Saturday, March 28, 2015

197.7 - White House denies Netanyahu's denials

White House denies Netanyahu's denials

The only good thing that has come out of all of this has been the response of the Obama administration. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest dubbed Netanyahu's remark about Arab voters "a pretty transparent effort to marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens and their right to participate in their democracy.”

And White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough dismissed NetanYahoo's lame attempt to pull an Emily Latella "never mind" on his campaign pledge to block a Palestinian state, saying “We cannot simply pretend that those comments were never made, or that they don’t raise questions about the prime minister’s commitment to achieving peace."

Obama is supposed to be "reassessing" the US relationship with Israel, including pulling down the diplomatic cover it has long given Israel at the United Nations as well as becoming less active in protecting Israel in international forums and finding new ways to express opposition to the expansion of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

But here's the thing, another example of when it comes to The Amazing Mr. O how the words soar while the deeds crawl if they move at all: Despite claims that matters have reached what one called "a tipping point," there is no sign yet of any actual changes in policy or much of anything else besides words.

Most importantly, the White House has specifically ruled out any reassessment of what is called "security cooperation" between the US and Israel - which means in point of actual fact the $3 billion in military aid the US gives to Israel every year.

As Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, noted, “The administration is putting everything on the table except security assistance." Rep. Adam Schiff added that "I think the military to military and intelligence cooperation is going to go on no matter who is" prime minister of Israel.
In other words, we're going to keep sending them the big bucks no matter what.

So why would Israel care about the rest of it? Why should they care?

Israel, particularly under governments such as NetanYahoo's, has shown itself time and again entirely willing to ignore the voices of the rest of the world, to ignore the International Court, to ignore the European Union, to ignore the United Nations, to ignore the Security Council, to ignore the United States, has shown itself to be immune to moral and ethical criticism no matter the source, and even now revels in its isolation as if that were a badge of honor and proof of its virtue instead of the judgment of world opinion.

Why, then, should the White House expect NetanYahoo to care about anything except the continued flow of US dollars, the continued flow of weapons, the continued flow of what makes possible his government's ability to simply ignore the rest of the world in pursuit of its own dreams of a modern Israel standing astride the Middle East like a colossus and rivaling King David's domains in the greatest imagined extent of their glory and power?

There is only one change in US policy that might have real impact: An end to so-called "security assistance." An end to military aid. Even that might not sway Israel from its denial of Palestinian rights, might not pause its theft of Palestinian land, might not hinder its on-going illegal annexation of the West Bank. But even if it's true that we may not be able to stay the hangman's hand, we can at least stop paying for the rope.

Sources cited in links:

197.6 - Defending my charge that Benjamin Netanyahu is a racist

Defending my charge that Benjamin Netanyahu is a racist

Okay, we've covered Benjamin Netanyahu being an imperialist, a liar, and a hypocrite. Which leaves racist.

While the polls were open, while the voting was taking place in Israel on March 17, NetanYahoo posted a video to Facebook in which he said, quoting
The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls. Left-wing organizations are busing them out. Get out to vote, bring your friends and family, vote Likud in order to close the gap between us and Labor.
He said it was the work of "the left" trying to "distort the true will of Israelis" and give "excessive power" to "radical Arabs."

This isn't even dog-whistle territory. By the way, if you've heard term but weren't sure of the origin, it came from the increasingly common practice among right-wingers and other assorted bigots to express their bigotry in vague or neutral-sounding code words with the idea that only the intended audience would "hear" what was being said.

But this doesn't even have the subtlety of a dog-whistle. This is blatant. "We are in danger! The Arabs are coming! The Arabs are coming! In droves! Busloads of them! Hurry, hurry, before it's too late!"

Presenting the image of Arabs voting - these Arabs, don't forget, are citizens of Israel - as a "danger," presenting the image of a group of Israeli citizens having a high rate of voter turnout as threatening, is patently, transparently, bigoted, racist, and foul.

And before you argue, as some have tried to do, that this was just election rhetoric and the only "threat" was to victory in a particular election, transfer the election to the US and the words to some US politician. "Our party is in danger. African-American voters are coming out in droves!" or "Our party is in danger. homosexual voters are coming out in droves!" or "Women voters are coming out in droves!" or "Hispanic voters" or for that matter "Jewish voters." Would any of those strike you as bigoted, as racist or homophobic or sexist or anti-Semitic? Would you dismiss them as meaningless electioneering rhetoric? If not - and I would hope the answer is no - then you cannot dismiss NetanYahoo's words.

Some didn't. For example, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, who is president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish denomination in the US, said he was "disheartened, distressed and frankly stunned" by NetanYahoo's video. He called it "anti-democratic and such a sad commentary on how Arab citizens of Israel are viewed."

The Rabbinical Assembly, an international association of conservative rabbis who normally don't comment on political matters, called NetanYahoo’s video "indefensible ... unacceptable ... divisive and undemocratic."

In Israel itself, the Zionist Union alliance, which was one of the groups running for seats in the Knesset, denounced the statement as racial fear-mongering, saying “No other Western leader would dare utter such a racist remark.”

Oh but that was before NetanYahoo turned liar and hypocrite again: Safely past the election, he offered a mealy-mouthed non-apology apology, saying he was "aware" that "some were offended" by what he said and he was "sorry" about that. Which is the classic mode of the non-apology apology: You'll notice that he didn't say "I said something offensive that I should not have said and I'm sorry," it's the passive voice "some were offended" - and in any event be assured that it was "never his intent" to offend and he's really really sorry that you took it that way.

Instead, he insisted his real concern in the statement was "foreign entities" interfering in the election. Which sounds kind of funny coming from someone who just a few weeks ago was in the US for the clear purpose of being a "foreign entity" undermining US foreign policy and negotiations with Iran. But more to the point, he never dealt with anything about "foreign entities" in the actual statement - and, again, transfer this to a US election: "When I talked about blacks voting in droves, I wasn't talking about them, I was talking about all those communists paying for the buses!" If that wouldn't persuade you that the original remark was entirely innocent, neither should NetanYahoo persuade you about his.

But then again, let's be entirely fair, which is more than he deserves. of course it wasn't his intent to offend. His intent was to gin up racist fears for his own personal, political, and ideological gain.

Well, then, does that mean that NetanYahoo isn't himself a racist, just someone who exploits racism? That's something I call a distinction without a difference. You don't get to play that game: You use racism, you exploit racism, you employ racism, you are a racist. Which means that if you are Benjamin NetanYahoo, you are a racist. Perioid.

Sources cited in links:

197.5 - Defending my charge that Benjamin Netanyahu is a liar and a hypocrite

Defending my charge that Benjamin Netanyahu is a liar and a hypocrite

I also said Netanyahu is a liar and a hypocrite, and again it is the West Bank along with Gaza that provides the clear evidence.

In 2009, Benjamin NetanYahoo made a widely-noted speech in which he pledged a commitment to the two-state solution, i.e., an independent Palestinian state existing side-by-side with Israel in mutual recognition.

Not long after that, Ron Dermer, who was NetanYahoo's aide at the time of the speech and now is Israel's ambassador to the US, promised UK Prime Minister Tony Blair in writing that Israel would not only give the Palestinians a state, but one along the lines of the Green Line, the 1967 borders of Israel.

Okay, with that in mind: On March 7 of this year, NetanYahoo was quoted by his party as saying Israel will not cede any territory for the for the establishment of a Palestinian state. There would be "no withdrawals" from the West Bank and "no concessions." Likud party spokesman Elie Bennett said Netanyahu's 2009 speech was "not relevant" in the "current realities."

The next day, March 8, NetanYahoo's office issued a statement claiming he "never said such a thing," and that he still supported a two-state solution.

On March 16, on the eve of the Israeli elections, NetanYahoo himself flatly ruled out a Palestinian state, saying that if he was re-elected he would absolutely not agree to that.

Then, on March 19, having won the most seats in the Knesset with the likelihood of remaining as prime minister, NetanYahoo told MSNBC that he wants “a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution."

That's a record which surely would seem to make him a liar.

But it's even worse because every one of those pronouncements is chock full of weasel words about a Palestinian state "someday" or "in the future" or "when conditions improve" or-or-or, often along with conditions to be imposed on such a state that he knows - he has to know - are unlikely to be acceptable to the Palestinians.

Weasel words, that is, that make it possible for him to say both that he is for and against a Palestinian state while insisting he never actually changed his position, a position that makes a Palestinian state one forever pushed into the distant future.

Which would mean the March 7 statement from Likud, the one he denied the next day, had it spot on when it described NetanYahoo's "entire political biography" as "a fight against the creation of a Palestinian state."

Because that's what he's dong: hiding behind weasel words and emphasizing whichever part, "for" or "against," is politically useful at the moment ("I'm FOR a two-state solution [whisper] eventually, someday." "I'm AGAINST a two-state solution [whisper] for now.") but each of which serves the same purpose of always pushing an independent Palestinian state into some undefined future.

In other words, no Palestinian state. Ever. Israeli control of all of Judea and Samaria. Forever. Without him ever having the integrity or the guts to say so directly. Which makes him both a liar and a hypocrite.

Sources cited in links:,7340,L-4634773,00.html

197.4 - Defending my charge that Benjamin Netanyahu is an imperialist

Defending my charge that Benjamin Netanyahu is an imperialist

I said last week that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is an imperialist, a liar, a hypocrite, and a racist and that I would defend each of those assertions this week. So let's take them in order.

Imperialist? How else would you describe the continued expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, settlements all but universally regarded by the world community - including the EU, the US, the Int Court of Justice, the United Nations, and almost all experts on international law - as illegal? Netanyahu has made no secret of his intent to continue expanding those settlements, which are already home to nearly 400,000 Israelis in 121 settlements, not even counting the additional 375,000 Israelis living in East Jerusalem in land stolen from Palestinians.

Writing in the Jerusalem Post in December 2013, political scientist (and resident of Jerusalem) Daniel Steiman said:
It is abundantly clear to most observers that the settlements built in the territories were always intended to eventually be permanent parts of the State of Israel.
That also means, although Steiman was not quite this blunt, the Israeli excuses that the seizures were temporary necessary security measures were bold-faced lies - unless, that  is, "temporary" means "forever" and "security" means "stealing enough Palestinian land to have total Israeli control of the West Bank."

That is, the settlements constitute a land grab intended to present the world with a fait accompli that the West Bank just IS part of Israel so suck it up and stop whining about it. That has long been the policy of right-wing Israeli parties, including Likud, which is NetanYahoo's poltical party.

As a sidebar, I'll say that my views on what constitutes justice in the Middle East began to change some years ago when I learned from a friend who was an expert on the region that the slogan of Likud translated to "Both sides of the Jordan" - which would encompass not only all of Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank but a good part of modern-day Jordan.

Under NetanYahoo's government, those illegal settlements not only have been expanded, the pace of the expansion has increased.

Even people who are aware of the West Bank often don't grasp what the situation on the ground is. They think of the West Bank, they think of a map like the top one on the left: there's Israel, there's the West Bank.

But a better view of the situation on the ground is the map on the right. Every one of those red dots is an Israeli Jewish settlement. Every black circle is an Israeli outpost.

An even better sense of it can be seen in the lower map on the left: The brown areas of the West Bank are under the control of the Palestinian Authority. They are the only areas in the West Bank under that governance. The yellow areas are under what is supposed to be "joint" control: The Palestinian Authority runs civil matters, is responsible for trimming the trees and schools and picking up the trash and the like, but the Israeli military controls security. All the rest, everything in pale blue, is under exclusive Israeli control, an area peppered with Israeli settlements, which are marked in darker blue.

Simply put, the Palestinian population has been sliced up into a series of Bantustans and Palestinians often need the permission of the Israeli military forces to get from one area of Palestinian Authority control to another.

And the process of erasing the reality of a Palestinian homeland is continuing and not just in the West Bank but in East Jerusalem as well. Just last June, NetanYahoo's government expanded plans for over 1,000 Jewish settlement homes to be constructed in East Jerusalem openly and avowedly as an act of retaliation against the new Palestinian government after the Palestinians committed the horrible atrocity of voting in a free election for a government the Israelis don't like.

What is so horrible about that government? Hamas supports it as part of an effort to end the long-standing alienation between Hamas, which politically dominates the Gaza Strip, and the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank - that is, governs to the extent which Israel allows. That alienation also included a civil war, one which, I will note, Israel and the US helped spark - I maintain deliberately - by refusing to deal with a previous Palestinian coalition government.

You need to know that this new Palestinian government does not include any members of Hamas. It doesn't include any members of any other Palestinian partisan movement. In fact, it's mostly made of of technocrats. Israel doesn't care. The very fact that Hamas says it supports it brands it as, in the words of Israel’s housing minister, Uri Ariel, "the Palestinian terror government." He called the new construction "an appropriate Zionist response" to the Palestinian elections. Which I suppose is true if and only if "Zionist" means "imperialist."

Now,  of course being Zionist doesn't mean you are an imperialist. But being Benjamin NetanYahoo means that you are.

Sources cited in links:

197.3 - Clown Award: George Zimmerman

Clown Award: George Zimmerman

Okay, now let's turn to our other regular feature, the Clown Award, given for an act of meritorious stupidity.

The winner of the Big Red Nose this week? Well, he's baaack. It's George Zimmerman, who shot and killed unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin during a scuffle in 2012 and almost immediately mastered the right-wingers' favorite pose of portraying himself as the real victim.

He hasn't lost his touch. In a video posted on his lawyer's website, he says he feels no guilt whatsoever about what happened, saying "you cannot feel guilty for surviving."

Actually, yes, you can and moral people often do. Take Zimmerman at his word. Accept what he claims, that he had to shoot Trayvon Martin in defense of his own life. People who have had that experience often do feel guilt over having killed another human being and it takes them some time and effort to come to terms with that fact and forgive themselves. Apparently it took George Zimmerman no time or effort at all to shake it off - which tells me more about George Zimmerman's character than I think I ever wanted to know.

George Zimmerman
But where it gets funny is when he asked on the video who treated him badly, who treated him the worst. Well, of course, who else could it be? It was Barack Obama. Or, to quote Zimmerman exactly, "Barack Hussein Obama" and whenever anyone does that I wonder how many other people they refer to including their middle name. But the point is, everything is Obama's fault, isn't it? It has to be! If Obama had only known enough to be as white as all the presidents before him, none of this "race stuff" would be happening.

It gets better. He lashed out at the Congressional Hispanic Caucus because it didn't side with him in the Martin case. "They threw me under the bus without knowing anything about my character." They likely knew a lot more about his character than he knew about Trayvon Martin's when he decided to follow him and confront him. The lack of self-awareness is astonishing.

But the kicker is that he actually linked his story to that of Anne Frank. Anne Frank, the teenager who spent two years with a group of people in a hidden room, hiding from the Nazis in occupied Amsterdam during World War II, only to be betrayed, caught, and sent to a concentration camp where she died. Yeah, exactly like George Zimmerman.

Well, George Zimmerman may not be any Anne Frank, but he surely is a clown.

Sources cited in links:

197.2 - Outrage of the Week: non-existent policy on climate change claims its first victim

Outrage of the Week: non-existent policy on climate change claims its first victim

The Outrage of the Week this week is a continuation of last week's Outrage of the Week. Then, I described the outrage of Florida Gov. Rick "Voldemort" Scott banning the use of the terms global warming, climate change, and sustainability in any official form or report.

As part of that, I noted that Voldemort's administration claimed there was "no policy" on such a ban. Well, now we learn that that claim has as much connection to reality as does their claim that global warming doesn't matter.

On March 18, the group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, or PEER, released a statement on the case of Barton Bibler, a longtime employee of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

Gov. Rick "Voldemort" Scott
On February 27, he attended a meeting of the Florida Coastal Managers Forum and provided to hid managers a partial summary of what was discussed. That summary included some references to climate change - such as, for example, quoting his summary, "FEMA Floodplain - Climate Change Guidance."

As a result, his superiors at the DEP told him to remove all references to climate change and issued a letter of reprimand for supposedly misrepresenting that the “official meeting agenda included climate change" even though his notes made no claim to being an official agenda. He was ordered to not come to work for two days, at the end of which time to received a "Medical Release Form" requiring that his doctor supply the DEP with an evaluation of unspecified "medical condition and behavior" issues before he would be allowed to return to work, a form that required him to allow the release of all his personal medical records to the DEP.

All, apparently, based on that policy that doesn't exist.

What's more, it develops that at least two other states either have or had similar bans. Last fall, a former employee of the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources reported that she was explicitly ordered to remove references to “climate change” from the agency’s website by members of the administration of now-ex-PA Gov. Tom Corbett. (Corbett lost his attempt at re-election in November.) And last summer, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources was found to be removing links and documents about climate change from its website.

And this is going on at a time when network TV news continues to ignore climate change. According to a study by media watchdog group FAIR, between January 25 and March 4 the three networks with regular evening news shows - ABC, CBS, and NBC - had a total of 479 stories about extreme weather, most of them about the blizzards in the northeast. Not only did they almost completely ignore the equally-dramatic record heat and drought being experienced by the western US, only eight of those stories even mentioned climate change, even though an increase in severe weather such as has been seen over the past years is a sign of climate change.

I don't know which is worse: Right-wing politicos suppressing reality or major media ignoring it. I do know that each is an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

197.1 - Good News: X-Files returns

Good News: X-Files returns

We'll start with some Good News, at least I think it's good news. It's a quick totally non-political admission of a guilty pleasure: FOX has announced that it's bringing back The X-Files for a limited, six-episode run. Fox Mulder and Dana Scully - in the form of David Duchovney and Gillian Anderson because how could it be otherwise - will be back, and the stories will be shepherded to the screen by the creator of the original series, Chris Carter.

X-Files ran nine seasons, winning 16 Emmys and spawning two feature films. It's a measure of the show's impact that even now, 13 years after it went off the air, just say "Mulder and Scully" and most people will know exactly what you're referring to.

Production will start in the summer. There was no announcement of a premiere date nor if anyone else from the original show will be involved. Personally, I'm rooting for a place to be found for Mitch Pileggi - Agent Skinner, that is.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #197

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of March 26 - April 1, 2015

This week:
Good News: X-Files returns

Outrage of the Week: non-existent policy on climate change claims its first victim

Clown Award: George Zimmerman

Defending my charge that Benjamin Netanyahu is an imperialist

Defending my charge that Benjamin Netanyahu is a liar and a hypocrite,7340,L-4634773,00.html

Defending my charge that Benjamin Netanyahu is a racist

White House denies Netanyahu's denials

Saturday, March 21, 2015

196.7 - Teaser for next week

Teaser for next week

I have about one minute to do this, so it will be quick.

It appears that Benjamin Netanyahu will again be prime minister of Israel. As I do this, that is not a certainty, but it is quite likely.

Israel is a parliamentary system and has multiple parties, so to form a government Netanyahu must get the support of enough parties to have enough seats to make up a majority in the 120-member Israeli parliament, the Knesset. His existing coalition government had a bare majority of 61 seats.

Benjamin Netanyahu
The thing is, while NetanYahoo's own Likud Party did very well, gaining 12 seats, other right-wing parties lost seats. So his "natural coalition," that is, one that would be formed of more-or-less compatible parties, comes up short at only 57 seats. That means he must gain the agreement of one of the centrist parties and while that is likely, such agreements are never 100% certain until they happen.

If for some reason he can't form a government, his rival Isaac Herzog, leader of the Labour Party, would have the next shot.

Still, the expectation is the NetanYahoo will remain prime minister. Which it is why it is relevant, indeed important, to say this:

Benjamin NetanYahoo is a liar, a hypocrite, an imperialist, and a racist.

And I will defend every one of those contentions next week.

195.6 - Global warming: the evidence keeps mounting

Global warming: the evidence keeps mounting

Professor Wanless had it right: Denying climate change is criminal. Just criminal. It is gross criminal negligence. I haven't talked about climate change for some time, but that doesn't mean the evidence hasn't just kept on piling up.

For one example, a paper published on March 9 in the peer-review scientific journal Nature Climate Change concluded that global warming is poised to accelerate at rates unseen for at least 1,000 years. What's more, the Arctic, North America and Europe will be the first areas to transition to a new climate.

Over the past 1,000 years, temperatures have typically fluctuated up or down by about 0.2°F per decade. But over the past 40 years the trend has been upward at a rate approaching 0.4°F per decade, double the typical rate and just barely within historical bounds. By 2020, that rate should exceed those bounds and if greenhouse gas emissions continue on their current trend, the rate of warming will reach 0.7°F per decade and stay that high until at least 2100. This could mean an increase of something like four degrees Celsius by 2100 on top of the increase already seen: this is disaster territory.

We don't have to wait until then to see impacts of climate change - or at all, for that matter. There is evidence linking climate change to both the heavy snowfalls and blizzards in the east and northeast US this year and the extended heat and drought in California which has left the state with just one year's supply of water to climate change - an effect repeated on the other side of the globe, where climate change has also been linked to the devastating heat waves and droughts being seen by Australia.

And it promises to get worse: winter storms have been increasing in frequency and intensity since the 1950s while new research, published in the journal Science Advances last month, predicts that drought conditions unprecedented in 1,000 years are likely to hit the Southwest and Central Plains after 2050, with a more than 80 percent chance of a 35-year-or-longer "megadrought."

According to NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, sea levels in the northeast US rose just under 4 inches in one year, between 2009 and 2010, a level called "unprecedented" in the history of the tide gauge record and is said to represent a 1-in-850 year event.

Greenland may now be warmer than at any point in the last 100,000 years and may well have passed a point of no return where natural feedback cycles will cause the rate of ice melt to accelerate - and that rate has already increased to six times what it was in 2001.

Meanwhile, two peer-reviewed studies from January predict that extreme versions of El Niño and La Niña will likely occur nearly twice as often as a result of global warming if greenhouse gases continue increasing on their current trajectory. That means that people living around the Pacific Ocean basin, including in parts of Asia, Australia, and western North and South America, should expect wilder climate swings in the future, including torrential rains alternating with searing droughts, with the prospect of tens of thousands more weather-related deaths and mass economic damage.

A study published last month in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, two zoologists studying parasites in drastically different environments - one in the Arctic, the other in the tropics - made the same discoveries: As climate change caused habitats to shift or disappear for certain species, parasites unexpectedly were able to "jump" to other species, species that will not have developed resistance to those parasites. At the same time, climate change will also open up new areas into which pathogens can spread. The result: The rate of, and the damage done by, outbreaks of diseases such as bird flu, cholera, Ebola, plague, tuberculosis, and others can be expected to increase.

To cap it all off, you know that so-called "pause" in global warming that the right-wing has been harping on for a while now ("There's been no warming in blah blah years!") - a pause that wasn't actually a pause but just a slower increase?

There is a reason for it: Research reported the end of February in the peer-reviewed journal Science found that the slowdown was caused by an interaction between two naturally-occurring oscillations of ocean winds and conditions, one affecting the Atlantic Ocean and one affecting the Pacific. Without getting into technical details, the result of the interaction was that excess heat has been getting piled up in the tropical waters of the western Pacific.

The results explain why ocean temperatures have been rising faster than anyone expected while land temperatures, the ones we normally hear about, have been rising slower than expected, creating the false so-called "pause" in global warming.

What this means in sum is that the effect of these natural oscillations has been to suppress the evidence of human-driving warming. As that Pacific oscillation moves out of one phase into another, as it now is appearing to do, Pacific trade winds will slacken so the heat will not get piled up in one area of the ocean but will be released to the air.

Which means that over the next few to several years we could well see a dramatic spike in global temperatures. Some have suggested that might convince some of the nanny-nanny naysayers about climate change. Maybe, but I've come to doubt it. Perhaps the bigger question is will we be ready when the spike comes. I doubt that as well. I am afraid I have become a pessimist about this.

Sources cited in links:

196.5 - Outrage of the Week: Florida bans the term "climate change"

Outrage of the Week: Florida bans the term "climate change"

Next up, it's our other regular feature, the Outrage of the Week.

I actually wanted to do this last week when it was fresh news, but time got in the way. But it's too important to let slide. So we'll do it now.

The state of Florida is the region most susceptible to the effects of global warming in the US over the next decades. Sea-level rise alone threatens 30 percent of the state’s beaches over the next 85 years.

Last year, the National Climate Assessment named Miami as one of the cities in the United States most vulnerable to damage from rising sea levels. A Southeast Florida Regional Climate Compact paper has also warned that water in the area could rise by as much as two feet by the year 2060.

Such effects are of course the result of global warming or climate change, if you prefer; it doesn't matter, they both mean the same thing.

Despite that, according to work done by the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting, Florida Governor Rick Scott, better known as Voldemort, has banned state researchers and officials charged with dealing with the impacts of global warming from using the terms  "climate change," "global warming," or "sustainability" in any official communications, emails, or reports.

Even the term "sea-level rise" was banned in favor of - get this - "nuisance flooding," although that last prohibition appears to have been lifted. Either that or no one could say "nuisance flooding" with a straight face.

Florida Gov. Voldemort
One example of the effect of this cited by the Center for Investigative Reporting is the Florida Oceans and Coastal Council’s Annual Research Plan, put together by state agencies. The 2009-2010 report, published the year before Voldemort was elected, contains 15 references to climate change, including a section that called it a “research priority.” In the 2014-15 edition of the report, the term "climate change" appears only if it is in the title of a past report or conference.

The ban, according to former employees of the state Department of Environmental Protection, consultants, and volunteers who spoke with the Center's reporters, was instituted shortly after Voldemort was elected and was transmitted verbally and passed down the hierarchy - with the result that Voldemort's administration will say "there is no policy on this" because there is nothing in writing.

Meanwhile, Voldemort slinks along, ignoring the peril to his state while keeping Nagini close. Asked in 2010 if he believed in climate change, he said "No." Asked again last year, he slithered what has become the default answer for right-wingers on the subject: "Well, I'm not a scientist." Just once I'd like to see a follow up question of "Why aren't you listening to the people who are?"

University of Miami professor Harold Wanless said that at this point "It’s beyond ludicrous" and even "criminal" to deny the term climate change.

It is all that. And it is an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

196.4 - Another good move by the FCC

Another good move by the FCC

I have talked several times about the issue of net neutrality, the idea that all data on the internet should be treated equally, including my pleasure at the FCC vote last month supporting a strong version of the concept.

But amid all the discussion about that, there was something else the FCC did that got missed, something that has a lot of potential to do a lot of good.

On the same day it voted in favor of net neutrality, the FCC also voted to overturn laws in Tennessee and North Carolina that restricted the ability of local government to provide Internet service to their own residents.

Chattanooga, Tenn., and Wilson, N.C. currently provid Internet service, but state government had prevented them from expanding to reach more residents. They filed petitions asking the FCC to overturn those laws limiting local broadband, which the FCC granted.

The telecomms of course hate public broadband because it interferes with their monopoly powers and their profits, and they have been lobbying state legislatures around the country for laws to block municipalities from offering public internet access, arguing simultaneously that it is unfair for them to have to compete against government-owned Internet providers and that such public projects are often expensive failures. Why it would be hard for them to compete against expensive failures is hard to understand - except that considering that cable companies consistently rank at the bottom in customer satisfaction, maybe it's not so hard to understand after all.

Because the vote was on the petitions presented, the FCC's action only affects those two states and such restrictions in any other states with similar laws are still in force. However, it does give strong indication that the agency would look with similar favor on other such petitions from other cities and towns.

This should not be considered in isolation but rather as the result of the huge movement of ordinary people to push for net neutrality - with the result that we or at least some of us may get meaningful internet competition or even, if we lobby our local governments hard enough, free local wireless services.

Sources cited in links:

196.3 - Clown Award: Sen. Lindsay Graham

Clown Award: Sen. Lindsay Graham

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

This week, it's quite appropriate because it's for someone who not only talks the talk and walks the walk, he even sorta looks the part.

The Big Red Nose this week goes to South Carolina senator and militarist nut case, Lindsey Graham.

At a “Politics and Pie” forum hosted by the Republican Committee of Concord, New Hampshire last weekend, Senator Grahamcracker was asked about the automatic so-called "cuts" in military spending under sequestration required under an earlier budget agreement - cuts which we should recall are not cuts, but smaller increases. Anyway, this was his answer:
I worried about this from day one. I'm sick to my stomach. And here is the first thing I would do if I were President of the United States: I wouldn’t let Congress leave town until we fix this. I would literally use the military to keep them in if I had to. We’re not leaving town until we restore these defense cuts. We’re not leaving town until we restore the intel cuts. Killing terrorists is the only option other than capturing them, because they're not deterred by death.
No one at the time seems to have asked our clown if he realized that what he had just proposed was, effectively, a military coup, a military overthrow of the government, that he as commander-in-chief would use the military under his command to force Congress to vote the way he tells them to. Maybe they were too busy trying to figure out how terrorists are not deterred by death, since death usually puts a real crimp in anyone's plans.

After word of this got out, Grahamcracker's staff reached for the first and most obvious defense: He was joking! C'mon! Just a little hyperbole! He wasn't serious!

The usual crowd of boot-licking so-called journalists who build their lives around convincing themselves that people like Grahamcracker really are responsible national leaders jumped on board audible sighs of relief. Oh, well, glad that's settled! Get a sense of humor, would ya?

Except - except based on the recording of his statement, the folks there didn't seem to think it was a joke: Even David Weigel, who used to be a reporter until he realized that kissing the butt of every politician in DC was better for his career and who happily lapped up the "just joking" excuse, admits the "joke" got "some rueful chuckles" and "not much else." Considering that Grahamcracker was before much the same sort of crowd in front of which, back in 2008, his BFF John McCain't offered to appreciative laughter his side-splitter about "bomb-bomb-bomb, bomb-bomb Iran," taking Grahamcracker at his word probably wasn't hard to them to do.

Lindsey Grahamcracker
Or, frankly, for me. This is a guy, remember, whose only criticism of the Amazing Mr. O's lovely little war is that it is little, not big. Not big and bloody and spread across two and possibly three nations. This is a guy who has never seen a tank he didn't want to send crashing over houses, who has never seen a bomb he didn't want to drop, who has never see blood he wasn't willing to see shed. He is a militarist who sees war and more war as the solution to every international problem.

Do I find it at all difficult to see such a man as seriously entertaining the notion of using the military to make Congress do his bidding?

No, I don't.

But even if I'm wrong, even if he was merely being hyperbolic, the very fact that his repeated statements and his consistent public stands are of a sort that makes it reasonable to believe he was serious, that very fact alone is enough to brand Lindsey Graham as someone unworthy of public office and as an unremitting clown.

Sources cited in links:

196.2 - Not Good News: bigots gonna be bigots

Not Good News: bigots gonna be bigots

But don't be fooled: This doesn't mean the struggle is over. Even if the Supreme Court rules as we hope it will - and as court watchers suspect it will - on same-sex marriage, that is not the only issue, as the Utah bill makes clear. Bigotry is still the default position in too many places on too many fronts.

For example, according to an Oklahoma State Senator Joseph Silk, LGBT folks don’t have a right to be served in public places if the proprietors say they have “sincerely held religious beliefs” to the contrary. Which, when you come right down to it, means they don't have a right to be served, period, because you don't need a right to be served  in a place that is happy to have you there.

He has introduced a bill that would shield businesses from lawsuits for discriminating against customers on that basis.

He openly acknowledged that LGBT people are the target of his bill, claiming that their desire to have their civil rights protected is "the primary thing that’s going to be challenging religious liberties and the freedom to live out religious convictions."

He followed that up with a statement on his campaign website that said LGBT people are "a threat to our freedoms and liberties" because they are campaigning for their civil rights.

Joseph Silk
According to Silk’s bill, businesses, including non-profits, would have the right to deny “Services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, and goods or privileges,” to anyone who offends their tender religious sensibilities. They also could refuse to provide counseling, adoption, foster care and other social services, while also refusing to hire a person based upon their gender or sexual orientation.

Now, that is a bill. It doesn't mean it will pass. Although this is Oklahoma we are talking about.

More to the point, Oklahoma is not the only state considering such a law.  Arkansas, Georgia, Colorado, Hawaii, Indiana, Michigan, West Virginia, South Dakota, and Wyoming have recently considered or are considering similar "God gave me the right to be a bigot" bills. Not all will be successful, but it does point up the need for continued efforts for this aspect of human rights.

Even when local governments try to do the right thing, they can face obstacles from above. For example, Arkansas and Tennessee have both passed laws barring local governments from protecting LGBT people against discrimination. The Arkansas bill is new; the Tennessee law passed back in 2011.

Even though it is clear what these bills are about - for example, the Arkansas bill came about because the town of Fayetteville, AR tried to extend civil rights protections to gays and lesbians last year - lawmakers in both states claim the measures will withstand constitutional challenge because they don't specifically single out LGBT people.

Even so, that challenge may come fairly soon: Officials in Little Rock are reported to be thinking about passing a gay and lesbian civil rights ordinance anyway, which could form the basis of a lawsuit to challenge the state law.

But here's the thing, the thing to remember. Look at this map. The states in dark green have as least some legal protections for LGBT people. Those in light green have at least some protections for lesbians and gays but not for transgender folks. In all those other states, all that field of white, there are no legal protections. You can be fired for being gay. You can be denied service in a restaurant if you are lesbian. You can be kicked out of a store if you are transgender. You can be denied housing, denied services, denied employment - and under state law it's all legal. Federal law provides some limited protection, but a far as state law goes, you got bupkus.

Yes, we are winning on same sex marriage and yes there is progress - just consider the Mormon Church and the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council. That doesn't mean there isn't more to do.

Sources cited in links:

196.1 - Good News: progress on LGBT rights

Good News: progress on LGBT rights

Well, let's start with some Good News.

First up, the Obama administration has filed a brief expressing its view on the case before the Supreme Court on same-sex marriage. The brief urges the Court to find such bans "incompatible with the Constitution" and says that state bans on same-sex marriage, quoting,
impose concrete harms on same-sex couples and send the inescapable message that same-sex couples and their children are second-class families, unworthy of the recognition and benefits that opposite-sex couples take for granted.
Now it's good that the White House has done that. And hopefully it will have some good impact on the Court's consideration of the case. But even though I have focused on that a lot, there is more to this than marriage.

In line with that, I have to say that while in the whole world of affairs and issues I suppose this next thing is a rather small thing, but still it has some meaning; itstands as an indication of progress that in many ways may be more important that how Barack Obama has "evolved" on marriage.

For the first time in its 114-year history, the Boston St. Patrick's Day parade included gay and lesbian groups. OutVets, a service group for gay and lesbian military veterans, and the rights group Boston Pride were among the roughly 100 organizations taking part in the annual parade through Southie.

It is a dramatic turnaround by the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council, the organizers of the event. Back in 1995 they went all the way to the Supreme Court to successfully defend their right as a supposedly "private" event to exclude anyone they wanted - which, in practice, meant gay- and lesbian-rights groups.

But 20 years is more than a lifetime on this particular topic, and this year the Council voted 5-4 to allow OutVets and Boston Pride to take part, with the Council's commander, Brian Mahoney, saying "Who am I to judge?" when asked about sexual orientation.

Meanwhile, the state of Utah, of all places, the state ranked the second most Republican and fourth most conservative in the country, has passed a compromise bill that bars discrimination against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender individuals in employment and housing while carving out accommodations for individuals and institutions with what they claim are conscience-based objections.

The bill has shortcomings: For one practical thing, while it bans discrimination in employment and housing, it does not address public accommodations: stores, restaurants, hotels and motels, entertainment venues, and so on. For another, carve-outs from civil rights protections are always objectionable; giving certain people what amounts to a license to discriminate in their economic activities is never justified. What's more, extending the carve-out to individuals, as was done here, rather than to just organizations and institutions, could prove to be a huge loophole that would render the whole enterprise essentially meaningless.

Why, despite all that, is this a sign of progress? Because it was Utah - and because the bill came with the full support of the Mormon Church, which initiated the discussions with LGBT rights groups in the state that lead to the compromise bill.

Troy Williams, executive director of Equality Utah, said the bill was something "no one thought was possible." And just a few years ago, it wouldn't have been.

Nor would the White House have been calling for an end to state bans on same-sex marriage. Nor would OutVets and Boston Pride have been marching in the St. Pat's Day parade. So yes, this is all Good News.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #196

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

This week:

Good News: progress on LGBT rights

Not Good News: bigots gonna be bigots

Clown Award: Sen. Lindsay Graham

Another good move by the FCC

Outrage of the Week: Florida bans the term "climate change"

Global warming: the evidence keeps mounting

Friday, March 13, 2015

195.9 - And Another Thing: researchers make quantum photograph of light as simultaneously wave and particles

And Another Thing: researchers make quantum photograph of light as simultaneously wave and particles

Last for this week, another reach into the pile labeled And Another Thing.

All right, here's the deal. The argument that had gone on in science for a few hundred years about whether light is a wave or stream of particles was solved by Einstein: It's both, simultaneously.

This also meant in practice that if you looked at light as if it were a wave, you detected it as a wave. If you looked at it like it was a stream of particles, called photons, you detected it as a stream of particles. What you got depended on how you looked at it. In a way, it's like trying to describe how you see a piece of paper: It will depend on whether you are looking at it broadside on or edge-on; both are accurate descriptions of the same paper, but will still be considerably different.

But here's the problem: If light is both particles and a wave, how can you see it as both at the same time? You would think you should be able to since it is both, but how can you do that if how you see it depends on how you look at it? How can you see the broadside view and the edge-on view of the paper at the same time?

A team of Swiss and American researchers at the EPFL labs in Switzerland say they have overcome the problem. Using an advanced electron microscope - one of only two of that type on the planet - the team has generated a kind of quantum photograph of light behaving as both a particle and a wave.

First, the team fired laser light at an extremely thin wire and created a standing wave. You know what that is: Think of having a rope secured at one end and you flip the free end, sending a wave down the rope which bounces back from the secured end. But if you keep flipping in the correct rhythm, you can set up a pattern where the waves in the rope don't move along it but just go up and down. That's a standing wave.

Okay, having done that, the researchers then fired a stream of electrons very close to the wire, so close that the electrons interacted with the photons, that is, the particles of light, causing a transfer of energy that would case the particles to either speed up or slow down. That change can be detected and measured.

Then all you have to do is "take a picture" - which in this case is a lot more complicated than whipping out your iPhone and involves a lot of mathematical reconstruction, but the idea of "getting an image" is pretty much the same.

The result is what you see in the illustration: the world's first photo showing light behaving as both a wave and a particle. The wave depiction is at the top, and the bottom slice shows the photons.

And if you don't think that's cool, there is no hope for you.

Sources cited in links:

195.8 - And Another Thing: researchers find fish living beneath 740 meters of ice

And Another Thing: researchers find fish living beneath 740 meters of ice

Enough of all that for now. It has been some time since we have done an episode of And Another Thing, our occasional side trip away from all things political to take a look at some cool stuff - usually, as it is today, cool science stuff. We have two such bits today, and to refer to this first one as cool science is especially apt because that's what it is: cool. Literally.

Scientists have been studying the interactions between glaciers and the land at the point where the glacial flow is entering the sea, the better to understand how glaciers move and the potential impact on them of climate change. To do that you obviously have to see the bottom of the glacier and to do that, obviously, you have to drill through it.

Researchers had been doing that at the Ross Ice Shelf, the world's largest slab of glacial ice. It hangs off the coast of Antarctica and yes, it is big: about the size of France. It's the one marked in red on the map. The drilling site, naturally enough, was right by the coast of Antarctica.

They drilled down through 740 meters of ice - that's over 2400 feet, getting close to a half-mile - to reach a narrow wedge of seawater at the bottom. This wedge of seawater is just 10 meters, about 33 feet, deep, trapped between hundreds of meters of ice above and the barren, rocky seafloor below.

It is a place of perpetual dark and perpetual cold, a location so remote, so hostile, the scientists expected to find nothing but microbes living there.

Instead, to their great surprise, they found fish. Fish and other aquatic animals.

To make it even more surprising, the spot is 850 kilometers - about 530 miles - from the outer edge of the ice shelf, which is the nearest place where the ocean is in contact with sunlight that allows tiny plankton to grow and sustain a food chain.

Which leaves the scientists with a big question: What the heck are these fish living on? There are ideas, but as of yet no final answers. Despite what too many think ("Scientists think they know everything.") this kind of thing, unexpected discoveries and unanswered questions, this is what scientists live for.

Something else this brings up is the possibility of life on other worlds, including even some within our own solar system - specifically, Jupiter's moon called Europa, whose frozen crust is believed to contain an ocean of liquid water within.

Fish under the Ross Ice Shelf
Creatures like the fish found under the Ross Ice Shelf are known collectively as extremophiles, creatures that live under conditions once thought too dark or too hot or too cold or too acidic or too something else to harbor life. The more we look inward at our own planet, the more we find that life is more tenacious, can sink its hooks into a wider variety of conditions, than we thought. And the more we look outward from our own planet, the more other planets we find - approaching 2000 and counting - and the more likely that some of them that are at least roughly the same as Earth - about the same size, rocky not gaseous, and in the so-called "Goldilocks zone" where the heat from the local sun allows for liquid water, a planet neither frozen solid nor boiling hot.

So are there ETs, is there any intelligent life, out there? Well, that's a difficult question, the answer to which would be sheer speculation. We certainly have no evidence of any. But is it reasonable to say, based on what we know today, that there life, life of some sort, out there?

Oh, yeah. Absolutely. And how cool is that.

Sources cited in links:

195.7 - Obama's lovely little war: US to allow export of armed drones

Obama's lovely little war: US to allow export of armed drones

A quick look at another part of Obama's lovely little war in Iraq and Syria.

By the way, some might wonder why I keep calling it his "lovely little war." It's because this is a war - we're told it's war, we're told we're at war with terrorism or Daesh or whoever the immediate target is, we're told of the importance, the necessity, the vital nature of this war, how it's a stand for justice and freedom and milk and cookies at bedtime and apple pie and motherhood, a struggle against fanatics who would murder us in our beds if they could - but it's a war conducted, designed, to produce as few US casualties as possible, preferably none, to have all the dying, all the bleeding, all the suffering, done by others, all the risk borne by others, while we pat ourselves on the back with accolades of our greatness. In other words, a lovely little war.

Anyway, as part of our lovely little war, last month a GOPper on the House Armed Services Committee urged the Amazing Mr. O to approve selling unarmed surveillance drones to Jordan. This came in the wake of Jordan attacking Daesh targets after one of its pilots was supposed to have been burned to death by terrorists while trapped in a cage.

Well, our Nobel Peace Prize President was not going to be out militarized by some punk Congressman. So the White House recently announced that it will permit the export not just of surveillance drones but of armed drones.

The State Department said it would assess such exports on a “case-by-case basis,” including “armed systems.”

The State Department said that it would only be allowing armed drone exports to allies. But some of our allies have some of the worst human rights records in the world (think Saudi Arabia) - and they now could conceivably purchase what are, put simply, remote control killing machines from the US.

So they can have their own lovely little wars - including, perhaps, against their own internal opposition.

Sources cited in links:

195.6 - RIP: Minnie Minoso

RIP: Minnie Minoso

We have an RIP this week. In fact, it's a belated RIP because I wanted to do this last week but time simply did not permit.

Minnie Minoso died of natural causes on March 1. He was 90 - or maybe 92, there was some question about his age.

I expect there are at least a few people saying "Who the heck was Minnie Minoso?" and a few others going "Oh, yeah, I remember him."

Minnie Minoso
Minnie Minoso was a baseball player. He was the ninth black and the first Cuban player in the major leagues, where his speed - he lead the American league in triples and steals three times each - earned him the nickname "The Cuban Comet."

In his 17 years in the big leagues, most of them with the Chicago White Sox, he had a .298 batting average, with 186 homers and 1,023 RBIs. He was a seven-time All-Star. What's more, he was a three-time Gold Glove winner, despite the fact that the award didn’t exist for the first eight years of his career.

I grew up in New Jersey, so I didn't get to see a Chicago White Sox player play much. But I did follow a lot of baseball, and I always thought that Minnie Minoso was a cool player and from what I knew of him, a cool guy. And I remember him.

So RIP, Minnie Minoso.

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195.5 - The 47 Senators who signed the letter to Iran are tying to provoke a war

The 47 Senators who signed the letter to Iran are tying to provoke a war

Okay, I have to address The Letter. You know the one I mean, the one signed by 47 wackos in the Senate and directed to "the leaders" of Iran. Not anyone in particular, no names were included, just "the leaders."

Positively dripping with condescension, it opens with "you may not fully understand our constitutional system" and proceeds through several paragraphs that boil down to "there is no point in your reaching an agreement with the US and other nations on nuclear issues" with the clearly implied tagline "so why bother?"

A Farsi version sent to Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif “in case you need a translation.” Just how deep is the wackos' grasp of the facts of the situation can be seen in the fact that Zarif moved to the US at age 17, has a Masters degree from San Francisco State University, and has a second Masters and a PhD from the University of Denver.

It's also safe to say that the Iranian leadership has a pretty good grasp of the US system, since Iran's current presidential cabinet has more members with doctorates from US universities than Obama's does.

Javad Zarif
Which is probably why Zarif felt no need to spare the sarcasm in his reply, in which he pointedly noted that, contrary to the wackos' letter, were a future president simply to ignore an international agreement reached at the executive level, even if it's not a treaty, it would be a violation of international law. Besides, he went on, the wackos' own argument would in fact render the great many of what the letter called  "mere executive agreements" into which the US has entered as meaningless and brand the US as untrustworthy.

But here's the point: None of that matters. None of it. The people responsible for this letter, the people who signed this letter, the people who say they support this letter even if they didn't sign it, they don't care. They don't care that they got the facts about executive agreements wrong. They don't care that they even got the Constitutional details of treaties wrong. They don't care because this has nothing to do with any of that.

Tom Cotton
The purpose of the letter is to discourage the Iranian government from agreeing to a deal, or, alternately, to push the White House into giving Congress the power to veto any deal - both of which would have the same result: destroying any hope of an agreement.

The people who signed this letter do not want an agreement. They want negotiations to fail. They want diplomacy to fail. They want this to fall apart. These people want a war. The closer it comes to where there may actually be a deal, the more rabid they become, the more obvious their desire, their intent, becomes, the more transparent their bloodlust becomes

You think that's overstating it? In January, Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who organized the letter, told a conference hosted by the right-wing group Heritage Action for America that the whole purpose of Congressional action was to make negotiations fail. That the collapse of negotiations, quoting him,
isn't an unintended consequence of congressional action. It is very much an intended consequence. A feature, not a bug.
He compared the international negotiations with Iran to the appeasement of Nazi Germany in the 1930s (Godwin's law strikes again) and said the goal should be "regime change" in Iran - because, after all, that worked out so well in Iraq.

I mean, they're not even pretending any more. They will not be satisfied until the blood flows freely in the Middle East. Their bloodlust is palpable and I have to say that I think that at least for some of them it's because they think such a war will bring on the apocalypse and thus the second coming of Jesus, that they really do think these are the End Times. (And, of course, that they are among the saved.)

Even if I'm wrong about that, maybe I am, hopefully I am, it doesn't change anything about the rest. The people who signed this letter are bloodthirsty warmongers who will not be happy until the piles of burnt bodies and shredded limbs are too high to see over and the wails of the wounded drown out the drones. They are despicable.

Sources cited in links:
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