Friday, February 27, 2015

193.10 - Obama's war

Obama's war

We'll finish up today with a little more talk about Mr. Obama and his lovely little war.

US officials are openly talking about a plan for an attack by Iraqi military forces to take back the city of Mosul from Daesh. The attack, supposedly to involve as 20,000 Iraqi military and Kurdish forces, could come as soon as April. Mosul is Iraq's second-largest city and the biggest get by Daesh.

Daesh is another name for ISIS, based on an acronym from its Arabic name. Daesh also sounds similar to the Arabic words "daes" - which means someone who crushes something underfoot - and also "dahes" - which is someone who sows discord. I understand ISIS hates the name Daesh, which for me is more than enough reason to use it.

The attack on Mosul would be backed by US airstrikes and possibly American ground troops, according to those same officials. Those ground forces would, obviously, be involved with O's approval, but would - we're told - be for special operations and forward air controllers but of course not for "enduring offensive operations."

Because we won't use ground troops in combat, oh no perish the thought! We just engage in special operations, forward air control, intelligence sharing, and rescue operations - none of which, somehow, don't involve shooting at anything or getting shot at or anything else that would define "combat."

Oh wait, I'm sorry, it's not supposed to be an "enduring operation" so all that shooting doesn't count.

Now, let's not forget that we've been told again and again that grounds troops may be "necessary." We were told that as far back as September, when Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told Congress exactly that.

But don't worry. This won't be that start of us getting dragged into another "enduring" ground war, even if, I fear, we may discover that "enduring" turns out to mean "longer than we've been doing it, however long that has been." Because, after all, remember that our president won a Nobel Peace Prize.

Meanwhile, it's worthy of note that his request for a new Authorization to Use Military Force is meeting notable opposition in Congress. Several members of the House and 12 Senators, 10 Democrats and two independents, have expressed concerns or opposition.

Last for this week: What do I think should be done about the new AUMF? I think it should be defeated. And the 2002 AUMF, which was the basis for the Iraq war, should be repealed. And the 2001 AUMF, passed in the stampede following 9/11, which Obama has been using to date as his authorization for his war, should be repealed.

But wait - wouldn't that leave Obama without any authority to continue his war?


Which is precisely the intention. Because there are better ways to deal with Daesh. Better ways than war. And I promise to talk more about that next week.

Sources cited in links:

193.9 - Outrage of the Week: drug testing the poor

Outrage of the Week: drug testing the poor

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walkalloveryou wants Wisconsin to institute drug testing for applicants for public assistance.

He is far from the first. Over the past few years, a good number of states have introduced programs to require applicants for public assistance, particularly applicants for TANF or what used to be called welfare, to be "screened" for drug use with the supposed, the claimed, idea of fighting drug abuse and encouraging them to get back into the workforce.

Florida tried it, requiring all applicants be tested. It not only was a flop, it lost money and was tossed out by a federal court as an unconsitutional violation of the right to privacy - and that came after it had turned up a drug use rate of just 2 percent among public assistance users, a quarter of the rate for the total population, according to federal estimates.

After that, states started using various screening procedures to decide who would be tested, thereby getting around the constitutional violations. It didn't really help. Minnesota tried a drug testing program; it was another flop: Only 0.4 percent of participants in the state’s main cash welfare program had the felony drug convictions the program focused on, as opposed to 1.2 percent of the state’s adult population as a whole.

Utah tried it, using a screening test to see who would have to be tested. A year later, exactly 12 people had tested positive. That's a positive rate of drug use of 0.2 percent of total benefits recipients, compared to 6 percent of all state residents.

Tennessee just tried it, and in the first six months of its program found 37 people testing positive out of 16,000 applicants for assistance, a rate of less than a quarter of a percent in a state where the overall level of drug use is estimated at 8 percent.

We have seen this over and over and over again in state after state after state: Applicants for public assistance have lower rates of drug use than the population as a whole. Even in states like Utah and Tennessee, which only tested those deemed "at risk" of being drug users, even if in such cases you were to assume that 90% of drug users either beat the test or were never tested, so the actual rate of drug use is 10 times what was found, the rate of drug use among applicants for public assistance would still be a third, a quarter, of that among the whole population.

But still this determination to test, this regime of regulations, persists, failure after failure. Twelve states have enacted such laws and according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, bills to do the same have been introduced in at least 10 other states so far this year, states from Maine to Texas to Montana.

Why? What is the point? What is the reason? An unintentionally revealing answer was given by Tennessee state Rep. Glen Casada, in referring to the 37 people in Tennessee who were denied benefits due to a positive drug test:
That's 37 people who should not be receiving taxpayer subsidies, because they are not behaving as they are supposed to. If the taxpayers are going to support you there are certain criteria you need to adhere to.
Other supporters elsewhere say even though the tests have found very low levels of drug use, they're still good because they have, they say, a deterrent effect - encouraging people prone to drug use to avoid it and thereby remain better prepared for employment.

Precisely. Because you are poor, they are saying, because you are in need of help, because you are struggling, therefore you are no longer a full human being, therefore you are morally inferior, therefore we have the right and the power to judge you, to look down on you, therefore we have the right and the power to shape you, to correct your (to we superior sorts) obvious failings, to demand that you behave as we tell you to, we have the right and the power to humiliate you, to demean you, and you will kowtow and tug at your forelock and kiss our ring or you can just damn well go hungry and cold.

None of these programs are about combating drug use of getting people into treatment programs or even about "good use of taxpayer money." They are about our contempt for the poor, our classist assumptions that those who are poor are simply inferior in some way, morally, ethically, or both, and somehow deserve their condition.

It is cruel, it is bigoted, it is an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

193.8 - BP and Deepwater Horizon: still weaseling

BP and Deepwater Horizon: still weaseling

Speaking of oldies, here's a blast from the past: Who remembers the Deepwater Horizon Oil spill?

It happened almost 5 years ago now, on April 20, 2010, when a rig blew out on the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil platform about 50 miles southeast of the Mississippi River delta. Eleven workers died in the explosion and fire.

It was the largest oil spill in history as oil gushed from the broken wellhead into the Gulf of Mexico. It wasn't until July 15, 86 days later and after a series of failures, that the well was successfully capped.

Oil giant BP was the principal developer of the oil field where the blowout occurred and had overall responsibility for the project.

In the months after the blowout, BP first tried to pawn off blame onto two other companies: TransOcean, which operated the platform, and Halliburton. When that didn't fly, BP began arguing, stalling, appealing, and nitpicking about just how much oil was spilled, just how bad the damage was, and anything else they could think of.

Now, nearly five years later, BP is still trying to weasel out of as much responsibility as possible.

On Monday, February 23, the transnational corporation filed an appeal against a federal judge’s finding about the size of the spill, because of course the smaller the spill, the smaller the fine that could be levied under the federal Clean Water Act. In addition, the fine is calculated on so many dollars per barrel and the company is contesting that figure, as well.

In January, US District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans had ruled that, based on best judgment, 3.19 million barrels of oil had spilled into the Gulf as a result of the disaster. BP insists the figure is only - and I use the word "only" solely in the sense of "by comparison, less" - 2.45 million barrels. By way of contrast, the federal government asserted that 4.19 million barrels were spewed into the waters of the Gulf.

If Judge Berbier's rulings are upheld, BP would be facing a fine of $13.7 billion. That's on top of the $42 billion BP has already laid out as a result of the blowout, including for cleanup, fines, and compensation for victims.

But I wouldn't weep for BP: It's gross profit in 2013, the last year for which I could find an annual total, was over $53 billion on total revenue of nearly $380B.

And if you still feel somehow sorry for BP, consider that about 810,000 barrels of oil were collected during the cleanup of the Deepwater Horizon blowout. That's over 2-1/2 times the total amount spilled in what had been the worst-ever spill in US waters and over 3 times the total amount spilled in the Exxon Valdez disaster in 1989.

And even by BP's own self-serving calculations, that 810,000 barrels recovered means that over 1.6 million barrels of oil were spewed into the Gulf of Mexico and not recovered with long-term environmental and health effects that are still being discovered.

Sources cited in links:

193.7 - RIP: Leslie Gore

RIP: Leslie Gore

Well, another small part of my youth has dropped away. It's getting to the point where there are as many gaps as solid places.

Lesley Gore has died of lung cancer at the age of 68.

Although she had a string of hits in the mid-1960s, she is likely best known for her very first hit, "It's My Party" and one that became a sort of defiant feminist anthem, "You Don't Own Me."

Her star faded in the late '60s as hard rock, acid rock, and psychedalia supplanted girl-group and boy-group ballads. But she continued to perform and started writing her own songs, including one that was in the movie "Fame" and was nominated for an Oscar.

She leaves being her brother, her mother, and her partner of 33 years, Lois Sasson.

RIP, Leslie Gore.

Sources cited in links:

193.6 - Hero Award: Ron Smith, president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild

Hero Award: Ron Smith, president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild

Which actually brings us to an occasion of the Hero Award. To get a Hero Award, you don't have to be an all-around great person. You just have to at some point, on some matter big or small, do the right thing. Here's a good example.

In this case, the Hero Award goes to Ron Smith, the president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, the local police union. In 2011, the DOJ found that Seattle police department had “engaged in a pattern of excessive force that violates the constitution and federal law” and which also “raised serious concerns” that the force had been engaged in “discriminatory policing.”

The city agreed to remedial actions but nonetheless, in the time since Smith has has been critical of those efforts and defended some Seattle cops accused of unnecessary force and abuse of authority.

Ron Smith
On February 18, however, in an interview with the Seattle newspaper The Stranger, Smith said he is telling new cops:
You have to treat people all the same. ... They hired you because they thought you were going to be able to work in a diverse community. And if you can't, well then, I guess there are still places across the country that aren't diverse, so go work there. But those won't last forever.
In other words, get with the program, cut the crap, be prepared to work in a diverse community and treat everyone equally, or get out of the Seattle PD.

It would have been even better if he had said that if you can't work without bias in a diverse community you can't be a cop, but this is a good start. And for that good start, Ron Smith is a hero.

Sources cited in links:

193.5 - Everything You Need to Know: about police violence in the US

Everything You Need to Know: about police violence in the US

Now we have one of our occasional features called Everything You Need to Know, where you can learn a great deal about something in a very short time.

In this case, it's Everything You Need to Know about police violence in the US in just one sentence:

The police force of Pasco, Washington, population 59,000, has shot and killed more people in the past six months than the combined police forces of all of Great Britain have killed over the past three years.

And that is Everything You Need to Know.

But even though that's Everything You Need to Know, I'm going to add a comment: I've said several times in discussing cop violence that most cops are good cops, most cops are trying to do the best, the most professional, job they can for their communities. But for that very reason, it is vital that those good cops stop shielding the bad ones.

For example, a recent study of the New York City police - in fact, I cited it here last week - revealed that just 5% of cops in the NYPD accounted for 40% of the complaints of excessive force, that is, of police brutality. And over half of the NYPD cops had no such complaints against them at all. Those 95% have to stop protecting that 5%.

Those cops who want to do the right thing, who want to have good relations with the community, those cops who are not going to reach for the club or the taser or the gun at the first provocation, those cops who do not want to divide the world into cops and suspects, they have got to stop shielding those who do. They have got to step up and speak up.

Is that professionally risky? It is. Is it even personally risky? Frank Serpico, who said that after he became a whistle-blower his calls for back-up would be answered slowly if at all, would surely say yes.

Then again, we are always being told how dangerous police work is - so maybe they should just think of this as another part of the job.

Sources cited in links:

193.4 - Update: Trayvon Martin killing

Update: Trayvon Martin killing

Next up, an Update on something we talked about a lot at the time, but haven't mentioned in a while.

The Department of Justice has announced that there will be no federal charges filed against George Zimmerman arising out of his shooting down of Trayvon Martin which was, if you can believe it when it seems so fresh in our minds, back in 2012.

Although it's disappointing, federal charges were always a long shot. Because no federal crime was involved, such charges would have to involve a civil charge, specifically, a civil rights claim - in other words, a charge that Zimmerman shot Martin out of racial animosity, or, more bluntly, because he was black.

Trayvon Martin
It seems abundantly clear that Zimmerman racially profiled Martin and regarded the color of his skin as marking him as suspect - and that he had some sort of animosity toward blacks, or at the very least young black males, in general (his own comments to the police dispatcher showed that). But the very high standard of actually showing that Zimmerman shot Martin because of racism was always a high barrier to get over.

Remember, showing that Zimmerman suspected Martin because he was black and that he followed Martin because he was black and that he confronted Martin because he was black would not have been enough. The government would have to show that Zimmerman actually pulled the trigger because Martin was black.

With Zimmerman's claims of self-defense hanging in the air and no witnesses to challenge those claims, the DOJ felt, understandably, it couldn't convince a jury of that.

And so even though it was a long shot, it's still sad to have to say that George Zimmerman walks again.

Sources cited in links:

193.3 - Update: last week's Clown Award

Update: last week's Clown Award

Last week I gave the Clown Award to a couple of meathead students at mostly-white Flower Mound High School in Flower Mound, Texas who held up signs reading "White Power" during a basketball game against a mostly-African-American team from Plano East.

The Update is that a school investigation has found that the claim that the Plano East team bus had been urinated and defecated on was true, yes, it did happen, and contrary to what some had claimed the signs were no coincidence but were coordinated between the two boys who held them.

Before their repeat game on February 20, the two teams joined in a pre-game show of unity. One thing that was different, however, was that unlike last week's game, a triple-overtime nail-biter won by Flower Mound 73-71, this one was a blowout: Plano East, 71-41. Somebody remembered to play D.

One last thing: The closing graphic for the Clown Award showed our virtual Big Red Noses and clown hats on several of the students in the Flower Mound section of the stands. They were supposed to be only on the two students holding the signs. The fault was mine for not being clear enough with the folks in post-production and I apologize to those other students. Even though it's unlikely they'll ever know I even mentioned the incident, I'm doing it anyway. Because I should.

Sources cited in links:

193.2 - Clown Award: John Boehner

Clown Award: John Boehner

That Good News about the Keystone XL lets us slide easily over into one of our regular features, the Clown Award, given as always for merit stupidity.

This week, the winner of the Big Red Nose is that champion goofball, Speaker of the House John Boehner or as he is more properly known, John Boner.

In a statement issued in response to the veto, Boner repeated the long-discredited lie that the project will create 42,000 jobs, a fanciful figure the State Dept. claimed in its report on the effects of the pipeline, a figure arrived at by, for example, defining one person working on the project for two years as two jobs, including jobs that are already filled but would provide some service or material to the project, and assumptions about jobs created by pipeline workers spending their paychecks locally.

And even the State Dept.'s own estimate of how many permanent jobs the pipeline would create stands at 35. Not 35 thousand, not even 35 hundred. Thirty-five.

Boner still citing that bogus figure of 42,000 jobs would seem to be enough, but not for the high standards of the Clown Award. No, there's more.

He also declared that Obama is "too close to environmental extremists" and "too invested in left-fringe politics."

The image of Barack Obama as "invested in left-fringe politics" is funny enough - Hey Johnnycakes, I freely admit, I am quite aware, that I am on the left-fringe of American politics. And The Amazing Mr. O ain't been seen anywhere around here.

But I have to say that what really got Boner the award - and I have to tell you, this genuinely made me laugh - he said that the "only winners" from the veto would be “bureaucrats, extremist environmentalists and the Chinese.”

Johnny Boner - we always knew it, but thanks for the confirmation that you really are a clown.

Sources cited in links:

193.1 - Good News: Keystone XL bill vetoed

Good News: Keystone XL bill vetoed

Well, let's start, as is by now traditional around here, with some Good News.

He said he would do it and what do you know, he actually did. For just the third time in his years in office, Barack Obama has vetoed a bill, this time the bill approving of the Keystone XL pipeline and stripping from the Executive Branch the power to make the final decision.

As I have said before, it's unclear whether this veto was over environmental concerns about the pipeline or just a refusal to cede any authority - or, I suppose, it could even be both - but the fact remains that the result is that this project, the whole purpose of which is to promote the use of tar sands, the dirtiest, most polluting source of oil there is, the project is again on hold.

As I said last week, one reason these delays are good is that the longer this stretches out, the less "vital" to US national interests the whole thing appears.

In fact, the EPA wants the State Department - the State Dept. is involved because the pipeline crosses an international boundary - to "revisit" the effect the pipeline would have on global warming on the grounds that lower crude oil prices makes the development of tar sands make less economic sense. That calls into question the State Dept.'s contention that the global warming impact of the pipeline is insignificant because tar sands will be developed in any event. Instead, the EPA says, the project will result in a “significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions.”

And how that is not against the true national interest is beyond me. Which is why the veto, thus delaying the project, no matter why it was done, is good news.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #193

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of February 26 -  March 4, 2015

This week:

Good News: Keystone XL bill vetoed

Clown Award: John Boehner

Update: last week's Clown Award

Update: Trayvon Martin killing

Everything You Need to Know: about police violence in the US

Hero Award: Ron Smith, president of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild

RIP: Leslie Gore

BP and Deepwater Horizon: still weaseling

Outrage of the Week: drug testing the poor

Obama's war

Saturday, February 21, 2015

192.10 - Obama's AUMF for ISIS is about endless war

Obama's AUMF for ISIS is about endless war

Back on November 5, PHC* said he would ask Congress for new war power authorities to fight the Islamic State,.

Now, more than three months later and six months since he began the bombing campaign, a campaign that has so far cost more than $1 billion, involved more than 1,700 airstrikes, and seen roughly 3,000 US troops sent to Iraq, he has finally put forth his proposal, even as he continues to insist that he don't need no stinking new authorization because he's the commander in chief, dammit, and besides, the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force (or AUMF), a reaction to 9/11, gives him all the authority he needs. What he will do is grandly allow the Congress to agree to what he has been and is doing.

His proposed new AUMF, first, is retroactive: It applies from the start of the bombing campaign last August. The proposal would limit military action against ISIS to three years (absent a renewal of authority) and would repeal the 2002 AUMF that was the basis for the Iraq War.

However, it would not repeal the 2001 AUMF, the one he has been relying on all along, which means whether or not Congress passes this thing, nothing will change. It is utterly meaningless crap.

What's more, the "restrictions" it would place on his lovely little war have more loopholes than a fancy lace doily. For one, it supposedly limits the use of US ground troops to things like rescue operations or intelligence sharing - and even leaving aside just how broadly the term "rescue operations" can be and has been defined, what it actually says is that they can't be used for "enduring offensive ground combat operations," a description vague enough that even party loyalist Dick Durbin was moved to ask, in just these words, "What does it mean?"

And there is no geographical limit on the campaign; it says rather that military force can be used against ISIS "or associated persons or forces," which are defined as "individuals and organizations fighting for, on behalf of, or alongside" ISIS as well as "any closely-related successor entity." Considering that, as happened with al-Qaeda, previously-unrelated groups are taking up the name "ISIS" or some form of it, this could easily be used to justify military attacks on sites not just in Iraq and Syria but in, as of now, Libya, where one group has taken up the name, and we can assume other places in the future.

This is not a prescription for limited war or even targeted war, but for endless war on shifting targets across the globe. In other words, it's exactly the same crap as we have seen for over 13 years now.

Adam Schiff in the Asylum and Ben Cardin and Chris Murphy in the Senate have introduced bills to terminate the 2001 AUMF, which I suppose is good except that they would terminate it in three years, the same time frame as Obama's proposed new AUMF, so I'm really not sure what is the point of not terminating it immediately. It still means, one way or another, giving Obama what the wants while being able to claim to be exercising some sort of oversight - which I suppose is, when all is said and done, the whole purpose of this entire vapid exercise.

When he was running for president in 2008, a major part of O's foreign policy allure was his promise to move the country away from launching open-ended, ill-defined wars with few restrictions and no end game. Like on so many other things, it's turned out that well, he talked real purty but it didn't mean a freaking thing.

*PHC = President Hopey-Changey

Sources cited in links:

192.9 - Outrage of the Week: NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton blames police violence on its victims

Outrage of the Week: NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton blames police violence on its victims

That item about the NYPD actually brings us right around to our other regular feature, the Outrage of the Week.

Earlier this month, a committee of the New York state senate held a hearing on protests against police brutality. This was sparked to a significant degree by the Eric Garner case, where a black man was choked to death by NYPD cops.

Among those testifying was NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton.

And what was his considered answer to cases like Eric Garners? What was his answer to police violence that has lead to such unnecessary and tragic deaths and the community outrage that followed?

He urged the lawmakers to increase the penalties for resisting arrest from a misdemeanor to a felony. That was his answer. He said later that
We need to get around this idea that you can resist arrest. It results in potential injuries to the officer, to the suspect. And we need to change that, and the way to change that is to start penalties for it.
Y'see, cops in New York and elsewhere have been claiming that Garner's death could have been prevented, golly gee whillikers, if only he hadn't tried to resist arrest. Because, you have to understand, if he "resisted" in any way or to the least degree, five or six cops just had to jump on him. Cops just had to put him in a choke hold which had long been banned from the NYPD for precisely the risk of doing to someone what the cops did to Eric Garner. Because the cops just had to keep him in the choke hold even as he lay face down on the pavement, gasping that he couldn't breathe.

Because they just had to blame the victim. Because blaming the victim is always the solution. And that woman should have known better than to wear a short skirt so what happened to her was all her fault.

Why is victim-blaming the only thing Bill Bratton can think of to do? This would be unconscionable even if "resisting arrest" was not usually an add-on charge to cover up for brutality by some cop. Samuel Walker, an author of several books on policing and civil liberties and professor emeritus at the University of Nebraska, said recently that
There's a widespread pattern in American policing where resisting arrest charges are used to sort of cover - and that phrase is used - the officer's use of force.
Now, this is nothing new: Indeed, I recall back in the dreaded '60s, it was assumed that if you were taking part in a sit-in or something and got clubbed or in some other way roughed up or beaten in the course of being arrested, you would be changed with resisting arrest (and sometimes assaulting an officer). But its longevity makes it worse, not better.

And it reveals patterns of brutality: A researcher recently looked at NYPD arrest stats since 2012 and found that just five percent of officers accounted for 40 percent of all resisting arrest charges. In fact, a majority of New York officers filed no resisting arrest charges in that time. He also found that blacks in New York City are more likely than whites to be charged with resisting arrest, even if they're being brought in for the same crime.

How is making resisting arrest a felony going to change any of that? The answer is, of course, it won't. It will just mean even greater racial injustice and greater potential for cops to abuse their powers.

That's because cops have wide latitude in deciding what constitutes "resisting." Technically, anything short of active cooperation with an arrest could be called "resisting." During the civil rights demonstrations of the '50s and '60s and the antiwar actions of the '60s, going limp when being arrested was a common tactic: You did not resist in any normally-understood sense of the term, you simply did not cooperate. You did nothing (except make the cops have the hassle of carrying you away). You were passive. All such people, all those people, according to Bill Bratton, should have been charged with a felony and sent to prison.

Because if resisting had been a felony, he's saying, then Eric Garner, angry, frustrated, feeling hassled and harassed, would at the very moment one of those cops said anything about arrest, would instantly have gone "Yes sir, whatever you say sir, of course, sir, here are my hands behind by back, sir." Or maybe the cops playing "blame the victim" prefer to imagine him going "yes, massah."

I called it an outrage when Bratton was first hired. I have had no reason to change my mind. Claiming the answer to cop violence is to give them more power to send more people to prison, now with trumped-up charges of "resisting arrest," claiming that the best way to prevent more Eric Garners is to blame all the Eric Garners for their own injuries or deaths, that is disgusting, it is unconscionable, it is an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

192.8 - More on that NYPD "anti-terrorism" task force

More on that NYPD "anti-terrorism" task force

Last week, under the heading of "The little Thing," I talked about the report that a new 350-member anti-terrorism task force was being established by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton in the NY police department, one armed with high-tech weapons and machine guns. And it was going to be patrolling ordinary protests as if they were some sort of terroristic threat.

Apparently, it develops I wasn't the only one who noticed that reference to protests being within the purview of an elite anti-terrorism force and the NYPD backpedaled furiously. Oh, no, it was all a misunderstanding. Y'see, when Bratton said members of the so-called Strategic Response Group would be armed with machine guns, he didn't mean that Strategic Response Group. No, he meant some other Strategic Response Group which has some other name. Or some other thing.

Anyway, it turns out - for now, anyway - that the Strategic Response Group which will be dealing with demonstrations is not and is separate from the anti-terrorism force and will not be outfitted with machine guns and thank god for small favors

Instead, the not-the-anti-terrorism unit will consist of 550 specially trained officers to handle the demonstrations and protests.

And to handle "any sort of civil disorder."

And to "respond to citywide mobilizations."

Which still sounds like demonstrations are placed under the heading of "civil disorder" rather than of "an expression of First Amendment rights" but hey, at least this way you'll only be clubbed, maced, and tasered, not machine gunned.

Sources cited in links:

192.7 - Clown Award: "White Power" sign at high school basketball game

Clown Award: "White Power" sign at high school basketball game

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

The winners of the Big Red Nose this week are a couple of meathead students at Flower Mound High School of Flower Mound, Texas.

It happened at what must have been a heck of a high school basketball game on February 13 - it went to triple overtime - between Flower Mound and the mostly African-American team from Plano East. Late in the game, a couple of students in the Flower Mound section were seen holding up signs facing the Plano East bench reading "White Power."

Some have suggested it might have been a coincidence, a moment of transition taken out of context and given authority by the power of social media. The argument, in its strongest form, is that the "white" sign likely referred in some way to the Flower Mound school colors, which are blue and white, and the "power" sign was supposedly part of a cheer of "Jaguar power," the Jaguars being the team's name.

Frankly, I don't buy it and I'll tell you why. According to multiple witnesses, the signs were up long enough for Plano East students to notice and start pointing at them and for Flower Mound teachers to respond by rushing into the stands to have them taken down. One Plano East student estimated they were up 30 seconds. Certainly they were up long enough for someone to react and take the picture.

That is no coincidence. That is no mistake. If you want to say "blue and white" you don't hold up just "white" for 30 seconds. If you want to say "Jaguar power," you do not hold up just "power" for 30 seconds. That is no mistake.

Especially not when witnesses said there were racial epithets called out to Plano East players during the game. And doubly especially not when after the game players from Plano East discovered that their team bus had been urinated and defecated on. Neither school has confirmed that, but local TV reported that what they called "enough" students had.

Y'know, high school students, especially males, can be jerks at times. It kind of goes with the territory. So they need to be cut a certain degree of slack. They can clown around, they can be clownish even - but when that clownishness crosses over into outright bigotry, then they have without a doubt become true clowns.

Updated with the information that a school investigation has found that the urination and defecation did happen and the signs were no coincidence but were coordinated between the two boys who held them. On the other hand, claims that Flower Mound students had chanted "white power" during the game were held to be unfounded. It's not clear if that covers the charge of "racial epithets," which could have been individual catcalls, or not.

Before their repeat game on February 20, the two teams joined in a pre-game show of unity. Finally, unlike last week's game, a triple-overtime nail-biter won by Flower Mound 73-71, this one was a blowout: Plano East, 71-41.

(I'll be including this Update in next week's show.)

Sources cited in links:

Sources cited in Update:

192.6 - Footnote: Keystone opponents getting visits from FBI

Footnote: Keystone opponents getting visits from FBI

As a footnote to that, it develops that tar sands activists in Oregon, Washington state, and Idaho who have participated in anti-Keystone XL and anti-tar sands protests have been getting visits from the FBI, and no one knows yet exactly why.

The agents have reportedly been targeting activists who have protested what are called “megaloads,” a truckload of equipment for tar sands extraction. A megaload can be longer than a football field and can take up two lanes of a highway. These protests have blocked highways and delayed the equipment’s shipment.

The FBI insists that it doesn't investigate political activity, only crime. However, the people who have been contacted say the approach by the agents has been consistent, along the lines of saying "We’re not doing criminal investigations, you’re not accused of any crime. But we’re trying to learn more about the movement."

Which would suggest either that the FBI is on a fishing expedition, trying to find some major crime it can claim is hidden behind what is pretty straightforward nonviolent civil disobedience, or, as I think more likely, they are trying to intimidate activists with a "We know who you are and we're watching you" attitude.

Oooh, '60s flashbacks! Hopefully, the intimidation tactics will be as much of a failure now as they were then.

Sources cited in links:

192.5 - Update on Keystone XL

Update on Keystone XL

Our next update has to do with the Keystone XL pipeline, the one intended to carry tar sands, about the most polluting, dirty, way to get oil there is, from Alberta to refineries in Texas. We've talked about this a number of times, here's the latest.

As you may well know by now, the Asylum and the Senate recently have both passed bills approving the pipeline and moving the authority to make the decision on it from the Executive Branch to Congress. The Amazing Mr. O has promised to veto the bill - although it's unclear if that's out of any environmental concern or personal pique at having some of his power taken away. Either way, let's hope that even if he wants to wimp out he'll realize that at this point, having  threatened to veto it enough times, he can't not veto it if he wants to remain relevant for the rest of his term. And while the bills passed with considerable support from the Dimcrats, who like oil and gas money as much as the GOPpers do, that support was not enough to overcome a veto.

Meanwhile, as I've mentioned before, the Nebraska state legislature passed a bill allowing TransCanada, the Canadian company that wants to build the pipeline, to file for eminent domain on properties along the pipeline's route and also stripped the state’s Public Service Commission of the authority to rule on final plans. Lower courts agreed with a suit claiming that violated the state constitution, but while a majority of the state Supreme Court agreed, it wasn't the supermajority required to overturn a law.

Shortly after their win in court, TransCanada filed eminent domain claims for the landowners who still hadn’t agreed to turn their land over to the company.

Which brings us to the immediate update.

A county district judge in Nebraska has granted a temporary injunction to landowners who are challenging the ability of TransCanada to use eminent domain to seize land.

Although the injunction only affects those along the northern part of the proposed pipeline route through Nebraska, TransCanada, which agreed to not oppose the injunction in exchange for an accelerated trial schedule, said it will delay land condemnation for all of the roughly 90 property owners along the route who have refused to sign easement contracts.

Meanwhile, the US State Department has been working toward a recommendation on whether or not construction of the pipeline is in the national interest. That recommendation was delayed, supposedly to await the resolution of the case that was before the Nebraska state supreme court. That case is now over. However, don't be surprised if this new case produces another delay in that State Department process.

Which actually is good: It often seems that the longer this drags out, the less "vital" the pipeline and the overall development of tar sands seems and the more transparent all the lies about all the jobs the project was supposed to provide become.

Sources cited in links:

192.4 - Update on right-wingers changing the rules

Update on right-wingers changing the rules

Next up, this I suppose is more of an expansion on something I talked about last week rather than an update.

Last week's Outrage of the Week involved the plan by House GOPpers to attack the federal Disability Insurance program by changing the rules in a way that makes it extremely difficult to keep the program fully funded.

Well, that's not the only example we have of right-wingers trying to change the rules in ways to guarantee themselves a win. Here's another:

It's a new rule adopted by the House of Representatives - henceforth to be known around here as The Asylum - that will require what's called "dynamic scoring" in gauging the budgetary effect of changes in taxes or spending by the federal government.

What the rule does is require that more macroeconomic effects be taken into account when analyzing the cost estimate of "major legislation," work now done by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office and the Joint Committee on Taxation. Put more simply, what the GOPpers want to do is to be able to assume that tax cuts will make the economy grow so much that the cuts will pay for themselves in increased revenue from a growing economy.

And if that sounds somehow familiar to some of us older folks, it's because it's what Ronald Reagan's people called "trickle down economics" in the early 1980s before it drove us into one of the worst recessions of the 20th century and ballooned annual federal deficits to six times what they had been before the Reaganites got in. Tragedy, then farce.

If that's not enough, here's another example: a series of bills to hinder the federal rule-making process, particularly on matters involving the environment; the EPA, like Social Security, having been on the right's hit list ever since it came into existence.

One such bill would loosen restrictions on corporate-backed scientists being members of scientific review panels by redefining what constitutes a conflict of interest - a redefinition which would at the same time bar panelists from advising the agency on matters “directly” or “indirectly” involving their own work, which essentially means that the people who actually did the research the panel is considering would not be allowed to defend their work as members.

Other bills would serve to drown the EPA in paperwork or an endless round of industry-inspired lawsuits over every detail of every proposed regulation, delaying such rules for years - if indeed they were ever finalized at all.

As always, those who push these bills say it's all about "accountability" and "transparency" and "fairness." And as always, they are lying through their teeth.

Sources cited in links:

192.3 - Update on Net neutrality

Update on Net neutrality

Next up, the topic of Net neutrality, which for those of you who missed last week's show I'll explain very briefly it means that all information traversing the Internet is treated equally, with no one's information getting special access or special accelerated transmission speed over anyone else's.

The FCC is scheduled to vote on February 26 on a proposal to regulate the Internet in a way that would preserve the open nature of the Net in which it has grown and flourished.

The update here is that the opponents of net neutrality, consisting mostly of greedy telecommunication giants like Comcast and Verizon and their bought-off stooges in Congress, are intensifying their campaign of lies, misdirection, and subtle intimidation to get the FCC to gut the proposal.

GOPpers are "investigating" the rule-making process, claiming Obama improperly influenced the FCC, apparently by having an opinion on the matter. They are ranting about "big government" and how the FCC is using "legal contortions and lawyer tricks" to "take over the Internet." Meanwhile, industry groups and fronts are putting out ads claiming the proposal will lead to higher taxes and more government surveillance and their lobbyist minions are parading through the offices of FCC staff with the same old cliches about Net neutrality will "stifle innovation," even though innovation doesn't seem to have been stifled in the years that Net neutrality has been the practice.

The vote, again, is on February 26. We'll let you know how things go.

Sources cited in links:

192.2 - Update on same-sex marriage in AL

Update on same-sex marriage in AL

I have several Updates to tell you about. The first is about the arguments over same-sex marriage in Alabama. As I said last week, a federal district court ruled that the state's can on same-sex marriage violates the US Constitution, but Roy Moore, chief justice of Alabama's state supreme court, ordered the county probate judges who issue marriage licenses to defy the order.

However, after one probate judge was directly ordered by the federal court to issue such licenses to same-sex couples, most counties went along so that by the end of last week, February 13, at least 50 of Alabama's 67 counties had decided to follow the federal court order.

However, Judge MooreStupidThanYouCanImagine keeps at it, saying on February 15 that "a trial court's decision on the constitutionality of a federal question is just that, it's an opinion." Which makes sense if and only if he's claiming that the order of a federal district court has no legal force. Which he probably is, since he also earlier suggested that his court is on the same level as a federal circuit court of appeals, with only the US Supreme Court above him.

And his court has agreed to consider a petition by two groups of anti-homosexual bigots who want the court to issue a formal order, known as a writ of mandamus, to all probate judges in the state demanding that they do not issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

On the other hand, Judge Steven Reed, who was the first probate judge in the state to announce he would issue same-sex marriage licenses, said he "didn't ask for [Moore's] opinion and frankly didn't need it." He admitted that same-sex marriage is still unpopular in Alabama, but said he and others who felt as he does are "on the right side of history where this is concerned."

Sources cited in links:

192.1 - Good News: PA suspends death penalty

Good News: PA suspends death penalty

Starting off, as I try to do every week, we see that Gov. Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania has suspended the use of the death penalty in his state. Quoting him,
If the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is going to take the irrevocable step of executing a human being, its capital sentencing system must be infallible. Pennsylvania’s system is riddled with flaws, making it error prone, expensive, and anything but infallible.
In addition to the costs involved in maintaining the death penalty system, which Wolf estimated at $300 million a year, the governor noted discrepancies in the racial makeup of death row inmates, the result, although the governor did not say this directly, of a racially-biased system. As one example of many of that bias, while whites make up about half of murder victims nationally, of those cases where the death penalty has been imposed since its return, 77% involved white victims. That is, you are much more likely to be sentenced to death for killing a white than for killing a non-white.

More strikingly, there have been 324 persons executed in cases involving interracial murders. Over 90% of them involved a black killing a white; less than 10% - 31 of 324, to be exact - involved a white killing a black.

The failures of the system go well beyond that, affecting justice even where racial bias does not enter into it. For example, speaking of Pennsylvania, a state Death Penalty Assessment Team reported a systemic failure to protect innocent people from lawyers who don’t provide strong defenses. It's a failure not limited to Pennsylvania, which is one of the reasons why nationally the numbers of people who are exonerated after being convicted, not just where reasonable doubt has been created but positively exonerated - including at least 111 who had been sentenced to death before being freed - keeps growing.

Wolf's moratorium will last until the Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment submits guidance on the use of capital punishment, which is supposed to come in the next couple of months. Which means that, unhappily, when that guidance is submitted and depending on what it is, the death penalty could return to Pennsylvania - but at least for now, the grim reaper will have to twiddle his thumbs. And that's good news.

Sources cited in links:{FAF6EDDB-5A68-4F8F-8A52-2C61F5BF9EA7}&FilterField1=Sentence&FilterValue1=Death

Left Side of the Aisle #192

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of February 19-25, 2015

This week:

Good News: PA suspends death penalty{FAF6EDDB-5A68-4F8F-8A52-2C61F5BF9EA7}&FilterField1=Sentence&FilterValue1=Death

Update on same-sex marriage in AL

Update on Net neutrality

Update on right-wing changing the rules

Update on Keystone XL

Footnote: Keystone opponents getting visits from FBI

Clown Award: "White Power" sign at high school basketball game

Update on NYPD "anti-terrorism" task force

Outrage of the Week: NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton blames the victims of police violence

Obama's AUMF for ISIS is about endless war

Saturday, February 14, 2015

191.9 - Clown Award: Kermit Elementary School, Kermit, TX

Clown Award: Kermit Elementary School, Kermit, TX

Finally for this week, we have our other regular feature, the Clown Award, given for an act of meritorious stupidity.

This week the Big Red Nose goes to the administration of Kermit Elementary School in Kermit, Texas.

A 9-year-old boy, Aiden Steward, had recently seen the movie “The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies.”* He came to school with a large blue ring which he said was "the one true ring" forged in Mount Doom. He told a classmate that he could make that classmate turn invisible if he put the ring on their head.

The school called that "a terroristic threat" and suspended him.

The principal, one Roxanne Greer, said threats, real or imagined, to another child’s safety would not be tolerated. So now even imaginary "threats" are "terroristic" even when they aren't threats - because remember, putting on the ring turns you invisible, but all you have to do to be visible again is take it off. Hey, Greer, the invisibility is the point. It's a feature, not a bug.

Greer refused to comment on the suspension, citing confidentiality policies. Right. The suspension isn't confidential, the claim it was a "threat to another child's safety" is not confidential, but the logical reasoning for it, when challenged by the local newspaper? Oh, that's confidential.

When did we become such a frightened people? When did "Be afraid, be very afraid" become our new national motto? Yes, I know, 9/11 and all that but this actually predates that. The wrong side of our society just took 9/11 and ran with it as a way of intensifying our already-existing inchoate fears and focusing them on a chosen enemy-of-the-moment. But the fear is constant, generalized, and is especially so when it comes to children, to the point where being a parent is almost guaranteed to make you a criminal at some point:

A woman in Chicago is charged with "contributing to the delinquency of a minor" for leaving her 4-year-old safely locked in her car, playing with his iPad, for literally four minutes while she ran an errand.

A couple in Maryland is being investigated by child services, with the risk of having their children taken from them, for alleged "child neglect" for letting their 10- and 6-year-old children walk on their own the one mile from a local park to their home.

A mother in South Carolina was charged with “unlawful conduct toward a child” for leaving her 9-year-old daughter alone to play in a park where there were a number of other children around.

A man in Ohio has been charged with "child endangerment" because, unbeknownst to him, his son skipped church to go play with friends.

This is insane. I expect most anyone my age could come up with a similar story, but I can recall that when I was about the age of about 8, my brother, who would have been about 10, and I would walk a mile to the bus stop, take the bus into town, walk to the train station, take the train to another town, and then walk a mile to our grandparents' house where our parents would pick us up after work. I shudder to think how many years in prison my parents would have spent if it was like today.

But let's leave that aside for now to get back directly to our clowns, who did even more to earn the Big Red Nose than simply to wet their administrative pants over a child's fantasy.

The Steward family moved to the Kermit Independent School District only six months ago. This is now the third time Aiden has been suspended this school year.

The first was for referring to a classmate as black. The second was for bringing his favorite book to school: "The Big Book of Knowledge." This is a popular children's encyclopedia. But the teacher discovered that the book had a section on pregnancy which included an illustration of a pregnant woman. That got Aiden suspended.

The administration of Kermit Elementary School: clearly, undeniably, a bunch of clowns.

*Personal note: I have not seen "The Battle of Five Armies," but I have seen "An Unexpected Journey" and "The Desolation of Smaug" and I have to tell you that the original Lord of the Rings trilogy was waaaaay better.

Sources cited in links:

191.8 - FCC Net neutrality vote scheduled for February 26

FCC Net neutrality vote scheduled for February 26

I'll be brief on this, but it's important and I want to be sure I get it in. It's about Net neutrality.

People tend to make it seem complicated, but it's not. It simply means that all data traveling across the Internet is treated equally. No traffic can get special treatment over other traffic. It's how the Internet has grown and flourished: this very if your will democratic notion that all information gets treated equally.

The telecomms hate this because they want to be able to charge websites extra fees in return for promises of higher speed as compared to those who can't come up with the bucks, creating a two-tier Internet, with higher speeds and better access for the big corporations who can afford the extra cost, slower speeds for the rest of us, and fatter bank accounts for the likes of Verizon and Comcast.

After a lot of effort and pressure, the FCC has agreed to vote on regulating the Internet under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, meaning it would be treated as a common carrier, similar to your phone service. And just like no phone call can be given automatic priority over another, there would be no fast and slow lanes for Internet traffic. (Citing the section of the law may seem overly wonkish, but it's necessary because the telecomms will claim that they, too, believe in regulation but they will cite a different section of the law which would not protect genuine Net neutrality. In other words, they are lying but hey, what do you expect.)

The vote is scheduled for February 26. You might want to give you Congressional reps a call to urge them to publicly support a free and open internet by supporting net neutrality.

Sources cited in links:

191.7 - Everything You Need to Know: about holding the powerful accountable

Everything You Need to Know: about holding the powerful accountable

Now for a case of Everything You Need to Know, where you can learn a great deal about something in a very short time.

In this case, it's Everything You Need to Know about taking the powerful to account for their actions in just one Tweet. It's from Ian Millhiser of Think Progress and it reads:
BREAKING: Brian Williams becomes first person in human history to suffer professional consequences for lying about the Iraq War.
And that is Everything You Need to Know.

Sources cited in links:

191.6 - Outrage of the Week: changing the rules to damage Disability Insurance

Outrage of the Week: changing the rules to damage Disability Insurance

Now it's time for one of our regular features, it's the Outrage of the Week.

The Outrage of the Week this week points back to something I've been considering for a while.

About six years ago, I began collecting what I called "The Rules," or, more completely, "The Right-Wing Rules for (Avoiding) Debate." The last time I updated them, about four years ago, there were 17 such rules, ranging from the direct "Deny, deny, deny" and "Attack, attack, attack" (Rules 1 and 2, respectively) to such as "Seize control of the Clock of History. Insist that all events outside the time frame most advantageous to your argument are irrelevant and must not be considered" (Rule 15).

It started out as a rather light-hearted undertaking, just poking fun at evasions and foolishness, but over time it became more serious, it became an indictment of the efforts of the right wing to avoid actual, factual, engagement on issues and to substitute accusation and obfuscation for investigation.

The list is, I said, "about deceit. About intellectual cowardice. About being a bully. About being a liar. It's about being an American rightwinger."

I mention that now because it's high time for Rule #18, which is "When the rules of the game do not guarantee you a win, change the rules."

That was on full display as the new Congress opened. The very first day of the new Congress, House GOPpers passed a rules package for the year that included one saying it would be out of order for Congress to reduce the actuarial balance of the Social Security retirement account. This, they said, was to "protect" Social Security

But what that means in practice, and the real intent of the rule, is that money cannot be shifted from one Social Security account - the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund, which is what we usually think of when we think of Social Security - to what is in fact another Social Security fund: Social Security Disability Insurance. But the funds in the Disability Insurance account have to be replenished or recipients - who are among the most vulnerable of our population - could see a 20% cut in their benefits by the end of next year. The normal way to do that would be to simply shift tax funds coming in from one account to the other. That is, a little less of the inflow going to the Old Age Fund and a little more going to Disability. This has been done 11 times before - and has gone both ways, depending on which account needed the extra nudge at that time. It has been uncontroversial and routine.

But not now. With this rule, such inter-account reallocation of taxes becomes impossible - because, obviously, there is no way to reduce the amount of tax money going into the Old-Age and Survivors Trust Fund without reducing the actuarial balance of the fund, which is calculated in part on an assumption of the portion of total Social Security taxes going to that fund.

And the thing is, this is no sudden crisis, this is no failure of the Disability Insurance fund, and most importantly, the right wing line that disability in recent years - just "in recent years," mind you - has become a sort of substitute welfare is a flaming lie: The last time one of these reallocations of tax income was done was in 1994 and it was predicted, expected, at that time that the Disability Insurance fund would need to be replenished in 2016. The need for replenishment is exactly what has been expected for the past 20-plus years.

So now the right wing, which has been trying to destroy Social Security since it was first created, and still failing at that, is now changing the rules in an attempt to undermine the smaller target of Disability Insurance while squawking and quacking that it's all about "protecting" seniors, the same seniors whose hard-earned benefits they have spent decades trying to strip away.

It is nothing short of an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

191.5 - The little Thing: "Wall Street- and business-friendly" equals "moderate"

The little Thing: "Wall Street- and business-friendly" equals "moderate"

Our next case of The little Thing starts with the reminder that a couple of shows ago I called it Good News when a Congressional revolt led by Elizabeth Warren succeded in blocking the nomination of yet another Wall Street banker, Antonio Weiss, to a spot at the Treauty Department.

In a rundown on the politics of the whole thing, said this:
It was not a total victory. Weiss will still join Treasury as an unconfirmed counselor to Secretary Jack Lew. But in terms of symbolism, the Washington power game and the ideological direction of the Democratic Party, Warren won big. And the moderate, Wall Street- and business-friendly wing of the party - in past years happily occupied by Democratic presidential nominee-in-waiting Hillary Clinton - got punched in the mouth.
Did you catch that? The "Wall Street- and business-friendly wing" among Dimcrats is defined as the "moderates." To be for Wall Street is to be a "moderate." Which means by definition, then, that to be for consumers, to be for workers, actually to be for "the little guy" that everyone claims to for, well that makes you some kind of a radical.

Let me tell you about these "moderates."

The 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform act included a provision called the "push-out rule." That rule says, essentially, that if banks and financial houses want to engage in risky trading in derivatives, they have to do it through separate non-bank affiliates that aren't insured by the FDIC and are less likely to receive government bailouts.

Banks, especially the Big Five of Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo, which together control 90% of the derivatives market, they of course hate the rule because they want to - again - gamble with taxpayer-backed money, confident they'll be bailed out - again - when it all blows up in their faces - again.

Well, the continuing resolution that the lame-duck Congress passed in December to keep the government funded not only included a provision that eviscerates the push-out rule, it does so in language that was written by lobbyists for Citigroup.

Don't believe me? Check the side-by-side comparison. On the left is the Citigroup draft of the involved section, on the right is the actual legislation. The colored sections are word-for-word identical.

An attempt was made to remove the provision from the final bill. It failed because those "moderate Democrats" weren't willing to challenge the party's big donors from Wall Street.

Face facts: These people, these "moderates" of the Democratic party, are not on your side. When they say they are, they are lying to you.

Sources cited in links:
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