Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Weekly reminder

As of July 30, at least 6,672 people had been killed by gunfire in the US since Newtown, at least 68 of them in Massachusetts.

Left Side of the Aisle #119 - Part 6

On the Bradley Manning verdict

Bradley Manning - remember him? I wouldn't be surprised if you went "oh, yeah, him, the leaker guy. Whatever happened with that?" Despite the significance of his actions and the importance of the case - including charging a military whistleblower with "aiding the enemy" for the first time since the Civil War - the media, at least in this country, pretty much let the whole three years now of his confinement and trial slide by with just the occasional reference, a lack of coverage which was encouraged by the military court, which put major burdens on the ability of the media to report on the trial, including, most recently, subjecting reporters and their cars to invasive searches and having armed guards stand directly behind them as they worked at their laptops in the press area. This was because of, the judge said, earlier repeated breaking of court rules - even though no one could tell the reporters what rules had been broken.

But after months in solitary confinement under conditions that if it was done to an American by another country, we would call torture, torture inflicted with the intent of breaking him so he would testify against Julian Assange in the trial of which the Obama gang still dream, Bradley Manning was brought to trial.

On July 30, Col. Denise Lind, the judge in that military trial - I'm reminded of an article I read some years ago which was titled "Military justice is to justice as military music is to music" - the judge released her verdict: She convicted Bradley Manning of almost all of the charges against him but, be thankful for what you can, acquitted him of "aiding the enemy."

That was the charge everyone was focused on for two reasons beyond its rarity: One, it was the most severe, carrying a potential penalty of life without parole. Two, the impact of a conviction on the future ability of the public to learn what it should know but the government for whatever reason doesn't want to tell, would have been severe. You have to understand: Bradley Manning was not accused of giving important information to al-Qaeda. He was not accused of actually helping al-Qaeda. He was not accused of wanting to help al-Qaeda. He was accused of giving information to a media organization knowing that al-Qaeda would be able to see whatever that organization published. And even if the information in and of itself was of no assistance to al-Qaeda, it potentially could be analyzed in coordination with other information, thereby revealing something that would be of assistance. That, believe it or not, was the actual basis for, the actual argument the government used in pursuing, the charge of "aiding the enemy."

A conviction would have set a precedent that any leak of information relating to the military or foreign policy that the government wanted to keep secret, any leak of information the government found inconvenient or embarrassing, any leak of information which could even hypothetically be linked with other undetermined information in a way that could be useful to any of our enemies even if we don't know who those enemies are because that information is also classified, could be the basis for a charge of "aiding the enemy."

So we as a people dodged a bullet - but it's not over: We got hit by shrapnel. Manning was convicted of a computer fraud charge and some other, lesser, military infractions as well as, bizarrely, five counts of stealing government documents. Exactly how the documents were "stolen" since obviously he sent copies to WikiLeaks and the originals never left the military's possession is unclear: I remember that in the many-ways similar Pentagon Papers trial of Daniel Ellsberg the feds made the same charge and were faced with the same dilemma: Ellsberg had provided copies to the New York Times, not originals. Prosecutors were reduced to the farcical claim that copying was stealing, that he had stolen "the arrangement of words on the page." Yes, that's a quote.

Apparently, that was not a dilemma for Col. Lind.

More importantly and more seriously, something else that did not trouble Col. Lind was convicting Manning of six counts of espionage for providing documents to WikiLeaks. Six counts of espionage for leaking information to the media. And in all six of those cases, Manning had pled guilty to a lesser offense but Lind and prosecutors refused to accept that plea and found him guilty of the original charge. In fact, Manning had earlier pled guilty to a lesser offense on nine of the 21 charges facing him; Lind and prosecutors accepted only two.

So despite the acquittal on "aiding the enemy," Bradley Manning still faces a possible 136 years in prison for daring to tell the people what they deserve and in fact need to know. And remember this: The government has ranted and raved about "damage to national security" but in the three years since his arrest has not offered one single shred of evidence, not a single strand of an argument, that such national security has in fact been harmed by Bradley Manning.

But I will say this, there was one significant effect of Manning's actions: The end of US participation in the Iraq War.

The Bush gang had been forced by the Iraqi government into an agreement to remove US troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. But the Obama gang was pressuring the Iraqis to allow for perhaps tens of thousands of US troops to stay beyond that deadline under a new "security agreement." Among the things Bradley Manning leaked was a video of US soldiers on a helicopter gunship shooting up a group of people and then going back to shoot up a van that came to take away the wounded. The video was put on YouTube under the title Collateral Murder. You can see the video at The Pentagon decided the soldiers had acted within "the rules of engagement" and there would be no punishment.

In the wake of that, the Iraqis demanded that any US troops remaining in Iraq be subject to Iraqi law. The Obama gang refused, so there was no new agreement - and all US troops left Iraq on schedule. I can't help but wonder if the extremism of the case against Bradley Manning and the furious attempts to crush WikiLeaks were an outgrowth of frustrated egomania.

This is the simple hard truth: This case was not about protecting the nation. It was -and is - about protecting the privileges of the powerful, this was -and is - about control, this was -and is - about the imperious condescension of a government and military elite treating the rest of us as, the joke has it, mushrooms, kept in the dark and fed shit. It was - and is - about the Obama gang getting another skin to hang on its wall of secrecy. That's what this was and is about. And don't you forget it.

And don't you forget one other thing: Bradley Manning is a hero.


Left Side of the Aisle #119 - Part 5

Food Stamp (SNAP) benefits to be cut in November

Here's a little something I bet you didn't know: Come November, the 22 million American households involving 47 million people who rely Food Stamps will see their benefits cut. The average household's monthly benefit will drop by $20 to $25.

The general public doesn't realize it, the low income people on the program don't realize it, and Congress has no interest in, or intention of, doing a damn thing about it.

It's happening because in 2009 there was a 13% boost in benefits as part of the stimulus bill and that boost is expiring. The original idea was to let inflation catch up with the increase over time so that when the stimulus ended, recipients would not experience a dollar reduction in their benefits. Nice idea, which of course got screwed up: The Obama gang needed money to offset the cost of a series of spending bills. They said at the time they would replace the money later, but they never did.

Now, there's no chance of doing it as the debate in Congress over current funding for the Food Stamp program - which, by the way, is now formally called SNAP, for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but lots of folks still call it food stamps - but the debate isn't over whether to cut the program, but by how much and what sort of onerous or degrading conditions can be required of recipients.

There are proposals for additional work requirements, for example, under the ever-popular classist* notion that poor people are just lazy and what they really need is to be instructed in "the dignity of work." Rep. Steve Southerland calls it "moral reformation." This despite the fact that 92% of recipients are children, the elderly, disabled, or people who are already working.

Other ideas floating around include eliminating automatic food stamp eligibility for people who are enrolled in certain other benefit programs, turning the whole program into block grants, which essentially means going "hey, states, here's some money, do what you want with it, but if you wanna use it for food stamps, that's okay too," and another repeat offender, drug testing recipients under the ever-popular classist notion that poor people are just lazy and drug addicts.

If there's no agreement, Congress may have to extend current the farm law - and the current levels of spending for SNAP which is part of it - when it expires at the end of September.

Be that as it may, that November cut is still coming. A cut of $25 may not seem like much, but think of it this way: The current maximum monthly benefit for a family of four is $668. A 30-day month and three meals a day is 360 meals per month - so the benefit is a princely $1.86 per person per meal. (And then the ignorant, sneering buffoons wonder why people are buying cheap, processed, but filling foods rather than expensive fresh fruit and vegetables and whole grains and so on.) Which also means a cut of $25 a month is 13 or 14 meals a month that someone going to have to skip.

And it adds up over time. According to the calculations of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, there are about 870,000 people in Massachusetts who will be impacted by these cuts, cuts which will over the period November 2013 to October 2014 total about $61,000,000.

And we're doing this at a time when, according to a recent study, three-quarters of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck. Seventy-six percent of American families have less than six months’ worth of savings to their name. Half have less than three months emergency savings and more than a quarter have no savings at all.

And we're doing all this at a time when a new survey by the Associated Press reveals that four out of five US adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty, or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives.

It's called "economic insecurity" and it's defined as a year or more of periodic joblessness, reliance on government aid such as Food Stamps, or having an income below 150% of the poverty line. By the time they reach 60, 79% of American adults have experienced economic insecurity at some point in their lives. Even among whites, whose rates of poverty and unemployment are persistently far below those of minorities, the experience of economic insecurity has touched 76% of them by that point in their lives. In fact, hardship among whites is growing faster than it is among minorities - which may well be because those minorities already had less to lose, with poverty rates much higher than those of whites, but it doesn't change the impact on the affected families.

The overall poverty rate remains stubbornly stuck at 15%, but equally significantly, Census Bureau figures say that about 40% of adults will live in poverty for at least one year of their lives.

An analysis to be published next year by the Oxford University Press shows that by a number of different measures, racial disparities in areas such as poverty, unemployment, and homelessness are shrinking - but not because blacks and Hispanics are doing better but because white are doing worse. We are increasingly all in the same boat - and it's leaking.

AP calls all this "a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream." I call it the next phase of the class war being waged by the rich against the rest.

Meanwhile, rich investors say that it takes at least $5 million to feel wealthy and two-thirds of millionaires don’t consider themselves to be rich as Congress says what the hungry need is "moral reform" and McDonald's grandly insists that of course their employees can make it on $8.25 an hour - they just need to get a second job, never get sick, and not require food or clothing.

This is the economy we are living in today. And it's not going to change unless and until we get mad enough to do something about it and I don't mean taking a job retraining course or signing up at DeVry University. I mean changing the very nature of our economy to promote cooperation over competition and the be more concerned with social value than personal greed.

I'll have more on that as time goes on.

*"Classism" is defined as contempt for the poor.


Left Side of the Aisle #119 - Part 4

Outrage of the Week: List of al-Qaeda's "associated forces" is classified

Okay, now for the Outrage of the Week.

In a major national security speech this spring, President Obama said repeatedly that the US is at war with "Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces."

Well, at a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee nin May, Sen. Carl Levin asked the Defense Department to provide him with a current list of al-Qaeda affiliates.

Levin’s office later said that the Pentagon’s "answer included the information requested" but they were not allowed to discuss it because, a Pentagon representative later said, revealing such a list could cause “serious damage to national security” because it would enable those groups to "build credibility" by being on such a list. In the words of DOD PR flack Lt. Col. Jim Gregory, “We cannot afford to inflate these organizations.”

Jack Goldsmith, a professor at Harvard Law, said the Pentagon’s reasoning seems, to put it kindly, weak. "If the organizations are ‘inflated’ enough to be targeted with military force," he said - which they are, with dozens of drone strikes against so-called "associated forces" in Yemen and Somalia - if they're "inflated" enough to be targeted, "why," he asked, "can't they be mentioned publicly?"

One reason might be a desire by government officials to avoid embarrassing themselves: At that May hearing, Michael Sheehan, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, described terrorist groups as “murky” and “shifting,” which is another way of saying "we actually don't know who they are and we just shoot at whoever happens to raise their head because we don't really know what we're doing."

But here's the more likely reason: They just don't want to tell us. They just want us to continue to live in a vague, unfocused fear, a fear of dark forces, undefined, but out there just waiting, trying, striving, to get us, to destroy our way of life, to murder us in our beds, oh please protect us, oh please oh please we'll be good oh please!

The bottom line here is that, in what Jack Goldsmith accurately calls "a remarkable testament to this unusual war," we are, according to our misleaders, "at war with Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces" - but who those "associated forces" are, where they are, how we are fighting them, where and when we are fighting them, is all classified, a military secret which we the people are not entitled to know. We are not entitled to know the names of those with who we are at war. Hell, even Winston Smith got to blame Eurasia. Or sometimes Eastasia. But at least he got a name. We're not even entitled to that.

And if you do not find that an outrage, if you do not find yourself sickened by the concept of secret wars against secret enemies, maybe you'd better just check your citizenship at the door on your way out.

Footnote: Here's another reason why they might not want to tell us: The US's clandestine war in Somalia against Al-Shabab, touted as year as an unqualified success, which is probably why they were willing to identify Al-Shabab as an "associated force," but that "unqualified success" may be in danger of unraveling. According to recent analysis, al-Shabab remains intact and has preserved the core of its 5,000-strong fighting force and resources.


Left Side of the Aisle #119 - Part 3

Clown Award: Lauren Green, Fox News

Now for the Clown Award, given for meritorious stupidity.

We had multiple aspirants for the big red nose this week, a veritable plethora of worthy candidates

We have Rep. Virginia Foxx, who makes me think of what the Bride of Frankenstein might have looked like if she'd lived long enough to get senile, declaring that the federal government should have no role in trying to make college affordable or accessible, which would make her against such as the G.I. Bill, Pell grants and other government aid programs.

She said this while backing legislation that would prevent the Obama administration from enforcing new rules on for-profit colleges, which have been accused by Government Accountability Office and Senate investigations of deceptive marketing and encouraging fraud.

Then we have Sen. Ted Cruz, seen to the right of Ms. Foxx, who claimed that if the Senate immigration bill becomes law, in 10 or 20 years the number of undocumented workers in the US will swell from 11 million to "20 or 30 million."

When asked to back that up, Senator Crazy's office said his statement "cannot possibly be fact-checked, because it was not a factual statement - it was an opinion." What's more, no one can question that opinion because "any attempt to assess the truth or falsity of this statement would simply be political editorializing."

This is known as the nyah-nyah-can't-touch-me gambit, which most of us left behind by about 5th grade as too childish.

And we have the GOPper leadership of the House of Representatives, which last week passed a bill with a provision barring funding for the anti-poverty organization ACORN. In fact, nearly every bill that clears the House Appropriations Committee includes a section barring the use of funds for ACORN.

ACORN shut down three years ago. It doesn't exist. It was brought down by years of attacks by the wackso, culminating in a combination of a lying video by wannabe scumbag James O'Keefe and bogus, unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud.

ACORN closed in 2010. Yet to this day the GOPpers still bar funding for it, bill after bill after bill. Boogeyman much?

But the winner, and at the end of the day she was the clear winner, is Lauren Green of Fox News.

On July 26, she interviewed, if I can stretch the word that far, she "interviewed" religious scholar Reza Aslan, author of a new book about the life of Jesus, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth.

The first thing out of her mouth was "You're a Muslim, so why did you write a book about the founder of Christianity?"

Aslan responded by noting that he's a scholar of religions with four degrees, including one in the New Testament, is fluent in biblical Greek, and has been studying the origins of Christianity for two decades.

"But," Green came back, "it still begs the question why would you be interested in the founder of Christianity?"

Because, Aslan said, he's a professor of religion, including the New Testament. Quoting him, "That’s what I do for a living, actually."

Didn't matter to Green, who then read aloud from various Islamophobic columns which dismissed Aslan’s academic credentials and referred to him only as “an educated Muslim” with an “opinion” about Jesus.

Throughout the nearly 10 minute interview, Green repeatedly posed innuendo-laden questions intended to portray Aslan as a religiously-motivated agitator who had written a hit piece against Christianity, including saying Aslan didn't talk about "the real Jesus" - which unintentionally but clearly reveals Green's bias - and saying he was "dishonest" because, she claimed, he didn't go out of his way in interviews to say that he's a Muslim. None of which had anything to do with the actual content of the book, with which Green was unsurprisingly unfamiliar.

One wonders if Green would ask the same sort of questions to a Christian who had written a book on Islam.

Actually, no, you don't wonder that at all. Not with a clown like Lauren Green.


Left Side of the Aisle #119 - Part 2

Update 2: Impact of gutting of Voting Right Act increasing

The Supreme Court's gutting of the Voting Rights Act is already having an impact.

Within hours of the ruling, officials in Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama said that they would begin enforcing strict photo identification requirement for voters, which has a demonstrably disparate racial impact.

North Carolina is moving to impose similar limits. The state Senate has approved legislation that would eliminate same-day voter registration, cut early voting by a week, and require all voters to show specific forms of state-issued ID at the polls.

In the Jim Crow era, black people trying to vote faced poll taxes, literacy tests, and violence. Today, the mechanisms of disenfranchisement may be more sophisticated, but they can be just as effective.

And it's not just the South. More than 30 states have passed laws in recent years requiring voters to display photo identification, which minorities and low-income folks disproportionately lack. And if the bludgeon isn't enough, there is always the stiletto of redistricting, which by diluting the strength of minority votes, can turn a razor-thin reactionary majority into a crushing one - as has happened in North Carolina.

The impacts are being felt at the courthouses as well as the statehouses.

For example, in Florida, a federal court has dismissed a lawsuit filed by an Hispanic civic group and two naturalized citizens to block a voter purge in Florida. The court found that the Supreme Court decision meant that the purge could not be blocked.

The Supreme Court decision gutting the Voting Rights Act invited Congress to simply re-do the section it struck down, to come up with a new formula to determine what districts of the country were sufficiently bigoted to require preclearance of changes in their voting laws. When I talked about this, I asked if you could imagine Congress doing any such thing anytime in the foreseeable future.

Well, if you did imagine that, you were wrong.

Members of Congress, especially the right wingers, have no interest in, and no intention of, doing anything about fixing the Voting Rights Act. Not a damn thing. In the words of knuckle-dragger Rep. Joe Barton, “Ain’t gonna happen.”

And why should it, they say. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte opened a recent hearing by saying that even after the Supreme Court’s decision, “other very important provisions of the Voting Rights Act remain in place.”

Which they do. One of them empowers courts to require preclearance for jurisdictions which are found to have intentionally discriminated under the 14th or 15th Amendments to the Constitution, and private groups in Texas have filed suit for Texas to be subject to preclearance under just that provision. To its credit, the Obama administration has filed a statement of interest in support of those groups, saying Texas should be subject to preclearance for 10 years.

AttGen Eric Holder said this is the first such move in response to the SCOTUS ruling and, he said, "it will not be our last." Let's hope so.

Footnote: Remember Bob Goodlatte saying that “other very important provisions of the Voting Rights Act remain in place?” According to the House reactionaries, because the Obama administration has used one of those other provisions, it has "poisoned the well" so it's their fault that nothing will be done.

Sometimes ya just gotta laugh.


Left Side of the Aisle #119 - Part 1

Update 1: NC passes abortion restrictions

A couple of updates on things we've talked about here.

I've talked about the sneaky ways the right wingers in the North Carolina legislature have tried to pass new restrictions on the right to an abortion by attaching them, without hearings, debate, or even notice, to completely unrelated bills. Most recently, they did that with a bill related to motorcycle safety.

The bill, which passed both houses earlier this month, will eliminate abortion coverage for public employees and individuals who have insurance through the new federal health care law's public exchanges, which of course limits access by making the procedure more expensive. The bill will also impose additional regulations on abortion clinics, requiring them to meet the standards of an outpatient surgical center, regulations strict enough to force many of the clinics to close, which again, obviously, will limit access.

During a gubernatorial campaign debate in October, then-candidate Pat McCrory said he wouldn't sign any additional restrictions on abortion into law. Despite that, he declared himself pleased with the bill and has signed it into law.


Left Side of the Aisle #119

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of August 1 - August 7, 2013
This week:

Update 1: NC passes abortion restrictions

Update 2: Impact of gutting of Voting Right Act increasing

Clown Award: Lauren Green, Fox News

Outrage of the Week: List of al-Qaeda's "associated forces" is classified,0&utm_source=Africa%20Center%20for%20Strategic%20Studies%20-%20Media%20Review%20for%20July%2023,%202013%20&utm_campaign=7%2F23%2F2013&utm_medium=email

Food Stamp (SNAP) benefits to be cut in November

On the Bradley Manning verdict

Friday, July 26, 2013

Weekly reminder

As of July 24, at least 6,490 people had been killed by gunfire in the US since Newtown, at least 68 of them in Massachusetts.

Left Side of the Aisle #118 - Part 9

That Rolling Stone cover

One quick thing before I close. I have just enough time to squeeze this in.

You have undoubtedly seen this picture. This is the cover of Rolling Stone, with Dzhokhar Tsarnaev on the cover and people have been upset by this.

I want to suggest to you, and I want you to think about this, that the reason people are upset by this cover is because he looks like a good-looking kid - which he is.

The thing is, in the photo he doesn’t look evil, he doesn’t look foreign, he doesn’t look “other,” he doesn’t look “not us.” He looks like someone you might have known, someone your daughter might have dated in college, someone who could have been patted on the cheek by some cliché grandmother going "What a good boy!"

And we can’t deal with the fact that somebody who could be a good-looking kid, who doesn’t look foreign or evil or "other," could actually have done what he did. The problem for most of us is not, as has been claimed, that the picture "glamorizes" him, it's that it normalizes him.

You think about that and you think about your reactions to that.

Left Side of the Aisle #118 - Part 8

Guns: Gun nuts protest memorial for the dead at Aurora

We have to spend a few minutes talking about something related to guns. Let's start with a quote from a post at AlterNet:
Imagine a counter demonstration to a Boston Marathon vigil. Imagine a counter demonstration to a Oklahoma tornado or Hurricane Sandy vigil. Ridiculing and mocking someone else's loss is so heinous and emotionally abusive, legislation was passed last year to keep protests 300 feet away from military funerals.
That legislation, of course, was inspired by the antics of the Westboro Baptist Church.

But the fact is, nothing is too low for the gun nuts.

On Friday, July 20, Aurora, Colorado held a commemoration of the Aurora theater massacre, which occurred exactly one year earlier when James Holmes, dressed for combat and carrying smoke grenades, a 12-gauge shotgun, an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle with a 100-round drum, and a .22 pistol, entered the Century 16 multiplex and began shooting. When he stopped, there were 12 people dead and 58 more shot.

In addition to that commemoration, the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns held a separate commemoration in a city park, which began with families of shooting victims from Aurora, Columbine, and Newtown talking about their loss before several speakers began reciting the names of people killed by gun violence - not only of those killed and wounded in Aurora but also of those of the thousands of victims of gun violence across the country. The reading went on for 11 hours until the last speaker, Stephen Barton, one of the wounded in Aurora, ended at 12:38am, the time the first shots rang out one year earlier.

So a peaceful, emotional vigil to remind people of the human cost of gun violence.

Which of course could not be tolerated by the gun nuts.

So the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners announced it was going to counter-protest what it called New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's "radical east coast anti-gun agenda" and how it "is not supported by Coloradans,” a statement made on the group's behalf by a spokeswoman for the National Association for Gun Rights, which is headquartered in the east cost state of Virginia.

That is, the group was going to counter-protest, or more accurately protest, a memorial to the dead. Because of course all those dead had nothing to do with guns. Nothing at all. And if James Holmes had been armed with popcorn balls and darts, he would have been just as dangerous.

Nothing is too low for these people in their addiction to their guns.

On the upside, pictures taken by a supporter of the gun nuts, one of which is to the right, showed their turnout to be about 10. Maybe they aren't as representative of all the people of Colorado as they like the imagine.


Left Side of the Aisle #118 - Part 7

The little thing: USC "reviewing" its policies on sexual violence on campus - 41 years after Title IX enacted

Now for a quick, occasional segment called "the little thing." Frequently, I find that there is something in some issue or article that is getting passed over, some little thing that's revealing but isn't drawing attention as people focus on something else. This is an example.

The University of Southern California is facing a federal investigation for alleged failures by school officials and campus police to prosecute rape.

Title IX, as you may well know, is the part of civil rights law that addresses sex discrimination in educational institutions. In response to a Title IX complaint filed in May, the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights, the OCR, has launched an inquiry.

The claimants are a group of 13 students, along with several other unnamed students, who claim they suffered from extensive failures on the part of USC administrators and the Department of Public Safety in responding to reports of sexual violence on campus. Such failures would be violations of Title IX.

Complaints included a charge that USC dismissed one student's claim that her ex-boyfriend had raped her, despite her providing a recording of him admitting to it. An official told her the goal here was to "educate" the assailant, not to "punish" him. Another student said campus police told her she hadn't been raped because her attacker had not orgasm. A third, who complained of a sexual assault at a fraternity event, got told that women should not "go out, get drunk, and expect not to get raped."

Assailants who did get "punished" frequently got a slap on the wrist, often just a requirement that they stay away from their victim.

This is a serious issue, violence, sexual violence, on campus is a serious issue, serious enough that the OCR is currently engaged in similar investigations at four other colleges.

But here's the little thing, the thing that got me:

Jody Shipper, who is Title IX coordinator for USC and executive director of the university's Office of Equity and Diversity, said the university "remains vigilant in addressing any issues promptly and fully as they arise," and has been reviewing its policies to ensure they comply with federal law, adding that "We look forward to working with OCR to address any concerns."

Excuse me? Title IX was passed in 1972 and now, 41 years later, you are "reviewing your policies?" You are just now "addressing concerns?" And you wonder why there's a problem?

Apparently, the "higher learning" part of university life does not extend to the higher levels of administration.

Sources: rape-investigation_n_3607954.html

Left Side of the Aisle #118 - Part 6

Outrage of the Week: McDonald's impossible "budget" for low-wage workers

McDonald's, notorious for its underpaid, overworked, employees, has decided to show how it is actually deeply concerned for their welfare. So it has partnered with Visa, the credit card corporation, to launch a website to teach its low-wage workers hour to budget so they can get by on their meager wages, which average $8.25 an hour. That works out to $17,160 a year in gross, that is, pre-tax, pay even assuming full-time, year-round work with paid vacation and sick time.

The site includes a sample “budget journal” for McDonald's employees that starts by assuming that full-time, year-round job, which you can tell because that would produce a net income of just about what the budget gives: a little over $1100 a month.

It then requires a second job - remember, this budget is for people already working a 40-hour week. If you assume the same rate of pay, it'd take another 34 hours a week to net what this budget lists. So now you're talking about a 75-hour workweek,  not include commutation.

Then look at some of the other figures:

$600 a month for rent? That won't get you a broom closet in most cities.

$20 a month for health care? Sure, if the only health care you ever require is some band-aids and a bottle of Pepto-bismol. If you want health insurance, an average plan for an individual is $215 a month. Even McDonald's company-subsidized group plan costs $14 a week - essentially triple the total this budget allows for health care.

Nothing for heating? Zero dollars?

And it doesn't even include line items for frivolities such as food or clothing.

Now, I do have to add that in response to the bad attention this has gotten, McDonald's did change one part of the budget: It now allows for $50 a month for heat - I wonder just where it is they think their employees live; what, do they all do a daily commute from Florida or someplace? The budget allows for that expense by taking money away from the "other" category.

At the site, McDonald's and VISA tell us "You can have almost anything you want as long as you plan ahead and save for it." Because, as we all know, the only reason low-age workers struggle is that they are just to lazy to plan and lack the self-control to save.

Rarely has classism - bigotry against the poor - been on such blatant display. What an incredible outrage.

First Footnote: Interestingly, the corporate-written "budget journal," available for download at the site, includes tips on "ways to save money," which include not using an out-of-system ATM to avoid service charges. But the list does not include avoiding using a credit card to avoid interest charges and does suggest having your pay automatically deposited to a payroll card - something on which VISA makes a profit.

Second Footnote: Last year, Bloomberg News found that it would take the average McDonalds employee one million hours of work to earn as much money as the company’s CEO.


Left Side of the Aisle #118 - Part 5

Clown Award: Rep. Steve King of Iowa

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

This week, the big red nose goes to Rep. Steve King of Iowa .

First, you need to be reminded of the DREAM Act, intended to provide a path to citizenship for undocumented young people living in the US. These would be people brought here as children by undocumented immigrants, who have grown up in the US, have gone - and go - to school in the US, identify as Americans, but who are not citizens and can't become citizens under current law unless they first leave the US and then apply for permission to immigrate back to the only land they've every known.

The DREAM Act has failed to pass, so the Obama administration - good for them - established a policy of refusing to deport people who would be covered by the bill, people now commonly called Dreamers, unless they committed a crime. Be thankful for small favors.

Well, last month, Steve King successfully pushed an amendment to end that policy and has already announced opposition to a yet-to-be-released bill from two other Republicans that would legalize Dreamers and allow them to stay in the United States. He's against a bill that hasn't even been proposed yet.

He followed that up by going on a Spanish-language outlet for an interview where his opposition to immigration law reform was of course brought up. The host asked him what he would do with the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

King's answer was, quoting "It's not my responsibility." Pressed on it, he just repeated himself. "It isn't my responsibility to solve that problem." That is, those people brought it on themselves by coming here, dammit - even though, again, those covered by the DREAM Act came here as children. Who cares? Not Steve King. Whatever happens to them, whatever exploitation, whatever cruelty, whatever discrimination, is visited on them, well, he just doesn't give a damn.

He says it's all about the "rule of law" and how if we have "sympathy for the Dreamers," then we will have "destroyed the rule of law." Of course, if the DREAM Act was passed, it would be the law, but jackasses like Steve King are incapable of pursuing a line of thought that far.

By the way, in that same interview, despite all of his talk about "the rule of law," King avoided saying outright that he's in favor of deporting millions of people. So as long as he can talk about the rule of law as some philosophical principle, he's happy, but when it comes to the actual effect of actually enforcing that rule of law, well, apparently that's another problem that he has no responsibility to solve.

King topped all of this off in an interview with the right-wing fake news source Newsmax on July 18, where he declared that
For everyone [who would be covered by the DREAM Act] who's a valedictorian, there's another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds and they’ve got calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert.
For every valedictorian Dreamer, there are 100 drug smugglers.

Steve King doesn't care about "the rule of law," even less does he care about what the rule of law is supposed to be for, which is supporting the rule of justice. Steve King just cares about being a bigoted xenophobe.

And bigoted xenophobes are by definition clowns.

Footnote: Few GOPpers go on Spanish-language media. But not, they claim, for lack of trying. According to a Congressional aide, "We are constantly looking to engage Hispanic media outlets on a variety of issues and will continue to do so" but they then called it "an unfortunate setback" that one host has criticized GOPpers on air.

To put that more directly, "we'd be glad to talk to them but they might be mean to us!" :sniffle: :whine:

What a bunch of whining crybabies.


Left Side of the Aisle #118 - Part 4

Good news: medical marijuana comes to New Hampshire

Still more good news: On July 23, New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan signed a bill making New Hampshire the 19th state in the US to legalize medical marijuana.

The new law establishes a process to set up alternative treatment centers, which will dispense marijuana for qualified patients with "chronic or terminal diseases" or "debilitating medical conditions." Even though it could take several years for the program to be fully implemented, the program was still welcomed by marijuana policy reform groups.

The Marijuana Policy Project did note some shortcomings of the law. For one, it doesn't allow allow patients to grow marijuana plants in their homes, which obviously the cheapest and most convenient way to get it. Without that option, leaving only the state-recognized centers as a source, there could be a price barrier for some patients.

For another, the bill contains language that could create legal problems for patients who turn to using grass to ease their conditions before state ID cards become available.

Still, it is a real step forward. And its fair to note that among the 19 states and the District of Columbia that have legalized medical marijuana are all six states of New England.


Left Side of the Aisle #118 - Part 3

Good news: landmark sex discrimination decision in NJ Supreme Court

Related to a different form of sexism, if sexist comments about women are made in a workplace, but no woman is around to hear them, is it still discrimination? According to a landmark decision by the New Jersey Supreme Court, the answer is "yes."

UPS manager Michael Battaglia was so disturbed by the pattern of lewd remarks about female employees made by his boss in all-male meetings that he repeatedly complained to his superiors.

He got a response: He was demoted. Nothing happened to his boss. He sued for retaliation even as he continued to work at the lower position.

He sued under a state law that bans workplace discrimination based on things like gender, religion, and race. In 2009, a jury decided in his favor and awarded him a million dollars - half for economic damages, and half for emotional distress.

The company appealed and the appeals court reversed, ruling that Battaglia was not protected for discrimination under the law for complaining about vile comments made against women in the workplace because no woman heard them. That is, he couldn't complain about sexism against women because he's a man.

However, on July 17, the NJ Supreme Court sided with Battaglia, recognizing the importance of the point of "a hostile work environment" and reaffirmed the $500,000 in economic damages, sending the issue of damages for emotional distress back to a jury.

So yes, you can be offended by sexism - even if you're a man.


Left Side of the Aisle #118 - Part 2

Good news: North Dakota anti-choice law blocked

A federal judge has temporarily blocked portions of a new North Dakota anti-choice law that has been described as the most restrictive in the nation.

He called the provision in question, one that bans abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected, "clearly invalid and unconstitutional" and "in direct contradiction to a litany of United States Supreme Court cases." Fetal heatbeats can be detected as soon as six weeks into pregnancy, a point at which some women are not yet aware they are even pregnant.

A separate suit is challenging another measure to require a doctor who performs abortions to be a physician with hospital admitting privileges and banned one of two drugs used in nonsurgical abortions.

Another new state law would outlaw abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, based on the thoroughly bogus claim that a fetus can feel pain by then. Sorry, folks, but the brain is one on the last things to develop in a pregnancy. No brain, no pain. It's just another lie, right along with "abortion causes cancer" and so on. However, the plaintiff in the case where the injunction has been issued, the state's sole remaining clinic that does abortions, is not challenging that provision because they don't do abortions after 20 weeks and so would have no standing in court as the law doesn't impact them.

But oh yeah, lies? It seems there is no end to how far the fanatics will go in them.

For example, Missouri state Senate Majority Whip Brian Nieves recently said that abortions to save the life of the mother are actually just "a matter of convenience."

Nieves asked one of the commenters in a Twitter exchange if he supports "partial-birth abortions" - a political term used by the anti-choice crowd to describe "dilation and extraction," a procedure that is used rarely in the third trimester and only in the case of complications threatening the life or health of the mother. When the commenter pointed that out, Nieves replied, "Really? Didn't you say you have an advanced degree? Your statement about 'Life of the Mother' is one of the most common yet kindergarten ways of proving that you don't even know what a partial birth abortion is!!"

When the commenter listed some medical conditions or complications that may develop late in the pregnancy, Nieves replied, "'Life of the Mother?' Your own argument proves it is a matter of convenience!"

Yes, that's it, to them, saving your life or protecting your health is just a "convenience." Except, of course, if it involves guns. Then, it's a sacred right.

Footnote: Let's not forget Texas state Rep. Jody Laubenberg, who in the course of the debate over the state's recently-passed attacks on choice, declared that rape kits, designed to collect evidence of rape, are actually a form of abortion.


Left Side of the Aisle #118 - Part 1

Good news: Westboro Baptist Church gets satirized

You've no doubt heard of the Westboro Baptist Church - which, by the way, is not associated with any Baptist convention - the Westboro Baptist Church, that handful of creepy bigots consisting mostly of the family of one Fred Phelps.

The cult gained its fame, if you can call it that, by picketing the funerals of soldiers with signs celebrating their deaths, claiming it's a punishment from god because, as their signs would say, "god hates fags" and the US "tolerates" homosexuality. They've since branched out, using various tragedies as opportunities to proclaim their bigotry.

When they announced plans to picket the funerals of victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, one group decided they had had enough.

That group is the Satanic Temple, a New York-based organization devoted to encouraging "benevolence and empathy among all people" through the teachings of Satan. They were prepared to counter-protest the WBC in Boston, but, as is becoming more common, the bigots didn't show up, instead later issuing a statement that they had been there "in spirit."

So the Temple decided that they would meet the WBC "in spirit" on their terms. They went to Mississippi, to the gravesite of Catherine Idalette Johnston, who was Fred Phelps' mother. There, on Sunday, July 14, they performed a ritual called a "pink mass." It drew on the practice of Mormons of baptizing people into the church after they are dead to declare that, quoting, "Upon completion of the pink mass ceremony, Catherine Johnston is now gay in the afterlife."

What's more, mocking the Westboro Baptist Church's contention that their beliefs are totally infallible and that religious freedom means no one has the right to challenge them, the Temple declared that "Fred Phelps is obligated to believe that his mother is now gay ... [and] if beliefs are inviolable rights, nobody has the right to challenge our right to believe that Fred Phelps believes that his mother is now gay."

In an email to The Huffington Post, Temple representative Lucien Greaves said that the groups would perform Pink Masses at the gravesites of Phelps' father, great-aunt, and other descendants of the Phelps "each time they picket funerals or applaud horrific terrorist actions."

Left Side of the Aisle #118

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of July 25-31, 2013

This week:

Good news: Westboro Baptist Church gets satirized

Good news: North Dakota anti-choice law blocked

Good news: landmark sex discrimination decision in NJ Supreme Court

Good news: medical marijuana comes to New Hampshire

Clown Award: Rep. Steve King of Iowa

Outrage of the Week: McDonald's impossible "budget" for low-wage workers

The little thing: USC "reviewing" its policies on sexual violence on campus - 41 years after Title IX enacted

Guns: Gun nuts protest memorial for the dead at Aurora

That Rolling Stone cover

Friday, July 19, 2013

Weekly reminder

As of July 17, at least 6,246 people had been killed by gunfire in the US since Newtown, at least 65 of them in Massachusetts.

Left Side of the Aisle #117 - Part 7

Update: Texas passes new abortion restrictions

A couple of weeks ago, I gave a Hero Award to Texas state Senator Wendy Davis for her 11-hour filibuster of a special legislative session that prevented passage of new, more severe, restrictions on abortion in the state, including banning abortions after 20 weeks and imposing new requirements that would force most abortion clinics in the state to close down.

I also noted that Gov. Rick "Oops" Perry had already said he was going to call another special session to ram through his bill.

Well, he did, and despite the best efforts of opponents, opponents that, significantly but unimportantly to the wackos, included the Texas Medical Association, the Texas Hospital Association, and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, that bill has passed.


Left Side of the Aisle #117 - Part 6

Update: Egypt

On another front, I said last week that people power does not always produce justice. Egypt continues to show that, as the military-controlled government continues to clamp down on dissent.

The public prosecutor has ordered the arrest of seven senior Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist figures over violence between Brotherhood supporters and opponents in the days before and after Mohamed Mursi was deposed as president.

The latest charges accuse them of "inciting violence, funding violent acts, and thuggery."

Now, the new cabinet in Egypt has been sworn in. It's comprised of what are called "relative liberals," but what that means in the context of Egypt is not immediately clear except that they are acceptable to the military. The Islamists who were elected last year shut out entirely.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood continues to protest. Like I said last week, watch this space.


Left Side of the Aisle #117 - Part 5

Update: Moral Monday

We've got a few updates on things we've talked about here before.

Last week, I mentioned the Moral Monday protests in North Carolina. They are still going on. This week, that is, July 15, more than 100 protesters, two-thirds of them women, were arrested for nonviolent civil disobedience in the 11th consecutive weekly rally. Over 800 have been arrested for civil disobedience so far.

This week, the turnout was partly prompted by another right wing attempt to restrict abortion rights. I mentioned last week that the GOPpers had with neither notice nor debate attached such restrictions to an "anti-Sharia law" bill; this week they did it again to a bill about motorcycle safety.

Gov. Pat McCrory has said he'll sign it despite a campaign promise to oppose any new abortion restrictions.


Left Side of the Aisle #117 - Part 4

Some news on same-sex marriage

Indiana officials are making a big point of saying that it's a felony in the state to submit false information on a marriage license application.

Because the applications include the designations “male applicant” and “female applicant,” no same-sex couple could truthfully fill out the form, and some folks - including me - suspect that the state is trying to head off suits challenging the state's ban on same-sex marriage. You see, such suits are often initiated by filing for a marriage license and being denied - and by raising the possibility of three years in prison for filing a "fraudulent" license application, the state may be hoping to intimidate couples into backing off from a challenge.

The fact that this is happening at the same time that the right-wing-dominated legislature is trying to get a bill through to put a "marriage is one man-one woman" amendment to the state constitution on the November 2014 ballot adds to the suspicion, since the anti-justice forces may be thinking they don't need to stop a suit, just forestall it in the hope that the amendment will pass because striking down an amendment would be far harder than striking down a law.

That may work, it may not: The Prop8 case only directly affects California because the Supreme Court did not decide the case but rather let the Appeals Court ruling stand. But the original trial judge's findings of fact and opinion found that constitutional bans against same-sex marriage violate the US Constitution and Prop8 lawyer David Boies has argued that this ruling now applies nationwide.

Recent polls say a majority of Hoosiers oppose the proposed constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage and civil unions, but such majorities have faded before in the face of the fear-mongers, so watch this space.

On a happier note, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed a lawsuit against Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage – and Pennsylvania state Attorney General Kathleen Kane has announced that she won’t be defending the law.

Kane cited the Pennsylvania Constitution’s ban against discrimination and said, “It is now the time here in Pennsylvania to end another wave of discrimination.”

The governor and other right wingers in the state are of course furious with Kane, but she argues in response that if she is convinced that a law is unconstitutional under either the state or the federal constitution, she is bound by ethical standards to not defend it.

The ACLU is filing similar lawsuits in North Carolina and Virginia, and plans to do so in more states soon.

Finally, on the best news here, British lawmakers have passed a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in England and Wales. It only requires the signature of the Queen, which is really a formality and could happen by the end of the week.

The first same-sex weddings are expected to take place by next summer.


Left Side of the Aisle #117 - Part 3

Outrage of the Week: Faux News spreads racial fears

The Outrage of the Week this week comes from one of our regular sources, Fox News.

So Fox News - or Faux News, as they would properly be called - wanted to have someone on to comment on Zimmerman's acquittal. So who did they pick? A notorious race-baiting right-wing conspiracy-monger named J. Christian Adams. This nutjob was the one who claimed that the DOJ dropped voter intimidation charges dating from an incident in 2008 against two members of the New Black Panther Party because of the "radical racial agenda" of the Obama administration and not because of the actual fact that there was no evidence anyone was intimidated.

But Fox has never given up harping on the New Black Panthers, regarding them as a convenient tool to stir racial fears - even though the group is a fringe of a fringe and seems to consist mostly of a relative handful of guys with baseball bats and a leather fetish.

So you can guess what happened here. Adams not only charged that the NAACP has "teamed up with" the New Black Panthers because the NAACP has called for the DOJ to prosecute Zimmerman, he insisted that the New Black Panthers "were the spark behind" the investigation into Trayvon Martin's death, that the whole thing only happened because the New Black Panthers "went down there and threatened people" and "the Justice Department responded to their demands."

Faux News host Steve Doofus then wondered aloud why "the Department of Justice is taking their marching orders from the New Black Panther Party" before Adams renewed his old claim of "a radical racial agenda" on the part of Attorney General Eric Holder.

At a time when you would think racial tensions might be a little higher than usual as the African-American communities of America watch as the killer of another young black man walks away free, at a time when those communities are being told that they are the ones who must show restraint, they are the ones who must remain calm, they are the ones who must control their emotions, that they are the ones, in short, who have to suck it up, Faux News is about the business - its usual business - of stoking racial fears.

It is foul, it is disgusting, it is evil - and it is an outrage.


Left Side of the Aisle #117 - Part 2

Clown Award: Juror B37

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

The big red nose this week goes to juror B37 in the George Zimmerman trial, the woman who went on TV and declared how she wanted to acquit Zimmerman from the get-go because "his heart was in the right place” and who planned to do a tell-all book about the trial until even she had to admit that was too tacky.

“I think George Zimmerman is a man whose heart was in the right place, but just got displaced by the vandalism in the neighborhood and wanting to catch these people so badly,” she said. He was just a good boy who made an honest little mistake because he just cared so much.

None of it was his fault. Even though the police dispatcher told Zimmerman not to keep following Martin, the dispatcher actually “kind of egged him on,” according to B37.

What's more, she declared that Martin probably threw the first punch, that "he got mad and attacked him," that is, Zimmerman. Which she maintained despite already having said “Nobody knows exactly what happened.” That is, nobody knows but it was all Trayvon Martin's fault, that Trayvon Martin “played a huge role in his death.” That is, it was his own fault that he got killed. Apparently, it was George Zimmerman and not Trayvon Martin was the one just walking home with a can of iced tea and a pack of Skittles.

Oh, and by the way, race had absolutely nothing to do with any of it, she insisted. Nosiree. Whoever it was - "Spanish, white, Asian" - then Zimmerman "would have reacted the same way.”

As for the gun, she said “I think it’s everybody’s right to carry a gun as long as you are responsible and use it the way you should be using it” - which, apparently, in her mind is just what George Zimmerman did.

She was far enough out there that four of the other jurors issued a statement bashing her for, they said, leading the country to believe she spoke for the whole group. Her opinions, they said, were "not in any way representative" of theirs.

The acquittal of George Zimmerman, as ethically and morally outrageous as it is, may have been legally necessary due to the twisted nature of Florida's laws. But to turn this into "poor George," to turn the stalker, to turn the shooter, into the good boy with the good heart victimized by an attacker, is the act of a complete clown.

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