Saturday, June 24, 2017

26.3 - Summer is here

Summer is here

Okay, after all that I want to end on something lighter.

At 12:54am Eastern Time on Wednesday, June 21 - and the appropriately earlier hours on the night June 20 as you went west, it became summer 2017. So happy summer.

This summer is a special one for nostalgia buffs or more accurately for people who make their living off nostalgia: It is the 50th anniversary of "the Summer of Love" and there already are a boatload of reminiscences that see that summer through rose-colored - maybe literally rose-colored - granny glasses as one of sharing, freedom, music, and peace and an equal boatload of sneering dismissals rife with tales of drug addiction and overdoses, squalor, and street fights.

There are enough individual examples in each boatload to force the boring conclusion that there is some truth in both tales.

So for those of us old enough to remember it, it shouldn't be a question of embracing one of those tales but of embracing our own Summer of Love, our own experience. Mine, I have to say, was much more of the sharing, freedom, music, and peace type - which in a way is why I prefer the alternate name "the Sgt. Pepper Summer." Sgt. Pepper was released June 1, 1967 and was the soundtrack of that summer.

Y'see, the name Summer of Love puts too much emphasis on San Francisco, as if what happened there was what defined the whole concept. And it didn't. In fact the hippie scene in San Francisco - focused in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, or Hashbury as it came to be known - was dying out by the time the summer of 1967 came around and by the end of that summer the area was increasingly defined by hard drugs and awash in lost people who were there mostly because they had nowhere else to be, which is when and where most of the bad news tales of that summer come from.

The Sgt. Pepper Summer, however, was not just San Francisco. It was everywhere that long hair, jeans, maybe some love beads, and a smile meant you were among friends, friends who would share with you, with who you could share, and who - hard to believe is this more cynical time - you could trust even as strangers, trust enough that even when, and it did happen, you got ripped off, it didn't really matter because what you had gained in the times of sharing clearly outweighed what you lost in that isolated case.

So what happened to that summer, what made all that vaguely-defined, borderless community sort of dissolve? Personally I think, contrary to so many who just flippantly dismiss the whole thing as a youthful lark and say people just grew up, I think the reason we lost it is because that sense of sharing, of community, came to us so easily and naturally we thought it could be, would be, maintained just as easily and naturally.

But it can't; it takes work. And we were - I can't say incapable of the work, it was more that we were unaware of the need. So as we got on with our lives, some things, even valued ones, slipped away unnoticed.

Of course that idea hasn't completely dissolved, there are still successful, on-going communes and intentional communities and the fact is the spirit still survives even if it has taken on other tones. Some years ago, someone in the course of trying to convince me to adopt a more conservative appearance, said I looked like "a warmed-over '60s radical." To which my wife at the time responded "Good - because we could use some warmed-over '60s radicalism." Which is still true in both the political and the social sense.

Have a great summer. And resist!

26.2 - Another black man dead, another cop free

Another black man dead, another cop free

What does it take?

I have to ask, to wonder, what does it take?

On July 6, cop Jeronimo Yanez pulled over Philando Castile in a suburb of Minneapolis because Castile was black and had a wide nose - which was enough in Yanez's mind to make him look similar to a robbery suspect.

Thirty-eight seconds after Yanez stepped the window of his car, Philando Castile was bleeding to death, having been shot through the heart by Jeronimo Yanez who claimed Castile was pulling out a gun.

Yanez was indicted for second degree manslaughter.

Just so you understand, second degree manslaughter is generally somewhat technically defined as the unlawful killing of a human being without malice and without intent to kill or cause death, committed accidentally in the course of an otherwise lawful act.

Specifically under Minnesota law, you are guilty of second degree manslaughter if you cause the death of another by your culpable negligence that creates an unreasonable risk and you consciously take chances of causing death or great bodily harm to another.

Figure it this way: Second degree manslaughter is about the lowest possible criminal charge in a case that involves a death.

On June 16, Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of all charges.

I say again: What does it take?

Philando Castile did all the things you're supposed to do. He was polite. He cooperated. He told the cop he had a gun. He made no sudden moves. It was all on the video, which the jury saw.

It made no difference.

After backup arrived, Yanez told another cop that he didn't actually see Castile grab for a gun. It was just that after he asked to see Castile's license, he - Yanez - got "fucking nervous" and Castile had "a wide grip."

That was it. That was what justified shooting him seven times. That's what made Yanez fear for his life. That was his justification. He was nervous and Castile had "a wide grip."

It made no difference.

At the trial, the cop who came to assist, Joseph Kauser, testified that Castile looked "relaxed and calm" and from what he could hear of his conversation with Yanez, was not threatening.

Kauser said he didn't feel threatened and in fact the newly-released dashcam video shows him with his thumbs hooked in a casual position on his bullet resistant vest.

He said he never saw Castile's gun. He testified to all that at the trial.

Philando Castile
It made no difference.

Nothing made a difference. As soon as a cop said "there was this black guy and he said he had a gun and I was scared," that was enough.

What does it take? What does it take for cops to held responsible for their actions? What does it take for juries to stop treating cops like they all had double-0 numbers on their badges?

How long can we go on trying to tell ourselves, to kid ourselves, to lie to ourselves, to tell ourselves this is all proper, that this is all right, that the system is working, as another cop kills another black man and walks free? How long? How many more?

That the system is not working is transparently clear; that racism is a cause is just as clear. Indeed, it should be a given: There are repeated research studies that show that black people, particularly black males - even black male children - are seen by whites as threatening and black men are perceived to be taller, heavier, and more muscular than white men of the same height and weight.

So did racism play a part in the killing of Philando Castile? Of course it did. Did it play a part in the acquittal of Jeronimo Yanez? Of course it did.

So what does it take? What will it take for justice to be more than a rarity?

And yet, even given the harsh reality of racism, even given its role here, there is something else I wanted to mention, something to fill out the picture: From the moment Castile says he has a gun, Yanez goes into a state of what can only be called rising panic. In the well-known video shot by the remarkably-composed girlfriend, whose name is Diamond Reynolds, Yanez can be heard screaming - and I do mean screaming - things like "I told him not to reach for it" punctuated by f-bombs. At that moment he strikes me as someone struggling desperately to control themselves, to get a grip on themselves. When backup comes he is so intent on keeping his gun on the dying Castile - so focused on controlling himself - that the other police have to persuade him to step away.

That he was very frightened can't be denied. That he had cause to be, sufficient cause to kill someone, certainly can be.

But here's the question that Yanez unintentionally raises, one I broached over two years ago:
Are cops nowadays taught to be scared? Are they trained to spend every moment of their working days in mortal fear for their lives?

No joke. No sarcasm. I'm serious. I genuinely wonder.
Part of the reason I asked the question was that so many of the cops in videos of other incidents I had seen to that point struck me much as Yanez did in this one: As frightened, on the verge of panic, desperately trying to retain some semblance of emotional control. Even allowing for the stress, for the adrenalin rush, they still seemed in a word scared. And I wondered: Are they being trained to be so ready to go to kill or be killed at any instant that they wind up in a constant state of stressed anxiety - that is, in effect, being trained to be scared?

It is still a valid question and bluntly the answer appear to be yes: We are teaching cops to be scared.

Yes, police work can be dangerous - although, depending on how you measure it, police work may or may not make it (barely) into the top 10 most dangerous jobs in the US - but when we have thousands of armed people going through their work day genuinely fearful that every encounter could instantly become a life or death struggle, that is a certain recipe for more, lots more, Philando Castiles.

So I don't know what police training Jeronimo Yanez got - but I can't help but wonder if that very training is part of the reason Philado Castile is dead.

26.1 - The rightwing blames the progressive left for the shooting in Alexandria (as predicted)

The rightwing blames the progressive left for the shooting in Alexandria (as predicted)

I told you, I told you, I told you!

I told you this is what was going to happen.

Last week, I only mentioned the mass shooting in Alexandria briefly because news of it had come only shortly before I did the show and there was no time to gather information. But I did say something and I am going to quote what I said in full and word for word. This was it:
You undoubtedly know about the gunman who shot up a group of Republican lawmakers who were practicing for an annual charity baseball game, wounding House Majority Whip Steve Scalise - who at last report is in critical condition - and at least four others before being killed.
You also have undoubtedly heard about how the shooter, one James Hodgkinson, was some real liberal and a Bernie Sanders supporter.

So I want this noted, For the Record: I predict that you will not find one single GOPper, one single wingnut, one single person on the entire right half of the US political spectrum who will describe this guy as what they always describe right-wing shooters as, "a lone wacko," and that instead they will claim he is "emblematic of the violence of the left."
That's what I told you would happen and that is exactly what has happened. The right wing, demonstrating its typical total lack of self-awareness and conscience, rose as one to blame it all on "the liberals."

I'm going to go through a list because you need to understand how wide and how unified this vilification is. And remember, this is not an historical compilation. These all came in the last week in response to the Alexandria shooting.

Rush Limbaugh said "the average, base Democrat voter" is "getting more and more fringe and imbalanced; they openly promote violence," before labeling Hodgkinson "a mainstream Democrat voter."

Lifezette, the website of Laura Ingraham, declared that the "American Left demonizes and dehumanizes conservatives."

The Daily Caller called the shooting part of "an escalating pattern of violence and intimidation against Republicans," who are constantly on "the receiving end of violence and intimidation" - because they, of course, are always the victims. Always.

William Jacobson of the rightwing blog Legal Insurrection wrote that "the entire concept of 'The Resistance' invokes violence" and "the window for violence has been moved from the radical fringes to the mere left."

Rightwing radio host Bill Mitchell tweeted that "The Left in this country is ushering in a new #CultureOfViolence where violent hate is the new normal."

Newt Gingrich called the shooting "part of a pattern" of left behavior.

Alt-right troll Nick Short claimed that"Alexandria comes from the incitement by the Left and the media" and thatsaying "people will die" as a result of losing health coverage - which is literally true and there are studies finding that anywhere from 18,000 to 45,000 Americans die every year from inadequate access to health care - but speaking that literal truth is to Nick Short "an incitement to violence."

And indeed, political cartoonist Mike Lester directly connected Hodgkinson to that, directly connected his murderous rampage to those people saying folks will die if they lose their health coverage.

Alex Jones of InfoWars claimed that Democrats have been "calling for Trump's death" and for his supporters to be attacked."

Sean Hannity blamed the shooting on "left-wing hate that is being spewed" by "liberals all across the country" who are "glorifying violence."

Far-right operative and bizzaro-conspiracy-monger Roger Stone said the shooting was the result of hate generated by the media and egged on by "LibDems."

National Review claimed "the American Left has embraced political violence and 'anarcho-tyranny,'" whatever that's supposed to mean.

Harlan Hill, a rightwing political consultant, said tough criticism of TheRump, even if accurate, such as calling him "dangerous," is "a passive justification for the kind of violence we saw."

When they get to more specific targets, the wingnuts got positively loopy, dumping the blame in the lap of whoever the particular wingnut is obsessed with: Among those blamed were Snoop Dogg, Barack Obama, Madonna, former Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Kathy Griffin, Sen. Tim Kaine, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the media, and the investigation into TheRump's ties to Russia.

That's by no means all, but it should be enough.

Note well: Not one of these people said anything about "lone wacko," about there being no meaning beyond the individual tragedy and how dare you even suggest it had something to do with political rhetoric. Not one of them said any of the things they always say when it's a rightwing shooter.

In fact, Limbaugh went out of his to way specifically say that Hodgkinson is not "a Looney Tune kook burger."

Well, right now federal officials are now characterizing Hodgkinson as a desperate man who was unemployed, running out of money, taking prescription drugs, having anger issues, and in a troubled marriage and that he was "struggling in all kinds of different ways." They also described the shooting as more of a spontaneous event.

And other reports note that Hodgkinson has one other issue that research suggests connects almost all mass shooters: a history of - in his case alleged - domestic violence.

James Hodgkinson
But none of that will matter. I guarantee you none of that will matter. The right wing will still insist on the collective guilt of the entire left, still insist there is blood on the hands of every American in or out of government, in or out of the Democratic party, who dares to question the bigotry, the selfishness, the greed, the destructiveness, of the right. Because those of the right wing have no conscience and they do not care about truth. They only care about power.

And again, note well: Unlike the lies promulgated by the right in their attempts to "prove" the inherent violence of the left, the examples I have cited were not plucked out of the depths of some comment stream, were not authored by someone you never heard of before and very likely will never hear of again. These are leading voices of the American right wing, some of them with mass audiences.

And what makes it all worse is that all too often what is screeched in the dank halls of the right-wing echo chamber soon enough becomes spoken aloud in the mainstream media.

For example, the Kansas City Star said the shooting "highlights [a] disturbing increase in left-wing violence" but couldn't find space to mention any examples.

CNN's national security analyst, Peter Bergen, described what he called "the return of leftist terrorism," claiming some sort of link with some poorly-described examples involving the Weather Underground and the Black Panthers from 50 years ago.

But for some, even that was too vague and for them the question quickly became resolved to "How much blame does Bernie Sanders bear?"

In an interview with Jane Sanders, Bernie Sanders' wife, to discuss the shooting, Wolf Blitzer demanded to know if Sanders "went too far" when he called TheRump "the worst and most dangerous president" the US has ever had, as if that was a cause of the attack.

And the New York Times, well, the New York Times had a big long article in which it did its best to blame Bernie Sanders without admitting that it was doing it.

It referred to Hodgkinson as a "test for the movement" and an "opportunity for the senator's fans to consider their message," which of course assumes that said "message" is an incitement to murder.

The paper admits that "Sanders has advocated a peaceful political revolution," but then immediately goes on to say that "long before the shooting, some of his supporters had earned a belligerent reputation" and that the shooting "put a new spotlight on the rage buried in some corners of the progressive left."

This is, the article intoned, "a moment for liberals to figure out how to balance anger at Mr. Trump with inciting violence" - which, again, assumes that "inciting violence" is what progressives have been doing.

The whole thing was thick with innuendo. Here's an example, quoted directly from the article:
On Tuesday, Mr. Hodgkinson posted a cartoon on Facebook explaining "How does a bill work?" "That's an easy one, Billy," the cartoon reads. "Corporations write the bill and then bribe Congress until it becomes law."

"That's Exactly How It Works. ...." Mr. Hodgkinson wrote.

That is not far from Mr. Sanders's own message.
This is insane.
Shaun King, a syndicated columnist with the NY Daily News, said it well:
To this very day I work directly with several dozen progressive grassroots organizations fighting for real change in this country. I've attended and hosted and contributed to hundreds of meetings with these organizations. Not once, publicly or privately, did a single person in a single meeting I was a part of ever suggest, explicitly or implicitly, that someone should go do what James Hodgkinson did today. Period.
The blaming, the finger-pointing, the accusations, he didn't use the word, but I will: It's all lies. Lies intended to secure and advance a reactionary right-wing agenda.

Understand: I do believe words can have an impact. I do believe we need to accept responsibility for the meaning of what we say, of the terms we use, of the ideas we express. I do believe we have to be aware of how our words can sound and of the fact that, as I have often said in the past, in communication what you say is not as important as what the other person hears.

What I deny is that the words, the terms, the ideas, of the progressive left have been or are provoking or inciting violence, especially murderous violence. Oh yes, I'm sure if you dig into the bowels of Twitter you can find individual examples of expressions of heinous thoughts or heinous images, and the right wing will search out those isolated examples buried in the mass like some political version of Where's Waldo and then take those isolated examples and claim that the ill behavior or immoral assertion of that one or those few describes the entire progressive movement. And that is, again, a lie. A deliberate lie.

In fact, if you want to see incitement to violence, if you want to see the impacts of incitement, the effects of incitement, the left is not the place to look.

Remember when Ted Nugent called Barack Obama "a subhuman mongrel" who should "suck on my machine gun," called Hillary Clinton a "worthless bitch," and said both deserve to be hanged?

Was any of that incitement?

How about when Bill O'Reilley spent week after week attacking abortion provider Dr. George Tiller as "Tiller the baby killer" until Tiller actually was murdered? Was that incitement?

What about Byron Williams and his failed plot to shoot people at the Tides Foundation and the ACLU, where Williams explicitly identified Glenn Beck and Alex Jones as what prompted him to act?

What about Robert Dear, who killed three people at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado based on what he heard from Limbaugh and Jones and O'Reilly and the like?

Oh, and what about the guy who shot up a family pizzeria in Washington DC after Alex Jones wanted his audience to investigate the child sex-trafficking ring that Hillary Clinton was supposedly operating out of the building's basement?

Was any of that incitement?

And what of His Orangeness himself? At a campaign rally last August, Donald TheRump suggested that "the Second Amendment people" could maybe deal with Hillary Clinton if she were elected. Was that incitement? Did that go "too far?" Did that have to be "considered?"

At another rally, after being told by security that someone might be planning to throw tomatoes at him, TheRump, who openly yearned for the days when protesters would be carried out on stretchers, told the crowd to "knock the crap out of them. I promise you, I will pay for the legal fees." Was that incitement?

And of course there were the celebrations of sexual assault and the denunciations of refugees, of Muslims, of Mexicans, and others. Was any of that incitement?

To the right wing, the answer in each case is "no." None of that was an incitement to violence. None of that "went too far." None of that "message" needed to be "considered."

Despite the fact that the Southern Poverty Law Center documented almost 900 reports of harassment and intimidation in the immediate aftermath of the 2016 election, with many of those involving people invoking TheRump's name during the assaults, none of it, they insist, was an incitement

Despite the fact that the Anti-Defamation League reported that anti-Semitic incidents in the US jumped 86 percent in the first quarter of 2017 and there has been a surge in violent attacks on Indian Americans and Sikhs, frequently by people thinking they were Muslims or Arabs, none of it, they insist, was an incitement. None of it.

Even as the hate crimes continue, even to torching the memorial to a victim of a previous hate crime. Nope, none of it has a single blessed little thing to do with anything the right said, even when repeated over and over by its loudest voices.

Even when Judson Phillips, the founder of Tea Party Nation, said in response to the Alexandria shooting that we are seeing "The first skirmishes of a second American civil war" - saying that's not metaphorical but "an objective statement of the reality in America" - even that is not an incitement to violence in the eyes of the right.

The hard truth here is that for the right wing, this actually has nothing to do with incitement, it has nothing to do with safety, nothing to do with cooling the rhetoric, and sure as hell has nothing to do with "civility."

It has to do with trying to emotional manipulate and intimidate the left, trying to exploit our natural tendency to pay attention to the impacts of what we do, to worry about unintended effects of what we say, our natural tendency to care about others and our effects on them, to exploit that to make us so hesitant to criticize, so reluctant to run even the hypothetical risk of "going too far," so timorous in our words and deeds, that we offer no effective resistance to their reactionary agenda that would undo moe than a century of progress to serve the desires of a selfish elite.

But the right should know now: We will not be silenced. We will be nonviolent, but we will be aggressive. We will be honest, but we - sometimes - will be rude and crude. We will be understanding - but we will not back down. You wingnuts seem to actually want a second civil war, with all the blood and death that implies. We want the next - and notice I say next because there have been several - the next American revolution, with all the growth and progress that implies. And we will not be turned around by your lies about us.

What's Left #26

What's Left
for the week of June 23 to 29, 2017

This week:
The rightwing blames the progressive left for the shooting in Alexandria (as predicted)

[Note: There are additional citations above that were not in the broadcast version due to time constraints.]

Another black man dead, another cop free

Summer is here

Saturday, June 17, 2017

25.7 - Outrage of the Week: "gay panic" still a legal defense in 48 states

Outrage of the Week: "gay panic" still a legal defense in 48 states

Now for our other regular feature, this is the Outrage of the Week.

Here's some news: About two weeks ago, the Illinois legislature approved passed a bill, which Governor Bruce Rauner has indicated he will sign, to ban the use of so-called "gay panic" and "trans panic" as defenses against charges of physical violence such as assault or worse.

The idea behind these defenses is that for the defendant it was so shocking, so utterly horrifying, to discover that the person they were dealing with or, in the case of trans panic, maybe even had sex with, discovering that that person is gay or transgender, that that is so shocking, that the accused just lost control of themselves, they were traumatized, they panicked, to a point where they could not be held responsible for their actions.

Now Illinois is banning use of that as a defense.

So why is it here under the Outrage of the Week instead of Good News?

Because Illinois is only the second state - California being the other - to have done so. In 48 states, "gay panic" and "trans panic" are still valid legal defenses.

In 48 states it is legal to use a victim's gender or sexual identity to justify violence against them, even murder.

In 48 states it is legally acceptable to plead, in effect, "not guilty by reason of the victim was gay or transgender."

This doesn't mean such defenses succeed, in fact, they usually fail. But they remain legal despite the fact that the ABA came out against their use four years ago.

And worse, the handful of other places that have recently tried to ban these defenses - Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Washington, DC - have failed to get the legislation passed.

Pennsylvania representative Michael Schlossberg, who introduced his state's legislation, summed it up well: "How in God's name," he said, "could [panic defenses] be real in the 21st century?"

Yes, we have come far on issues of gender and sexual identity, farther than I would have imagined 10 years ago. But that doesn't change the fact that too much of our legal structure still has to be dragged kicking and screaming out of the prejudices of decades gone by. And that is an outrage.

25.6 - Clown Award: Dana Rohrabacher

Clown Award: Dana Rohrabacher

Now for the Clown Award, given as always for meritorious stupidity.

We had two main contenders this week. First up is Missouri state Representative Mike Moon, who if I slip and call Mike Loon, don't be surprised.

On June 12, Governor Eric Greitens called the Missouri legislature into a special session to discuss re-writing restrictions on abortion providers after a federal judge knocked down some of the state's existing laws.

In response, Moon announced the "Missouri Right to Life Act," a bill he filed, that would "require due process of law before the life of any human, born or unborn, is ended prior to natural death," which would of course effectively outlaw abortions in the state.

No, his nomination for the Clown Award did not arise from the "unborn human" crap - unless you call a caterpillar an "unborn butterfly," yes, "unborn human" is crap - but from the fact is that he made this announcement by posting footage of himself beheading and gutting a chicken as he did it, including declaring "we need to get to the heart of the matter here" as he pulled out the chicken's heart and showed it to the camera.

Which is high-quality clownishness and most weeks would take the prize, but unfortunately, this week the competition was too stiff for him. But in fairness to him, he lost out to an old pro at nutbaggery.

So this week, the Big Red Nose goes to Rep. Dana Rohrabacher.

On June 7, gunmen and suicide bombers attacked Iran's parliament and the shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, located just outside the capital of Tehran. At least 17 were killed and dozens wounded, leading to an hours-long siege at the legislature that ended with four of the attackers dead.

ISIS has claimed authorship of the attacks, marking the first time that group of Sunni extremists has taken responsibility for an assault in Shiite-majority Iran.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher
What does that have to do with Dana Rohrabacher? This:

At a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing about Hezbollah the next day, Rohrabacher said the attack in Iran could be a "good thing" and actually proposed that the US government support ISIS in attacking rival groups.

And no, I'm not exaggerating. Quote:
Isn't it a good thing for us to have the United States finally backing up Sunnis who will attack Hezbollah and the Shiite threat to us? Isn't that a good thing?
If that wasn't enough, he even suggested the attack was the result of some secret foreign policy of TheRump, saying maybe it arose from "a Trump strategy of actually supporting one group against another."

To - to use a great old phrase - cap the climax, Rohrabacher. later issued a statement "clarifying" his position, in which, until it was corrected - a clarification of the clarification I expect - it assumed Khomeini is still alive. He died in 1989.

Dana Rohrabacher: What. a. clown.

Quick Footnote: The TheRump administration's statement responding to the Tehran attack included the statement that "states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote." I wish we had thought of that before 9/11.

25.5 - For the Record: a variety of short items

For the Record: a variety of short items

With our occasional feature called For the Record, we cover several topics briefly, not taking a lot of time on any of them, but we did want to make sure they at least got mentioned.

1. So For the Record: On June 12, TheRump had his first full cabinet meeting. It started with His High Orangeness praising himself and all he has supposedly accomplished and then it went around the room with everybody introducing themselves (which is reasonable) and then going on about how gloriosky it's just so double-fudge sundae with marshmallow and a cherry wonderful to be working for Donald J. TheRump, starting with Mike Pence saying it is "the greatest privilege of my life" to be TheRump's coat-holder and proceeding through Chief of Staff Reince Priebus thanking TheRump for "the opportunity and blessing to serve your agenda." As all the while, His Orangeness sat there soaking it all up, totally and completely pleased with himself and nodding approvingly.

Chris Cillizza of CNN called it "the weirdest Cabinet meeting ever." New York Times reporter Julie Davis said on twitter "Never have seen a Cabinet meeting photo op quite like that one," an opinion echoed by CNN's Jake Tapper. called it "bizarre."

The presidency of Donald TheRump increasingly looks less like a presidency and more like a personality cult. Which is probably why he gets along with dictators so well.

2. For the Record: In May, in that one month, three 15-year-old unarmed black boys were killed by police in separate incidents in Texas, Connecticut, and California. In at least two of those cases, initial police accounts of the incident proved to be outright lies.

Overall, as of June 14, at least 548 people have been killed by police in 2017.

3. For the Record: Last fall, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services put in place a rule under which nursing homes that receive federal funding - which is most of them - could not include so-called mandatory arbitration clauses in their contracts. In other words, residents and their family members were given back the right to sue.

Now, under TheRump, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services have a proposed rule that would rescind the previous rule and once again make forced arbitration, a method which almost never works to the benefit of consumers, the industry standard.

4. Next, I recently have referred to how we are instituting militarism as national policy, including TheRump's statement "We have given [the military] total authorization" and the push for a major shift in strategy in Afghanistan.

So For the Record: on June 14 Reuters reported that TheRump had given War Secretary Jim Mattis the authority to set troop levels in Afghanistan, opening the door to a new "surge" - a resurgent surge, we could call it -  in US forces there.

5. You undoubtedly know about the gunman who shot up a group of Republican lawmakers who were practicing for an annual charity baseball game, wounding House Majority Whip Steve Scalise - who at last report is in critical condition - and at least four others before being killed.

You also have undoubtedly heard about how the shooter, one James Hodgkinson, was some real liberal and a Bernie Sanders supporter.

So I want this noted, For the Record: I predict that you will not find one single GOPper, one single wingnut, one single person on the entire right half of the US political spectrum who will describe this guy as what they always describe right-wing shooters as, "a lone wacko" and that instead they will claim he is "emblematic of the violence of the left."

6. For the Record: Two top Michigan health officials have been criminally charged for their roles in the handling of the Flint water crisis.

The state' Chief Medical Executive Eden Wells was charged with obstruction of justice and lying to police and state Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon has been charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Twelve people died of Legionnaires' disease as a result of the decision made by the unelected Emergency Manager of Flint, appointed by Governor Rick Snidelywhiplash, to switch the city's water supply from Detroit to the Flint River in April 2014.

By the way, the water in Flint still isn't fit to drink.

7. Finally, just a quick pretty much personal note. I grew up in New Jersey and in a lot of ways it still feels like home, so it is with genuine satisfaction that I can say this:

For the Record, according to the latest Quinnipiac University poll, Gov. Chris Christie has the lowest approval rating of any New Jersey governor in the 20-year history of the poll.

Eighty-one percent disapprove of the job Christie is doing; only 15 percent approve.

25.4 - Update: What's wrong with Section 702 of FISA

Update: What's wrong with Section 702 of FISA

Last week, I reported on the Not Good News that the reactionaries in Congress want to make Section702 of FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a permanent part of US law. As of now, that section is supposed to expire the end of this year.

I also noted how Section 702 is the part of FISA that "allows the NSA to sink its hooks directly into the infrastructure of ISPs and just suck up all the internet traffic passing through that point," which means including the content, and the threat to privacy that represents.

I wanted to update that a bit with some additional information about the threat Section 702 presents that I didn't cover then, which is the danger presented through the domestic use of the data that is gathered.

The first thing is that under Section 702 the targets of NSA spying are supposed to be limited to non-US persons living outside the US - but those targets do not have to be terrorists or criminals or even be suspected of any crime.

According to Sarah St.Vincent, a researcher at Human Rights Watch,
as long as "a significant purpose" of the surveillance is to obtain "foreign intelligence information," a term FISA defines broadly, any non-U.S. person outside the country's borders is fair game. In 2016, the government had an estimated 106,469 such targets.
What's more, it is essentially unarguable that such surveillance will suck up a lot of data about US citizens. The government calls this seizure of personal information "incidental," but "incidental" does not mean it is accidental or inadvertent; in fact it is neither. All "incidental" means is that it is not the supposedly primary focus, that those people whose information is gleaned are not the targets of the surveillance.

Here's where it gets extra good. The FBI has the authority to "query" that data, the data the NSA has amassed and stored about US citizens, data which the NSA insists it doesn't look at but which it stores all the same. In 2016, David Medine, at the time chair of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, told the Senate Judiciary Committee that the FBI made such queries "routinely," even at the "assessment" stage, that is, before an actual investigation even starts, the point at which the FBI is thinking about if there is even a case to be investigated. Medine described the agency as being "sort of entitled to poke around and see if something is going on."

Amy Jeffress, who served as an impartial adviser to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, said that court described such queries as "routine and encouraged" and she added that "there is no requirement that the matter be a serious one, nor that it have any relation to national security."

Put more directly, through Section 702 the FBI can and does engage in warrentless searches of warrantlessly-gathered information and do it without any requirement of even a suspicion of wrongdoing. And before anyone tries to jump in by saying the NSA acted with a warrant from the FISC, that warrant would refer to the target of the surveillance - which means that all that "incidental" data on Americans, the very data the FBI is querying, was gathered without a warrant.

And if they miss something, there's a backup: The NSA can share with the FBI or other law enforcement agencies any data which it "reasonably believe[s] to contain evidence of a crime."

In fairness, there isn't a lot of evidence that the FBI has been using this option to pursue cases that did not involve "foreign intelligence information," but leaving aside the troubling implication that as soon as the words "foreign intelligence" or "national security" are invoked, Constitutional rights are supposed to go out the window, the equally troubling fact is that if the FBI has been milking the NSA's database for information on domestic crimes, we might never know.

The practice is called "parallel construction" and it involves taking information obtained either through such a warrantless search or by a tip from the NSA and using it to create a separate investigation, using the information you gained to "find out" what you in fact already knew, or even just to create a different investigatory trail, dating the investigation as starting sometime after the tip and not because of it - and in either case just pretending the NSA database had nothing to do with it. In other words, lying to everyone - prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys, juries, everyone - about the source of the info.

Here's the bottom line: Even if you want to insist that no one has actually done anything wrong here, that the fears have - thus far - been overblown (which again, there's no way to really know), but even if you are prepared to insist that, are you prepared to make the guarantee about all the future years, all the future FBI directors and agents, all the future NSA directors and spooks, all the future NSCs, all the future administrations, White houses, Justice Departments? Are you prepared to guarantee complete, on-going scrupulous adherence to the highest ethical standards on the part of everyone involved, now and  indefinitely into the future?

Section702 should be stopped. It should be allowed to die. I say again what I said last week: If your reps in Congress won't agree to at minimum actively oppose making Section 702 permanent, they do not deserve to be in Congress; they do not deserve to claim the mantle of representative of a free people.

25.3 - Everything You Need To Know: about how right-wingers view the US role in the world

Everything You Need To Know: about how right-wingers view the US role in the world

Next, it's Everything You Need To Know, where you can learn a lot about something in a very short time.

In this case, it's Everything You Need To Know about what's wrong with the right-wing view of foreign policy and the US role in the world in just one sentence.

In response to the terrorist attack in London, England on June 3, Pat Buchanan, former vice-presidential speechwriter and the nutcase's nutcase until he was overthrown by Alex Jones, declared that, quoting,
Today we are in the 16th year of a war begun on 9/11.
Right. It all started on 9/11. Nothing that happened before that matters. Nothing the US did or didn't do prior to that date is relevant. No policy we pursued, no dictator we supported, no oppression we endorsed through arms sales, no economic exploitation we profited by, no offense we committed, had anything to do with it. It just all came out of nowhere, unprovoked, unpredicted, unjustified, on 9/11. That's what the right wing thinks.

And that is Everything You Need To Know

25.2 - Good News: DC District judge rules against DAPL

Good News: DC District judge rules against DAPL

Here's some I-did-not-expect-this Good News: On June 14, Judge James Boasberg of the Federal Distict Court in Washington, DC, ruled that the federal permits authorizing the Dakota Access Pipeline to cross the Missouri River just above the Standing Rock reservation, permits hastily issued by the Trump administration just days after the inauguration, violated federal law in some critical respects.

The Court found that the Army Corps of Engineers
did not adequately consider the impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice, or the degree to which the pipeline's effects are likely to be highly controversial.
The court did rule against the Standing Rock Sioux on some other issues, finding that the decision to allow the pipeline was legal in some respects, and unfortunately did not require that the pipeline be shut off pending a resolution of the case, leaving that to additional briefings and a status conference next week.

Be that as it may, even if it's not as sweeping as we would like, this is still an excellent victory in a case and on an issue thought to have been lost. Which most certainly is Good News.

25.1 - Good News: 9th Circuit upholds block of travel ban

Good News: 9th Circuit upholds block of travel ban

Starting off with some Good News, we find that TheRump keeps trying to ban Muslims - and he keeps losing. His first attempt at a travel ban was a total whiff and his second attempt is faring no better.

Just as a reminder so we're clear on what we're talking about, that second order, issued on March 6 and supposedly designed to overcome the legal objections to the first one, was a 90-day ban on nationals from six Muslim-majority countries - Libya, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen - entering the US, a 120-day ban on the entry of all refugees, and a reduction on the cap on admission of refugees from 110,000 to 50,000 for fiscal 2017.

First, on March 15, federal district Judge Derrick Watson in Hawai'i issued a nationwide injunction against the ban. On March 16, District Judge Theodore Chuang in Maryland issued his own injunction, finding that the proposal was "the realization of the long-envisioned Muslim ban" and noted that during the 2016 campaign TheRump had called for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States."

On May 25, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, based in Richmond, Virginia, upheld Judge Chuang's order, finding that the ban "drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination" aimed at Muslims.

And now, on June 11, a panel of the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Judge Watson's order in a ruling that included a reference to TheRump's tweets calling the ban exactly what his lawyers had been insisting it isn't: a travel ban.

Interestingly, the 9th circuit panel ruled on narrow grounds and did not address the question of if it was unconstitutional discrimination against Muslims. Instead, the said His High Orangeness had violated existing immigration law

Under that law, the administration was required to make findings that entry of the people in question would be detrimental to the United States but failed to do so, the court said. Quoting the court:
The order does not offer a sufficient justification to suspend the entry of more than 180 million people on the basis of nationality.
Ruling on narrow grounds isn't surprising; courts often prefer to rule on narrow grounds, if they are there, rather than having to deal with broader questions.

Then again, it's possible it was done for another purpose: The case will likely wind up in the lap of the Supreme Court and Stephen Vladeck, a professor at University of Texas School of Law, said the 9th Circuit provided an easier path for the Supreme Court to uphold the injunctions against the travel ban, because it avoided entirely the controversy over TheRump's campaign statements and the question of if it is religious discrimination.

So thus far TheRump is a whiff in game 1 and 0-4 in game 2. Let's hope he keeps his string going and we have more Good News.

What's Left #25

What's Left
for the week of June 16-22, 2017

This week:

Good News: 9th Circuit upholds block of travel ban

Good News: DC District judge rules against DAPL

Everything You Need To Know: about how right-wingers view the US role in the world

What's wrong with Section 702 of FISA

For the Record: a variety of short items

Clown Award: Dana Rohrabacher

Outrage of the Week: "gay panic" still a legal defense in 48 states

Saturday, June 10, 2017

24.9 - Outrage of the Week: TheRump quits Paris Accord

Outrage of the Week: TheRump quits Paris Accord

Now for our other regular feature, the Outrage of the Week - and this week, you're probably not surprised, it's TheRump's withdrawing the US from the Paris climate agreement in a statement chock full of nonsense and lies about the environment, global warming, and the economy and in a decision opposed by the American public by better than 2-1.

Burt rather than dwell on his inanity, I want instead to note two things: One is that much of the world reacted pretty much along the lines of "the heck with you and no, we are not going to 'renegotiate' this" and that domestically, many local governments are prepared to pick up the ball that TheRump fumbled so badly.

There is a growing list of at last count 289 mayors and 10 governors who have denounced the decision to withdraw and more importantly, have vowed to ignore TheRump's decision and to continue to abide by the federal Clean Power Plan and the Paris accord, including looking to meet the goal of reducing emissions to 26%-28% below 2005 levels, in their own cities and states.

Three states - California, New York, and Washington - created the United States Climate Alliance to serve as a way for states to coordinate efforts to deal with climate change. As one small sign of what can be done, those three states together make up about a fifth of the US population and a fifth of the US GDP - but produced just 11 percent of US emissions in 2014.

As of June 8, a total of 12 states and Puerto Rico, representing together a third of the US population and a third of the US GDP, had joined.

And this doesn't even address the many businesses and corporations that have realized how much of a threat global warming is to their bottom lines and so have committed to continue to do at least something to avoid the worst effects.

So the bottom line is that most of the world and at least a good part of the US are saying to TheRump, "screw you, keep peddling your fantasies about coal jobs that are never coming back and we'll get on with saving the world without you."

And that is definitely not an outrage.

24.8 - Clown Award: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross

Clown Award: Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross

Now for the Clown Award, given as always for meritorious stupidity.

One example this week blew away the others so efficiently that only celebrity forensic psychiatrist Park Dietz, who said that "there are now benefits to being a sexual assault survivor" and author Laird Wilcox,who insists that "80 percent" of hate crimes that happen on college campuses are "hoaxes or pranks," even made the cut.

So this week, the winner of the Big Red Nose is Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

Wilbur Ross
Just over a week ago, he appeared on CNBC to discuss TheRump's trip to Saudi Arabia. He talked for a few seconds about some venture capital panel he attended on the trip, but do you know what he was really excited about, excited to the point of gushing?

Quoting him:
I think the other thing that was fascinating to me, there was not a single hint of a protestor anywhere there during the whole time we were there, not one guy with a bad placard.
The host interrupted to suggest that maybe that was true because Saudi Arabia is, y'know, a dictatorship - although she expressed it more politely.

Still Wilbur Ross
Ross allowed as how "in theory" that could be true, but, quoting again,
boy there was certainly no sign of it [that is, protest], there was not a single effort at any incursion. There wasn't anything. The mood was a genuinely good mood.
He wrapped up by recalling how the Saudi security guards gave him two bushels of dates as a going-away present.

That is just so stunning in its utter cluelessness, its astounding disconnect from the real world that it almost makes you pity him - until you remember that Wilbur Ross is also the man who last month described news of the US cruise missile attack on that Syrian airfield as "in lieu of after-dinner entertainment," marking him as not clueless but as cold-bloodedly ruthless and indifferent to the oppression of others.

So instead of giving Wilbur Ross a red nose, we're going to give him the full makeup, befitting his status as not just a clown - but an evil clown.

24.7 - Ya Just Gotta Laugh: TheRump "vindicated" by Comey

Ya Gotta Just Laugh: TheRump "vindicated" by Comey

This is one of our occasional features: Ya Gotta Just Laugh, for those occasions when there really is no other response.

TheRump's private attorney, Marc Kasowitz, said His High Orangeness felt "completely and totally vindicated" by James Comey's opening statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee because it included references to three occasions where he told TheRump that he wasn't the subject of an FBI counterintelligence investigation about possible Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Of course, that same statement also described a dinner where TheRump asked Comey if he wanted to stay on as FBI director and then said "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty" - which any reasonable person would read as "If you want to keep your job, you'll do what I want" - and a meeting a couple of weeks later where he told Comey, referring to then-national security adviser Michael Flynn, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go," which is classic obstruction of justice: As Comey noted, when the president of the US takes you aside privately and says "I hope you can see your way clear" to doing such-and-such, that ain't no "just expressing a hope." Because if it is, then the Mafia boss saying "Nice little business you got here; it'd be a shame if something happened to it" is "just expressing a desire for your safety."

But don't worry, TheRump surely hears that "many people say" that he is totally vindicated.

Ya gotta just laugh.

24.6 - Update on voter ID laws

Update on voter ID laws

Last week, described how on May 15 the Supreme Court had finally slammed the door on North Carolina's attempt to restrict votes of minorities through voter ID laws.

Well guess what: On June 4, North Carolina got smacked down again, as the Supreme Court upheld a lower court decision that 28 of the state's legislative districts were illegal racial gerrymanders intended to dilute the impact of black voters

One example was District 21, where the GOPper-dominated legislature, which drew the lines, took a district that had a plurality of black voters and changed it into one with a majority of black voters. The state feebly claimed it had to do that under the Voting Rights Act so that black voters could elect their candidates of choice. The problem is that in those plurality-black districts, minority voters were already electing candidates of their choice - usually, black Democrats - and so the effect of the change was not to enfranchise minority voters in the one district but to make the surrounding districts whiter, weakening and diluting the power of minority voters in those.

Happily, both the Circuit and the Supreme Court saw through the state's BS and new districts will have to be drawn.

This comes on top of a decision by the Supreme Court in May that two of the state's congressional districts were also illegal racial gerrymanders. Apparently, the North Carolina GOPpers know the only way they can keep winning is by cheating.

On a less happy note, Texas has enacted into law a more relaxed version of state voter-identification requirements than those in a previous measure struck down by US courts as racially discriminatory.

Voters still have to produce some form of ID at the polls but the types have been expanded to include something such as a bank statement or utility bill with their name and address. That is, if those voters also sign an affidavit attesting to having a "reasonable impediment" to obtaining a valid photo ID - assuming they will do so after, we can be sure, told lying on such an affidavit carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison and having to wonder if whatever impediment they have is sufficiently "reasonable" to satisfy a law enforced by people who would rather they hadn't voted in the first place.

By the way, the list of valid photo IDs accepted under both the previous law and the revised one includes a driver's license, a US military identification, a US passport, and a concealed handgun permit - but not, interestingly and perhaps revealingly, a student ID card.

24.5 - News on Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange

News on Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange

Something I wanted to bring up just because hey it's my show so why not.

Chelsea Manning
A couple of weeks ago I celebrated the release of Chelsea Manning from prison. At the time, the  only image I had of her was a black-and-white selfie of her wearing a wig - an image I have since learned was never supposed to be circulated: She sent it privately in an email to her therapist and commanding officer and it somehow got out.

Anyway, I wanted to note that we now have this new one. That is Chelsea Manning, in her first photo as a free transgender woman.

Unavoidably intertwined with Manning's case is that of Julian Assange, director of Wikileaks, an organization the Obama administration, demonstrating its claimed commitment to transparency, tried to bankrupt by blocking any source of funding. The Department of Justice tried every way it could think of to find something they could charge Assange with that did not also implicate major publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post, which published portions of the documents that Wikileaks released.

There simply is no rational question but that the highly harsh treatment of Manning, including extended solitary confinement, and the massive and threatening charges filed against her, were an attempt to force Manning to finger Assange as having induced or better yet directed her to copy and send him the documents involved, giving the US a way to get Assange without worrying about little things like freedom of the press.

When they couldn't break her, they were left without a case against Assange.

Julian Assange
But that didn't mean they gave up trying. And now, after seven years of effort, according to reports, they think they have found a way to get Julian Assange and Attorney General Jeff "too racist to be a judge" Sessions said recently that getting Assange is a "priority."

Meanwhile, in one of those moments of deliciously overt hypocrisy, CIA director Mike Pompeo has labeled Wikileaks "a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia" and proclaimed that "we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us" while calling Assange himself "a fraud," "a coward," and "a narcissist."

This is the same Mike Pompeo who last July gloated over the DNC emails released by Wikileaks, calling them "proof that the fix was in from Pres. Obama on down," and who during the fall campaign repeatedly referred to those emails to attack Hillary Clinton.

As a final note on this, Sweden has dropped its fishy-fron-the-start "investigation" of Assange, an investigation that, contrary to the impression you no doubt got from the media, never involved actual charges. Supposedly, he was only wanted for questioning, and the Swedish prosecutors have now said they are giving up because there is no way to question him - even though he has previously offered to be questioned in the Ecuadorian embassy where he has been given asylum or by videoconference; significantly, he even said he would go back to Sweden if the government would guarantee he would not be extradited to the US. Sweden refused all proposed compromises.

The UK still says Assange will be arrested the instant he steps out of that embassy (which is in London) on a charge of missing a court date. Like Sweden, the UK will give no assurance that if he gives himself up he won't be bundled off to the US on whatever charge the DOJ can conjure up in the hopes of destroying Assange and Wikileaks along with him.

24.4 - Not Good News: Congressional reactionaries want to make Section 702 of FISA permanent

Not Good News: Congressional reactionaries want to make Section 702 of FISA permanent

It seems these days that, as I said earlier, no Good News goes unblighted by Not Good News, so speaking of privacy the reactionaries in Congress and the White House want to set in stone a law that essentially allows the NSA to spy on Americans.

The issue is Section 702 of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. That section has a sunset provision, which means that it has to be renewed every few years. It is set to expire on December 31 unless Congress reauthorizes it.

The reactionaries want to make it permanent.

Why is this important? Because Section 702 is the provision that allows the NSA to sink its hooks directly into the infrastructure of ISPs and just suck up all the internet traffic passing through that point: email, Skype chats, videos, Facebook messages, web browsing history, anything and everything whether public or not and remember this includes the content. The purpose, we're told, is to enable the spooks to collect the digital communications of foreigners believed to be living overseas - but never Americans, oh no no no, and never inside the US, oh no no no.

See, the NSA is not supposed to "intentionally target any US citizen, any other US person, or anyone located within the United States." And of course, just like Brutus, all those at the NSA are honorable.

But even engaging in that fantasy, the words "intentionally" and "target" both have been given such wide and let's just call them "flexible" meanings that millions of internet records of millions of Americans are "unintentionally" swept up and catalogued.

But don't worry, the NSA insists it doesn't "collect" any records on Americans - until it turns out that in the NSA's version of English, a record isn't "collected" until an agent actually directly examines it. It can be gathered, indexed, and permanently stored, but it hasn't - yet - been "collected."

And now the gangsters in Congress and the White House want to make this a permanent feature of US law, relieving themselves even of the burden of the occasional charade of pretending to actually consider its wisdom.

I would call this a deal-breaker: If either of your Senators or your Rep votes for this, in fact if they do not actively oppose it, they do not deserve to be in office and I don't give a flying damn about "but look at the good they do on this other thing."
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