Sunday, October 21, 2012

George McGovern - RIP

Former Senator George McGovern, antiwar activist, anti-poverty activist, and co-creator of the Food Stamp program has died at the age of 90.

More in a couple of days.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #78 - Part 4

Clown of the Week: Antonin Scalia

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

This week's dishonoree is that innovator of inanity, that nabob of nonsense, that tycoon among twits, that supreme slinger of sanctimonious stupidity, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

Speaking to the extreme right wing American Enterprise Institute recently, Scalia declared that some of the most contentious legal issues facing the country are in fact, "easy." To quote him:
The death penalty? Give me a break. It’s easy. Abortion? Absolutely easy. Nobody ever thought the Constitution prevented restrictions on abortion. Homosexual sodomy? Come on. For 200 years, it was criminal in every state.
Why is this so "easy" for him? Because he is what he calls a "textualist," meaning that he adheres, he says, to the "plain words" of the Constitution.

Um, okay, but what about issues like the death penalty, which you mentioned? The Eighth Amendment bans "cruel and unusual punishments" but does not define either term. How cruel is cruel enough to be banned? How rare or otherwise unusual does a punishment have to be to be "unusual?

That's easy, too, according to him. He applies the "plain words" of the Constitution as they were understood by the people who wrote and adopted them. That is, the social and legal standards of 1787 are to be applied to the society of 2012.

Is putting someone in a pillory and nailing their ears to the board cruel or unusual? Not according to Scalia: It was on the books in the US from the earliest colonial times into the 1800s. What about the whipping post, about public whippings? That was on the books in some Southern states until the 1960s. So is that okay with Scalia? Is that neither cruel nor unusual? Must be, according to him. What about the ducking stool? What about branding? They were in use at the time of the framing of the Constitution. So do they pass present-day Constitutional muster? Based on what Scalia has said, he must answer "yes."

Which means, of course, that he doesn't respect precedent. In 1958, the Supreme Court had decided in Trop v. Dulles that the Eighth Amendment contained an "evolving standard of decency that marked the progress of a maturing society."

But society can't mature, according to Scalia. Oh, sure, you can change the laws to ban use of pillories and ducking stools and end branding and public whippings. But there is no legal standard, no base principle, that says that punishments which are offensive to "a maturing society" cannot be allowed to stand. Nope, if it was fine with the Constitution in 1787 it's gotta be fine with the Constitution today.

But in point of fact, there are several places where the Constitution is vague and apparently, deliberately so. Article 1, Section 8, which lays out the powers of Congress, ends by saying Congress has the power
To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.
That is, they knew there could be situations arising, and powers recognized as residing in the Constitution, beyond those specifically named. How does our current Bozo, Scalia, deal with that? The fact is, he can't.

What about the Ninth Amendment, part of the Bill of Rights? It says, in full,
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.
One of the arguments against the Bill of Rights was the concern that if there was a list of rights - and there were several versions around before the one that went to the states for ratification was settled on - the concern was that people would come to think they had only the rights listed and no others. The Ninth Amendment was included specifically to deal with that concern. The Founding Fathers, as we call them, were wise enough to realize that they didn't know everything, that they couldn't be sure that the full range of freedoms and rights was included and others might come to be recognized in the future.

So, to get to the second of Scalia's "easy" issues, is "regulating" abortion - which usually means "regulating to oblivion" in right wing parlance - is "regulating" abortion Constitutional because it would have been thought so in 1787? What, then, of the fact that our modern sense of a right to privacy - the very right on which legal access to abortion is built - is just that: modern? Our present notion of what constitutes "privacy" is vastly different from what it was in 1787. For Constitutional purposes, does "privacy" also have to mean what it did in 1787, not what it means today? Yes, according to Scalia.

This is insane. It is infantile. Even his history is bad: He claimed that "homosexual sodomy" was criminal in every state for 200 years. In fact, by 1987, which would be 200 years, 22 states had aleady repealed all their sodomy laws. By the time of Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 case in which the Supreme Court struck down remaining laws against sodomy, 36 states had already done so. (Oh and parenthetically, I do notice that Scalia referred to "homosexual" sodomy, even though many of those laws applied to heterosexual couples and in some cases even married couples. I think his focus on "homosexual sodomy" tells us far more about Antonin Scalia's prejudices than it does about the Constitution or anything else.)

Here's another conundrm for this week's award winner: In his view, could an individual state censor newspapers published there? Could it ban free speech? Could it demand membership in a particular church as a requirement for voting or holding public office? We'd say no, of course not - but we can say that because of what's known as "incorporation," where it's held that the rights and privileges of citizens guaranteed under the federal Constitution apply to the states as well.

But Scalia would have to say no, that the Constitution provides no protection against oppression by the individual states, that states are free to deny freedom of speech, religion, and the press - because that certainly wasn't what the Founding Fathers were thinking and isn't even the "plain text" of the Constitution: The First Amendment says "Congress shall make no law," and so on. Not "there shall be no law," but Congress will not. No restrictions are set on the individual states.

And what of unreasonable searches and seizures, imposing "cruel and unusual" punishments, denying trial by jury? What of them? Are states free to engage in those? Scalia would have to say that yes, they should be.

The reason they can't, the reason the Constitution protects you on those and other grounds is due, again, to incorporation, which is based on the "due process" clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which was adopted in 1868.

Before that, in 1833, the Supreme Court held that the Bill of Rights, in fact, applied only to the federal government, not the states. Even eight years after the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, in 1876, the Supreme Court ruled that the First and Second Amendments did not apply to state governments. In fact, it wasn't until the 1920s that most portions of the Bill of Rights were incorporated, that is, once more, to make them apply to the states as well as the federal government.

If Scalia is to be true to his principles - the word "principles" being very delicately applied here - but if he is to be true to what he has said, he would have to argue that all those precedents were wrongly decided and should be overturned because they don't fit either "the plain text" or what he personally decides was in the minds of the men of the Constitutional convention 225 years ago. The prejudices, biases, limitations, and inability to know the future which they had must set the limits on the recognition and protection of rights in on our lives today.

That sounds absurd, it is absurd - but it should also be noted that it is entirely in keeping with the way the minds of right wingers function. I've maintained for many years that the great attraction of right wing thinking is that it makes things, as Scalia says, "easy." When it comes to moral or ethical or in this case legal questions, you don't have to think things through. You don't have to work them out. It's all already been decided what's right, what's wrong, what's good, what's bad, what's moral, what's immoral. It's all be decided. You don't have to work it out, you just have to memorize what someone in the past told you. You don't have to take account of changes in society because society is not allowed to change.

The Constitution is a means of organizing the structure and functions of the federal government. It is not a sacred document. It is not of divine origin. If that's what Scalia wanted, then as the blogger Digby said, he should have been a priest. As just as it is not sacred, it is not a block of granite, a stele with text frozen in place and time. To say that it is, to say that it is not allowed to be understood in the light of the "evolving standard of decency," in the light of the "progress," found in a "maturing society," is one of the most clownish things I can imagine.

Antonin Scalia. Is. A. Clown.


Left Side of the Aisle #78 - Part 3

Straight man pretends to be gay to learn about LGB lives

About four years ago, Timothy Kurek, a 26-year-old man from Nashville, Tennessee, "came out" to his family and friends; he told them he was gay. That sort of event has become more common over the years, but his case was unusual: A year later, he again came out, this time to tell them he was straight and had been all along.

Timothy Kurek spent a year pretending to be gay in order to experience what life is like for LGB - which of course means lesbian, gay, and bisexual - people. He's now written a book about the experience and in a recent interview he told of having been brought up to be very afraid of God and God's judgments and how he learned that the "loving" thing to do to a gay friend was to tell them "you are an abomination" and that they need to repent or they were going straight to hell.

Four years ago, a lesbian acquaintance was crying in his arms, telling him how her family had kicked her out when she came out to them - and he realized that all he was thinking about in the face of her pain was arguments to "convert" her, that is, to make her "repent." Something clicked and, he said, "I feel God really kicked me in the gut."

That's when Kurek, in the center in the picture, embarked on his plan and started tell everyone, including friends and family, that he was gay. He needed, he said, to understand the impact of the label, the impact the label "gay" has on a person's life.

He got a job in a gay cafe, hung out in a gay bar, and joined a gay softball league. The only people that knew the truth were an aunt, a close friend, and a gay friend who was recruited to play his boyfriend so he would have an excuse when guys hit on him.

Nearly 95 percent of his friends stopped talking to him. His mother said she'd rather have been told she had terminal cancer than that she had a gay son. He discovered what it felt like to be called "faggot." He described his reaction as having been violated.

In that same interview, he said
What I went through is NOTHING compared to the experience of the average gay and lesbian. They were never able to say "only 12 or eight or six more months of this before I get to be me again." So what I consider to be the most eye-opening facet of my year was really only a glimpse of how bad the closet really is. [Emphasis in original.]
And, he said, it showed how much need there is for conservative Christians - I would say so-called Christians - to recognize that LGBT folks deserve equal rights.

This was another case of the truth of the old saying that supposedly comes from the Cherokee: "Don’t judge someone until you have walked a mile in their shoes." Don't judge before you understand. Timothy Kurek sought to understand. And I just wanted to say good for him.

The need for an effort, if I can call it such, a journey, such as his was clearly shown in the comments in response to an article in The Guardian newspaper about him. A lot were dismissive, calling it all pointless - but, significantly, a lot more assumed that Kurek actually is secretly gay and this was just his way to “be gay” without having to admit to himself what several called his “sudden obsession” with “the gay lifestyle” “really means.” (Some referred to “homosexual orgies,” which is pretty weird since there was no hint of any such thing in any of the coverage; so I think it tells more about the commenters’ fantasies than it does about Kurek.)

The overall sense what that no one, more specifically in this case, no man could care about what gays and lesbians go though on a daily basis or about equal rights for gays and lesbians if he wasn’t gay himself.

Which again is what shows the need for efforts such as his.

What he did has a tradition of sorts: For one, there was John Howard Griffin, who in 1959 darkened his skin with medications and spent a couple of months living as a black man in the South. The book and movie "Black Like Me" - the title comes from the last line of a Langston Hughes poem - were the result.

It's also in the tradition of Norah Vincent, whose 2006 book A Self-Made Man is about her experience masquerading as a male. Then there was the 1947 novel and subsequent film - this was fiction, but it still fits the category - "Gentlemen's Agreement," about a writer who tells people he is Jewish in order to write an article about anti-Semitism.

And it also fits another, more directly, that is, more narrowly-defined, political tradition: Right-wingers grandly announcing that they are going to live on a welfare budget or a Food Stamp budget for a week or a month or whatever to show how easy it is, how easy those poverty-stricken moochers actually have it. The other part of that tradition is that they invariably fail and wind up having to admit how hard it is to live on welfare or Food Stamps. In fact, the second part of that tradition is so traditional that the right-wingers won't even do it any more: The last couple of times anyone did it, it was liberals intending to show that yes, it is hard. Hard enough that last year a professional chef tried it and even with all his expertise on recipes and eating healthy and having his own garden - plus getting some support from friends in the form of the occasional free meal - he still struggled to do it.

Discrimination and bigotry against gays and lesbians in this country is fading. Not fast enough; it can't be fast enough as long as any still exists, but it is fading. But it's far from the only sort of prejudice and I'm afraid that another sort of bigotry, what I call classism, the bigotry against the poor, is not only still rampant, I'm afraid it's increasing. That bigotry is what lay at the root of Witless Romney's infamous "47% remarks." And it's something I think I need to talk more about in the weeks to come.


Left Side of the Aisle #78 - Part 2

Outrage of the Week: Supreme Court lets telcomms off the hook

Here's the background: During the administration of George Bush, known to one and all as Shrub, the White House engaged in massive and illegal warrantless surveillance of electronic communications - that is, phone calls and email. This was done with the assistance of several of the giant telecommunications companies, such as AT&T and Sprint. AT&T even built a separate room with the single purpose of enabling the National Security Agency to have total access to all of its customers' communications. The surveillance was illegal and what the companies did in support of it was illegal. There were multiple laws in place at the time saying so.

Neither the Bush nor the Obama administration would prosecute any of this criminality, so various organizations concerned with civil liberties and privacy rights, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), filed civil suits against the government and the corporations.

Initially, the telcomms were losing in court. Not too surprising, since they'd been caught red-handed and their claims that they acted in the "good faith" belief that it was all legal just couldn't be (and weren't) taken seriously.

But of course these giant corporations couldn't actually be held responsible for what they did illegally - especially since cases against them for what they did illegally might reveal more of what the government did illegally. So in 2008, Congress passed a law giving those companies retroactive immunity from all civil suits - a bill passed, incidentally, with the support of then-candidate Barack Obama, who had previously promised to lead a filibuster of any such legislation.

The groups suing the telcomms saw their cases ripped away by this absurd law. So they filed claims that the law was unconstitutional in that it both violated the separation of powers and denied customers of their right to redress without due process of law.

I mean, consider what this means: By the logic of this law, in the face of any offense against you, any crime committed against you, any violation of your rights, the government could simply on the one hand refuse to prosecute and on the other retroactively bar you from any civil action, leaving you with no recourse. It means the government can essentially immunize anyone, any group, any corporation it wants from all legal consequences for its behavior.

It seems a ridiculous notion - so of course the plaintiffs, those who filed the suit, lost. Courts embraced the law in order to avoid having to deal with the sticky issues involved, ones that could force the courts to actually question the conduct of the Executive Branch, something courts are loath to do.

Last December, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals let the suits against the government proceed, but it dismissed the arguments for reinstating the suits against the telcomms, relying on the law for retroactive immunity.

Why this comes up now is that last week, the Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of that ruling, putting a final end to any hope of holding these giant, law-breaking corporations responsible for their actions.

So at the end of it all, the giant corporations that illegally helped with illegal government spying simply walk away untouched. And that's not even the biggest outrage of this. No, it's this: One of the reasons, the really big argument, for granting retroactive immunity - and the central argument the Obama administration used in urging courts to dismiss the suits - was the assertion that the government wanted to encourage cooperation in future such efforts.

Now bear in mind that if what the government wants to do is legal and what it wants the telcomms to do is legal, there is no problem. The issue does not arise. So what the government - what the Obama administration now - is actually saying here is that it wants to be able to illegally wiretap and it wants the corporations to illegally cooperate in illegal wiretaps, with no risk whatsoever of any criminal or civil consequences to anyone involved in this illegal activity. That's what's being said.

And if that doesn't strike you as outrageous, well, there is no hope for you.


Left Side of the Aisle #78 - Part 1

Good news: Wal-Mart workers strike

Starting out with, as I always like to when I can, good news, workers have gone on strike against Wal-Mart. Admittedly, the numbers involved were a small part of the overall company workforce, but 28 Wal-Marts in 22 cities were affected by the walkout and what's really important is that it happened at all: This was the first organized walkout against Wal-Mart in the company's history. Wal-Mart is one of the most notorious, the most vicious, the most virulently anti-union corporations around. Its "low prices" - and its enormous profits for its owners - are built on a foundation of crappy wages, poor benefits, and exploitation of workers, including discriminatory pay levels and even requiring them to work off the clock.

Wal-Mart is the largest private employer in the US and efforts to organize the stores has largely been unavailing because the bosses have been more than willing to fire anyone who showed the least pro-union inclination and go to some lengths to avoid hiring such people in the first place. So, again, while the strike was small and limited in numbers, the very fact that it happened at all is significant. What's equally significant is the internal corporate memo that was leaked revealing the company's plans to deal with the strike. (This was not a wildcat walkout; it was planned.)

The memo makes clear that Wal-Mart views the labor protests as a serious attack. It in essence advised store executives and managers to be careful to observe all the niceties of worker rights under labor law, including not disciplining employees who engage in strikes, sit-ins, sick-outs, or other forms of labor action. That is, contrary to how the company would normally respond, it was being extremely cautious in how it responded to the walkout, whether from fear of generating bad publicity, sparking an even wider walkout, or both, is uncertain.

What is certain is that in it's public comments, the company is dismissive, calling the strikes mere "publicity stunts" for the union to "advance its agenda." To which the appropriate response is "And...?"

The company also claimed to have reached out to the workers who went on strike last week, offering them the opportunity to sit down with management and discuss their issues. That is, "We won't talk to you as a group, where you might have some solidarity, some strength in numbers, but we're quite willing to have each of you, individually and alone, sit down and face the full weight of corporate management."

The plan now - or perhaps it should be said the threat now, if the immediate issues aren't resolved - is for a one-day walkout on Black Friday: the day after Thanksgiving and traditionally the busiest single shopping day of the entire year. To which I can only say "Right on!"

One last thing: Just the other day, my wife and I were driving past the Wal-Mart on Route 44 in Raynham - and outside, by the highway, there stood a group of people holding up a huge banner reading "Shame on Wal-Mart." And it made us smile.


Left Side of the Aisle #78

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of October 18-24, 2012

This week:

Good news: Wal-Mart workers strike

Outrage of the Week: Supreme Court lets telcomms off the hook

Straight man pretends to be gay to learn about LGB lives

Clown of the Week: Antonin Scalia

Friday, October 12, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #77 - Part 5

Scott Brown turns nasty

I don't often talk about election campaigns. I don't. But I have to say something about the Senatorial campaign in Massachusetts between Elizabeth Warren and our own Scat Brown.

This was a relatively reasonable campaign early on. The two agreed "no outside PAC money" - not that that would affect what those PACs would do anyway, but at least they agreed - and most of the campaign had been what most of us at least say we would like to see in a campaign: A lot of it had been "This is why you should vote for me" and criticizing the other person's votes and record but not anything personal.

That continued until Elizabeth Warren caught up to Scat Brown, until she began to pass him in some of the polls. At that point, his campaign turned really nasty and really personal, really fast. Lies, innuendo, smears, have been everything he has done since.

"Look at her - you can tell she's not Native American."* What is this, 1952? We're going to go around telling what people's heritage is by "the way they look?" Maybe we can go into Boston and Brown can pick out all the Jews based on "how they look."

Scat Brown has proven more about himself in this campaign than he has about Elizabeth Warren.

*For those of you outside Massachusetts who might not get the reference, at some point in her career, Warren, based on what she had been told by her parents and grandparents, identified herself as part Native American. In their first debate, Brown said she had lied about who she is, infamously saying "You can see she's not [Native American] - just look at her."

That was followed, incidentally, by Brown staffers, including his constituent service counsel and deputy chief of staff, firing up supporters at a rally by making "war whoops" and "tomahawk chops." Brown responded by saying he had told his staff not to do that again, but didn't discipline anyone in any way - and in the same statement said Warren was the one who should apologize to Native Americans.


Left Side of the Aisle #77 - Part 4

Voter ID: Republican fraud

An update on voter ID issues.

First is that we found some voter fraud! Unfortunately for the right-wingers, but unsurprisingly, it was committed by right wingers. Specifically, by an outfit called Strategic Allied Consultants of Glen Allen, Virginia, which the Republican National Committee hired to do voter registration in five states. The RNC paid the company $1.3 million for its services.

Strategic Allied Consultants proceeded to turn in more than 100 “questionable” registration applications to the Elections Board of Palm Beach County, Florida. Nine more counties in Florida reported similar questionable registrations submitted by the company and similar allegations arose in at least Nevada and Colorado, two more of the five states where Strategic Allied Consultants was doing the job for the RNC.

It develops that the guy in charge of Strategic Allied Consultants is one Nathan Sproul, a long-time Republican party operative who also has a long history of let's be polite for the moment and just call them questionable voter registration practices.

Back in 2004, the company was called Sproul and Associates and was caught lying about a ballot initiative in Arizona - this at the time Sproul was state director of the GOP there - that would have eviscerated the state's clean elections law. Two years later, it was investigated for charges of destroying registration forms of people who signed up as Democrats, who then would turn up at the polls, thinking they were registered, to find they were not.

In 2008, the name was changed to Lincoln Associates, and it worked for the McCain campaign. Then, a few months ago, it became Strategic Allied Consulting. The name change apparently was done at the request of the Republican National Committee, which wanted to hire Sproul to do more of his registration hoo-hah but didn't want people to realize just who it was doing it.

Now Sproul has been caught and the company has been fired by the RNC.

Truth be told, this sort of voter fraud - voter registration fraud - is not uncommon in the US. It generally happens because canvassing companies hire people to collect signatures and those people get paid based on how many signatures they get - creating an obvious incentive to just make up phony registration forms. This is what happened with ACORN, if you remember that group. What you may not recall is that the reason officials so quickly knew that ACORN was turning in phony registrations is that ACORN - obeying the law that says all registration forms must be turned in regardless - turned them in while flagging them as suspicious. That was the "fraud" that made ACORN the right wing's cause célèbre for a time until they successfully bankrupted it.

There is one major difference between ACORN and Sproul's outfit: Unlike their right-wing counterparts, ACORN was never accused or suspected of destroying the registration forms of people who registered with the "wrong" party. So while it'll be interesting to see how many right-wingers will be out for the blood of Strategic Allied Consultants of Glen Allen, Virginia, don't expect to see any chorus of cries any time soon. Or ever.

The other thing, though, is that the sort of fraud that involves phony names really doesn't effect elections: Non-existent people living at phony addresses are not going to turn up at the polls to vote. The bigger victims of this sort of fraud, actually, are the outfits that hired to canvassers and have gotten ripped off. In-person voter fraud, on the other hand, the kind of fraud that all these photo ID laws are supposed to address, is all but nonexistent and far more, far more, people will be wrongfully and needlessly - but in the right-wing's plans, deliberately - prevented from voting by those laws.

There has been some successful pushback in a number of states that have passed these vote-suppressing laws, but if we're going to engage in more than a rear-guard, "slow the enemy advance" action, we have to keep asking, keep pushing on, why the right wing regards voting with such fear that they regard it as something to be suppressed rather than encouraged.


Left Side of the Aisle #77 - Part 3

Clown of the Week: CEO whines about how tough it is to be rich

First, an announcement: What had been known as the Clarabell Award will henceforth be known simply as the Clown Award. Clarabell was a noble clown, part of the team on the Howdy Doody show, which if you're too young to remember, it's your loss. But Clarabell was a noble clown, a master of the seltzer bottle, and I don't feel right connecting him to the jackasses that are the targets here. So now it's simply the Clown Award, complete with a new logo - but it will still be given, as always, for acts of meritorious stupidity.

This week's dishonoree is David Siegel, the founder and CEO of the giant timeshare company Westgate resorts.

Why does he get the Clown Award as well as being the Outrage of the Week? Because a good part of the twerpy rant he sent to his employees consists of a long self-pitying whine about how tough he has it, how hard it is for him, what a tough life he’s had getting incredibly rich, how rough it is to have at least hundreds of millions of dollars, how hard it is to be filthy rich, what a burden it is to be such an obviously superior human being who, to quote him, "made all the right decisions." He goes on about the "steep price" he has paid by being incredibly rich and the "wounds" he has suffered becoming incredibly rich.

And he mewls and sniffles and moans about how hard he has it and goes on in this morass of self-pity even as he is engaged in building a 90,000 square foot house.

What a clown.


Left Side of the Aisle #77 - Part 2

Outrage of the Week: CEO threatens to fire workers if they vote for Obama

The Outrage of the Week this week is courtesy of David Siegel, the founder and CEO of the giant timeshare company Westgate resorts.

Recently, he sent a long email to all his employees. It started out by saying,
Of course, as your employer, I can't tell you whom to vote for, and I certainly wouldn't interfere with your right to vote for whomever you choose. In fact, I encourage you to vote for whomever you think will serve your interests the best. However, let me share a few facts that might help you decide what is in your best interest.
After a fair amount of bluster and fluster, it turns out the that relevant "fact" was this:
If any new taxes are levied on me, or my company, as our current President plans, I will have no choice but to reduce the size of this company.
In other words, if you vote for Obama, it could cost you your job.

He ends up by threatening that if Obama wins, he will simply shut down the company and retire, putting everyone out of a job.

This sort of transparent manipulation, the obvious bullying and threats, this is hardly unknown or unprecedented in corporate America - but it is still an outrage.


Left Side of the Aisle #77 - Part 1

Living under the anti-terrorism regime

I'm going to start this week with two tales of life under the anti-terrorism regime.

The first involves Abdullah al-Kidd. He is an American citizen, born in Wichita, Kansas and raised in the US. In March 2003 he was at Dulles Airport, outside Washington, DC, intending to fly to Saudi Arabia to work on his doctorate in Islamic studies.

He was arrested, taken out in handcuffs and imprisoned for 16 days, during which time he was repeatedly strip-searched and left naked in his cell.

The argument for his arrest was he was needed as a material witness in a terrorism case against a former classmate, Sami Omar al-Hussayen. But Kidd was never called in that case, nor was he even told that Hussayen was acquitted on the main terrorism-related charges. Kidd sued the government, claiming he was wrongfully held as a supposed material witness, but that in fact is was a pretext to hold and question him on suspicion of terrorism.

He originally named John Ashcroft, attorney general at the time, a couple of FBI agents, and the wardens of the prisons where he was held. In the years since, Kidd has reached settlements with the wardens over the conditions of his confinement. Last year, unfortunately, the Supreme Court reached a jumbled ruling that Ashcroft had qualified immunity. (He was, after all, a high government official and ordinary folks like Kidd can't touch him.) Which still leaves a couple of government agents as targets of the suit.

Okay, here's the thing: In June, US Magistrate Mikel Williams issued a ruling that stated:
The circumstantial evidence supports the inference that al-Kidd may have been detained for reasons in addition to securing his testimony at trial.
That is, that the government misused the material witness law to arrest Kidd.

What's more, Magistrate Williams, who was the one who granted the FBI the warrant to arrest Kidd, also said that the information given to him to justify the arrest was "misleading and highly suggestive of illicit involvement with criminal activity, inferring a motive to flee.” Williams was told, for example, that Kidd had a first-class one-way ticket and had received more than $20,000 from Hussayen. In fact, he had an economy-class round-trip ticket, and the payment was for legitimate work he had done for Hussayen’s company.

In addition, the FBI did not tell Williams that Kidd was a citizen, born and raised here, that his wife and son and many family members were in the United States, that he had never failed to cooperate with the FBI, or that he was on his way to Saudi Arabia to continue educational goals, not to escape trial testimony - trial testimony which Kidd was never told might be desired - that is, supposedly might be desired - before he was arrested.

Despite all that, the Justice Department - Barack Obama's Justice Department - had sought to have his motion to proceed to trial summarily dismissed.

Happily, about two weeks ago, federal Judge Edward Lodge in Idaho affirmed the ruling from Magistrate Williams that there was evidence that the government may have willfully misused the material witness law against Kidd, so his case should go to trial. In fact, he went even beyond Williams, saying the original affidavit from the FBI “evidences a reckless disregard for the truth.”

Despite that hard-won victory, Kidd, who describes himself as “anti-Bin Laden, anti-Taliban, antisuicide bombing, antiterrorism,” has already paid a heavy price. He lost his scholarship to Saudi Arabia, his marriage and his relationship with a daughter fell apart under the strain, and he was unable to find work in the US. He had to leave the country to find work. He is currently living in Saudi Arabia, where he teaches English.

Okay, that's one story. This other one is one I've been wanting to talk about for a few weeks, ever since I heard about the suit.

Just over a month ago, during the first week of September, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Peoples Law Office jointly filed suit in federal court in Chicago challenging the federal government’s restrictions on their First Amendment rights to engage in “coordinated advocacy” with one Muhammad A. Salah.

Muhammad Salah is a US citizen living in Chicago, and he is the only US citizen residing in the United States who is currently labeled a “Specially Designated Terrorist” by the Office of Foreign Asset Control, which is part of the Treasury Department. Once an individual is so labeled, all persons and organizations are prohibited from engaging in "coordinated speech" with them, even if only to express concerns about the government’s conduct in his case. They couldn't, for example, have a press conference with him. They couldn't co-sign a letter with him. They couldn't sign a petition with him. They couldn't even circulate a petition or write a letter on their own if he expressed gratitude for or even mere approval of the idea - not without running the risk of breaking the law and, hypothetically, of being labeled terrorists themselves.

That label - “Specially Designated Terrorist” - can be placed on someone - anyone - without any due process or probable cause or evidence of criminal wrongdoing. In fact, when Salah was so labeled, the notice simply announced the fact. It offered neither a factual nor a legal basis for the decision. It appears to have been based on some alleged connections he had to Hamas sometime in the past, in fact at a time when support of Hamas was not prohibited by US law. It's a case of "Are you now or have you ever been." The government never even told Salah about the notice; neither he nor his family even knew about it until they ran smack into the brick wall of restrictions it created - in that case, discovering that their bank account was frozen.

And those restrictions are extreme, so extreme that they prevent him from carrying out basic, normal life activities. Salah cannot get a job, pay his rent, obtain medical care, or even buy a damn loaf of bread without obtaining prior approval from the Treasury Department, which has unfettered discretion to impose whatever sanctions it chooses.

This has been going on for him for 17 years. Yes, I said 17 years. On January 23, 1995, then President Bill Clinton, now the Democrats' model of all things good and true, issued an Executive Order declaring a national emergency to deal with violent acts by foreign terrorists who were considered to be interfering with the Middle East peace process. (Notice well that order succeeded in producing progress on that front.) Six months later, the Treasury Department designated Salah as a Specially Designated Terrorist. And nothing in the statutes, the executive order, or the regulations requires a review or reconsideration of Salah’s status at any time - so it's a case of "Once a Specially Designated Terrorist, always a Specially Designated Terrorist."

In 2009, the Treasury Department - the Obama Treasury Department - issued a new set of restrictions so onerous that they are for all practical purposes impossible to comply with. The new license directed that, even for authorized types of expenses, things for which Treasury has already said he could spend money, payment could not “originate from a source in the United States.” What that means is that Salah’s family and friends were forbidden from helping him make ends meet. In addition, the license required him to keep records tracking every penny he spent to prove that each and every such expenditure fit the vague criteria of “basic maintenance.” So he can't buy a book. He can't even buy a newspaper. He can't go to a movie. He can't go to a concert. He can't go to a sporting event. He can't donate to a political campaign. He can't even volunteer for a political candidate without prior approval of the Treasury Department.

What's more, his religion (he is a Muslim) requires him to make regular donations to charity - he can't do that - and to at some point make a pilgrimage to Mecca - and he can't do that, either. If this was the old Soviet Union, we'd say he'd been made a non-person.

But here's the real kicker: In December 2011, a unanimous panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that many of these restrictions involving political campaigns and "coordinated advocacy" are clearly unconstitutional, that they violate the First Amendment rights of both Salah and organizations that might want to work with him. But nearly a year later the Treasury Department still has not amended its regulations to conform to that ruling. They are simply ignoring it.

Treasury is not alone in ignoring court rulings that involved the anti-terrorism regime. In July 2011, the DC Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that the TSA should have initiated a public rulemaking - that is, should have allowed a period of public comments - before deploying those full-body scanners as a primary screening method at airports. The court ordered the agency to begin that process of taking comments "promptly." More than a year has passed since that court order and the TSA has done nothing.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center recently went back to that court to request a court order requiring the agency to begin the comment process within 60 days or suspend the use of the scanners entirely. In response, the TSA has claimed that the earliest possible date it could "finalize documents" before beginning the public comment process would be "the end of February 2013" - more than 18 months after it was directed to do so "promptly," and during which time an unknown amount of goods and money was stolen from passengers passing through the TSA checkpoints at airports by the agents doing the checking.

In fact, it turns out that TSA agents have been stealing from airline passengers' belongings on a regular basis. Nearly 400 agents have been fired for stealing since the agency was founded; one of them, a guy named Pythias Brown, served three years in prison for theft and said he stole approximately $800,000 worth of cash and merchandise from travelers before he was caught. He called the stealing "very commonplace," "very convenient," and "massive."

As a quick sidebar to that, Sen. Chuck Schumer has called on the TSA to do random sting operations on its employees and that the TSA randomly screen its employees at the end of the work shift. It'd be interesting to see how TSA agents feel about being the targets of random searches instead of the targeters.

But I'm sure they won't mind - it is, after all, part of the overall plan to protect us from the "ooh scary" terrorists. (Be afraid, be very afraid.)

Making up part of that overall plan are the so-called fusion centers, which are supposed to share terrorism-related information among local, state, and federal officials. Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars have been invested in them over the last nine years. On October 3, the Senate's Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations released results of a study that found that the “intelligence” produced, the intelligence made available to federal agencies, was,quoting the report,
oftentimes shoddy, rarely timely, sometimes endangering citizens’ civil liberties and Privacy Act protections, occasionally taken from already-published public sources, and more often than not unrelated to terrorism.
But don't worry, they are out there looking after us. Just ask Michael Galindo of Houston, Texas. In mid- September, he was taking photographs of a cloud formation as part of a volunteer program of the National Weather Service. Unfortunately for him, those buildings in the middle distance a couple of hundred yards away are a refinery. Someone from the refinery spotted him and called police, who called the local FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force - with the result that on October 5 the FBI showed up at Galindo's door and questioned him for 20 minutes.

Here's the thing, here's why this is a good wrap up to this: The FBI agent was satisfied with Galindo's explanation, but after questioning him for 20 minutes left him with the bit of advice, according to Galindo, to "just be careful next time.”

“Just be careful?” He had every right to do what he was doing. He had every right to be where he was. He had every legal right, every constitutional right, every logical right to do exactly what he did. But “be careful.” Oh, no, don’t do what you have the right to do. Don’t do what you’re free to do. Don’t do what’s justified for you to do. Oh no, don’t. “Be careful.” Don’t stand out. Don’t do what you have a right to do. Blend in. Be unobtrusive. Be completely inoffensive. Because if you don’t do that, remember: We’re watching you.


Left Side of the Aisle #77

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of October 11-17, 2012

This week:

Living under the anti-terrorism regime

Outrage of the Week: CEO threatens to fire workers if they vote for Obama

Clown of the Week: CEO whines about how tough it is to be rich

Voter ID

Scott Brown

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #76 - Part 4

Elections 2012: Why I am not voting for Barack Obama

So the election is coming up and I figured I'd tell you what I'm going to do. First, I'll tell you what I'm not going to do: I am not voting for Barack Obama. I cannot stand the idea of voting for Barack Obama.

Anyone who has seen this show - anyone who has seen this edition of the show - can’t imagine I would have anything good to say about Witless Romney and Paul Rantin'. But you should also realize that the list of crimes - some of them philosophical crimes, some of them moral crimes, some of them possibly legal crimes - the list of crimes of which Barack Obama is guilty is long and gets longer by the day.

"Crimes?" Isn’t that rather strong? How about I defend that with a revised version of something I told you a month ago. Here are 10 reasons I will not vote for Barack Obama.

One. He has presided over a massive expansion of government surveillance of our personal lives. Warrantless wiretapping, warrantless surveillance, has quadrupled during his administration. The National Security Agency is about to open a new center designed for the specific purpose of intercepting, deciphering, analyzing, and storing vast swaths of the world’s communications moving across both foreign and domestic networks.

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. He promised the most transparent administration ever. He 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.

Four. He has engineered the widest, most serious expansion of executive power ever, to a degree Bush and Cheney only dreamed of. He has taken every excess they claimed on presidential authority, secrecy, the bogus "state secrets privilege," and more and has done as much or worse.

He claimed he was against the Patriot Act but when it came up for renewal, he supported it. Under the National Defense Authorization Act, 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 and acted on the authority to kill anyone, including American citizens on foreign soil, without trial or any sort of due process, if again in his personal, unreviewable, judgment that person is a terrorist.

Five. Our Nobel Peace Prize president is a warmonger. He waged war on Libya in violation of the War Powers Act. He tried to pressure Iraq into having US troops there after the withdrawal deadline. He has waged secret wars in Yemen and Somalia. He has dramatically expanded the drone war on Pakistan that daily terrorizes the people of northwest Pakistan and in which, despite official lies about "precision targeting" and "surgical strikes" and "civilian casualties in the single digits," has killed hundreds of innocent people and more die almost daily.

Before Obama entered 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 300. Under Bush, there were over 400 casualties from those strikes. Under Obama, there have been five times as many.

Six. 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. Even where prisoners were killed, there is no punishment, no prosecution.

For six years, from 2001-2007, the US maintained what amounted to an officially-sanctioned torture regime. And from across all that time, all that torture, all those torturers, all their enablers, only one person is being prosecuted for anything related to torture. His name is John Kiriakou. He didn't torture anyone. He's one of those six whistleblowers I mentioned and he's facing 45 years in prison - for telling us about the torture.

The message from the Obama administration is clear: Do the dirty work, kidnap, kill, imprison, torture, and we’ll cover for you. Destroy the evidence of that, we’ll cover for you. Let the public know what is being done in their name, well put you in prison effectively for the rest of your life.

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 pressed that there is no evidence that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon. He has already initiated a cyberwar on Iran, using computer worms to attack its infrastructure. That is something the Pentagon says would be an act of war if directed against the US but because we're doing to to Iran,the White House regards it as a great foreign policy success.

Eight. Afghanistan. Out now. Not over two years of pointless death and blood and havoc for us but far more for Afghans from now, now. Every day he does not get out is a new moral crime.

Nine. He has failed to prosecute Wall Street crooks. Instead, from the beginning of his term he has surrounded himself with Wall Street hacks and insiders. In fact, the administration went so far as to specifically refuse to follow up on criminal referrals from the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission and a Congressional report, both of which presented clear evidence of fraud.

Ten. Barack Obama wants to cut Social Security and Medicare. He wants the so-called "Grand Bargain" that would sacrifice the poor and the elderly on an altar of "deficit reduction" in exchange for a few token tax increases on the rich - which shouldn't even be called increases because they would in fact be putting an end to what were supposed to be temporary reductions. He wants that "Grand Bargain" enough that he has whined that he doesn't get enough credit for being so willing to make it.

I am not voting for, I will not vote for, Barack Obama. I'm voting for Jill Stein of the Green-Rainbow Party.

But as soon as anyone says that, you can be sure - you can be sure as the Sun rising in the east - that the response will be a sneer of "What, so you'd rather Romney won?"

In fact, it's so sure that it doesn't matter what the election is for or when it happens or who is involved: Suggest you are voting for a third party and you will get "Oh, you'd rather fill-in-the-blank-with-the-name-of-the-evil-rightwinger-de-jour won." Followed quickly by some haughty reference to the foolishness of "wasting your vote."

The proper answer to the first part is "Of course not, don't be an idiot." To the second, it's "It's never a waste to vote for what you believe in." As Eugene Debs said, "I'd rather vote for what I want and not get it than vote for what I don't want and get it." And voting for Barack Obama is voting to get all those things I just listed.

Now look - I'm a moralist but I'm also a realist, including about myself. I admit that if I lived in a toss-up state, and I don't mean a "swing" state, which means it sometimes goes one way and sometimes another, but a toss-up state, one where the election was truly up for grabs, but if I lived in a toss-up state - which I don't - I would be tempted to vote for Obama. I'd have to do it with my tongue because one hand would be covering my eyes and the other would be holding my nose, but I probably could do it. Note that the word "could" rather than "would" in that sentence was chosen deliberately.

But there is more involved here, more involved with voting, than the immediate practicalities of the next two or four years.

Some people talk about not voting for Obama or any other Democrat so they will lose in order to "teach them a lesson." The lesson it is intended to teach is that there is a price to pay for ignoring us. There is a point to the right beyond which you can't pull us.

But I have to point out here that I'm not talking about, as some do, "teaching them a lesson" by not voting, so they'll lose. I think that's idiotic. Not voting as a means of protest fails because the protest remains invisible to its target. All they see is a lower turnout, which might inspire a bigger get-out-the-vote campaign next election but will not inspire soul-searching; in fact it's more likely to push them further to the right in hopes of picking up a few more votes in the supposed "center" - which of course now has shifted to the right.

On the other hand, voting, voting for third parties, specifically one clearly to the left of Obama, can teach that lesson about a price to be paid because every such vote is at least potentially one that the Democrats could have had if we and our votes had not been taken for granted or worse, dismissed.

(Indeed, historically that is the role third parties have played in the US: proving a base of support for certain ideas, a base sufficiently large to threaten the electoral position of one of the major parties, which had to shift to respond to that threat.)

There is a story on that point I have told a number of times: Some years ago - 1984, to be exact - I was running for Congress as an independent. I was running against a moderately liberal Democrat trying to keep his seat in a moderately conservative Republican district. (This being in those distant days when the phrase "moderate Republican" still had some rational meaning.)

One time he asked me if I wasn't concerned that I would take enough votes from him so that if the election was close the Republican would win. I started to answer but before I got out more than a couple of words, he waved me off with a grin: "Never mind,"  he said. "That's my problem, not yours."

Exactly: his problem. And those who want a third party voter like me to vote for Obama have exactly that same burden: It is their problem, not mine. My burden is to find the candidate I can best support, the candidate who best expresses my convictions, my beliefs, my hopes, the candidate I think best embodies what I want to see happen. If Obama supporters want my vote, they have to give me a reason to do it, a reason for Obama strong enough to outweigh the reasons against, a reason that must go beyond "He's not Mitt Romney." That is, beyond arguing that despite everything, you still have to vote for Obama because he's "the lesser evil."

Which brings up the whole issue of "lesser evil"-ism. We often hear that the lesser of two evils is still an evil, which is true, but the real problem is not so much that a particular "lesser evil is still evil," but that every time we do that, every time we settle for the lesser evil, we set that as a new standard. It is the new baseline, the new normal. Several folks have commented on how Richard Nixon  could not get the Republican nomination today because he would be regarded as "too liberal" and not long ago one prominent blogger noted how in a number of ways the GOP platform of 1956 sounds liberal by today's standards - not just as compared to the Republican platform but to the Democratic one as well.

Then there is the argument "we have to vote for Obama now and then we'll protest like hell later." Which is utter nonsense; it makes even less sense than the lesser evil line.

Now in one sense I can agree with part of the argument, in that I believe that on-going social disruption, being in the streets, "no business as usual," is our best (and necessary) weapon no matter who is president, no matter who is in the majority in the House or the Senate. But that's not what most of the Obamabots raising the "vote now, protest later" cry mean by "protest." They mean angry blog posts, tut-tutting op-eds, testy tweets, and the occasional sternly-worded petition. All of which they will do - as long as it doesn't hurt the chances of any Democrat in any election.

All those things - blog posts, op-eds, tweets, petitions, letters to Congress, letters to the editor - all of those things and more can and do have their uses. But unless they are connected to the kind of social disruption that the Kewl Kidz and Obamabots sneer at - "like, hey, man, that's so 20th century, y'know?" - why can't, why shouldn't, the Democrats just ignore the posts, the op-eds, the tweets, the whatever since we have repeatedly shown we will support them anyway no matter what they do as long as they can find some way to say they are not quite as evil as the other guys?

If we are to stop slowly slipping backwards, if we are not to be satisfied by the occasional uptick in the course of the overall continuing decline, if we ever are to actually, truly, reverse that decline, if we are to actually, truly, reverse the decline that has seen economic inequality steadily increase and real median income gradually decline across presidencies and parties for over 30 years, the decline that has seen our privacy slowly stripped away even as government secrecy increases, the decline that has seen civil liberties increasingly limited and the ability to protest increasingly restricted, the decline that has seen a nation that once claimed to be a light unto the world become a blight unto the world, if we are to actually, truly, reverse that decline, then at some point "the lesser evil" will have to cross over into "just not good enough" and therefore "no." Some folks have already crossed that line; I am right up against it. (Which is why I said I "could" vote for Obama in a swing state rather than I "would" do so.)

Yes, there is a risk: You could lose. You could lose big, with all that entails for others who get harmed as a result.

But unless we are prepared to take that risk, unless we are prepared to risk losing, we will never win in any way that reaches beyond the short term. Josh Marshall, no radical he, got it right a couple of years ago:
The key condition of political success is almost always a genuine willingness to lose well.
Put another way, every time we settle for the lesser evil, we are saying that our greatest hope for the long term is that things will get worse more slowly than they otherwise might (which is precisely what "vote for Obama because God forbid Romney" is arguing).

My hope is at a low ebb - but I'm not willing give up what hope I have by limiting my focus to merely not losing (rather than actually winning), which is what too many in the Obama camp would have me and those like me do.

I am voting for Jill Stein. I will not vote for Barack Obama. Don't even ask me to.


Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #76 - Part 3

Clarabell Award: Right wing claims victimhood, claims to be target of voter suppression

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

I was going to do some voter ID updates, but they will wait until next week; I wanted to get this in because it's just so funny.

Remember how Witless Romney said that 47% of Americans think they are "victims?" Well, let me tell you, no one out victimhoods the right wing.

You've surely heard, if you've paid any attention at all, that polls of the presidential race, nationally and in so-called swing states, have moved in favor of Barack Obama of late. In fact, 10 polls all had Obama ahead.

The right wing's, the GOPpers', response to this? To whine that the polls are skewed! They're biased! :sniffle: Now the polls could be wrong, but that's not what they're saying. They're saying the polls - all 10 of them, including one from Fox News - are being deliberately manipulated to show an Obama lead.

Again, they polls could be wrong - but deliberately skewed? There is some vast conspiracy among all those organizations, again including Fox News, to show Obama ahead? Seriously? And what would be the point of that?

Leave it to the head of the Republican Party, Rush Limburger, to bring the answer straight from bizarro-world. He said, I'm quoting,
I think they’re trying to get this election finished and in the can by suppressing your vote and depressing you so that you just don’t think there’s any reason to vote, that it’s hopeless. They want you making other plans.
Did you get that? According to Lush, never mind all the photo ID laws, never mind the restrictions on registering, never mind all the new hurdles between voters and the voting booth, never mind all the studies showing how these laws and restrictions mostly affect the poor, the young, the old, and minorities, never mind all that. According to him, it is the right wing that is the target of an active campaign of voter suppression.

It doesn't get more clownish than that.


Left Side of the Aisle #76 - Part 2

Outrage of the Week: Poor should pay federal income taxes to have "skin in the game"

Unfortunately, I missed this when it happened, so this is a week old, but still it deserves notice and the appropriate sneering.

It happened on Meet The Press on September 23. The right wing has been hyping the statement that about 46% of taxpayers pay no federal income tax (while still, as they never mention, paying a host of other taxes, both state and federal, such as payroll taxes, excise taxes, sales taxes, property taxes, state and local income taxes, and so on). Apparently suckered in by the right wing, Meet The Press host David Gregory, who would without doubt be a prime contender for media clown of the year, asked Massachusetts governor Deval Patrick if poor people should be required to pay federal income tax. That is, no matter how low their income, they should have to owe something; that there should be no level of poverty too severe to be below a taxable income.

Patrick, obviously caught off-guard, lamely and rather stupidly answered "Maybe," saying this was the first time he'd heard the idea. Gregory, apparently unwilling to let Patrick think about something he said he'd just heard of, pressed. He wanted to know if poor people - indeed, even the poorest people - should, in his words "have some skin in the game."

What? "Skin in the game?" Is he joking? What kind of nonsense is this? Wanting the poorest among us to have to put out more of what little they already don't have in order to have "skin in the game?" Well, maybe they should because they sure as hell have nothing else to put in. Maybe instead of "skin in the game" Gregory should have asked about "a pound of flesh."

Oh, but it's only a little bit of taxes, just like, you know, maybe a dollar or something. Just so you can have some "skin in the game." We know you don't have enough money for food. You don't have enough money for adequate shelter. That clothes from Savers is a real treat. That you haven't been able to see a doctor or a dentist since who knows when. But that's not what's important, what's important is that you have "skin in the game." And if that means you have even less for food, for shelter, for heat, for health care, for all the things you already can't afford, well, that's the way it goes. At least you have a dollar's worth of "skin in the game."

But of course it's not just a dollar, it never is. It's a lot more; for some families surviving just above the poverty line it could be thousands of dollars more. Putting this sort of "minimum tax" into effect would require eliminating, among other things, the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, those two programs "lifted 9.2 million people above the poverty line in 2010."

And by the way: that poverty line? It's ridiculously low. For example, imagine you're a couple. No kids, just the two of you. Could you survive on a gross income of $290 a week? Remember, that's for everything: Rent, heat, utilities, phone, food, clothing, health care, gasoline, everything. Could you do it? You better be able to: According to the federal government's guidelines for 2011, you're not poor.

Finally: Yes, I know what the term "skin in the game" means. And it doesn't mean what the right wing and highly-paid cement heads like Gregory think it does. It referred to top executives of a company investing in their own company's stocks, taking some actual personal risk for its performance. What we're seeing here is not executives sharing the risks on their own companies, it's the rich trying to suck money - money that could fairly be called blood money, considering the effect it would have on many people's lives - out of the poor in order to protect their own tax breaks.

That is disgusting, it is immoral, and it is an outrage. The Outrage of the Week.


Left Side of the Aisle #76 - Part 1

Good news: Same-sex couples can be considered "family" in deportation cases

I'll start, as I always like to try to do, with a bit of good news. This time it's a small victory, but still a significant one. It's in an area from which most of the good news these days seems to come - lord knows there is little enough good news on the economy, privacy, government secrecy, on-going wars and the rest of the panoply of pain out there - but we do get good news from time to time on the issue of same-sex marriage and the broader issue of LGBT rights.

Consider this scenario: One partner of a same-sex couple is found to have entered the country illegally. They are targeted for deportation. Even if their partner is a US citizen and they were legally married and living in one of the states that recognizes same-sex marriage, that's no help - because the federal-level Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, does not recognize that marriage. DOMA defines marriage for all federal purposes as one man and one woman and non-heterosexuals need not apply.

However, the government still has prosecutorial discretion in deciding whether or not to pursue a particular case. Among the things they can consider are an individual’s ties to his or her community, including their relationships. Last Thursday, September 27, Janet Napolitano, secretary of the Department for the Protection of the Fatherland, instructed agents of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement - with the appropriate acronym ICE - to understand the term "family relationships" to include what she called "long-term, same-sex partners."

DOMA does not allow the agency to consider such a couple married - but now the agency will consider them to be "family." And while DOMA itself still needs to be consigned to the trashbin of bigotry from which it sprang, this shift in policy is a good thing.


Left Side of the Aisle #76

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of October 4-10, 2012

This week:

Good news: Same-sex couples can be considered "family" in deportation cases

Outrage of the Week: Poor should pay federal income taxes to have "skin in the game"

Clarabell Award: Right wing claims victimhood, claims to be target of voter suppression

Elections 2012: Why I am not voting for Barack Obama
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