Thursday, March 28, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #101 - Part 4

Iraq at 10

I kept trying to prepare something, to write something, about the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. But I couldn't find the words. I couldn't find the words to express the sorrow and the anger, I couldn't find the words to express the memories of shame and frustration that we couldn't stop it, that we saw it coming, we watched it come and despite all our efforts, despite the efforts of tens of millions of people here and scores of people around that world, we were like King Canute trying to hold back the tide in the face of a megalomaniac White House and a Congress whose members stuffed their consciences under a pile of their campaign contributions and preferred passively imposing the risks and pain of war on others rather than accepting the merely political risks of casting which might have been an unpopular vote.

In recognition of the anniversary, we have seen a number of mea culpas from media figures shuffling their feet and going "gee whiz," trying with varying degrees of embarrassment to explain away what they now admit to have been their disastrously wrong endorsement of the war, often falling back on the line of "golly gee whillikers, everyone though Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction."

No, not everyone thought that. So as part of my own observance of the 10th anniversary and on my own behalf, I will note that in September 2002, I was writing to my Senators, telling them to resist demands for authority to attack Iraq. In that letter, I told about a silly joke that made the rounds when I was in college which “proved” not only that Alexander the Great had an infinite number of arms and legs but that he never existed in the first place. The first statement in this “proof” was that “All horses are black - proved by blatant assertion.” Of course, it later turned out that this was an important link in the chain of “logic” and by accepting it the listener had unwittingly helped the storyteller reach the obviously ridiculous conclusion.

It was, as I said, a silly, harmless joke - but it does, as I said at the time, point up the real-world dangers of accepting things “proved by blatant assertion.” Among which, I said, was the claim that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, citing the work of former Iraq arms inspector Scott Ritter and then-head Iraq arms inspector Hans Blix.

And then, on March 6, 2003, just two weeks before the war started, I wrote an unpublished op-ed which began this way:

"Before we go to war on Iraq, there’s a question about its weapons of mass destruction that needs to be answered: What weapons of mass destruction?

"Seriously. What weapons? Where? Months of effort, hundreds of inspections at hundreds of sites" - because, remember, by this time the inspectors had been back in Iraq for several months, but all those inspections - "have turned up, for all practical purposes, zilch. For months, the administration insisted it knew from intelligence reports exactly where those weapons were, what they were, and in what quantities. So where are they?"

So no, not everyone thought Saddam had WMDs. The ones who did were the ones who wanted to fool themselves for their own purposes and those in the public who were misinformed and malinformed by the pandering pundits eager to get a "good boy" pat on the head from members of the media and political elite.

Oh, and those who were lied to. As we all were. Lied to. Persistently. Consistently. Insistently. The whole justification, every part of the justification, every part of the sales pitch for war on Iraq was a lie. It was all proof by blatant assertion.

They knew. They knew it was all lies. By the spring of 2003, they knew that their main sources - Ahmed Chalabi, “Curveball,” and Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi - were all known or suspected to be liars by US intelligence. They knew that when they sent Colin Powell to the UN it was with fabricated data and assumptions presented as irrefutable fact, as they took every “maybe” and “possibly” in intelligence reports and presented them to the public as “certainly” and “unquestionably.” They knew it was lies.

They knew it had nothing to do with any "threat" for Iraq, because there wasn't one. They knew it had nothing to do with WMDs, which weren't there. They knew it had nothing to do with terrorism because bin Laden hated Saddam as much as they did. And they knew it had nothing to do with "liberating" Iraq but did have to do with the interest that dare not speak its name: oil, as we now know from former Bush speechwriter David Frum, who just wrote in Newsweek of "The Big" Dick Cheney spending, quoting him, "long hours together, contemplating the possibilities of a Western-oriented Iraq: an additional source of oil, an alternative to U.S. dependency on an unstable-looking Saudi Arabia."

So they got their war. And it was a complete disaster. Nearly 4500 US soldiers killed. At least 32,000 wounded. Nearly a trillion dollars spent. And we don't know how many Iraqis were killed; the lowest estimate, using the strictest definition of war-caused death and the surest verification, is 112,000. Other estimates, using standard methodologies and a broader definition of war-caused death, run to nearly 1.5 million. What we do know is that there are now at least tens of thousands of people in Iraq who have been blinded or maimed or crippled because of the war.

And what have we gotten for all that pain, all that suffering, all that loss?

Is Iraq a democracy? No. In practice, PM Nouri al-Maliki is consolidating his personal power on the road toward a dictatorship.

Is Iraq peaceful? No. Bloody sectarian violence unleashed by our invasion continues. The car bomb in this photo went off outside the fortified so-called "Green Zone" in Baghdad on March 19. It was one of 12 bombs that went off in the city that day, killing 56 and wounding more than 200. Another eight bombs were detonated in other places, bringing the death toll to at least 65. Another attack earlier this month in Baghdad killed 30.

Unemployment is officially 10% - but some estimates say it's as high as 35%. Many still lack basic services such as water and electricity and corruption is rampant. A 2011 poll of Iraqi men under 30 by the Babil Centre for Human Rights and Civil Development found that 89% of them wanted to leave the country.

As for us? We got, for an abbreviated list, acceptance of torture, we got warrantless surveillance, we got the Patriot Act, more properly called the Traitor Act for its impact on our privacy and liberties, we got vastly expanded government secrecy and vastly expanded goverment ability to poke, prod, and pry into our private lives.

And what is worst, what is the absolute worst about all this? We have learned nothing. Nothing! Even now the war drums are beating about Iran. Even now the "threat" of Iran is being hyped with breathless references to some supposed nuclear weapons program. Even now we have President Hopey-Changey declaring that Iran is about a year away from developing a nuclear weapon. And just like 10 years ago, it's all proof by blatant assertion. There is no evidence that Iran is actually pursuing a nuclear weapon. Regular inspections have failed to turn up any evidence of that. The most recent National Intelligence Estimate says that there is no evidence Iran has made a decision to pursue building a nuke.

Despite that, when inspections reveal that Iran has converted some of its enriched uranium into a form that can't be used for weapons but only for research, this is not taken as any suggestion that Iran is not trying to build a nuke, but rather that, in the words of the March 11 issue of "Time," that "Iran itself has slowed down its efforts." In other words, it's taken to mean that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, it's just doing it more slowly. Proof by blatant assertion, embraced by a complicit, complacent media.

It's 2013 and it's 2003 all over again.

[A PS: Before anyone gives me grief about it, I know that the photo of the demonstration does not come from before the war started; in fact it's from 2005. But I was pressed for time and couldn't find a good shot of a pre-war demo that would look good on TV. Live with it.]


Left Side of the Aisle #101 - Part 3

Clown Award: Plymouth County Sheriff Joe McDonald

The Clown Award, given for meritorious stupidity. This week the big red nose goes to our own Plymouth County Sheriff Joe McDonald.

So Sheriff Joe attended a GOPper St. Patrick’s Day breakfast in Scituate a week or so ago and told a supposed joke about Barack Obama getting assassinated. I assume you heard about this, but if you didn't, it involves him asking previous presidents for advice. Washington tells him, "never tell a lie." Jefferson says "respect the Constitution." Lincoln says "go to the theater."

The joke, if you can call it that, is utterly tasteless, especially at a time when gun violence is an issue before the nation. At the dinner it got, thankfully, only "scattered" laughter, according to reports, the audience apparently having better taste than McDonald did.

Instead of laughter, what McDonald did get - and which he apparently did not expect - was serious pushback from the blogosphere after the site Blue Mass Group posted an account. Now, you might think that the response of a reasonable person at this point would be to say something like "Well, okay, yeah, maybe it was kinda tasteless. It was only meant as a joke, I didn't mean to offend anyone. Sorry." And then move on.

But not our Joe, oh no, instead he went on about how the joke is 160 years old and was originally told about Andrew Johnson and has been applied to a number of presidents since.

And how is that supposed to make a difference? What, is this joke supposed to be like wine, getting better with age? Racist jokes, ethnic jokes, rape jokes, they've all been around that long and longer. Does make them okay? Hey, there were minstrel shows 160 years ago - maybe we should bring those back!

Now, obviously this joke isn't nearly as bad as those and I'm not saying it is. But the point remains that just because something has been said before doesn't make it any less tasteless - and I am amazed and rather appalled that he just doesn't seem to understand that.

In fact, not only doesn't he get it, he turned it into an opportunity to rant about "the transparent hypocrisy of the left" and to liken his critics to Nazis, saying "this is America in 2013, not Germany in 1936."

He even, to show how buffoonish the thing got, referred to some blog posts and said he had to "worry about being charged with treason." As the result of what, some comment on a blog? I can't figure out which is more absurd: the possibility that he takes such a notion seriously or the possibility that he expects the rest of us to.

One other thing: He referred to another joke he told which he said didn't get anyone upset. It was how Obama told the new pope that he was glad he, that is, Obama, didn't get elected because it would have been a step down from Messiah. Now, I can give you two reasons why that didn't upset people: One, it's funnier. Two, it's not about killing someone. Why is that so hard to understand?

Now, the truth is, McDonald was right about one thing: This so-called joke has been told by both sides about recent presidents of both parties - and not just presidents, as Hillary Clinton was also a butt of the joke. But that doesn't change the fact that joking about assassination, especially at a time when, again, gun violence is on people's minds, is utterly and thoroughly tasteless and the fact that Joe McDonald can't seem to recognize that but instead rants about "hypocrisy" and "Nazis" marks him as a total clown.


Left Side of the Aisle #101 - Part 2

Congressional Progressive Caucus budget

For at least the third year in a row, the Congressional Progressive Caucus produced a proposed federal budget. For the third year in a row, it was one that reduced the deficit as much as or even more than either the GOPper one or the official Dem one and did so without going after Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or any other domestic program; indeed it improved them.

And for the third time in a row, despite or in fact because of its merits, it went down to crushing defeat, this time by a vote of 84-327. Every GOPper and a majority of Dems voted against it.

So what was in this budget that didn't even deserve to get a majority of the Democrats in the House? Well, it was called the "Back to Work" budget and it focused on economic growth. It proposed $2.1 trillion stimulus and investment package over the next three years, with $700 million in stimulus coming in the first year. The package included $425 billion for infrastructure construction and repair, $340 billion in middle-class tax cuts, a $450 billion public-works program, and $179 billion in state and local aid to relieve the pressure on local budgets.

What would it accomplish? According to analysis, it would create nearly 7 million additional jobs and expand the economy by nearly 6%. It would expand programs on education, clean energy, and jobs, it would improve health care programs, all while protecting not only the Big Three - Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid - but also other programs for the poor and the environment.

How would it pay for this? Largely by raising taxes on the rich (to levels still below that of the Reagan years) and cutting unnecessary military spending. In other words, it would stimulate the economy and cut the deficit by $4.4 trillion by implementing a series of measures on both spending and taxes whose support among the American public ranges from mere majorities to overwhelming.

So of course it was dead on arrival.

Why? Well, why wouldn't it be? The fact that it works, the numbers work, and it's based on policies that the public supports don't count for anything when all the "serious" people, all the pundits and politicos, insist that you just have to go after the dreaded "entitlements" monster.

Don't confuse them with facts and certainly don't expect anything to penetrate their insular alternative to reality. Anything that doesn't attack Social Security and the rest, anything that doesn't involve embracing right-wing talking points about how all our economic problems are the fault of poverty pimps and greedy geezers, anything that dares to suggest that maybe the rich should be paying taxes at the same rate they paid 30 years ago (which is a lower rate than they paid 40 years ago), anything that fails to express the required level of panic about "the deficit crisis," is in their minds by definition "unserious," not worthy of consideration.

"Well," all the media mainstays snipe, "of course it wasn't serious: Everyone knew it wasn't going to pass."

Yes, that's true. It's equally true that everyone knew that Paul Rantin's budget had zero chance, but that didn't stop you first from breathlessly reporting its imminent arrival, then drooling over it with loving strokes and lengthy coverage once it came out. The blunt fact is, there were two main differences between those two budgets: One was a real budget that would have worked and would have improved the lives of millions; the other was a minimally-altered rehash of discredited nonsense that would not have worked and would have improved the lives only of the privileged rich. The other difference was that precisely for that reason, the first budget stood outside what the pundits and politicos have decided is the acceptable range of debate and the latter is inside that same range - again, precisely for that reason: The second budget favors the rich over the poor and the needless over the needy and undercuts the Big Three. That is why the second budget got all that coverage and the first one didn't: It fit the acceptable, the "serious" mold, and reality be damned.

Don't believe me about the coverage? Go to Google news or any other decent news aggregator and do a search. You'll find that links to the Congressional Progressive Caucus budget are, almost without exception, to sources like "The Nation," "In These Times," ThinkProgress, Huffington Post, and similar more or less admittedly liberal outfits. Do the same for Paul Rantin's so-called budget and it's full of links to the New York Times, the Washington Post, the LA Times, the major networks, and so on.

The difference between these budgets and their respective coverage comes down to the difference between the rich and the poor, between the powerful and the powerless.

It's not so much that we have government of, by, and for the rich as it is a case of that the rich get to set the rules: They get to define the terms used in the debate, to define the limits of debate, terms and limits which are then faithfully accepted by their media lackeys and political puppets so that the alternatives of which the public is aware are limited to those acceptable to the rich, the powerful, the elite. They don't need to have a plutocracy. They know that this way, they may lose a few skirmishes, but the trend is all in their favor, as our history of the past 40 or 50 years clearly demonstrates. They don't need to rule openly, in fact they prefer not to. They prefer to sit back, to be the man behind the curtain who we are never supposed to see.

An unhappy footnote to this: Rep. Raul Grijalva, author of the Progressive Caucus budget, called the vote "a good showing," adding "every time we present it, we gain another ten votes." Terrific. At that rate, it will take 14 years to get a majority.


Left Side of the Aisle #101 - Part 1

More good news on same-sex marriage

A bit of good news to start the day. Last week, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law a measure recognizing civil unions for same sex couples in the state. The law takes effect May 1.

In 2006, Colorado became one of the states stampeded by bigotry and fear into adopting an amendment to the state constitution defining marriage as one man and one woman, so the legislature could not adopt a same-sex marriage bill. But there was nothing to prevent the establishment of civil unions that are virtually the same in all respects except for the title.

Colorado thus will join eight states that have civil unions or similar laws; a few more have some form of domestic partnership which provides at least some of the same benefits as a marriage or a civil union. Nine states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage, a number that may increase by two this year.

This of course takes place in the atmosphere of the Supreme Court's consideration of California's Proposition 8, or Prop Hate as it came to be known, and about DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act. Oral arguments took place Tuesday and Wednesday in the face of increasing expressions of public support for same-sex marriage that are threatening to go beyond an outpouring and into a deluge.

In addition to such high-profile voices as Rob Portman and Hillary Clinton, there are lower-profile but still politically-significant voices coming around, including current Sens. Claire McCaskill, Mark Warner, Jay Rockefeller, and Tim Johnson, as well as former senators Bill Bradley, Tom Daschle, Christopher Dodd, and Alan Simpson. The latter four submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in support of same-sex marriage. Significantly, those four, along with Warner and Rockefeller, all voted for DOMA when it was before the Senate in 1996.

Meanwhile, the American Academy of Pediatrics has declared support for marriage equality for all consenting adults as, it said, a way of providing long-term security and benefits for their children. It also endorsed full adoption and foster care rights for all parents, regardless of sexual orientation.

And the American Sociological Association has declared that children in same-sex households do just as well as those in opposite-sex ones, thus rejecting one of the arguments used against same-sex marriages. In the course of that, it specifically and by name repudiated a junk science effort published last year which claimed - falsely - to have proved that an opposite-sex couple is the gold standard for child welfare.

By the way, the AMA endorsed same-sex marriage over 18 months ago, saying such a ban is “discriminatory” and leads to disparities in health care that hurt both families and children.

Standing against this tide, we have people like retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss, who expressed his staunch opposition to same-sex marriage last week, saying, quoting, "I’m not gay. So I’m not going to marry one." That's a statement which I doubt is going to leave too many broken hearts in its wake.

Now, there is no particular reason to think the members of the reactionary wing of the Supreme Court will remove their ideological blinders long enough to take any more note of changing public opinion than they have of precedent of precedent in previous decisions, but on the other hand it has long been said that the members of the Court read the polls  and it's certainly possible to wonder how many of them are prepared to leave a legacy of standing on the wrong side of history, to wonder how many want to be remembered by history for being part of the Dred Scott v. Sandford or the Plessy v. Ferguson of this generation.

It will also be interesting to see how Chief Justice John Roberts reacts to the various friend of the court briefs filed by right-wing groups, which generally use a narrow definition of "family" - a man, a woman, and their biological children - and especially to the statement of John Eastman, chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, who said that adopted children are "the second-best option." John Roberts and his wife have two children - both adopted.


Left Side of the Aisle #101

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of March 28-April 3, 2013

This week:

More good news on same-sex marriage

Congressional Progressive Caucus budget

Clown Award: Plymouth County Sheriff Joe McDonald

Iraq at 10

Monday, March 25, 2013

One last time

Okay, I just posted my response to a libertarian. He responded with a new post on his site, addressing - or at least pretending to address - some of what I said.

So one more round. I hope to put an end to this now, because I've been on this merry-go-round many many times before and I'm tired of hearing the same old arguments and the same old talking points and the same old self-centeredness that I heard my gosh 30 or 40 years ago. A whole new generation of libertarians without a single new idea.

Anyway, following is the comment I posted at his site. The quotes from his post are added here for context, so that you should be able to follow the argument without reading his entire post, but the link is above in case you feel you "have to" read the whole thing or think you need additional context. With that and the additional note that, as I expect is obvious, his quotes are the ones in italics, here it is:

Briefly (at least relatively) and as a final word so as not to be a "troll," even though it's not always the commenters who are the trolls:

[H]e assumes that as an advocate of the free-market I’m primarily “afraid of somebody taking [my] stuff.”  ... I’m most decidedly a member of the 99%. 

I never said you were part of the 1%; I never even vaguely hinted at it. What I said was that your primary interest was in protecting your "stuff" and that such protection was what for you defined the concept of justice. Nothing you say here gives me any reason to change that judgment.

I am a WHAM (white heterosexual able-bodied male), and as such do not suffer from some of the disadvantages Lotus cites. True, but beside the point.

Except for some infirmities of advancing age, I am also a WHAM. The relevance of identity has to do with being able to connect on some emotional level, some level of actual awareness, not just philosophically or intellectually, with those who have faced (and still face) challenges which you have (and do) not. (It's called "empathy." Look it up.) I have met and known many libertarians (no exaggeration). I have known many who were, like me, working class. I have known many who could have used some help. But I have never met one who was in the position of actually needing help of a sort that was not immediately and freely available from a friend or a family member; that is, help beyond that available via a phone call or a knock on a door. And I have yet to meet one who can conceive of such need existing. I say it is that failure that defines the libertarian mind.

Do I know how it feels to be a poor black?  No, but Herman Cain does, and I doubt Lotus would listen to him, either.

As for Herman Cain, I have heard him. And I congratulate him on his rags-to-riches story - but it would matter a lot more if he used that story as anything more than a self-promoting rhetorical device, if instead he used it to remind himself and others of the people who grew up around him who worked just as hard and just as long as he did but didn't get nearly as far (or, perhaps, anywhere). Yes, yes, yes, hard work matters in success - but so does luck, and to a far greater extent than most of us are prepared to admit.

If I’ve adequately demonstrated I’m not part of the 1%, then I become one of their stooges....

I said nothing about you being a "stooge." I suggest you stop trying to put words in my mouth; I guarantee you I won't swallow them. I did say that your "principles" consist of "me and mine and I have no obligation of any sort to anyone else." Again, you give me no reason to change my mind about that.

I readily admit that the “‘have to’ thing” is a rhetorical framing device, and an effective one at that. ... If I want to do something, and you’ll shoot me if I do it, you’re using force to stop me.  Lotus never refutes or denies this. ... You can make the case that you have the right to make me do something for my own good, to please God, or to make me do something for somebody else, but in each of these cases, you’re arguing that you have the right to make me.

The “‘have to’ thing” is an "effective" device only because, as I said, it's easy to win an argument when you get to define the meaning of all the terms. Of course I didn't deny that "If I want to do something, and you’ll shoot me if I do it, you’re using force to stop me," because the statement is trivial, the observation banal. You don't respond to my argument, you merely cite it, then ignore it and just repeat your previous claim at greater length. The point, again, is that you allow for no meaning of "have to" other than force. There are no moral "have to"s, no ethical "have to"s, no "I have to do this even though I don't want to because it's just the right thing to do, dammit"s, no social obligations (a word with which, as I said, libertarians seem singularly unfamiliar) of any sort, no demands of conscience to restrict or direct behavior. Is there anything you do because if you didn't, you couldn't live with yourself? Is there anything you refrain from doing for the same reason? Answer "yes" to either of those questions and you are admitting that your limitation of "have to" to "outside force" is wrong. Answer "no" and you brand yourself the "monster" to which you jokingly referred.

I have said before, I say again now: Libertarianism is nothing but an intellectualized justification for selfishness and lack of concern with the welfare of others. One more time, nothing you have written here has given me any reason to alter that judgment.

As a sort of PS, here is a question I hope you will address as part of that upcoming post: I think we agree that society as a whole, acting through government, has a responsibility to protect the "stuff" of the members of that society, that is, to protect them against crime (avoiding for the moment the philosophical argument about how what constitutes "crime" is a creation of that society). Can that same society, as a condition of providing that protection, require anything of those same members? Can it legitimately say they "have to" do something or not do something? (Note that "Yes, it can require them not to commit crimes" is not an answer because that is included in the universal protection already agreed and so is merely a restatement of the original premise.)

To put it differently, I assume you believe in contracts and that it's proper and reasonable for each party to "have to" live up to their part of the bargain. Can society as a whole, as part of the social contract, legitimately tell an individual member that "in exchange for the protections you are given, you must do such-and-so even if you don't want to?" If yes, what is the objection to "have to?" If no, why not? Why can people make demands on society while denying any necessity of offering anything in return?

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Debating "first principles" when only one side has any

Daisy over at her blog Dead Air provided a link to what she called an "in-depth 'first principles' (Right vs Left) political discussion." It was her against a couple of libertarians, as it turned out. I started to write a comment about it at her place but it got so long I just moved the whole thing here instead. (You can check the link to see the whole exchange, although it's not necessary in order to follow what I say here.)

I looked at her debate with the libertarians. Not all of it, I admit; I simply no longer have the patience to deal with that sort of nonsense and have long since abandoned efforts to be polite in the face of smirking justifications for selfishness. I also could not/would not have remained as polite as she did. But I did have some reactions.

I'll note first that the blogger's handle is Martel, which, lacking knowledge, I'm assuming is a male name, so I'll use "he" and "him."

His supposedly crushing argument against "lefties" is to ask why he has to support the poor and on getting answers like some are not as lucky as you, need, circumstances, and so on, he says "Those are all good reasons why I should support the poor. But why do I have to?" That question, he says, produces only silence.

Well, Daisy wrote an answer and he insisted that yes, yes, that's all well and good, but it doesn't answer the question: Why do I have to support the poor?

That's the point where I'm starting because instead of dealing with the supposed content of his argument, such as it is, I want to look at the actual structure of it.

Note, that is, the restricted use of the phrase "have to." All meanings referring to acting based on moral or ethical standards or social obligation or even logical self-interest have been ruled out in advance. The only meaning for the phrase which is allowed refers to some use of force.

So in essence, the argument translates to "I can do whatever I want and if you say I 'have to' do something I don't want to, you are [his words] 'either a fool or a tyrant.' QED." Any response which does not accept that premise, i.e., which does not accept at the start that Martel is correct, lies outside the scope of the argument as defined and so does not "answer the question."

It's a somewhat clever bit of rhetorical trickery - but it's insubstantial, without weight or merit. It is, after all, easy to win an argument when you get to define the terms used such that "heads I win, tails you lose" are the only possible outcomes. Again, it may be clever - but it does not constitute logical argument.

More significantly in terms of actual meaning, there was in the course of the discussion a lot of talk about "rights" and about "individual rights" and about how "the purpose of government is the protection of individual rights." But again, just as in the case of "have to," the extent of what is covered by the term "individual rights" is curiously restricted - restricted, that is, to those areas where libertarians feel they might be personally impacted. (Which, on second thought, means the restriction is not "curious" at all.)

So, for example, in their minds you have an "individual right" to have the government protect your property and so they have no problem with the concept of "government force" to protect them from, for example, crime. On the other hand, because they're not poor and they're not hungry and they're not homeless and they're not the targets of bigotry and they don't see themselves as becoming such, there is to their mind no "right" to be protected against or at least receive some relief from any of those conditions and so any government attempt to do so is "illegitimate force," even "tyranny."

Put another way, any use of any sort of "force," physical or otherwise, such that they "have to" contribute to some end which they do not see as benefitting them personally is anathema. To them, society as a whole and government more particularly are required to protect the interests that libertarians endorse, but that same society and government are not allowed to define "interests" in any other way. (Which, parenthetically, means they reject the founding document of the United States, since the Preamble to the Constitution says among the purposes of the government being created is "promot[ing] the general welfare.") Which, when you come right down to it, means advocating the "freedom" to not care about the interests of anyone else. More bluntly, the freedom to be a sociopath.

Of course, they would never put it that bluntly and doubtless would proclaim their great offense at the term, but the fact remains that instead of government programs, instead of any sort of social obligations, a word with which they seem singularly unfamiliar, they demand instead that all rely on "voluntary charity" and "competition," insisting despite an historical record of centuries of failure that these "incentives" will miraculously create the best of all possible worlds. In fact, centuries? We don't have to go back nearly that far in our own country: Jabob Riis' How the Other Half Lives was published in 1890; Lewis Hine's best known work was in 1908-1909. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men came out in 1941; "Harvest of Shame" was first broadcast in 1960; The Other America was published in 1962. Hey, libertarians and other assorted right wingers: That is what happens when you rely on "competition" and "the free market." That is the record. So cut the crap: We know what you're actually about.

So here's my challenge to you: If "competition" is so terrific, if "voluntary charity" is the answer to all social problems, if "freedom" is the highest goal, why not do away with all criminal laws, all police? Seriously. Wouldn't that create "incentives" for people to "compete" for the best solution, a solution that did not involve the government "forcing" you to do something? Wouldn't that lead to "the survival of the fittest?" Wouldn't it avoid the horrors of collective action (except, of course, for the "voluntary" sort now commonly referred to as "gangs" and "vigilantes")? Wouldn't the "best," the "most capable," rise to the top? Isn't that exactly what you espouse for the hungry, the poor, the victimized? Why not do that?

Never mind, we know why: You're not afraid of being hungry. You are afraid of somebody taking your stuff. And to you, having stuff matters more than justice - in fact, to you having stuff defines justice and so frames your entire worldview.

And that's a damn shame.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #100 - Part 13

And Another Thing #5: Astronomers measure spin of supermassive black hole 56 million light-years away

For our final exploration, we star trek out to some 56 million light years away.

I want you to imagine a ball more than two million miles across - that's more than eight times the distance from Earth to the Moon - a ball two million miles across that's spinning so fast that its surface is traveling at nearly the speed of light.

Such an object actually exists: the supermassive black hole at the center of the spiral galaxy NGC 1365. And yes, that is a picture of NGC 1365.

This is the first time anyone has accurately measured the spin of a supermassive black hole, which is the huge kind of black hole that sits at the centers of galaxies, including our own Milky Way.

A black hole is an object where so much mass is concentrated in such a small volume that the gravity is so great that nothing, no even light, can escape. In fact, for a supermassive black hole, this gravity is so strong that, as the black hole spins, it literally drags spacetime around with it. It's called frame dragging.

As material spirals in toward the black hole, it accelerates and the friction among particles that results generates so much energy that it produces a stream of x-rays. As a result of the distortion of spacetime, the material can get closer to the black hole before being lost - so by seeing where the x-rays are coming from, astronomers can measure the black hole’s spin.

Why do they go through all this? Well, for one thing, just two numbers define a black hole: its mass and its spin. If you know those two numbers, you can know everything there is to be known about that black hole. More importantly, a black hole’s spin gives clues to its past - and therefore by extension, in the case of a supermassive back hole, the evolution of the galaxy in which it sits.

In other words, astronomers measure the spin of a supermassive black hole 56 million light years away because it can help us to understand how galaxies form. And that is just cool.


Left Side of the Aisle #100 - Part 12

And Another Thing #4: Curiosity finds chemicals for life on Mars

Taking our explorations from the sea out into space, we come to Mars, where NASA's Curiosity rover has carried out an analysis of a rock sample it recently collected - an analysis that shows that in its ancient past, Mars could have supported living things. Perhaps only microbes, but living things.

In the words of Michael Meyer, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program,
A fundamental question for this mission is whether Mars could have supported a habitable environment. From what we know now, the answer is yes.
I'm sure you heard about this, but it's worth mentioning here for a reason beyond the basic coolness factor. Let's be clear: First, Curiosity did not find life on Mars. Second, this doesn't mean there ever was life on Mars. Third, what is does mean is that the physical and chemical conditions that would allow for life were available on Mars, at least in the distant past.

Is there life anywhere out there? We don't know. But it does seem that every discovery we make - especially in light of the fact that there are now nearly 1000 known planets outside our solar system and NASA's Kepler mission has discovered about 3000 more possible planets to be checked out adn we've barely started looking - it seems that every discovery we make, even as it doesn't prove there is life elsewhere, keeps on increasing the chances for it.


Left Side of the Aisle #100 - Part 11

And Another Thing #3: Viking sunstones

Okay, this just is something I think is cool.

The 13th-century Viking saga of Saint Olaf referred to sunstones, special crystals Vikings used, so says the saga, to navigate under less-than-sunny skies. But none have ever been found at a Viking archaeological site, so it was the stuff of speculation and myth.

However, it turns out that a crystal uncovered in the wreck of an Elizabethan warship that sank near the Channel Islands in 1592 could help prove they did indeed exist. The crystal was found less than 3 feet from navigational tools, suggesting it was kept with them. A chemical analysis has confirmed that the stone is Icelandic Spar, or calcite crystal.

The thing is, Icelandic spar is “birefringent,” which means, simply, that if you look through it you'll see a double image, as you may see in the picture. But if the crystal is held in just the right position, the double image becomes a single image and when that happens you know the crystal is pointing east-west. These refractive powers remain even in low light, even when it's foggy, even when it's cloudy, even in twilight, even when the Sun is just below the horizon.

Today, the particular crystal found in the shipwreck would be useless for navigation, because it has been abraded by sand and clouded by magnesium salts. But in good condition, in 1592, especially considering that was a time when European sailors hadn't fully mastered the vagaries of magnetic compasses, the crystal might have been used as a double-check to help correct for errors.

Again, no such crystals have been found yet at Viking sites - which might not be surprising since the Vikings often cremated their dead. But recent excavations have turned up calcite fragments at a Viking settlement, proving some people in the Viking age were employing Iceland spar crystals for something.


Left Side of the Aisle #100 - Part 10

And Another Thing #2: FCC proposes free nationwide wifi

We have another "And Another Thing-good news hybrid."

The Federal Communications Commission, the FCC, has advanced a proposal to create a super wifi network - a nationwide, public, wifi network. It would make free long-range wifi available in almost all urban areas and a lot of rural ones.

There is a downside: There would be no one, no corporation or government agency, managing the network it so it could get overwhelmed, especially in more populated areas, bringing connection speeds in those areas to a crawl - kind of like Route 3 on a summer Friday evening.

But if implemented, it not only would bring internet and wireless access to people who have trouble affording current costs, but for a lot of casual users, it could replace their corporate carrier service entirely - which is why of course the corporate giants of the wireless industry despise the idea and want the government to sell that portion of the spectrum to them instead of opening it to the public, the better for them to keep raking in the big bucks.

But thing of it: free, nationwide, public wifi. That's the kind of thing government should be doing.


Left Side of the Aisle #100 - Part 9

And Another Thing #1: Billboard produces fresh water from the air

Our first two items under And Another Thing are actually sort of "And Another Thing-good news hybrids."

The first takes us to Lima, Peru, which you probably don't know, at least I didn't know, is set on a desert. In fact, it's the world's second largest capitol that is set on a desert. It gets only about 1/2" of rain per year. Peru as a whole gets about 2" a year. So getting fresh, pure water is a constant problem.

The billboard in the picture is an answer. It was designed by folks at Peru's University of Technology and Engineering and it takes advantage of the fact that the local humidity is about 98%. It uses reverse osmosis to literally suck the water out of the air. It gathers it, stores it, and delivers it at a standpipe at the bottom of the structure.

In its first three months of operation it has produced nearly 9500 liters - that's about 2500 gallons - of clean water. That's enough, the university says, to meet the monthly water needs of hundreds of families.

Some folks are now hoping even to have one such structure in every village.

It could hardly have come at a better time: Residents of Peru depend on yearly melt from Andean glaciers for fresh water - and due to global warming, those glaciers have shrunk between 30 and 50 percent since the 1970s.


Left Side of the Aisle #100 - Part 8

Hero Award #2: Bradley Manning in his own voice

The other Hero Award, very quickly.

Last week I said I was giving Bradley Manning a Hero Award, a very well-deserved one. This week I wanted to formalize that, using as an opening to do so the fact that an audio recording of the statement he made to the military court has been made available to the Freedom of the Press Foundation. They don't know who did it or how they did it, but they have it, they have verified it, and now they have released it. A link to it is at my website. [See below.]

To appreciate this, you've got to realize the restrictions on covering his court-martial. Among the rules governing the trial are ones that bar not only all video or audio recordings of the proceedings, but even taking any photographs of Manning. You can't even get a transcript of what is said in court.

What all that means is that this is our first chance actually to hear Bradley Manning in his own voice. Use it.


The link to the recording of Manning's statement:

Left Side of the Aisle #100 - Part 7

Hero Award #1: Croatian-Serb kiss

The Hero Award, given as the occasion arises to someone who in some way, big or small, just does the right thing.

In Mostar, Bosnia-Herzegovina, there is a branch of the United World College. The branch was founded in 2006 with the explicit aim of contributing to the reconstruction of a post-conflict society. The students represent about 40 different nationalities.

Earlier this month, students were marching through Mostar, carrying flags in a sort of celebration of multiculturialism. Among the marchers was a young Croatian woman who was holding hands with her Serbian boyfriend. An old woman demanded of her how she could dare to walk next to a Serb.

She answered by kissing him.

A Reddit user with the screenname EvolvedBacteria, who took the picture, said that it showed that "For us, here in Mostar, the new generations are not willing to continue a war of minds."

Hope spring eternal.


Left Side of the Aisle #100 - Part 6

Good News #6: Nancy Pelosi questions Keystone XL pipeline

I’ve talked about the Keystone XL pipeline, the one proposed to carry tar sands, the dirtiest, most polluting way to produce heavy oil there is, from Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas. Environmentalists and others concerned about the environment and especially about climate change have opposed the project.

Now it has a new and surprising person expressing real reservations: Nancy Pelosi.

During a press briefing last week, she said she found it, her word, “amazing” that advocates of the project claim it would create tens of thousands of jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

She went on to say that  “The oil is for export and the jobs are nowhere near that.”

It seems I’m saying "right on" to some unexpected people of late. First Rand Paul and now Nancy Pelosi. What is the world coming to?


Left Side of the Aisle #100 - Part 5

Good News #5: Occupy protesters winning in court

I haven't talked about the Occupy movement of late. They're still out there, the movement is still carrying on; they're just not making a lot of big headlines because a lot of what's going on is at the very local level.

But something that has been happening is that the court cases arising from the first wave of occupations are winding their way through the courts - and the activists keep winning.

For example, in Philadelphia recently, a jury acquitted a dozen activists who had been charged with conspiracy and trespassing for holding a sit-in at a Wells Fargo bank.

In New York, Michael Premo was charged with assaulting an officer in the first of the cases in the city to go to a jury. He was found innocent after video footage proved police lied about the incident and that Premo was the victim, not the assailant.

In Austin, seven Occupy activists faced felony charges for a peaceful act of civil disobedience: They had chained themselves to some piping at the Port of Houston. They had their sentences reduced to time served after it came out that three undercover Austin cops had infiltrated the group and goaded the protesters into the act.

In Chicago, 92 Occupy activists arrested in a raid at Grant Park had their cases summarily dismissed by Judge Thomas Donnelly. He found that the park’s supposed curfew law was enforced rarely and inconsistently, marking the crackdown as an infringement on the protestors' First Amendment rights. 

In Cleveland, two activists who were found guilty of staying overnight in a park won a reversal when the state Court of Appeals found that the conviction ignored their First Amendment rights.

All of this recent success might have inspired Occupy to take on a new case; and for once, the group is not the defendant, but the plaintiff. The folks called Occupy Wall Street’s brain trust, Occupy the SEC, has filed a lawsuit against every top Wall Street federal regulator. The suit alleges that these regulators have violated the law by having failed to enacted the Volcker Rule, a key component of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act, which hoped to put at least some brakes on the banks.


Left Side of the Aisle #100 - Part 4

Good News #4: NSLs held unconstitutional

Last week I mentioned these outrageous, extrajudical, warrantless demands for personal information called National Security Letters, or NSLs.

Early last year, the FBI sent such a secret letter to a phone company demanding that it turn over certain customer records. We don't know what company or what records, because the recipient of such a letter is barred from even revealing they received it.

In this case, the phone company did something almost unheard of: It fought the letter in court. A 2006 amendment to the so-called Patriot Act - which I call the Traitor Act for its impact on privacy and civil liberties - allows such challenges.

However and despite that amendment, the Obama administration, which came into office pledging the most transparent administration ever, replied with a civil complaint charging that the company, by not simply passively obeying and handing over its files, was actually violating federal law by interfering "with the United States' sovereign interests" in national security.

The whole case is a little complex and shrouded in the mists of official secrecy - even now, we don't know the name of the company. For what it's worth, the Wall Street Journal suggests that it is Working Assets, a liberal San Francisco-based telcom which has a wireless service called Credo.

This is what we do know: Using that 2006 amendment, the company is challenging not only the letter but the part of the law that requires its silence, arguing that's a violation of its free speech right. In response, the NoJustice Dept. is arguing the company can't challenge the constitutionality of the law under the amendment and in fact can't challenge it at all because the government has "sovereign immunity" against lawsuits. That's usually applied only in cases seeking monetary damages and if applied in a case like this would essentially ban any Constitutional challenge to any law unless the Executive Branch chose to allow for one.

In light of all that, what's the good news? On March 14, US District Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco struck down sections of federal law that allow for NSLs, declaring that they suffer from "significant constitutional infirmities."

The downside is that she put a hold on the order to allow the government time to appeal and there is a real risk that her decision will be overturned simply because - well, because "national security." You know.

Still, combined with an earlier decision by the the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York that struck down some aspects of the National Security Letters statutes, there is maybe a sign that people - and courts - are starting to think the obsession with "security" has gone too far and are starting to at least try to claw back some of the ground lost. And that is good news.


Left Side of the Aisle #100 - Part 3

Good News #3: Being overweight is not a disease

Good news at least for some of us.

In 1913, the New York Times quoted a medical examiner as describing a particular woman, a particular individual, as "perfect." This woman had by modern calculation a Body Mass Index, of BMI, of 27. But this medical examiner said that in her "physical makeup there is not a single defect." Today a BMI between 25 and 30 is considered overweight. A BMI above 30 is considered obese.

But new research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests they may have had it right in 1913.

The researchers analyzed nearly 100 studies that included nearly three million adults to compare mortality rates among different weight classes. There are three classes of obesity. Only the two highest grades of obesity (people with a BMI above 35) were at greater risk of dying. People in the overweight category and obesity Class 1 actually did a little better than those in the "normal" weight category.

That is, people who are classified as overweight or moderately obese actually experienced a slightly reduced mortality as compared to those in the "normal," the "healthy," weight class. The difference wasn't huge, but it was there.

All of which goes to prove - again - that despite what we hear, despite what we get told, being overweight is not itself a health condition. Is it not itself a sickness.


Left Side of the Aisle #100 - Part 2

Good News #2: Maryland repeals death penalty

The Maryland General Assembly has voted to repeal the state's death penalty. The bill now goes to Gov. Martin O'Malley, who has long pushed for such a ban and will surely sign it.

The bill did not come out of nowhere. There have been previous attempts at repeal, the creation of a commission to study this issue - the panel came out recommending a ban - and moves to tighten the requirements for imposing a death sentence.

Now, they're doing away with it. Maryland thus becomes the 18th state in the nation and the sixth in the past few years to end the death penalty. (Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New Mexico, and New York are the other five.)

Even so, the United States remains the only advanced Western democracy that fails to recognize capital punishment for the race- and class-based violation of human rights which it is. Look at the map.

Countries in blue - there are a hundred of them - have abolished the death penalty. Those in the ugly greenish color impose it only under exceptional circumstances, such as crimes committed in wartime. Those in gold have abolished it in practice: It may still be on the books, but they haven't executed anyone for at least 10 years.

And then there are those, such as us, in the reddish-brown. I want you to look at that map and notice the other countries we are aligning ourselves with on this.

We should be ashamed.

However, to end on an up note, the fact is, the death penalty is fading away in most of the US: The Death Penalty Information Center said death sentences in the US have declined by 75% and executions by 60% since the 1990s.


Left Side of the Aisle #100 - Part 1

Good News #1: Same-sex marriage advances

Our first bit of good news comes from the area where most of the good news seems to come from these days: same-sex marriage.

According to a study by LifeWay Research, a Nashville, TN polling firm with ties to the Southern Baptist Convention, 64% of American adults believe legalized same-sex marriage in the US is inevitable. That doesn't mean they support it, but they do think it's going to happen.

And there is increasing evidence that those people are right. An ABC News/Washington Post poll released March 18 found 58% of Americans now believe marriage should be legal for same-sex couples, while just 36% oppose it. That's a new high in ABC/WaPo's polling and an almost 180 degree turn-around from just 10 years ago. Other polls haven't found support to be quite that high, but there are a number showing support in the range of 52, 53, 54 percent.

As you might expect, the poll found large majorities of Democrats and independents back same-sex marriage, but what was interesting was that even among GOPpers, it was supported by a majority - a small majority, but still a majority - of those under the age of 50.

Nine states and the District of Columbia have already legalized same-sex marriage. Eleven more states allow some form of civil unions or domestic partnerships. The Illinois Senate recently passed a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in the state, and prospects are considered fair to good that the bill will become law. Meanwhile, in Minnesota, bills for same-sex marriage have passed the required committees in the House and Senate and await floor votes, which won't come for a while. The bills still face opposition, but sponsors say they are confident of passage and Gov. Mark Dayton has already said he'll sign such a bill.

A couple of quick footnotes:

One, the Green Street United Methodist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, has issued a moving statement announcing that it will stop performing straight weddings until same-sex marriage is legalized in North Carolina.

And two, why do I keep saying this is one area where we can be sure justice will come? In that same ABC/Washington Post poll, among people aged 18-to-29, 81% favor recognizing same-sex marriage. All we have to do is wait for the old fogeys to die off.

Oh, one last thing: The house in the picture is directly across the street from the headquarters of the Westboro Baptist Church.


Left Side of the Aisle #100 - Inrto to #100

This week will be a little different: This is not only the 100th show for "Left Side of the Aisle," it's being recorded on the first full day of spring. So we’re going to celebrate by foregoing any ranting denunciations of the evil-doers of the world and focus on good stuff: We've got several bits of good news, a couple of Hero Awards, and some cool science stuff under our occasional feature And Another Thing.

There are some things that should be discussed but are going to be put off for the sake of our little celebration:

For one, March 19 was the 10th anniversary of the start of the Iraq War. That definitely calls for some consideration.

Then there is the matter of the stomach-turning cowardice on the part of the Democratic leaders in the Senate, who are going out of their way to avoid requiring or expecting the members of their party to show the least bit of courage on the issue of guns.

And there is the federal budget proposed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which has probably already been voted down by the time you see this; it was, after all, considered dead on arrival. Y'see, it sharply cuts the deficit, but it was regarded as “unserious” by the pundits and politicos because it does it without attacking Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or other domestic programs.

We’ll get to all that but this week we want to have our little celebration. So here it is.

Left Side of the Aisle #100

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of March 21-27, 2013

This week:
Good News #1: Same-sex marriage advances

Good News #2: Maryland repeals death penalty

Good News #3: Being overweight is not a disease

Good News #4: NSLs held unconstitutional

Good News #5: Occupy protesters winning in court

Good News #6: Nancy Pelosi questions Keystone XL pipeline

Hero Award #1: Croatian-Serb kiss

Hero Award #2: Bradley Manning in his own voice

And Another Thing #1: Billboard produces fresh water from the air

And Another Thing #2: FCC proposes free nationwide wifi

And Another Thing #3: Viking sunstones

And Another Thing #4: Curiosity finds chemicals for life on Mars

And Another Thing #5: Astronomers measure spin of supermassive black hole 56 million light-years away

Friday, March 15, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #99 - Part 8

Outrage of the Week: Death by drone?

You surely know about Sen. Rand Paul's "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" 13-hour filibuster against the nomination of John Brennan to head the CIA. My own response was to say that I never thought the words "right on, Rand Paul" would ever cross my lips, but there they were. As Cenk Uygur of the Young Turks put it, "Just because I disagree with Rand Paul on 90% of issues, does that mean I have to disagree with him on the other 10%?" Or, as an old saying I like goes, "If it's the truth, what does it matter who said it?"

I could not, any still can't, imagine why lefties were supposed to be supporting a man who was involved in either bungling or deliberately distorting intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq War, endorsed torture, and is the architect of Obama's drone policy, which he defended as "ethical and just."

Still, while Brennan was the target of the filibuster, it's purpose was to force the White House to give a direct answer to the question of if Obama is claiming to have the authority to use lethal military force against Americans on American soil without any sort of due process or oversight. In the case of Anwar al-Awlaki, he had already claimed that power in the case of Americans abroad. Given that the NDAA provides for the authority to imprison anyone suspected of being "a part of or [having] substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces," whatever "substantially supported" and "associated forces" might mean, any such person can be imprisoned indefinitely without trial or charge. Given those two things, the question naturally arose of what are the limits of authority, indeed are there any. Three years ago, when Awlaki was killed, I asked with that bright red line, the killing of an American citizen far from any battlefield without due process, with that bright red line having been crossed, what was the impenetrable barrier to doing the same thing at home?

Paul was demanding an answer to that question. Unfortunately, he never got one.

Despite the blather and bluster of the supposedly liberal pundits and bloggers, all those who have shown themselves every bit as much prisoners of the desire for partisan gain as is the right wing, despite all those who mocked Paul - and I'm looking at you, Lawrence O'Donnell and David Corn and Ed Shultz - despite all those "liberal" members of the Senate who brushed it all off as a distraction or a sideshow - and I'm looking at you, Max Baucus and Claire McCaskill and Carl Levin and Bernie Sanders - despite all of that and contrary to what a lot of them claimed and the media echoed, Attorney General Eric Holder did not disclaim presidential authority to kill Americans on American soil.

The claim that he did arose from a snarky letter Holder sent to Rand Paul during the filibuster. It read, in full,
It has come to my attention that you have now asked an additional question: "Does the President have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?" The answer to that question is no.
Even Paul declared victory, but I suspect that he did so more to give himself an out for the filibuster, a way to back out without backing down, than for any real feeling of victory. Because, as I've been saying to anyone who will listen, the key phrase in that note is "not engaged in combat." Have we forgotten how slippery the notion of "combat" has become?

Glenn Greenwald, who is a constitutional attorney and writer, noted that
The Awlaki assassination was justified on the ground that Awlaki was a "combatant", that he was "engaged in combat", even though he was killed not while making bombs or shooting at anyone but after he had left a cafe where he had breakfast. If the Obama administration believes that Awlaki was "engaged in combat" at the time he was killed - and it clearly does - then Holder's letter is meaningless at best, and menacing at worst, because that standard is so broad as to vest the president with exactly the power his supporters now insist he disclaimed.
Remember that the NDAA essentially defines anyone who "was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces" - again, whatever those terms mean - but such a person was defined as being "engaged in hostilities against the United States." And be aware that in his answer, Holder omitted an important qualifier in Rand's question: Rather than asking about "an American not engaged in combat on American soil," he asked about "an American not actively engaged in combat on American soil." [My emphasis.] I'll leave it to you to decide if ignoring that particular adverb was deliberate or not.

One other thing here: this has nothing to do with Obama's intention or desire to use drones or other means of assassination against citizens at home. He may have no desire to do it, he may refuse to do it if the situation arose. That's not the issue. The issue is the authority: not whether or not he would use it but whether or not he has it. Because even if you say, as some liberal pundits I have seen have said, "I trust this president," do you trust every future president?

The Obama administration has not specifically declared that he has the authority to kill Americans on American soil who he suspects are members of or "substantially supported" al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or "associated forces" and do it with no due process or oversight, with no check on his power. It has not specifically declared he does have that authority - but it has gone considerably out of its way to avoid saying he does not.

Make of that what you will; I consider it - and remember, all this, all this, is without even considering the whole drone program itself, the whole kill from the safety of your bunker program, the whole it doesn't matter how many innocents die as long as it's not us program, even without considering any of this but only just how unlimited this president thinks his power is, even without considering the rest, this is still an outrage.

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