Sunday, December 27, 2015

Left Side of the Aisle #232

Left Side of the Aisle
for December 24, 2015 - January 6, 2016

This week:

And Another Thing: Why is Christmas on December 25?

And Another Thing: Why is New Year's Day on January 1?

Monday, December 21, 2015

Left Side of the Aisle #231

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of December17-23, 2015

This week:

- Showing the tearing of the social fabric, "The Commons," by comparing the responses to the recent mass shootings at Colorado Springs and San Bernadino

Monday, December 14, 2015

230.8 - Racism of Justice Antonin "Skeletor" Scalia

Racism of Justice Antonin "Skeletor" Scalia

The reason I curtailed my discussion about the shredding of The Commons is that while I was preparing the show, something came up which I decided could not wait a week to get addressed.

The University of Texas admits three-quarters of its students each year in a so-called "race blind" program under which the students who are in the top 10% of their class at their high school get automatic acceptance. The other quarter of the admission class gain acceptance through a qualitative "holistic" review that includes race along with a number of other personal and academic factors, all with an idea of promoting diversity and recognizing potential.

And of course some self-important white kid who wasn't in the top 10% of her high school class and couldn't get in through the other program decided that it was just so totally unfair that some black kid got in when they didn't and so claimed that any consideration of race is just horribly wrong and mean and rotten and stuff.

Justice Antonin Skeletor
The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the school's program. In 2013, the Supreme Court sent the case back to the Circuit Court, saying that court should have looked at the program under a stricter legal standard that it had. The Circuit court did so and approved it again in 2014. And so its back before SCOTUS. Oral arguments were held on December 9.

During those arguments, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Skeletor advanced the argument that affirmative action actually was hurting minority students by getting them into the University of Texas "where they do not do well."

Better, he said, for them to
go to a less-advanced school, a less -- a slower-track school where they do well ... where they do not feel that they're -- that they're being pushed ahead in -- in classes that are too -- too fast for them.
The pauses, which are in the transcript, are significant because, I maintain, they indicate that Skeletor caught himself before he said what he actually meant to say - which is that he thinks that African-American students just aren't bright enough to go to a top-notch school, because I see no other reasonable way to read his statements.

Former US Solicitor General Gregory Garre, who is now representing the University of Texas before the Court, kept trying to interject, arguing that students admitted through the supplemental program, which is what's at issue in the case, "fare better" over time than those entering through the "top 10" policy, but Skeletor just plowed ahead with the claim that
most of the black scientists in this country don't come from schools like the University of Texas - they come from lesser schools.
Which may well be true and is likely true of most white scientists in the country as well, but context and nuance are of no concern to Skeletor.

Garre did get to finish his summation by saying
I don't think the solution to the problems with student body diversity can be to set up a system in which not only are minorities going to separate schools, they're going to inferior schools. I think what experience shows - at Texas, California and Michigan - is that now is not the time and this is not the case to roll back student body diversity in America.
But diversity is of no more concern to Skeletor than context and nuance are. What matters to him is putting an end to any form of affirmative action, even one as slight and limited as this one.

And now it's clear why he thinks affirmative action programs are pointless: He just thinks that overall, black folks just ain't as smart as white folks.

What an amazing pig of a man he is.

Sources cited in links:

230.7 - Shredding of "The Commons"

Shredding of "The Commons"

I have to tell you that Marco Rubio had some serious competition for the Clown Award in the form of Nevada state Assemblywoman Michele Fiore, whose Christmas card this year consisted of a photo of her extended family, all dressed in blue jeans and red shirts - and all of them, except for babes in arms but including a young child, carrying guns.

For her Christmas card. Because, you know, what would Jesus do.

But she lost out because during a recent episode of her radio show this major-league intelligence who earlier this year described cancer as a "fungus" that could be "flushed out" with salt water and baking soda described a conversation with a Nevada GOPper political consultant who asked her why she hadn't signed onto a statement opposing resettling Syrian refugees in Nevada, in which she quoted herself as saying "Are you kidding me? I'm about to fly to Paris and shoot 'em in the head myself!"

She then added on her show "I am not OK with Syrian refugees. I'm not OK with terrorists. I'm OK with putting them down, blacking them out, just put a piece of brass in their ocular cavity and end their miserable life. I'm good with that."

And that is not clownish. That is sub-human.

But this does raise one other thing I want to talk about, but I won't have time this week because of another thing I really want to get to. But I will say something briefly.

It relates to a concept I've talked about before, which I all "The Commons." It refers to the concept of a shared societal space, that range within our social and political culture where the common interests of our society lie; it is the idea of what makes us a society instead of an atomized collection of individuals, each isolated from and in competition with all others.

It is the idea of there being a public sphere in which all can participate, all have a stake, all have a part - and, importantly, all have some responsibility, each to the other and to the whole. For us as Americans we could perhaps sum up the idea in the phrase "We the People."

And I deeply fear that our sense of The Commons, which has already been under continuing attack by the right wing looking to advance its own power and position by cutting others out of that common society, that our sense of The Commons is now being shredded by the sort of paranoid religious hatred and bigotry and bed-wetting Islamaphobia which that same right wing had to know - did know - it was advancing - and of which Michele Fiore is but one isolated example.

Cartoon c. 1875-1880
What the reactionaries in this country have released and spawned in their pursuit of greater power and which they still foolishly imagine they can control is a danger to our survival - not as individuals, but as a society. Because societies which lose their sense, whatever it is in that society, that lose their sense of a Commons very often fragment and can even descend into civil war as parts of that society come to view different parts of that society as "other," as "not us" - which is exactly what is happening.

I have said a number of times that sometimes I do not regret that I will not live to see the world I see coming. Right now, my fear is that I will live to see it. My only consolation is that we have been here before - in fact, it has been worse before and those who exploit bigoted fears are reading from a very old playbook. And we have survived and hopefully we will again. And the best thing we can do is carry on the struggle against bigotry in all forms and for a more inclusive society and, like it said in the movie, "Never give up, never surrender."

I'm sure I will go on more about this, particularly how the media addresses Islamic terrorism as compared to right-wing white Christian male terrorism, which the FBI says is the source of most domestic terror attacks. But having expressed my fear, I will leave it aside for the moment.

Sources cited in links:

230.6 - Corporations and the rich are usually scumbags

Corporations and the rich are usually scumbags

I'm going to spend a couple of minutes here, just so we don't forget, on a couple of reminders that most rich people and most big corporations - no, not all, but most - are self-serving scumbags.

A new rule to combat water pollution by extending Clean Water Act protections to millions of acres of wetlands and streams was finalized this year. And of course a lot of corporations want to see it overturned. Obama has pledged to veto any Congressional attempt to overturn the regulation, so trying to insert such a provision into the omnibus budget bill would have attracted a lot of attention.

Note I say "would have." The right-wing-dominated Congress is expected to include a provision to block Syrian refugees from entering the US. In a conference call held the week before Thanksgiving, lobbyists representing a number of polluting industries such as electric utilities, the American Forest and Paper Association, and others agreed among themselves that this, the fight about Syrian refugees, that this is great news for them.

Why? Because it takes the focus off them, giving them the cover they need to slip under the radar and attach a legislative rider to roll back the new rules.

Up to 10,000 refugees, hoping to escape the violence and insanity of the Syrian civil war and resettle in the US, their hopes being slammed against brick walls by xenophobic religious bigots attacking them as mere conduits for terrorists if not terrorists themselves, and the only thing these cretins can think about is how it will help them continue to pollute streams and wetlands.


Martin Shkreli
Next up, you surely remember Martin Shkreli, the smirking little prig of a man who raised the price of a drug used by HIV patients among others to fight a parasitic infection by some 5000%, up to $750 per pill. After a massive outcry, he said he would reduce the price. Remember?

He hasn't. And he's not going to.

The day before Thanksgiving, his company announced it would drop prices for hospitals, create smaller bottles with 30 pills, and provide free starter packs in 2016. The problem? The discounts only apply to bulk orders. The list price of the drug remains the same: $750 a pill.

And Martin Shkreli remains a smirking little prig. And a scumbag.

Last but by no means least, and the thing that prompted me to do this, you unquestionably heard all the raucous fawning over Mark Zuckerberg, the megabillionaire co-founder of Facebook, when he and his wife announced they would donate 99 percent of their worth, the vast majority of which is tied up in Facebook stock valued at $45 billion today.

Mark Zuckerberg
But contrary to what you likely heard, they not donate $45 billion to charity. Nope. Not even close.

What Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, did was set up a limited liability company, an LLC, one which he controls, and then "donated" the stock to it. In effect, Zuckerberg moved his wealth from one bank account to another.

If instead they had set up a charitable foundation, it would have been subject to rules and oversight, it would have to allocate to charity a certain percentage of its assets every year, and it would have to meet transparency requirements. An LLC has none of those requirements. It can invest in for-profit companies. It can make political donations. It can lobby for changes in laws. In short, Zuckerberg can do exactly what he wants with his money, precisely like before.

What this does do is create wonderful tax benefits for him. Here's how it works without getting into the weeds of tax law: The LLC donates appreciated shares - remember, its assets are shares in Facebook - to charity. He gets a tax deduction equal to the fair market value of the shares but owes no tax on the transaction because the shares were donated, not sold, so there is no capital gain.

The bottom line is that Mark Zuckerberg has amassed a fortune valued at $45 billion and he may never pay a penny in tax on it. Yes, it is all legal, but that makes it no less scummy, especially when he allows himself to be described as a great philanthropist who "gave away" his fortune.

He would better be described as a scumbag.

Sources cited in links:

230.5 - Outrage of the Week: Prosecutors trying to let cop killer of Tamir Rice walk

Outrage of the Week: Prosecutors trying to let cop killer of Tamir Rice walk

Now, still in a very real way on the topic of guns, we have our other regular feature, this is the Outrage of the Week.

Tamir Rice, I hope you recall, was the child shot and killed by Cleveland cop Timothy Loehmann in November 2014. The video of the event, which I'm sure you've seen, shows Loehmann and partner Frank Garmback skidding up to Tamir in their patrol car, at which point Loehmann jumps out and shoots Tamir in the stomach. Total elapsed time: two seconds. Literally.

The two cops then stood around, offering no aid, as Tamir Rice lay on the ground bleeding.

The Cuyahoga County Prosecutor's Office has claimed that it is and has been "investigating" the murder, but it has become more than clear that what they are really trying to do is to find a way to justify letting Loehmann walk.

The first hard proof was the so-called "investigation" itself, dragged out month after month with no progress even after a judge found that there was probable cause for charges. As columnist Shaun King wrote,
nobody in their right mind actually believes it takes this long to investigate a shooting which was caught on film and every piece of evidence and every witness is widely known.
Tamir Rice
More proof came in October when prosecutors released statements from two ostensible experts on police shootings, both of who let Loehmann off the hook by saying the shooting was "reasonable" because the only thing that mattered, they said, the only thing that mattered, was if the cop thought - just thought - there was a threat and Loehman did think there was a threat, a conclusion which they reached without ever talking to Loehmann or Garmback.

To show just how shallow their analysis was, other experts hired by the Rice family not only came to the opposite conclusion, they shredded a key argument of the prosecutor's two agents. They had claimed that the fact that the cops put themselves in danger by their reckless approach to Tamir, that the cops by their recklessness had created the very "risk" they claimed they thought they faced, well, these "experts" insisted that was irrelevant.

But in fact, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, which covers Ohio, had previously ruled that
Where a police officer unreasonably places himself in harm's way, his use of deadly force may be deemed excessive.
The cops' behavior was relevant to whether or not the shooting was "reasonable" and the prosecutor's hand-picked "experts" didn't know what they were talking about.

It will be interesting to see which expert testimony is presented to the grand jury.

And now, which is what brought all this up again, we have the release of the statements by the cops themselves, both of them - no surprise - emphasizing how much danger they thought they were in, how Tamir was pulling the gun out of his waistband, how they repeatedly shouted "show us your hands" but he didn't listen, and how, Loehmann said, he aimed for Tamir's hand (but somehow, despite being at virtually point-blank range, managed instead to hit Tamir in the stomach) and how and how and how and so forth and so on.

Leaving aside the question of how they could have "repeatedly" shouted anything in two seconds, what most struck me was the fact that the statements were unsworn and, more significantly, were signed and dated November 30, 2015 - more than a full year after Tamir Rice was shot. It took prosecutors more than a year to even get a statement from the cop who pulled the trigger and his partner, who was the only other witness.

If what prosecutors have done so far adds up to anything that sounds like a serious investigation to you, if it sounds like anything other than a whitewash to you, if it sounds like anything other than trying to lay the groundwork for letting a killer cop walk, then this must be a very happy time of year for you, because you must still believe in Santa Claus.

Me, I don't believe in Santa Claus except maybe for the Santa Claus that the Cuyahoga County prosecutors are trying to be for Timothy Loehmann. What I do believe is that this is an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

230.4 - Clown Award: Marco Rubio

Clown Award: Marco Rubio

So let's stay on the topic of guns and switch over to one of our regular features, the Clown Award, given as always for meritorious stupidity. And oh do we have a winner this time.

The Big Red Nose goes to the man who was once the GOPpers great Latino hope, Marco Rubio.

One of the bizarre aspects of our laws about guns is that if you are on the no-fly list because you are, at least supposedly, a suspected terrorist, you can't get on a plane. Now, I am no fan of these lists which are often based on flimsy evidence and by definition put restrictions of people based on suspicion rather than knowledge, but that's not the point here.The point is the lists exists and if you are on one you are suspected of a connection to terrorism and so can't fly.

But you can buy a gun. Being on the no-fly list is no hindrance.

So there was a move in the Senate to say if you're on the no-fly list, you can't buy a gun. It lost, of course, because enough of those bozos, despite all their blather about security, are more scared of the NRA than they are of terrorism or terrorists.

Sen. Marco Rubio
When Rubio was asked on one of the Sunday-morning talk shows why he voted against it, he said it would impede too many law-abiding citizens from purchasing a gun. The lists "shouldn't be used as a tool to impede 700,000 Americans or potential Americans - people on that list from having access to be able to fully utilize their Second Amendment rights." Because, y'see, the lists are "imperfect," in fact "the majority" of those on the lists shouldn't be there.

Beyond wondering if Rubio would say that "potential Americans" also have rights under the rest of the Constitution, I also wonder where the 700,000 figure comes from or even if it's supposed to represent the total number of people on the lists or the "majority" that shouldn't be.

But what I really can't help but notice is that Rubio makes no reference to getting rid of the lists or cleaning up the lists or providing people wrongly on the lists to have a way to get off the lists; no, he just thinks we must continue to let suspected terrorists buy guns because, you know, guns.

But you know something, that isn't even what got him the award. This is:

Being interviewed on Faux News after the San Bernadino massacre, Rubio sneered about the left talking about gun control and said Farook and Malik "put bombs and left bombs behind on the scene of attack."

Here it comes....

"I don't hear anybody talking about bomb control."

Um, maybe that's because bombs are already illegal, you moth-brained twit?

Say what you want about him, the thing that you can't deny is that Marco Rubio is a clown.

Sources cited in links:

230.3 - Hero Award: New York Daily News

Hero Award: New York Daily News

As long as the subject of guns is up, let's go right to one of our occasional features, it's called the Hero Award and it's given as the occasion arises to someone who just does the right thing on a matter big or small.

In this case, it is a big thing and our hero isn't a person, it's a newspaper - or, to be precise, the editors of a newspaper. And you could consider it our first double award because there were two things that prompted it.

The paper is the NY Daily News and the first part of the award is for the image on the top right.

It's the front page of the paper from December 3, the day after the mass murder at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernadino, California on December 2. It called out in no uncertain terms the cowards who hide behind platitudes of "our thoughts and prayers go to the victims" in lieu of actually doing anything about the type of weapons that make such slaughters possible.

The paper followed up the next day with the next image, also on the front page.

The picture is of Syed Farook, who together with his wife Tashfeen Malik carried out the attack in California. "He's a terrorist," it says, something with which I think essentially everyone would agree.

But below that, it says "But so are these guys." Pictured are Robert Dear, who shot up a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs on November 27, Dylann Roof, who murdered nine people in a church in Charleston, South Carolina in June, Adam Lanza, the Newtown, Connecticut school killer in 2012, and James Holmes, who perpetrated the attack in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in 2012.

What nails the award is the last photo, labeled "AND this guy." It's a photo of Wayne LaPierre, director of the Nutzoid Rabbit-brains of America, also known as the NRA.

I don't know a lot about the Daily News' overall editorial policy; when I was growing up in New Jersey, the Daily News was the right wing paper in New York City (believe it or not, the Post was the liberal one). Maybe it still is conservative, I don't know. But on this topic, on the topic of guns and gun control, the New York Daily News is, and not for the first time, a Hero.

Sources cited in links:

230.2 - Good News: SCOTUS refuses to hear challenge to gun control law

Good News: SCOTUS refuses to hear challenge to gun control law

Next up on the Good News front comes the fact that on December 7, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by gun nuts looking to overturn a city's gun control ordinance.

The law in question was enacted by Highland Park, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, in 2013. It bans various semi-automatic weapons, including well-known guns such as the AR-15 and AK-47, as well as magazines holding more than 10 rounds of bullets. In April, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law, which now with SCOTUS refusing to hear it becomes the last word on the law, which will remain in force.

Two members of the court, Clarence "Clarabell" Thomas and Antonin "Skeletor" Scalia, said the justices should have taken the case, with Thomas claiming that the fact that semi-automatic rifles are popular is all that's required for them to be exempt from such laws and that by not taking the case, the court was "relegating the Second Amendment to a second-class right."

Clarabell once opined that guards who hog-tied an inmate on the floor and beat him, leaving him with loosened teeth, facial bruises, and a cracked dental plate, had not engaged in cruel and unusual punishment. If only he was as devoted to the other amendments as he is to the Second.

Sources cited in links:

230.1 - Good News: Abortion restriction found unconstitutional

Good News: Abortion restriction found unconstitutional

Getting back in gear (and with thanks for those who sent good thoughts) with some Good News, it seems that on November 20, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a Wisconsin law that requires abortion providers to get admitting privileges at nearby hospitals, declaring it to be an unconstitutional restriction on the right to an abortion.

The ruling was not really a surprise, since during oral arguments the three-judge panel peppered the state's attorneys with questions that expressed significant doubt about the law. One, Judge Richard Posner, went so far as to say there was no rational basis for the law, provided no health benefits for women, and was clearly designed to close abortion clinics - which is precisely true on all three accounts.

The issue could come up before the Supreme Court, but traditionally - traditionally, anyway - the Court only steps in to resolve issues where different appellate-level courts have come to different decisions, which hasn't happened here. Six other states have seen their own similar laws challenged in court and those states have lost every time. Such things may seem like small victories in light of the ongoing and often-successful attacks on reproductive rights, but while they may be small they still are victories. And that makes them Good News.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle 230

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of December 19-16, 2015

Sorry for no show last week; I was felled by asthmatic bronchitis and thanks go to those who sent good wishes.

This week:

Good News: Abortion restriction found unconstitutional

Good News: SCOTUS refuses to hear challenge to gun control law

Hero Award: New York Daily News

Clown Award: Marco Rubio

Outrage of the Week: Prosecutors trying to let cop killer of Tamir Rice walk

Corporations and the rich are usually scumbags

Shredding of "The Commons"

Racism of Justice Antonin "Skeletor" Scalia

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

So sorry

So sorry for no posts this week. I have been felled by asthmatic bronchitis.

Yes, it's getting better and I hope - emphasize "hope" because my wife keeps giving me dirty looks when I raise the possibility - to have a show done and some stuff up this week.
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