Friday, August 30, 2013

Weekly reminder

As of August 27, at least 7,616 people had been killed by gunfire in the US since Newtown, at least 79 of them in Massachusetts.

123.6 - What the world needs now is some of the '60s

What the world needs now is some of the '60s

For the rest of the show I want to talk about something else, because all this talk about the March and whatnot, I have to admit it has got me thinking about the '60s. "The '60s." Because the March on Washington, in a lot of ways we don't seem to recognize, it was a spark, it was a foundation for, what we think of as "the '60s" - which really started about 1963 and ran to about 1972.

And I've been thinking that there are some ways in which I miss the '60s. Now, you have to understand, I'm not talking about nostalgia. I don't want to "go back to the '60s." There were a lot of things wrong in the '60s. For one thing, we have some technology now that - I'm not big on high-tech or having the latest and greatest technologies, but we have some technologies that I like that weren't available in the '60s and I wouldn't want to give those up easily.

For another, as we just talked about, there was more bigotry - it was worse in the '60s than it is now. And not just for blacks, for women, for gays and lesbians, for Hispanics, for still others.

Crime was actually a bigger issue in the '60s than it is now - or have we forgotten Richard Nixon running for office as the "law and order" president? Infant mortality - I mentioned the infant mortality rate was higher. The poverty rate was higher.

And, we tend to forget, there was a war. A big war. Not on the scale of World War II, but a big war. I have a notion that the time when people come to what I call political maturity, what's going on at that time, affects their view of the world and how they perceive later events. It influences their view of the world. And I came to political maturity during, as I have described it before, that brief and some would have it mythological time marked at one end by the Sgt. Pepper Summer and the other by Altamont - or, if you prefer a political description, by Flower Power and the Days of Rage.

But people now, in the last couple of decades, people who have come to political maturity during the Afghanistan War, during the Iraq War, I think some of them, when we talk about Vietnam, don't know what we're talking about. The total number of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined was about 6700; I forget the exact number. The number of American soldiers killed in the Indochina War was well over 50,000. There were over 50,000 American wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan combined; there were over 300,000 in Indochina. Peak troop strength in Iraq was about 140,000. In Vietnam, it was about 540,000. It was a massive war. We didn't measure the deaths by one here and one there and a few others somewhere else, we measured them by 300 a week. Total deaths in that war were well over a million, perhaps as many as three million, plus millions more refugeed.

I have no desire to go back to that. I have no desire to go back to the '60s. But I do have a desire to have some aspects of the '60s brought forward to the 20-teens.

For example, one thing I miss, something I do miss about the '60s is color. Think of any cliche image about the '60s you can imagine and I'm willing to bet that one aspect of that image is lots of color. I miss that. I miss the explosions of colors and the poster art - like Peter Max, for example - the poster art with the very bold, dramatic colors. I miss being surrounded by color.

Another thing I miss is the sense that music could matter. That music could matter. Not that all the music of the '60s mattered, there was a lot of schlock that was produced in the '60s. You know, sometimes you hear these shows about "the lost 45s" and you hear some of those songs and you think, "oh boy, that should have stayed lost." Remember "Laurie" by Dickie Lee? You know, "Last night at the dance I met Laurie." Remember that? What about "The Race is On" by Jack Jones? These are - wow.

And this also doesn't mean there isn't good music being produced now and it doesn't even mean there aren't protest songs being produced now. I just saw something recently about "the top 10 protest songs of the 21st century."

But the '60s had a sense, it was just a sense, that the music could matter, that music could make a difference, the music could change the world - we went a little over the top there, but still that was the sense that we had, that music could change the world. Music was more important to us. Music wasn't just entertainment, it wasn't just a way some people made a living. Music mattered.

The other thing that I miss, and this is the real point here, I miss that sense of solidarity. Back in the '60s, we talked about "the Movement." And it went in all sorts of different directions, all kinds of different subjects, all kinds of different topics, all sorts of different tactics, but the point is, we all thought "this is one Movement, we are all part of it."

Where I grew up, we had a military base - Fort Monmouth, New Jersey - and we used to have picket lines there on occasion, you know, maybe 10 to 20 people. That didn't matter: We were the same as the 150,000 who were out in San Francisco. And what's more, we were the same as the United Farm Workers. We were the same as the striking teachers in some other city. It was all the same thing. And that is something I don't see now.

I've talked about the Solidarity Sing Along in Wisconsin. And this is great, it's wonderful, it's a great thing, and people support that and endorse it - but we don't feel it's us. It's them doing that - it's not us, it's separate. Every battle is separate, every battle is a local battle, that we don't perceive emotionally as part of a whole thing.

This is one of the reasons, by the way, that the Occupy Movement had to be destroyed. Because when the Occupy Movement talked about the 99%, it hit that nerve: We are in this together, we are all linked and all of our different struggles do relate to each other.

Two reasons the Occupy Movement had to be destroyed. One, it was in your face. You couldn't ignore it. It was always there. The other reason, though, was the fact that all of these Occupy sites, they all thought of themselves as "Occupy." Whether you were in Boston or New York or Oshkosh or wherever, you know, you weren't just Oshkosh Occupy, you were Oshkosh Occupy. You were emotionally liked to all the others. Some local encampments focused on income inequality, some on student debt, some on foreclosures, some on supporting labor actions, some even on the arcane details of federal regulation of financial markets. It didn't matter. You were all part of the same thing. You were all Occupy. There was a solidarity there that I have not seen otherwise.

And I really, really miss that.

We need to be back on the streets. Because the one thing we need - the one thing those big marches that people say "oh, that's passe, that's old-fashioned" and all that, well, nonsense. Because the thing those marches did was they gave you that sense of solidarity, they gave you that sense that "this is all one thing; we are all linked; we are all part of the same thing."

We need to be back on the streets - and I don't mean just once, I mean over and over and over again. This is not something that's going to be done just this year or the year after, this is year after year after year after year. We have to be out on the streets, locally and nationally, to say "we are all one Movement, we are all one consideration."

And that one consideration is, again, justice.


Thursday, August 29, 2013

123.5 - 50th Anniversary of the March on Washington: Are we closer to the dream?

50th Anniversary of the March on Washington: Are we closer to the dream?

I'm recording this on August 28 - the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which featured Martin Luther King's famous "I have a dream" speech. In fact, I'm doing it almost at the same hour, which is totally irrelevant except to lovers of truly meaningless trivia.

But doing this on the anniversary makes it appropriate as a time to, as we do on anniversaries, look both back and forward.

This past Saturday, August 24, tens of thousands of people - probably about 100,000, based on a comparison of the size of the 1963 rally with this one - about 100,000 people gathered in Washington, DC, to remember that march and that speech and to ask how far we've come toward reaching that dream. The only possible answer - the only legitimate answer - is "part way. Only part way."

The numbers tell the story - or at least their part of it.

For one thing, the rates of poverty and unemployment among blacks are still nearly double the overall rate. One reason for that is that blacks continue to get paid less than whites: In 2011, the median wage for black women was $13.13; for black men, it was $14.26; for white women, $15.89; for white men, $19.76.

The overall income gap has shrunk: The median income for African-American households is still a shamefully low 2/3 that of that of all American families - but that's up from 1963, when that median income was just over half the national median. But despite that smaller gap in income, the gap in the rate of home ownership has actually grown over that time.

Whites still live longer than blacks - but again the gap has shrunk from 6-1/2 to 8 years to 3-1/2 to 5 years. But they still live longer.

The gap in infant mortality rates between whites and non-whites has actually grown since 1963 - but the overall rate has come down so far that the rate among non-whites is only a quarter of what it was in 1963 and that present rate is about half the infant mortality rate among whites in 1963.

As compared to 1963, the percentage of blacks who have completed high school has more than tripled; the number of black undergrads is now more than 10 times what it was then; and the percentage who have completed 4 years of college is nearly 6 times what it was.

So yes, there have been gains. Yes, it's better than it was. Yes, we have made some progress toward that dream of measuring someone only by the content of their character. But having progressed does not mean having arrived. Martin Luther King III, MLK's oldest son, said it well on Saturday:
This is not the time for nostalgic commemoration. Nor is this the time for self-congratulatory celebration. The task is not done. The journey is not complete. We can and we must do more.
Very true. Especially when you consider the part of the story the numbers don't tell, and I don't even mean big things like the Trayvon Martin case, I mean the everyday slaps and slams, the everyday reminders that if you are African-American, you are still "other" in the eyes of too many. Such as the African-American family who recently went to a restaurant in Charleston, SC for a going-away party and after waiting two hours to get in, was almost immediately told to leave by the manager because one - count it, one - white woman customer said she felt "threatened" by the group.

Or maybe you'd prefer more aggressive slaps, such as the one delivered to University of Texas student Bryan Davis on August 21, when he was struck by a bleach-filled balloon while walking in a neighborhood populated by students at the University, another in a string of bleach attacks, all aimed at black or Asian students, stretching back to last summer.

Yes, things have improved, at least in some ways. Yes, we have made at least some progress, painfully slow, painfully limited, progress considering we're talking about a span of 50 years, but progress.

But again, advancing does not mean arriving, improvement does not mean cure, progress is not a cause for passivity. We have to keep on keepin' on. We have to keep being, as I have before called us to be, steely-eyed dreamers, people who know the hard work that is to be done but who never forget the dream that work is for, a dream that I say can be brought down to one word: justice.

As a footnote to this, I want to mention one area where we can see genuine progress since 1963: The chief organizer of the march was an African-American named Bayard Rustin. He was also a mentor to King and he helped found both the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the A. Philip Randolph Institute. But at the time of the 1963 march, his role in organizing it was played down, even concealed. Because in addition to being an unbowing advocate for civil rights who was significantly responsible for introducing Gandhian nonviolence into the civil rights movement, Rustin was gay. And in 1963 that was something better left unsaid.


123.4 - Outrage of the Week: James Clapper tapped to establish panel to examine spying program

Outrage of the Week: James Clapper tapped to establish panel to examine spying program

So I haven't talked much about the monstrous policies and practices of the NSA in spying on Americans' phone calls, email, and internet use, nor on how the Obama gang has aided, abetted, advanced, and covered for the spooks.

I haven't largely because there has been so much about it, so much information, more revelations that anyone can keep up with, so many so fast that for the first time since 9/11, Americans are saying in polls that privacy concerns outweigh "fighting terrorism," that I am certain you have heard about it and while you may not know a lot of the details, you surely are aware of the overall thrust.

But this bit I have to tell you about. It’s the Outrage of the Week.

Just over a week ago, President Obama announced that he intended to arrange for the creation of an "independent group" of "outside experts" to assess and review the nation's intelligence gathering and surveillance technologies and programs.

And who has he picked to establish the group, to provide it with a formal existence? Who is the person who will help to, in the words of the Amazing Mr. O, "maintain the trust of the people" that there is "no abuse?"

Why, it's Director of National Intelligence James Clapper - the man who outright lied to Congress, the man who outright denied that the NSA collected any data on Americans, the man who outright lied to Congress about it, and who, when he was caught out, claimed he had "responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful, manner." Which was another lie because the most truthful answer would have been to say "Yes, we do spy on Americans on American soil." Because you did and you do and you do it on a mind-bogglingly massive scale.

But no, really, he later insisted to Andrea Mitchell, no, the agency doesn't collect information about Americans - and he could say that because, he told her, he had his own definition of the word "collection" and no matter how much information they gather, store, collate, and organize, no matter how much they soak up, none of that, according to him, has been "collected" until and unless some agent actually looks at some specific record.

Oh, well, that makes it all better.

The NSA was quick to emphasize that Clapper will not be in charge of this group, he won't even be on it. The members will be picked by the White House, they say, apparently, we're supposed to think, without Clapper's input. He will merely consult with the group and assist it when it needs access to classified information or security clearances.

Which means the man who lied to Congress about the existence of domestic spying is the man who will control the access to classified information which this group would need to actually examine the issue of domestic spying. Which takes on added significance when you consider that Clapper's own statement on the formation of the group refers to "national security," "advancing our foreign policy," and "the risk of unauthorized disclosure" but does not mention the issue of abuses.

The whole spying is itself an enormous outrage itself, but to have James Clapper anywhere near any group that's supposed to review the whole apparatus of spying with any hope of, in Obama's words "maintaining the trust of the people" that there is "no abuse" is an outrage within an outrage - and frankly just flat out offensive to boot.


123.3 - Clown Award: Colorado state Sen. Vicki Marble

Clown Award: Colorado state Sen. Vicki Marble

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

This week to give away the big red nose we must go to the great state of Colorado where, on August 21, Colorado state Sen. Vicki Marble suggested that high poverty rates among blacks and Hispanics are connected to diets that include fried chicken and barbecue.

After declaring how she "loves" the barbecue chicken she had down South, she went on to say that, quoting,
The Mexican diet in Mexico with all of the fresh vegetables, and you go down there and they are much thinner than they are up here. They’ve changed their diet. I’ve read studies on that. Those things aren't good for you.

Oh, yeah, them Mexicans and them blacks, they loves them some fried chicken and barbecue, doncha know.

What really made this stand out for its bigoted stupidity is that she said this during a meeting of the state legislature's Economic Opportunity Poverty Reduction Task Force, aimed at, at least in theory, finding ways to reduce poverty by expanding economic opportunities for the poor. Committee members were being presented with statistics about racial and ethnic disparities in poverty - and she proceeded to make it about eating chicken.

On the upside, another member of the committee later said “there was an audible gasp in the room” and Marble got immediate pushback from other members, one of who called the comments "racist" and "insensitive."

But apparently wanting to nail down her claim to the clown award, Marble later released a statement saying "My comments were not meant to be disparaging to any community. I am saddened they were taken in that regard." In other words, "I didn't do anything wrong. I'm just sad that you just can't understand - which makes me the sadly misunderstood victim here."

The Denver Post wasn't taken in. They called her original remarks "finger-lickin' stupid" and of her later statement about how "sad" she was, it said "We are saddened a state lawmaker can be this ignorant in 2013."

Ignorant - and a clown.


123.2 - Good News #2: Same-sex marriage rights spreading in New Mexico

Good News #2: Same-sex marriage rights spreading in New Mexico

The other bit of good news is that something a bit unusual is going on in New Mexico.

Judge Alan Malott of New Mexico's Second Judicial District ruled on August 26 that state law does not prohibit marriage between same-sex couples and ordered the Bernalillo County clerk to issue marriage licenses.

The ruling concerns a lawsuit filed on behalf of three lesbian couples who said the state constitution has no explicit ban on marriage rights for same-sex couples.

In his ruling, Malott said
Gay and lesbian citizens of New Mexico have endured a long history of discrimination. Denial of the right to marry continues this unfortunate and intolerable pattern.
Interestingly, he also refused to stay his order, finding there is "no benefit to the parties or the public interest" in waiting for the outcome of "a lengthy path of litigation" while basic rights "are being compromised or denied on a daily basis."

So that's Bernalillo County. Meanwhile, just four days earlier, as a result of a lawsuit filed by two Santa Fe men, District Judge Sarah Singleton issued an order to Santa Fe County Clerk Geraldine Salazar to start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples there, also finding that state law does not prohibit same-sex marriage.

And earlier in that same week, Doña Ana County Clerk Lynn Ellins began issuing licenses to same-sex couples after he said the state law doesn't prohibit it.

It appears that marriage justice is spreading in New Mexico - county by county.

After the Doña Ana clerk began issuing licenses, some Republican lawmakers said they would file a lawsuit because, they said, county clerks cannot make law. But of course, the answer is, the clerk is not making law, he's refusing to enforce a law which doesn't exist.

Meanwhile, neither Republican Gov. Susana Martinez nor Democratic Attorney General Gary King, who plans to run for governor next year, seem inclined to step in one way or the other - which is itself good news because how long ago would there have been even a question of a political risk in opposing same-sex marriage rights?


123.1 - Good News #1: Arizona fails to bar Planned Parenthood from Medicaid program

Good News #1: Arizona fails to bar Planned Parenthood from Medicaid program

So we start the week, as I always do when I can, with good news. Two bits of good news, in fact, both from the southwest US.

First, in Arizona.

Last year, the state passed a law which would prohibit Medicaid patients from receiving any covered services at clinics that also provide abortion care. The law was clearly and directly aimed at Planned Parenthood. I still find it astonishing that Planned Parenthood - I mean, Planned Parenthood? - is now supposed to be a wildly controversial organization. It just shows how far to the wacko right some of our state legislatures have gone.

In response to this law, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU sued - and in February, a federal district court agreed,granting a summary judgment in favor of a permanent injunction.

The good news here is that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld that decision.

Judge Marsha Berzon, writing for the unanimous three-judge panel, said the issue comes down to a simple fact: Federal law allows those enrolled in Medicaid to get the services from any qualified provider.

The state tried to claim that, well yeah, that's true, but the state is free to decide who is “qualified.” That argument got short shrift, considering that the federal law defines "qualified" as a provider “qualified to perform the service or services required.” Since the state has never claimed that Planned Parenthood staff doctors are unqualified to perform gynecological exams or STD testing, and in fact said that Planned Parenthood could continue to participate in the state's Medicaid program if it stopped providing abortions, the state's attempt at a defense of the law was - Judge Berzon didn't say this, obviously, but the meaning is clear enough - that defense was lame.

This was actually the second win for Planned Parenthood in the last month, as a similar law in Indiana got hit with a permanent injunction the end of July - the day after the state conceded in a settlement with Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky that the state cannot violate Medicaid’s “freedom of choice” provision.

Indiana hasn't given up yet, however: First, you need to know of Mifepristone, formerly called RU-486. It's the so-called "abortion pill," the "morning after pill," which provides a non-surgical means of providing abortion in the first seven to nine weeks of pregnancy. Well, a new amendment to Indiana state law requires that any facility which provides Mifepristone must meet the same standards as clinics that offer surgical procedures, including separate procedure, recovery, and scrub rooms - even if there are no surgical procedures performed there. This amendment, it turns out, applies to precisely one facility: a Planned Parenthood clinic in Lafayette.

But Planned Parenthood and the ACLU haven't given up, either. They have filed suit, saying the amendments "are not reasonably related to any legitimate purpose," "irrationally and invidiously discriminate against" Planned Parenthood and impose "a significant and unnecessary burden" on the women affected.

So the fight goes on.


Left Side of the Aisle #123

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of August 29 - September 4, 2013

This week:

Good News #1: Arizona fails to bar Planned Parenthood from Medicaid program

Good News #2: Same-sex marriage right spreading in New Mexico

Clown Award: Colorado state Sen. Vicki Marble

Outrage of the Week: James Clapper tapped to establish panel to examine spying program

50th Anniversary of the March on Washington: Are we closer to the dream?

What the world needs now is some of the '60s

Friday, August 23, 2013

Weekly reminder

As of August 20, at least 7,397 people had been killed by gunfire in the US since Newtown, at least 75 of them in Massachusetts.

122.8 - Outrage of the Week: Bradley Manning sentenced to 35 years

Outrage of the Week: Bradley Manning sentenced to 35 years

We finish up this week with our other regular feature, the Outrage of the Week.

This week, the choice of Outrage was simple, straightforward, and obvious. Bradley Manning, as I expect you know, was the whistleblower who leaked a very large number of documents to WikiLeaks, resulting, ultimately, in his arrest, trial, and now sentencing. Manning has been sentenced to 35 years in military prison for the crime of enabling the American public to know about what its own government was doing and about the crimes, the war crimes, it was committing in Iraq and Afghanistan. He was also reduced in rank, dishonorably discharged, and had his pay and benefits stripped away.

This is a moral and ethical outrage.

The sentence was condemned by human rights groups. Amnesty International called on President Obama to commute Manning's sentence to time served "to allow his immediate release." The Center for Constitutional Rights called for a full pardon. The American Civil Liberties Union called Wednesday "a sad day for all Americans who depend on brave whistleblowers and a free press for a fully informed public debate."

There are a number of things notable here, primary among which is the fact that Bradley Manning is being sent to prison for 35 years for telling the American people about crimes committed in their names while the people who committed those crimes, who organized them, oversaw them, even came up with twisted supposed legal justifications for them, who were responsible for the murder, the torture, the illegal detention, the abuse, the war crimes, walk free, free because in the words of our esteemed president, we must look forward, not backward - words which, it's actually not necessary to say but I will anyway, were not applied to Bradley Manning.

After his arrest, Manning was held for several months in solitary confinement - which is regarded as torture by international treaty, but hey, y'know, who's gonna stop us - in a blatant attempt to break him and force him to testify against the person the Obama gang really wanted to get: Julian Assange, director of WikiLeaks.

And across that time, during his confinement in solitary, during his trial, all through it, across more than three years we heard government officials accuse Bradley Manning of murder. Members of Congress, the administration, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the leaks endangered US interests and lives. He, we were told more than once, had blood on his hands.

But when it came to the sentencing portion of his trial, when the actual question of harm had to be addressed, when actual harm was supposed to be demonstrated, not just claimed in a Congressional or prosecutorial rant, the government was utterly unable to do so. The government could not, did not, produce any evidence that anyone died as the result of the leaks; it couldn't produce any evidence that anything rationally under the term "national security" was harmed by the leaks; it couldn't even produce evidence that international relations were harmed by the leaks. The closest they came was when one government witness said some allies, offended by what the documents revealed about US attitudes, got "chesty."

Some allies got "chesty?" That's the harm? That's the justification for 35 years in prison?

But that, almost unintentionally, raises an important point that almost no one seems to be mentioning. What we ultimately come down to is the fact that, according to our government, lying to our political allies is not a crime; letting those allies know about the lies is a crime. Torture is not a crime, letting people know about the torture is a crime. Even war crimes are not crimes, letting people know about war crimes is the crime. According to our government, by doing so Bradley Manning committed crimes worthy of 35 years in prison. But the fact is, if there had been no lying, if there had been no torture, if there had been no war crimes, there would have been nothing for Bradley Manning to leak!

Which is the real point. This case, this trial, this sentence - a sentence 17 times longer than any previous sentence for leaking classified documents to the media (by the way, a long-forgotten facet of this is that Manning first tried to go to the Washington Post and the New York Times and it was only after the Times ignored him and the Post wouldn't take him seriously that he went to WikiLeaks) - this trial, this sentence, is not really about Bradley Manning. It's about any future Bradley Mannings.

It's a warning to anyone in government, in or out of the military, who may have any moral qualms about what they learn, who may be upset or even outraged by what they find, to just shut up, keep quiet, don't let anyone know, because if you raise your voice, we will track you down and destroy you.

Bradley Manning is a patriot and a hero. And don't you forget it.

Footnote: I'm going to repeat here something I said about this a few weeks ago:

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.

122.7 - I laugh so I don’t weep: Texas replies to DOJ suit over redistricting

I laugh so I don’t weep: Texas replies to DOJ suit over redistricting

When I first did a political newsletter back in the 1960s, I had an occasional feature I called "unintentional humor," where something in the news that wasn't intended to be funny by whoever said or did it, was. Or at least is struck me funny.

Well, I find it hard to be quite so lighthearted these days, so that has evolved into quoting Pierre de Beaumarchais: "I hasten to laugh at everything for fear of being obliged to weep."

Okay. The first thing to realize here is that when the Supreme Court cut the heart out of the Voting Rights Act, it didn't completely disembowel it. Two important provisions remain: Section 2 allows the federal government to require changes in state and local voting laws that have the effect of disenfranchising groups of voters, while Section 3 empowers courts to require preclearance of changes in election laws in the face of evidence that the jurisdiction in question has recently intended to discriminate.

The power of Section 3 is that is can prevent discriminatory changes from going into effect; the weakness is that it requires a showing of intent, which is obviously difficult. The power of Section 2 is that is only requires a showing of effect; the weakness is that is can only be employed after the fact, that is, after the discriminatory law has been put into practice so that the discriminatory effect can be shown.

Okay. After SCOTUS gutted the Act, several states, including as I mentioned last week North Carolina, and for another one, Texas, went to warp speed in working to pass new restrictions on voting.

Texas leaped at the chance to re-institute the redistricting plan the courts had already ruled unconstitutional and to push a new voter suppression bill.

The Department of Justice has sued, seeking to place Texas back under preclearance for 10 years under Section 3, citing its recent history, including that redistricting plan.

Now Texas is presenting its defense. And oh, Texas.

First, says Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the redistricting is not about race. Oh no. It's about keeping Democrats from holding elective office. Even white Democrats.

Quoting the brief:
In 2011, both houses of the Texas Legislature were controlled by large Republican majorities, and their redistricting decisions were designed to increase the Republican Party’s electoral prospects at the expense of the Democrats.
The intent was partisan, not racial, y'see, and if the effect is to dilute and undermine the votes of black and brown people and all of the poor, well, that's just a happy coincidence and you can prove otherwise so can't touch me nyah nyah.

The state's argument, in other words, is that there is no discrimination against minorities or the poor and if there is it's only because they are so stupid and dependent and lazy that they vote for Democrats instead of their true masters.

If that wasn't hilarious enough, the state's other argument is that even if there is discrimination which of course there isn't but even if there is, it's not as bad as “the ‘pervasive,’ ‘flagrant,’ ‘widespread,’ and ‘rampant’ discrimination that originally justified preclearance in 1965.” It's not as bad as it was then, so what's your gripe, huh?

Now, I'm old enough to remember some of this, I expect some of you are, too, so let me say that I don't recall back in 1965 that Texas was going on about "the pervasive, flagrant, widespread, rampant discrimination" it was practicing; in fact, if anything state officials were vociferously denying, then just as now, that any such discrimination existed.

Remember, you have to keep laughing.

Fortunately, various voting law experts doubt this will work. One said:
The mere desire to achieve partisan advantage does not give Texas a free hand to engage in racial discrimination. If the only way you can protect white incumbents is by diluting the voting strength of Hispanic citizens, you are engaging in intentional racial discrimination.
In fact, there was a 2004 case in Massachusetts filed under Section 2 where the "defending incumbents" argument failed.

There is an unhappy footnote to this as the case could get appealed all the way to the Supreme Court: In 1981, a lawyer in President Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department wrote a memo to his boss, Attorney General William French Smith.

In that memo, the lawyer flatly opposed a proposed amendment to the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act then being considered by Congress which would make it clear that Section 2 covered actions with clear discriminatory results, even if an intent to discriminate wasn't shown. Congress adopted the amendment, but what's important here is that the author of that memo was John Roberts. Yes, that John Roberts.

The storm clouds over our right to vote continue to gather and to darken.


122.6 - Update #4: Strike three for State Dept. report approving Keystone XL pipeline

Update #4: Strike three for State Dept. report approving Keystone XL pipeline

The last time I mentioned the Keystone XL pipeline, the one intended to carry polluting tar sands from Canada to Texas, was back in April.

At that time, I mentioned that the State Department, which was involved because the project crossed a national border, green-lighted the project, saying the environmental impact would be minor - but it developed that the report’s authors were not Department staff but outside contractors with ties to the oil industry and the one that produced the bulk of the report, Environmental Resources Management, has ties to tar sands extraction companies, a big no-no serious enough to have prompted an inquiry by the Department's internal watchdog.

That certainly should have been considered a strike against the State Department report.

Strike two was when the EPA said the report had "insufficient information" and failed to account for potentially vast greenhouse gas emissions and the risk to aquifers along the pipeline's proposed route.

Now comes "strike three yer out." Last week, the Department of the Interior posted on its website a letter from its Office of Environmental Protection and Compliance, calling the report's assessment of the effect on wildlife "inaccurate," warning instead of long-term, adversarial effects, and slamming it - in very polite bureaucratic language, of course - for failing to consider any effect on wildlife of spills or leaks.

With even Obama casting doubt on the you-hear-it-every-time claim of "jobs jobs jobs," saying "There is no evidence that that's true," there is still hope that this monstrosity can be stopped.


122.5 - Update #3: PBS Newshour considers civil forfeiture

Update #3: PBS Newshour considers civil forfeiture

Just a quick note on this one.

Two weeks ago I talked about the disgrace of civil asset forfeiture, where cops can take your stuff based on nothing more than their unsubstantiated suspicion it had something to do with drugs - with all the burden and expense on you to try to get it back.

On August 19, PBS Newshour did a story on civil asset forfiture which acknowledged not only the frequent injustice of it but how it can be, to quote the piece, "an enormous moneymaker" for police departments looking to fatten their budgets.

As I said before, I knew about this some years ago - but now it seems to be getting at least a little attention. Maybe that spark will grow and we can finally do something about this.


122.4 - Update #2: Gov. Scott Walkalloveryou admits watching a protest is not illegal

Update #2: Gov. Scott Walkalloveryou admits watching a protest is not illegal

Two weeks ago, in the Outrage of the Week, I told you about the people who sing at noon in the state capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, in protest of the anti-worker, anti-people policies of Gov. Scott Walkalloveryou and how police had begun arresting people on grounds of "unlawful assembly." I added that what made it even more outrageous is that police had been threatening bystanders, people just observing, sometimes not even from the same floor as the singing, with arrest. According to police, it was not only illegal to sing, it was illegal to watch people singing.

Several such people were in fact arrested and among those threatened with arrest was at least one member of the state legislature.

Well, the reaction to that last bit, arresting observers, proved to be too embarrassing even for Walkalloveryou's minions, and the Department of Administration has now released a statement that observers of what's known as the Solidarity Sing Along will no longer be arrested or threatened with arrest.

By the way, the recent crackdown on the protest has only caused the number of protesters at the daily singing to grow. The attendance is not like the 100,000 or more that hit the streets of Madison in 2011, but it's growing - and this protest, singing at noon in the state capitol every single day the legislature is in session, has been going on for over two years.


122.3 - Update #1: Ray Kelly on short list to replace Janet Napolitano

Update #1: Ray Kelly on short list to replace Janet Napolitano

Last week I talked about the smackdown of New York City's racist "stop-and-frisk" program, found by a federal court to be unconstitutional racial profiling.

Well, it's worth mentioning here that NYC Police Commissar Ray Kelly is on the short list to replace Janet Napolitano as Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security.

In fact, he's the only potential nominee that Obama has publicly acknowledged, saying last month that Kelly is "obviously very well-qualified for the job." What's more, he has the backing of Sen. Chuck Schumer, a powerful New York Democrat.

But in addition to maintaining in effect that stop-and-frisk is the only thing standing between innocent New Yorkers and the black and brown hordes, Kelly also oversaw the attempts to limit or block protests at the 2004 Republican National Convention, methods which included illegal mass arrests, directed the crackdown on Occupy Wall Street, which included arresting members of the media attempting to cover the event, ran in cooperation with the CIA, which can't legally act domestically, a program to spy on Muslims including groups and mosques well outside the city, beyond the NYPD's authority, and helped advance the proliferation of surveillance cameras on New York City’s streets.

That's who Barack Obama thinks is "very well-qualified" to direct the Department for the Security of the Fatherland.

Maybe Orson Scott Card is not as paranoid as might appear. He's still a bigoted clown, but maybe not so paranoid.


122.2 - Hero Award: Sharon Snyder

Hero Award: Sharon Snyder

Now, going the other way, we have an edition of the Hero Award, given occasionally to people who just do the right thing on a matter big or small.

In 1984, a man named Robert Nelson was convicted of a Kansas City rape that he insisted he didn’t commit. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

In August 2009, Nelson filed a motion seeking DNA testing that had not been available at the time of his trial. Jackson County (Missouri) Circuit Judge David Byrn denied the request. Two years later Nelson asked the judge to reconsider, but again Byrn rejected the motion because it fell short of what was required under the statute Nelson had cited. In other words, the judge blew him off because his motion didn't fit all the precise legal niceties and technicalities the priesthood of the law demand in their invocations.

After the second motion failed in late October 2011, Sharon Snyder, a 70-year-old great-grandmother who had served as a court employee for 34 years, gave Nelson’s sister a copy of a motion filed in a different case in which the judge sustained a DNA request.

This, it's important to note, was a public document which Nelson's sister could have gotten if she had known of its significance and where to find it – in other words, if she knew all the legal technicalities.

Using that motion as a guide, in February 2012 Nelson again filed a motion seeking DNA testing. That August, Byrn upheld the motion, found Nelson to be indigent, and appointed an attorney to represent him.

The Kansas City Police Department’s crime lab concluded that the DNA tests that resulted from the motion excluded Nelson as the source of evidence recovered from the original rape scene. He could not have been the guilty party. He was freed June 12.

Five days later, Sharon Snyder was suspended without pay and banned from the courthouse where she had worked for 34 years. Ten days after that, Judge Byrn fired her, just nine months short of her retirement.

The reason for the firing? She had helped Nelson by telling him, through his sister, how he could obtain the DNA testing he had twice failed to get. Supposedly, by doing so she broke sacred law - excuse me, court rules.

An innocent man had been sent to prison for 50 years. An innocent man would have, and in Judge Byrn's judgment, should have spent decades more in prison because legal technicalities and arcane rules of procedure were more important than justice or truth.

Instead, because of Sharon Snyder, he's free. For which she was suspended and then fired. She feels she was "severely punished."

But here's the thing: When she was asked if she would do it again, Sharon Snyder said "Oh yes, I would do it again. I am so happy that he got exonerated on this charge, and [he] felt that would happen or he wouldn't have filed that motion to start out with."

"I would do it again." Those are the words of a hero.


122.1 - Clown Award: Orson Scott Card

Clown Award: Orson Scott Card

We start this week with the Clown Award, given for meritorious stupidity.

The big red nose this week goes to well-known sci-fi author Orson Scott Card.

Years ago, I used to read his columns of game reviews in computer magazines. Even if I wasn't interested in the game, which was the vast majority of the time, I still found him to make interesting points about computers and the computer industry. I can only assume that in the years since he has been the victim of some alien brain-eating parasite of a sort he might have featured in a story.

Just last year, Card declared that same-sex marriage is not about rights, it's about "giving the left the power to force anti-religious values on our children." He also insisted that there are no laws discriminating against homosexuals and that homosexuals can change to heterosexuals any time they want - perhaps though some of the "gay conversion therapy" of the type New Jersey, happily, just banned.

Well, now it turns out that Card is as much of a racist as he is a homophobe, as well as deeply, deeply, paranoid.

In a recent column on "The Ornery American," part of, it declares, "the OSC network," which is actually just five different sites Card oversees - grandiose much, Orson? - he describes his scenario of how Barack Obama, who he has already compared to Hitler and described as "the dumbest president in American history," still brilliantly deploys a multi-part, multi-year strategy to become dictator for life.

Apparently, it starts with Michelle Obama being his "designated successor" with any Democratic opponent being "destroyed" by the media, which is apparently in on the plot, which, he says, "is already in place."

Then it gets good. Quoting Card:
Obama will claim we need a national police force in order to fight terrorism and crime. The Boston bombing is a useful start, especially when combined with random shootings by crazy people.

Where will he get his "national police"? The NaPo will be recruited from "young out-of-work urban men" and it will be hailed as a cure for the economic malaise of the inner cities.

In other words, Obama will put a thin veneer of training and military structure on urban gangs, and send them out to channel their violence against Obama's enemies.

Instead of doing drive-by shootings in their own neighborhoods, these young thugs will do beatings and murders of people "trying to escape" - people who all seem to be leaders and members of groups that oppose Obama.
So armies of young black thugs are going to swarm through the streets of the nation, beating and killing in the name of The Great One! Which is Barack Obama - or maybe it's Michelle, his "designated successor." Which makes this whole thing not only racist and paranoid, but sexist, as it requires that Michelle simply be his puppet without a mind of her own.

Scattered through all of this are assertions that, among other things, Bush never abused the Patriot Act, never lied about WMDs in Iraq, that the Wisconsin teachers who opposed Gov. Scott Walkalloveryou's moves to destroy public unions "spewed venom and hatred" because they want to "brainwash America's children," and that Obamacare is actually part of the plot, intended to deny medical care to Obama's opponents.

Of course, at the end he takes the coward's way out: He insists that he doesn't really mean this, it's just "an experiment in fictional thinking" - right before adding "But it sure sounds plausible, doesn't it?" on the grounds that "it fits the facts." That is, he wants to have it both ways, suggesting it's real while denying any responsibility for having done so. Because he's not saying Obama has a plan to become a dictator that involves black gangs swarming the streets - he's like, you know, just askin'.

Is Orson Scott Card a homophobic, sexist, racist, bigoted wacko showing signs of presenile dementia? Hey, I'm just asking.

One thing we don't have to ask about: Orson Scott Card is a clown.


Left Side of the Aisle #122

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of August 22-28, 2013

This week:

Clown Award: Orson Scott Card

Hero Award: Sharon Snyder

Update #1: Ray Kelly on short list to replace Janet Napolitano

Update #2: Gov. Scott Walkalloveryou admits watching a protest is not illegal

Update #3: PBS Newshour considers civil forfeiture

Update #4: Strike three for State Dept. report approving Keystone XL pipeline

I laugh so I don’t weep: Texas replies to DOJ suit over redistricting

Outrage of the Week: Bradley Manning sentenced to 35 years,0,3249325.story

Friday, August 16, 2013

Weekly reminder

As of August 13, at least 7,167 people had been killed by gunfire in the US since Newtown, at least 74 of them in Massachusetts.

That figure is more than 400 more than the total number of US military casualties in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars combined.

And it is not the whole story: The figure is based on news accounts. Suicides, which account for 60% of gun deaths, are only rarely reported. Using the most recent estimates of US gun deaths by the Centers for Disease Control, it's likely that over 21,000 Americans have died in gun violence since Newtown.

121.6 - Update: Voter suppression comes to North Carolina

Update #2: Voter suppression comes to North Carolina

Okay, the other update is feel-bad news.

Two weeks ago, I talked about how some states were moving at warp speed to impose new restrictions on voting and voters in the wake of the Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act and how North Carolina was among them.

Well, they've done it. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory has signed into law a bill that not only requires certain types of photo identification at the polls in order to vote, something that the state itself admits that as many as 300,000 registered voters in the state lack, many of those being - surprise! - the poor and minorities, it also eliminates a boatload of measures that had been designed to protect against voter disenfranchisement and to increase participation.

That is, in addition to the photo ID requirement, the bill also reduces early voting days from 17 to 10, eliminates same-day registration, ends pre-registration for 16-and-17 year-olds, ends a student civics program, and kills an annual state-sponsored voter registration drive.

It also requires the State Board of Elections to look for ways to "purge" voter rolls, eliminates the checkoff on tax returns for public funding of elections, raises individual donation limits, obviously of most benefit to the most well-off, expands the ways in which unlimited corporate contributions may be used by political parties, broadens those who can challenge another's right to vote from someone in the same country to someone anywhere in the state, drops a requirement that political ads paid for by parties or supposedly "independent" groups say who paid for them, and allows dark money groups to not report how much they spend on campaign-style ads except for the period after Sept. 15 of an even-numbered election year.

In short, it's a voter suppression and money rules wet dream.

Now, the wingnuts are right about one thing: A lot of states don't have same-day registration or have less early voting than North Carolina had or some such. But rather than saying, as you would foolishly rationally expect, "look how much better we do on encouraging voting than other states," the response from Gov. McCrazy is, “This new law brings our state in line with a healthy majority of other states." Which reminds me of nothing so much as the statement I recall from some years ago where a company announced it was "meeting the competition" by raising its prices to match theirs.

But the real excuse for all this, of course, is the supposed need to combat voter fraud, the mythological supposed "crisis" manufactured entirely in the PR firms of the right wing.

Consider: In 2012 in North Carolina, 6,947,317 ballots were cast in the general and two primary elections. Of those, the state Board of Elections said merely 121 alleged cases of voter fraud were referred to the appropriate district attorney's office. So alleged - not even proven, but alleged - voter fraud accounted for 0.00174 percent of the ballots: less than two one-thousandths of one percent. In 2010, 3.79 million ballots were cast and only 28 cases of suspected voter fraud were turned over to the appropriate DAs. So in 2010, alleged voter fraud accounted for 0.000738 percent of ballots cast: seven ten thousandths of one percent.

Meanwhile, with 300,000 registered voters lacking the photo IDs, that means that even if 99.9999% - literally four nines - of those people got photo IDs, there would still be more people disenfranchised by lack of ID than there were suspected fraudulent votes in 2010.

Oh, but that doesn't matter, no no no! It's all about the integrity of the system! It's just common sense! So much so that McCrazy used the phrase twice in a 90-second YouTube video announcing the signing. In that same 90 seconds, he also managed to find time to claim that the only opposition to photo ID comes from "the extreme left" only interested in "divisive politics," an argument that once again proves that the right wing has absolutely no sense of irony.

But face facts and this is important: This is all of a piece. It's not just North Carolina, that's just the latest case. It is all part of a program. There is an active movement, an active coordinated effort in and by the right wing to make it harder and harder, impossible if they can work it out, for anyone who cannot be expected to reliably vote for the wingnuts to vote at all - which is why, virtually without exception, the changes we see getting pushed have their greatest impact on the poor, minorities, and the young.

And I'm not talking about some dark conspiracy by dark and hidden forces. The forces are dark but they are not hidden. This is all right out in the open, coordinated by ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-funded outfit that develops "model laws" friendly to corporations and the 1%, including on voter disenfranchisement, and distributes them to a network of like-minded state-level activists and legislators. And if you're in a demographic which they can't count on to suck up to the corporations and the rich and their reactionary allies and toadies, then they are after your vote. Not just in North Carolina. Everywhere.

The upside - or, more accurately, the not-downside - of the story is that within hours of the bill being signed, the ACLU of North Carolina and a coalition of other groups filed a lawsuit against the bill,
charging that it violates the Constitution's Equal Protection Clause and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The North Carolina NAACP and Advancement Project followed shortly after with their own suit. And the Justice Department has suggested it might fight the new law, under a standing provision of the Voting Rights Act which bans changes to election laws that have the intent to discriminate. That's obviously much harder to prove than it has the effect of discriminating, but at least is means the DOJ is looking to see if the effort is worth it, which is at least a hopeful development.

There is a footnote to this one, too: The new law did do one thing right. It bans the use of touch-screen voting machines by 2018 because only systems that "generate a paper ballot or a paper record by which voters may verify their votes before casting them" will be allowed. Touch-screen machines are notorious for being both unreliable and for being hackable. Good riddance, at least in North Carolina.


121.5 - Update: "Pink Lemonade for Peace" stand goes national

Update #1: "Pink Lemonade for Peace" stand goes national

I've got a couple of updates on previous stories, one good news, one not.

Back in June, I told you about five-year-old Jayden Sink, who set up a "Pink Lemonade for Peace" stand in front of the Equality House, the rainbow-colored house that sits right across the street from the compound of the lunatic Westboro Baptist Church.

Well, her lemonade stand has become a national event.

On Saturday, August 10, Jayden set up her last lemonade stand of the summer, having raised, to date, nearly $24,000 for Planting Peace, which runs the Equality House. But she wasn't be alone. At least 56 other lemonade stands went up the same day, involving children as far away as England, which raised another $1000-plus, an amount that may well grow because it appears not all the participants have reported what they raised.

In any event, all the money is going toward Equality House's anti-bullying initiatives.

When I first reported on this, I called it "feel-good news." But more than that, I sometimes bestow a "Hero Award" on someone who just does the right thing on a matter, whether it be big or small. Jayden Sink is a hero.


121.4 - Outrage of the Week: Judge orders name change based on her religion

Outrage of the Week: Judge orders name change based on her religion

Now it's time for our other regular feature, the Outrage of the Week.

Jaleesa Martin of Newport, Tennessee, could not agree with the father of her 7-month-old on what the child's last name should be. So they wound up at Cocke County Chancery Court before Child Support Magistrate Lu Ann Ballew.

The judge did resolve that issue, but that wasn't enough for her, oh, no. She didn't like the child's first name, so she she ordered the parents to change that, too, change it on the birth certificate - even though the parents had agreed on that name and didn't want it changed.

Now, be aware that the name in question was not something truly bizarre like Mr. Mxyzptlk or "an unpronounceable symbol representing the artist formerly known as Prince" - which, by the by, is something even he gave up on eventually. Knowing that, that decision in and of itself, that kind of arrogant overreach, should be cause for outrage. While a number of countries have lists of approved names or other such restrictions, the US is not among them.

But that's not enough for the lofty standards of the Outrage of the Week. The real outrage here is the reason the judge gave for demanding that change: You see, the child name is Messiah. The judge demanded it be Martin.

Now, according to the Social Security Administration's annual list of the top 1000 baby names, on the list of names with the fastest growth in popularity, Messiah was fourth among boys. Between 2011 and 2012, the name Messiah jumped 246 positions, from number 633 to number 387. It was more popular than, among many others, such supposedly more common names as Ari, Bruce, Chris, Damon, Gary, Jay, Jonas, Lawrence, Malcolm, Marvin, Ramon, and Rory.

No matter, not according to Lu Ann Ballew - whose name, speaking of names, really sounds like the combination of a cartoon character and something J. K. Rowling would make up. The child, she declared, could not be named Messiah because, quoting what she told local news, "The word Messiah is a title and it's a title that has only been earned by one person and that one person is Jesus Christ."

That is, "Judge" and I put the word very deliberately in quotation marks, "Judge" Ballew has decided that her religious beliefs, her religion, override all other considerations. Tradition doesn't matter, the desire of the parents doesn't matter, the law doesn't matter, the Constitution doesn't matter, the separation of church and state doesn't matter, none of it matters. Her church overrides it all.

That very concept is dangerous. Lu Ann Ballew is not competent to be in her position and the fact that she is, is an outrage.

Two footnotes to this: Jaleesa Martin, the boy's mother, said she will appeal. Good on her; the state ACLU says it will help, good on them. And in the comments on the story at the website of the Knoxville, Tennessee, TV station that reported the story, folks overwhelmingly condemned the judge's decision. There is hope for us yet.

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