Saturday, September 29, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #75 - Part 7

And Another Thing: Some cool archaeology bits

Finally for this week, a few rather cool archaeological bits.

For almost three decades, Colin Steer, of Plymouth, Devonshire, UK, wondered what caused the living room floor beneath his sofa to dip. After he retired, he decided to find out. So he started digging - and discovered that the indentation in the floor was covering a well. A well 30 inches wide and 33 feet deep that dates back to the 16th century.

The well may be connected to something called Drake’s leat, a watercourse built in the 16th century by Sir Francis Drake to carry water from Dartmoor to Plymouth. Steer is trying to find someone to date the well more exactly. In the meantime, he's got a cool feature for his house.

Speaking of old English stuff, one of the enduring mysteries of British history has been the burial place of King Richard III. It's known he was killed during the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, the last major battle of the War of the Roses. After the battle, Richard's body was stripped naked and paraded through the streets of Leicester to prove he was dead.

Researchers believe Richard was then buried in a nearby Franciscan friary. But that friary was demolished during Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, leaving the exact location of the friary unknown.

Now, researchers have found the friary under a city parking lot in Leicester. They have found medieval window tracery, glazed floor tile fragments, part of what may be the cloisters, and a section of wall.

And just over a week ago they announced they have found human remains, with "strong circumstantial evidence" suggesting it's the body of Richard III. If it turns out to be so, another history mystery has been solved.

Finally, researchers have used new techniques to examine 4,000 year old obsidian tools found in Syria near its borders with Turkey and Iraq to reveal trade and trade routes of four millennia ago.

Obsidian is naturally occurring volcanic glass. It's smooth, hard, and far sharper than a surgical scalpel when fractured. It was highly desired as a material for making stone tools. In fact, obsidian blades are still used today in some specialized medical procedures.

Using the most recent techniques that use the fact that each volcanic source has a distinctive chemical signature, the researchers determined that most of the obsidian at the site and other nearby ones came from volcanoes some 200 kilometers (125 miles) away in what is now eastern Turkey. That wasn't a surprise, as models of ancient trade routes predicted as much. However, the team also discovered a set of obsidian artefacts originating from a volcano in what is now central Turkey, three times further away, indicating trade in obsidian was - and thus the associated trade routes were - more widespread than previously thought.

What's amazing here is that the ability to read that volcanic signature is so exact that not only did the team identify the particular volcano where the obsidian in the artefacts originated, they were able to pinpoint the exact flank of the particular volcano where it was collected and to determine that it was gathered from two different spots on its slope. That is just incredible.


Left Side of the Aisle #75 - Part 6

And Another Thing: Good news on solar and wind energy

Some good news on the energy front: A solar industry group announced earlier this month that the US is on track to install as much photovoltaic solar power this year as we did in the previous ten.

The report, by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association, found that US solar installations more than doubled in the second quarter of 2012 as compared to last year, adding 742 megawatts of capacity. This growth was driven largely by new utility-scale solar generation projects, including two large projects that benefitted from DOE loan guarantees. The US now has enough installed solar capacity to power one million homes.

And it's not just solar: The wind industry has also seen tremendous growth in recent years. Not long ago, the estimates were that the US would reach 40 gigawatts of wind power by 2030. Wind power now, already, has 50 gigawatts of generation capacity installed: Twenty-five percent more eighteen years earlier.

The Department of Energy estimates that wind could provide 20% of US electricity by 2030, roughly double all our nuclear power plants.

That boom is due in part to the Federal Production Tax Credit. But unless Congress acts, the tax credit will expire at the end of this year. It will be interesting to see how that plays out; it'll be a good metric for judging just how concerned our supposed liberals are with the environment, renewable energy, and climate change and just how concerned the right wing is with actually aiding business.


Left Side of the Aisle #75 - Part 5

And Another Thing: Voyager 1 and 2 nearing true interstellar space

A few weeks ago marked a couple of significant anniversaries in space exploration: the 35th anniversaries of the launches of the Voyager spacecrafts way back in 1977.

August 20 was the anniversary of the launch of Voyager 2. September 5 was the anniversary of the launch of Voyager 1.

That's not a mistake; Voyager 2 was launched first. The reason for the numbering was that because of the different paths the two spacecraft were to take, Voyager 1 was going to pass Voyager 2 and reach the initial goal, which was to do flybys of Jupiter and Saturn, first. They carried out that mission using computers with just 8000 words of memory and 8-track tapes.

They sent back data on Jupiter's big red spot and Saturn's rings. They discovered erupting volcanoes on Jupiter's moon Io; saw hints of an ocean below the icy surface of Europa, and found signs of methane rain on the Saturn moon Titan. Voyager 2 went on to fly by Uranus and Neptune. It is still the only spacecraft to have done so.

And then they just kept on going - and kept on sending back data. Voyager 1 is now about 11 billion miles from the Sun. That is about four times further from the Sun than Neptune, far beyond the solar system, twice as far as the Kuiper Belt. Voyager 2 is not all that far behind: about 9 billion miles from the Sun.

And now they are about to make space history yet again: They are about to become the first human-made objects ever to enter actual interstellar space.

The heliosphere is a giant bubble of charged particles the Sun blows around itself and which actually serves to help shield the solar system from the most intense cosmic rays. The heliosheath, where the Voyagers are now, is the outermost layer of the heliosphere. It marks the boundary between the region of space affected by the Sun and true interstellar space. The heliosphere is thought to extend to somewhere between 11 and 14 billion miles from the Sun - which means Voyager 1 is pushing against the edge. It could cross over literally any day.

Still, bear in mind that the limit to the heliosphere still could be something like 3 billion miles further out. Even though Voyager 1 travels a million miles a day, three billion miles is still 3,000 days, or a little over eight years. But when you've been waiting for something for 35 years, that doesn't seem all that long.

The Voyagers have enough electrical power to last until 2020, with conservation efforts after that keeping at least some instruments going another five years. When the last instruments are shut down around 2025, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 will have been sending back data for 48 years.

After that, they will take up positions of honor, orbiting the center of our galaxy essentially forever.


Left Side of the Aisle #75 - Part 4

Trans-Pacific Partnership: NAFTA on steroids

One last thing to bring up on this part of the show: I won't go into a lot of detail; I expect I will be talking about this more over time as things develop, but I did want to give you a heads-up on it so that when I do come back to this in the future you'll have at least some awareness of it.

It is about something called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or the TPP, being negotiated between the US and eight Pacific Rim nations. It's claimed to be "oh, you know, just another one of those boring trade agreement thingies, nothing to see here, move along" deals - but it's being negotiated in extreme secrecy with almost no media attention. So extreme and with such inattention that it recently saw the thirteenth round of negotiations - and I bet you never heard of it.

TPP has been called, rightfully so, "NAFTA on steroids." For example, a text of the TPP investment chapter was leaked back in June. It revealed that US negotiators are pushing to include and expand NAFTA’s notorious corporate tribunals in TPP, tribunals which have been used to attack domestic public interest laws.

These tribunals, called Investor-State Dispute Resolution, empower corporations to sue governments - in these private tribunals, outside the countries' domestic court systems - over any action the corporations believe undermines their expected future profits or rights under the pact. Three-person international panels of attorneys from the private sector would hear these cases. The lawyers not only can serve as “judges” - empowered to order governments to pay corporations unlimited fines - they can turn around and represent the corporations that use this system to raid government treasuries.

Under TPP, all countries that are part of the pact would be obliged to conform all their domestic laws and regulations to the TPP’s rules - which are designed for the very purpose of advancing the interests of corporations engaging in international trade. Put more bluntly, nations would be legally obliged to conform their laws to the interests of transnational corporations.

How far does that go? Proposed provisions include new investor safeguards to make it easier for corporations to offshore jobs and assert control over natural resources, plus severely limiting public regulation of financial services, land use, food safety, natural resources, energy, tobacco, healthcare and more. "Sweatshop-free," human rights, or environmental conditions on government contracts could be challenged. "Buy Local" government procurement preferences that invest in local economies would be banned.

And the US is pushing for even more.

There is some pushback: Australia is bucking against the international tribunal system and New Zealand is objecting to the effect the pact would have on its regulations that keep drugs affordable. Every country has rejected the US proposal to extend drug patent monopolies. Many countries have also rejected a US proposal to forbid countries from using capital controls, taxes, or other macro-prudential measures to control financial speculators. The pushback has been enough that this is not yet a done deal even though the hope was to get it done this year.

This pact is an attack on our ability as citizens to have some say over our economy and over health, worker safety, environmental, and other regulations. I really think it shouldn't be called the Trans-Pacific Partnership but the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership - because then it would be the TPTP - or TP twice over.

And we know what TP is often full of.


Left Side of the Aisle #75 - Part 3

Occupy: Media assist in making it invisible

The first anniversary of Occupy Wall Street on September 17 was marked with demonstrations, marches, teach-ins, and other events. Did you hear about any of them? Maybe you heard about the ones in New York City - but other than that?

A couple of weeks ago I talked about the way you crush a movement these days is by making it invisible. If September 17 was any indication, the Empire must be very pleased with itself.

Yes, there were demonstrations in New York City. About 1000 people took part and more than 150 were arrested amid the by-now routine thuggery of the NYPD during a civil disobedience action trying to block access to the New York Stock Exchange. Several papers covered that.

But there were also hundreds of Occupy protesters in the streets of San Francisco - and I found news of that only in the San Francisco Chronicle and a local radio station. And even then, while the article talked about the "celebratory" nature of the march, the headline read "Occupy protesters snarl traffic, streetcars."

Occupy Seattle turned out about 100 people for a march, news of which appeared only in the Seattle Times and other Seattle area media.

The Detroit Free Press was one of the very few sources that even mentioned that there were plans for protests to mark the anniversary in more than 30 cities around the world. In fact, I had to go to Business Week of all places to be told that Asheville, North Carolina, Hilo, Hawaii, and Oakland, California were among those sites. And Business Week was the only place I found that referred to calls for a day of "no work, no school, no banking and no shopping" in Toronto, Barcelona, London, Kuala Lumpur, and Sydney, Australia.

Yes, there was coverage of the San Francisco action - in San Francisco. Yes, there was coverage of the Seattle actions - in Seattle. This, as I said two weeks ago, is how you crush a movement in this day and age: You break it into purely local segments with no sense of a greater connection and thus make it essentially invisible to the people, the nation, as a whole.

And at the end of the day, across those portions of the media that managed to mention the movement, there was the avuncular advice, consisting of the same old same old, urging Occupy to get into "real" political action, which apparently consists of supporting the election of supposedly liberal Democrats - that is, adopting, as again I said two weeks ago, the same old tactics and strategies that have failed so spectacularly over the last four decades.

Yes, indeed, the Empire must be very proud of itself.


Left Side of the Aisle #75 - Part 2

Clarabell Award: Wells Fargo has canned apologies for breaking into the wrong house

The Clarabell Award, given as needed for acts of meritorious stupidity.

This week's dishonoree, the clown here, is Wells Fargo.

The first time a contractor wrongfully broke into the house of Alvin and Pat Tjosaas, Wells Fargo was really, really sorry. It issued a statement:
"We are deeply sorry for the very personal losses the Tjosaas family suffered as a result of their home being mistakenly secured and entered by a contractor hired to address a different nearby property. We moved quickly and have been in contact with the Tjosaas family to resolve this unfortunate situation and right this wrong."
After the second time it happened, Wells Fargo was really, really, really sorry. The statement said:
"We are deeply sorry for the very personal losses the Tjosaas family suffered as a result of their home being mistakenly secured. We are moving quickly to reach out to the family to resolve this unfortunate situation in an attempt to right this wrong."
These people are such idiots and apparently screw up so often that they even have canned apologies.

Wells Fargo: You are an evil clown - but still a clown.


Left Side of the Aisle #75 - Part 1

Outrage of the Week: Bank-hired goons break into occupied houses - even ones without a mortgage

In June, the owners of a modest home near Twentynine Palms, a town about 200 east of Los Angeles in the California desert, came home to find their house had been foreclosed on.

Contractors hired by the mortgage company, Wells Fargo, had broken into the house owned by Alvin and Pat Tjosaas to “secure” it and had removed all their belongings, along with those of Alvin’s late parents, from the home.

One problem: There was no mortgage on the house. There never had been. In fact, Alvin, a retired mason, built the home with his father when he was a teenager.

Wells Fargo was of course very sorry for the mistake - but not sorry enough, it seems, to keep another contractor from going to the same house over the Labor Day weekend and again breaking in and carting off everything inside.

And this is not an isolated instance.

The Huffington Post reported a little while back on the case of Nancy Cox of Clawson, Mich., who returned home to find her possessions in the front yard, smashed with a sledgehammer, and a chalk drawing of a clown face on her garage with the tagline, "another job well done."

On the case of Kenneth and Margaret Karpa of Pittsburgh, who found china and photos of their daughter damaged and a coin collection and the family cat missing.

On the case of Allen Danforth of Kansas City, who discovered his elderly parents' furnishings - not only tables and chairs but also family heirlooms - gone.

The contractors in these cases, known as property inspectors or property preservers, are supposed to protect unoccupied, abandoned properties against damage so foreclosing banks can get more for the properties when they go to auction. But all too often, as they get paid by the amount of work they do, they ignore obvious signs of occupation and just go ahead and break in, remove the contents (which often enough just disappear somewhere) and put new locks on the doors.

It’s common enough that Richard Fersch, the sergeant in charge of foreclosures in the sheriff's office of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, says he gets about one complaint a week from homeowners who return home to discover new locks on their doors.

A review of court records by The Huffington Post turned up more than 50 homeowner lawsuits against banks and the two largest property management contractors in the US stemming from break-ins of occupied homes. Consumer lawyers say these  cases represent just a small sample of what is happening in communities across the country.

What doubles the outrage here is that the inspector general for the Federal Housing Finance Agency, which oversees Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, is reportedly raising red flags about the lack of oversight of the contractors hired by the government-backed mortgage giants. But despite all the complaints and all the red flags, the regulators haven’t actually done a damn thing.

I think, quite bluntly, we know why. And it is an outrage.


Left Side of the Aisle #75

Left Side of the Aisle for the week of September 27 - October 6, 2012

This week: Outrage of the Week: Bank-hired goons break into occupied houses - even ones without a mortgage

Clarabell Award: Wells Fargo has canned apologies for breaking into the wrong house

Occupy: Media assist in making it invisible,0,6713498.story|head

Trans-Pacific Partnership: NAFTA on steroids

And Another Thing: Voyager 1 and 2 nearing true interstellar space

And Another Thing: Good news on solar and wind energy

And Another Thing: Some cool archaeology bits

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #74 - Part 7

Romney disses half the population

Last, the other on-going news thread of the week, the Witless Romney video. You know the one, the one at the $50,000-a-plate fundraiser where he says the 47% of Americans who don't pay federal income tax "believe that they are victims."

He also said they are "dependent upon government" and believe "the government has a responsibility to care for them." They believe "they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. And the government should give it to them." What's more, he wouldn't worry about them because "I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."

That is, those who don't pay federal income taxes are  just lazy bums and moochers.

Lots of people - including some on the right - have pointed out how insulting those remarks are and how incredibly wrong they are. Witless was right that nearly half of Americans pay no federal income tax but wrong about just about everything else.

First and most obviously, not paying federal income taxes does not mean you don't pay taxes. There are payroll taxes, for example. There are state and sometimes local income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, excise taxes.

Only 18% of Americans paid neither federal income nor payroll taxes, and they are largely low-income seniors living on Social Security and the very poor - and even they are subject to some of the other taxes, such as sales taxes. Last year I said to a co-worker "Be glad you have to pay income tax: It means you are well enough off to owe it. Half of your fellow citizens are not."

Check out this tax chart. This looks at all taxes, not just federal income taxes.

Notice for one thing that even people in the lowest income bracket, the poorest 20%, surviving on an average income of just $13,000, pay taxes. Note too that as income level rises, the percentage of your income going to federal taxes goes up - but the percentage of your income that goes to state and local taxes goes down.

But here's the thing I wanted most to point out on this chart: The two columns headed shares of total income versus the shares of total taxes. Note that for each income group, the two figures are just about the same. We are supposed to have a graduated tax system, with your burden increasing as your ability to carry it increases. But we don't - we have what amounts to a flat tax, where your share of taxes is the same as your share of income. On that basis, the real moochers are the rich.

I have one more thing to say and it's the most important because it‘s the thing that you won't hear most other places, including all the "liberal" talk shows. Romney said the people who pay no federal income tax believe "they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it."

Yes. They are. We all are. Just by being human, we are all of us entitled to a basic, an adequate, level of food, of clothing, of shelter, of health care. One of the whole purposes of government, of society, is to see to the needs of those who need it. To, that is, "promote the general welfare."

This is not just a philosophical point, it's a legal one. The UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to which the US is an original signatory, says in Article 25:
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
And for all of you who consider yourself Christians, remember Matthew 25:41-45, describing the final judgment, when God will say to those on his left,
"Depart from me, you who are cursed.... For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me."
They also will answer, "Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?"

He will reply, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me."
And don't forget Matthew 19:24: It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.

The answer to Cain's famous question is "Yes."


Left Side of the Aisle #74 - Part 6

Muslim protests

I have to talk some about protests raging across the Muslim world over the film called "The Innocence of Muslims."

Right at the top I have to tell you that I tried to watch the trailer - it's on YouTube - and I couldn't get through more than the first three or four minutes. It is without doubt one of the worst movies of all time; by comparison, "Robot Monster" - look it up - is a masterpiece. If it wasn't for the deeply, deliberately offensive nature of the film and that fact that the producers of this movie intended to create the violence and bloodshed that has resulted, it would be utterly hilarious.

And it needs to be said that by any rational standard, it is utter madness to get that angry, that in too many cases violent, over something that stupid. But reality is what reality is and the movie is deliberately offensive and has sparked violence along with a large number of noisy but otherwise peaceful demonstrations.

I'm not going to try to cover events in detail; instead, I want to make a few points on a few points.

First, you may have already heard this but just in case it deserves repeating: All indications now are that the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi in Libya where the US ambassador was killed had nothing to do with the film. It was a preplanned assault, carefully laid out, carefully executed, that just used the film as a cover, as if you will a convenient excuse.

That in turn raises the different but related issue of how much of the rest of the protests, particularly the violent ones, were - well, not that they were planned in advance, but rather that there are people who were looking for an excuse, for any reason they could find, who will search out things that are or can be made to appear offensive, for the conscious purpose of arousing anger, of reaching that undercurrent of suspicion and resentment many in both the Arab and Muslim worlds (and you do know, yes, that they are not the same; in fact by population the largest majority-Muslim nation in the world is Indonesia) have toward the West, manipulating that resentment, the better to promote their own agendas and build their own personal power bases.

In any case it remains true that only a small minority of Muslims who took to the streets and it is an even smaller minority who are trying to exploit their grievances for their selfish gain.

There's an important related thing here: Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks made a very good point: He said he suspects that a lot of people in the Muslim world actually don't understand how the US works. They think, based on their own experiences, that if something like this movie was produced in and openly shown in the US - which it was, exactly once, to about 10 people - it must have been done with the support or at the very least the approval of the US government. Because they have had very little experience of free speech, they fall short on understanding what it means here, what restrictions on the government still exist here. They blame the US as a whole for what a literally tiny handful of bigots did.

A final point goes back to what I just said about an "undercurrent of suspicion and resentment." Joe Scarborough at MSNBC responded to the unrest by dismissing any cause other than "they hate us" - and then went on to say that "scratch any one of them from a peasant right up to a prime minister and you'll find someone happy to have the chance to throw a brick at a US embassy," apparently unaware of the irony of having by that bigotry just given "them" another reason to hate "us."

So I'm going to take a minute to read an edited version of something I wrote on October 2, 2001, less than a month after 9/11, partly in response to the question of that day, "Why do they hate us?"
For a moment, just for a moment, try to see the world through the eyes of an average person on the ground in the Middle East. This is how the world might look to you:

For centuries the West has looked down on you, regarding you, your culture, and, if non-Christian, your religion as inferior. (There is a reason bin Laden keeps referring to American “crusaders.”) They think of you as “ragheads” or “towelheads.”

Every time a strong Arab leader rises and tries to become independent of the West, they get slapped down. The only regimes that survive are those too weak or too corrupt to threaten Western interests. (One such “threatening” government was that of Mohammad Mossadegh in Iran, who was overthrown in a CIA-engineered coup in 1953 after he attempted to nationalize oil reserves. The result was the 26-year reign of the Shah, whose army was practically stamped “Made in the USA.”) Yes, you resent the West’s wealth but it’s not so much that they’re rich and you’re poor, it’s that they’re rich because you’re poor, that their wealth is built on exploitation and economic domination.

In just the past 20-plus years [Remember, this was written in 2001.], you’ve seen the US pick a fight with Libya in the Gulf of Sidra, bomb Tripoli, openly try to kill Moammar Khadaffi, bomb a pharmaceutical plant in Sudan on the spurious claim it was a chemical weapons factory (leading to thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of deaths due to inadequate supplies of medicines), stand by along with the rest of the West while Muslims were slaughtered in Bosnia (stepping in only when European interests were threatened), shell Beirut, shoot down a civilian Iranian airliner, and fire cruise missiles into Afghanistan.

Then there’s Iraq, it’s infrastructure systematically destroyed in a war which it seems to you had nothing to do with the West except to humiliate another strong Arab leader. In the run-up to that war you saw foreign troops stationed near the holy sites of Islam at the insistence of the US despite Saudi Arabia’s reluctance and warnings that doing so would be deeply offensive to conservative Muslims - which it was. (One thus offended being Osama bin Laden.)

For 10 years you have seen the bombing of Iraq continue, so much so that a few months ago a Pentagon press representative referred to one such raid as “routine.”

Sanctions imposed by the West have cost the lives of 500,000 Iraqi children over the last 10 years, a death toll which then-Secretary of State Madeline Albright described in 1996 as “worth it.” Worth it, yes, you say - as long as it’s Arab children who are doing the dying.

And you see the US justify both the bombing and the sanctions on the grounds that Iraq “defies UN resolutions” while at the same time it pours billions of dollars in economic and military aid into Israel despite the fact that for 30 years Israel has openly defied UN resolutions about Palestinians and the occupied territories. It’s not even so much that the US supports Israel, it’s that the US does it to the detriment, the denigration, the denial, of the Palestinians.

If that was your world, what would the West, what would the US, look like to you? Like a noble friend? Or like a selfish, conceited, arrogant bully which figures it can do as it damn well pleases without cost to itself? Seen through such eyes, the question “Why do they hate us?” answers itself.
That's what I wrote then. In the intervening years, what have we seen? The Afghanistan War. The Iraq War. The drone war on Pakistan. The drone attacks on Somalia. The drone attacks on Yemen. Still no justice for the Palestinians, still no settlement, still no peace. So ask yourself if in that time we have given anyone, any Arab, any Muslim, any reason to change their minds.


Left Side of the Aisle #74 - Part 5

Everything You Need to Know: about conservatives and smart people

Former presidential candidate and former US senator Rick IShouldBeInASanitarium was speaking to the grossly-misnamed Values Voter Summit on September 15, when he said this:
We will never have the media on our side, ever, in this country. We will never have the elite, smart people on our side, because they believe they should have the power to tell you what to do.
Yeah - those people want to tell you what to do. Unlike, say, US Senators passing laws.

But the real point is, there it is, laid out for all to hear: The right winger talking to his fellow right wingers, declaring that smart people will never be on their side.

And that is everything you need to know.


Left Side of the Aisle #74 - Part 4

Update on challenge to NDAA

The other bad news update is one that should concern us all, no matter where we live.

Back around the beginning of the year, I warned you about the National Defense Authorization Act, or the NDAA, because it includes a particular provision that would allow the government to imprison people indefinitely, without trial or even charge, based solely on the president's deciding that you are a suspected terrorist. This would even include US citizens seized on US soil.

On May 16, Federal Judge Katherine Forrest found that the law is unconstitutional and violates rights to free speech and due process.

She did so, as I've told you before, after a Kafka-esque hearing in which lawyers for the government repeatedly refused to explain what the law's terms like "associated forces" and "substantial support" mean and instead tried to argue that the plaintiffs did not have "standing" to sue. That is, they couldn't sue because the law hadn't affected them: They hadn't be indefinitely detained. So the government was arguing that the only folks with standing would be those already beyond the reach of the judicial system.

Last month, August, the feds were back in court, where they filed an appeal of Judge Forrest's ruling with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. Hilariously, despite its failure to be able even to define basic terms of the law, the government argued in the appeal that it is neither too broad nor overly vague.

But here's something: The appeal argues that the plaintiffs, who include academics, 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. Then say that. Say those sorts of activities are not covered by the law. Say "that's not what we meant." But 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 hint of any legal or constitutional restrictions on its reach.

Well, this week they took a step toward getting their wish. A federal appeals judge issued a temporary stay of Judge Forrest's ruling, thus giving the Obama administration clearance to enforce the indefinite detention policy. The stay lasts until Sept. 28, when a three-judge appellate panel will hear the case.

Now, President Hopey-Changey issued a statement when he signed the National Defense Authorization Act that said he wouldn't use the powers of indefinite detention without trial and later issued regulations to that effect. Which is all well and good. But never forget, that is just a promise, a regulation, one he could be reversed, revoked, at any time. Even granting him the best of intentions, even assuming Barack Obama would never use this power, the fact is that his promise binds no future president. And despite waiving his authority under the law, his Justice Department has vigorously defended it, filing immediate appeals after each loss in Forrest's court.

I'll say it again: They want this law, they want it in force, and they want it with no hint of any legal or constitutional restrictions on its reach.

When I talked about this last month, I raised the possibility that we are becoming what I called a "soft" police state, one where the outward trappings of democracy, including elections, free speech, and so on, are allowed to continue only because - and only to the extent that - they don't threaten the positions and perks of the powerful.

It's hard to imagine how or why a truly free people, a free nation, is supposed to look at a law that gives a president - any president - the power, essentially, to imprison anyone they want for as long as they want without trial or even charge based on activities that can't be specified and terminology that can't be defined with the only protection being the hope that such power will never ever be abused - how a free people can look at such a law and not feel that there is a dark cloud over that freedom is something I can't understand.

If you're never any kind of troublemaker, you don't need to worry. But if you're never any kind of troublemaker, you don't need freedom.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #74 - Part 3

Update on AZ "papers, please" law

Unfortunately, this week is a case of one step forward, two steps back and I have two bad news updates on things I have talked about before.

Taking the older one first, the way has been cleared for the worst part of Arizona's race-baiting, xenophobic, anti-immigrant, "papers, please" law to be enforced.

Much of the law had been struck down by the US Supreme Court in June the on grounds that states must defer to the federal government on immigration policy. But the most contentious part remained, a provision that requires police to inquire about the immigration status of anyone they stop if they "reasonably suspect" the person is in the country illegally.

Gee, I wonder what kind of person this will happen to.

An emergency appeal was filed in federal court, arguing the practice will inevitably lead to racial profiling and unreasonably long detentions of Latinos.

That appeal was rejected this week, allowing police to begin enforcing the law, under which any combination of brown skin and accented - or, worse yet, no - English will become a cause to be "detained."

Five other states - Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah - have adopted laws modeled on Arizona's.


Left Side of the Aisle #74 - Part 2

Update on PA voter ID law

I'm going to start with a couple of updates on things I've mentioned previously. It's a bit of yin-yang for you, some good news and some bad news. As always, when I can, I'll start with the good news.

I have been talking forever, it seems, more than a year anyway, about attempts by the right wing to restrict the franchise; that is, to make it harder for certain groups of people to vote - groups almost exclusively composed of people who are more likely to vote for liberal candidates than right wing ones.

As part of that, I talked about the voter ID law in Pennsylvania, one that threatened to block tens of thousands, even potentially several hundred thousand, registered voters from being able to cast a ballot because they didn't have the "right" kind of photo ID. The law was challenged in a suit, as part of which the plaintiffs - the people who sued - asked for a temporary injunction to block the law from going into effect while the case continued.

A few weeks ago, I noted that Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson denied that motion, letting the law go into effect. I said at the time that the chances of the state Supreme Court overturning that ruling were slim.

The good news is that I was wrong. On September 18, in a 4-2 ruling, the Court vacated that ruling and returned the case to the lower court for "reconsideration." Importantly, the majority sent the case back with instructions that appeared to force Judge Simpson to issue that temporary injunction, which it called "the most judicious remedy." In fact, Judge Simpson was instructed "to consider whether the procedures being used for deployment" of ID cards to residents who don't have them meet the requirements of the law - which, the court itself made clear, they don't.

Significantly, the court stated that "We are not satisfied with a mere predictive judgment based primarily on the assurances of government officials" that voters would not be disenfranchised by the law.

Simpson has until October 2 to issue a new ruling.

Here's the really good thing here, though: The two dissenters did not refuse to join with the majority because they agreed with Judge Simpson's original ruling but because they held that the Supreme Court should have issued the injunction itself rather than just sending the case back.

I would say the Pennsylvania voter photo ID law is toast. And that is good news.


Left Side of the Aisle #74 - Part 1

Outrage of the Week: DAs and debt collectors

A little while back, a California woman named Angela Yartz wrote a check to Walmart for $47.95.

She later found out the check had bounced. She found out when she got a letter signed by the district attorney of Alameda County, California threatening her with a year in prison if she didn’t pay up plus pay penalties plus pay an additional $180 for a "financial accountability" class; a total of over $280.

Here's the thing: There was no actual charge against Ms. Yartz. There wasn't even an actual legal investigation of Ms. Yartz. The letter didn't even actually come from the DA's office. It came from a collection agency that was allowed to use the DA's official letterhead to send the threatening letter.

This truly offensive practice is now being used in more than 300 prosecutors' offices nationwide. More than 300 prosecutors' offices nationwide are allowing their official stationery to be used by a private corporation to make false threats about non-existent legal investigations in order to intimidate those companies' targets. What makes this worse - if it can be worse - is that the DAs' offices are either paid for this or receive a share of the money collected. How that doesn't amount to at least malfeasance if not an outright kickback scheme, I don't understand.

Debt collection is a $12 billion-a-year business, and 30 million people are now targeted by bill collectors, a number that has gone up as the economy has gone down and for the same reason. Debt collectors frequently turn to strong-arm tactics and threats, often enough illegal ones. Last year, the Federal Trade Commission received just under 181,000 complaints about the debt recovery business.

And now, district attorneys' office around the country are enabling, in fact becoming partners in, bogus threats and crude intimidation including making quite probably illegal demands for payment for these "financial accountability" classes as a cost of settlement.

Hey, what do you know: The state working in cooperation with corporations to go after ordinary individuals facing financial struggles. I guess that's no surprise - but it is still an outrage, the Outage of the Week.


Left Side of the Aisle #74

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of September 20-26, 2012

This week:

- Outrage of the Week: DAs and debt collectors

- Update on PA voter ID law

- Update on AZ "papers, please" law

- Update on challenge to NDAA

- Everything You Need to Know: about conservatives and smart people

- Muslim protests

- Romney disses half the population

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #73 - Part 5

First anniversary of Occupy Wall Street

I finally managed to notice an anniversary before the date rather than after.

September 17 is first anniversary of Occupy Wall Street. On September 17, 2011, a group of demonstrators sought to symbolically "occupy" Wall Street by occupying Zucotti Park in lower Manhattan.

The initial group was largely composed of young, recent college graduates who, in the words of an organizer among migrant farmworkers in Florida (which shows the reach and awareness the movement achieved) "burned their eyebrows off studying" only to emerge from school with a useless degree, no jobs, no job prospects, and bone-crushing mountains of debt.

And they realized as they looked around them, looked at their situation, as they looked at that darkened future, it sank in: The game was rigged from beginning. The game had been rigged from the beginning in favor of and for the benefit of those they aptly labeled the 1%. The game was rigged - not just against them, but against everyone who was not part of that power elite. That the yawning gap, the chasm, between them and us, between the ultra-rich and the rest, was not just a factor in the economy, it was the defining, the central, the controlling fact of American economic life.

They may not have known the particular numbers, the exact statistics. They may have been unaware of the piles of data.

They may not have known that the top 1% owns 38% of the privately held wealth in the United States, double what it was a few decades ago.

They may not have known that the top 1% gets 20% of all national income, double what it was in 1970.

They may not have known that the claims about job growth are Potemkin villages, myths, false facades, thoroughly dishonest, because they hide the reality of shrinking futures: According to a study by the National Employment Law Project, three-fifths of all jobs lost during the recession paid middle-income wages, while roughly three-fifths of new jobs created during the so-called recovery, the most anemic since the great depression, pay low wages. We are becoming a low-wage nation.

They may not have known that as a result, there are fewer good jobs in the economy today than there were 11 years ago.

But that's nothing new, and something else they may not have known that real hourly wages for the average worker in the United States peaked in 1970, and 42 years of economic growth later, the average worker is now worse off than they were those 42 years ago.

They may not have known that, according to the Census Bureau, almost one in two Americans is poor or low income, the highest level ever recorded.

They may not have known any of that - but they did know the feel of it. They did know their own sense of frustration, of creeping desperation, was not theirs alone but was spread through, suffused through, our society as even people with good jobs, with decent incomes and decent benefits, still had to fret that one layoff, one unexpected expense, one health crisis, could wipe out everything they had.

And so they occupied. And they rallied. And they marched. And they stayed. And suddenly the proof of what they sensed was seen in several, then dozens, then hundreds of places across the country, then in dozens, hundreds more around the world. "Occupy" was everywhere. Indeed, that became the phrase: "Occupy everywhere."

Even the corporate media had to take notice - that being helped along, admittedly, by some typical but usually better hidden thuggery on the part of the NYPD. But the corporate media did have to notice. The politicians and even some among the punditry had to take notice. This was no longer just a camp of young folks who could be dismissed with sneers, as Newt Grinch tried to do, of "take a bath" and "get a job." It was a genuine movement; more than that, it was a revolt. A revolt. And one that, like almost every revolt, came as a surprise even to those supposed experts and authorities who prided themselves on their awareness of "the public mood." References to "the 1%" and "the 99%" became common fare even among the chattering classes and the phrase "income inequality" started to appear often enough that there was a risk that enough people - including even that handful of reachable politicians - might take it seriously enough to have to actually do something about it.

Worst of all, the movement had some clear successes, including stopping several foreclosures. That gave people hope that they could not just object to the corporate state, to the bank overlords, they could defy them - and sometimes win.

That was too much, that was too far. Occupy had to be stopped. More than that, it had to be crushed.

First came the velvet glove, the sudden surge of deeply concerned op-eds and statements from government officials in November about how it was time for Occupy to if you will fold its tents and get involved in "real" political actions to, this must have been some focus-group-tested phrase because they seemed all to say it, to "make the changes we need to make." Why, if they knew these were changes that needed to be made they couldn't go ahead and do it on their own but had to have Occupy come and do it for them went unexplained.

The point, however, is that what they were saying to Occupy was stop doing what you're doing and start using all the methods that have been used all along. Start using the familiar methods, the ones we're comfortable with, the ones that "serious" people have been using these past few decades. Stick with the methods "serious" people have been using even as inequality has grown, even as the biggest banks have just gotten bigger, the methods used even as employee pay shrinks to the smallest share of the economy in over 80 years, even as corporate profits grow to the largest share of the economy in over 80 years, use the familiar, the comfortable, the "serious" methods that have been used even as top 1% gets the biggest share of total national income in over 80 years. Forget this encampment business, stick to methods that have been used as decades of economic progress has been undone. Stick to those methods.

I've said before that the strength of the Occupy movement was that it was something that the Empire could not dismiss. It wasn't a one-day event, it was an on-going, in your face, presence that the Empire did not know how to ignore. So when the velvet glove failed, the iron fist came down.

It came down in a coordinated wave of assaults, both by courts and cops, on Occupy encampments around the country, almost all using the same tactics, including limiting press coverage, almost all using the same excuses about "unsanitary and unsafe conditions" in the encampments as the excuse. This is no conspiracy theory: Documents obtained from the Department for the Protection of the Fatherland by a Freedom of Information Act filing makes it evident that yes, there was a nationally coordinated campaign to disrupt and crush the Occupy Movement.

And they largely succeeded. Not in eliminating the movement, because that wasn't required to crush it. All that stuff you used to hear about crushing movements, all the stuff about arrest them all or kill the leaders - some of which has surely happened here, just ask any historian of the labor movement - that's not what's done today. All of that is old hat. Passe. No, what's required today to destroy a movement is to make it invisible. To break it down into a series of local bits and pieces, so that anyone seeing you won't know you're part of anything bigger.

And that's what's happened to - been done to - Occupy with the eager approval of the punditry: For example, on September 11, court officers and police shut down Occupy Hong Kong, which had been going on for 306 days. The New York Times, with obvious relief, referred to that encampment as "representing the last vestiges of what was once a global movement."

But Occupy is not gone; there have been and are actions. For example, early this month Occupy Chicago held four days of actions at Obama campaign headquarters to, they said, "highlight the contradictions between President Obama's promise of 'hope and change' and his actual policy decisions." They have also marched in solidarity with striking teachers. Occupy Atlanta turned out hundreds of people for a march to demand Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac provide mortgage relief for struggling homeowners.

On September 9, Occupy Wall Street itself had a "burn your debt" rally in which people publicly burned debt notifications to protest the lack of assistance for students and others buried in massive debts. A working group within OWS is credited by union organizers with "a very important role" in a successful campaign to get a union for workers at a chain of cafes in the city.

And there are of course plans for an action in the city to mark the anniversary.

The point is, for the most part these are seen by those not directly involved as strictly local events with strictly local awareness. Local stories with strictly local impact, if any. The organizers and participants surely are aware of the variety of other events going on in other areas, but the people in the community are not. To them, Occupy is something that no longer exists and the energizing, the, if I can use the cliche, empowering feeling of being connected to something larger, something bigger, something not just local but part of something national, is gone. That, today, is how you crush a movement: You don't expect to eliminate it, you don't even try - that can just bring it more attention. Instead, you just fragment and so demoralize it.

But that victory is likely to be short-lived: The frustration is still there. The creeping desperation is still there. The sources of the frustration and desperation continue to drip their poison into our national bloodstream. The devastation wrought by our power elite has expanded beyond the traditional bounds of the forgotten, the destitute, the isolated; the communities it has wrecked now include more than Native American reservations and the trailer camps of migrant workers, have spread beyond the Gulf coast of Mississippi and the back hills of Appalachia and the inner cities of the Northeast and all the other places we have long allowed ourselves to forget, because the greed of that power elite is insatiable and they won't be satisfied until they have taken all the meat, gnawed on the bone, and sucked out the marrow, leaving us with only what fell from the table, the scraps they thought it not worth the effort to pick up.

Resistance will happen. Revolt will happen. Please, by all that is holy and human in this world, let it be a nonviolent one. But revolt will happen. No one can say just what will spark it or when - but whenever it does come, it will come, as it always does, as a surprise.


Left Side of the Aisle #73 - Part 4

Outrage of the Week: Wall Street crooks walk - again

Last week, one of my 10 reasons why Barack Obama does not deserve your vote was that he had utterly failed to prosecute Wall Street crooks; in fact he had refused to do so even when presented of clear evidence of outright fraud. So I guess this shouldn't be a surprise:

Back in January, Obama formed the Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group to “hold accountable” those financial institutions who crashed the economy through their arrogance, their conceit, their greed, and their multiple crimes. Now, a source close to the group says that, barring a “Hail Mary pass,” there will be no criminal charges arising from the panel.

Instead, the working group will focus on civil charges, which might - I choose to emphasize might - produce some kind of financial penalty, but no actual jail time for anyone.

Now, these settlements are almost never big enough; they are almost never as large as what the corporation gained from its criminality. But leave that aside. The fact is the money to pay these penalties will come from corporate accounts, from stockholders, from fees on investors. It will not come from the pockets of the corporate executives and CEOs.

So the people who actually made the decisions, who ripped off their clients and nearly brought down the entire economy, the people who actually committed the fraud, will pay absolutely no penalty. In fact, if you think this would even will hurt their careers, you haven't been paying attention.

So we not only have banks too big to fail, we have corporate executives too big to jail.

Again, this latest case probably shouldn't be a surprise - but it is still an outrage.

Left Side of the Aisle #73 - Part 3

Clarabell Award: two anti-gay rights bozos

Time for the Clarabell Award, given for acts of meritorious stupidity. There are two dishonorees this week, because they are both on the same theme.

The first is the chief prelate of the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury. His name is Rowan Williams and he is stepping down in December after 10 years in the position. He of course has been interviewed looking back over his career.

During his tenure, the Church experienced some real divisions after the ordination of the first openly homosexual Anglican bishop. His name is Gene Robinson; he is an American. Williams expressed regret over that. He said he didn't do enough to prevent those divisions, he should have "gone to US sooner" and "engaged more directly."

But "engaged more" to what end? He doesn't say. But what got him his award is that he admitted that the Church has "not exactly been on the forefront of pressing for civic equality for homosexual people" and that was "wrong" - but he immediately turned around and reiterated the church's opposition to gay marriage.

Right. Now, I assume the Church is still against sex outside of marriage, so what he is saying is that "homosexual people" should have more "civic equality" so long as they don't actually act on their sexuality - that is, they should have more equality except in any areas related to the Church. This is like some corporate CEO saying LGBT folks should have more civil rights - except in areas related to employment.

Rowan Williams is a clown.

(Oh, and by the way: As one person commenting on this reminded us, religion is a lifestyle choice.)

Our other clown is Maryland state Representative Emmett C. Burns, Jr.

Maryland has an initiative on ballot this fall for marriage equality. Brandon Ayanbadajo, who is a linebacker for Baltimore Ravens, spoke out in favor of the initiative.

In response, Burns, who is a Democrat, sent a letter on his official stationery to the owner of the Ravens saying, and I quote
I find it inconceivable that one of your players would publicly endorse same-sex marriage
and later in same letter
I am requesting that you take the necessary action, as a franchise owner, to inhibit such expressions from your employee and that he be ordered to cease and desist such injurious actions.
So a state Rep is using his position as a legislator to urge an employer to do whatever it takes to force an employee to just shut up on an issue of public importance. Just stating it is proof of how much of a clown is Maryland state Rep. Emmett C. Burns.

But there's a bit more on this: Ayanbadajo pushed back, tweeting that "Football is just my job, it's not who I am" and the Ravens, to the owner's credit, issued a statement supporting Ayanbadajo's right to free speech.

Even better, Chris Kluwe, who is the punter for the Minnesota Vikings, has been active in a campaign to oppose an anti-same sex marriage amendment on the ballot in Minnesota this year. He heard about the Ayanbadajo matter and wrote his own hilarious, profanity-filled letter to Burns. I can't quote much on it on the air, but I did want to include this, from the letter:
I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life. They won't come into your house and steal your children. They won't even overthrow the government in an orgy of hedonistic debauchery because all of a sudden they have the same legal rights as the other 90 percent of our population - rights like Social Security benefits, child care tax credits, Family and Medical Leave to take care of loved ones, and COBRA healthcare for spouses and children. You know what having these rights will make gays? Full-fledged American citizens.
Right on, Chris Kluwe.

You should read the whole letter, it really is quite funny - but I have to add that it has no effect on the fact Maryland state Representative Emmett C. Burns, Jr. is a clown.


Left Side of the Aisle #73 - Part 2

Good news on same-sex marriage

Here is a matter on which there has been a fair amount of good news of late: same-sex marriage. Two bits today.

You have heard of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which was passed under the administration of, and signed by, every Democrat's golden idol, Bill Clinton. The law defined marriage as one man and one woman for all purposes related to federal law and federal benefits.

There have not been several cases where DOMA was found to be unconstitutional on the grounds that it discriminates against and denies rights to an indentifiable group without any compelling state interest in doing so. And, credit where it's due, last year the Obama administration that it would no longer defend DOMA in court.

The immediate bit of good news involves one particular case, that of a woman in New York (where same-sex marriage is recognized) who had to pay $350,000 in estate taxes when her partner died because the federal government, in this case the IRS, refused to recognize her marriage.

Well, the Attorney General of Vermont said on September 7 that the state is filing a brief in support of the woman in the suit, urging court to find DOMA unconstitutional. His name is William Sorrell and he said that by depriving same-sex couples federal benefits, it unfairly discriminates against them. What's more, New York and Connecticut have also filed briefs urging that DOMA be struck down.

The other bit of good news comes out of Washington state. The state legislature has passed a law to recognize same-sex marriage in that state, but the law is facing a challenge in a referendum to be voted on in November.

A polling outfit called SurveyUSA recently asked likely voters in Washington state about this: “A new law passed by the legislature would allow same-sex couples to marry in Washington state. Should this law be approved? Or rejected?” The response: 56% Approve, 38% Reject, just 6% Not Sure. A solid lead.

Maybe even more important than the raw numbers, however, is something about the point spread. Back in July, SurveyUSA asked exactly the same question and found that "Approve" outpolled "Reject" by seven percentage points. Now that gap has grown to 18 percentage points.

The proponents of justice are not getting overconfident; they know they are likely to face a wave of scare tactics in the weeks leading up to the election. But 18 points is a huge gap to overcome and the fact that support for same-sex marriage appears to be growing in the state of Washington is definitely good news.


Left Side of the Aisle #73 - Part 1

Good news on voter rights

I'll start the week, as I like to do when the occasion arises, with some good news.

For over a year now I've been going on about the attempts by the right wing to limit access to the voting booth for anyone suspected of any sort of liberal leanings. A lot of that has been about these bogus "voter ID laws."

But last week, I mentioned how there are other tactics as well, such as the Florida law that put such restrictions on voter registration drives so severe that even the League of Women Voters gave up on them. Since such drives are the primary way new Democratic voters get registered in the state, the result was that new GOPper registrations were largely unaffected while new Democratic registrations crashed to a small fraction of what they had been.

What I missed in telling you that is that not long before, Federal District court Judge Robert Hinkle had issued a permanent injunction against the law after Florida agreed to drop its appeal of the temporary injunction he issued in August. The law is gone.

There is a downside: This comes rather late in game to have much effect this year - but any pushback against the reactionaries' campaign to prevent us from voting is good news.


Left Side of the Aisle #73

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of September 13 - 19, 2012

This week:

Good news on voter rights

Good news on same-sex marriage

Clarabell Award: two anti-gay rights bozos

Outrage of the Week: Wall Street crooks walk - again

First anniversary of Occupy Wall Street

Friday, September 07, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #72 - Part 5

Ten reasons why Barack Obama does not deserve your vote 

Okay. Anyone who watches this show could surely come up with a multitude of reasons why no one should vote for Witless Romney. I'm going to tell you why no one should vote for our own president Hopey-Changey.

First, let me dispense with a couple of reasons people give why we should vote for him. One is the Lily Ledbetter act, the equal pay act. He didn't have a damn thing to do with getting that passed. It had passed Congress the year before, in 2008, but Bush vetoed it. Everyone knew it could and would be passed again in 2009. Yes, Obama signed it - which is a good thing - but quite bluntly he didn't have a single thing to do with getting it passed.

It's like when the Moon landing occurred in July 1969. It always annoyed me that it was Richard Nixon's name on that plaque that was left on the Moon. He had nothing to do with the project, nothing to do with the Mercury program or the Gemini program or the Apollo program, nothing at all. He just happened to be the president when the landing happened - so it was his name recorded for however many millennia it will be before that plaque turns to dust.

Same thing here: Obama deserves none of the credit for the Lily Ledbetter act.

Another one, one that particularly gripes me, is the claim "He ended the war in Iraq!" No, he didn't. In the fall of 2008, before the election, the Iraqis forced George Bush to accept a timetable for the withdrawal of US forces from Iraq by the end of 2011. All Barack Obama did was stick to that timetable. He did nothing to create it, nothing to advance it, nothing to change it - which is notable only because the O crowd wanted to change it; they tried to push the Iraqis into allowing for troops to stay beyond the December 31, 2011 deadline. They failed. That is why the troops are out, that is why the was over. Not because of anything Obama did but because of what the Iraqis made George Bush do and because of what Barack Obama failed to do.

All right, so how about a few reasons why you should not vote for Obama.

One. He has presided over a massive expansion of government surveillance of our personal lives.

For example:

- William Binney, a former technical director at the NSA, said during a panel discussion at a conference in July that the agency was indeed collecting e-mails, Twitter writings, internet searches and other data belonging to Americans and indexing it.

- There is today being built in Bluffdale, Utah, a $2 billion center for the NSA designed to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they pass through international, foreign, and domestic networks. It should be up and running in a year. This is the realization of the “total information awareness” program created during the Bush administration, which was killed by howls of protest from the now-silent liberals.

- Already operating in several cities is a surveillance system called Trapwire, designed to pick up and transport data to a central database center, where it will be combined with other intelligence "for the purpose of," quoting a press release, "identifying patterns of behavior that are indicative of pre-attack planning.” Shades of Minority Report.

Two. He has engaged in an unprecedented attack on whistleblowers.

The Obama administration has already charged six people under the Espionage Act for allegedly leaking classified information. That is literally twice as many such cases as were seen under all previous administrations combined across the entire history of the act, which dates to 1917.

Three. Related to that, he has abused secrecy.

He has claimed to be an advocate of government transparency and oversight, he promised the most transparent administration ever, but Obama has instead established the most secretive administration of modern times, with major programs and policies - especially as related to the use of military force - carried out without public debate or even knowledge. And he has done it, it has been noted, more thoroughly and effectively than anyone might have imagined.

Four. He has waged secret wars in Yemen and Somalia and has dramatically expanded the drone war on Pakistan. 

Before Barack Obama came into office, there had been one US military strike in Yemen. During his administration there have been as many as 110. Under George Bush, there were 50 drone strikes in Pakistan. Under Barack Obama, there have been 294. Under Bush, there were 429 casualties from those strikes. Under Obama, there have been 2,133.

Five. He has failed to prosecute war criminals and torturers.

After coming into office loudly declaring "nobody is above the law," Obama immediately set out to actively shield the war criminals of the Bush gang - including those who tortured prisoners - not only from criminal prosecution, but from Congressional investigations and private civil suits as well.

The final page of this disgusting chapter was written on August 30, when the DOJ announced it was ending its investigation into the only two cases relating to the torture regime that it even considered prosecuting. Those cases, both involving detainees who were killed by their interrogators, one by freezing and one by asphyxiation, were the only two of over 100 such deaths that even got to the point of being investigated. As far as the Obama administration is concerned, torture, it seems, is not a crime - if we do it.

Six. He has engineered the widest, most serious expansion of executive power ever, to a degree Bush and Cheney only dreamed of.

He claimed he was against the Patriot Act but when it came up for renewal, he supported it. Under the NDAA, which he signed, he has the power to indefinitely detain without trial or even charge, anyone he in his personal, unreviewable, judgment deems to be giving "substantial support" to some terrorist or "associated forces," whatever they are. He has even asserted the authority to kill anyone, including American citizens on foreign soil, if again in his personal, unreviewable, judgment that person is a terrorist.

Seven. He has beaten the war drums against Iran, talking about "red lines" and staging large-scale military maneuvers in the Persian Gulf.

This despite the fact that US officials will admit when asked directly that there is no evidence that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon - and bluntly, if it were, why would that give us the right to launch an attack? Why do we get to say who can have nuclear weapons and who can't? Sitting on what is still the world's most destructive nuclear arsenal doesn't exactly give us any moral high ground.

It goes beyond tough talk. On Obama's orders, the US released the Stuxnet worm, a computer worm, into Iran's nuclear facilities to shut down and damage its computer-controlled centrifuges.

In May 2011 the Pentagon declared that if some country engaged in a cyber attack on the US, it could be considered an "act of war." Which means Obama's program on Iran has included committing outright acts of war.

Eight. He has failed to prosecute Wall Street crooks.

In fact, the administration went so far as to specifically refuse to follow up on criminal referrals from the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission regarding one of Goldman Sachs' mortgage deals and to insist it could find no evidence of crimes in the report of a Senate investigation that included emails from Goldman Sachs proving the company had defrauded investors.

The bankers got away with, in the words of one source, "theft, wire fraud, bank fraud, loan fraud, securities fraud, and commodities fraud" while millions of Americans lost their life savings and their homes.

The banks are right back at the same rigged game that got us into this mess. The too-big-to-fail banks are even bigger. And Obama's plan to deal with this is to replace Tim Geithner with Erskine Bowles.

Nine. While he's all tough and macho in private and when dealing with whistleblowers, when it comes to public policy, to in-the-trenches policy debates, he's a damn wimp, surrendering to the GOPpers at every turn, often even before the game has started.

In many cases, it's not so much what he failed to do that infuriates people like me, it's that he never tried in the first place. If someone fights the good fight and loses, that's forgivable, even admirable. To talk the talk and not even try to walk to walk is neither.

An obvious example is the public option in health insurance reform. Feeble as such an option is compared to an actual national health service, it still would be clearly better than what we got - but he gave it up, openly surrendered on it, before the actual Congressional debate even began.

Another, even starker case, is the stimulus package. The head of the Council of Economic Advisers, Christina Romer, said that $1.8 trillion was needed for a real stimulus, one that would really rally the economy. That was rejected as not politically feasible. Eventually, the proposal was $800 billion because that's what they thought would pass.

So we got a stimulus the administration had been specifically told was less than half of what was needed because the O crowd couldn't be bothered to fight for anything better. The result was that, yes, the stimulus did keep things from being worse than they otherwise would have - but it wasn't nearly enough to make things better and we are still stuck in the most anemic "recovery" in a heck of a long time, one that looks no better than the recession that supposedly had ended.

I've said before: We need less Kumbaya and more Lyndon Johnson.

Finally, ten. Get it through your thick skulls: Barack Obama wants to cut Social Security! He wants to cut Medicare! He has whined that he doesn't get enough credit for being so willing to do so!

So there you have ten good reasons why Barack Obama does not deserve your vote.

And if I've gotten you depressed, welcome to reality.

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