Thursday, June 28, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #63 - Part 5

And another thing...

I wanted to make note of two RIPs of different sorts.

The first is kinda sad, but not tragic: After more than 30 years, Matt Groening is ending his comic strip, "Life in Hell." It was a world populated by "anthropomorphic rabbits and a pair of gay lovers" and was what really provided the opening for a new group of cartoonists to appear in alternative weekly newspapers around the country.

You may not know "Life in Hell" but you do know Matt Groening. For one thing, he's co-creator of one on my guilty pleasures, the animated cartoon series "Futurama." But before that, back in 1985, an actor/producer named James Brooks say a "Life in Hell" strip and wanted Groening to use the characters to develop a series of what are called "bumpers" - short features - for "The Tracey Ullman Show." Groening was worried about the prospect of losing the rights to his characters, so he created an different set of characters for the purpose: the Simpsons.

The other RIP is a sad one: Caroline John has died in London at the age of 71.

I know most of you have no idea who Caroline John was and even after I tell you, a lot of you will still have no idea. No matter. Those of you who do find the name rings a bell might be reminded by this picture.

Caroline John played Liz Shaw, a companion to Doctor Who during the John Pertwee era in the early 1980s. For you poor benighted souls who have no idea who Doctor Who is, he's the one in the middle. Doctor Who, a time-traveling alien who can regenerate his body 12 times (and so has 13 lives) is now on his 11th incarnation in what is the longest-running scifi/fantasy series in TV history, having been on the air over 30 years. Caroline John was only on for one season - 25 episodes - out of that time, but no whovian worth the name (you didn't think my email name of whoviating came out of nowhere, did you?) does not recall Liz Shaw.

RIP, Caroline John.


Left Side of the Aisle #63 - Part 4

Unions and the economy

I'm going to tell you something about the economy and while you may not know the figures, you will know the experience, the feel of it. And then I'm going to connect it to something which I bet a lot of you have not thought about.

Start with the fact that according to the Federal Reserve, Americans saw their median net worth plummet nearly 40% from 2007 to 2010. Median net worth was smashed down to the level of 1992. That is, all of the economic gain of the past two decades was destroyed by the banking meltdown. Who was hurt the most? The middle class, of course. The poor had little left to lose - and the median net worth of the rich, here's a shocker, rose slightly even as everyone else was falling off a cliff.

And it happened because the Federal Reserve, with strong bipartisan support in the White House and Congress, used hundreds of billions of dollars of public monies to save the banks and the corporations while ignoring their victims.

The inevitable and obvious result? The rich got richer and the poor got poorer - without the fun in the meantime.

Just one example: Now that 2011 proxy statements have been filed, the extent of executive pay last year has become clear. Median pay of the nation's 200 top-paid CEOs was $14.5 million, including a median pay raise of 5 percent. Did your pay go up 5% last year?

At the same time, corporate profits are rising and rising and rising again. The first graph posted here shows overall corporate profits from the mid-1940s through 2011. (A larger version of each image, with more readable text, can be had by clicking on it.) The vertical gray bars are times of recession. Notice a couple of things: One, notice how dramatically corporate profits had been rising since about 2000. Second, note how in this recession, when the meltdown hit, corporate profits plummeted to the level of several years before - and then rebounded so quickly that the down and up are essentially a single line.

And third how they are now the highest ever. The Fortune 500 generated a total of $824.5 billion in earnings last year, up 16.4% over 2010. Did your earnings go up 16.4% between 2010 and last year?

The next graph is another way of expressing the same idea. It shows corporate profits as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product, or GDP - that is, as a percentage of the total economy. Again, notice the dramatic rise after 2000, the plunge and immediate recovery in the recession, and the fact that they are now higher than ever. So no matter which way you measure it, whether in dollars or as a portion of the total economy, corporate profits are now the highest that have ever been recorded.

So now for comparison look at the next graph. This one shows wages as a percentage of GDP, that is, how much a part of the total economy was in wages paid to workers. In this case, notice how the line drops after 2000 and there was no recovery from the latest recession, in fact the line keeps dropping and now is at its lowest point ever.

So, bluntly, the corporations are making more and more and we are making less and less. The corporations (and their CEOs and assorted cronies) are getting a bigger and bigger bite of the apple while we are increasingly left with little more than the stem.

Oh, but we've been told far more than once, it's all about productivity! That's the problem! You've got to be more productive! Well, that's a crock. Check out the next graph.

Here, the blue line shows the change in GDP per capita - that is, per person - while the red line shows the change in median household income. Both lines start in 1989 and both assume 100 as a starting point. Remember, these lines do not display particular values but rather how those values have changed over time.

The point is, the blue line, GDP per capita, is a pretty good measure of productivity. Productivity is actually measured in worker output per hour, but GDP per capita does provide a reasonable approximation. And you can see how productivity has been rising - but median income has not. We have been increasingly productive as workers but have not received the benefit of that increased productivity. Where has that benefit gone? Look back at that first graph. That's where it has gone.

So that's where we stand. The question is why. I'm going to give you a reason why, one I bet most of you have not thought about.

Today's depressed (and depressing) wages can be blamed on a variety of factors, especially when the blaming is being done by people who want to avoid addressing one very important factor - a variety of factors from globalization and offshoring to new technologies that replace workers. But there remains the elephant in the room, one the corporations try to ignore out of existence but which economists and scholars know is important: the dramatic decline in union membership in the US over the past 60 years, which has left ordinary workers without a powerful public advocate or a voice in the workplace or a say in their wages and benefits.

In the 1950s, a time people now look back to with nostalgia for its secure and strong economy, labor unions were a dominant force in the economy. More than a third of American workers were unionized. Today, unionized workers represent about 12 percent of the workforce, and only seven percent of private workers.

What does this mean to you? This is what it means to you: The red line on the graph at the left shows the rate of union membership as a portion of total workforce; the blue line shows the share of total national income going to the middle class. For over 40 years now, the two have declined in tandem. As union membership shrinks, so does the middle class. That's what it means to you.

And think about this: Last week I was talking about the attacks on the pension plans of public workers and how the reason those pensions often enough really are better than those in private industry is that those in private industry used to be as good - and the gap has developed because the benefits of public workers have not shrunk as much as those in the private sector. One reason for that is that public service is one of the most unionized sectors of the economy: 37% of public workers are in a union, which gives them an ability to protect their gains that too many others have now lost.

How good are unions for workers? Studies say that in terms of wages, being a union member is roughly equal to having a college degree. Union membership in the private sector increases a workers' compensation by ten to twenty percent.

And the benefits of collective bargaining go well beyond unionized plants to include non-unionized workplaces and even industries. As unions raised wages and improved benefits and working conditions in unionized workplaces, that fact pulled up the wages and the rest for non-unionized workers because their employers had to go at least some distance toward matching what unions had obtained in order to keep employees. But as labor unions have declined, their power to affect not only their own wages but those across the economy has also declined, so an increasing share of income has gone to the richest among us, which has led to the largest income gap in more than a century.

Just consider: One of my favorite bumper stickers read "Unions: the people who brought you the weekend." More than that: overtime, sick leave, workplace safety laws, child labor laws, social security, workers' comp, the minimum wage, unemployment - it's hard to find a progressive advance of the past century that touches on economics in which organized labor did not have a hand.

Oh but now we're told, oh, unions are passe, they're corrupt, they're unnecessary, they're "outsiders," maybe they were necessary some other time but not now, blah blah and more blah. Just remember who is telling you that: It's those people represented in the first graph. It's those people. And if you can look at that and then look at the graph about wages and think there is nothing more to do, I can only despair for our future.


Left Side of the Aisle #63 - Part 3

Outrage of the Week: SCOTUS ignores facts to uphold Citizens United

I know you have heard of the Citizens United decision, the one where the Supine Court, bowing as it almost always does to the desires of corporate America, essentially stripped away controls on unlimited money pouring into federal elections.

I still predict, as I have from the day it was announced, that if we survive as a democracy, at some point this decision will come to be regarded with the same disdain as the Dred Scott decision is today, as one of the worst decisions in the court's history.

Be that as it may, several months ago, the Montana state supreme court upheld a century-old state law that says that a "corporation may not make an expenditure in connection with a candidate or a political committee that supports or opposes a candidate or a political party." The corporate clowns and cronies of course appealed to the Supreme Court.

Most people predicted the Supremes would sing their old standard song of "whatever corporations want, corporations get" and overturn the ruling and therefore invalidate the state law under challenge.

Which, in a 5-4 decision on June 25, they did. In fact, they were so eager to do so, so eager to do the bidding of the corporations, that the decision was announced now even though it wasn't expected until after the fall elections. More than that, they dismissed the whole case in one paragraph, precisely eight sentences. Dismissed it out of hand. Of course Citizens United overrules you, they said. What's more, they said, quoting, "Montana's arguments in support of the judgment below either were already rejected in Citizens United, or fail to meaningfully distinguish that case." That statement is wrong on both counts, so wrong, in fact, that it's hard to think is was accidental.

First, the case was clearly distinguished on the grounds that it was state election law, not federal. The general tradition has been to let states regulate their own elections, with the feds stepping in only when some identifiable group of voters was being denied access to the ballot box, which is clearly not the case here, unless the court's right wingers want corporations to be able to vote - and it wouldn't surprise me if they did.

Second, and this is critical, part of the, if I can stretch the word far enough, "logic" of Citizens United was the claim that evidence of the corrupting influence of money was lacking. (No, seriously, they really said that.) The Montana decision was evidence-based, citing the history of mining interests in Montana, the interests who essentially bought state elections, actions are what lead to the ban, as proof. To overturn the ruling, SCOTUS had to either deny that history or deny the relevance of facts - probably both.

Footnote: You know all those Super-Pacs raising all that unlimited money in this year's presidential race as a result of Citizens United? As of a few months ago, according to an analysis of their financial reports done at the time by USA Today, just under 25% of the entire amount raised by all of them had been put up by precisely five incredibly rich people. But money plays no role in politics. So say the greatest legal minds of our nation.

The Supreme Court - You know, I should declare SCOTUS the equivalent of a five-time Jeopardy! champion and retire it from the competition to give others a chance - but still for now, the Supreme Court is once again the Outrage of the Week.


Left Side of the Aisle #63 - Part 2

Something else on immigration: SB1070 upheld, sort of

Since the subject of immigration has come up, something else on the topic: The other day, in a 5-3 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the core provision of Arizona's infamous SB1070, the xenophobic immigration law known as the "papers please" law. That core provision requires state law enforcement to demand immigration papers from anyone stopped, detained, or arrested who the cops reasonably suspect is in the country without authorization. It also requires police to check on the immigration status of anyone they arrest before they are released.

The case arose because the Obama administration had challenged the law as usurping federal authority in the area of immigration policy and enforcement. While the decision was met with celebration on the right as a rebuke to Obama's desire to, I don't know, allow the brown hordes to overrun our great white nation or something, it was not as much as a victory for them and a loss for rationality as first appears.

First, the decision on the "papers please" provision revolved around the technical issue I just mentioned of whether the law unconstitutionally invaded the federal government's exclusive prerogative to set immigration policy. The majority of the court found that it was not clear whether the law - which has not gone into effect because of legal challenges - was supplanting or supporting federal policy. So they let the law stand - for now. But they also said that, quoting, "this opinion does not foreclose other preemption and constitutional challenges to the law as interpreted and applied after it goes into effect." So when Arizona does - as it inevitably will - begin to target Latinos, the challenge can be renewed.

And indeed, there are already other suits that have been filed against the law on Constitutional grounds involving equal protection, free speech, and due process.

What's more, even as it upheld (for now) the core "papers please" part of SB1070, the Supreme Court struck down three other provisions as stepping on authority properly reserved to the federal government. Two of those made it a crime for undocumented immigrants to be present Arizona or to seek work there, while a third authorized police officers to make warrantless arrests of anyone they had probable cause to believe had committed a deportable offense.

So this wasn't nearly the victory for vindictiveness or the loss for logic as it might first appear. Which I would say marks it as, well, maybe not as good news but at least not as all bad news.

As a sidebar here, Antonin Scalia - to what should be no one's surprise - dissented. He delivered an oral summary in which he said that Arizona is "entitled to impose additional penalties and consequences for violations of the federal immigration laws, because it is entitled to have its own immigration laws."

I want to repeat that. He argued that states are entitled to their own immigration laws. Think about that for just a minute. Think about what it means.

According to Antonin Scalia, every state is entitled to control who can enter that state and who can come to live in that state. Otherwise, what can "have its own immigration laws" mean? Any state - Arizona, for example - could establish its own passport system. Any state could set up roadblocks along its entire border and turn away anybody lacking the "proper papers." Any individual state could establish a quota system and say, for example, "you can't live here; we have already admitted our quota of blacks or Latinos or whatever." That's what Antonin Scalia is saying when he says states can have their own immigration laws.

Why in hell does Antonin Scoliosis get to be described as this "great legal mind?" His opinions are most just ideologically-driven right-wing mush punctuated with a heaping of bile and a soup├žon of spleen. Where does the "great legal mind" business come from? I just don't get it.


Left Side of the Aisle #63 - Part 1

Clarabell Award: Tyranny is as tyranny does

It's beginning to look like the Clarabell Award, given for particularly clownish words or actions, is going to be a regular feature here on Left Side of the Aisle. It wasn't intended to be, it was intended to be something done just occasionally as need be - but it's turning out that there are just too many clowns out there.

I'll start, however, by noting that last week's recipient, Eric Hovde, a GOPper senatorial wannabe in Wisconsin, was honored for his statement that he wanted the media to stop publishing what he called "sob stories" about people struggling in the recession and focus on the deficit. This week he confirmed that he deserved the award by calling Rep. Tammy Baldwin, the presumptive Democratic nominee for that Senate seat, a "communist."

He's not the only GOPper to toss around the term without the slightest clue of what it actually means; recall, for example, when Rep. Allen West claimed about 80 Democrats in the House are Communist Party members.

I admit to having the same reaction to Hovde as I did to West: "Communist? Just what decade are you living in?"

But turning to this week, our dishonoree is Rep. Joe "You lie!" Walsh. There is this bill called the DREAM Act, which provides a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children, have grown up here, identify culturally and politically as Americans, and who meet certain standards and requirements. The bill has been introduced in every Congress since 2001 - and has been blocked every time. Bluntly, I find the idea that this simple, humane bill could even be controversial both astonishing - remember, it applies to people who think of themselves as Americans but who just aren't citizens - and as proof of how much of our immigration debate is being driven by racist xenophobia.

In August 2011, the Obama administration announced that it was going to use "prosecutorial discretion" in dealing with deportations. Put simply, the federal government was going to decline to pursue deportation proceedings against undocumented immigrants who would've been eligible under the DREAM Act had it passed. Recently, the White House announced it was going to continue this policy for two more years.

And the right wing, either not knowing or just not caring that this had been the policy for the past 10 months, went totally berserk. And this is where Joey-boy enters the story. Now, note clearly: Prosecutors have discretion to determine where they are going to focus their energies, discretion to decide which cases to pursue and which to let slide. There is absolutely no question but that what the White House has done is legal and within the DOJs legal powers. Whether you approve of the decision or not - and I do approve - is totally irrelevant. It is legal. Period.

So what does Joe Washed-up do? He goes to a town hall event and says Obama is a "tyrant. I don't know what else you call him." He is a tyrant, that is, for using his unquestionably-legal powers to do the right thing.

A Washed-up campaign representative named Christian Morgan said "Joe calls them as he sees them."

Yeah? So did Mr. Magoo, you clown. You and your boss both.


Left Side of the Aisle #63

Left Side of the Aisle for June 28 - July 4, 2012

This week:

Clarabell Award: Tyranny is as tyranny does

Something else on immigration: SB1070 upheld, sort of

Outrage of the Week: SCOTUS ignores facts to uphold Citizens United

Unions and the economy

And another thing...

Friday, June 22, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #62 - Part 7

Should Obama be defeated?

Roberto Unger, one of Barack Obama's former professors at Harvard Law School, has caused something of a stir by posting a YouTube video saying Obama "must be defeated in the coming election." Defeated, however, not for the reasons you might immediately think. Rather, it's because, quoting Unger, "He has failed to advance the progressive cause in the United States" and must lose so that "the voice of democratic prophecy [can] speak once again in American life."

In other words, Obama should be ousted from office because while he presented the promise of progressivism, he has governed as a center-rightist who has, among other things, quoting Unger, "spent trillions of dollars to rescue the moneyed interests and left workers and homeowners to their own devices," "delivered the politics of democracy to the rule of money," and "disguised his surrender with an empty appeal to tax justice." He has, Unger said in what I think is one of his strongest lines, "instituted their" - that is, the right wing's - "program with a humanizing discount." Obama's program is, in short, "less a project than it is an abdication."

Not surprisingly, the reaction among the Obamabots, which unfortunately includes many of those who pass for "progressives" these days, was a combination of ridicule and shock that anyone could even propose such a thing. He was called everything from naive to an idiot, with most leaning toward the latter, along with an occasional foray into sneering about "purity." "Oh sure, vote for Romney, that'll make it all better" was a common supposedly witty rejoinder - even though Unger, who is to the left of Obama, of course said nothing about supporting Romney.

The thing is, put another short way, Unger is saying that Obama needs to lose because he is too conservative. And as long as we accept what Barack Obama represents, as long as we accept his platform, as the outer reaches of the possible, then those of us who hope for better will get nowhere. In his video, Unger acknowledged that if a Republican wins the presidency, "there will be a cost in judicial and administrative appointments." And that is surely true and we have to acknowledge that. Still, his point is that our choice is not between good and bad but between bad and worse. And while it's true that worse is worse, it's also true that bad is bad, and if you accept "bad" as your standard, you will never get "better."

At some point you have to make a decision, you have to make up your mind: Are you willing to settle for, is the best you hope for, is for things to get worse more slowly than they otherwise might? For income inequality to get worse a little more slowly than it otherwise might? For the power of the banks to grow a bit more slowly than it otherwise might? For your hope for your children's future to shrivel a bit more slowly than it otherwise might? For the power of arbitrary authority to grow a bit more slowly than it otherwise might?

I can't even include the prospect civil liberties and privacy disappearing more slowly than they otherwise might because they've actually been disappearing at least as fast if not faster under Obama than they had previously.

But is that the best you can hope for, is that what you're willing to settle for? At some point you have to decide.

Even Josh Marshall, who runs the blog Talking Points Memo, knows this. He surely is no radical and no fan of third parties: When Ralph Nader announced he was running for president back in 2004, Marshall called him a "latter-day political narcissist," "an enemy of progressive change," "a cat's paw of the Republican party," and a "pied piper of political oblivion" running on "a platform of vacuous moral posturing and self-aggrandizement." All in eight sentences.

But even he said he had come to "the realization that the key condition of political success is almost always a genuine willingness to lose well." You have to say "on this ground we’re willing to lose." When has Obama done that? When has he as president ever stood on behalf of a progressive program or principle and said "This is where I make my stand and win or lose, I will not back down?"

And, as Marshall noted and this is really important, "A genuine willingness to lose means just that: you might lose. You might lose big."

Every victory worth gaining carries some risk of loss. At some point you have to say "This is just not good enough." And then at some point you have to decide if you are willing to take that risk or are you going to just settle for at most the vain hope that it might not get much worse. If you're not prepared to risk losing, even losing big, you will never do better.

On the particular issue of Barack Obama, here in Massachusetts we have an advantage: Everyone knows O. is going to carry the state. Witless might give him a decent run, but even he can't imagine it will change the outcome here. So don't vote for Barack Obama. Find someone you can positively vote for, not against, and vote for them. For me, that will likely be Jill Stein. But don't vote for Obama. Give them at least some reason to realize that you are at least thinking about taking the risks you do need to take to get beyond "the right wing's program with a humanizing discount."


Left Side of the Aisle #62 - Part 6

Attacking public employee unions by attacking their pensions

In the previous post I talked about misdirection, about trying to redirect attention away from the real issue. Here's another example, this one affecting the health of the economy as a whole and the individual economic health of quite literally scores of millions of American families.

Across the country, nearly 600 bills have been introduced in state legislatures to attack the collective bargaining rights and other activities of public-sector workers and their unions. At least 10 states passed such laws, although in one - Ohio - the law was overturned in a referendum.

The main target the reactionaries are using to advance this cause is the pensions on public employees, which are branded as dangerously high, wildly out of control, omigosh, Henny Penny, they're going to turn us into Greece! A lot of arguments, though, and this is what I wanted to bring out, are designed to appeal to jealousy: "Look at what they get compared to what you get. What makes them so special?"

Combine that with budget crunches and as a result, there are moves on across the country, even in traditionally more liberal areas like California, to cut, reduce, freeze, or some other way hack away at the pensions of public employees. In 2010, 11 states increased employee pension contributions for state workers - that is, made employees put in more so the employer would put in less. In 2011, 18 states did so and 16 lengthened service requirements for being vested in a pension and raised the age when you can start collecting. Colorado, Minnesota, New Jersey, and South Dakota have postponed or cut cost-of-living adjustments for current retirees. In at least one case - New Jersey - it was done while at the same time twice failing to enact legislation to raise taxes on people making over $1 million per year. Voters in San Diego and San Jose recently approved cuts in pensions of present and future employees.

Now, the truth is, public employees often have pretty good benefits, including pensions. But here are really two reasons why those benefits have been as good as they are. One is that it was compensation for the fact that, contrary to popular mythology, public employees typically earn less than comparably trained, educated and experienced workers in the private sector. Studies have shown the average difference to be somewhere between four and seven percent less.

But this is the other reason, the important one here The kinds of pensions and benefits held by public employees used to be the norm for most major private companies around the country.

But over the past several decades there has been a vicious, unremitting attack on unions, particularly private sector unions. As union representation has shrunk, so have benefits, so has the middle class. But instead of letting you have a chance to focus on that, the elites have again, with, unhappily, considerable success, misdirected you, deceived you into looking the wrong way while the trick is performed with the other hand, gotten you to blame those that should be and could be your brothers and sisters in struggle for economic justice instead of blaming the thieves who are stealing away with your economic future.

So this is the whole point here: When you hear someone, anyone, going on about oh those inflated pensions of those public employees, the question that should immediately spring to your mind is not "Why do they have so much" but "Why do we have so little."

And old Chinese proverb says "calling things by their right name is the beginning of wisdom." Recognizing who actually is your enemy is calling things by their right name.


Left Side of the Aisle #62 - Part 5

Outrage of the Week: NY Times attacked for informing citizens what is being done in their name

Early in June, the New York Times, again proving that the much-maligned mainstream media can be of considerable value when it actually does its job, published a couple of pieces on the Obama crowd's supposed "national security practices." One was about the use of drones as tools of assassination and the "kill list" drawn up so Obama can decide who we're going to kill today; the other was about cyberwarfare directed against Iran. Both were based on classified information.

I've discussed both of these over the past two weeks.

Well, now there's this big brouhaha about the fact that the paper published the info. Both Democrats and Republicans - or Demopublicans, as they should be called - condemned the leaks and the anonymous sources who did the leaking. There were charges of having endangered national security. Senior members of the intelligence committees of both houses vowed to crack down even further on leakers than the White House already has - and remember, PHC* has already charged more whistleblowers under the espionage act than all previous presidents combined, and the law is 95 years old.

To its credit, the Times is standing by the decision to publish the stories, but here is the point: This is classic misdirection, a classic case of trying to change the subject to the accuser to the point where you forget about the accusation.

The White House has a program of assassination where a group of them, including The Great Mr. O himself, sit down and go through a "kill list" of potential dead people to decide who to drop a bomb on. As part of this program, they lie about the civilian casualties they cause by defining every military-age male in the vicinity as a "combatant" without actually knowing a single damn thing about them. At the same time this is going on, the O gang also is committing acts of war against Iran, actively trying to cripple its industrial infrastructure, doing it without even the justification of self-defense, as its own intelligence services are telling it that Iran has no nuclear weapons program.

Assassination, lies, unprovoked acts of war - all this is being done in your name. And what are all these people hollering about? What has got them in such a lather? The fact that you know about it. The fact that you, as citizens, know what is being done to people in other countries in your name. In their minds, doing it is not what's wrong, you knowing about it is what's wrong.

And if you as a citizen don't find that outrageous, I can't imagine what would. To me, it is the Outrage of the Week.


*PHC = President Hopey-Changey

Left Side of the Aisle #62 - Part 4

Passing comment: Scott Brown is a coward

Just a quick comment here, more or less in passing. You know - or at least should be able to tell - that I spend very little time on the horserace aspects of politics, on particular campaigns or who's up and who's down and who said what about who when. But this struck me as particularly boorish and deserved a mention, if only a quick one.

Vickie Kennedy, Ted Kennedy's widow, had invited Scott Brown and Elizabeth Warren for a campaign debate to take place in late September. It would be co-sponsored by the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate, which she is taking the lead in organizing, and UMass Boston.

Well, Scott "Pretty Boy" Brown refused to take part unless Vickie Kennedy promised to stay entirely neutral in the race, including not endorsing a candidate. The Kennedy Institute and UMass both refused to buckle to this idiocy, calling it "unprecedented" and noting it "is not being required of any other persons or entities."

Well, then, forget the whole thing, said the Brown campaign. Revealingly, Brown Campaign Manager Jim Barnett said "we cannot accept a debate invitation from someone who plans to endorse Scott Brown’s opponent." In other words, it wasn't any supposed lack of neutrality that was the problem, it wasn't the issue of an endorsement that was the problem, it was who she would endorse. That is, not him. And, like a typical GOPper, when he couldn't manipulate things to his own advantage, he ran away.

Pretty Boy Brown is a coward.


Left Side of the Aisle #62 - Part 3

Clarabell Award: GOPper wants an end to "sob stories" about the poor and struggling

This time, the "meant to be occasional but becoming regular because I keep finding reasons to give it" Clarabell Award goes to Eric Hovde, a candidate for the GOPper nomination for US Senate in Wisconsin. During a presentation to a local Chamber of Commerce recently, after running through the usual corporate bromides about cutting corporate taxes, slashing public programs, and lowering the deficit, he went on to say that he prayed - and yes, he did day he "prayed" - that the media will write about the deficit and stop writing sob stories - and yes, he did say "sob stories" - about people struggling in the recession.

Quoting him: "Stop always writing about, 'Oh, the person couldn't get, you know, their food stamps or this or that.'" Now, leave aside the fact that according to a National Journal study of the five largest-circulation newspapers in the US, the media already give at least as much attention to the deficit as to unemployment, and usually far more. The thing is, you can see his point: The last thing any right winger wants you to hear about is the effects on actual people of the kinds of things they are proposing.

Sean Lansing, a spokesman for the campaign, said Hovde was saying "that issues like waste, fraud, abuse and out-of-control government spending are what's really hurting the poor."

Oh, barf. I remember years back when some lame-o GOPper running for Congress claimed "the cruelest tax on the poor is inflation," which was a GOPper sound byte at the time. Not hunger, not unemployment, not inadequate housing, not inadequate public services, not lack of health care, not lack of opportunity, not the lack of a future or the hope for one, no, no, none of that was the real problem for the poor. It was "inflation." Then, as now, the GOPpers will tell you that the real problem for the poor is whatever they themselves are concerned with at the moment.

Well, that guy was a clown. And Eric Hovde and Sean Lansing: So are you.


Left Side of the Aisle #62 - Part 2

Good news: RI passes "Homeless Bill of Rights"

Last week, Rhode Island passed the nation's first "Homeless Bill of Rights" and did so without significant opposition. The measure formally bans discrimination against homeless people and affirms their equal access to jobs, housing and, services. It would also guarantee homeless people the right to use public sidewalks, parks, transportation, and public buildings "without discrimination on the basis of his or her housing status" - that is, just like anyone else. The law also guarantees a "reasonable expectation of privacy" with respect to personal belongings similar to that of people who have homes.

This simple and humane legislation actually flies in the fact of a trend in US cities to criminalize homelessness and things associated with homelessness. Not so long ago, the homeless were a focus of concern - and with an estimated 643,000 people homeless on any given night in the United States today, you'd think they might still be. But instead of dealing with homelessness, cities have increasingly been focusing on hiding homelessness. It's been out of sight, out of mind and we're going to make damn sure you're out of our sight.

A report in April from the White House's Interagency Council on Homelessness noted a "proliferation of local measures to criminalize 'acts of living'" such as sitting, standing or asking for money in public places.

In St. Louis, for example, police cleared out three homeless encampments along the Mississippi River. n the wake of that, a local minister leased a site for the specific purpose of giving the homeless a place to use - only to have the cops kick them out of there, too.

San Francisco has begun enforcing a ban on sitting or lying on sidewalks between 7AM and 11PM. Sit on the sidewalk in San Francisco, and you could be fined up to $500.

In San Jose, California, until recently police were just throwing away the personal possessions of homeless people seized during sweeps of homeless camps.

In Philadelphia, an ordinance took effect on June 1 under which even recognized charities cannot even feed homeless people in public places such as parks.

If you're homeless, you're regarded as a blight, you're looked down on, sneered at, dismissed, treated almost like a disease which must be quarantined. But now, happily, not in Rhode Island. Not any more. Congratulations, Rhode Island. Roger Williams would be proud.


Left Side of the Aisle #62 - Part 1

Good news: Pro-same-sex marriage leads in WA poll

I've been talking recently about, well, not a continuing stream but at least a continuing trickle of good news on the issue of same-sex marriage. One part of that was that the state of Washington had passed a law allowing for same-sex marriage. However, implementation of the law has been delayed because opponents got enough signatures to put the measure on the November ballot. The record on such ballot measures is not good, as a combination of bigotry, fear-mongering, and often outright lies by opponents about the effects of such laws has carried the day for the reactionaries.

So it's a bit of good news to learn that according to the most recent poll by Public Policy Polling, 51% of Washington voters believe same-sex marriage should be legal, compared with 42% who believe it should be illegal. While that's not an overwhelming lead, it is a hopeful one.

Here's something even more significant for the longer term: The same poll showed that a whopping 77% of voters said same-sex couples should have legal recognition: 47% say they should be allowed to marry and an additional 30% say they should be able to form civil unions. Only 21% opposed any form of legal recognition.

A few years ago, the bigots were sneering that same-sex marriage had only been "imposed" by "unelected judges" and no legislature had ever approved it. Well, now several have and so they've fallen back to the position that same-sex marriage has never been approved in a referendum. But this year Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and of course Washington are poised to do precisely that, as all four states have referendums about same-sex marriage and the pro-marriage side is leading in all four states, in some cases by substantial margins. I wonder what the reactionaries' fallback will be then.


Left Side of the Aisle #62

Left Side of the Aisle for June 21-27, 2012

This week:

Good news: Pro-same-sex marriage leads in WA poll

Good news: RI passes "Homeless Bill of Rights"

Clarabell Award: GOPper wants an end to "sob stories" about the poor and struggling

Passing comment: Scott Brown is a coward

Outrage of the Week: NY Times attacked for informing citizens what is being done in their name

Attacking public employee unions by attacking their pensions

Should Obama be defeated?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Outrage of the Week: your job or your vote

You probably recall all the arguments about the federal deficit and the deficit commission and how it couldn't come to an agreement even though the media are acting like it did, repeatedly referring to “the report of the Simpson-Bowles Commission” even though that “report” came just from the co-chairs, not the whole commission.

Well, part of the deal establishing that commission was that if it could not come up with an agreement, there would be automatic cuts in spending of $1.2 trillion over the next ten years, split equally between military spending and domestic spending.

The clock is ticking on those automatic cuts, which are supposed to go into effect on January 1. Now, some in - and some out - of Congress are pounding the drums ever louder that we must not cut military spending. Everything else? Fine. Well, except our salaries and perks. But everything else, okay. You want to cut food stamps? Fine. You want to cut housing assistance? Fine. You want to cut school lunches, WIC, education programs, environmental programs, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, unemployment compensation? Fine, fine, all fine. But we must not cut military spending. In fact, in May the House voted to shift all the first year cuts in the military to domestic programs.

The move is likely to go nowhere in the Senate, leaving the fear merchants of the Pentagon still facing a 10-year, $600 billion, across-the-board spending cut, about 8% of its current budget. Note that is, again, a cut of 8% over 10 years, or about 0.8% per year.

That prospect of a less-than-one-percent cut per year has lead to a campaign using terms like “a heavy blow,” "gutted,” “devastated,” a “hollow force,” and "debilitating." Lindsay Graham actually stood on the Senate floor and said
The debate on the debt is an opportunity to send the world a signal that we are going to remain the strongest military force in the world. We’re saying, "We’re going to keep it, and we’re going to make it the No. 1 priority of a broke nation."
We can’t produce jobs for the unemployed, we can’t provide care for our sick, we can’t feed our hungry, we can’t afford housing for our homeless, we can’t aid our poor, but dammit it all, we will feed the hogs at the Pentagon!

While that's outrageous in its deceit, its lies, and its indifference to the effects on the millions of people who are of no concern to the elites, the real reason this is under the Outrage of the Week is how Pentagon contractors are doing their part in the effort.

Claiming they are facing economic uncertainty, those contractors are plotting to get Congress to block the cuts in the Death Machine by threatening to send out hundreds of thousands of layoff notices right before Election Day.

Todd Harrison, at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, notes that
You could do a layoff notice that just informs people they might be laid off, and you could do that very broadly. Do companies make the notices go to all of their employees, half of their employees or just the 10 percent of their employees who are likely to be affected?
The answer, I expect, depends solely on what they think will be best for their bottom lines.

Threatening peoples’ jobs in order to keep the gravy train running. That is hardly unprecedented - but it's still the Outrage of the Week.


Global warming: nearing a tipping point

According to new research by an international group of 18 scientists, published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature, Earth is rapidly headed toward a catastrophic breakdown, a tipping point marked by extinctions and unpredictable changes on a scale not seen in 12,000 years.

A tipping point in when increasing pressure on a system produces sudden, dramatic changes whose form can’t be exactly predicted even as the type and direction of changes can be. Think of blowing up a balloon: It will expand and expand, but at some point it will burst. In the same way, constantly putting more pressure on the environment will lead to a point of no return, producing major changes occurring in unpredictable ways.

The most recent example of one of these transitions is the end of the last ice age, about 12,000 years ago. Within about 3,000 years, the Earth went from being 30 percent covered in ice to being nearly ice-free. This also involved a wave of extinctions and ecological changes that occurred in little more than 1500 years. That may sound like a long time, but that is little more than a snap of the fingers in terms of geological time. And the changes we are causing now - including temperature increases - are both bigger and occurring more rapidly than those that ended the ice age.

Again, the results are difficult to predict; tipping points, by definition, produce results that can’t be predicted exactly. But based on past transitions, these scientists predict a major loss of species as well as changes in the makeup of species on the local level. As one of the scientists said,
You can envision these state changes as a fast period of adjustment where we get pushed through the eye of the needle. As we're going through the eye of the needle, that's when we see political strife, economic strife, war and famine.
Reflecting that sort of prospect, concern about global warming is spreading beyond the realms of climatologists and environmentalists. Public health specialists are increasingly concerned about the potential impacts on patterns of physical activity, food availability, and distribution of disease, among others. A paper published a couple of weeks ago in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS Medicine raised those issues and forecast an increase in diseases particularly affecting the poor, such as malaria and dengue fever, as well as heat stroke in drought-afflicted areas.

This is not the first time health officials have considered the potential human toll of climate change. In March, a group of doctors suggested that the incidence of asthma and other lung respiratory illnesses could increase as a result of global warming because it could lead to longer pollen seasons and to increasing the ranges of disease-causing molds and disease-carrying mosquitoes.

Meanwhile, here at home, the heat is on. According to NOAA, the average temperature for the 48 contiguous US states during May made it the second warmest May on record. Record keeping began in 1895, so that makes it the second warmest May in at least 117 years. We also had the warmest spring on that record, that is, the warmest spring in at least 117 years, the warmest year-to-date on record, and the warmest 12-month period on record. Besides the warmest spring, that 12-month period also included the second warmest summer and the fourth warmest winter. Forty-seven of the 48 contiguous states had warmer than average temperatures for the period; the only exception was Washington, which was near normal.

Now, as I often note, one event, even one year, is not proof of human-driven climate change. One hot year no more proves global warming than one cool year disproves it. The issue is the trend over time. But this is one more data point in a mountain - a growing mountain - of data points which all say the same thing: Humanity is screwing with the climate in ways harmful to our own future.

In fact, here's another interesting data point: Last July, scientists happened upon a massive phytoplankton bloom in the Arctic, one like none seen before. It covered 62 miles (100 km) and was dense enough to make the water a murky green. One scientist said it was like “finding the Amazon rainforest in the middle of the Mojave Desert." In fact, it was so much that the researchers initially thought something was wrong with their instruments.

The real shocker, though, was that the bloom was growing under thick sea ice, where sunlight is limited. A massive bloom in the dark, under the ice, was described a being a lot like a polar bear cub getting fat on a diet of nothing.

Researchers realized the bloom happened because the sea ice, instead of blocking sunlight, is melting and getting thinner, and the melt pools on the surface actually magnify sunlight. This creates conditions more favorable for algae than areas that have no ice cover. In other words, this is a visible effect of global warming that could presage a change in the ecosystem of the Arctic.

Global warming is real, it is driven by human activity, and it is having visible, measurable effects today.

So what are we doing about it? Late last year, officials from around the world met in Durban, South Africa to discuss climate change. At that meeting, the world's three biggest producers of greenhouse gases - India, China, and the United States, agreed to continue talking about possibly maybe someday limiting their carbon emissions.

Sometimes I am glad to know that I will not live long enough to see the world I see coming.


June 11 - 17: an interesting week

I was looking at one of those sites that has significant historical events for each day of the year and I noticed that there were several falling in the week of June 11 - 17. So I thought I’d note some of them.

June 11, 1962 was the day the Port Huron Statement was issued. Authored largely by Tom Hayden, it was the founding document of the Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS.

June 12, 1963 was the day Medgar Evers was murdered.

June 12, 1964 was the day when a racist court in apartheid South Africa sentenced Nelson Mandela to life in prison.

June 12, 1967 was the occasion for the release of the Supreme Court’s decision in Loving v. Virginia. After being married in Washington, DC, Richard Loving and Mildred (Jeter) Loving returned home to Virginia. They were arrested for the crime of being married: Richard was white and Mildred was black and interracial marriage was illegal in Virginia. Richard was sentenced to a year in prison, suspended on the condition that they leave the state and not return for twenty-five years. In Loving, SCOTUS threw out the law, finally putting an end to state bans on interracial marriage. It still feels strange to know that in my adult lifetime, there were still laws against interracial marriage and that indeed public opinion was more against such marriages than are against same-sex marriages today. Still, while it does seem strange, for that very same reason it gives me hope that in no more than another generation the idea of a ban on same-sex marriage will seem as odd as a ban on interracial marriage does now.

June 12, 1982 saw the biggest peace demonstration in US history and the biggest peace demonstration anywhere prior to the worldwide demonstrations against the first Gulf War on February 15, 2003. Somewhere between 800,000 and one million people gathered in Central Park in New York City to mark SSSD II, the UN’s Second Special Session on Disarmament, and to protest nuclear weapons and call for a nuclear freeze. Two days later, there were simultaneous sit-ins at the UN missions of the five admitted nuclear powers, resulting in over 1600 arrests for nonviolent civil disobedience.

June 13, 1971 was the day the New York Times published the first installment of the Pentagon Papers, a “secret history” of the Vietnam War to 1968 authored by the RAND Corporation on behalf of the Pentagon. At the request of the Nixon administration, a federal court blocked further publication in the first case of prior restraint in US history. However, the Washington Post took up the cudgel and by the end of the month the Supreme Court had lifted the ban in what is still considered a significant decision for freedom of the press.

June 16, 1961 was when President John Kennedy agreed to increase the presence of American military advisors in Vietnam to 805 and to provide direct training and combat supervision to South Vietnamese troops. To the degree any particular date can be so regarded, this is the day the Vietnam War started.

Finally, June 17, 1972 was the day of the Watergate break-in. The break-in at the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate complex in Washington, DC, was part of the wide effort of Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign to manipulate he political process to ensure him a second term. The burglars were caught and thanks to the refusal of Judge John Sirica to believe the nonsense that this was just five rogue guys with no higher connections, it ultimately lead to criminal and Congressional investigations climaxing in Nixon, in the face of certain impeachment and likely conviction, resigning on August 9, 1974.


Clarabell Award: The Vagina Monologues reach Michigan

Recently, I introduced the Clown Award, now re-dubbed the Clarabell Award, to be given to people or organization in cases where I thought they we just being phenomenally stupid. I thought it would be an occasional thing but I keep finding deserving recipients.

This time, it goes to the leadership of the Michigan state House of Representatives.

On Wednesday, that august body was debating a massive anti-abortion omnibus bill the leaders were trying to ram through. Rep. Lisa Brown spoke in opposition, noting that she is an observant Jew and that Jewish law requires that if a choice has to be made between the life of the fetus and the life of the mother, the life of the mother must be given precedence - and the proposed law allows for no such exception. She said "I'm not trying to force my religious beliefs on you, why are you trying to force yours on me?"

She then ended her statement by saying “Finally, Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but ‘no’ means ‘no.’”

In response, Majority Floor Leader Jim Stamas gaveled her out of order and the deeply, deeply shocked Rep. Mike Callton called her statement “so offensive, I don’t even want to say it in front of women. I would not say that in mixed company.”

The next day, House leaders refused to allow her to speak on the House floor as punishment for having "disrupted the decorum of the House."

Brown said later that "I'd love to know what I said that was offensive. It was an anti-choice bill regarding abortion, which obviously involves a vagina, so, you know, I don't know what word I'm supposed to use otherwise."

Maybe she should have stuck with "unmentionable feminine nether regions." As for Reps. Stamas and Callton, I'd say they were stuck in the '50s except I'm not sure if that should refer to the decade or their IQs.

In either event, both they and the majority leadership of the Michigan House are clearly clowns.


Voter ID laws are meant to block progressive voters

I’ve talked before about proposed voter ID laws, laws demanding that certain approved forms of ID, often a photo ID, be shown at a polling place in order to be able to vote. I’ve noted that the main effect of such bills - and I maintain it is the intended effect of such bills - is to disenfranchise poor, elderly, minority, and student voters, all of who are disproportionately affected by these laws and who also, by what surely is no coincidence, are constituencies more likely to be liberal rather than conservative in their voting patterns.

These laws are, that is, intended to permanently tilt the electoral playing field in favor of the right wing.

I raise this now because Massachusetts is not immune to this crap. Republicans in the state legislature are pushing voter ID bills. One such bill was killed right around the end of May by being "referred for study" - in effect, tabling it. Even though that one was killed, you can be damn sure there will be more about it.

There are a couple of things that get me about this. First is why I called it an attempt to disenfranchise liberal-leaning voters. The GOPpers in the state legislature pushing this idiocy argued that
people cannot cash a check, rent a car, rent a DVD or even enter some government buildings without showing an ID.
That is exactly what gets argued every time and everywhere this comes up. You get exactly the same arguments, often in exactly the same words. Do not even try to tell me this is not a coordinated campaign. What’s more, these are claims carefully designed to avoid engaging in logical argument. After all, the real response should be what the hell? Since when is cashing a check or renting a DVD a basic component of a healthy democracy? Since when are they a basic function of citizenship? And weren’t we just a few years ago talking about how we could encourage more people to come out and vote? Why now are we supposed to focus instead on how many roadblocks we can put in their path?

Another thing that gets me is that right after arguing, in effect, that everyone already has ID, they’ll respond to being faced with the fact that something like 11% of potentially-eligible voters, disproportionately the elderly and minorities, don’t have such ID by ignoring their previous claims and declaring it doesn’t matter because some agency (usually the given state’s version of Massachusetts’ Registry of Motor Vehicles) will issue free IDs. Which is all well and good - except you need to be able to produce the documents to prove you are who you say you are in order to get the ID. That is, you in effect have to have ID in order to get the ID - and in some cases, such as having to prove citizenship, the paperwork can cost $200. By contrast, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, which studies topics like voter access, when the poll tax was declared unconstitutional in 1966, it was $1.50.

And here’s the real thing, the real thing that gets me and proves this has nothing to do with “protecting the integrity” of the voting process: The only kind of “voter fraud” that these laws could possibly address is voter impersonation, that is, going to the polls and pretending to be someone other than who you are. That is the only kind of fraud these laws could address and that kind of fraud is vanishingly rare. It is a solution in search of a problem.

One example: When Shrub’s DOJ launched a crackdown on fraud in 2002, five years later it had obtained only 86 convictions. That's 7/100,000 of one percent of the 122 million people who voted for president in just the 2004 elections. Even if the DOJ only caught one percent of the actual fraud, even if the actual rate of fraud was 100 times higher, that would make it 7/1000 of one percent.

Another example: Texas passed a voter ID law last year, making a picture ID necessary to vote. This came despite the fact that the 2008 and 2010 general elections, in which more than 13 million voters participated, together produced fewer than five “illegal voting” complaints of a kind affected by the new law.

Meanwhile, the Brennan Center estimates that in 2004 up to 3 million registered and fully-qualified voters were prevented from voting because of problems with our voter registration systems and up to five million people could be adversely affected by voting law changes enacted in 2011.

To top it off, we have this story: Pennsylvania recently passed one of these “prevent the ‘wrong sorts’ from voting” laws. In April, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Carol Aichele was touring the state to “explain” the new law. In a meeting with the editorial board of the Erie (PA) Times-News, she showed her state employee ID as an illustration - only to be told that it was not a valid form of voter ID under the law because it did not have an expiration date.

When advocates rely on fear-mongering, false comparisons, and slogans while not even understanding the laws they demand be passed - you know there is something really wrong.


A few posts for June 16

On Saturday, I did a live version of Left Side of the Aisle, listed as #61a, as part of an open house at the local community access cable station. Because it was done live instead of recorded in advance, I won't have video of it until they prepare the video of the whole six hours of live programming done that day.

So no video - but I did decide to post things based on what I said on Saturday. So that's what the following five posts are.

I do have to note that because this was prepared for broadcast, like other posts drawn from Left Side of the Aisle, sources are listed at the end because, frankly, I was not going to go back and locate the places for and insert links where they would have appeared had these originated as posts.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #61 - Part 5

And Another Thing: Remains found of theater where Shakespeare's company performed; incredible precision of Large Hadron Collider experiments

And Another Thing is our occasional foray into things not really political, just interesting. This week, we have a two-fer: something old and something new.

First, the old. In the prologue to William Shakespeare's play Henry V, the chorus asks
can this cockpit hold The vasty fields of France? or may we cram Within this wooden O the very casques That did affright the air at Agincourt?
"This cockpit" and "this wooden O" refer to the theater in which the play was to be performed - a theater, that is, where some of Shakespeare's plays were first performed.

A theater whose remains archaeologists have now been discovered behind a pub in London on a site marked for redevelopment.

The theater was called The Curtain. It opened in 1577 and was used until about 1620. It was home to Shakespeare's company, the Lord Chamberlain's Men, from 1597 until 1599, when they moved to the Globe.

Experts from the Museum of London have uncovered part of the gravel yard and gallery walls of the 435-year-old theater in an area called Shoreditch, just east of London's modern business district and about two miles north of where the old city walls would have stood in 1599. The site will be further excavated and the developer says he intends to preserve the site, which is good news.

Now, the new. The world’s largest and most powerful particle accelerator is the Large Hadron Collider, a underground ring some 17 miles in circumference near Geneva, Switzerland. It has been nicknamed the “Big Bang machine,” because it is designed to simulate the conditions existing at the very beginning of our universe.

Recently, one of the scientists working there, Dr. Pauline Gagnon of the University of Indiana Bloomington, posted a blog entry describing a surprise she encountered during her work there. Everything seemed to be going smoothly until the end of her shift, when another scientist called in to report unexpected fluctuations, dips, in the data coming in.

She called the control room and was casually by the operator “That’s because the moon is nearly full and I periodically have to adjust the proton beam orbits.” In fact, they routinely had to be adjusted every couple of hours.

Here’s what was going on: One side of the accelerator was a little closer to the Moon - and so the Moon’s gravity was pulling more strongly on that side of the accelerator, every-so slightly deforming the tunnel through which the particle beams pass. And that shift would be enough to affect the results of experiments if it wasn't adjusted for.

This caused a fair bit of comment, some snarky, some amused, about how his powerful instrument was "no match for the Moon."

But this is what I wanted to point out: The average distance from the Earth to the Moon is a something under 239,000 miles, or about 385,000 kilometers. Even at that distance, the difference in gravitational force between two points no more than roughly 5.5 miles apart (opposite points on a circle about 17 miles around) - that's a bit over 2/1000th of one percent of the distance - that even at that distance, the difference in force over just 5.5 miles is enough to screw up the results of experiments.

I just want you to contemplate for a moment what that tells you about just how delicate, just how mind-bendingly precise, are the sorts of experiments being done by physicists today.


Left Side of the Aisle #61 - Part 4

Outrage of the Week: US commits acts of war against Iran; media shrugs

This is a rather curious edition of outrage of the week because I'm not certain against who the outrage should be directed. Let's say for the moment that there's more than enough to go around.

recently, the New York Times published two revealing reports on secret, legally questionable programs by the Obama administration. One had to do with the use of drones, and I talked about that last week.

The other had to do with the fact that after coming into office, the O crowd accelerated a program of increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks on Iran.

On June 1, the Times noted that this "significantly expanded America’s first sustained use of cyberweapons" and that the attacks "appear to be the first time the United States has repeatedly used cyberweapons to cripple another country’s infrastructure, achieving, with computer code, what until then could be accomplished only by bombing a country or sending in agents to plant explosives."

What that bland description slips by without comment - perhaps even without noticing - is that this is an act of war. The United States is seeking to quoting again - "cripple another country’s infrastructure" in a way that previously involved bombing. It is trying to cripple part of the industrial capacity of a sovereign nation. If you doubt this is an act of war, consider what the reaction - what your reaction - would be if it emerged that Iran was doing this to us.

If you still doubt it, consider that last year the White House commissioned a major study of cyberspace, which found that "States have an inherent right to self-defense that may be triggered by certain aggressive acts in cyberspace" and "When warranted, the United States will respond to hostile acts in cyberspace as we would any other threat to our country."

And if you still doubt it, consider that more than a year ago, the Pentagon concluded that computer sabotage coming from another country can constitute an act of war.

And don't bother saying "oh, this is about Iran's nuclear weapons program, so it's actually self-defense." According to the consensus view of the 16 US intelligence services, there is no Iranian nuclear weapons program. There is a nuclear enrichment program, but that can just as easily be used for, and is just as necessary for, nuclear power rather than weapons. In 2007, an intelligence finding concluded that Iran had abandoned its nuclear weapons program years earlier. That finding was reaffirmed in a 2010 National Intelligence Estimate, and it remains the consensus view. There is no Iranian nuclear weapons program.

We're left with the end: The Barack Obama administration, President Hope-Changey, our Nobel Peace Prize winner, has in effect declared war on Iran - and our oh-so-important watchdog media can't even be bothered to notice.

I'm still not sure which one of those is the outrage of the week - but damn straight one of them is.


Left Side of the Aisle #61 - Part 3

Clarabell Award: School punishes student for actions of others

Last week, I introduced the Clown Award, now officially dubbed the Clarabell Award, describing it as an occasional feature for things that weren't necessarily either evil or good, but were just stupid. That is, I thought it would be just occasional - but I keep finding stupid things, so who knows.

For this occasion of the award, we go to Mt. Healthy, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati. Recently, they held their high school graduation. Anthony Cornist was among those to receive his diploma. He was on the football team and was apparently very popular at school with both teachers and other students. Too popular, it seems: When his name was called at the graduation ceremonies, his friends and family cheered enough that Cornist was denied his diploma.

If that sounds odd to you, it does to me, too. Here's what happened: When he got on stage, instead of his diploma he was handed by the principal a letter saying that because of the "disruption" caused by the cheering, his diploma would be held in the principal's office until he completed 20 hours of community service.

Now note, Cornist did nothing wrong. All he did was walk across the stage. He had nothing whatsoever to do with the cheering. The school even admitted as much: Schools superintendent Lori Handler said all the students - including, necessarily, Cornist - were "angelic." So the school, without question, is trying to punish Anthony Cornist for something others did, over which he had no control. When the absurdity of that was pointed out to Handler, she doubled down on the nonsense by saying that, get this, his family could serve the time for him - so they are now trying to impose punishment on people over who they have absolutely no legal authority.

And I'll triple down: The video - there is a link to it at below - clearly shows the principal giving Cornist the letter when he first arrived on stage to get his diploma. But Handler says the problem wasn't the volume of the cheering, it was the duration - which the principal clearly could not have known at the time he gave Cornist the letter with the demand for community service. This may be a good part of the reason that Handler now refuses to be interviewed, insisting she will only comment through a written statement prepared in conjunction with the attorney for the school district.

On top of everything else, despite being denied his diploma, service or no service, Cornist is still a legal graduate and his transcripts are available for any potential college or employer - and the school may have broken several laws by withholding the diploma for causes beyond its authority.

There can be no doubt: The administration of the high school of Mt. Healthy, Ohio is composed of clowns.


Left Side of the Aisle #61 - Part 2

Attacks on the Commons: Government is not your enemy, the 1% is

The past couple of weeks I have talked about what I call the Commons, that range of our social and political culture where the common interests of our society lie, that area where all can obtain benefit, all can take part, and all have some responsibility, each to the other and to the whole. I have also talked about attacks on that idea, attacks on the idea that we as a society, as a people, have common, that is, community, interests and responsibilities. It seems now that every week brings a new example, a new illustration of that attack.

This week, it comes from Witless Romney. He was, it was reported, "skeptical" of PHC*'s take on the economy. "Obama" - this is quoting Romney - "Obama says we need more firemen, more policemen, more teachers. Did he not get the message from Wisconsin? It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people."

There are a number of things about this statement that anyone with a brain and a conscience should find repulsive. One is the obvious one that he's saying that even as our population grows, we don't need more fire fighters, more cops, more teachers. Which is absurd on its face.

The second is that he is in essence saying not only that fire fighters, cops, and teachers aren't "helping the American people" but that they aren't part of "the American people." That they are separate, apart, that they are "not us," they are "them," they are "other."

Which brings me to the underlying point here. He referred to fire fighters, cops, and teachers, but I'm sure he would be willing to add public health nurses, sanitation workers, even bus drivers, and more - because they all have one thing in common: They are public employees. They work for the government.

Attacking government is a linchpin of the attack on the Commons because government is the most obvious symbol of the Commons; more than than, it's a central player in maintaining the Commons, in maintaining the possibility of being a society instead of an atomized collection of individuals, each isolated from and in competition with all others. Sometime ago I said that the ideal of government is that it is a vehicle through which a people act on their ideals. Obviously, I expect that all governments across history have fallen short of that, which is why I call it the "ideal." It's what you're shooting for. It is the idea of government. Which is why the attacks have slid so smoothly from ones on "big government" to ones on the ordinary people who work for the government, who do the public jobs. Because it never was about "big" government, it was never about making government "more efficient," it was about the very idea of government, about the very idea of the people of a society being able to work together for their own mutual and joint benefit.

Now, this is not new: Literally 30 years ago I was denouncing that I called
political programs that appeal to the worst in our cultural heritage, that speak to selfishness, competitiveness, suspicion, and a "what's-in-it-for-me" attitude.
I accused the right wing of seeking
to arouse a meanness of manner and selfishness of soul among the American people, to divide us against ourselves, empty us of compassion, and make what the British call "I'm all right Jack" our national motto.
That is,
they want you to think of just yourselves in isolation: You're working, you're not hungry, your mortgage hasn't been foreclosed, so the hell with everybody else.
A little later, I added that
that's why they speak of the personal but never of the public; of self but never others; of us and them but never we; of family but never of community. In fact, they're afraid to talk of community, because that means to talk of social obligations, of moral commitments to what you could call a type of extended family that goes far beyond their circumscribed view.
Let me pause for just a moment here to answer the question that you may be - legitimately, should be - asking: Who are "they?" I'll be blunt: I'm talking about the right wing and even more than that the rich, the economic elite - the 1%, if you will.

Now, don't anyone dare to write me claiming I said that every single person at that level of wealth is evil and citing some single seeming exception as a supposed ultimate disproof of everything I said. You'll only make yourself look lame, so don't bother.

I am not saying that every single rich individual is a money-grubbing, greed-driven, sociopath whose only concern for the rest of us is how we might be of benefit to their personal bottom line. I just saying that as a group, as a whole, those people are money-grubbing, greed-driven, sociopaths whose only concern for the rest of us is how we might be of benefit to their personal bottom line.

And the thing is, that economic elite, both individual and corporate, that elite is now essentially in charge of our government and the higher up you go in the level of government, the greater the control becomes. We saw that just the other day with the release of a batch of emails detailing how the Obama gang negotiated a deal with the pharmaceutical industry to get that so-called health reform law - better called the Health Insurance Industry Enrichment Act - passed and how as part of that deal the O crowd gave away the one thing that could have significantly and immediately reduced the cost of medicine to US consumers: the reimportation of drugs, now, still, specifically banned by law despite the absence of any safety, medical, or health-related reason - except, that is, the healthy profits of the drug companies.

Those sorts of I hesitate to call them concerns usually get a friendly reception in Congress, which is not surprising, considering that according to the Center for Responsive Politics, 249 current members of Congress, about 47% of the total, are millionaires and the estimated median net worth of a current US senator is $2.56 million.

Those are the sort of people who have the power now. They are. We have to face that. But they have a problem, a perpetual, on-going worry: There are a lot more of us than there are of them.

That's why they want you to feel isolated. They why they want you to feel alone. That's why they want you to feel that government is "them," that government, that everything to do with government, is "other," is separate from you, is somehow alien and even threatening, that government, as they will openly claim, is the problem. Because they know, they know, they know, that the one thing that can affect their power, the one thing that can provide a counterweight to their power, is an aroused citizenry acting through their - our - government.

Why do you think they promoted, moved in on, and then took over the Tea Party movement? Because those people had been successfully conditioned, if you will, to be predisposed to seeing government as an enemy. So the movement could be and was rather easily redirected away from its initial anger, which was directed pretty equally between government and the banks, to becoming strictly a "government bad, not government good" movement that could offer a facade of populist anger while actually serving the interests of the elites.

At the same time, why do you think they were to terrified of the Occupy movement? Why were they so eager first to dismiss it, then to mock it, then to undermine it, then to crush it, and now to insist it is dead and buried? Because Occupy identified - identifies, I should say - the issue, the enemy if you will, as concentrated wealth. As concentrated economic power, a concentration that has grown dramatically and continues to grow as all of our increases in our total national wealth continue to line the pockets of the rich even as the rest of us suffered a record decline in wealth between 2007 and 2010. Don't forget, it was the Occupy movement that introduced the idea of the 99%. So why are the elites so scared of Occupy? Because it aims at the right target.

Fire fighters, cops, teachers, public health nurses, sanitation workers, bus drivers, the scientists at the EPA, the clerks in the bowels of some state's bureaucracy - these people are not your enemies. And while our present overseers, our present governors, may well be our enemies, government is not.

*PHC = President Hopey-Changey

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