Wednesday, January 27, 2016

235.8 - Outrage of the Week: forced arbitration

Outrage of the Week: forced arbitration

You want something to look for, to consider when hoping for innocence among politicos? See what they have to say, if anything, about one of the biggest unappreciated and little considered scandals of US economic life. It's called forced arbitration and it is our Outrage of the Week.

I've been meaning to bring this up for some time, so I'll take this opportunity.

As explained by the Alliance for Justice,
[a]rbitration is a process in which a private firm is hired to settle a dispute without going to court. It was designed as a voluntary alternative to litigation among corporate equals. It has been twisted today into a tool by powerful corporations to force consumers and employees to surrender their right to hold corporations accountable for wrongdoing before an impartial court.
Dozens and dozens of major companies in dozens of fields from telecommunications to credit cards, student loans, nursing homes, consumer goods, home builders, financial advisors, and of course software and more contain these noxious provisions, as do many employment "agreements."

To use the service, to buy the product, even to get the job, you must agree to a "contract" in which you sign away your rights and your access to the courts, including - perhaps most especially - your ability to be part of a class action suit.

That is, arbitration has gone from being a voluntary process between equals to a requirement, a demand, put by the more powerful on the less powerful, effectively rendering them powerless. Clauses requiring arbitration of any dispute between the consumer or employee and the corporation and banning any resort to the courts, arbitration to take place at a site specified in the contract by the corporation and done by an arbiter hired by the corporation, are now routinely buried in the fine print of any "agreement" you thoughtlessly make when you click on "accept these terms."

The result is that if a dispute arises, you have to face the corporation alone and on its own turf and its own terms - first assuming that what you could achieve is even worth the time and expense, which is why, as the Alliance for Justice has said, forced arbitration gives corporations "a free pass to break the law" because they know there is little if any chance they would be held accountable even for gross violations of employment and civil rights laws.

And the practice is expanding: The New York Times recently reported on how debt collection agencies are using forced arbitration provisions in the debts they buy to claim that they, too, are covered by those provisions even though the consumer has no contract with the debt collector - and courts are going along with this perverted logic that you can be bound to the terms of a "contract" with some agency you never had any contact with or even knew existed.

There is a bill that has been introduced in Congress. It's called the Arbitration Fairness Act and it would ban forced arbitration of employment, consumer, anti-trust, and civil rights claims and restore at least some of the rights of workers and consumers to seek justice in the courts.

So the next time some politico tries to tell you how concerned they are about the economy and you, ask them if they agree with outlawing forced arbitration. Ask them if they will support outlawing forced arbitration. If they hesitate, if they start to dance, if they say anything other than a direct "yes," tell them to buzz off because they are not on your side but on the side of Big Business.

And it's an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

235.7 - Income inequality is growing, hideous, and immoral

Income inequality is growing, hideous, and immoral

Another topic I haven't talked much about of late is the economy. And here just a few figures show everything that's wrong.

Fifty-six percent of Americans have less than $1,000 combined in their checking and savings accounts; a majority of us are living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Furthermore, almost two-thirds of Americans - 63 percent - do not have enough in their savings for an emergency, defined as an unexpected expense of $500-$1000. A substantial majority of Americans would need to borrow money from a family member, take out a bank loan, or put it on their credit card if faced with such an expense because they lack the resources to do otherwise.

This was all according to a survey cited in Forbes, which had the takeaway not that the economy sucks or that wealth continues to congeal at the top or that people are underpaid or that chronic long-term unemployment remains stubbornly high, but rather that "Americans are terrible savers." Which becomes bitterly funny when it's recalled that in June, Jon Hilsenrath, chief economics correspondent of the Wall Street Journal, was grousing that we are saving too much and not spending enough.

Meanwhile, the richest 0.1 percent of Americans have almost as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent combined and income inequality is the highest it has been since 1928. As Ben Norton, a politics staff writer at Salon magazine, wrote, "the term 'middle class' is useless" because, as he says, we don't have one anymore. I have for some time been saying that we are becoming a two-class nation of just a tiny number of rich and a great number of poor or at best working poor. And it seems that every day there is new information to confirm that.

Worldwide, the situation is even worse as income and wealth inequality continue to steadily worsen.

According to Oxfam, in 2010 the world's richest 388 people had the same amount of wealth as the bottom 50% of the world's population. By 2014, that number had shrunk to 80. In 2015, it was 62. Just 62 people, together, were as rich as half the population of the world combined. Indeed, since 2010, the wealth of that lower 50% has dropped by about $1 trillion, or 41 percent. The world is hideously and immorally unequal, and that inequality is not only increasing, it is accelerating. And for all their talk about how much they worry about that inequality, our economic and political leaders seem revealingly uninterested in actually doing anything about it except in cases - such as global climate change - where the inequality becomes so severe as to threaten what they value second only to their bottom lines, which is stability.

Those who are now gathering at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland - which I am forever tempted to call Davros - no matter what platitudes they may mouth, they are not on your side. They don't give a damn about you except insofar as you can fatten their bank accounts.

And don't think it's any better here. Don't.

Do you really think those politicos of both parties who blather on about the non-existent middle class really have your interests at heart? I know I don't have to convince you about people like Paul Rantin' or Ted Crazy or Donald TheRump, but do you really believe that, to cite a prominent example, Hillary Clinton, who has so many ties to Wall Street that it looks like some sort of kinky bondage party, is going to challenge the interests of the banks and bankers any more than did Barack Obama,

- who failed to prosecute Wall Street crooks, even going so far as to specifically refuse to follow up on criminal referrals from the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, which was set up to investigate criminality in the 2008 collapse;

- who thus let the bankers get away with, in the words of one source, "theft, wire fraud, bank fraud, loan fraud, securities fraud, and commodities fraud" while millions of Americans lost their life savings and their homes even as his Justice Department made mortgage fraud its lowest-ranked national criminal priority and closed hundreds of cases after little or no investigation;

- who depended for economic advice on the likes of Tim Geithner and has stood silent as the too-big-to-fail banks have gotten even bigger?

Do you really think people like that are on your side, on the side of the 56%, the 63%, the 90%?

Do not believe it.
Not for a second.

Now, I'm not going to claim to you that every leader, every officeholder, every politician, every rich person, is a solely self-interested selfish scumbag. I suppose I would say that, for again a prominent example, Bernie Sanders could be an exception, based largely on the fact that he's been saying pretty much the same things for 40 years or so, even though he's not the socialist he claims to be, even less the one he's painted as. But I do say for him and for all the rest that "guilty until proven innocent" is a good and reliable standard.

Sources cited in links:

235.6 - 2015 was the warmest year on record

2015 was the warmest year on record

Alright, some news on another front to which I have not paid a lot of attention of late: global warming aka climate change.

Some months ago I noted that 2015 was on track to be the warmest year on record. Well, guess what: It wasn't sidetracked. On January 20, NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, announced that worldwide, 2015 was in fact the warmest year since records began in 1880.

The conclusion was seconded by NASA, which does its own, independent analysis. Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, labeled 2015 as "remarkable even in the context of the larger, long-term warming trend," a trend that has seen 15 of the 16 warmest years occurring since 2001.

Which means, in case you didn't catch it, that each year from 2001 on has been warmer than any year from 1880  to 2000 except for one, which was 1998. Another way to put it is to say that the 16 warmest years on record have come in the last 18 years.

So much for the "global warming has stopped" and "no warming for X number of years" bull that the nanny-nanny naysayers spew.

One of the reasons for the record-breaking year - the record it broke, by the way, was set in 2014 - was because of a strong El Niño. That same cycle, according to research published by the British Met Office, will drive 2016 to be even warmer than 2015.

As a sidebar, don't expect the nanny-nanny naysayers to cite El Niño in an attempt to dismiss the record heat: It was a strong El Niño that drove 1998's warmth, that again being the outlier year they cite to claim that global warming has stopped. So citing El Niño is to reject their own argument - not that such contradictions have stopped them before.

What's more, all this could easily get worse: A study published on January 18 in the scientific journal "Nature Climate Change" showed that the amount of human-made heat energy absorbed by the oceans of the world has doubled since 1997. In what the researchers called a rough but reliable estimate, the world's oceans absorbed approximately 150 zettajoules of energy from 1865 to 1997, and then absorbed about another 150 zettajoules in the next 18 years.

A Joule is a unit of electrical, mechanical, or heat energy. A zettajoule is a billion trillion Joules. To give you an idea of how much energy we are talking about, if you exploded one Hiroshima-sized atomic bomb every second for a year, the total energy released would be two zettajoules. So in the past 18 years, Earth's oceans have absorbed human-made heat energy equivalent to a Hiroshima-style bomb being exploded every second for 75 straight years.

These are staggeringly big numbers and they show just how much heat energy is going into the oceans - which also means sparing us from its direct effects on surface temperatures. In fact, 90% of of the heat energy we generate goes into the oceans, and every year deeper and deeper ocean waters are warming. The thing is, at some point and no one knows just what that is, the oceans will reach a saturation point and be unable to soak up the heat we generate - and global warming, that is, surface temperatures, will skyrocket because there will be nowhere else for the heat to go.

All of which may be part of the reason that the latest survey of world business and economic leaders by the World Economic Forum ranks climate change as their No. 1 concern. It didn't say anything about what they propose to do about it, but it does indicate that the economic elites are beginning to realize that climate change is not something off in the distant future or that only affect little nations and unimportant people but, especially by virtue of the extreme weather events it generates, it is threatening their wallets. And that will get them moving.

Which would be more encouraging were it not for recent psychological research that shows that the denialists have "disproportionate influence" on people who are already skeptical. Put another way, it found that the naysayers were not to any degree swayed by facts. Which we already suspected, but still its disheartening to see an actual study showing it.

We are so screwed.

Sources cited in links:

235.5 - Prosecutor in Tamir Rice case may have lied to the Grand Jury

Prosecutor in Tamir Rice case may have lied to the Grand Jury

Two weeks ago, I declared the murder of Tamir Rice to be my Outrage of the Year for 2015. Now I have to add a Footnote to that.

As I expect know, the Grand Jury did not indict Timothy Loehmann, the Cleveland cop who shot Tamir Rice to death, a decision that Cuyahoga County Prosecuting Attorney Timothy McGinty admits he lead the panel to make.

In defending himself and the Grand Jury, McGinty presented what amounted to a defense attorney's summation of the case. The point here is that in the course of that, he said that "the actions of the officers during the events leading up to the deadly force encounter" are not legally relevant to evaluating "the split-second judgments made immediately before the deadly force incident."

That is flat out false. Period. As two experts cited by the Rice family note, the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Ohio, had found in 2008 that
Where a police officer unreasonably places himself in harm's way, his use of deadly force may be deemed excessive.
Tamir Rice
That is, the cops' behavior of racing up to within a few feet of Tamir, with Loehmann jumping out of the car with gun already drawn and safety off, creating the very supposed risk to which Loehmann was supposedly responding when he killed Tamir Rice less than two seconds later was relevant to whether or not the shooting was "reasonable."

If in fact McGinty told the Grand Jury that the cops' behavior was "not legally relevant," then he flat out lied to the panel. Either that or he and his office are so ignorant of the relevant law that he is incompetent to hold his office.

But here then is the question: What are the consequences for prosecutors who lie to a grand jury? Not in some hypothetical perfect legally-correct world, but in reality. Is it in fact illegal? And even if it is, who is going to prosecute them? Who is going to prosecute the prosecutor?

This whole thing stinks worse than ever.

Sources cited in links:

235.4 - Clown Award: SC Gov. Nikki Haley

Clown Award: SC Gov. Nikki Haley

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

I almost gave the Big Red Nose this week to a nitwit named Mark Cole, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates who is so creepily obsessed with the idea of transgender students using the "wrong" restroom that he has introduced a bill saying that, and I'm quoting:
Local school boards shall develop and implement policies that require every school restroom, locker room, or shower room that is designated for use by a specific gender to solely be used by individuals whose anatomical sex matches such gender designation,
with "anatomical sex" defined in the bill as "the physical condition of being male or female, which is determined by a person's anatomy."

What should be immediately apparent is that there is no way schools could effectively enforce this requirement except by examining each child's genitals before they are allowed to use the restroom. Which I expect pretty much everywhere would be regarded as sexual assault.

That is some powerful stupid. Really didn't think that one through, didja Marky?

Gov. Nikki Haley
So yeah, I thought we was a shoo-in. Until the next day. So this week the Big Red Nose goes to South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.

Governor Vacant Eyes gave the GOPper response to the Amazing Mr. O's State of the Union address and got some pushback because she said something about not following "the angriest voices." In defending herself afterwards, she said this:
[W]e've never in the history of this country passed any laws or done anything based on race or religion. Let's not start that now.
I really don't think I need to go on with any explanations.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, this week's and already in the running for the year's biggest, clown.

Sources cited in links:

235.3 - RIP: Glenn Frey

RIP: Glenn Frey

With our other rip, another bit of my earlier years drops away.

Glenn Frey, Eagles guitarist and co-founder of the group and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, died January 18. He was 67. According to a statement by the band, he "fought a courageous battle for the past several weeks but succumbed to complications from rheumatoid arthritis, acute ulcerative colitis, and pneumonia."

Frey co-wrote or sang some of the Eagles' most successful songs, including among others "Tequila Sunrise," "Peaceful Easy Feeling," "Take It Easy," and "Lyin' Eyes."

Glenn Frey
In my opinion, one of the best comments about his death came from a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, who said of the Eagles "few bands were better at distilling the vibe of Los Angeles in the 1970s." The thing is, from the late '60s to the late '70s, the cultural image of southern California was one of a mellow, laid-back embrace of sun and surf and the Eagles certainly reflected that. That columnist called Frey LA's "mellow ambassador."

That same embrace of that culture, however, still earns the group scorn from those who claim their music was just pap, apparently because it was not hard-edged and hostile. One even said that hating the Eagles was the mark of being interested in the music as opposed to being a bandwagon-jumper.

So I'll say this on behalf of Eagles fans and Glenn Frey's career: I have neither patience with nor time for those who equate popularity with inferiority and obscurity with significance and spend their energy desperately trying to prove how hip they are by sneering how much they hate music other people like.

With that, I say RIP, Glenn Frey - and encourage all of you to find and listen to the acoustic version of "Hotel California."

Sources cited in links:

235.2 - RIP: Alan Rickman

RIP: Alan Rickman

We have two RIPs this week, the first of which, in its own way, is a bit creepy.

Two weeks ago, I told you about the death of Native American activist and poet John Trudell, who died of cancer at the age of 69. Last week, it was David Bowie, who died of cancer at the age of 69.

This week, I note the death of a fine and often under-appreciated actor who could dominate a scene with just his voice:

Alan Rickman
The great Alan Rickman has died yes of cancer yes at the age of 69.

Alan Rickman, I expect, is known to most as Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter movies and perhaps as Alexander Dane in the great "Star Trek" spoof "Galaxy Quest," although his breakout roles were as bad guy Hans Gruber in "Die Hard" and as Jamie in "Truly, Madly, Deeply." But he was known and respected even before that for his stage work.

The odd thing about Alan Rickman for me is that when I saw him in a Harry Potter movie, I knew who he was. I'm not much of a movie-goer and I had never seen either "Die Hard" or "Truly, Madly, Deeply" and didn't see "Galaxy Quest" until later on DVD. But I knew who he was. And I have no idea from where.

Which I suppose only shows how memorable his performances could be.

RIP, Alan Rickman.

Sources cited in links:

235.1 - Notes on progress on LGBTQ rights

Notes on progress on LGBTQ rights

Let's start off with a few updates on things related to same-sex marriage and overall LGBTQ rights, something I haven't talked about in a little while.

One sign of the slow but grinding process of change is that Kraig Powell, a member of the Utah legislature, has proposed legislation that would eliminate terms like "husband" and "wife" from state laws in favor of the gender-neutral "spouse." He also said he is drafting a proposed constitutional amendment that would repeal the provision in Utah's state constitution that bans same-sex marriage. He indicated this was just a matter of accepting legal reality.

Now, I don't expect to see this pass, but the fact that it was even introduced by a Utah Republican shows something is happening.

Then there is the execrable Roy Moore, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, who on January 6 ordered the state's county probate judges to ignore the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage and refuse to issue licenses for such marriages, arguing that "nothing in the United States Constitution alters or overrides" their "ministerial duty" to in essence place Alabama law above federal law.

Unhappily for the unrepentant bigot Moore, most Alabama counties ignored his order and continued issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and one of the handful that followed his order reversed itself the next day.

But that doesn't mean the bigots have given up, either in Alabama or elsewhere. An anti-same-sex marriage bill filed in South Carolina in December declared Obergefell v. Hodges, the SCOTUS decision that struck down bans on same-sex marriage, "unauthoritative, void, and of no effect," again declaring that state law overrides federal law and decisions of the Supreme Court. A similar bill was introduced in Tennessee in September.

You know, this nation fought its bloodiest war over slavery, but the legal issues involved were nullification and interposition, essentially the supposed right of states to nullify or block federal authority within their borders. Apparently, there are those willing to repeat that experience to promote and maintain their own bigoted sickness. Which in a twisted way I can understand: It must be galling for these folks to be so incredibly far on the wrong side of history.

Meanwhile, two things internationally were interesting.

First was that last month, a bill allowing for same-sex civil unions passed the Greek Parliament by a wide margin. One Greek campaigner for equal rights said the bill
does not provide equality before the law, especially in regard to adoption and custody of children, but it comes close.
Latvia is now the only country in the European Union which does not recognize some form of same-sex partnership, either civil union or marriage.

The action was not without opposition in notoriously homophobic Greece, a fact which makes the bill's passage all the more notable. For example, the Greek Orthodox bishop Ambrosios of Kalavryta called on the church faithful to "spit on [LGBT people]. Condemn them. Blacken them. They are not human! They are freaks of nature!"

On the other hand, in another one of those perhaps-grudging "recognize reality" statements, another Greek prelate, Chrysostomos, the Metropolitan of Messinia, said
[h]omosexuals, like all humans, are a creation of God and they deserve the same respect and honor, and not violence and rejection.
Admittedly, that's several steps short of accepting LGBTQ rights, but in the context of what surrounds him, a noteworthy statement.

Finally, the development I personally find the most interesting.

A man named Sun Wenlin - that's a pseudonym, not his real name - has filed a lawsuit after he was denied a marriage application for himself and his same-sex partner.

What makes the case particularly interesting is that this is happening in China. It is the first such suit ever in that country.

Sun is basing his claim on what could be considered a technicality: The original text of the Marriage Law does not say one man and one woman, but a husband and a wife, which are not necessarily gendered descriptions.

Meanwhile, hormone and electroshock treatments to "cure the gay" are still practiced in China. Technically, they are illegal, but the police don't seem to do much about it.

A decision on Sun's suit is expected within six months.

Sources cited in links:

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Left Side of the Aisle #235

Left Side of the Aisle
for the weeks of January 21 - February 3, 2016

This week:

Notes on progress on LGBTQ rights

RIP: Alan Rickman

RIP: Glenn Frey

Clown Award: SC Gov. Nikki Haley

Prosecutor in Tamir Rice case may have lied to the Grand Jury

2015 was the warmest year on record

Income inequality is growing, hideous, and immoral

Outrage of the Week: forced arbitration

NOTE: As I indicated in last week's show, starting with January we will be taking the last week of each month off. So the next LSOTA will be in two weeks, for the period of February 4 to 10.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

234.8 - Lyrics: good and bad

Lyrics: good and bad

Okay, let's end with something lighter.

I like to collect good and bad lyrics. The key thing is that these lyrics are single lines - or sometimes two lines - in a song. The whole song is not the point. A bad song can have one killer lyric in it and a good song can have a clunker of a line somewhere inside. It's the one line that matters.

In one of my early shows, I invited people to submit what they thought was a particularly good or bad line in a song. I didn't get much response, but with my fame having obviously spread worldwide in the ensuing years, I thought I'd try again.

So what I'm going to do is to give you three examples of what I think are really bad lines in a song and four that I think are really good and invite you to submit you own, either in comments here or by email.

Okay, first the bad lines. Remember, this is not about if the song is good or bad, just the individual lyric.

In fact, the first case illustrates the point. There is a great old song, a classic, known best in the version done by the Platters: "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." It's a good song, but in the third verse there is the line
Now, laughing friends deride/Tears I cannot hide
and whenever I heard that line, the only thing I could think was "Get new friends!"

Another example, a more recent  one, is the song "Hey, Soul Sister" by Train. The opening line is
Your lipstick stains on the front lobe of my left-side brains
to which I could only think "yuuuch!"

The third example is "Angel" from Shaggy, which I like even though the melody of the refrain is ripped off from the chorus of "Angel of the Morning" by Merrilee Rush. Unfortunately, this particular lyric is in the refrain, so it's repeated several times:
Closer than my peeps you are to me
as syntax cries and begs for mercy.

Now for four examples of good lines. The first, appropriately enough for today, comes from David Bowie and the song "Changes" and it is
And these children that you spit on/As they try to change their worlds/Are immune to your consultations/They're quite aware of what they're going through.
Next comes a line from Jim Croce's song "Operator," which goes
She's living in LA with my best old ex-friend Ray
which I always liked because it told the entire story of what happened to the relationship in one line.

Third, I think the line from Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now" that goes
I'd rather hurt than feel nothing at all
is exquisitely sad.

Finally, we have what well could be my all-time favorite single lyric. It's from "Like a Prayer" by Madonna:
You call my name and it feels like home.
Which I think is wonderfully poetic and evocative.

So that's it. Submit your own choices and if I get enough, I'll do them on-air. Just be sure to include the title and artist and the particular line.

234.7 - Outrage of the Week: protecting cops in the Eric Garner killing

Outrage of the Week: protecting cops in the Eric Garner killing

In July 2014, an unarmed black man named Eric Garner was killed by New York City police who swarmed him, escalating a minor confrontation over a claim he was illegally selling loose cigarettes into a multi-person assault with cop Daniel Pantaleo grabbing Garner in a chokehold - something specifically banned by NYPD policy. The cops ignored Garner's pleas that he couldn't breathe as, in effect, Pantaleo choked him to death.

This was all in front of numerous witnesses and was all caught on video. Unlike the case of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, there was no ambiguity here, no conflicting testimony. It made no difference. When no charges were issued against Pantaleo, even people like Bill O'Reilley and Charles Krauthammer were shocked. The city settled a wrongful death suit filed by Farner's family for $5.9 million.

But now, 18 months later, the NYPD has found someone to blame. Her name is Kizzy Adonis, she is - or perhaps soon was - a sergeant in the NYPD, and was one of two supervising officers at the scene of Garner's killing. Now, she has been stripped of her gun and badge and is facing four departmental charges of "failure to supervise."

Sgt. Adonis wasn't even assigned on patrol at the time. She heard the call on her radio and responded to the scene. One witness says he heard her say to the other cops, "Let up, you got him already." She then went to a nearby ambulance to make a call for additional assistance. So apparently she is facing charges for not trying hard enough to stop the other cops or for calling for medical assistance or both, it's not clear.

Kizzy Adonis
What is clear is that the other supervising sergeant on the scene, the one actually assigned to the unit, has not been charged, nor have any of the cops who attacked Garner been charged. The deadline for filing such departmental charges expires on January 17 so lacking some last-minute developments, she will be the only one charged.

Oh, by the way, did I mention that Kizzy Adonis is black?

It's eighteen months after Eric Garner was killed by cops using a chokehold banned specifically because of the risk of killing someone in a case that stunned even the right wing, and the only person the NYPD has found at fault is a black woman who didn't even have to be there.

The question of police brutality and racism and the departmental corruption that promotes it and protects it is no longer recognizing the brutality and racism and corruption themselves because they have become undeniable to anyone not completely blinded by their ideology. The question is what are we going to do about it.

Because the little - the nothing - we have done is an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

234.6 - EPA board challenges EPA report on fracking

EPA board challenges EPA report on fracking

Next up, we have some news regarding fracking.

Fracking is - well, the polite term is controversial; the less-polite term is another industry scam to maximize profit without giving a damn about the effect on people's health.

Fracking, in case you're not familiar with it, is a means of increasing production from oil and natural gas wells by pumping a mix of water, sludge, and one of several different cocktails of toxic chemicals - we don't know exactly what ones because the mixtures are considered a "trade secret" which the companies do not have to reveal - pumping that mixture into a well under such pressure that it literally fractures the surrounding rock, allowing more fossil fuel to be extracted from the fissures created. The practice has been connected to contaminated water supplies and earthquakes, particularly in the past few years.

Congress charged the EPA with studying the impacts of fracking on drinking water. This past June, the agency released its report, including an executive summary that declared that fracking has not led to "widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the US," a conclusion that at the time I described as chock full of weasel words, especially since fracking itself is not "widespread."

Now, it develops, the EPA's own Science Advisory Board, which reviews the agency’s major studies, agrees with me. The 31-member panel determined that
[m]ajor findings are ambiguous or are inconsistent with the observations/data presented in the body of the report.
The point lies in the misuse of the terms "widespread" and "systemic." Yes, most US water supplies have not been affected by fracking - because fracking is not done in most places in the US, only where drilling for oil and natural gas are going on.

In those places where fracking is being done, yes, there has clearly been an impact on local water supplies, the result, in part, of an average of 15 fracking-related chemical spills per day in the US.

But what did the media glom onto? The fracking-friendly "no widespread, systemic, impacts." Another example of how we are uninformed, malinformed, and misinformed by major mainstream media.

As a footnote, 2015 was also the year that the US Geological Survey found that fracking in eight states in the eastern and central US had lead to "sharply increased" earthquake activity and the state of OK, after dragging its feet for years, finally admitted that the majority of the recent astonishing increase in earthquakes in the state were due to fracking.

Fracking should be stopped.

Sources cited in links:

234.5 - RIP: David Bowie

RIP: David Bowie

We have an RIP this week. This is one you all know about, but I couldn't let it pass without mention.

The genre-defining, gender-bending, creative artist - which I think is a better description than "musician" - David Bowie died on January 10 after an 18-month battle with cancer. He was 69.

So much has been written and said about this, about him and his career, that I won't even try to cover the same territory. Instead I'll tell two stories about him I recall.

One, and surprisingly one not often mentioned in the articles I checked out, was his turn on Broadway as the lead in the play "The Elephant Man" in the fall of 1980.

David Bowie
I recall that when it was announced that he was doing it, it was derided by critics as just a publicity gimmick. But after they saw him on stage as he portrayed the so-called Elephant Man without prostheses or extensive make-up, using only contortions of body position and movement to suggest the deformities, the critics were "Sunuvagun, the guy can act!"

To which I could only respond "Anybody who's gone through as many personalities in so short a time as he has, of course he can act."

The other was a Bing Crosby Christmas special in 1977, on which Bowie was a guest.

The "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy" duet they did still pops up every Christmas. But what I remember was learning that Crosby, who was 73 at the time, had absolutely no idea who David Bowie was - but decided after working with him that "the kid's pretty good."

He was that. RIP, David Bowie.

Sources cited in links:

234.4 - Clown Award: Clown Award: New Hampshire State Rep. Josh Moore

Clown Award: New Hampshire State Rep. Josh Moore

It's time for one of our regular feature, the Clown Award, given as always for meritorious stupidity.

This week, we can show the difference between a clown wannabe and a true clown in close competition.

Our wannabe, who gets hit with the pie, is New Hampshire state Rep. Al Baldasaro, but our winner of the Big Red Nose this week is his colleague and fellow twit, state Representative Josh Moore.

You may be surprised to learn that in 33 states, there are no laws against women going topless in public. Fourteen states have some sort of nuanced nudity laws; only three ban female breast exposure outright.

New Hampshire, it develops, is one of the 33, not the three, and doggone it, Moore wants to do something about it. He has introduced a bill that would make a woman showing her nipples in public a full-fledged misdemeanor of "lewdness" and "public indecency." Not men, mind you, just women. Repeat offenders would have to register as sex offenders.

Yes, there is an exception for breastfeeding - be thankful for small favors - but still, this is the crisis that Moore thinks needs addressing.

State Representative Amanda Bouldin has been a vocal opponent of the bill, arguing that it's just another attempt by men to control women's bodies and that the state should not be enacting laws that only apply to women.

Rep. Josh "Grabber" Moore
In response, our wannabe, Rep. Baldasaro, said of Rep. Bouldin that "your nipple would be the last one I would want to see" - real classy, Baldy - before saying she wanted to "turn our family beaches into a pervert show."

Not up to his usual standards - he once call the head of the NH Dem Party, who is gay, a "pervert" (he seems to have a hand-up on the word) and said he was "disgusted" when a gay Marine came out during one of his town meetings - but still a nice try. But Baldy, you got outclassed.

Josh Moore's response to Rep. Bouldin was on Facebook and it was this, quoting:
Don't give me the liberal talking points Amanda. If it's a woman’s natural inclination to pull her nipple out in public and you support that, the you should have no problem with a man's inclination to stare at it and grab it.
Okay, a woman goes topless in public. Look at it, okay, you've sort of got to expect that. Stare at it, um, that's really creepy and no. "Grab it?" NO! And what kind of numbskull pervert would even propose such a response? What is wrong with you?

Actually, we know what's wrong with you, Josh Moore: You are an absolute clown.

Sources cited in links:

234.3 - Good News: Iran deal advances

Good News: Iran deal advances

In some other Good News, the Iran deal is back in the news. That's the the one that involved Iran agreeing to modify its nuclear research and power program in a way that would prevent it from using it to build nuclear weapons in exchange for a lifting of political and economic sanctions against it.

Well, Secretary of State John Kerry said on January 7 that implementation of the deal may be only "days away" and that Iran is on track to meet its pledge to sharply reduce its ability to manufacture the nuclear weapons it probably was not trying to build in the first place and no, Kerry did not say that last part.

In fact, there was a report that, in line with the agreement, Iran had removed the core of its Arak heavy water nuclear reactor and filled it with cement, an act which Reuters, with notable British understatement, said would "reduce the plant's ability to produce plutonium." Yes, replacing the core with cement would do that.

Iranian officials denied that particular report, but indicated at the same time that the process of "modernizing" the Arak plant, which would involve removing the core, is underway.

It's possible the conflicting reports are due to jockeying among political factions in Iran; if the core has been removed, it would not be the first time that a report of Iran taking steps to accede to the demands of the so-called P5+1 nations was denied only to be confirmed later.

What can't be denied is that Iran has significantly reduced the number of its centrifuges, transferred the bulk of its low-enriched uranium stockpile to Russia, and agreed to sell some of its excess heavy water to the US. Things are progressing.

Congressional war hawks
I say now as I have said in the past in discussing this that I was and am uncomfortable with this deal not only because, again, there was no solid proof Iran was trying to build a nuclear weapon - certainly the frequent breathless predictions that Iran was anything from just a couple of years to a few months away from having nukes never came true - but also because it smacks of rank imperialism, of a group of big nations telling a smaller one "you will do this because we say so, like it or lump it."

But I approved it - accepted it is the better term - because the alternative was the real possibility of a stampede to war on Iran. And indeed, that idea still sits in the back of the heads of various Congressional troglodytes, who even now are pushing a bill that would block the lifting of sanctions on Iran - which is supposed to be our part of the deal - until the Administration can "certify the entity is not a terror financier, human rights abuser or involved in the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction." In other words, they want to wreck the deal by moving the goalposts not just further back but completely out of the stadium.

Even if that bill passes Congress, which it likely won't, it would be vetoed and there is no way such a veto would be overriden. But it does serve as a reminder that there are those in Congress (and not all of them are GOPpers) who have blood in their eyes and war lust in their groins who would, if given the opportunity, have US soldiers on the ground - I should say more US soldiers on the ground - not only in Syria and Iraq but in Iran as well. For some people, war is the only option they can think of. Which is why I accept the Iran deal and regard the progress as good news.

Sources cited in links:’s-arak-nuclear-reactor-begins-process-‘modernization-792190

234.2 - Good News: parasitic disease on the verge of being eliminated

Good News: parasitic disease on the verge of being eliminated

About three and a-half years ago, way back in May 2012, I wrote something about the Guinea worm.

The Guinea worm is a parasite which humans contract by drinking infested water. In a simplified version of its life-cycle, once ingested the worm burrows through the intestinal wall and slowly moves through the subcutaneous tissues until about a year later it exits the body through a swollen, painful blister, usually on the lower leg or foot. By this time the female worm has grown from a few millimeters to as much as a meter - that's about three feet - long and has hundreds of thousands of eggs.

Trying to ease the pain of the blister, the infected person puts their feet in the water - where the eggs are released, to be ingested by the next victim.

The pain involved with the blister, which is described as feeling like the area around the worm is on fire, can be crippling.

The way to remove the worm is to catch it as it starts to exit the wound and then wind it around a stick as you slowly pull it out - slowly in this case meaning very slowly: The process can take weeks to complete, leaving people to live through months of debilitating pain, making it impossible for them to tend to cows or harvest crops or otherwise provide for themselves or their families.

It's an ancient affliction. In fact, some suggest the "fiery serpents" of Numbers 21:6-9 were guinea worms. On the other hand, 21:6 says "much people of Israel died" from these "serpents" and actual deaths from Guinea worm are rare, so I tend to doubt it.

However, there is a clear reference to it in the Ebers Papyrus, an Egyptian papyrus of herbal knowledge dating to c. 1550 BCE - interestingly just 100 years earlier than Numbers 21.

In 1986, the Carter Center, founded by Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter, began a campaign to end the affliction through education about the worm's behavior and improving the availability of means to filter water so that new people don't get infected.

At that time, in 1986, the number of people affected was around 3.5 million.

In that 2012 post, I was able to report that by 2011, the number of cases was down to 1100.

Okay, so why I bring all this up now? Because now I can report that the Carter Center says that the number of cases of Guinea worm in 2015 was just 22 - a reduction, quite literally, of 99.999 percent since 1986.

There's still much to do; anyone involved knows that in any such effort the last few cases are the most difficult to get rid of. But the fact remains that the Guinea worm is on the brink of being the second disease after smallpox and the first parasitic disease to be eliminated from the human population. And there is no vaccine and no drug treatment for the condition - this has all been accomplished through improving the knowledge and the health environment of the people affected.

How's that for feel-good news.

Sources cited in links:

234.1 - Good News: potential breakthrough in treatment of Alzheimer's

Good News: potential breakthrough in treatment of Alzheimer's

We start this week with two bits of health-related Good News.

The first is connected to the fact that researchers have known for some time that neuroimflammation - inflammation of the brain - is associated with Alzheimer's.

New research just published in the journal Brain strongly suggests that such inflammation - which can arise from an overactive immune system - is not a result of Alzheimer's as much as it is a driver of the disease.

The brains of people with Alzheimer's were found to have higher levels of microglia, or immune cells, which suggested brain inflammation, and the number of such cells increased as the disease progressed. But in an experiment, mice with an Alzheimer's-like condition were given an inhibitor to keep such microglia from multiplying - and the progression of the disease stalled once the numbers of microglia stabilized.

Dr. Diego Gomez-Nicola, lead author of the study, said the results are
as close to evidence as we can get that this particular pathway is active in the development of Alzheimer's disease
and that it's "time to progress to the clinical setup," that is, to developing medications.

It's obviously too early for celebrations and remember, assuming an appropriate medication can be found, this is neither a vaccine nor a cure but only a way to prevent the disease from progressing. But in individuals and especially families dealing with someone with Alzheimer's, that "only" is a very big thing.

And this is still one of the most exciting and even hopeful discoveries about Alzheimer's in over a decade. And that makes it good news.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #234

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of January 14-20, 2015

This week:

Good News: potential breakthrough in treatment of Alzheimer's

Good News: parasitic disease on the verge of being eliminated

Good News: Iran deal advances’s-arak-nuclear-reactor-begins-process-‘modernization-792190

Clown Award: NH State Rep. Josh Moore

RIP: David Bowie

EPA board challenges EPA report on fracking

Outrage of the Week: protecting cops in the Eric Garner killing

Lyrics: good and bad

233.10 - Outrage of the Year 2015: the Tamir Rice case

Outrage of the Year 2015: the Tamir Rice case

Finally for today, we have my choice for Outrage of the Year 2015. Yes, there were numerous outrages, far more than I had the time or opportunity to mention, including at least one I truly regret not having gotten to.

Nonetheless, there is one story which has been a source of outrage across the year and needs mention here again: The murder, yes I said the murder, or 12-year old Tamir Rice by Cleveland cop Timothy Loehmann.

I actually first referenced this in December of 2014, a couple of weeks after Tamir was killed. In discussing - and being disgusted by - there being no charges in the death of Eric Garner, I said that

"Now we just have to wait to see what the excuse will be, why there will be no charges against the cop, in the murder of Tamir Rice."

The initial police reports - issued before the cops knew there was a video - were pockmarked with lies.

According to the initial story, the cops saw "a few people sitting underneath a pavilion." They saw Tamir pick up a gun from the table and put it in his waistband. Loehmann got out of car, said three times to Tamir to show his hands. Instead, he pulled the gun out and so was shot.

The video proved beyond doubt that none of that was true. When the cops - Loehmann and his partner, Frank Garmback - screeched up to him, Tamir was alone and standing outside the pavilion. Loehmann jumped out of the car and shot Tamir in - this is quite literal, based on a stopwatch comparison to the video - 0.8 seconds, obviously not enough time for him to have said anything three times.

In March, I described the city of Cleveland's response to a wrongful death suit filed by Tamir's family.

One hundred eleven times in that response, and yes I counted, the city used boilerplate language to say, in essence, "There's an investigation going on. We don't know yet what happened." And then that brief goes on to say that Tamir's getting shot was his own fault, in pretty much just those words. So "we have no idea what happened but it was all the victim's fault."

Tamir Rice
In June, I wrote that in a report filed just a week after Tamir Rice was killed, police said he would have been charged with "aggravated menacing" and "inducing panic" - that is, if they hadn't shot him to death less than two seconds after screeching up to him in the patrol car. But after what was then a month's long investigation, the Sheriff's Office had just released its results to the County Prosecutor's office - with no suggestion about any possible charges.

Around that same time, on June 11, a Cleveland Municipal Court Judge issued an advisory opinion that there was probable cause for Loehmann to face murder and other charges. And on June 13, prosecutors released documents saying there was no hard evidence that Loehmann said anything to Tamir before he shot him.

In July, I noted that the Cleveland Police Department in effect admitted that it never should have hired Timothy Loehmann. The two supervisors who hired him had been disciplined, found guilty of having "failed to adequately supervise and review an applicant's background investigation" which would have shown that Loehmann quit the Independence Police Department on his first day and was rejected by at least five other area police agencies before landing a job in Cleveland.

By October, I was writing about Cleveland prosecutors "laying the grounds to whitewash" the killings. Prosecutors hired two supposed experts who found - what a surprise - that the shooting was entirely justified because the only thing - the only thing - that mattered was if the cop thought - just thought - there was a threat, whether there actually was one or not. What's more, the cops' actions in screeching up to Tamir, in coming so close, in thereby creating the very confrontation, the very risk, that Loehmann said he was responding to, was, they said, irrelevant.

Around the end of November I was able to say that another expert hired by the family noted that the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals had found in an earlier case that a cop putting themselves in harm's way, a cop acting, that is, in a way Garmback and Loehmann did, is relevant to whether or not a shooting is "reasonable." The prosecutors hand-picked experts didn't even know the laws they were considering.

Finally, on November 30, more than a year after the shooting, prosecutors actually got around to taking statements from Loehman and Garmback.

With all that background, you could hardly be surprise at the outcome: On December 28, prosecutors announced there would be no charges. Loehmann goes free.

But wait, the outrage doesn't stop there.

The persecutor (that is not a typo) was quite open about the fact that he guided the grand jury to its conclusion. Indeed, his report to the grand jury and his later public statements sound more like a defense counsel brief than a DA impartially presenting evidence, right down to the report having headings like "Officers Loehmann and Garmback's subsequent statements are consistent with the evidence in this case" and "The incident conforms to the Cleveland Police Department's active shooter policy."

He was quoted later as saying "We don't second guess police officers."

Which goes to prove, finally, what we knew all along: This whole farce of a year-long "investigation," this whole sham of a grand jury "inquiry," was all orchestrated from the beginning for one and only one purpose: to let another killer cop walk. And dammit, if we are not going to "second guess police officers," we may as well just give them badge numbers starting with double-0, change the term from "police officer" to "Tonton Macoute" and be done with it.

It is a year-long outrage. It is the Outrage of the Year for 2015.

Sources cited in links:

Saturday, January 16, 2016

233.9 - Outrage of the Week: Antonin Scalia says government can promote religion

Outrage of the Week: Antonin Scalia says government can promote religion

And now our other regular feature, this is the Outrage of the Week.

And here we have another repeat winner, a man who has been a font of outrageousness over the years, Supreme Court Injustice Antonin Scalia, more properly known as Justice Skeletor. He has again proven himself an embarrassment to his position and an affront to reason.

Speaking at Archbishop Rummel High School in the New Orleans suburb of Metairie, Louisiana, on January 2, Skeletor said the idea of religious neutrality has "no place in our constitutional tradition."

The First Amendment, he maintained, only bars the government from favoring one religion over another. It does not bar the government from favoring religion over non-religion. In other words, if you are an atheist or an agnostic or perhaps even just a non-practicing whatever, the First Amendment affords you no protection and no rights. Supporting religion is all part of our "constitutional tradition."

So here's my challenge to Skeletor and to all the rest of you: Find all of the references to God in the Constitution. Here's a hint: There aren't any. The only mention of religion prior to the adoption of the First Amendment is Article VI, paragraph 3, which says that
Justice Antonin Skeletor
no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
Federalist James Iredell, dubbed "the ablest defender of the Constitution" in the period its adoption was being debated, noted the objections to the provision, that people might elect "pagans and Mahometans" (which was how Muslims were referred to at the time) or even those "who have no religion at all [emphasis added]." But, he replied, "How is it possible to exclude any set of men, without taking away that principle of religious freedom which we ourselves so warmly contend for?”

Which means that, contrary to Skeletor, the idea of religious freedom including those "with no religion at all" was part of our "constitutional tradition" from even before it was adopted. Which means Skeletor is not only a reactionary religious fanatic, he is, as usual, flat out wrong.

His presence on the court is a daily outrage.

Sources cited in links:

233.8 - Clown of the Year 2015, Jackassery Category: Sen. James Inhofe

Clown of the Year 2015, Jackassery Category: Sen. James Inhofe

For Clown of the Year 2015, Total Jackassery category, we again have a lot of nominees, such as Marco Rubio dismissing talk about gun control in the wake of the San Bernadino shootings by noting the couple who did the shooting also had homemade bombs and saying "I don't see anybody talking about bomb control" - which, of course, is likely because bombs are already illegal, which he apparently did not know.

There was Alaska governor Bill Walker proposing to raise money to deal with the impacts of climate change on his state by issuing more licenses to drill for more oil.

We had the then-governor of Kentucky, Steve Beshear arguing to the Supreme Court that Kentucky's ban on same-sex marriage was not discriminatory because while, for example, it prevented two gay guys who wanted to get married to each other from doing so, it also prevented two straight guys who didn't want to get married to each other from doing the same thing, so it's all fair, see?

We had Ben Carson insisting that presidents can simply ignore Supreme Court rulings they don't like because those are "judicial" laws, not like they were real "legislative" laws or something.

But our winner - if only because he was a three-time recipient in 2015 - is the man with the world's most perfect middle name because he clearly has rocks in his head, Senator James Mountain and yes that really is his middle name Inhofe.

Sen. James Rocks-In-His-Head Inhofe
This is the man who stood in the well of the Senate in late February with a snowball in his hand and declared that because it was cold in Washington, DC, in February, that because there was snow on the ground in Washington, DC, in February, that proved global warming is a hoax.

This is the man who, having repeatedly made that hoax claim, who even wrote a book making the claim, in May slammed Obama's climate plan on the grounds that it didn't push for more nuclear power, without which, Senator Rocks In His Head said, we can't reduce carbon emissions enough. This is the man who, a week later, went on a rant on how we should not reduce carbon emissions because "CO2 is a fertilizer" that is "greening the planet."

And this is the man who in December went uninvited to the international climate conference as "the one-man truth squad, and tell the truth, that they’re being lied to by the Obama administration" because he and the rest of the troglodytes in Congress will keep anything from being done.

Senator James Rocks In His Head Inhofe, Clown of the Year 2015, Total Jackassery Category.

Sources cited in links:
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