it is disappointing.

The Supreme Court has agreed to issue a stay of a ruling by the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals which had struck down Virginia's ban on same-sex marriages. The stay prevents the ruling from going into effect prior to any appeals and so blocks, temporarily, the hopes of same-sex couples in the state to marry.

The Circuit Court had refused a request to issue such a stay pending an appeal of its decision to the Supreme Court, something courts usually do only when they are very confident the decision will not be overturned.

Still, the issuance of the stay was not unexpected: Previously, a federal district court in Utah had refused to stay its ruling overturning that state's ban and when the 10th Circuit Appeals Court likewise declined to stay the ruling, the Supreme Court stepped in and did it. And again, the thing to remember is a stay is not a defeat, it merely means the effect of a ruling is held off until appeals go through. If one of the pro-marriage-justice rulings was to be overturned, that would be a loss. A stay is merely a delay.

A bit of good news in the midst of the disappointment is that Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has repeated his stand that he will not defend the state's ban and believes the courts ruled correctly in striking it down.

Sources cited in links:

171.1 - Update 1: protecting the right to choose

Update 1: protecting the right to choose

We start today with a couple of updates on things we have covered in the past.

The first goes back to early in July, when I had the Supreme Court as the Outrage of the Week because of two recent decisions. The first said in effect that Secret Service agents can without repercussion of any sort decide that any demonstrator expressing disapproval of a president's policies is for that reason alone a threat to the president's life and can be removed from the area. The second declared that a Massachusetts law creating a 35-foot buffer zone around the entrances to abortion clinics in the state was an intolerable and unconstitutional affront to the First Amendment.

The update is that the Massachusetts legislature responded rapidly and we already have a new law, tailored to deal with the inanity of the Supreme Court decision. It's based on the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. It allows the anti-choice brigades to approach the doors to a clinic, but they must be non-threatening and must not block the entrance; those that do will be required to move and stay at least 25 feet away. The bill also bans "the use of force, physical act, or threat of force against anyone attempting to enter or leave a reproductive health facility" with penalties of fines or jail time.

In response to that news, Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, praised the law and said  “A woman shouldn’t be forced to run through an onslaught of screaming, yelling and bullying to access health care.”  Hopefully, this new law will help with that.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #171

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of August 21-27, 2014

This week:

Update 1: protecting the right to choose

Update 2: same-sex marriage justice delayed

Update 3: Barack Obama and war powers

Clown Award: John DeLeonardis, owner of the Delsea Drive-In in Vineland, NJ

Media downplays violence against women

Everything You Need to Know: racism

What Ferguson is really about

Outrage of the Week: making homelessness illegal and invisible

Friday, August 22, 2014

170.8 - Outrage of the Week: Barack Obama and war powers

Outrage of the Week: Barack Obama and war powers


There is a great deal of news coming out of Iraq but I'm not, at least not this week, going to spend any significant time talking about it, partly because it's one of those situations such that whatever I say could be obsolete by the time you hear it.

But I am going to address one narrow point and it is the Outrage of the Week.

On August 7, Barack Obama authorized US airstrikes on ISIS military targets. The purpose, we were told, was to support Kurdish forces trying to hold off ISIS and to protect Yazidi refugees trapped in the mountains in northern Iraq, refugees that ISIS regards as "devil worshippers" worthy of death. There were 14 strikes in the first four days.

Meanwhile, the Amazing Mr. O has authorized the deployment of 130 additional military advisers to northern Iraq, bringing the total number of US advisers in Iraq to over 400. Secretary of War Chuck Hagel insists "This is not a combat boots on the ground kind of operation," but considering these additional "advisers" include Marines and special operations forces, the difference between "combat troops" and "advisers" may be much more semantic than real.

As columnist Doyle McManus at the LA Times wrote,
[e]ven without American boots on the ground, Obama has entered the United States in its fourth Iraq war. It won't be over quickly. As the president said, this is going to be a long-term project.
And boots on the ground may be in the future: The Wall Street Journal reports that the military is weighing a mission in Iraq to rescue the thousands of Yazidi refugees, a move that would risk putting American forces in a direct confrontation with ISIS fighters.

The paper says the proposal is still under development and hasn't been approved by Obama, adding the military calls it just one of "many" options. Perhaps so, but that still means it's an option.

Okay, that's the news, or at least the part of it involving US military forces.

So here's the question: In all of that, in all the coverage, in all the discussions of sorties and plans being weighed and "no combat troops" press releases, in all of that was there any discussion, any word about, the authority to do any of this?

Where is Obama's authority to start dropping bombs in Iraq? Where is his authority to undertake military missions? Where would be his authority to send us ground troops into Iraq for any reason, humanitarian or otherwise? Where is his authority to get us into our fourth Iraq war?

Note that this has nothing to do with whether you think what he's doing is a good idea or not. It has nothing to do with whether you think a rescue mission for the Yazidis is a good or a bad idea. It has to do with his implicit claims of constitutional authority to send the US military anywhere he wants, any time he wants, on any mission he wants, seemingly in any numbers he wants, without needing any approval from Congress.

And not only is he claiming that power, we have a Congress and a media that apparently are content to let him have it. And that is to me and should be to you, frightening. I have to ask yet again: Mr. President, just who the hell do you think you are? Because what you are doing Is. An. Outrage.

Sources cited in links:

170.7 - RIP: Robin Williams

RIP: Robin Williams


Just a brief RIP, not because you need to be informed but just because I wanted to mention it.

Robin Williams has died, an apparent suicide. He was 63.

I'm not going to say anything about his life or his career because there is more than enough of that available all over the media that will tell you more and in much more detail than I could possibly cover.

I will say that I first became aware of him, as a lot of other folks did, in the sitcom "Mork and Mindy." I remember giving my wife my one-sentence review of the show: "The show is stupid but he's terrific." I also recall thinking later that Pam Dawber was under-appreciated in the role of keeping him in check and the plot moving - plus keeping a straight face when he started ad-libbing. She didn't always succeed at that part.

And one little bit of trivia which you may not know: His opening monologue in "Good Morning, Vietnam" was entirely ad-libbed and in fact he did it several times until he was satisfied.

There were of course the stupid reactions, such as Rush Limburger saying Williams committed suicide because of his "leftist world view" because "leftists are never happy" and one article that was supposed to be serious, telling people to avoid "triggers for depression," most of which were things like "financial worries," "losing a job," losing someone in you life," "being under stress," and "being sick" - like those situations were conscious choices you made which could be avoided simply by deciding to do so: "Oh, I don't want to get depressed over money troubles, so I've decided to be rich." Or "I don't want the stress of illness, that might make me depressed. So I've decided to never get sick."

Depression is easy to misunderstand. Because everybody gets depressed, everybody gets blue from time to time - but that's just not the same as true depression, clinical depression. You've undoubtedly heard the expression about being "so low you have to reach up to touch bottom." You need to know there are worse places, places where there is no bottom and you feel you will sink forever. The damning thing about depression is that unlike other conditions where you can at least, if nothing else, imagine yourself getting better, you can conceive of getting better, with depression that's not true: You don't see an end, you feel you will never get better, it will never be better. It becomes a constant battle to keep on going.

Robin Williams fought that battle for years. He fought it with booze, he fought it with drugs, he fought it with therapy, he fought it with comedy. But ultimately, it was a battle that he lost. And as a result, we have lost as well.

RIP, Robin Williams.

Sources cited in links:

170.6 - Guns: but this is

Guns: but this is


A couple more things related to the issue of guns.

One is that there was a bit of good news in that on Tuesday, August 12, US District Judge Catherine Blake ruled that Maryland's gun control law is constitutional.

The law, called the Firearm Safety Act of 2013, was passed in reaction to the massacre of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012. It is one of the strictest in the country, including banning 45 assault weapons and limiting gun magazines to no more than 10 rounds.

The law makes it illegal to manufacture, possess, sell, offer to sell, transfer, purchase, or receive any type of assault firearm. Punishment for breaking that law can be three years in jail and up to a $5,000 fine.

The gun nuts, of course, argued that this was a terrible, horrible, awful intrusion on their sacred 2nd Amendment rights, but the state successfully countered that that law focused on firearms used in mass shootings and so helped to protect the public.

And in fact, that good news may be less surprising than we think: Although it seems we hear a near-constant drumbeat of this restriction being you'll pardon the expression shot down and that one being overturned and the NRA getting this and gaining that, that may be more rhetoric and media fog than reality.

First, recall that District of Columbia v. Heller was the 2008 Supreme Court decision that for the first time in US history found that the 2nd Amendment included an individual right to a gun unconnected to militia service. In his new book called The Second Amendment, A Biography, Michael Waldman, who is president of the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, argues that even since Heller, courts have upheld nearly all gun rules, finding that yes, individuals have a right to a gun, but society has the right to protect itself, too. So, as Waldman advises, we have to keep on keepin' on and not give up: the gun nuts didn't.

Which indirectly raises something else I want to mention, just because.

Something that always strikes me funny is when the guns nuts decry any legislation putting any restrictions on their toys as violating the rights of "law-abiding gun owners." If your state, as Maryland did, passes a ban on some type of assault rifle and you keep one - you are not law-abiding! A change in a law cannot violate the rights of "law-abiding gun owners" because the very term "law-abiding" is defined by what the law is. It's not defined by some special quality of your personality ("I'm law-abiding") but by what the law is and whether or not you follow it. So please, no more "law-abiding" crap - being law-abiding is the very least we can expect of you.

And one last thing, just as an observation: Rep. Thomas Marino of Pennsylvania has in the past received an "A" rating from the NRA. A few weeks ago, one of his staffers, Ryan Shucard, was arrested for trying to carry a pistol into the Cannon House Office Building, one of the buildings holding offices for members of the House. Because while the NRA flunkies in Congress are happy to see guns everywhere, happy to see them in stores, schools, parks, trains and buses, love to have people packing heat everywhere they go, they are equally delighted for it to be a felony to try to carry a gun into the place where they work.

Sources cited in links:

170.5 - Guns: this is not about guns

Guns: this is not about guns


A brief story about guns which isn't about guns.

Earlier this month, residents of Aurora, Colorado, scene of 2012's deadly rampage by James Holmes, called 911 because they were concerned about a young man walking around with a shotgun.

Police approached the person, who turned out to be 18-year-old Steve Lohner. When asked why he’s carrying a shotgun, he says it's "for the defense of myself and those around me." (Superhero fantasize much?)

He says he's 18, the minimum legal age for owning a gun in Colorado, but when asked to produce ID to prove his age, he refuses and argues with the cops, insisting he doesn't have to because he has done nothing wrong. He also refuses to hand over the gun - which, by the way, was loaded.

The end result was that Lohner, who says he’s on a mission to make people more comfortable about guns, is cited on a misdemeanor obstruction charge for refusing to show his identification.

Several days later, a shopper in a Walmart in Beavercreek, Ohio, called 911 to report a man with a gun in the store.

The police approached 22-year-old John Crawford in an aisle in the toy section. He was holding a gun - a toy one. Police claim it was a BB rifle. They demanded he "drop the weapon." He responded "It's not real" - so they shot him to death.

In both cases you had someone calling 911 about a young man with a gun. The similarities end there.

In the first, you had someone with a loaded shotgun; in the second, you had someone with an unloaded BB gun.

In the first, you had someone who argued with the cops, refused to show ID, refused to yield up the weapon; in the second, you had someone who had no chance to argue, was never asked for ID, and was given perhaps a couple of seconds to give up the gun or else.

In the first, you had someone who walked away with what amounts to not much more than a traffic ticket and still holding the gun; in the second you had a man bleeding to death on the floor.

And there was one other difference. This is Steve Lohner:

This is John Crawford:

And if you are in any way surprised by that - you shouldn't be.

Sources cited in links:

170.4 - Clown Award: Coca-Cola

Clown Award: Coca-Cola


Now for the Clown Award, given weekly for an act of meritorious stupidity. This week, the winner of the Big Red Nose is the Coca-Cola company.

To understand why you need some background. There is real controversy over the choice of Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup, described, quite reasonably, as the world's largest sporting event.

Even if you go beyond the allegations of corruption and bribery in the selection process, there are the facts surrounding the medieval conditions in which the migrant workers who are building the stadiums are forced to live.

For one thing, they are paid about L6 (about $10) per day - when they get paid, that is: Some of them have not been paid in more than a year. They are squeezed seven to a room, sleeping on thin, dirty mattresses on the floor and on bunk beds, in breach of Qatar's own labor standards. They live in constant fear of arrest and imprisonment - and some have been arrested and imprisoned - because they have no paperwork ever since the contractor on the project, Lee Trading and Contracting, collapsed. They are, that is, "undocumented workers." As a result, some are now being exploited to the point of being paid as little as 50p - about 83 cents - an hour.

The work is dangerous enough and the conditions bad enough that it has been estimated that 4,000 workers will die before a single ball is kicked.

The workers can't even leave: Even if one of them somehow had the money to go, they can't leave the country without the permission of the government and their employer.

Enter Coca-Cola, which is one of the major international corporate sponsors of the World Cup. Noting that for these workers, a phone call home can cost as much as 91 cents a minute while also saying the average income for these workers is about $6 a day, the company put together this supposedly feel-good commercial called "Hello Happiness," featuring workers using a Coke-designed phone booth where one Coke plastic bottle cap pays for a 3-minute international phone call.

The tagline to the commercial is "Happiness is a Coca-Cola and a phone call home." There is of course no mention of how much you have to pay to get the bottle of Coke to get the cap or of how much more soda the company expects to sell as a result of this.

But beyond that, set against a backdrop of corruption, bribery, exploitation, death, and what amounts to modern slavery, the executives and ad managers of the Coca-Cola corporation have decided that all people really need is a bottle of Coke and a phone call and everything is fine. Which is either inhumanly callous or - and you have to hope this is the reason because it's the better alternative - an example of missing the point on a truly galactic scale.

In either event, Coca-Cola: You are a clown.

Sources cited in links:
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