Thursday, August 30, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #71 - Part 4

Global warming: Former skeptic says increasing temperatures almost entirely due to human activity

There is so much to talk about, so many things that should be said, that should be covered.

There is the Israeli court that blamed Rachel Corrie for her own killing. I haven't talked about the economy in weeks. There are threats to privacy, both from corporations and the government. There are the interrelated issues of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, and Bradley Manning. We are seeing increasing restrictions on the right of public protest, including at the GOPper national convention.

But this is something I have been putting off for weeks because something else always seemed more important. I promised myself I was going to include it this week.

It's about global warming, another topic I have talked about a lot but have neglected recently.

A while back, In February, in fact, I told you about Richard Muller, a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, who put together a group that he said was going to re-examine all the temperature data on which arguments for global warming had been based because he doubted the data was accurate. Well, this is what happened: The left graph plots the rise in temperatures since the mid-1800s as shown by three different data sets. The right graph shows what happened when Muller's analysis was added. (Click on each for a larger view.)


Muller had to admit that the earlier data was accurate.

So why am I bringing this up now? Because a month ago - which is how long I've been wanting to report on this - Muller wrote in the New York Times "Call me a converted skeptic." He not only agrees that the temperature data is correct, as he did earlier, he now also agrees that "Humans are almost entirely the cause."

It's another example of what happens when someone looks at the data with their eyes instead of their ideological biases. When you do that, there is only one answer that comes out: Global warming is real, it's happening now, and we are in serious, serious trouble.

How serious? Consider this: Climatologists say we should, in fact must, keep the temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius to head off the worst effects of global warming. It's estimated that humans can dump another 565 gigatons or so of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by around 2050 and still have a reasonable hope of staying below that two degree mark.

However, current - not projected, but current - economic plans for oil and gas production and extraction worldwide would add 2,795 gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere in that same time. We are in deep trouble.

Meanwhile, the data keeps piling up. Already this year the extent of Arctic Ocean ice is at the lowest level ever recorded - and the ice is going to continue to melt (and so the extent shrink) for some more weeks. Not only is this direct evidence of warming, the impacts could potentially be felt far away. Arctic sea ice helps moderate temperatures further south in both the winter and summer. A study earlier this year in the peer-reviewed journal Geophysical Research Letters linked reduced Arctic sea ice to higher probabilities of extreme weather "such as drought, flooding, cold spells, and heat waves."

And speaking of probabilities, here's a factoid for you to wrap things up for this week: July was the 329th consecutive month in which the average temperature of the entire globe exceeded the 20th century average for that month. The odds of that occurring by simple chance are one in 3.7 x 1099. Write down a 3, then a 7, and then put 98 zeros after it. A quadrillion is a thousand trillion. So this number is three billion, seven hundred million, quadrillion quadrillion quadrillion quadrillion quadrillion quadrillion. You could think of it as about one-third of a googal, if you like. It's that number on the left and it is a number larger than the estimated number of stars in the universe - and if you deny global warming, those are the odds that you are betting against: one in that many.

Sources: [beginning at roughly 16:30 in the video]

Left Side of the Aisle #71 - Part 3

Clarabell Award: GOP Senate candidate says having child out of wedlock "similar" to pregnancy from rape; miners required to attend Romney rally, lose day's pay; Nebraska schools want deaf 3-year-old to change his name because they claim the sign for his name looks like a gun

I had several candidates for the award this week, an embarrassment of embarrassments, as it were - but remembering that the standard for the Clarabell Award is meritorious stupidity, one just stood clearly above the rest.

Among the also-rans was Tom Smith, GOPper candidate for Senate in Pennsylvania this year. He's another of these lame brain bozos who wants to ban access to abortion even in the cases of rape or incest.

On August 27 he was pressed by a reporter on how he would handle a daughter or granddaughter becoming pregnant as a result of rape. He said he had already "lived something similar to that" in his family. When a reporter asked Smith to clarify what kind of situation was similar to becoming pregnant from rape, the candidate responded, "Having a baby out of wedlock."

"Put yourself in a father's position," he said. "Yes, it is similar."

His campaign later insisted that it was a "misunderstanding" and that he specifically denied making the comparison. Even though he did. I guess he "misspoke." When he said "Yes, it is similar," he actually meant to say "No, they're not the same thing at all" but the other words just slipped out by accident.

Another entrant was Rob Moore, Chief Financial Officer of Murray Energy Company. Murray Energy owns the Century Mine, a coal mine in Beallsville, Ohio. Earlier this month, Witless Romney had a campaign event there, with hundreds of coal workers and their families present. But now, many of the mine's workers are saying they were forced to attend the event and lost a day's pay to do it, fearing they might be fired if they didn’t go.

Moore denied the claims - or at least said he was denying them. But what he actually said was that, first, it was true that workers weren’t paid that day and second - get this now, this is a quote:
Our managers communicated to our workforce that the attendance at the Romney event was mandatory, but no one was forced to attend.
Paraphrasing Arthur Dent, this must be some new meaning of "mandatory" of which I was previously unaware. Pure Clarabell territory.

In fact, that was going to be the odds-on winner until I heard about the administrators of Grand Island Public Schools of Grand Island, Nebraska, who are this week's dishonorees.

Hunter Spanjer is a 3-year-old boy who attends pre-school. He is deaf and uses the standard S.E.E., Signing Exact English, for sign language.

The problem is his name: The way he signs his own name, Hunter, is by crossing his index and middle fingers and waving them slightly. As a result, the superior intellects running the school system of Grand Island, Nebraska, want him to be forced to sign his name some other way because they insist the sign resembles shooting a gun and so runs afoul of school policy that forbids any "instrument" that "looks like a weapon."

So according to the big brains of the school officials, the fingers of a 3-year-old are an "instrument" that someone might think is a gun.

And as for any resemblance, hello? The kid's name is Hunter - so he uses the sign for a hunter, which, duh, is going to have some sort of resemblance to a gun.

But here is the real important thing: Bear in mind always that the way Hunter signs his name is the way he introduces himself to the world. The sign is his name. It is his name. By demanding he sign his name a different way, the school actually is demanding that his name be changed to something of which the school can approve. I mean, suppose he wasn't deaf, suppose he communicated orally and said "My name is Hunter." Would the school have demanded his name be changed because the word "hunter" has an association with weapons? You and I both know the answer to that.

The ACLU has written to the district asking the policy be reconsidered and the National Association of the Deaf is prepared to assist the Spanjers with legal action if necessary.

A representative of the district said the school was trying to come to the "best solution" for preschooler Hunter. The best solution is for school officials to apologize to the Spanjers and drop the matter after realizing they have been astonishingly insensitive and appallingly ignorant clowns.


Left Side of the Aisle #71 - Part 2

Voting rights under attack

In this, I will be repeating things I have said previously. I think they bear repeating - because it is about efforts to restrict voting rights, something I have been talking about and expect I will continue to talk about clear through the election and probably beyond. In fact, I've been going on about this for more than a year now and that doesn't even count the earlier posts about those inaccurate, fraud-prone electronic voting machines.

More recently, I've been talking almost entirely about these inane voter photo ID laws, but that is not the only method being employed by the right wing - and make no mistake, this is a project of the right wing - to restrict the ability to vote by people the reactionaries fear will not vote the way they want. That is, people like the young, the poor, and minorities. There have been, for example, restrictions on early voting, which the record says is used disproportionately by minority voters. There have been legal moves and other attempts of various sorts to restrict the ability to register to vote, everything from blocking voter registration drives (as happened in Florida) to just somehow not having enough voter registration forms (as happened recently in New Mexico) to simply grousing when anyone tries to help people register.

One related case of the last is here in Massachusetts. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 requires states to make voter registration information available to people renewing vehicle registrations or signing up for welfare or unemployment. Several voting rights organizations brought suit because Massachusetts had been in gross violation of parts of that law: For one example 75% of welfare applicants in a survey said that had not been provided any information about voter registration. As part of an interim out-of-court settlement, the state has sent voter registration forms to all welfare recipients in the state. Well, Sen. Scat Brown is whining about this, saying it's all a political plot to harm him. And truth be told, it would harm him, and he knows why: If poor people vote, they are more likely to vote for Elizabeth Warren rather than him. And he doesn't want to see that happen. It's all about the right wing trying to interfere with the ability to vote of anyone they think is in any way liberal.

There is news from all over the country about this, from Ohio and Texas and South Carolina and Florida and New Hampshire and New Mexico and more. Talking about this is going to be an on-going thing here at Left Side of the Aisle.

Right now, though, I did want to mention a couple of specific things about a particular case I've been talking about recently: the suit against Pennsylvania's photo ID law. As I told you last time, Judge Robert Simpson refused to enjoin the law, meaning the unless the state Supreme Court unexpectedly overturns Simpson's ruling, the law may well be in place in November. I also told you that the very day that decision came down, the administration of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, who has proved himself a real space cadet - and if you get that, you're as old as I am - announced it was shutting down a program designed to make it easier for people to get absentee ballots.

What I haven't told you is that in the week since, the Corbett administration also announced that it would refuse to cooperate with a Justice Department investigation of the law to see if it violated the Voting Rights Act. In fact, the request for documents was rejected in a manner that could only be called sneering and insulting.

In fact, the state's letter started with a reference to the way the DOJ dealt with complaints of voter intimidation by two members of the New Black Panther Party at a Philadelphia polling place in 2008. This deal is a favorite right wing fantasy; I swear, those two guys must have been hired by some right-wing outfit, with all the play they've tried to get out of this. The truth is, the New Black Panther Party - which despite the name has nothing whatsoever to do with the original Black Panthers - consists of a handful of fringoids who essentially no one had ever heard of before this incident and essentially no one has heard of since. This was two guys at one polling place, one where no one has ever said that they felt intimidated. But that matters more to the right wing than the tens or even hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians who are being denied their right to vote in order to deal with a crime - voter impersonation - that, as the state itself had already admitted, by any rational standard does not exist.

After that, the state's letter went on to claim the DOJ doesn't have the authority to undertake such an investigation - guess what, it does; Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act gives the feds the authority to investigate voter discrimination throughout the jurisdiction of US law - and to accuse the agency of "political motivation," of, in fact, targeting "a growing number of states simply because they instituted legislation designed to insure the integrity of the voting process." Put more bluntly, the state of Pennsylvania is accusing the DOJ of wanting to have corrupt elections. This is another favorite right-wing fantasy: Whenever anyone to their left, even the most moderate centrist Democrat, wins, they immediately smell fraud. The idea that the only way they can lose an election is if the other side cheats is in their political DNA.

But sneering and indulging fantasies wasn't enough for the Corbett administration. The letter also said that the state would provide the information requested - but only if the DOJ would sign a confidentiality agreement. Now, whatever you think about privacy protections - and if you've been around here for a while you know I'm big on them - that is such a sniggering, sophomoric, slap that I really imagine the author giggling as it was being written.

There is one other important thing I want to bring up: I mentioned last week that in his decision on the suit in Pennsylvania, Judge Simpson wrote that the law
is a reasonable, nondiscriminatory, non-severe burden when viewed in the broader context of the widespread use of photo ID in daily life.
Now, at the time I said that Simpson is among those blockheads who can't get it through their thick skulls that not everyone routinely gets on a plane or checks into a hotel or even drives. This time I want to note those other two terms.

"Nondiscriminatory?" Of course the law is discriminatory! Any time a law obviously and significantly affects an identifiable group (here the young, the old, the poor, and minorities) disproportionately as compared to another group (white people and the rich), well that is the definition of discriminatory!

But here's the real thing: "non-severe burden." Any burden placed on voting, Simpson is saying, is acceptable - it's legal, constitutional, just, fair - so long as that burden is not "severe."

But dammit, for all its shortcomings, failures, and disappointments, voting remains a centerpiece, a cornerstone, a linchpin, a keystone, of what it means to have a free nation. It is the central organizing principle of what it means to have a government of by and for the people rather than the other way around.

The burden is not "severe?" What kind of nonsensical standard is that? We are talking about the ability of the people to choose their government and to choose who will govern them. We are talking about a core value of democracy and we're supposed to accept any burdens, any restrictions, put on that so long as they are not "severe?" The true question should not be "is this limitation too severe" but "is this limitation necessary?" And the burden of proof should not be on those who would advance and protect that value, that right, to show "this limitation is too severe" but always on those who would retard and undermine that value, that right, to show "this limitation is necessary."

Remember that just a few years ago, and you will remember this as soon as I mention it, and you’ll probably realize you haven’t thought about it for a while, just a few years ago the big concern about voting was how few people were voting, about low turnouts, about how the level of participation in elections in this country was embarrassing, how even in presidential elections, where the turnout is highest, it still might only be about 60% - and considering that only half of eligible voters were registered, in a close election that might well mean a president was elected with the support of little more than 15% of the population.

All the talk was about how we could get more people to the polls, how we could get more people registered, more people involved, how to remove roadblocks between potential voters and the voting booth. That was the whole point of that 1993 National Voter Registration Act, which was often called the "motor voter" law because of its use of state motor vehicle agencies as contact points for encouraging voter registration.

Now, just a rather few years of right-wing screeching, lying, and, importantly, media collaboration later, all the talk is about how many roadblocks we can put on that path, how hard we can make it to register, how hard we can make it to vote.

And what this is about is power. It's always about power, about the desire of the right wing for power. About the desire of the right wing to create a permanent, structural bias in favor of conservative, right-wing voters and conservative right-wing government; a permanent, structural bias in favor of the haves over the have-nots; a permanent, structural bias in favor of the needless over the needy; a permanent, structural bias against any notion of progress or reform or improvement in the lives of the many as opposed to the selfish benefit of the few.

So if you think your vote is safe - well, if you reliably vote for the oligarchs it probably is. Otherwise, otherwise.


Left Side of the Aisle #71 - Part 1

Outrage of the Week: SEC helps banks, helps fraud, hurts ordinary investors

Back in April I talked about the newly-passed so-called JOBS Act. It stands for, in one of the most weirdly forced acronyms ever, the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act. The bill passed Congress overwhelmingly with bipartisan support. Obama loves the thing. And who could be against it? It's all about jobs!

Well, I said then and I say now that the bill was well-named because it's actually a bunch of j.o.s pushing b.s.

The supposed purpose of bill is to enable our dynamic entrepreneurs reinvigorating the economy by helping them to better raise funds for start-ups.

How? First by exempting them from some federally-required accounting and reporting rules and second by making it easier for them to raise money by both ending the ban on advertising for investors and by allowing for so-called "crowdfunding," which involves going on social media to raise large amounts of money from a large number of small investors.

In short, it allows these "entrepreneurs" to raise millions of dollars without having to tell investors much of anything about the company or its finances. All those nasty disclosure requirements are gone, all those pesky accounting duties are gone, leaving only the brightly-colored brochures and the web ads full of "you too can be rich as Mitt Romney" dreams. What could go wrong?

Economists say it will "open the floodgates to massive fraud" and that "crowdfunding could make the scams of the 1980s look like parking tickets." State-level regulators say it prevents them from regulating, so these companies’ efforts to raise capital would be essentially unregulated on federal or state level. A group of white-collar criminologists called the bill "an atrocity" and "a wish list of fraud-friendly provisions." And the Consumer Federation of America said it was done without evidence that these entrepreneurs actually are having difficulty raising capital - that is, it was passed without any evidence that there was a problem that needed solving.

We have been down this road before. For 40 years or more, we have been pushing for deregulation of anything and everything. We deregulated some financial institutions and got the S&L crisis. We passed some more deregulations, and we got Enron, WorldCom, and the rest. In the 1990s, lifting the ban on advertising for investors led to such a rapid and dramatic increase in fraud that the ban was reinstated. Despite all that, we deregulated some more and saw the whole financial industry melt down in 2008. And what has been the response each and every time? To look around for some other area that we have yet to deregulate - or, as in this case, looking to repeat previous failures.

On top of everything else, the JOBS act very likely will not add any jobs, in fact it is more likely to slow their creation. It increases the risk of fraud and therefore increases the risk to investors - and the cost involved in raising capital are usually tied to the degree of risk. So the JOBS Act could well mean that any honest entrepreneur who really does want to start a new company may well find it harder, not easier, to raise capital.

The Securities and Exchange Commission is supposed to be the cop on the beat about things like investor protection. So what is the agency doing? It's trying to rush through rules to enable the provisions of the act, that is, to "open the floodgates to fraud." In fact, so eager is the SEC to get this done that on August 22, it tried to promulgate rules without allowing for the legally-required period for public comments.

The agency backed off that after the Consumer Federation of America, along with a number of distinguished co-singers, wrote a stinging letter noting how the SEC's plans violated federal law. Instead, it was to hold a vote on August 29 on if it will put out a proposal for public comment.

At the same time that the SEC trying to do an end-run around the public and the law and, in the name of helping new corporations to form, make it easier for cheats, chiselers, and rip-off artists to defraud the rest of us, the agency has announced that it is abandoning plans to impose tougher rules on money-market mutual funds. Former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt called that act a “national disgrace."

You want to know what that's happening? Why that regulation is failing? One reason and one reason only: The sponsors of money-market funds, which include such as Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley, simply don’t want it.

Making things easier for the fraudsters and the big banks (pardon my redundancy) while making it harder on and riskier for ordinary investors - that's what the SEC is about. Because whatever the big banks want, the big banks get. And this ain't no musical - what it is, is the Outrage of the Week.


Left Side of the Aisle #71

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of August 30 - September 5, 2012

This week:
Outrage of the Week: SEC helps banks, helps fraud, hurts ordinary investors

Voting rights under attack

Clarabell Award: GOP Senate candidate says having child out of wedlock "similar" to pregnancy from rape; miners required to attend Romney rally, lose day's pay; Nebraska schools want deaf 3-year-old to change his name because they claim the sign for his name looks like a gun

Global warming: Former skeptic says increasing temperatures almost entirely due to human activity

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #70 - Part 8

Clarabell Award: Todd Akin and pregnancy

The Clarabell award is given as necessary for acts of meritorious stupidity.

This time the dishonoree is someone I'm sure you've heard about unless you woke up from a coma sometime in the past two or three hours. And even then you might have heard about this.

On Sunday, August 19, Rep. Todd Akin, a right-wing loon who is the GOPper nominee for Senate in the state of Missouri, defended his opposition to allowing access to abortion even in the case of rape by saying that in instances of what he called “legitimate rape,” whatever that might mean, in cases of “legitimate rape,” women don't get pregnant. That somehow, their bodies block an unwanted pregnancy. Getting pregnant from rape was "really rare."

Now, lots of people, including even the Republican National Committee, Sen. Mitch "Fishface" McConnell, and even Mitt Romney went after him for that, saying he should drop out of the race or even resign his office, but let's be fair: He is neither the first nor the only right-wing flake to have made this claim; Rachel Maddow at MSNBC and Garance Franke-Ruta at "The Atlantic" had citations of right-wingers saying this from 1980 on through 2010. One of those quoted argued that pregnancy from rape was as rare as snowfall in Miami, another said that the odds against it were "millions and millions" to one, and another claimed that in the event of rape, a woman's body, quoting, "secretes a certain secretion that tends to kill sperm."

And I have to admit that there have been physicians who said that women could not get pregnant from rape, that pregnancy could not arise from nonconsensual sex. They did say that - in the Middle Ages. In the real world, the modern world, one which it seems Mr. Akin and the rest of these jackasses rarely visit, we know that's the absolute worst sort of nonsense and in fact tens of thousands of women get pregnant every year as the result of rape.

Which is one thing about Akin's statement, one reason I chose it for the award. I usually try to bring up things you may not have heard about on the TV evening news but this time I picked him despite all the coverage about it first of all because it is, hands-down, the stupidest thing I heard all week. It is not only offensive and destructive of women's rights and the health of rape victims, it is appallingly ignorant.

But there's another thing about this which sealed his victory in the competition for the award: He tried to weasel out of the meaning of his own words with that moldy, vapid, all-purpose but doesn't actually mean a thing excuse "I misspoke." Here's what he said:
It's clear that I misspoke and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year.
Note clearly that he does not say that his claim that women can't get pregnant from being raped is wrong. It took him a week to get around to that. So what in heaven's name did he "misspeak" about?

Here's his actual quote that started all this:
If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.
I want someone, some reporter, somebody, to say to him - in fact, I would like to see this applied to anyone who falls back on that totally lame "I misspoke" crap - I want someone to say to Akin, "Mr. Akin, here is what you said. Would you please tell us what words you meant to say that are sufficiently close to these that you could have accidentally said what you did instead?"

Todd Akin and the rest of the right-wing bozos, the flakes, wackos, and loons spewing your venomous stupidity all over the politic, you are, all of you, clowns.


Left Side of the Aisle #70 - Part 7

Outrage of the Week: Treasury Secretary Erskine Bowles?

This is less a present outrage than a possible future one.

If Obama is re-elected, there likely will be something of a shake-up in the cabinet. That's actually pretty normal; there are often changes between a first and second term. One of the people expected to leave is Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner.

And who is it that the DC media people with the White House access say is going to be tapped to replace Geithner? Erskine Bowles.

Name ring a bell? If not, how about the "Simpson-Bowles" plan? Remember in the spring of 2010 when Obama appointed this commission to develop a plan to cut the deficit? A commission dubbed the "cat food commission" because it was stacked with people whose focus was on cutting social programs and so-called entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare? And how when the commission couldn't agree, the co-chairs, Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles, issued their own report? Yeah, maybe a glimmer of recognition.

Here's the point: That report, the "Simpson-Bowles" plan, had as a central concern cutting Social Security. Erskine Bowles has been campaigning to slash Social Security and Medicare for 15 years, perpetually spinning the standard falsehoods about how they are about to go under, and now the word is that Barack Obama wants him to be the Secretary of the Treasury during his second term.

When will the Obamabots get it through their thick skulls that Barack Obama wants to cut Social Security? He wants to cut Medicare. He wants to cut Medicaid. He's even groused that he doesn't get enough credit for his willingness to do it! All he wants in return is some token tax hike on the rich. That's the meat of the so-called "grand bargain" on spending, taxes, and the deficit.

Would Bowles get approved if nominated? He's loved by the right and by Wall Street and was on the board of directors of Morgan Stanley, so yeah, he'd be a safe bet to sail through, especially since those same fans are well aware of his desire to see the elderly sent back to picking though garbage to survive.

And if the word on the street is right, that's who Barack Obama wants to be the next Secretary of the Treasury. And that would be - and the very fact that it could be seriously entertained is - an outrage.


Left Side of the Aisle #70 - Part 6

Update on: NDAA and "indefinite detention"

Back around the beginning of the year, I warned you about the NDAA, the National Defense Authorization Act. "Warned" because it includes a particular provision - Section 1022 - that would allow the government to have the military imprison people indefinitely, without trial or even charge, based solely on the president's decision that you are a suspected terrorist or are "substantially supporting" some terrorist or "associated" group. This would even include US citizens seized on US soil.

Later on, I reported that on May 16, Federal Judge Katherine Forrest found that the law is unconstitutional and violates rights to both free speech and due process.

She did so, as I said at the time, after a Kafka-esque hearing in which lawyers for the government repeatedly refused to explain what the law's impossibly vague terms like "associated forces" and "substantial support" actually mean.

Instead, the government tried to argue that the seven plaintiffs did not have "standing" to sue. That is, they couldn't sue because the law hadn't affected them, that is, they hadn't be indefinitely detained. Which means that by the government's argument, the only folks with standing to sue are those already beyond the reach of judicial system. Catch-22 mean anything?

In issuing her ruling, Judge Forrest said she was worried by the government's reluctance to say whether examples of the plaintiffs' activities that they cited - such as aiding WikiLeaks - would fall under the scope of the provision.

Well, the feds have gone back to court, where they filed an appeal of Judge Forrest's ruling with the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. Hilariously, despite its failure to be able even to define basic terms of the law, the government is arguing in its appeal that the law is neither too broad nor too vague.

But here's something worth noting: The appeal argues that the plaintiffs, who include among others academics, activists, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, and a member of the Icelandic parliament,
cannot point to a single example of the military's detaining anyone for engaging in conduct even remotely similar to the type of expressive activities they allege could lead to detention.
Fine! Good! Then say so, say in court, on the record, that those sorts of activities are not covered by the law. Say on the record that there is no legal reason to be concerned. Say on the record "that's not what we meant, that's not what the law means." Just say that.

But the fact is, they won't. They want the law broad, they want it vague, they want to use as broad a brush as possible. They want this law, they want it in place, they want it in force, and they want it with no legal or constitutional restrictions on its reach.

We are in danger of becoming - we are already becoming - what I call a "soft" police state. I do not use the term "police state" lightly. By "soft" police state, I mean that we still have elections, we still have campaigns, we still have all the outward trappings of democracy. There is free speech, at least a form of it, there are what at least appear to be debates, there are newspapers and magazines, there is the internet.

But ultimately all of that is allowed, all of that is tolerated, because dissent is ineffective. Because all these outward appearances of democracy, of human rights, do not affect the positions and perks of the powerful. Because instead of being a means of change, our petitions and protests and political campaigns are becoming more and more just a way to blow off steam, a way to give us the feeling of having a role, a place, a voice, without our actually having one. Cross the line, actually impact the system, and the hammer comes down.

That's why Occupy Wall Street was so threatening to our power elites: It was having an impact. It was getting people talking about things like income inequality, about the power of the 1%. People were responding to this to the point where politicians and the media actually had to respond to it as well. That's why the encampments were hit with a wave of coordinated attacks across the country, all following the same plan, all using the same tactics, all making the same bogus charges. It was because the Occupy movement could not be ignored and so had to be shut down.

Now, make no mistake: Occupy Wall Street is not dead and there are still actions, often types of guerrilla theater, occurring around the country. But the movement was damaged, severely damaged, by the attacks, no doubt about it, and, more importantly to the power elite, the movement has been driven back to the fringes, that is, it exists largely as a series of individual, isolated local stories rather than as a national one.

So the result is that the power elite could go back to making its money and as a political issue, getting us to talk about what it really wants to talk about, which is the deficit and why it means we should cut taxes - I didn't say the argument made sense - and destroy social security and other social programs. This week's Outrage of the Week has more.


Left Side of the Aisle #70 - Part 5

Update on: Guns and mass shootings; the hypocrisy of the right

Three weeks ago, I talked about James Holmes, who went into a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado and killed 12 people. Two weeks ago, I talked about Wade Michael Page, who walked into a Sikh temple in a suburb of Milwaukee, and when it was over, seven were dead, including Page.

Now I get to talk about Floyd Lee Corkins. On the morning of August 16, he went into the offices of the right-wing Family Research Council in Washington, DC. When he was challenged by a security guard, he pulled out a gun and shot the guard in the arm. Despite being shot, the guard managed to subdue Corkins. No one else was hurt, no one was killed - although we have to say that we don't know what would have happened if Corkins hadn't been challenged.

Three incidents, three cases of guns, three cases of bloodshed. However, there was one difference.

When Holmes went on his rampage, the right wing gun nuts all immediately, almost in unison, shouted "lone wacko." No connection to anything else, they insisted. When Page shot down peaceful worshippers, we again got the "lone wacko" treatment from the right despite the fact that Page had spent the previous 10 years in the racist white power music scene. But of course that had nothing to do with what he did. Of course not. Domestic terrorism? Don't be absurd. Lone wacko.

Now we have Corkins, who supposedly told the guard "I don't like your politics" before shooting him and was described by his parents as having "strong opinions with respect to those he believes do not treat homosexuals in a fair manner.” In other words, unlike most shooters, he appears to be coming from the left.

So is he another "lone wacko" according to the right wing? Of course not! He's not a lone wacko, he's a product of the left!

The president of the Family Research Council, an idiot named Tony Perkins, blamed the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups - such as the Family Research Council - as responsible for the shooting. He said that by labeling groups like the FRC as "hate groups" - that is, by calling them what they are - the SPLC is "giving people a license to take innocent life." It's the SPLC's fault.

The next day, he added the Obama administration. The Obama administration is to blame for this, he said, by virtue of the "hostile atmosphere" it has created by its "hostility to religious freedom." Corkins is no lone wacko, he's the result of Obama!

So someone on the right shoots up a bunch of people? Lone wacko! No connection to anything else. Someone from the left shoots someone? The entire left half of the American political spectrum is to blame. That is how the loons of the right see the world.


Left Side of the Aisle #70 - Part 4

Update on: Arizona's "papers please" law

It was sometime back that I spoke about Arizona's notorious law targeting undocumented workers, a law which had the effect of targeting for harassment anyone who looked Hispanic, even if they were born in the US and had lived all their life here. Even before it passed, the bill, numbered SB1070, became known as the "papers please" law.

In June, the Supreme Court struck down most of the law, leaving intact only the provision that police may check the immigration status of someone during the course of a lawful arrest. And that part is now the subject of a separate constitutional challenge.

I bring this up because in the course of the debate over SB1070, accusations were made that the law was driven less by concern over immigration and more by concern over the skin color of those immigrants. Supporters of the law of course vociferously denied this, although their repeated references to "protecting" and "sealing" the "border" didn't do much to dispel that notion. Now, however, we have proof that this law was - the polite form is "racially motivated," the more accurate form is racist.

The main sponsor and main force behind the bill was former Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce, a right-winger (no surprise there) who later got kicked out of office in a recall election, partly as a result of his efforts on this law. The ACLU of Arizona recently obtained thousands of emails Pearce sent during his time as Senate president and they make it absolutely clear the attitude driving it.

Here’s a sample of what the emails showed, and remember, these are quotes from Pearce's own emails:

"Last week, Denver’s illegal aliens sang our national anthem in Spanish and bastardized the words of OUR country’s most sacred song."

"Battles commence as Mexican nationalists struggle to infuse their men into American government and strengthen control over their strongholds. One look at Los Angeles with its Mexican-American mayor shows you Vincente Fox’s general Varigossa commanding an American city."

"They create enclaves of separate groups that shall balkanize our nation into fractured nightmares of social unrest and poverty."

"Corruption is the mechanism by which Mexico operates. Its people spawn more corruption wherever they go because it is their only known way of life."

"Tough, nasty illegals and their advocates grow in such numbers that law and order will not subdue them. They run us out of our cities and states. They conquer our language and our schools. They render havoc and chaos in our schools."

"We are much like the Titanic as we inbreed millions of Mexico’s poor, the world’s poor and we watch our country sink."

And finally,

"The new definition of racist is anyone winning an argument with a liberal, minority, pacifist, bible banger, or moron."

That is the man who pushed this bill.

When are we going to admit to ourselves that racism and bigotry is alive and - well, I don't want to say well because it's a sickness - but alive and thriving in our society and have been since the beginning? And not only against blacks. Hispanics are just the latest target of our isolationist xenophobia. We can trace it back generation by generation, group by group, target by target. Asians, Poles, Italians, Irish, Jews, Catholics: Any wave of immigrants that was in any way "different" - to be blunt, that wasn't a WASP - any time there was a wave of "different" people, we heard the same things: It's going to destroy the country, undermine it, these foreigners, they're dirty, they're filthy, they're all the rest of this nonsense. We can trace this right back to Native Americans, who weren't even immigrants.

Our record on this is a shameful one. It may not be the worst, it may not even be all that bad compared to other nations, that doesn't change the fact that it is shameful.


Left Side of the Aisle #70 - Part 3

Update on: Pennsylvania's voter ID law

I told you last week about the case in Pennsylvania challenging the photo ID law in that state. This is the case where Pennsylvania admitted even before the hearing began that the whole premise of the law was bogus because there was no evidence there had been in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania and no reason to think there would be if the law was not enacted.

I said that a decision on the motion for an injunction against the law was expected soon. It was soon: It came out the afternoon of the day I recorded that.

Shockingly, Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson denied the request for an injunction on the grounds that meeting the requirements of the ID law was not "overly burdensome" for voters. Requiring a photo ID in order to vote, Simpson wrote,
is a reasonable, nondiscriminatory, non-severe burden when viewed in the broader context of the widespread use of photo ID in daily life.
In other words, he's one of those people who can't - or simply doesn't want to - get it through their head that not everybody has a photo ID and not everybody commonly gets on a plane or checks into a hotel or even drives - especially in cities.

What's more, he said - and this really struck me - that opponents of the law failed to establish “that disenfranchisement was immediate or inevitable” and - get this now - the law "does not expressly disenfranchise or burden any qualified elector or group of electors.”

In other words the law does not specifically say "this is intended to make it harder for poor people to vote." It does not specifically say "we don't want elderly people voting." And so because it doesn't "expressly disenfranchise" anyone, there is no problem with it.

In fact, here's something else about this: Simpson noted that the law already allows for absentee ballots and suggested some of the plaintiffs in the case could actually get an absentee ballot.

On the same day he cleared the path for this law to go into effect, the state government, the Tom Corbett administration, abandoned plans to make it easier for people to get absentee ballots. But, no, there is no intent to impact voting rights here. None at all.


Left Side of the Aisle #70 - Part 2

Update on: LIBOR

On a somewhat positive note, I told you a few weeks ago about the scandal around LIBOR, the London Interbank Offered (or Offering) Rate.

Just a quick refresher: LIBOR is a daily interest rate set based on information from a group of international banks as to what it would cost them - what interest rate they would pay - on short-term loans they take from each other. The highest few and lowest few are tossed, the rest are averaged, and that is your daily LIBOR.

The importance of LIBOR is that the interest rates on trillions of dollars in financial transactions around the world are ultimately based on LIBOR - and there is clear evidence, in fact a confession from one involved bank, that the rate has been manipulated for the short-term benefit of those same banks.

The good news is that over the past few weeks, the attorneys general of New York and Connecticut have issued subpoenas to seven banks over the scandal. Subpoenas were issued to Barclays, Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, JPMorgan Chase, HSBC, Royal Bank of Scotland and UBS.

We're still waiting to see what the federal DOJ will do - but based on experience, don't expect much.


Left Side of the Aisle #70 - Part 1

Update on: DOJ will not prosecute Goldman Sachs

Last week, in the Outrage of the Week, I blasted the DOJ for its decision to not prosecute Goldman Sachs despite the clear evidence of massive fraud committed by the firm. I noted then that, quoting myself,
the agency did grandly allow as how it would take another look if new information comes to light - that is, if someone else will do all the work of research and investigation and drop an air-tight case into their laps with such a loud plop that it can't be ignored.
Apparently, I was not the only person thinking that. The same day I said that, Matt Taibbi wrote on his blog at Rolling Stone magazine that "AG Eric Holder has no balls." He wrote that
our prosecutors and regulators have basically admitted now that they only go after the most obvious and easily prosecutable cases. The only white-collar cases they will bring are absolute slam-dunks.
How bad is this? Taibbi noted that the Congressional report Holder ignored included, for example, proof that in one case Goldman claimed, in writing, that it was fully "aligned" with the interests of its client, Morgan Stanley, because it held a $6 million slice of the deal. What Morgan Stanley wasn't told is that Goldman had a $2 billion short position against the same deal. That is, it had a few million invested in the deal - but stood to gain a couple of billion if it fell apart.

"If that isn’t fraud, Mr. Holder," Taibbi asked, "just what exactly is fraud?"

And Goldman Sachs is not the only recent example. The DOJ is apparently going to end its what it called an "investigation" into MF Global without filing any criminal charges. MF Global is - or was, it's now bankrupt - a brokerage and commodities company headed by former NJ Gov. Jon Corzine.

The company lost money - and I don't mean lost in a bad deal or as the result of a change in the market, I mean just lost, as in just can't find - some $1.6 billion in customer funds. That charge was that the investor's money was stolen and given to JPMorgan Chase in an attempt to cover MF Global's losses. But doggone it, our Justice Dept. just finds it too darn hard to prosecute a case like that. Instead, it has concluded that "chaos and porous risk controls at the firm, rather than fraud, allowed the money to disappear."

Oh, well, I guess that's all right, then, and all those people who lost large amounts of money just should be grateful for the DOJ's diligent efforts.


Friday, August 24, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #70

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of August 23-29, 2012

This week:

Various updates on earlier stories

- DOJ will not prosecute Goldman Sachs


- Pennsylvania's voter ID law approved

- Arizona's "papers please" law

- Guns and mass shootings; the hypocrisy of the right

- NDAA and "indefinite detention"

Outrage of the Week: Treasury Secretary Erskine Bowles?

Clarabell Award: Todd Akin and pregnancy

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #69 - Part 5

And Another Thing: Top 25 new words in Miriam-Webster's dictionary

Every year, Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary adds about 100 new words or expressions. The company has just released a list of 25 of those 100 new words for this year, and I just thought it would be fun to run through that list with quick definitions of a few words that maybe people wouldn't know (or, to be more precise, I didn't).

Start with 21 new words or expressions:

aha moment
brain cramp
bucket list
cloud computing
Copernicium - a new element, named for Copernicus
craft beer
energy drink
flexitarian - someone who usually doesn't eat meat or fish but might on occasion
game changer
gastropub - a neighborhood pub or bistro with really good food
geocaching - a game or sport where people use GPS to hide and find "caches"
life coach
man cave
obesogenic - situations or conditions tending to create obesity
systemic risk
tipping point

In addition to those 21 new words and expressions, there are new, additional definitions for four existing words:

gassed - really tired


Left Side of the Aisle #69 - Part 4

Voter ID laws: Attacks on the right to vote

I've talked before about attacks on The Commons, on the idea that we as a society are a community of shared interests and responsibilities, each to the other and to the whole. I've also discussed how that idea is under relentless attack by those who want to advance their own greed and selfishness and want to be freed from the idea of having any responsibility to or for anyone else.

I've also said that one form those attacks take are these voter ID laws, particularly the photo ID laws. These laws are an attack on the right to vote and they have disproportionate impact on the ability to vote among the poor, minorities, students, and the elderly. Three of those groups, when they do vote, often lean to the liberal side of things - and the fourth, the elderly, when it comes to things like Social Security and Medicare, will be on the liberal side as well. That is, these laws are an attempt to prevent people who might be more liberal from voting and so create a voting landscape permanently tilted to the right.

Put more directly, there is an organized effort by the right wing to permanently undermine our democracy and turn it into even more of a facade than it may well already be. If that charge seems overheated, just consider the facts.

First, there is the simple fact, so undeniable that even supporters of these laws don't bother to try, that these laws do have clearly greater impact on, again, the poor, minorities, students, and the elderly. There are multiple studies all concluding the same thing.

Then there is the equally simple fact, this one equally rationally undeniable but still denied by the rabid right, that the supposed problem these laws propose to address - in-person voter fraud - does not actually exist. In-person voter fraud means someone showing up at the polls, pretending to be someone else, and voting in their name. That is the only type of supposed voter fraud that these laws address - and that type of fraud is as close to non-existant as it's possible to get.

Again, there are a host of studies on this; I'm just going a brand new one. It came out this past Monday, August 13. It was done by News21, a nonpartisan investigative news project funded by the Carnegie and Knight foundations. Researchers there filed more than 2,000 public-records requests across all 50 states and reviewed nearly 5,000 court documents, official records, and media reports. They found a total of 2,068 alleged cases of voter fraud of all sorts since the year 2000, a period during which there have been more than 600 million votes cast in presidential elections alone. The study described that amount of fraud as "infinitesimal." It in fact works out to a rate of less than 0.0034% - a bit over 3/1000ths of 1 percent. The number of cases of in-person fraud? Ten. Ten out of over 600 million - a rate of less than 0.0000017%, or just under 2 millionths of one percent. Infinitesimal, indeed. And do not forget: These were cases of alleged voter fraud, not of proven voter fraud.

They also looked at the list of 375 claimed cases of voter fraud gathered by the Republican National Lawyers Association, only to find that most of them were just newspaper accounts of alleged fraud. In the list, News21 could find only 77 cases of alleged fraud by voters (as opposed to political parties, election officials, or others) which led to only 33 convictions. How many involved in-person fraud? None. Not one, not even one allegation. The GOPper list was crap.

In fact, the "voter fraud" myth is such a myth than when cornered, even the reactionaries will admit to it. Pennsylvania is one of 10 states that has a restrictive voter photo ID law. (The others are Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin.) The state was sued over the law; the trial took place in July and a ruling is expected soon.

The thing is, before the trial began, in a stipulation agreement, Pennsylvania acknowledged there
have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania; and the parties do not have direct personal knowledge of any such investigations or prosecutions in other states.
Additionally, Pennsylvania
will not offer any evidence in this action that in-person voter fraud has in fact occurred in Pennsylvania and elsewhere
or even argue that
that in person voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absence of the Photo ID law.
So even before the hearing started, Pennsylvania admitted the claimed basis, the whole claimed purpose, of the law is totally bogus.

But they want to have the law anyway. Why? Well, one argument is that made by Bill Denny, a state representative in Mississippi who sponsored his state’s voter ID bill, who said “Whether you have proof of it or not, what in the heavens is wrong with showing an ID at polls?”

Well, here's what's wrong: About 11% of eligible voters - more than 21 million people - don't have a current, unexpired government-issued ID with a photograph, and - no surprise - seniors, the poor, minorities, and the young are overrepresented in that group. In Pennsylvania, state election officials recently reported that more than 758,000 registered voters in Pennsylvania, about 9.2% of the total number of registered voters in the state, do not have photo identification cards from the state Transportation Department.

The governor's office insists that number is way off and most of those people have other forms of acceptable IDs. But even if the actual number with acceptable ID is half that many, a third that many, a quarter, a tenth - it would still mean that 75,000 people would be improperly denied their right to vote in order to prevent a crime that the state has admitted does not exist.

And according to a new study released just a few weeks ago from the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, which studies voting rights, a half-million Americans in the 10 states with strict voter identification laws face serious challenges to obtaining the necessary photo documentation. Again, it is the poor who are the most affected, whose ability to vote is most at risk.

Legal precedent requires these 10 states to provide free photo ID to eligible voters who do not have one. But the fact is that a large number of eligible voters face real difficulties in obtaining that free photo ID. Problems of distance; lack of transportation; the money needed to get the documents to get the it's-not-really-free-then-is-it ID; the limited hours of many of the offices that issue the IDs. This November, states with restrictive voter ID laws will provide 127 electoral votes - nearly half of the 270 needed to win the presidency. The ability of eligible citizens without photo ID to obtain one could have a major influence on the outcome of the 2012 election.

But if even goes beyond that. I just mentioned something about the limited hours of offices issuing the IDs. A ridiculous example of that is that the office in Sauk City, Wisconsin - Governor Walkalloveryou's state - is open only on the fifth Wednesday of any month. But only four months in 2012 - February, May, August, and October - have five Wednesdays. That is, this "free" ID-issuing office is open a total of four days all year.

There you have an example of another way the reactionaries are trying to make it hard for what they consider the "undesirable sort" to vote: Pretend to follow the rules, pretend to be fair, but just make it as inconvenient as you can possibly get away with for targeted people to meet the requirements you set.

Because it's not just about getting ID. Even if you have ID or even if you live in a state without a restrictive ID law, you can still face hurdles designed to hinder you. Consider Ohio. In 2008, Ohio had early voting to avoid the eight and nine hour-long lines there were in 2004, most of which occurred (gasp!) in minority areas. Well, perhaps prompted by those memories, minorities, who went heavily for Obama over McCain in 2008 and will likely do the same for Obama over Romney in 2012, disproportionately took advantage of early voting. So this year, guess what: Early voting has been cut back. Individual counties are now deciding whether to allow extended hours for early voting.

And isn't it amazing that of course by the purest of coincidences, heavily Democratic counties will see early voting hours limited to 8am to 5pm weekdays - while in heavily GOPper counties, hours will include evenings and even weekends. Live in a heavily Democratic county in Ohio, and it's just harder to vote.

Bottom line: These laws and these regulations are not about preventing fraud. So if they're not about preventing voter fraud - which they're not - and they're not about "protecting the integrity of the vote" - which they're not - what are these laws for? Mike Turzai, majority leader of the Pennsylvania House, told us in June. Speaking at a Republican State Committee meeting, he said the state's new voter ID law “is going to allow Gov. Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”

That's what these laws are about: They are part of a coordinated campaign to advance the cause of the rightwing, to cement their power and enshrine their greed and indifference to the needs of others, by undermining the basic human right of the vote. It is contemptible - and don't you ever forget it.


Left Side of the Aisle #69 - Part 3

Outrage of the Week: DOJ will not prosecute Goldman Sachs

Last week, August 9, the Justice Department announced that after a "careful review" it would not be prosecuting Goldman Sachs or its employees for financial fraud. There is no basis for a prosecution, the department declared.

This is despite the revelations in a Congressional report released jointly by Senators Carl Levin and Tom Coburn in 2011 as the result of a two-year investigation by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. That report singled out Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank as examples of Wall Street firms that reaped huge profits by marketing toxic securities as safe investments to clients, even as those same banks were betting against those very same securities - that is, were taking out insurance on them such that if the securities failed, they would collect - a fact they hid from their clients.

The charges in the report were based on thousands of internal company documents and e-mails, hundreds of interviews, and congressional testimony. Emails showed that even as the banks were pushing the securities as AAA-rated investments, internally they were calling them things like "junk," "crap," and "flying pig." There was that notable moment in the hearings when Levin persistently quoted one Goldman Sachs email that described one such deal as "shitty."

What's even more, Goldman had already agreed to pay $550 million to end a civil-fraud suit filed by the SEC, one which, again, involved Goldman deceiving clients about the actual worth of the investments it was pushing on them.

But none of that was good enough for the Justice Department. "Nope, just not enough. Nope." Something to note clearly here is that what the DOJ is saying is that there wasn't enough in the Congressional report for a prosecution. But that also means that the DOJ is saying it's not going to do any investigating about any of this on its own. The DOJ is not going to investigate financial fraud by the big banks.

The agency did grandly allow as how it would take another look if "new information comes to light" - that is, if someone else will do all the work of research and investigation and drop an air-tight case into their laps with such a loud plop that it can't be ignored.

Now all this might not be as much of a surprise as you think. Do you know what company was the source of the second largest amount of private contributions to the 2008 Obama for President campaign? It was Goldman Sachs. JPMorgan Chase was sixth, and Citigroup was seventh.

The beginning of last week, on August 6, a New York jury acquitted a former mid-level Citigroup official of financial fraud. The jury felt that the government hadn't proved his particular guilt and they believed he was being made a scapegoat for the entire industry. They concluded that he had structured the crooked deal the way his bosses told him to and wondered - and this is the key thing here - why this guy was on trial instead of the top executives of Citigroup, whose behavior was, in the words of the jury foreman, "appalling."

They felt this so strongly, and were so concerned that the acquittal would "send the wrong message," that they took the highly unusual step of issuing a statement along with the verdict. According to the foreman, Beau Brendler,
We were afraid that we would send a message to Wall Street that a jury made up of regular American folks could not understand their complicated transactions and so they could get away with their outrageous conduct. We also did not want to discourage the government from investigating and prosecuting financial crimes.
The statement, read in open court, said
This verdict should not deter the S.E.C. from continuing to investigate the financial industry, review current regulations and modify existing regulations as necessary.
Brendler said "It wasn't a particularly eloquent statement, but we hoped it would get a point across."

Hopefully. Because the American people know how crooked Wall Street is. We know how we have been screwed over again and again and will be screwed over again and again until it is stopped one way or another. And we know there have been no criminal prosecutions against Wall Street banks and executives a a result of them screwing us over again and again, in spite of the pain they inflicted on us, the losses of our jobs, our homes, our futures

And we know that the problem we face now is that the people in a position to do something about it also know - and they just don't care.

It is an outrage.


Left Side of the Aisle #69 - Part 2

Clarabell Award: $60 million for high school football stadium

Allen, Texas, is a suburb of Dallas. Not long ago, it was a relatively small farming community but over the last 10 years it has developed into a site of high-end retail shops and entertainment. Its population has doubled to 84,000 and its median household income has risen to a hefty $85,000.

And like way too many places in Texas, they loves them some high school football; Texans will admit it's almost a religion in the state.

And so the city of Allen, Texas is about to open a new $60 million high school football stadium. It will have 18,000 seats, NaturalGrass Matrix turf, a 75-by-45 foot HD video scoreboard, a customized weight room, a press room, and private boxes that rival those of some college stadiums. It's being built in large part because it's held that the existing stadium, which holds a mere 14,000 seats, is not big enough.

It was funded from a $119 million bond package approved by 63% of voters three years ago. The head football coach at the Allen high school, one Tom Westerberg said "It shows that the people of Allen support their kids." I think it shows something else entirely.

What's more, Christian Herr, an architect who worked on the project, said he expects other towns now are going to be jealous and will want their own bigger stadiums.

This comes at a time when Texas lawmakers have cut the state's education funding by $4 billion. By the 2011-2012 school year, Allen was facing a $4.5 million budget shortfall and was forced to cut 44 teaching positions and 40 support positions.

Now, in fairness, the budgets for school operations and for the stadium construction were separate. And last fall, residents in Allen agreed to raise local property taxes to make up for the cuts from the state. So good for them on that.

But at a time when the state is cutting aid to education, when you're having to raise your own local taxes to keep from losing 84 teaching and support positions in your high school, at a time when Texas ranks 47th among states in SAT scores (and yes, I know all the problems with SAT scores, but they do provide some basis for comparison), for you to be spending $60 million on an 18,000-seat high school football stadium because the 14,000-seat stadium you already had wasn't big enough....

The people of Allen, Texas - in fact, all the towns in Texas that rate high school football above a high school education - you are clowns.


Left Side of the Aisle #69 - Part 1

Good news: You can feed the poor in Philadelphia parks

I talked about this before; eight weeks ago, in fact, back in June. I was reporting the good news that Rhode Island had just passed the nation's first "Homeless Bill of Rights." As part of that, I mentioned how
this simple and humane legislation actually flies in the face of a trend in US cities to criminalize homelessness and things associated with homelessness
- such as panhandling, sleeping outdoors, or being fed in a public place.

Toward that end, more than 50 cities across the country have adopted anti-camping or anti-food-sharing laws. Bluntly, these cities are not trying to address homelessness and the problems of the homeless, they are trying to make them invisible so that the tourists and the rich corporate executives wouldn't be disturbed by the sight of such icky things as homeless people.

As one example of these laws, I noted how 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.

Well, there is some good news on that particular front. On Monday, August 13, Federal District Court Judge William Yohn issued a ruling blocking the Philadelphia law.

In Yohn's words, "It hardly needs to be said that plaintiffs' food-sharing programs benefit the public interest. Despite [the city's] considerable efforts, many Philadelphians remain homeless and hungry."

In a hilarious attempt to defend the law, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter - yes, that's his real name - has said the intention was to get homeless people indoors, so they could get other forms of help. Exactly how feeding people in a park prevents those same people from later going inside somewhere was not explained.

Not surprisingly, the appropriately-named Nutter administration has appealed the ruling.

Footnote: One of four charities that sued the city of Philadelphia over the ban is a religious charity called Chosen 300. The group continued feeding the homeless when the ban was in limbo and said it never had any intention of obeying the law. Reverend Brian Jenkins, head of Chosen 300 Ministries, said back in July that
We're going to break the law, in the city's view we're breaking the law. In our view, it's the command of Christ.
Nice to know some Christians actually understand what it is to be one.


Left Side of the Aisle #69

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of August 16-22, 2012

This week:
Good news: You can feed the poor in Philadelphia parks

Clarabell Award: $60 million for high school football stadium

Outrage of the Week: DOJ will not prosecute Goldman Sachs

Voter ID laws: Attacks on the right to vote

And Another Thing: Top 25 new words in Miriam-Webster's dictionary

Friday, August 10, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #68 - Part 6

Death of Mary Tamm, Romana #1

Mary Tamm has died of cancer, aged 62. I know the name won't mean a lot or even anything to most of you, but it means something to some of us. Mary Tamm was a British actress; she did some theater and some movies and a fair amount of British TV.

But to some of us, she will always be the first Romana, starring in Doctor Who during the Tom Baker era.

Romana's actual name was Romanadvoratrelundar, but the Doctor called her Romana because he said that in the event of danger, by the time he called out her whole name, it would be too late.

By all accounts, Mary Tamm was a very sweet, quite likeable person. So RIP, Mary Tamm.


Left Side of the Aisle #68 - Part 5

And Another Thing: Curiosity lands on Mars

Curiosity, the largest and most advanced spacecraft ever sent to another planet, made its extraordinary, multi-step, landing on Mars Sunday night (or Monday morning, if you prefer). Everything worked just as intended.

Curiosity now begins its two year mission focused on the question of if there ever was - or, quite improbable as it may be, is - life on Mars.

It joins a colleague on a distant part of the Martian surface, the rover Opportunity - which is now in the eighth year what was originally scheduled as a 90-day mission. If we have the same kind of luck with Curiosity as we've had with Opportunity, by the time of a hoped-for human landing on Mars in the 2030s, Curiosity may still be running.

Just two quick things I want to mention: One is that when you see the video, as I'm sure you have, of the excitement in the control room when touchdown was confirmed, you should remember that a lot of those people worked for literally 10 years for that moment.

And two, I have to show you this. I think it's one of the most extraordinary space photos ever. It was taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. We have two satellites orbiting Mars. One of them was used to relay signals from Curiosity back to Earth so we knew what was going on. The other, the Reconnaissance Orbiter, took this shot. Note the white box toward the left end of the picture. In that box you can see Curiosity descending on its parachute, part of the process of its landing.

Seriously, majorly, cool.


Left Side of the Aisle #68 - Part 4

Clarabell Award: commenters on story about racial slur

This week's Clarabell Award, given as needed for acts of meritorious stupidity, is a group award. But first I have to give you the necessary background.

Joseph Ross is a black man who lives in Dayton, Ohio. The first weekend in August he stopped in Sharonville, Ohio, on his way to Cincinnati, where he planned to attend the Macy's jazz festival.

He checked into a Motel 6, went to his room, and turned on the TV. It showed an in-house screen - you know, the kind of screen that comes up when you first turn on a motel or hotel TV; it shows something about services, the TV channels available, that sort of thing.

This time, however, it also included a greeting of "Hello Nigger!"

Ross complained to Motel 6's corporate office and the Dayton chapter of the NAACP and - note this well - WCPO, a TV station in Cincinnati, got video of the screen, showing the offensive message.

The police are also investigating the incident, saying they take it "very seriously." The corporation released a statement deploring the incident - while carefully noting it was an "isolated" case - and the motel gave him a better room.

Okay, so who are the clowns? They are a significant portion of people who commented on article online. When I saw it there were like 15 pages of comments; I just went through the first five. (Oh, and in what's below I corrected all the misspellings and such in the cited comments.)

In that space there were a number of people who attacked the Huffington Post for running the story. Apparently it had been up a couple of days and one person answered that question "Why are you still this? by saying
They will run it as long as they feel it will bring the country closer to a race war. Of course that is the NAACP's agenda also.
The NAACP was another frequent target, with one calling it "nothing more than a black version of the KKK."

You'd be surprised - or perhaps you wouldn't be - at how many comments were along the lines of "They call each other this all the time. What's the problem?" One insisted "I actually think it was pretty friendly of them to greet him." Several others said it was "funny" or even "hilarious." Ross "got totallly upset over nothing, why so dramatic," wondered another. Apparently the concept of "context" is beyond these people's mental faculties.

Another commenter said this was just "the liberal press still trying to stir up some shit!" Still another said "I'm telling you. Racism has been rampant, since the President took office." (That one actually got a good comeback: "Yeah - President Washington.)

Many commenters said they just did not believe it. For example:
"He is just very unappreciating [sic]. Look at him we can see he came from a shelter; damn they just don't know how to act when greeted." [The photo, as I'm sure you realize, is of Joseph Ross.] ...

"This guy is on a set up from day one as he just happens to know an employee there." [When asked from where that knowledge comes, there was no response.] ...

"He is in it for the money grab."
But this was the one, the one that could have secured the award all by itself:
Yes, I think it was one of his buddies who put it there, I cannot see a white person doing it, what would be the purpose for a white to do it?
It's hard to imagine how someone could have sufficient brains to operate a keyboard and still be so out of touch with the world around them. But what is clear is that whoever this person is, they are the King Clown of a whole group of racist clowns.

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