Saturday, April 26, 2014

156.6 - One final thought

One final thought

There's a footnote to the previous discussion: Probably the stupidest statement on the case which I came across was from the blog of the Rachel Maddow Show. It said:
"In other words, affirmative action in college admissions hasn’t been banned. Indeed, the role of considering race in admissions policies remains in place – except in states that choose to prohibit affirmative action policies."
Right. Exactly. Of course! Affirmative action still exists - except for where it doesn't. And I am the King of Denmark everywhere - except for the places I'm not.

It is an utterly vapid, banal observation.

But it goes beyond that and that is why it's important to mention: It is a sad truth that whenever something like this happens, whenever some slice is taken out of the opportunities available for those who lack them, whenever some new barrier is raised or some step up is cut down, you can be guaranteed that there will some white liberal explaining how everyone should just calm down, it really doesn't matter, it's really so minor as to be unimportant, it's no big deal.

Even they should realize that even little things, even if they are little things, add up. But the record of the past 30-plus years says that they never do. We are so screwed.

156.5 - Outrage of the Week: SCOTUS ignores racism, undercuts affirmative action while pretending it didn't

Outrage of the Week: SCOTUS ignores racism, undercuts affirmative action while pretending it didn't

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

To me, this is an incredible moral and ethical outrage. I still, even now, can't think about it without the answer swelling up in me.

On Tuesday, April 22, the Supreme Court upheld the state of Michigan's ban on using race as a factor in college admissions. Put another way, the Supreme Court said Michigan - and the seven other states with similar provisions - can ban affirmative action in higher education.

Put a bit more directly, the Supreme Court said Michigan can actively prevent public colleges and universities from attempting to expand opportunities available to minority students.

Put honestly, the Supreme Court just declared that Michigan can recreate and maintain the institutionalized racism and good ol' boy networks that produced the sorts of lily-white colleges and universities we so commonly saw before affirmative action programs were started.

And considering what a battering affirmative action has taken over the years, considering how confused the meaning has become to most people, considering how it's something often said with a sneer now, we should take a moment to remember what affirmative action is.

The term was first used by President Kennedy in 1961 to refer to redressing wrongs that hadn't been remedied by legislation. In 1965, President Johnson referred to it this way:
You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains and liberate him, bring him up to the starting line of a race and then say you are free to compete with all the others, and still just believe that you have been completely fair.
He later said something about how you can't just take someone to the threshold of the door of opportunity and leave them there, you have to make sure they could cross that threshold.

Here's how I explain affirmative action: Imagine there are two people in a foot race, with one of them wearing ball and chain. After a time, the other runner is going to be far ahead. You can't just decide "Hey, this is unfair," stop the race, say "Everybody stay where you are," remove the ball and chain, and say "Okay, now the race is fair; race on" and pretend you've done enough. If you were actually going to have a fair race, you had to do something to undo that past unfairness that had created the gap between the runners. That is, you couldn't just passively declare fairness, you had to affirmatively seek it.

That is, you had to take affirmative action to redress that inequity. Thus the term and thus the meaning. And wouldn't you know it, once you got past the obvious stuff, the obvious bigotries, the obvious examples of racism, one you got through the easy part, it turned out that redressing centuries of inequity, generations of social oppression and economic inequality, what do you know, it got a little complicated. And that made it uncomfortable for those who benefited from that old inequity, even if they didn't recognize that benefit; in fact, especially if they didn't recognize it.

That benefit is what's known as white privilege. And as much as so many of us want to deny it, of course white privilege exists. Of course you, most of you out there, benefit in a thousand small ways, I benefit, we all benefit every day in our society, from having a white skin.

You benefit every day mostly because of assumptions that are not made about you because of the color of your skin. The things that because you are white, people do not think about you.

You can look at any region of this country, think of moving to any region of this country, and be confident you can find a place you can afford in a place you'd want to live without worrying if your neighbors are going to be hostile to your very presence once you get there.

You can walk past white women without seeing them take a tight grip on their purses.

You can go into a store and not have security watch your every move.

You can get a job or go to a school that has some kind of affirmative action program without others assuming that you only got there because of your skin color and that you don't really deserve to have that job or be in that school.

You don't feel the same wrench in your guts when you're walking down a street and a cop car starts driving slowly next to you.

You don't have to teach your kids about being sufficiently submissive and deferential to a cop.

You don't worry that if your teen-age child goes out wearing a hoodie or plays their music too loud in their car that they will get shot down by a gun-wielding George Zimmerman or Michael Dunn.

You don't think about that. You don't think about how day in and day out, you are privileged in so very many ways by the color of your skin. And the thing it, of course you don't think about it. Of course you don't. One of the things that marks social privilege is it being so natural to you, so much a part of your day to day existence, that you are quite literally unaware of it unless you consciously and deliberately set out to consider it. For you, privilege is just the way it is.

The result is that when anyone who does not share in that sort of privilege is given any opportunity to do so, to have some share of that same privilege, you feel that something is being denied you, you feel that they are getting some sort of "special treatment" even though all they're trying to get is the same treatment which you have been getting all along, but you feel they're getting something which you are not, that you are being denied something, something you - if you will - instinctively feel, which you have been socialized to feel, is yours by right.

The result - in retrospect what should have been the predictable result - was that attacks on affirmative action began almost as soon as it came into existence and they have continued in legislatures and courts ever since and bit by bit it has been sliced down, trimmed, picked at and nitpicked, subjected to the death of a thousand cuts until it's not much more than a shell.

Which is bringing us toward this most recent decision.

In 2003, in Grutter v. Bollinger, a case involving the University of Michigan Law School, the Supreme found that it was permissible for a school to use race as one factor among many in determining who was admitted.

The fact that race was even one single factor, that race was, quoting the decision, merely a “potential ‘plus’ factor,” even that was just too much for the good citizens of Michigan, who decided this was just totally unfair. So in 2006 voters passed Proposal 2, the (as is normal in such cases, grossly misnamed) "Michigan Civil Rights Initiative" to ban all public institutions from making any use whatsoever of race in admissions or hiring processes. It passed by 58%-42%.

Some people sued over the ban on the use in admissions, arguing that the amendment was discriminatory under the 14th amendment to the US Constitution because it blocked only minority students from seeking preferences in school admissions.

On April 22, the Supreme Court told those people "screw you."

The amendment bans any consideration of race while leaving other forms of preference - such as for veterans and legacy admissions, which is giving children of alumni preference over others - unaffected. But screw you.

It clearly undermines what the Supreme Court itself in the Grutter decision said was a "compelling interest" in having a diverse student body. But screw you.

Oh, but this has nothing to do with affirmative action, oh no not one little tiny thing. In fact, the controlling opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, goes out of its way to insist the case is not in any way about the use of race as a factor in admissions policies and has nothing to do with the merits of affirmative action. It's all about and only about whether voters in a state can choose to ban it.

Oh, no, the court said, we didn't ban affirmative action, perish the thought. We just said you can ban it.

In fact, Kennedy brushed off any consideration of the impact of the decision on what, again, the court itself had called a "compelling interest" in diversity, writing that “Where States have prohibited race-conscious admissions policies, universities have responded by experimenting ‘with a wide variety of alternative approaches.’" But the fact is that states that forbid affirmative action in admissions have seen a significant drop in the enrollment of black and Hispanic students in their better colleges and universities. In Michigan, at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, black enrollment dropped 33 percent between 2006, when the policy was instituted, and 2012. Either Kennedy is incompetently unaware of those facts or, I think more likely, he just doesn't give a damn, emphasized by the fact that he called Michigan's ban just part of "the ongoing national dialogue about” affirmative action. One wonders what sort of dialogue he now envisions occurring in Michigan with this amendment solidly in place.

Because what this case means is that as long as you have a majority, you can limit the opportunities of others. You can limit their chances of overcoming their lack of your privilege. It means if you are in the majority, you can preserve the forms of preference which you use while banning the sorts that are of use to others. It means if you have the popular forms of preference, they can stay. It means that preference is okay so long as it benefits the majority.

What this case means is that the people who by definition don't need affirmative action because they are the majority, because they have the privilege, the people who wouldn't benefit from affirmative action because they don't need it, the people who because of their unacknowledged privilege regard affirmative action as something being taken away from them, those are the people who get to be the people who decide if affirmative action will be allowed.

That's what the Supreme Court - or, if I want to be truly accurate, a 6-2 majority of the Supreme Court - said.

George Washington, who argued the case for the group trying to overturn the amendment, nailed it, calling it "a terrible ruling" and "today’s Plessy v. Ferguson," that being the infamous Supreme Court ruling from 1896 that said racial segregation via "separate but equal" was constitutional.

Washington added that "The Supreme Court has made it clear they want to repeal the gains of the Civil Rights movement” and no, I do not think that is overstated.

Consider that in a 2007 decision that was one of those hacking away at affirmative action, Chief Justice John Roberts, whose portrait is used in the dictionary to illustrate the word "smug," wrote that “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

In other words, the way to put an end to racism is to pretend it doesn't exist.

That's what is being claimed here. That's what is being said - and being said in essentially so many words. For example, the Attorney General of Michigan declared the state's ban was about "equal treatment" because it's "fundamentally wrong to treat people differently based on the color of their skin." In other words, racism isn't discrimination, affirmative action - trying to do something about racism - is discrimination, that is what's "treating people differently." Others praised the ruling as "moving toward colorblind government" although one such person's color vision seems remarkably acute: She said there is still more to do at the university, which, she says, is catering to the Black Student Union.

That is what's being argued here: That the best way for us to deal with racism is to act as it it doesn't exist. That our public policy should be to go around with our eyes closed and fingers in our ears, going "lalala there is no racism!"

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote a blistering dissent, the longest and most significant dissent of her career so far, which she summarized from the bench, an unusal move that members of the court use to emphasize their strong disagreement with the majority.

Being the majority does not entitle you to rig the game, she wrote. Significantly, she declared openly that "the stark reality" is that "race matters," and she mocked Roberts' 2007 quote with "The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to speak openly and candidly on the subject of race, and to apply the Constitution with eyes open to the unfortunate effects of centuries of racial discrimination." She added that special vigilance is required in light of the history of slavery, Jim Crow and “recent examples of discriminatory changes to state voting laws.”

But she was one of only two voices. The majority, all males, all but one white, all seemingly unable or perhaps just unwilling to recognize their own privilege even when it comes up and taps them on the shoulder, as it must do in a case such as this, preferred to wrap themselves in a fantasy cloaked in sophistry, swinging open a door to a widespread rollback of civil rights gains in higher education and the opportunities those gains created while claiming this decision is so limited as to mean pretty much nothing at all.

It is hard for me to express how much of an outrage I think this decision is - but I can at least say it is the Outrage of the Week.

Sources cited in links:

156.4 - RIP: Rubin "Hurricane" Carter

RIP: Rubin "Hurricane" Carter

I have an RIP this week. This is going to be shorter than it should be, because there is something I want to get to, something that actually is related.

Rubin Carter died of complications from prostate cancer on April 20 at his home in Toronto, Canada. He was 76.

If don't know the name, maybe it's because remember him as "Hurricane" Carter. A professional boxer, his career was cut short when he was falsely convicted of murder in a shooting at a bar in Paterson, New Jersey in 1966.

He won a new trial but was convicted again and ultimately spent 19 years in prison for a crime he didn't commit. He finally got out in 1985.

After his release, he became the first director of the Association in Defense of the Wrongly Convicted.

That's all I'm going to say for now, but I do intend to return to this next week. Because his life, his case, raises all sorts of issues about our criminal justice system, and not only about the racism that figured in his case. I want to raise some of the questions about the wrongly convicted, about wondering how many people are in prison today who shouldn't be, who are innocent, and now sit behind bars only because they lacked the financial resources to defend themselves adequately, about how feeble the supposed presumption of innocence becomes when an individual stands alone against the state.

But that's for next week. For the moment, I will just say: RIP, Rubin Carter.

Sources cited in links:

156.3 - Clown Award: state of Louisiana

Clown Award: state of Louisiana

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

This week, the big red nose goes to the state of Louisiana for a month-long trifecta of buffoonery.

First, the beginning of the month the state legislature of Louisiana passed, with neither discussion nor debate, an omnibus bill that would force the closure of three of the five abortion clinics in the state - and the remaining two would both be in the same city.

Similar to measures in Oklahoma and Texas, it imposes a new waiting period, requires doctors doing abortions to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles, and says that any doctor who performs just five abortions a year must register with the state, which would make their names and the locations of their practices public information.

The claimed purpose of the bill is "the safety of women" - because, as a columnist at wrote, when it comes to women, "limiting access to basic medical services is safer than having robust access to basic medical services." Just can't be too careful where the poor dears are concerned.

On April 11, a House committee of the Louisiana legislature passed out a bill to create a state book. The Bible. The Christian Bible. But it has nothing to do with an endorsement of Christianity, oh no, of course not. That would be wrong. This is just endorsing, um, the Bible.

The sponsor of the bill wound up pulling it before it reached a floor vote, saying it had become "a distraction." Which as we all know is politician-speak for "People have noticed and I'm getting flak, so I'm bailing."

Finally, last week the Louisiana House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly against a bill that would strike down the state’s longstanding statutory ban on sodomy - even though such laws were declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court 11 years ago and cannot be enforced.

Strike three. Louisiana, you are a clown.

Sources cited in links:

156.2 - Update: charges dropped for boy who taped being bullied

Update: charges dropped for boy who taped being bullied

Last week I gave the clown award to the school, cops, and court of McDonald, Pennsylvania over the case of fifteen-year-old Christian Stanfield, who recorded the bullying he was being subjected to in his math class. When the evidence was presented to the school, he was forced to destroy the recording, was threatened with a charge of felony wiretapping, charged with disorderly conduct, and convicted and fined.

The update is a happy ending of a sort: The Allegheny County district attorney's office has said it will withdraw that count at a hearing April 29, when the case gets to a court with which the DA's office deals.

Mike Manko, speaking for the DA's office, said "The behavior does not rise to the level of a citation." That is, Christian never should have been charged in the first place.

It gets better: "No one who is authorized to give advice on wiretap or school violation issues was contacted in our office by the school district or South Fayette police." That is, both the school and the cop proceeded without bothering to check if this was proper or not.

And better still: The DA's office has made "multiple attempts" to contact the cop who issued the citation. They have not heard from him.

Maybe he's afraid he'll get picked on.

Oh, why just a happy ending of a sort? So far, still nothing has happened either to the bullies or anyone at the school.

Sources cited in links:

156.1 - Good News: small South Carolina town supports lesbian police chief

Good News: small South Carolina town supports lesbian police chief

So let's start off with a bit of good news, just something to cheer you up a bit. You'll need it later.

Crystal Moore is, or rather was, a police chief. In her 20 years on the job, she had never received a reprimand. Suddenly, she got a string of seven and then, on April 14, she was fired by the mayor. But most people believed he fired her because she is a lesbian and the reprimands were created as a cover.

Adding credence to that suspicion was the fact that the mayor, whose name is Earl Bullard and who has only been in office since December, was recorded saying that he would rather leave his children in the care of a drunk alcoholic than someone "whose lifestyle is questionable."

The day after the firing, on April 15, dozens of residents were picketing outside of town hall calling for Moore to be reinstated. Others held a prayer vigil. Two days after that, on April 17, the city council voted to strip some of the mayor's powers and shift them to the council.

So she was fired for being a lesbian and the town is standing up for her. And that's great. But this is the real good news part: Where is this happening, where are people standing up for a lesbian, demanding she get her job back? Where is this place where the mayor who fired her wound up losing some of his authority as a result?

It was the town of Latta, South Carolina, population 1400.

Justice is coming.

By the way, a quick footnote: According to a survey of 40 nations by the Pew Research Center Global Attitudes Project, the country in the world which is most accepting of homosexuality is Spain, were a mere 6% said it is "morally unacceptable" as compared to 55% who say it is and 38% who say it's not a moral issue.

The US breakdown was 37%-23%-35%, respectively. Ranked by the percentage who say homosexuality is morally unacceptable, Spain is the best of the 40, Ghana is the worst, and the US is 12th.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #156

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of April 24-30, 2014

This week:

Good News: small South Carolina town supports lesbian police chief

Update: charges dropped for boy who taped being bullied

Clown Award: state of Louisiana

RIP: Rubin "Hurricane" Carter

Outrage of the Week: SCOTUS ignores racism, undercuts affirmative action while pretending it didn't

One final thought

Friday, April 18, 2014

155.7 - Update: losing while "winning" against UPS

Update: losing while "winning" against UPS

We finish up the week with an Update of something from last week.

Last week I told you about how UPS had fired a 24-year employee at its distribution center in Queens, New York City over a time-card dispute. This violated the union contract, which barred such firings without a hearing. In response, 250 co-workers went on a 90-minute work stoppage protest. I refuse to call it a strike because: 90 minutes? That's like a long lunch. These drivers probably spend that much time tied up in New York City traffic on a typical day.

UPS responded to the protest by firing all 250 workers for their supposedly "illegal" action. That, I said last week, was evidence of how UPS is not on your side and you shouldn't be on theirs.

Well, here's the update: UPS has agreed to rescind the firings. All 250 workers - plus the original person fired over the time-card issue - have their jobs back. That has been the headline, usually phrased as some form of "UPS agrees," as if the company just went "Well, hey, y'know what? The heck with it, bygones and all that, okay?" The result has been cheered as "a victory for working-class New Yorkers" and the result of "an inspiring, relentless campaign."

However, it should be noted that this may not have come from the union's "relentless campaign," at least not directly. UPS had been adamant about the firings, refusing to budge, until after Letitia James, who happens to head the Office of the Public Advocate for the City of New York, wrote UPS to remind it that the company has contracts with the state worth $43 million, including $2 million with the city as well as other perks, including, significantly, a virtual exemption from parking tickets in New York City that saves UPS additional millions of dollars every year - and which, she didn't say but didn't have to, is a privilege that could be revoked at any time.

As someone commented, apparently UPS realized it does not have the power to summarily fire city officials, so at this point UPS goes "Oh well, of course we're ready to sit down with the union and work something out."

Which in turn raises something else, something that at least for me casts a pall over the celebrations. The something that was worked out between UPS and the union involves more than the workers getting their jobs back. Yes, they get their jobs back - but they, each and every one of them, will get hit with a 10-day unpaid suspension. And the union will pay UPS some kind of damages or penalty for the "lost productive time."

So let's just summarize what happened. At the start: UPS fires an employee without a hearing, in violation of its union contract. Other workers object to this with a 90-minute protest.

At the finish: All 250 of those workers face 10 days loss of pay and the union will pay UPS some money, while the cost to UPS for violating the contract is zero.

This is what now we are supposed to regard as a victory. This is how bad it's gotten, this is how far we have fallen, this is how much ground we have to recover, when we are supposed to celebrate because people who actually remember what a union is supposed to be, who actually care about solidarity and their fellow workers, we're supposed to celebrate, to declare victory, because those people "only" lost 10 days pay.

Last week in talking about this I said there is a fundamental divide in our society and that it's important to know which side of that divide you are on and to be willing to stand there. A case like this points to that divide and the details highlight it. I know which side I'm on: I'm on the side of those workers.

If you want to be on the side of UPS, I can't stop you - but you'd better do it knowing damn well that even if you're on UPS's side, UPS is not on yours.

Sources cited in links:

155.6 - The Clown Award: South Fayette High School of McDonald, PA

The Clown Award: South Fayette High School of McDonald, PA

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

This week, the big red nose goes to the administration of the South Fayette High School in McDonald, Pennsylvania.

Christian Stanfield is a 15-year-old boy who suffers from comprehension delay and anxiety disorders, as well as ADHD. What that means is that he is slow to grasp things, more particularly, he has a low mental processing speed, which means not only does he take time to understand things, he does everything slowly.

He had been in a special education math class at South Fayette High School, where he is a sophomore. He had been getting harassed and bullied by other students in the class, up to and including having books slammed against his head. His mother, Shea Love, contacted the school several times about the bullying to no avail.

Finally, Christian got tired of it. So he used his iPad to make a 7-minute recording of the bullying, which he showed to his mother. She went and confronted school officials with the evidence.

The response of Principal Scott Milburn of South Fayette High School in McDonald, Pennsylvania was to call police and accuse Christian of felony wiretapping. A city cop named Robert Kurta questioned Christian and, he said, based solely on what the principal told him, charged christian with disorderly conduct, which, as a local attorney said, "is a catch-all for disposing of a case." That is, it's what cops charge you with when they want to charge you with something but have no idea what that something might be. School officials demanded Christian destroy the recording and punished him with Saturday detention.

To make this even more absurd, South Fayette District Judge Maureen McGraw-Desmet upheld the disorderly conduct charge, fining Christian $25 plus court costs.

By the way, the students tormenting Christian? Nothing happened to them at all. Not a thing.

So a student is being harassed and bullied. His mother repeatedly notifies the school. Nothing is done. The student records the bullying and the school is presented with the evidence. As a result, the lamebrain school wants the victim charged with a felony, the lamebrain cop charges him with disorderly conduct, and the lamebrain judge convicts him. All while the actual guilty parties walk without even getting a sour look.

So the South Fayette High School in McDonald, Pennsylvania - in fact, forget that, everyone involved, the school, the cops, the courts: You are, all of you, clowns.

Sources cited in links:

155.5 - The Little Thing: Tennessee says religious beliefs trump facts in schools

The Little Thing: Tennessee says religious beliefs trump facts in schools

Now we have one of our occasional features, one about times when there is something in a news article that gets little or no comment but I think it’s important or revealing or sometimes just annoying. We call it The Little Thing.

Recently, the Tennessee legislature passed a bill claiming to "protect religious liberty” for students in public schools. It passed overwhelmingly;it passed the state House by 90-2 and the state Senate by 32-0.
The bill says that student-organized religious exercises such as student prayer groups and religious clubs will have the same access to school facilities as any other non-curricular group - without, as far as I can tell, anyone claiming that they can't now. It then says, quoting,
a student may express beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of their submissions. A student would not be penalized or rewarded on account of the religious content of the student’s work.
American Civil Liberties Union says the law “encourages religious coercion” and would allow students to express their religious beliefs "in a variety of inappropriate settings, from the classroom to school-day assemblies and school events."

That is, the law is less about protecting religious liberty than it is about establishing a religious tyranny of the majority and opponents concerned that the law opens the door to anti-LGBT bullying and discrimination under the guise of "religious freedom."

All of that is true and all of that is more than enough reason to condemn the measure as another attempt by right-wing wackos, particularly right-wing religious wackos, to force their own biases, their right-wing wacko fundamentalism, into civil law.

But there's still the little thing. Maybe you've already noticed it. It lies in the last sentence of the part of the law I quoted: "A student would not be penalized or rewarded on account of the religious content of the student’s work."

Do these people even think about what they're saying, what they're writing, in these laws? By this law, a student could turn in a paper to a science class studying geology and claim the Earth is 6,000 years old and they couldn't be marked down.

They could turn in a biology paper saying evolution doesn't exist and the grade could not be lowered.

They could declare the Sun revolves around the Earth and it could make no difference in their grade.

They could go to history class and insist on the reality of Noah's ark, they could argue that slavery is morally acceptable, that women should be submissive to men, that gays and lesbians should be stoned to death - and none of it could matter.

Apparently, Tennessee, still ticked off that John Scopes did not wind up in prison, has now decided that "religious liberty" involves students in public schools being able to ignore the unpleasant facts of modern knowledge. Like the man in the play said, "fanaticism and ignorance is forever busy and needs feeding." Tennessee is ready to open a buffet.

Sources cited in links:

155.4 - Outrage of the Week: NSA knew about Heartbleed bug

Outrage of the Week: NSA knew about Heartbleed bug

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

Okay, you've heard about the recently-revealed Heartbleed bug, the one that threatens a significant portion of the internet because it targets a vulnerability in OpenSSL, the most common encryption software used by websites to secure their data. Estimates are that about 2/3 of all websites, including an equal proportion of the largest, more traveled sites, use OpenSSL.

Major websites have been spending sleepless nights designing patches and users have been advised to change their passwords in an attempt to block or at the very least limit the potential for damage. Unlike all those "the internet is crashing" emails you've been getting from your Aunt Harriet or whoever for years, this is no hoax and no joke. This is very real and very serious.

So yes, change your passwords. And very seriously consider limiting your future exposure by limiting how much personal information you put out there and frankly, where there is an alternative, don't buy stuff online with a credit card. Do it by mail order. And don't bank online.

Okay, that's the scary part; here's the outrage part: According to a report by Bloomberg news, the NSA has known about this security flaw for at least two years and told no one about it. Instead, the agency kept the information to itself and regularly used it to gather intelligence.

Quoting the report:
Putting the Heartbleed bug in its arsenal, the NSA was able to obtain passwords and other basic data that are the building blocks of the sophisticated hacking operations at the core of its mission, but at a cost. Millions [I would say tens of millions] of ordinary users were left vulnerable to attack from other nations’ intelligence arms and criminal hackers.
The Heartbleed bug was actually created accidentally by a minor adjustment in the protocols of OpenSSL. The NSA, which has more than 1,000 experts whose job it is to find and exploit just such vulnerabilities, found Heartbleed shortly after its introduction and made it a basic part of the agency’s toolkit for stealing account passwords and otherwise penetrating accounts and stealing information - and leaving no trace, which is one of the deep problems with Heartbleed: There is no way, at least no easy way, to know if you site has been attacked.

Now, I have to add that the NSA, after first refusing to comment, flatly denied knowing any single little thing about Heartbleed before it was revealed by a private security report. But through the papers released by Edward Snowden, we've known since at least last September that the NSA, together with British intelligence agencies, had successfully cracked most online encryption - and that a basic function of the agency is, as I already said, to find and exploit security holes.

But, the spooks deny it, so here's what I have to decide: Who am I going to trust - a respected news agency or the NSA?

Hmm. What a toughie.

The National Security Agency: It's definition of "security" is the Outrage of the Week.

Sources cited in links:

155.3 - Good News: NYC shuts down program spying on Muslims

Good News: NYC shuts down program spying on Muslims

Yet another bit of good news is out of New York City, this one on a different topic.

In 2002, the New York Police Department, the NYPD, established what it called the Demographics Unit. What this unit did, in the name of "counterterrorism," was, in short, spy on Muslims and not only in the city but well beyond.

The unit, conceived with the help of a CIA agent working with the NYPD, assembled databases on where Muslims lived, shopped, worked and prayed. Plainclothes officers infiltrated Muslim student groups, put informants in mosques, monitored sermons, and cataloged Muslims in New York who adopted new, Americanized surnames.

They eavesdropped on conversations in restaurants and bookstores. They monitored Muslims’ social media activity, their websites, their blogs. They watched community centers, businesses, and even elementary schools.

This went on for years, continuing even after it was exposed in a Pulitzer-prize winning series by the
Associated Press. Continued despite the blatant bigotry in the bottom-line concept that the Muslim community is the place to look for quote "budding terrorist plots." In fact, in a deposition related to a suit against the program, Assistant Chief Thomas Galati described how police gathered information on people even when there was no evidence of wrongdoing, simply because of their ethnicity and native language.

And you know what all this produced? Nothing. Not a damn thing. In that same deposition, Galati said that in the six years he had been commanding officer of the NYPD's Intelligence Division, the Demographics Unit never generated a lead or triggered a terrorism investigation.

Those two things together - the blatant bigotry and the fantastic failure - lead, on April 15, to the only good news that can come out of such an abomination: The program has been shut down. The unit has been disbanded.

But I have to add: Hold the applause. Remember I told you last week that one of the ways the spooks get away with continuing to spy is when they're caught, they change some names, shuffle some papers, and say "oh well, that old bad program, that's all gone now" while they continue to do the same things under a different name.

What we need to be satisfied - or, more accurately, reasonably reassured - is a flat-out statement that the NYPD will no longer spy on or surveil any individual, community, location, or organization without actual suspicion of wrongdoing and that the information gathered by the Demographics Unit - which, by the way, had been renamed the Zone Assessment Unit (Remember what I said about just renaming things?) - has been destroyed, including any copies that may have been distributed to other units or agencies.

No loopholes. As one leader of the Muslim community in New York put it, "The concern wasn't just about the fact that this data was being collected secretly - it was about the fact that this data was being collected at all."

The good news is that the NYPD has been forced to react. Now it's necessary to make sure it's more than words.

Sources cited in links:

155.2 - Good News: win for marriage justice in Indiana

Good News: win for marriage justice in Indiana

Another bit of good news about marriage justice comes from next door to Ohio, in Indiana, where on April 10 federal District Court Judge Richard Young granted an emergency request to force Indiana to immediately recognize the marriage of a lesbian couple who wed in Massachusetts.

The judge issued a temporary restraining order, which will last for 28 days, allowing time to schedule a hearing on a preliminary injunction. For the moment, it means for those 28 days, Amy Sandler and Niki Quasney are married. That ruling could be overturned, but Young found that the couple had met the requirements for emergency relief and there is a reasonable likelihood that they will win their overall case.

The reason for the emergency order was that this is good-news-bad-news: Quasney has ovarian cancer and is terminally ill. The concern here is accessing federal and state safety nets for surviving spouses and their children.

The state argued that Indiana's marriage statute does not allow for hardship exceptions, and - get this - that if the law changes after Quasney dies, thus validating the couple's marriage, Indiana could amend her death certificate.

So Indiana, the state arguing against recognition of one marriage here, the state that bans same-sex marriage only by statute and despite what is happening in the rest of the nation - and a good part of the world, in fact - is moving ahead with a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, is now grandly allowing as how if at some point in an unknowable future which the state hopes will never come, same-sex marriage becomes legal in Indiana, they will deal with this issue then - long after, they must by the meaning of their own arguments hope, everyone involved has died and so the whole thing is moot.

Indiana, the state that would make Birch Bayh roll over in his grave - were it not for the fact that he's not dead.

This case is part of one of five suits against Indiana's ban on same-sex marriages, all of which have been consolidated under Judge Young. Proponents of marriage justice took heart from the ruling because it could indicate the judge's thinking on the broader questions involved.

Ultimately, all this is going to wind up in the lap of the Supreme Court because it's unlikely that all the Courts of Appeal that are now involved in appeals from District Court rulings in five different states will rule the same way, which will leave it to Johnny Roberts and the Supremes to resolve things.

Which leaves me with just two things to say for now, both of which I have said before: One, Antonin Scalia has seen his dissent from the decision tossing out central parts of the grossly-misnamed Defense of Marriage Act quoted at least twice in recent decisions upholding marriage equality and throwing out state bans on same-sex marriage. It will be fun to see him try to deny the meaning of this own words.

And two, no matter the outcome of these cases at any level of the judiciary, including the Supreme Court, this remains true: Justice is coming.

Sources cited in links:

155.1 - Good News: win for marriage justice in Ohio

Good News: win for marriage justice in Ohio

Starting off, as I always like to do when I can with some good news, we have the fact that on April 14, federal district court Judge Timothy Black ordered the state of Ohio to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples who were legally married in other states. Ohio thus joins Oregon, Kentucky, and Tennessee as states that have been ordered by federal courts to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.

Judge Black said the Ohio ban on recognizing such marriages is unconstitutional and unenforceable.

This does not mean that same-sex couples can get married in Ohio; that was not an issue before the court. It does mean that such couples who were married before they came to Ohio still are married after they get there and they will have the same privileges and benefits enjoyed by opposite-sex couples in the state.

The context of this case is a bit different from other cases. It involved four same-sex couples, three female and two male, all legally married. The female couples had each conceived a child through artificial insemination while the male couple had adopted a child from Ohio. Each couple wanted to have both names listed as parents on their child's birth certificates, which Ohio refused to do because it won't recognize them as married. (I should mention parenthetically, to be clear, that Ohio does allow opposite-sex couples who adopt children to be listed as parents on the birth certificate.) Under Black's order, the parents will get their wishes.

Black held off deciding whether to stay his order to give the two sides a chance to argue if he should. However, his did say he was inclined to allow his ruling to take effect for the particular four who filed the initial lawsuit, even if he held off enforcing it on the behalf of others.

Black was blistering in his ruling, saying that the ban had been enacted “with discriminatory animus and without a single legitimate justification.” He also wrote that the ban "embodies an unequivocal, purposeful, and explicitly discriminatory classification, singling out same-sex couples alone, for disrespect of their out-of-state marriages and denial of their fundamental liberties” and labeled the by-now moldy argument that the court should "respect the voters' wishes" even where fundamental rights are concerned, "specious" and the supposed "state interests" involved as "vague, speculative, and/or unsubstantiated."

In my favorite passage, Black wrote that
The record before this court ... is staggeringly devoid of any legitimate justification for the State’s ongoing arbitrary discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
"Staggeringly devoid of justification" describes all the opposition to marriage equality. It was good to see it said so directly.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #155

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of April 17-23, 2014

This Week:

Good News: win for marriage justice in Ohio

Good News: win for marriage justice in Indiana

Good News: NYC shuts down program spying on Muslims

Outrage of the Week: NSA knew about Heartbleed bug

The Little Thing: Tennessee says religious beliefs trump facts in schools

The Clown Award: South Fayette High School of McDonald, PA

Update: losing while "winning" against UPS

Saturday, April 12, 2014

154.5 - Examples of the divide between us and them

Examples of the divide between us and them

Updated Okay, I said there is a basic divide. You want some examples of that divide? For now, I'll give you two:

For example number one, consider General Motors.

You know about the recall of 2.6 million older GM cars because of a faulty ignition switch that could jump from "run" to "off" or "accessory" while the car was moving - with loss of engine power, power steering, power brakes, and airbags. GM itself says it knows of 13 deaths and 32 crashes as a result.

The flaw was the result of a wrongly-designed part, a spring-type plunger that was too short for what it had to do and so could slip. The cost of the replacement part was just 57 cents. Now, some have leapt to their rhetorical feet to shout that the number is a distortion because it's only the cost of the part and so doesn't include the cost of redesigning the line to use the correct part. Which is true - so let's say it would have cost $1 million to redo the line while these cars were still in production. Hell, let's say it cost $10 million. Ten million dollars spread over 2.6 million cars is another $3.85 cents per car, for a total additional cost, including the new part, of $4.42 per car. Anybody think that'd be a deal-breaker on your purchase of a then-new car?

Here's where it gets worse.

GM knew about a problem with the ignition no later than February of 2002, when the supplier told the company that the part did not meet GM's specifications. In 2003, GM's own engineers were reporting the problems. The company "investigated," only to close the investigation in March 2005, having decided a fix would take too long and cost too much. That is, "none of the solutions represents an acceptable business case."

Even after learning of deaths from the failing switch, GM continued to stall, to "investigate" for years, and do, essentially, nothing - until the recall began in January. That was nearly 12 full years after GM learned of the problem and knew what caused it. Twelve years after they knew there was a problem, they are finally doing something about the risk of death they thrust onto unknowing customers. Because for 12 years, the "business case" was to do little and say less. Because for 12 years, the "business case" was more important than human lives.

And even now the corporation continues to stall, so much so that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the NHTSA, is fining the company the legal maximum of $7000 a day for its failure to turn over all the documents that the agency has called for in its investigation.

But still there are people defending GM, claiming it's "taking responsibility" and how it's "not fair" to expect the company to spend the money to repair the vehicles being recalled because of a potentially lethal problem that the company knew about all along. Those people defending GM and GM itself are on the other side of that divide.

GM is not on your side. And you should not be on theirs.

Here's another example:

Jairo Reyes was a 24-year employee of UPS, working at its facility in Queens, New York City. He was fired in February after the company accused him of clocking in early. Soon after, on February 26, 250 of his co-workers showed their support and solidarity by walking off the job for 90 minutes, after which they returned to work.

Union officials say the way Reyes was fired - without a hearing - was in violation of the collective bargaining agreement it has with UPS. Which it was: Under the agreement, an employee can be fired without a hearing only for two reasons: drinking on the job and "proven or admitted dishonesty." UPS claims that by clocking in early, Reyes was being dishonest - but as the union points out, that charge is neither proven nor admitted.1

No matter. UPS doesn't care. So UPS has responded by announcing plans to fire all 250 workers. Why, how, what for? The corporation claims the 90-minute stoppage was an “unauthorized walkout” and the delay "jeopardize[d] our ability to reliably serve our customers," although it offers no explanation of just how that is true.

As of April 8, 36 had been fired and the company says it will fire the rest as soon as replacement drivers are trained.

Which means that apparently the company is not concerned about jeopardizing its ability to reliably serve its customers through the use of an entire fleet of rookie drivers - not when the opportunity arises to dump 250 people who actually remember that the word "union" means "together as one" and making middle-class wages and replace them with a whole crew of others working at beginner pay and benefit levels, with the possibility of breaking the union hovering in the background.

UPS is not on your side. And you should not be on theirs.

Update: UPS has agreed to give all 250 workers their jobs back, but there are some serious costs, which I will discuss more on next week's show.


Update source:

1. To specific, Reyes admits to clocking in early but maintains it was done with the knowledge and permission of his supervisor.

154.4 - Congressional Progressive Caucus proposes a budget, media ignores it

Congressional Progressive Caucus proposes a budget, media ignores it

A couple of weeks ago, Rep. Paul Rantn', who is what passes for an intellectual in the right wing, got my uncoveted Clown Award, and not for the first time.

Well, he's back, because he recently went through his annual charade of presenting an ideological wish list of attacks on the poor and public employees, tax cuts for the rich, and increases for the War Department under the guise of a proposed federal budget.

It has been roundly and justifiably trashed as economic nonsense - even, hardly a bastion of radical left-wing activism, called it a "fantasy" - as economic nonsense and in fact as a political document to rouse the rabid faithful rather than an actual budget.

But here's the thing: It has been discussed. Debated. Denounced and even in some quarters defended - but discussed. Widely and even intensely.

Okay, a couple of weeks earlier, on March 12, so there is no news-cycle conflict here, on March 12 the Congressional Progressive Caucus released what it called its Better Off Budget. First things first, this is an actual budget with actual numbers and actual economic analysis, not a wish list of "don't worry, the Magic of the Market (pbui) will take care of everything" hand-waving of the sort that Ryan's "budget" spews out over everything.

This budget shows, again with actual numbers, that we can create jobs, improve infrastructure, protect and aid the poor, protect the environment, improve education, improve housing, expand healthcare, and a whole lot more without having to raise taxes on anyone making less than $1 million a year - all while reducing the deficit significantly over the next 10 years.

Sounds like something that should merit a headline or two. So how much press coverage did this get?

[long silence]

About that much.

Oh, there was some coverage in the expected places, such as The Nation, the New Republic,, and In These Times and some analysis from outfits such as Citizens for Tax Justice, the National Priorities Project, and the Economic Policy Institute - but after a fairly intensive search1, the closest I could come to any what could be considered mainstream coverage were opinion pieces in the LA Times, US News and World Report, two in the Huffington Post, and one in The Guardian, which is a newspaper in the United Kingdom, plus in terms of news coverage a couple of minutes for a single report on MSNBC the day before the budget was released and a report on al-Jazeera, which does cover a wide range of news and which most Americans can't see unless they know to search it out online.

Other than that, five opinion pieces and two news reports, there was pretty much complete silence. As far as I can determine, the New York Times never mentioned it2. Not a word. The Washington Post never mentioned it3. Not a word. The Wall Street Journal never mentioned it4. Not a word. The network news never mentioned it. Fox News never mentioned it5. CNN never mentioned it6. In fact, as far as I can tell, all of cable news - other than that those single mentions on MSNBC7 and al-Jazeera8 - never mentioned it. Not once. Not a word.

So while I'm sure you're all aware that Paul Rantin' released his "budget," I would not be the least surprised to hear that until now you didn't even know the Progressive Caucus budget even existed.

The fact is, the media - the supposedly oh-so "liberal" media - is trapped, has trapped itself, in way of thinking that what comes from the right by definition deserves serious attention even if it's to knock it down while what comes from the left by definition deserves to be ignored.

The result is the right wing repeatedly is allowed to set the terms of debate such that that Barack Obama is taken to represent to extreme left edge of permissible debate and that's only because he's president so the media can't ignore him, and the answer to every policy question is for the left (not the right, just the left) to "move to the center," the center being defined as midway between the left and the right. So if the left does "move to the center," that center will still be defined as midway between left and right, so the left get demands to "move to the center," which means moving to the right, after which the "center" will still be to their right, and so on and so on.

And one of the reasons they get away with this is that we let them. We, us, the American left, the real left, we let them. And I don't only mean that we let the media get away with it - although part of the reason the media behaves the way it does is that a good long time ago the right wing learned to work the refs, to screech and scream about anything and everything they didn't like until the media just goes along to avoid the hassle - but I don't only mean the media, I mean "our" (and I use that word very cautiously here) political leaders.

Or should I say leader. No matter how many promises he has broken, no matter how many times he has disappointed or even angered his supporters, no matter how much he increases spying, no matter how many drone strikes he authorizes, no matter how many new military actions he authorizes in Africa, no matter how many undocumented workers he deports - more than any previous president - no matter how many whistleblowers he prosecutes - more than all previous presidents combined - no matter how many times he pushes a corporate agenda or coddles corporate crooks, no matter how many times he says he wants to cut Social Security and Medicare as part of some mythical "grand bargain," no matter how many fill in your own blank, no matter what he does or doesn't do, still there are people going around with bumper stickers and buttons saying some version of "Don't worry, Mr. Prez, I got your back."

Hey, for all of you who have forgotten: We're not supposed to have his back, he's supposed to have ours. And the fact is, in all too many ways, he doesn't.

It's not a matter of agreeing or disagreeing about particular policies. It's not a matter of arguing over whether some program goes a little too far or not quite far enough. It a matter of the fact that there is a basic, an essential, divide in this country, one notably expressed in digest form if you will by the Occupy movement: the 1% versus the 99%. It's not a matter of isolated issues. It's a matter of being aware of that divide and of knowing which side of that divide you are on and of being willing to stand there, with all that entails - something too many of us, ducking and covering from the slings and arrows of the right wing, are unwilling to do.


1. searching via,, and
2. a search at on "Better Off Budget" returned no relevant results
3. a search at on "Better Off Budget" for the period 3/11-3/14 returned no relevant results
4. a search at on "Better Off Budget" for the period 3/11-3/14 returned no relevant results
5. a search at on "budget" for the period 3/12-14 returned no relevant results
6. a search at on "Better Off Budget" returned no relevant results
7. a search at returned no additional relevant results
8. a search at returned no additional relevant results

154.3 - Clown Award: District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer

Clown Award: District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer

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

This week, the big red nose goes to US District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer.

A suit had been filed in federal district court against Obama administration officials over the killings of three US citizens in Yemen in a drone strike in 2011.

The White House, not surprisingly, argued that this is a political matter, a policy question, and so is best left to Congress and the executive branch.

Judge Collyer said the case raises serious constitutional questions and is not easy to answer. But despite that, she granted the Obama administration's motion to dismiss the suit.

Now, it can be, and certainly has been, argued that addressing purely political questions usually involves the just the legislative and executive branches of the federal government, and the courts generally stay out of such questions unless there is some kind of impasse over conflicting authorities or a dispute over the proper interpretation of a law.

However, the fact is that under our system as it has developed, dealing with constitutional questions is a basic function of the federal judiciary.

Despite that, Collyer's attitude is that yes, this case raises serious constitutional questions but ya know what? The heck with it. The White House doesn't want to talk about it, so screw the Constitution, screw the court system, screw my responsibilities.

District Court Judge Rosemary Collyer - who, by the way, is also on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court and isn't it good to know we have such aggressive protectors of our Constitutional rights on that court - Rosemary Collyer, you are a clown.


154.2 - Domestic spying: How they get away with it

Domestic spying: How they get away with it

One of the persistent questions about the government's domestic spying is, in some form, how do they do it; that is, how do they get away with it, how, in the face of the public's instinctive reaction against such intrusions into our privacy, can they still manage to keep on with it, scandal after scandal, revelation after revelation.

Well, let me give you some idea how.

First, a reminder of a definition: Phone metadata is all the information about a phone call except the actual content. It's what number called what number, from where to where, when, and for how long. Every technical detail of the call.

Okay. In January, months and months after Edward Snowden revealed documents proving that the US government was sucking up the metadata on tens of millions of Americans' phone calls without either warrant or reason to suspect criminal activity, Barack Obama, the Amazing Mr. O, announced that the government would "limit" collection of such phone metadata.

On March 27, the plan to do that finally appeared, one that claimed the program was coming to an end.

Now, remember, for all those months and months, we were repeatedly, loudly, insistently told that collecting this data is vital to national security. That the government had to do this, had to be allowed to do it, it couldn't not do it, because that would be putting the nation at risk, we would face more 9/11s, the terrorists would run free, and what's more, Edward Snowden is either a traitor or a Russian agent for telling us about it. Now, after all those months and months, it became "Aahh, we really didn't need to do this after all."

Under the White House proposal, which has to be approved by Congress, the records of metadata would not be held by the government but by the phone companies, with the government able to query them only with court approval.

The program would also be modified so that the government can only query within two “hops” of a selection term, that is, a particular phone number, rather than three as now.

Okay, there are already a number of red flags here. First, the records are still there, still being collected. The only difference is who holds them. And the government can still demand to see them. I'm not sure why that's supposed to make us feel better.

Second, the difference between warrantless search and search via a court-issued warrant is in this case little more than semantics if it's even that. Such warrants would be issued by the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISC, created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA, in 1978. Another reminder: FISA was passed in response to revelations of earlier violations of privacy and rights by the spooks. This is by no means the first time we have dealt with this kind of thing.

So now consider the record of the FISC, In the period 1979-2012, that court was presented by the feds with 33,949 applications for warrants. Of those, only 504, a mere 1.5%, were even modified. Only 11, or 0.03%, were rejected and four of those were later modified and accepted. The idea that this court acts as a guarantor of our rights, a protector of our privacy, is ludicrous.

Another thing is the "hops." These are the degrees of separation from the original number. Under the plan, NSA can query the metadata of an individual if the court approves - and then the metadata of all of that person’s contacts, and then in turn the metadata of all of theirs. You know about the idea of "six degrees of separation," the idea that any person can be connected to any other person in no more than six hops. A 2011 study found that when you include online social media, the average number of degrees of separation between any two people in the world is not six, but roughly 4.74.

The point is, limiting the search to two hops means nothing, since by then you are already hitting the limits of actually useful information. Go beyond and you start to drown in data. You're no longer looking for a needle in a haystack, you have trouble even finding the right haystack.

So put bluntly, these so-called changes mean essentially nothing and despite the claim the program is "ending" it's really being continued, just in a slightly-different form. This is long-standing practice among the spooks and their enablers: J. Edgar Hoover used to do it all the time. Every time he was found having the FBI do something it shouldn't and was told to stop and to destroy the relevant files, we would just rename the program, refile the files, and declare to all and sundry that the old program no longer existed.

So at least give the White House credit for this: They learned from the best.

But that's not all. Because, as I said, this is how they do it.

An examination just last week of the White House proposal by Mark Hosenball and Alina Selyukh of Reuters found that the "more limited" program may well require phone companies to collect and maintain even more information about our phone calls than they already do, and do it for the specific purpose of having those records available to government spies.

In fact, the telcoms may now be collecting only 25-33 percent of the total US metadata they are authorized to collect. One reason is the popularity of flat-rate programs: Because the companies don't need to keep track of your calls so they know which are toll calls for which you would be charged, they don't collect the metadata on all calls because they don't need it.

But under the White House’s plan, telecoms “would be compelled by court order to provide technical assistance to ensure that the records can be queried and that results are transmitted to the government in a usable format and in a timely manner.” In other words, the spooks would have to be able to get the metadata they want, which means the phone companies have to have it in order for them to get it.

In other words, this "reform" of the government's spying on us not only does not in any effective way limit the government's ability to spy on us, it would enable them to spy on even more of us - while at the same time claiming the program is being put to an end.

And that, my friends, is how they do it.

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