Friday, April 26, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #105 - Part 8

Hero Award: Cameron Lyle

I'm going to end up this week with something to lighten the news a little. It's our Hero Award, given as the occasion arises to someone who just does the right thing.

Cameron Lyle is a senior at the University of New Hampshire. He had been competing in track and field and hoped to compete in the shot put at the American East Championship.

He won't. He will miss the last two meets of his college athletic career - because on April 24 he will be in the hospital to donate bone marrow to a complete stranger.

Lyle had his mouth swabbed two years ago, during his sophomore year. Many UNH athletes were being encouraged to join the bone marrow registry. A few months ago he got a call from the National Marrow Donor Program telling him he might be a match. A few weeks ago, it became clear that he was.

So he had a decision: Was he going to finish his season or was he going to maybe save someone’s life. He said it was a no-brainer.

The recipient, who by law must remain anonymous to Lyle for at least a year, is a 28-year-old male who is suffering from acute lymphoblastic leukemia. He had been given six months to live and this could buy him a couple more years.

Thank you, Cameron Lyle, for making this week a little brighter than it otherwise would have been.


Left Side of the Aisle #105 - Part 7

More on the Boston bombings

More about Boston. First, I'll note that the number of people reported injured has risen to 260, some of them quite seriously - but all are expected to survive, so the death toll will remain at a tragic but happily low three.

So how did what I said last week stand up to a week's additional knowledge? I got some stuff right and some stuff wrong. For one thing, the lack of a clear political motive in the target and the absence of any claim of responsibility suggested to me that this was not an act of foreign terrorism and so I suspected it would turn out to be a case of right-wing terrorism.

Okay, I was wrong: While it wasn't foreign terrorism, neither was it right-wing terrorism. Latest reports say that the accused brothers - Tamarlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev - quoting the as usual "unnamed US officials," were "motivated by religion" or, more exactly, the motive was a desire "to defend Islam from attack," particularly in the cases of US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Those wars have been the motive for other attacks or attempted attacks by Muslim fundamentalists. Let's not forget that those wars have been responsible for the deaths of at least tens of thousands of noncombatants - civilians - including large numbers of children and that a Pentagon report a few years ago concluded, quoting, "Muslims do not ‘hate our freedom,’ but rather, they hate our policies." Such terrorism, that is, is what's classically called "blowback" or, more colloquially, what goes around comes around.

I have to interject something here: Assuming that's correct, that that is the motive, then we should not say the motive is their religion or that they were motivated by their religion. When right-wing Christians firebomb abortion clinics or even murder staff, we don't routinely identify them as right-wing Christians or Christian terrorists, in fact often we don't refer to their religion at all, and we describe their motive as "anti-abortion" or, particularly stupidly in this light, "pro-life." We certainly don't normally refer to their religion as the "motivation" for their crimes. If we do that there, we should do the same here.

Getting back to what I said last week, I think I was right about something else: I recall saying, I know I intended to say, that this would turn out to be the actions of one or two or three people, that it was not part of some larger international or even domestic plot. Which, again if current reports prove to be true, was right: Officials say they acted alone and do not seem connected to any larger groups.

And I was right, unfortunately, about a third thing: I said I hoped it was a right-wing attack because such attacks have less impact on our civil liberties than those from other causes and sources. Already the attack is being used by the right-wing in just that way.

The Obama Justice Department decided to delay giving Dzhokar Tsarnaev a Miranda warning under the "public-safety exception" carved out of the Fifth Amendment by the Supreme Court in 1984. That exception allows police to "briefly" question someone arrested about threats to public safety before being told of their right to remain silent. A classic example would be "Are you carrying any weapons" or "Where did you through the gun." Here, it might be something like "Are there any other bombs planted." The term "briefly" has never been defined but is generally understood to be up to 48 hours.

But that, of course, was not enough for the reactionaries. So we had a collection of right-wing bozos - Sens. Lindsey Graham, John McCain, and Kelly Ayotte and Rep. Peter "Bagman for the IRA" King demanding that Tsarnaev be treated as an "enemy combatant" because "We do not want this suspect to remain silent." Another GOPper, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, echoed the idea. They didn't say exactly how they were going to make sure he did not remain silent; perhaps they figured that New York state Sen. Greg Ball did it for them when he tweeted last Friday night "Who wouldn't use torture on this punk?"

So, that is, they want Tsarnaev, who is a naturalized American citizen who was arrested on American soil for acts committed inside the US and has no known connection to outside groups, to be stripped of his rights, labeled an "enemy combatant," and perhaps tortured. Constitution? What Constitution?

However, to its credit - credit where it's due - the administration resisted the right wing demands on this point. Tsarnaev has been read his rights and will be tried in a civilian court.

Still, that has not prevented the right wing from using the bombing on another front, using it to ramp up xenophobia - that is, fear of foreigners - and taking the occasion to target immigration reform.

There were multiple examples, but the real action was in the Senate, where the Judiciary Committee was holding hearings on a proposed immigration reform bill that the right wingers are trying to slow down or shut down. There, Sen. Chucklehead Grassley declared that yes, the Boston bombings are relevant to immigration legislation because "If these two individuals used our immigration system to assist their attacks, it's important to our ongoing discussion." Recall that Dzohkar Tsarnaev came to the US with his family 10 years ago at the age of 9 seeking asylum from the violence in Dagestan and Chechnya.

Grassley also objected to Committee chair Pat Leahy's statement that the bombings shouldn't be used to "derail the dreams and futures of millions of hardworking people." Grassley fumed that he didn't accuse anyone of using the "Norsetown" [sic] killings as an excuse for gun control and no one is being criticized for pointing to the fertilizer plant explosion in Texas to push for more safety inspections.

Maybe that's because there actually is a connection between gun control and Newtown and between safety inspections and the Texas explosion, you twit.

He later blew up when Sen. Chuck Schumer said that some were using the Boston bombings as an excuse for delaying or blocking an immigration bill.

"I never said that!" he literally shouted. Schumer said he didn't mean Grassley, he meant unnamed others, but a more accurate response would have been "yes, you did. You didn't use those words, but that is precisely what you said."

So, a mixed bag on my predictions. But there is something else I want to raise here: the media coverage of the bombing. I said last week that for the right-wing, the only possible culprits were Muslim terrorists. But frankly, it wasn't only the right wing. Much of the media, while putting up a false front of impartiality, displayed a clear bias well before any facts were established.

For one example, on MSNBC we had Martin Bashir, talking to Roger Cressy, former White House counter-terrorism official and now a "terrorism analyst" for the network. Bashir began by talking about Chechen terrorism, based entirely on the fact that the brothers are from the region. Cressy pushed back, saying "I'm reluctant to call this Chechen terrorism" because - well, because we don't know. Bashir kept pushing - what was Tamarlan Tsarnaev doing when went to Russia in 2012? Haven't people gone abroad, gotten training, and then come here to commit terrorism? Who did Tamarlan Tsarnaev talk to in Russia who may have led to the bombing? Cressy kept saying we don't know enough to draw conclusions. Finally, Bashir gave up.

He then immediately turned to foreign correspondent Richard Engel, and despite all that his own expert had just told him, Bashir went on about Chechnya and how Chechen terrorists are extra, extra bad. Engel happily went along with the hints that the Boston bombing was a Chechen and/or al-Qaeda operation and they went on for eight and a-half minutes of innuendo and fear-mongering.

Then there was NPR, which had a story on its website about "homegrown terrorists." It was not, of course, about the Timothy McVeighs or the bombers of abortion clinics or the KKK or William Krar any other right-wing fanatics, no, of course not. It was about, quoting, "extremists who grow up in America and can fly below the radar of law enforcement." It was about the foreign enemy within!

The article then referred to the Tsarnaev brothers and said, quoting, "they are exactly the kind of recruits that international terrorist groups such as al-Qaida are looking for," and did it without even bothering with the pro forma acknowledgement that no motive had been established and no ties to any foreign group shown.

The New York Times did its part. These are the first three paragraphs of a story on Sunday, April 21 - the first three paragraphs, in full:
With one suspect dead and the other captured and lying grievously wounded in a hospital, the investigation into the Boston Marathon bombings turned on Saturday to questions about the men’s motives, and to the significance of an overseas trip one of them took last year.

Federal investigators are hurrying to review a visit that one of the suspected bombers made to Chechnya and Dagestan, predominantly Muslim republics in the north Caucasus region of Russia. Both have active militant separatist movements. Members of Congress expressed concern about the F.B.I.’s handling of a request from Russia before the trip to examine the man’s possible links to extremist groups in the region.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who died early Friday after a shootout with the police in Watertown, Mass., spent six months in Dagestan in 2012, and analysts said that sojourn might have marked a crucial step in his alleged path toward the bombings.
That's how it starts. Five paragraphs later, the article says this:
The brothers’ motives are still unclear. Of Chechen heritage, they had lived in the United States for years, according to friends and relatives, and no direct ties have been publicly established with known Chechen terrorist or separatist groups.
So after spending the first three graphs going on about "the overseas trip" to Chechnya and Dagestan and how those are "Muslim republics" with "active militant separatist movements" and about Tamerlan Tsarnaev's "possible links to extremist groups" and how his "sojourn" there "might have marked a crucial step" toward the bombings, in the eighth graph it gets around to saying for the first time that we don't know the motive for the bombings and the brothers had no demonstrated ties to terrorist or separatist groups. That is how our "paper of record" did it.

And we wonder why people are misinformed.


Left Side of the Aisle #105 - Part 6

Outrage of the Week: guns

That brings us right to our Outrage of the Week.

Don't say that no gun legislation passed the Senate.

You can't say that, oh no, you can't. The day after the expanded background check was shot down, a reference chosen quite deliberately, the Senate passed a provision that would penalize states and localities that reveal data on gun licenses and permits or locations of gun owners by taking away five percent of their federal funds aimed at support of local police departments. It passed 67 to 30.

And that's not the only thing that's been done, oh no. Congress has been busy. Earlier this year, four "riders," provisions attached usually to appropriations bills and which have to be renewed every year, were made permanent.

One now-permanent provision bars the ATF from shutting down gun stores due to “due to a lack of business activity,” which is regarded as a sign of criminal sales.

Another bars any federal law that would require gun retailers to do an inventory of their own stock of guns and submit the results as a means of determining whether any weapons have been lost or stolen.

A third requires that the ATF must say with any report concerning its tracing of guns back to crime that such "trace data" “cannot be used to draw broad conclusions about firearms-related crime.” That provision is there because trace data has been used in studies that proved that several gun control regulations did in fact prevent the spread of guns to criminals - and the gun industry doesn't want anyone to know that.

The fourth now-permanent provision creates a broadened definition of "antique" guns and ammunition, which can be imported into the US with few restrictions and which are exempt from background checks.

All that's in addition to renewing riders that effectively prevent the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from researching gun violence.

So yes, Congress has been busy - busy licking the boots of the merchants of death and their court jesters. It's an outrage.


Left Side of the Aisle #105 - Part 5


On Wednesday, April 17, as I'm sure you know, The Senate failed to break a right-wing filibuster of the proposal for expanded background checks for gun purchases. The vote was 54-46* - a majority supported it, but it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster.

This expansion was something that various polls repeatedly showed was endorsed by literally overwhelming numbers of Americans - 85%, 90%, even 91% in one poll.

Vast majorities of Democrats support it. Vast majorities of independents support it. Vast majorities of Republicans support it. Even vast majorities of gun-owning households supported it. But none of that mattered as long as the NRA, the Nutzoid Rabbit-brains of America, the mouthpiece of the gun industry, said no.

I am beyond anger about this, beyond outrage. I am in the realm of cold fury.

On a per-capita basis, we are the most heavily-armed country in the world, with 90 guns for every 100 citizens. Yemen comes in a very distant second, with 61 guns per 100 citizens. The US is not only the world's largest manufacturer of guns it is also the world's largest importer of guns. In 2011, there were over 6.5 million guns made in the US and more than 3 million more imported.

But that's not enough for the merchants of murder and mayhem. They want more and they chuckle over the blood and the carnage and the gore because they figure it will just frighten a few more people into buying their own little death machine in the utterly false belief it will provide for their security.

And what did we hear in the wake of the vote, what did we hear from the liberal media? Excuses for the Democrats who voted no! Oh, we were told, they're in red states! They're facing tough re-election campaigns! What else could they do?

You know what? I don't give a damn! I don't even want to hear it. I don't want anyone even hinting to me that trying to limit the slaughter in our streets is less important than whether or not Max Baucus gets to keep his job. I don't anyone even hinting to me that Mary Landrieu can't vote to try to save the lives of those to be caught in the next Columbine, the next Aurora, the next Newtown, because she's scared the NRA might say nasty things about her. Especially don't even try to tell me that when all the liberal excuses just blew up in their faces because Max Baucus just announced he's not running for re-election!

The people who voted this down, the people who opposed stronger controls, are a disgrace and should be regarded by all civilized people as accessories to murder. You people have blood on your hands.

As of April 22, there had been 3,628 death by gun in the US since Newtown, 25 of them in Massachusetts.

Footnote: Apologies to Mary Landrieu, who voted Yes. I just grabbed for the first "red state Democrat facing tough re-election" whose name came to mind at that moment. My bad.

*It actually was 55-45; Harry Reid changed his vote to No at the last minute for the procedural reason that being on the losing end of the vote will allow him to bring the issue up again in this session of Congress.


Left Side of the Aisle #105 - Part 4

RIP Richie Havens

It's been a bad week in a lot of ways. On Monday, April 22, Richie Havens died of a heart attack. He was 72.

His career as a folk singer and guitarist spanned five decades. He started performing in Greenwich Village in New York City during the folk revival of the 1960s. His debut album was released in 1967 and over 40 years and 24 albums later came his last, in 2008. He stopped touring in 2012 because of failing health after earlier kidney surgery.

Stephen Stills described him as “one of the nicest most generous and pure individuals I have ever met."

The event that really made his career, the event with which most people who know of him likely still associate him, was Woodstock. The original Woodstock, the real Woodstock, in 1969. He was scheduled to go on stage fifth, but the immense traffic jams caused by people trying to get to the site resulted in other acts being hours late.

So he went on first - and wound up performing for three hours. So long that he ran out of songs - and wound up ad-libbing a variation on an old folk song called "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child," a variation that became known as "Freedom."

RIP, Richie Havens.


Left Side of the Aisle #105 - Part 3

What the economy needs

I spoke last week about the economic reality we are facing, including that fact that the richest 1% have gotten 121% of all the income gains over the last two years because they got all gains while the rest of us lost ground. I also said that what politicos and pundits across both parties - the GOPpers, the Dems, the White House, everybody - is proposing to do is exactly wrong.

What they're proposing is various degrees of austerity. However they phrase it, however they parse it, however the plead it, that's what they're talking about. They're talking about austerity. About cutbacks. About reductions. About providing less. About having less. They vary in the degree of austerity, they vary in how harsh they would be, but all of them are talking about austerity, about them doing less and us doing without. The keep claiming that this is what will get the economy going again.

That is complete nonsense. We need to stimulate the economy, not rein it in. Early in his administration, Obama had a stimulus plan, but when push came to shove, he of course chickened out and wound up pushing a package that was half of what was needed and a lot of that was in the form of tax cuts of type that were not going to stimulate anything. Economists predicted it would not work and guess what, it didn't.

What should be obvious but apparently isn't to our misleaders, if you want to stimulate the economy, if you want it to get moving, get growing, you've got to stimulate economic activity, stimulate the buying and selling of stuff. If you have something want to sell, you need people with the money to spend on buying it. If you want to expand the economy, you need more people who want the goods and services that are there to be bought and who have the money to buy them; that is, you need greater consumer demand. Consumer demand remains the big driver of the economy. And there is only one agency in society that can actually create additional demand and that is government - and it can do it by taking money from those who have it and aren't spending it and giving it to those who don't have it and will.

You want to call that redistribution of wealth, yes, fine; you want to call it "soak the rich," go right ahead. The fact remains that if you want to stimulate the economy, that's what you have to do: You have to get more money moving through the economy and the only way to do that is to get more money into the hands of people who need it and will spend it on the things that they need.

Remember what I told you: Corporations are making record profits. They have the money to hire people, but they aren't doing it. Or, to amend that to be more exact, they are hiring people, slowly, but not enough to seriously affect unemployment. The point remains: They could hire but they don't because there is no demand for the work those people would do. Corporations are not going to hire people if they are not going to make a profit on the work those people do.

So what should be do in the short-term? Bluntly, tax the rich. Tax the rich and use the money to fund social services to those in need, to fund Medicaid, Medicare, Food Stamps, TANF (what we used to call welfare); use it to protect the environment, to protectg public and worker safety, use it for consumer protection; use it to fund public sector jobs on infrastructure, use it to pay for schools, hospitals, transportation, and other projects that will provide construction jobs in the short term, maintenance, repair, and professional jobs in the longer term, and valuable social services throughout.

And in the longer term? That’s something I want to talk about more over the coming weeks.

It’s time we faced the hard issue of if in the face of a massive and growing concentration of wealth and the political power it brings in the hands of fewer and fewer people, we have to face the issue of in face of that if a bit more tinkering or a bit more stimulus will suffice - or do we need to face the need to dramatically reshape our economy and more importantly, the way we think about that economy.

And yes, that even involves the dreaded “S” word. But before you rush to reject the idea, you might give some thought to just where that fear comes from and just who it benefits. Because it sure ain’t most of us.

Left Side of the Aisle #105 - Part 2

Update 2: France votes for same-sex marriage

Updated Last week, I told you that the French Senate had passed a bill allowing for same-sex couples in France to get married and to adopt children. Well, now the French National Assembly has also passed the final version of that bill. Same-sex marriages could begin in France as soon as mid-July.

Related to that is a bit of good news: Last week, New Zealand became the 13th nation in the world and the first in the Asia-Pacific region to legalize same-sex marriage. The law goes into effect on August 19.

Progress on this front is also occurring domestically. Several states will be considering bills to allow gay couples to legally marry. Rhode Island’s Senate Judiciary Committee passed its bill yesterday and the vote in the state Senate is happening as I record this. The Assembly has already passed a bill, so the only matter would be reconciliation before it would go to Gov. Lincoln Chafee, who supports it.

Delaware’s state House of Representatives also passed a same-sex marriage bill. That now goes to the state Senate, where a close vote is expected.

Legislatures in Minnesota and Illinois are also debating the issue. In Minnesota, a state senator thought to be a swing vote on the issue has come out in favor of same-sex marriage.

But perhaps the biggest news this week comes out of Nevada. On Monday, April 22, the state Senate voted to repeal an amendment to the state Constitution banning same-sex marriages and replace it with one requiring Nevada to recognize them. This does not change the state Constitution; it's just the first step in doing so. But if this is happening in Nevada, well....

Updated with the news that the Rhode Island Senate passed the bill. It should be re-passed by the House (to deal with some minor changes made in the Senate) and go to Gov. Chafee in a week or two. And then there will be 10.


Left Side of the Aisle #105 - Part 1

Update 1: CISPA passes the House

Updated We're going to start this week with some Updates. First, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, or CISPA, has now passed the House. Forty-two Democrats supported it.

I have mentioned this bill and its serious implications for online privacy. Amendments to address privacy and civil liberties concerns were either defeated or blocked from coming to a vote.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where essentially the same bill died last year - which is to be hoped because despite his threats to do so, there are considerable doubts that President Obama would actually veto this bill. Obama has made similar promises before, which he broke when the time came. So let's hope the Senate does the right thing.

Updated with the info that staffers with the Senate Commerce and Intelligence Committees say that the Senate is not going to take up CISPA and that Committee leaders are drafting their own version of an intelligence-sharing bill. Watch this space.


Left Side of the Aisle #105

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of April 26 - May 1, 2013

Number 105! A new show every week for two years, without a break. And now starting on Year Three. And so we go.

Update 1: CISPA passes the House

Update 2: France votes for same-sex marriage

What the economy needs

RIP Richie Havens


Outrage of the Week: Guns

More on the Boston bombings,0,3803458.story

Hero Award: Cameron Lyle

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Don't give up

Demand action. Don't give up. No, it is not too late, and defeat now does not prevent victory later, not unless we give up. Which is what they want. Yell louder.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #104 - Part 7

The Boston Marathon bombings

Okay. Boston.

I won't bother you with the details, I'm sure you've heard them over and over. Two bombs 100 yards and 10 seconds apart; as of Wednesday morning, three dead, 183 hospitalized, 17 of them in critical condition.

The first and most important thing we have to keep in mind right now after our concern for and sympathies to the dead and injured and their families and friends, is that we do not know who did this or why. As of the time I'm doing this, authorities are saying there have been no arrests and there are no suspects.

We have some idea how it was done: The bombs were fashioned out of simple metal containers, at least one of them an ordinary kitchen pressure cooker. One of them was packed with nails and the other with BBs or ball bearings. They were hidden in black nylon duffel bags or backpacks and left on the ground. They were probably triggered remotely.

The FBI said that debris and evidence were found inside stores and even along the rooftops of buildings in the area, which, officials said, gives you some sense of the power of the blasts.

So that's how. But again, we don't know who or why. There is no obvious target there, no obvious purpose except to kill people.  Late Tuesday afternoon, Richard DesLauriers, special agent in charge of the FBI's Boston office, said "The range of suspects and motives remains wide open." In fact, officials have been admirably cautious, admirably careful to not hint about what they do not know.

In fact, we don't even know if technically, in legal terms, this would be called an act of terrorism. It sure feels like one, and everybody and their relatives are calling it one, and I'm going to call it one, but the US criminal code defines terrorism as "premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets." That is, under criminal law, to be terrorism it has to have a political motive. Reasonably, investigators say that when there are multiple bombs, they treat it as terrorism until they know otherwise. But the point right now is that we don't know the motive here, much less who is responsible.

But that, of course, did not prevent the pundits and politicos from engaging in what one website accurately called the long-standing American tradition of groundless political speculation.

On MSNBC, for example, Chris Matthews suggested a tie-in to the fact that it was April 15, tax day, suggesting a right-wing, anti-government motive. And Charles Pierce of "Esquire" magazine wrote that "nobody knows anything yet" but that people should consider the possibility it was right-wing terrorists.

But to what should have been no one's surprise, it was the right wing that jumped all over this with presumptions and prejudices blazing. For them, it was Muslims, first, last, and always.

Rupert Murdoch's scandal sheet the New York Post (and to show you how old I am, I remember wen the New York Post was a reputable newspaper) reported - falsely - that a Saudi national was being held under guard at a hospital. The report was eagerly seconded by Fox News - which is also owned by Murdoch. They were undeterred by the fact that the Boston police repeatedly denied that any suspect is in custody or under guard.

So the Daily Caller's White House correspondent, Neil Munro, ran with the Post story and illustrated it with a photo montage of the 9/11 hijackers.

Meanwhile, anti-Islam blogger Pam Gellar repeatedly referred to the Boston bombings as a "jihad."

WorldNutDaily columnist and Fox News commentator Erik Rush responded to the news of the bombings by tweeting "Everybody do the National Security Ankle Grab! Let's bring more Saudis in without screening them!" Challenged by someone who asked if he was already blaming Muslims, he replied "Yes, they're evil. Let's kill them all." He later lamely claimed he was being sarcastic, a claim I doubt many people believed.

Bryan Fischer of the right-wing hate group The American Family Association, tweeted in reference to the Post story “Anybody want to rethink Muslim immigration?”

In fact, for them it had to be Muslims - no other possibility was to be allowed. When a CNN analyst was asked to speculate on who might be responsible, he said it would depend on what kind of bomb it was. If it was this kind, he said, it probably was al-Qaeda or some offshoot. If it was this other kind, it may have been some domestic right-wing group. He was slammed by both NewsBusters and, a pair of right-wing outfits that pretend to be about "news," for even mentioning an alternative to the source being Muslim terrorists.

But even beyond the knee-jerk anti-Muslim bigotry of the right wing was Alex Jones, a man who gives "wacko" a bad name, who said the bombings "stink to high heaven" of a false flag operation - that is, one carried out by the government to justify a further erosion of civil liberties. Unhappily, he was joined in that particular paranoia by former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, someone I used to respect before she went all flaky on us, who saw the attack as an inside job by Boston police.

As for me, I have to say that I don't know who did it or why - but I do have a hope. I hope this was a right-wing attack.

I have two reasons for that: One, if it was a right-wing attack we won't go invade or bomb some innocent country which had nothing to do with it, as we did in Iraq. And two, right-wing terrorism just does not get used to launch attacks on civil liberties and privacy the way foreign terrorism does.

So for the sake both of the lives of people in other countries and our own liberties, I hope this proves to be of right wing origin.

And that is a real possibility. There has been no shortage of right-wing terrorism in US in the past few decades, and that's not even counting the bombings of abortion clinics and murder of doctors and nurses, including by serial bomber Eric Rudolph - and yes, that is terrorism because it has the political purpose of trying to put an end to abortion. There is much beyond that.

Figure this: You of course know about the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. But while I bet you do recall the failed so-called "underwear bomber" in 2009 and the failed Times Square bombing in 2010, both of which were tied to Muslim extremism, do you recall ever hearing about the 1997 plot by members of the Ku Klux Klan to blow up a Texas oil refinery, a plot that could have killed up to 30,000 people in the immediate vicinity?

Have you ever heard of William Krar? In 2002 he and two others were arrested in a storeroom in Tyler, Texas - along with 500,000 rounds of ammunition, 65 pipebombs and briefcases that could be detonated by remote control, and 800 grams of almost pure sodium cyanide packed in an ammunition canister next to a variety of acids and bombmaking formulas. Mixed with the appropriate acid, such a cyanide bomb could kill everyone in a 30,000 square foot building. Have you even heard of him?

Look at the picture to the right. What does it suggest to you? Yes, it's a black nylon backpack. The same sort of backpack that might have been used in Boston. But this one didn't come from Boston, it came from Spokane, Washington and it's an FBI photo of a bomb that was packed with lead weights soaked in rat poison and rigged with a remote detonator that was placed on a bench along the route of a Martin Luther King Day parade in January of 2010. FBI officials called it the most destructive device they had ever seen. Kevin Harpham, a white supremacist neo-Nazi, pleaded guilty to placing the bomb. Do you remember him?

Have you even heard of the nearly 40 major conspiracies involving right-wing domestic terrorism that have been uncovered since the Oklahoma City bombing?

So has there been right-wing terrorism in this country? Absolutely yes despite the lying attempts of the right-wing to deny it and suppress mention of it. So could Boston have been right-wing terrorism? Yes, absolutely.

Was it?

We don't know.

We don't know. And I don't know. But I will tell you what I think, because far be it from me to not take part in that long-standing tradition of political speculation. I admit that what I think may be affected by what I said before that I hope. And what I think is open to revision as new information comes in. But this is what I think as of the time I'm doing this and I emphasize the word think, although I do have some logic for it.

I think that at the end of the day this will turn out to have been a lone-wolf attack, involving just one or two or three people, committing an act of right-wing terrorism. The main argument for it to have been foreign terrorism is the use of pressure cookers in the bombs. Such devices have been used in Afghanistan, India, Nepal, and Pakistan, and one of the three devices used in the failed Times Square bombing used a pressure cooker.

The problem is, since 2010 the knowledge of how to make such bombs has been promoted and spread by al-Qaeda's branch in Yemen and so is readily found online by anyone who wants to search it out. If you want to know how to make such a bomb you can find out.

On the other hand, Muslim extremists have never been shy about claiming responsibility for their bombs, which is to be expected: They are doing it for a political reason and an attack can hardly advance a political cause if no one knows what the cause is. In fact, at times there have been competing claims of responsibility and even at least one case - the bombings in Spain in 2004  - when an Arab Muslim group claimed responsibility even though it had nothing to do with it.

In this case, the lack of a claim of responsibility may be telling - especially when the Pakistani Taliban, which claimed responsibility for the attempted Times Square bombing, has denied any part in the Boston Marathon attack. So again, I don't know - but that is what I think.

And I think, or more exactly I've been thinking about, something else: At a moment like this, in an event like this, it's typical, it's normal, it's natural, to reflect on the darkness of the human soul, on our capacity for evil. It’s true that we humans are capable of great evil and great destructiveness and that it’s possible that in some of the things we do we - any of us - may be impelled by greed or selfishness or fear or ignorance or bigotry or whatever to a degree of which we are unaware, to a degree which we refuse to face.

But for that very reason it's at a moment like this that we also need to remind ourselves that we are also capable of soaring achievement, of glorious creativity, of astonishing self-sacrifice. We can hate - but we also can love. We can be ignorant and narrow-minded and bigoted - but we also can learn. We can tie ourselves to the muck and mud - be we also can stretch out for the starlight.

We are - all of us - all a mixture of the light and the dark, the good and the bad, the just and the cruel. We are none of us all good or all bad. With the exception of that - happily tiny - handful of people whose personal demons or mental malfunctions have left them unable either to recognize or to care about their own evil, we are all a mixture, a balance, a sometimes uneasy coalition of dark urges hidden under and controlled by conscience.

So we have to, we must, resist the easy, the facile, the false, division of humanity into angels and demons. The issue is not who is an angel and who is a demon, because we are none of us angels. We are none of us demons. We are all angels; we are all demons; we, all of us, are both and neither and we are capable at a given time of being either. So the job for us as individuals is not to say "Here are the angels and there are the demons," but rather to be aware day to day, moment to moment, which side, right at that second, right at that moment, which side of the line we are on.


Left Side of the Aisle #104 - Part 6

Outrage of the Week: Texas says poor people are druggies

Now for our other regular feature, the Outrage of the Week.

In Texas, applicants for TANF, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, what we used to call welfare, can receive an average of a whopping $70 per month for each person in the household. In exchange, participants must sign a so-called personal responsibility contract involving such requirements as child support, children's school attendance, parenting classes, medical screenings and immunizations for children.

That level of humiliating assumption that poor people are moral inferiors who will only try to take care of their children if they are forced to, has proved to be, in the eyes of the glorious leaders of the state, insufficient punishment for the failures of being poor.

On Wednesday, April 10, the state legislature, currently composed of 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats, passed a bill which mandates that every Texan applying for food assistance through TANF must submit to an undefined "screening process" and a possible drug test before receiving benefits if the screener finds "good cause" to even suspect that person is or is likely to abuse any "controlled substance." It passed unanimously.

It was one of seven such bills introduced this year, including one that would extend the requirement to unemployment assistance.

This despite the manifest failure and utter pointlessness of such slaps in the face of the poor, as repeatedly demonstrated in other places that have done something similar.

For example, in 1999 Michigan ran a pilot program of random drug testing, only to have a state court of appeals shut it down in 2003, saying that suspicionless testing is unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures.

Florida also ran a pilot program beginning in 1999 but decided two years later that both the costs and the invasiveness of the tests were too great to justify continuing it.

Even so, in 2010 Florida Gov. Rick Voldemort Scott got approval of a requirement for urine tests for all applicants for state aid. Two federal court rulings have smacked down the program, including an appeals court ruling in February that program violated the Fourth Amendment by not showing a "substantial special need," stating in no uncertain terms that
[t]here is nothing inherent to the condition of being impoverished that supports the conclusion that there is a "concrete danger" that impoverished individuals are prone to drug use.
And in fact there is no evidence at all that people seeking assistance are more likely to do drugs. I mean, consider that Florida program: In the four months it was in operation, only 40 applicants out more than 4,000 canceled a drug test after completing the application. Of those that were tested, only 2.6% tested positive - a rate 1/3 that of the general population, according to federal surveys. Florida wound up spending more on the tests than it saved by not paying benefits to those who tested positive.

But still it goes on and on. Seven states have enacted similar laws - and, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, another 29 states are considering legislation this year.

The rich and the powerful really do despise the poor. It's not new - but it's still an outrage.


Left Side of the Aisle #104 - Part 5

Clown Award: One-third of Americans want state religion

Time for one of our regular features, the Clown Award, given for meritorious stupidity.

I had a plethora of good candidates this week. There was, for one, Rep. Joe “Smokey Joe” Barton of Texas, who got the nickname because he is pretty much owned by the petrochemical industry. He says that climate change has nothing to do with people because the Biblical flood was, he said, "an example of climate change and that certainly wasn’t because mankind had overdeveloped hydrocarbon energy.”

Something else that's clearly not overdeveloped is Smokey Joe's grasp of logic.

Then there is Ken Cuccinelli, the attorney general of the state of Virginia. Last month a three-judge panel of the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state’s ban on sodomy is unconstitutional in light of the Supreme Court’s 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas.

Cuccinelli has filed a petition with the court, asking for the full 15-judge court to review the decision - that is, he wants them to overturn the decision of the panel and allow Virginia to continue to prosecute people for what its laws call "crimes against nature." Meaning types of sex he finds icky.

But this is our winner: Our winner of the big red nose this week is one-third of the American adult population.
According to a new national HuffingtonPost/YouGov poll, 34 percent of American adults would favor establishing Christianity as the official state religion in their own state. Thirty-two percent said that they would favor a constitutional amendment making Christianity the official religion of the United States as a whole.

Now, I will say that in the first case, a plurality of 47% was against the idea and in the second, a majority of 52% rejected it - but that doesn't change the fact that a third of American adults are so ignorant of our own history as to be prepared to jettison that history along with 200 years of progress toward inclusion, religious freedom, and tolerance and reprise the mistakes of the past in order to define "freedom of religion" to mean your freedom to believe the same things they do.

Just as disturbing, 11% of the people thought the US Constitution allows states to establish their own official religions and another 31% weren't sure. Whether that is just plain old ignorance or the results of the reactionaries pressing their inane "Tenther" arguments - referring to the idea of "state sovereignty" under the 10th Amendment of the Bill of Rights - I don't know.

But in either event, the sheer level of ignorance is frightening. Clownish, but frightening.


Left Side of the Aisle #104 - Part 4

Good news #4: White House threatens to veto CISPA

Finally, a bit of technology good news: The White House has issued a veto threat against CISPA, the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act. The bill allows for sharing of data - potentially including personal data - between private corporations and government agencies.

The bill died in the Senate last year over privacy concerns, but was dragged from the grave this year like a zombie. This version has some token improvements but the objections to the bill still stand, particularly its broad definition of what kind of data can be shared among the government and private businesses.

In a statement, the White House said the administration
remains concerned that the bill does not require private entities to take reasonable steps to remove irrelevant personal information when sending cybersecurity data to the government or other private sector entities
and that
citizens have a right to know that corporations will be held accountable - and not granted immunity - for failing to safeguard personal information adequately.
Rep. Mike Rogers, the bill's chief sponsor in the House, has dismissed opponents of his bill as teenagers in their basements - but among the opponents are not only the White House but the ACLU and other civil liberties organizations, Facebook, and Microsoft.

The bill will likely pass the House so let's hope the Amazing Mr. O's spine is stiffer than usual in this case.


Left Side of the Aisle #104 - Part 3

Good news #3: Vermont moving to decriminalize marijuana

Some good news on a different front:

Vermont’s House of Representatives has passed a bill that would decriminalize marijuana for adults. The measure passed by a vote of 92 to 49. The bill now goes to the Senate where it is expected to pass by a similarly large margin.

Vermont governor Peter Shumlin called marijuana decriminalization one of his top priorities for this legislative session so it's safe to say he will sign the bill after it has passed.

According to the fiscal note which the state attaches to changes like this, the bill could save the state as much as $400,000 a year.


Left Side of the Aisle #104 - Part 2

Good news #2: Gun nuts lose one

Another bit of good news comes in the matter of guns, where there has been precious little good news of late.

The Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from a decision by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York which upheld a century-old New York state law stating that people who want to carry a handgun in public must show a special need for protection.

The Court of Appeals ruled that the restriction does not violate the Second Amendment, noting what it called “a longstanding tradition of states regulating firearm possession and use in public because of the dangers posed to public safety” and declaring that outside the home, “public safety interests often outweigh individual interests in self-defense.”

It was a smackdown to the gun nuts and the Nutzoid Rabbit-brains of America. Unfortunately, it may be just temporary because federal appeals courts are divided on the issue: Another federal appeals court recently upheld a Maryland law that requires “good and substantial reason” for having a handgun in public, but a third struck down an Illinois law that barred most people from carrying a loaded weapon in public, saying it violated the Second Amendment. Sooner or later, the Supreme Court is going to have to take up the issue to resolve the conflict.

Just as a footnote, in 1981, just three states - Maine, Washington and Vermont - let typical residents carry guns in public without showing a need. Today, about 40 states do.

We are either going to turn into Somalia or at some point some future Supreme Court is going to say that the decisions that opened these floodgates were wrongly decided and reverse them.


Left Side of the Aisle #104 - Part 1

Good news #1: Advances on same-sex marriage

There is some more good news on same-sex marriage, this time on the international front.

Last Friday, the French Senate voted to legalize same-sex marriage, putting a landmark bill on track to become law by summer.

The vote in the upper house of Parliament came despite loud protests lead by the usual suspects, the right wing and conservative Roman Catholics.

France's justice minister, Christine Taubira, said the reform will "move our institutions towards ever more freedom, equality and personal respect."

Both houses of Parliament will now take up a second reading in order to reconcile minor differences between the Senate bill and the one passed by the National Assembly in February.

France has had civil unions since 1999 and they are at least as popular among heterosexuals as they are among same-sex couples. But that law has no provisions for adoption. The law for marriage does.

Meanwhile, last Wednesday, Uruguay became the second nation in South America to recognize same-sex marriage, Argentina having been the first. The vote in the Chamber of Deputies was 71-21 and supporters of the law erupted in celebration when the results were announced.

President of Uruguay Jose Mujica, who backed the law, is expected to put it into effect within 10 days and the first same-sex marriages could come as soon as mid-July.

Among other changes, the law drops the terms "husband and wife" in marriage contracts in favor of "contracting parties" and allows all couples to decide which parent's surname comes first when they have children. All couples can adopt or undergo in-vitro fertilization.

It feels a little odd to say that we're culturally behind Uruguay since despite the advances in socialist and progressive politics in the region we still tend to think of South America as culturally conservative, but the fact is, clearly, we are.


Left Side of the Aisle #104

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of April 18-24, 2013

Good news: Advances on same-sex marriage

Good news: Gun nuts lose one

Good news: Vermont moving to decriminalize marijuana

Good news: White House threatens to veto CISPA

Clown Award: One-third of Americans want state religion

Outrage of the Week: Texas says poor people are druggies

The Boston Marathon bombings

Friday, April 12, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #103 - Part 7


The Clown Award leads us smoothly into our last topic for the day: guns. I have to talk about guns. I don't want to talk about guns. I'd rather be talking about some cool science thing or another. But I have to talk about guns.

At least there is some good news on this front. For one thing, Robin Kelly, who earlier this year proudly rode her "F" rating from the NRA to victory in a Democratic primary for the Congressional seat vacated by for Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., won the seat in a special election on April 9. She got 72 percent of the vote.

There is also some good news on the matter of guns on the state level. In wake of Newtown, the state of New York acted to strengthen its guns laws. Last month, Colorado, already scene of two massacres (Columbine and Aurora), acted. Now, more recently, Connecticut and Maryland have acted.

Connecticut's new law adds more than 100 firearms to the state’s assault weapons ban, establishes what officials say is the nation’s first dangerous weapon offender registry, sets up eligibility rules for buying ammunition, requires background checks for all firearms sales, and puts limits on large capacity ammunition magazines.

Maryland has also improved its gun laws. The new law bans 45 types of assault weapons, limits gun magazines to 10 rounds, and will become the first state in nearly 20 years to require potential handgun buyers to submit fingerprints to state police. Only five other states have a similar requirement: Connecticut, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey.

So there is some good news on the state level - but on the federal level, the only reaction I can have is disgust.

Remember, there were three pillars to the latest round of proposals for gun control: a renewed assault weapons ban, a limit on the capacity of magazines, and an expansion of background checks to cover all sales. There was also some other stuff, such as toughening federal laws on gun trafficking and so-called straw purchases and aid for school security, but those hardly got mentioned in coverage because they were the minor stuff, in that they were supposedly the things that no one would object to.

Well, first, the assault weapons ban was unceremoniously dumped from any possible bill to be brought to the floor. Harry Reid - who, let's not forget, was against the ban - said supporters couldn't get the 60 votes to beat a filibuster, so he wasn't even going to bring it up. And he sure as hell wasn't going to try to round up any votes himself. Supporters of a ban could get it voted on as an amendment to the bill. Maybe.

Was the right happy, was it satisfied, that the focus of attention was gone? Don't be silly. It just turned up heat on the next thing in line, the limit on magazine size. Which got dumped by Harry "Spine Strong As A" Reid in short order.

Again, were the gun nuts satisfied? Are you kidding? They just proceeded to go after the background check, the part that had been regarded as the easy pass, the "almost sure thing" just a couple of weeks before, something so supposedly uncontroversial that in 1999 the Nutzoid Rabbit-brains of America was for it - but that was back when the gun nuts had to worry about the assault weapons ban and the magazine limit.

So even though universal background checks for gun buyers is supported by about 90 percent of Americans in polls, including in southern states like Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia, it came under fire - an appropriate image here - and was clearly in trouble. Backing down in the face of the fanatics in the hope of winning their agreement did not satisfy them, it only made them bolder. Some gun control advocates, desperate for some sort of face-saving victory, began to promote the minor stuff, again minor because they were previously thought of as slam dunks, as central elements.

Sorry, not good enough, came the answer, as the NRA began pushing changes to the gun trafficking and straw purchase proposals that would eviscerate them.

It got to the point that Lindsay Graham smirked his smarmy smirk - which I really would love to wipe off his face - and said gun control legislation was "going nowhere" and 14 GOPpers were threatening to filibuster any gun legislation. That possibility collapsed as it proved to be a bridge too far even for several GOPpers, but it demonstrates what was happening: Every step back by the Dims was met with a step forward by the gun nuts.

As of this moment, it looks like we might get expanded checks: Two progun senators, Democrat Joe Mancin and Republican Pat Toomey, have proposed compromise that would expand background checks to all commercial sales. It's got some gaping loopholes and shortcomings - particularly in that it exempts "private" sales - but it is stronger than now, and control advocates are trying to make lemonade out of it.

But think of how far we have fallen. From assault weapons bans and magazine limits to a weakened version of what had been thought almost sure thing not many weeks ago.

And why, why, why? We don't even get told it's out of genuine conviction.

Here's a quote from Talking Points Memo:
Twenty-one Democratic seats are being contested in the 2014 elections — many of them in red states where the National Rifle Association, which opposes background checks, is a force to be reckoned with. Among them are Sens. Kay Hagan, Mark Pryor, Mary Landrieu, and Max Baucus.

So this is what we're supposed to live with. Let there be more massacres, let there be more Newtowns, more Auroras, more columbines, more Gabby Giffords - did you know we almost had another one last month?

On March 18, a student at the Orlando campus of the University of Central Florida pulled a dorm fire alarm. There was no fire. He was armed with two guns, hundreds of rounds of ammunition and a backpack filled with explosives and he was apparently attempting to force other students out into the open so that he could slaughter them. Lives were saved because first responders got to the scene faster than he expected - so he killed himself instead.

So yes, let there be more, let the blood run in the streets, let's fill our cities and towns with grieving parents, orphaned children, devastated communities, let death reign because of the Intellectual cowardice and moral degeneracy of a bunch of senate chowderheads who would rather let the carnage continue than risk losing their job.

As of April 10, 3349 people in the US have been killed by guns since Newtown, 19 of them in Massachusetts.

You who stand in the path of changing that are contemptible and I say again there is blood on your hands. And I don't intend to let you forget it.


Left Side of the Aisle #103 - Part 6

Clown Award: Rep. Louie Gohmert

Now for the Clown Award, given regularly for acts of meritorious stupidity.

The winner of the big red nose this week is Texas Republican Rep. Louie Gohmert, the man who puts the Gomer in Gohmert.

He was talking about his opposition to gun control last week and he had this to say, quoting him:
I had this discussion with some wonderful, caring Democrats earlier this week on the issue of, well, they said “surely you could agree to limit the number of rounds in a magazine, couldn’t you? How would that be problematic?”

And I pointed out, well, once you make it ten, then why would you draw the line at ten? What’s wrong with nine? Or eleven? And the problem is once you draw that limit ; it’s kind of like marriage when you say it’s not a man and a woman any more, then why not have three men and one woman, or four women and one man, or why not somebody has a love for an animal?

There is no clear place to draw the line once you eliminate the traditional marriage and it’s the same once you start putting limits on what guns can be used, then it’s just really easy to have laws that make them all illegal.
So in other words, people have to be able to carry loaded assault rifles with 100-round magazines everywhere they want because same-sex marriage leads to bestiality.

"Clown" hardly begins to describe it.


Left Side of the Aisle #103 - Part 5

Keystone XL and Arkansas

On March 27, a southbound Canadian Pacific Railway train carrying Canadian oil derailed near the town of Parkers Prairie, Minnesota, about 150 miles northwest of Minneapolis, spilling about 15,000 gallons of tar-sands. I've talked about tar sands before; it's this thick, tarry, oil-bearing sludge that the Keystone XL pipeline, if built, would carry from Alberta to refineries on the Texas coast to be refined and exported. It's so thick that it has to be cut with chemicals like benzene to thin it enough so that it can flow through pipes.

Supporters of building the Keystone XL pipeline argued that the derailment and spill showed the urgent need for the pipeline, because pipelines are supposed to be safer than train shipments.

Two days later, proving just how safe the pipelines are, this happened. An ExxonMobil pipeline carrying tar-sands oil beneath a suburban neighborhood in Mayflower, Arkansas, 20 miles northwest of Little Rock, burst, spewing, by current EPA estimate, nearly 300,000 gallons of the gunk onto streets and into yards and houses, many of whose occupants never even knew the pipeline was there.

ExxonMobil evacuated the neighborhood and quickly instated something like martial law, with either the cooperation or the passive acquiescence of the EPA. The corporation's flunkies evicted wildlife rescue workers, threatened reporters with arrest, and even won a temporary no-fly zone over the spill, with access controlled by a company agent.

ExxonMobil insists that none of the oil got into nearby Lake Conway, claiming it has placed barriers and 3,600 feet of boom around the lake. Aerial photos, however, show oil in marshes near the lake, and another photo shows dead vegetation in the lake. And state Attorney General Dustin McDaniel says there is oil in Lake Conway despite what ExxonMobil claims. Which is quite possible because tar sands oil, unlike plain crude oil, is a heavy sludge. It does not float. It sinks. So booms will do no good.

Oh, and here's an interesting sidebar: A 1980 federal law says that "diluted bitumen," known by the oh-so-cute abbreviation "dilbit" but in reality the tar sands going through the pipeline, is not oil. So companies such as ExxonMobil which are transporting it in pipelines do not have to pay into the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, which is designed to help pay the cost of cleaning oil leaks.

So understand: According to federal law and the oil industry, oil oil is oil but tar sands oil is not oil. That is, this is oil. This is not. This bird is covered with oil. This bird is not. See?

Any pipeline poses risks, but tar sands pipelines pose even more risks than conventional oil, because tar sands must be pumped at higher pressures and temperatures than conventional oil so it corrodes pipes faster. TransCanada’s first Keystone pipeline leaked 12 times in its first 12 months. When you consider that conventional oil was involved in 364 pipeline spills - about one a day - involving 54,000 barrels of oil in the US last year alone, the risk to the local environment as well as to the global environment due to global warming is just too high. Kill the Keystone XL pipeline.

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