Thursday, November 28, 2013

We must never forget: T-Day tradition #2

Some traditions are important to maintain.

We must never forget: T-Day tradition #1

Something for your T-Day pleasure.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Next week does not exist

Just a heads up: I've been doing "Left Side of the Aisle" for over 2-1/2 years without a break; in fact, if you allow for the two live shows during Open House events at the local cable access station, I've done 138 shows in 136 weeks.

I deserve a break. So I'm taking one. There will be no "Left Side of the Aisle" next week, that is, for the week of December 5-11.

I dunno if I'll post anything in that time as I plan on taking a major sanity break from all things more serious than crossword puzzles and that book on the physics of time I've been meaning to get to, but it's, well, possible.

In any event, I will "see" you in two weeks.

Weekly reminder

As of November 25, at least 10,888 people had been killed by gunfire in the US since Newtown, at least 95 of them in Massachusetts.

136.2 - The real story of "the first Thanksgiving"

The real story of "the first Thanksgiving"

[Those of you with long memories may realize that this is an expanded and updated version of a post I wrote in November 2011.]

Updated Gather 'round the campfire, kiddies: As a Thanksgiving Day present, I'm going to tell you the true story of the "first Thanksgiving." Which wasn't the first and it wasn't a thanksgiving.

Now, there have been a number of places claiming to have had "the first Thanksgiving," but when we say the phrase, we're all but invariably thinking of an event that took place in what's now Plymouth, Massachusetts in the fall of 1621. So that's what I'm referring to here.

I'll begin by citing a book with the rather ponderous title of A Relation or Journal of the beginning and procedings of the English Plantation settled at Plimoth in New England, by certain English Adventurers both Merchants and others. It's popularly known today by the less cumbersome name of Mourt's Relation. In that volume, published in England in 1622, there is a letter from Edward Winslow to a "loving and old friend" in England. Edward Winslow was a Mayflower passenger, one of the original settlers of what is now Plymouth, and became an important figure in to town before he moved back to England a few decades later. The letter is dated December 11, 1621.

This is quoted from that letter:
Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl, as with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest King Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.
Got that? The thing you need to know, friends, is that that is the only contemporaneous account of the event known to exist. The only other even near-contemporaneous account of which historians are aware was penned by William Bradford, another "first comer" who was governor of the colony for over 30 years. He wrote this in the early 1630s, ten or twelve years after the event:
They began now to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took good store, of which every family had their portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl, there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides they had about a peck of meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to that proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largely of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned, but true reports.
That's it. That's what we know. That's all we know. Well, that and the fact that based on other references in those two sources, the 1621 feast took place after September 18 and before November 9. Most likely, it was in late September or the beginning of October, as that would have been shortly after harvest. Everything else is based on assumptions, interpretations, and guesswork - some of the latter informed, some of it, too much of it, not.

The first thing to realize is that this was not a "thanksgiving." In the period, a thanksgiving was a religious occasion, a day set aside to give thanks to God for some special and unexpected blessing and would certainly not involve a multi-day feast. Such days would occur occasionally as the cause arose and to plan for one every year would be regarded as a gross presumption on God's intentions.

What this was instead was a very traditional, very secular, very English, harvest feast. It was a tradition that if you had a good harvest, you would have a feast, to which you would invite everyone who had been helpful to you in your fields that year. As the natives had been helpful, well, they were there.

True, the settlers didn't have a good harvest - Bradford describes it as "small" - but they had a harvest. At that point, they could expect they were going to survive, they could feel confident they were going to make it. Reason enough for a celebration.

As for the eternal question of what they ate, we don't know for certain as nothing is specified. But based on the sources we can make reasonable guesses.

They surely could have had fish, specifically cod and bass. Waterfowl - duck and goose - seems likely and yes, they probably did have turkey: Bradford says "they took many" so they were certainly available.

They may have had deer; Bradford mentions "venison," which at the time actually meant "hunted meat," but which of course includes deer. What's more, Winslow says the natives brought five deer. However, it's unclear if they brought those to the feast, went out and got them during the feast, in which case it seems unlikely they could have been butchered and prepared for eating during the feast, or they may have been brought later as a thank you for having been "entertained and feasted." In any event, they very likely could have had deer, whether supplied by the natives, the settlers, or both.

Lobster and other shellfish is another possibility; elsewhere in the letter from Winslow which I quoted he mentions that they are abundant in the area - as are eels, of which they could take "a hogshead in a night." If you think "eels, eew," know that an English person of the period would have responded "They're just another sort of fish." A hogshead, by the way, is a cask holding about 63 gallons of liquid. Which means Winslow's description was likely something of an exaggeration, but Winslow was like that.

More tentatively, there could have been a sort of pie made from squash from their gardens, sweetened with dried fruit brought from England. Salads made from other stuff from the gardens is a fair bet, too.

To drink it was likely mostly water. In that same letter, Winslow says the barley grew "indifferent good" - that is, it was a so-so crop - and there is no mention of hops. No hops, no beer. Not much barley, not much ale. So they might have had some ale, but again is was likely mostly water.

So that's pretty much it, kiddies. Not a lot to build a whole mythology on, is it?

Now for the reason I bring this whole story up: Every year around this time, unfailingly, I come across revisionist histories of the event. Years ago in grammar school I along with everyone else got fed tales that roused images of noble settlers and savage natives. Now, there are those who want to change that to a tale of savage settlers and noble natives; they want to simply flip who were the angels and who were the demons. We are regaled with tales of bloodthirsty settlers and how Massasoit brought 90 men to the feast because he was afraid that without a massive show of force he would be kidnapped or killed.

That's bunk, pure and simple.

In fact, relations between Plymouth and the neighboring natives were reasonably good for several decades. There were stresses and strains and disruptions, yes, but for the most part they managed to keep intact the peace agreement-mutual defense pact they made in the spring of 1621.

Things gradually got worse and I won't go into all the reasons why but the biggest two were population pressure and disputes over land that were rooted in vast cultural differences between the natives and the English. The native culture had no concept of land ownership. Not just they didn't own the land or that everyone owned the land, the idea of land as a possession just didn't exist. To own something, for the natives, meant you could pick it up and carry it away with you. How could you own something if you have to leave it behind anytime you go anywhere? Which makes real sense, especially for a semi-nomadic people who live in one area for part of the year and another area the rest of the year. But for the settlers, for any European, land ownership was an everyday concept.

The peace finally, irrevocably, completely broke down - but that was in 1675, more than 50 years after the "first Thanksgiving." The point here is that at that time, in the fall of 1621, native-settler relations were good.

In fact, the very next sentences of the Winslow letter I quoted above are these:
We have found the Indians very faithful in their covenant of peace with us; very loving and ready to pleasure us. We often go to them, and they come to us; some of us have been fifty miles by land in the country with them.
Winslow also says that all the other native leaders in the vicinity have made peace with Plymouth on the same terms as Massasoit, as a result of which, he asserts, "there is now great peace amongst the Indians themselves, which was not formerly." He goes on to say that:
We for our parts walk as peaceably and safely in the wood as in the highways in England. We entertain them familiarly in our houses, and they as friendly bestowing their venison on us. They are a people without any religion or knowledge of God, yet very trusty, quick of apprehension, ripe-witted, just.
(Just to be certain you know, "quick of apprehension" does not mean quick to be afraid. It means quick to understand, quick to grasp the meaning of something.)

That does not sound either like bloodthirsty settlers eager to kill natives or like natives who feared contact with those same settlers or felt they had to display mass force to avoid being kidnapped or killed. If you're still not convinced, consider that in June 1621, three or four months earlier, the town felt it necessary to send a message to Massasoit requesting that he restrain his people from coming to the settlement in such numbers. This is from Mourt's Relation, this is the message they sent to Massasoit.
But whereas his people came very often, and very many together unto us, bringing for the most part their wives and children with them, they were welcome; yet we being but strangers as yet at Patuxet, alias New Plymouth, and not knowing how our corn might prosper, we could no longer give them such entertainment as we had done, and as we desired still to do.
That's how "afraid" the natives were of the settlers.

Simply flipping who is an angel and who is a demon is trash: Neither of these peoples were either. Neither was a saint, neither was a devil.

Okay, so this year I came across a new or at least recent revisionist history, one which unfortunately appears to be gaining traction in some very unfortunate places.

This, too, is about why Massasoit was present at the feast with 90 of his men. Why that seems to be a point of contention, why the revisionists can't seem to embrace the idea that they were there simply because they were expected, mystifies me, but leave that aside for now.

Note that Winslow says "amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms." This new revisionist notion is that local natives heard the noise of the militia exercising, took the noise to mean Plymouth was under attack, went and told Massasoit, who rushed to Plymouth with his men, ready to support his ally and honor the mutual defense treaty. That's why there were there.

Now, this is a sort of innocent revisionism in that it doesn't challenge the nature of the relations between Plymouth and Massasoit's people or even change the essential story except to play up the natives' intentions to keep their word or to hint, as some have in the past, that Massasoit had a sort of fatherly attitude toward this handful of clueless doofuses out at the coast, which is actually not too likely since he would have been well aware of how Plymouth had stared down Massasoit's enemy the Narragansetts the previous spring, but still, again, the revisionism here only affects details, not the actual thrust of the story.

But while it may be harmless, the fact is, it is almost certainly total nonsense. First we have to suppose that the natives who thought Plymouth was being attacked ran to tell Massasoit without ever checking to see if it was true. Second, Massasoit's chief town, Pokanoket, was 40 miles away. Allowing time to get there, assemble a force, and get back, I think it's safe to say we're talking a day and a-half or maybe more. Winslow says Massasoit and his men were feasted for three days - so now the feast is not three days, it's four or five, which is getting pretty long. And third, all the time Massasoit is going to Plymouth, he had to have encountered no one, no native, no settler off hunting, to say "What are you talking about? There's nothing going on there. They're just making a lot of noise. You know how they like to do that." The story just doesn't track.

This version is supposedly based on an oral tradition among the Wampanoag, and I say supposedly because I don't know of any references to this tradition before a rather few years ago. In an admittedly by no means in-depth search, the earliest reference to this oral tradition I found was in 2006. And when I worked at Plimoth Plantation in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including at the native site, I never heard about this oral tradition, even from the director of the native program or the man who was as the time the chief of the Wampanoag.

But perhaps it is an actual oral tradition, something consciously preserved, as opposed to just a mere story easily subject to revision and reinvention over even a short time. Oral traditions can be very useful and very accurate - but the fact is, when a nearly 400-year-old oral tradition directly conflicts with contemporaneous written accounts, I can't put a lot of credence in it.

Again, take note of Winslow's account, written within several weeks after the event. It betrays not the slightest hint of surprise at Massasoit's arrival. And, as I've already noted, Edward Winslow was not one to downplay events or to be reticent in his descriptions; if anything, he was prone to some exaggeration. If there was any truth to the account that the natives came expecting to go into battle, what possible reason, what possible rational basis, could there be for Winslow to have not said something like "Massasoit, with some 90 of his men, came upon us all of a sudden, prepared for battle, having heard reports that we were under attack. But having assuaged their fears, we bid them join the feast."

Why wouldn't he have said that, particularly since in describing other events, Winslow was not one to be overly miserly with details? Why wouldn't he, especially since he almost immediately afterwards says the natives have been "very faithful in their covenant of peace with us," which such an event would have served to illustrate? The only reason I can see, frankly, is that it didn't happen.

So I reject the revisionist histories, indeed I resent the revisionist histories. I resent them first because they are lousy history. They are based on ideology instead of information; they look to satisfy demands of political belief, not of history, and they are every bit as full of false tales and mythology as the nonsense and pap that we got fed as schoolchildren.

And there's something else, another reason I resent them: The "first Thanksgiving" was a moment of celebration when everyone on both sides, even if they were still wary each of the other, believed that yes, this was going to work out. That wasn’t going to happen; it was a false hope, even a foolish hope - but it did exist. And considering what Europeans of various sorts have inflicted on the natives of North America over the ensuing couple of centuries - well, that is more than bad enough to make exaggerations and false claims unnecessary.

So I quite frankly resent the attempts to strip away or re-engineer that one moment of hope in pursuit of a modern political or cultural agenda. And I choose to express that resentment by laying out what we do know about the event, little though it may be.

So I hope you enjoyed your Turkey day, I hope you had time to spend with your family or friends or better yet both and I hope you can understand why I celebrate the day less as an expression of thankfulness for the past or even the present than as an expression of hope for the future. That hope, too, may prove as foolish as that of 1621 - but the blunt fact is, hope is also the only thing, the only force, the only energy, that can provide the fuel that can make that future a better one.

Updated to make a rather subtle point more clearly: Europeans of the 17th century - especially the more religiously-conservative sorts, such as those that lead the Plimoth settlement - did not make the sort of clear distinctions between what is "religious" and what is "secular" that we do today. The sense of, a feeling of an awareness of, the "hand of God" or the "will of God" was much more central to their lives than it is to most of us now.

What that means here is that the 1621 harvest feast would surely have included prayers of thanks to God and perhaps a sermon from their religious leader, Elder William Brewster, as significant features of the event, just as prayer would have been a frequent feature of their everyday lives, from meals to musket drills to mucking about in their fields, tending the crops. However, they would not have regarded this as "a day of thanksgiving" as they understood the term: While the prayers would have been significant features of the event, they would not have been the central features; not the purpose, not the point, not the driver behind it. Celebration was, feasting was.

Put another way, had we been able to witness the 1621 feast, to our modern eyes there would very likely have been more than enough praying, giving thanks, and singing of psalms and hymns to make it look like a religious or at least religiously-inspired event, but to a person of the 17th century it would have looked about as secular as things got.


136.1 - RIP: Bonnie, a border collie

RIP: Bonnie, a border collie

I have a more than usually heartfelt RIP this week.

It's for Bonnie. She's a border collie. Or rather was, as you surely knew from this being an RIP. She died recently.

It's hard to know exactly what to say to eulogize a family pet, particularly since some people don't even understand the idea of doing it: Someone said to me just recently that people who don't have dogs sometimes don't understand just how much a part of your family a dog can become. The family dog is not just a possession, not just a hobby or a source of entertainment; it's family. And when it's gone there is a real hole in your family, a hole just as real as with the loss of any other family member.

Now, I'm not even going to suggest, even hint to you, that the depth or width of that hole typically or usually even approaches the hole arising from the loss of a human member of your family. But I am going to tell you that it is just as real.

Bonnie was, even by the standards of "sweetness" reserved for gentle dogs, incredibly sweet. A neighbor helping us get her to the vet asked if she would bite - and it occurred to us, my wife and me, that we couldn't recall a time when she even looked like she was thinking about biting someone. In fact, in the whole time we had her, the only time her teeth ever touched my hand, other than when I was trying to get a pill into her, was once when I was holding up a treat and she was jumping up to get it - and, well, she missed.

At the same time, she was protective: No one approached the house without us knowing about it. And there was the time she tried to intervene when some innocent goofing around would have looked serious from the outside.

Bonnie was a pound pup - or, I should say, pound dog: We got her from the Humane Society when she was two. I don't remember why we decided to get a dog, we just did, but I do remember why we decided to get her. Circumstances and finances meant we could only adopt one - and as we walked through the kennel, she was the one. I won't go through the whole story, as this bit is already long enough, but she was the one. We even tried to consider other dogs to make sure this wasn't just a snap decision, but she was still the one. Maybe it was a snap decision: Sometimes those are the best kind.

She was with us for 10 years, across five homes in two states. Gentle, playful, smart, she wasn't just "the family dog," she was Bonnie. We gave her what we could: love, attention, good care. The one thing we couldn't give her, again due to circumstances, was as much exercise as she would have liked. She got exercise, certainly but she was, remember, a border collie: She lived to run and I'm sure if she were somehow to create a personal highlight reel of her life, in most of those clips, she'd be running.

We knew she was getting on; she was mostly deaf and getting just a bit frail, no longer able to keep up with her younger playmate, a Jack Russell terrier. But her eyes still sparkled and after a bout of - something, we don't know what but we knew she wasn't feeling well - she regained her old enthusiasm.

Then one morning she couldn't stand up. Her back legs would not support her. And she had been incontinent. After a while she was able to stand but she kept falling - and when she could stand, she kept wandering aimlessly around the house, and after several minutes we realized she was blind. She likely had had a massive stroke.

Blind, nearly deaf, at least partially incontinent, and only intermittently able to stand.... It was time. Her time. especially after the vet confirmed that her back legs were now paralyzed without any deep pain response.

So we had her - y'know, I don't have a good word for what we did. "Euthanized" is accurate, but it seems so clinical, so technical, so emotionless. "Killed" is if anything even more accurate, but too harsh; I can't deal with that. "Put to sleep" is absurd: She's not asleep, she's dead. And the one I really hate is "put down." She was a 10-year companion - and, as I remarked to someone recently, even at my age 10 years is a long time - she was a 10-year companion, not a damn suitcase or shopping bag, like she was a burden we were glad to be relieved of. So I guess I'm stuck with "euthanized" as the best of an inadequate lot.

So we had her euthanized. We were there for the procedure; none of this "the dog goes off into another room where a miracle happens" for us. We said our goodbyes to her - which was of course for us, not her, since she was at least mostly deaf and very likely couldn't hear us, but hopefully she was aware of comforting warm hands and maybe even our familiar smell - but we said our goodbyes.

We had her cremated, something I wish was done a lot more than it is and I mean for people, too, and we are, at least for now, keeping the ashes. Maybe at some point we'll decide on an appropriate place to scatter or bury those ashes, I don't know. That's for the future to decide. For the moment, we're still saying our goodbyes, still feeling the hole.

Her ashes are in a box, around which sits her collar and on top of the box is a small model of a yeoman's farm house. It's a David Winter model; they were popular a while back but I don't know if they still are. In Britain, a yeoman farmer is one who is fairly substantial, including owning their own land. So if you believe in an afterlife, particularly one for pets, do me a favor and don't picture Bonnie with us: Picture her at that yeoman farmer's house, spending her days running around the sheep and chasing birds out of the wheat field and her evenings curled up in front of a warm fire, dreaming of doing those same things. That would be her heaven.

RIP, Bonnie.

Left Side of the Aisle #136

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of November 28 - December 4, 2013

This week:

RIP: Bonnie, a border collie

The real story of the "First Thanksgiving"

Friday, November 22, 2013

Weekly reminder

As of November 19, at least 10,702 people had been killed by gunfire in the US since Newtown, at least 93 of them in Massachusetts.

135.8 - Everything You Need to Know: about Wal-mart's pay rates

Everything You Need to Know: about Wal-mart's pay rates

Finally for today, another episode of our very occasional feature, Everything You Need to Know, wherein yes, everything you need to know about something can be summed up in no more than a couple of sentences and often less.

In this case, the topic is Wal-mart and the increasing activism among its underpaid and overworked employees. I am going to talk about that at considerably more length in the near future, but for the moment, courtesy of the Huffington Post, comes Everything You Need to Know about how Wal-mart pays its employees in one headline, quoting:

"Walmart Store Holding Thanksgiving Food Drive For Its Own Workers"

And a Happy Bird Day to you, too.

By the way, next week I'm going to be spending some time telling you the real story, the historically accurate story, of the so-called first Thanksgiving - which wasn't the first and it wasn't a thanksgiving. But it's still a cool story and it may surprise you how little we factually know about that event.


135.7 - Outrage of the Week: using the FOIA is a threat to national security

Outrage of the Week: using the FOIA is a threat to national security

Ryan Shapiro is a 37-year-old PhD student at MIT who became interested in learning how and why the FBI came to view animal rights activists as the nation's "number one domestic terrorism threat." He has made it the topic of his dissertation.

He ran into a wall in his research when he first began using Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, requests to get significant numbers of documents from the bureau. To agree to supply the documents, the FBI demanded he provide case numbers, file names, and names of field offices where investigations originated, information clearly hard to come by if you don't already have it. Even when he had the information, the agency often claimed the relevant documents didn't exist.

So he began researching the FOIA itself and discovered something: privacy waivers. Quoting an article about him in Mother Jones magazine,
Suppose you and I volunteered for the animal rights group PETA. If Shapiro requested all PETA-related FBI documents, he might get something back, but any references to us would be blacked out. If he requested documents related to us, he'd probably get nothing at all. But if he filed his PETA request along with privacy waivers signed by us, the FBI would be compelled to return all PETA documents that mention us - with the relevant details uncensored.
Because he himself had been active in the animal rights movement, Shapiro knew a number of people still involved. So he contacted them and got the waivers. The first few requests using the waivers got back hundreds of pages of documents, including ones the FBI had previously said didn't exist. Using those, he determined who else to ask for waivers. It was a novel and entirely legal strategy and the project grew.

Until, that is, 2010, when the FBI simply stopped responding to his filings. So in 2012, Shapiro sued the FBI, demanding it comply with the law.

Here's where the outrage comes in.

The Justice Department responded to his suit by asking the court for what's known as an Open America stay, a delaying tactic under which agencies get extended time to reply to requests for documents. Normally, they have 20 days to say if they will comply with a given request, but under what are supposed to be "exceptional circumstances," such as when an agency is swamped with requests, it can convince a court to grant it extra time.

How much time? In Shapiro's case, the feds want seven years to determine if the documents can be released, because, they claim, release could “irreparably damage national security” by creating a "mosaic" of information that would have "significant deleterious effects" on the bureau's "efforts to investigate and combat domestic terrorism."

So-called "mosaic theory," based on the idea that a group of facts can reveal more than the facts individually - that is, the whole is more than the sum of the parts - has been used before to block the release of specific documents, but never on this scale. The FBI is arguing, in effect, that Shapiro's PhD dissertation is a threat to national security.

What's more, the FBI claims it can't even discuss the case in open court "without damaging the very national security law enforcement interests it is seeking to protect." Instead, it has filed a secret declaration outlining its case, with only a heavily redacted version available to Shapiro or his attorney, which means they have to try to pursue their case without really knowing just what the government is arguing.

A ruling in the government's favor could potentially cripple the FOIA and make it far more difficult for journalists and academics and ordinary citizens to know what government agencies are up to. In the words of Baher Azmy, legal director for the Center for Constitutional Rights, "Under the FBI's theory, the greater the public demand for documents, the greater need for secrecy."

It's just another intensification of demands for secrecy and control from what came into office promising to be the most transparent administration ever.

As Shapiro said, "I wish I could say I’m surprised. But I can’t." Neither can I. But I can still call it an outrage.

A ruling is expected in the case within the next few months.


135.6 - Footnote to the Updates: Confederate flag vs. rainbow flag

Footnote to the Updates: Confederate flag vs. rainbow flag

A quick footnote to both those updates as an indication of how far we have yet to go.

The rainbow flag is accepted as a symbol of the movement for LGBT rights. Well, a new poll by Public Policy Polling found that Americans are more offended by the rainbow flag than by the Confederate flag, even though the latter is connected to insurrection, racism, and slavery and those who say it's just a symbol of "regional pride" are either liars or so profoundly ignorant of history as to make their opinions not worth hearing.

The actual questions were about if high school students should be allowed to wear to school Confederate flags or, quoting the question, "gay pride" flags. Those were, just to make sure it's clear, two separate questions.

When asked if high school students should be allowed to wear Confederate flags to school, a plurality of 43%-37% said yes. When asked if high school students should be allowed to wear gay pride flags to school, the answer was a huge no, by 57%-28%.

When the question was posited as an either/or, the results of anything were worse: Only 9% said the rainbow flag was appropriate attire, compared to 38% being okay with the Confederate flag.

The one ameliorating factor is that those in the group who were asked these questions were overwhelmingly conservative: Fully 76% described themselves as "somewhat" or "very" conservative. So those polled were not representative of the US population as a whole.

But it still means they are out there, out there in significant numbers, people who would rather celebrate racism and bigotry than equality and human rights. We still have a long way to do.


135.5 - Update 2: Same-sex marriage comes to Hawaii

Update 2: Same-sex marriage comes to Hawaii

Our other update brings some happy news on a related front. Last week I told you that Hawaii was poised to become the 15th state to recognize same-sex marriage.

The update is that it has happened, in fact it happened on the day I recorded the show. Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed the bill on November 13 and couples can start getting married as soon as December 2.

Hawaii has the distinction of sort of initiating the current debate over same-sex marriage. Back in 1993, the state Supreme Court ruled in a suit brought by two women that denying their right to marry denied them the equal protection of the laws. However, the court left it up the the legislature to fix the problem. Instead, that case was part of the prompt for the passage by Congress of the grossly-misnamed "Defense of Marriage Act" in 1996. When part of that was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court earlier this year, Gov. Abercrombie called a special session, leading to the new law and things coming full circle.


135.4 - Update 1: Joe Bell's continued journey

Update 1: Joe Bell's continued journey

Back in the middle of October, I had an RIP for Joe Bell, who was killed by a truck while walking on a highway in Colorado. He was in the midst of a cross-country walk in memory of his 15-year-old son Jadin. His purpose was to raise awareness about the issue of bullying suffered by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender - or LGBT - youth, bullying of the sort that had driven Jadin to commit suicide. 

The update is that a group of law enforcement officials and community members in Colorado came together to symbolically complete the leg of the walk Bell was on when he was killed.

Beginning at the place he was struck by the truck, the group walked 20 miles to Kit Carson, the town which would have been Bell's next stop. What's more, at least some of those folks now plan to continue Bell's coast-to-coast walk, carrying the message and ending in New York City.


135.3 - Clown Award: John Yoo

Clown Award: John Yoo

Now for one of our regular weekly features, the Clown Award, given more meritorious stupidity. This week, the Clown Award involves an example of what I call unintentional humor, which is when someone says or does something that was meant to be serious but makes you laugh anyway.

The winner of the big red nose this week goes to the author of a recent piece in the right-wing rag the National Review pronounced that President Obama does not have the legal power for the health-care decisions he made about letting people keep their substandard plans. The author called it "another lawless act" by the Obama administration and an example "the same unconstitutional claim to raw power that he has exercised in the past."

The person in such high dudgeon about Obama's "claims to raw power" and "lawless acts," the one so concerned with the Constitution, the winner of the big red nose, is that classic clown, John Yoo. Yes, that John Yoo, the man who authored the legal memoes for the Bush gang, the ones that argued that torture actually isn't torture and things like sleep deprivation and waterboarding were totally legal and even if they're not, they are anyway.

Y'know, it doesn't take a lot of brains to be a doofus - but the truth is, it takes a fair amount of intelligence to be as much of a clown as John Yoo.


135.2 - Some random comments about Obamacare

Some random comments about Obamacare

Okay, I have a few random, sort of disjointed, comments on the recent brouhaha around the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, the first of which sort of relates to what I was just talking about, which is legislation regarding women's health and pregnancy.

I find it amusing - but not the least bit surprising - that the same sort of people who are so dead-set against abortion, the same sort of people who will screech to the skies their concern for "unborn children" - and by the way, I repeat: there is no such thing as an "unborn child"; a fetus is no more an "unborn child" than a caterpillar is an "unborn butterfly" - but the people who will screech to the skies their concern for "unborn children" and the health of pregnant women are also dead set against government assistance for maternity and newborn care.

As a result, they are tying themselves in philosophical and rhetorical knots trying to justify their outrate, their outrage I tell you, over the fact that Obamacare requires that basic insurance policies cover those services.

For example, Rep. Renee Ellmers, the chairwoman of the House GOP Women’s Policy Committee, asked Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius “Has a man ever delivered a baby?” The proper answer to which is "No. Has a woman ever had prostate cancer?" Because if we're not going to cover the one because otherwise it's somehow "unfair" to men who won't use the service, shouldn't we also not cover the other on the equivalent grounds?

Here's another one: Greg Mankiw, who chaired President Shrub's Council of Economic Advisors, argued that, quoting him:
But having children is more a choice than a random act of nature. People who drive a new Porsche pay more for car insurance than those who drive an old Chevy. We consider that fair because which car you drive is a choice. Why isn’t having children viewed in the same way?
Beyond the fact that calling having children a "choice" allows for both birth control - which, yes, some on the right are against - and abortions, and beyond the creepy comparison of having a child with buying a car, I wonder what sort of women Mankiw thinks are having Porsche pregnancies and which are having "old Chevy" pregnancies - but I think we can make a good guess.

Next, the wave of policy cancellations across the country are driven by the same thing that has driven the cost of medical insurance for the past several decades: The desire of the insurance industry to maximize profits at the expense of the health of its policyholders and the general public. The purpose is to dump their most expensive customers onto the public rolls, letting the taxpayers pick up the bill, while keeping only those customers they think are least likely to ever use the products the companies are selling.

They used to do it with pre-existing conditions and recissions but they can't do that any more, so they have come up with new ways such as trying to force their more expensive consumers either into much more expensive plans or onto the exchanges - where several of the largest insurers have refused to take part. In fact, in 23 states plus the District of Columbia, there are fewer than four carriers in the individual exchange market. Its all just more ways to avoid having to cover people who might actually use their insurance. Same game, but different rules so different tactics.

Which we all should have seen coming. What, did you expect them to behave any differently? I'm not surprised by corporations trying to game the system to their own benefit; it's what they do. What I am surprised at is the surprise. Didn't any of these people hear the tale of the scorpion and the turtle?

But speaking of those cancellations, rather than caving, this is what I wish our prez, The Amazing Mr. O, had said about the "if you like your plan you can keep it" business:

"Yes, I said that and yes, I meant it. Because it didn't occur to me that someone paying for insurance that essentially covers little of anything while sticking them with sky-high deductibles for what it does cover would rather keep that plan than take advantage of the opportunity get an affordable plan that actually covers them for health and medical expenses they actually have. The only reasons people have one of those plans is either that it's cheap and it's the only thing they can afford or because they were rejected from other insurance because of pre-existing conditions so it's the only kind of insurance they could get. As a result of the ACA, those people can do better for themselves. And I admit it: It just didn't occur to me that any significant number of people might not want to do that.

"It's like someone with a '65 Nova being told of a program by which they could afford a 2010 Camry - and please, no cracks about why I didn't use an American car; it's just for the illustration - someone with a '65 Nova being offered a way to afford a 2010 Camry and saying no, they want to keep the Nova. I suppose it's possible but frankly it didn't occur to me that someone would want to do that."

Finally: When the debate over what became the ACA was going on, I was one of those people who opposed the bill because it was too weak, too favorable to the insurance industry, would leave too many people uncovered even after it was fully in force, and actually wasn't about access to health care but access to health insurance, which is clearly not the same thing.

The response came in three types: One simply denied the shortcomings existed. Another was the shrug of "it's what will pass" as if the proper starting point for a political negotiation is the minimum you think you can get rather than the maximum that you want. The third was those who admitted the problems but insisted "This is a starting point. Next year we'll come back to make it better."

I told those latter folks "No you won't; you'll spend your time and energy trying to keep what you've got against attacks from the right." To those people, I'm going to take the opportunity to say "I told you so. Next time, listen."


135.1 - Good news: Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013 introduced

Good news: Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013 introduced

We're going to start off with some, well I'm calling it good news.

A new bill about abortion has been introduced into both the House and Senate. Why is that good? Because the bill, called the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013, aims to strengthen women’s reproductive rights rather than take them away. It is, in short, that rarest of all creatures, a pro-choice bill.

Over the past few years, 17 states have passed laws that have had the purpose of restricting access to abortions. Attempts to pass such laws occurred in 18 more. These laws are pushed under the smirking lie that they are to "protect women's health," but the invariable result is to make access to a low-risk, legal medical procedure ever harder to obtain.

Unable to get abortions banned, the anti-choice, anti-personal freedom front has settled - for now - for making them all but impossible to get.

Meanwhile, for the moment the Supreme Court seems content to let right-wing controlled state legislatures and lower courts deal with the issue. Recently it rejected a challenge to a court decision in Oklahoma blocking parts of that state's new anti-choice law, then followed up by rejecting a challenge to a different court decision allowing Texas's new even stricter anti-choice law to stand, one which is already forcing dozens of clinics to close.

Dark green: passed restrictions; light green: introduced restrictions
The Women’s Health Protection Act is a response to that trend. The bill would, in essence, require that states which pass laws restricting access to abortions on the grounds of "protecting women's health" to prove that the new requirements actually do that, actually protect women's health. It bans some procedures, such as legally-required ultrasounds, outright and prohibits so-called Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers - with the appropriate acronym TRAP - laws, which place requirements on abortion providers which are not required of providers of what the bill calls "medically comparable procedures."

If it passed, this would be the first pro-choice legislation coming out of Congress since 1994, when the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act was passed - and even that was a response to a string of attacks, including firebombings, on clinics.

I should tell you that the prime mover behind this is Senator Richard Blumenthal. He was joined by two colleagues in the Senate and three in the House. All, I expect to no one's surprise, are Democrats. Unfortunately, other than Blumenthal, they are all women - the unfortunate part being because hey guys, where are you?

Unfortunately, the greater one, is that while the bill has fair chances in the Senate, it's chances in the right-wing-run House are, realistically, zero. It's just not going to pass. Even Blumenthal admits as much.

So why, despite that, is it still good news? Two reasons: One, Blumenthal predicts that candidates for Congress next year will have to take a position on the bill, which, if it works out, will make it harder to dodge the issue and harder to hide the fact that, as I said last week in talking about the attacks on The Commons, this is a coordinated attack, not a series of separate, individual state fights that just by the purest of coincidences happen to be occurring at the same time.

But here's the real reason: because it's pushback. Because after years of playing defense,because  after years of fighting rear-guard actions not aimed at improving things but merely at trying to prevent them from getting worse, at least some of the Dimcrats have realized that that is not enough. It's never enough. Not on this, not on anything.

I don't expect the Dummycrats to soon develop a spine stiffer than a rope, but at least a few may be starting to realize that spending all your time in a defensive crouch does not win political matches any more than it wins boxing matches.


Left Side of the Aisle #135

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

This week:

Good news: Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013 introduced,0,5946479.story?track=lat-pick#axzz2joZzLISO

Some random comments about Obamacare

Clown Award: John Yoo

Update 1: Joe Bell's continued journey

Update 2: Same-sex marriage comes to Hawaii

Footnote to the Updates: Confederate flag vs. rainbow flag

Outrage of the Week: using the FOIA is a threat to national security

Everything You Need to Know: about Wal-mart's pay rates

Friday, November 15, 2013

Weekly reminder

As of November 12, at least 10,455 people had been killed by gunfire in the US since Newtown, at least 91 of them in Massachusetts.

134.7 - And Another Thing 2: billions of Earthlike planets

And Another Thing 2: billions of Earthlike planets

Habitable alien planets similar to Earth may not be that rare in the universe, in fact there may be a whole lot of them, according to recent findings drawn from data obtained by NASA's planet-hunting Kepler spacecraft.

While the researchers had to do some statistical extrapolation to account for limitations of the technology, and they did use a rather generous definition of "Earth-size planet," including up to twice the diameter (and so eight times the volume) of the Earth, the number they came up with is still stunning: About one in five Sun-like stars could have an Earth-size planet in the so-called habitable zone, the range where liquid water - and, potentially, life as we know it - could exist. The nearest such planet could be just 12 light-years away, which on a galactic scale is barely more than down the block: Compared to the distance across the Milky Way, it's the equivalent of a quarter-mile compared to the air travel distance from Boston to Los Angeles.

How many such planets could there be? If the research team's estimates and judgments are correct, there could be 11 billion of them in the Milky Way alone. So even if they were too optimistic by a factor of 10, that would still indicate over a billion potentially habitable planets in the Milky Way.

Of course, a planet being in the habitable zone doesn't mean there is life there or even that life could be supported there: The planet might, for example, have no atmosphere or have one so dense, like for example the one around Venus, that pressures and temperatures at the surface would make life impossible. It doesn't even mean that even if the conditions for life exist there, that life actually got started. It just means that life as we know it is possible there.

So we still don't know if there is life out there - but with it being within the bounds of reason to say there the galaxy has well over a billion shots at it, well, the chances for it just keep getting better.


134.6 - And Another Thing 1: light sabers coming?

And Another Thing 1: light sabers coming?

Okay, time for a break from serious stuff for our occasional feature about cool science stuff, which is called And Another Thing.

I've been holding on to this one because I really wanted to do it because it's really going to join the geeks and nerds. So even though it's from September, here it is:

Physicists from Harvard and MIT say they've created a new form of matter.

They did it by binding together photons. Now, photons are particles - properly, quanta - of electromagnetic energy (such as X-rays, radio waves, and light) and are generally considered to have no mass and they don't interact with each other. That's why you can have multiple radio stations all available in the same room and why two flashlight beams can cross without either being affected.

However, these researchers have developed a way to make photons interact so strongly that they begin to act as though they have mass and they bind together to form, in effect, molecules of light.

Dr. Mikhail Lukin, a professor of physics at Harvard and one of the researchers involved, said that because this involves molecules of light pushing against and deflecting each other, "It's not an in-apt analogy to compare this to light sabers."

So could light sabers ever be real things? Um, well, maybe.

The UK newspaper the Guardian had some fun with this, saying that inexplicably, reports suggest that physicists have not yet begun to build actual light sabers, nor have they perfected the proper "wishzz" light saber sound. The paper speculated that what with a new trilogy of Star Wars films on the way, the scientists are just biding their time for a Christmas 2015 rollout in toy stores.


134.5 - Clown Award: Mike Rogers

Clown Award: Mike Rogers

Now for the clown award, given as always for meritorious stupidity. And my oh my have we got one this week.

The big red nose goes to House Intelligence Committee chair Mike Rogers.

At a recent you'll pardon the expression "oversight" hearing about the NSA's spying, he had this exchange with American University law professor Stephen Vladeck.

Quoting Rogers: "I would argue," he said, "the fact that we haven't had any complaints come forward with any specificity arguing that their privacy has been violated, clearly indicates, in ten years, clearly indicates that something must be doing right. Somebody must be doing something exactly right."

Vladeck asked, quite reasonably, "But who would be complaining?"

Here's where it gets good. Rogers' answer was, I emphasize quoting, "Somebody who's privacy was violated. You can't have your privacy violated if you don't know your privacy is violated."

Of course! And you can't be embezzling money if the bank doesn't know you're embezzling money and you can't have cancer if you don't know you have cancer and you can't be dead if you don't know you're dead, which makes for an interesting twist on that "life everlasting" business.

But one thing is surely true: You can be a clown without knowing you're a clown. Just like Mike Rogers.


134.4 - Outrage of the Week: 2nd Circuit blocks stop-and-frisk fixes, removes judge

Outrage of the Week: 2nd Circuit blocks stop-and-frisk fixes, removes judge

We have a two-tier outrage this week.

Back in August, I was able to happily report that US District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin had delivered "a stinging and long-overdue smackdown" of New York City's racist stop-and-frisk policy which effectively racially profiled young black and Hispanic men as criminals, stopping them for things such as, to quote police reports, "furtive movements," which could include talking to someone on the street, or not talking to someone on the street, or looking at a cop, or not looking at a cop, or whatever else was convenient at the moment.

Tier one here is that two weeks ago, on October 31, in what a number of observers called a "stunning" ruling, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals blocked implementation of all of the measures she had ordered to remedy the city's unconstitutional practice, including the appointment of an independent monitor, requiring the lower court to hold “all proceedings and otherwise await further action” from the Appeals Court.

That is, the court allowed the city to resume and continue with stop-and-frisk until such time as it heard all the appeals about Judge Scheindlin's underlying finding that the practice violated the Fourth Amendment, which could take well into next year. Put more bluntly, the court in effect said "justice for people being unlawfully stopped and searched can wait until we get around to it."

That's bad enough, but the second-tier outrage is the one that really made legal jaws drop: The court removed Judge Scheindlin from the case, claiming she presented the “appearance of partiality" on the grounds of having run afoul of rules about "related cases," a rule under which cases that present the same essential issues can go before the same judge. What happened is that Judge Scheindlin declined a motion to re-open an old stop-and-frisk case but said that if the plaintiffs wanted to file a new case, she would regard it as related (and so take the case) because part of the argument what that the city had violated an order she herself had issued some time past.

But one, that is a totally legitimate application of the "related case" rule and two, no one had requested that she be removed from the case. As the Center for Constitutional Rights noted, the city "never once raised any legal claims of bias, even in its papers to the Court of Appeals." Removing Judge Scheindlin was something that the Second Circuit did entirely on its own, unprompted and unrequested.

David Cole, a Professor of Law at Georgetown University Law Center, called the court's action "unheard of."

A New York Times editorial called it "a bad ruling," "overreach," and "extraordinary."

Nancy Gertner, a law professor at Harvard Law School and a former US District Court judge, said it was the members of the Second Circuit, not Judge Scheindlin, who violated the rules of judicial conduct. She called the court raising issues not raised by any party to the case a “cheap shot.”

And Richard George Kopf, a sitting District Court judge in Nebraska, called Scheindlin's removal "bullshit" and the Second Circuit court's reasoning "laughable." It even, he says, invites speculation about "what else is going on."

Indeed it does. But even if that "what else" is not clear, one other thing is: This is an outrage.


134.3 - Poetic justice on Voter ID

Poetic justice on Voter ID

Another part of this assault on The Commons, of course, is Voter ID, the efforts across a number of states to make it harder and harder for certain voters - specifically, any sort of even vaguely liberal- or left-leaning voters - to cast ballots. It's all part of the plan.

Well, on the Voter ID front comes a little bit of poetic justice.

A new, restrictive voter identification law has just gone into effect in Texas. It's restrictive enough that it's under federal challenge as discriminatory.

It now develops that on November 2, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who has defended the law in court and is expected to be the GOPpers nominee for governor next year, went to register under the new law and, um, couldn't. At least not without a hassle. His name on his driver's license, which he presented as ID, reads Gregory Wayne Abbott - but his name on the voter rolls is listed as Greg Abbott, and that difference would have been enough to prevent him from voting. He had to sign an affidavit swearing that "Gregory Wayne Abbott" and "Greg Abbott" are both him.

What makes this particularly delicious is that under the original GOPper bill, an affidavit wouldn't have been enough: Instead, Abbott would have had to produce legal documentation of a name change - something he obviously would not have had since he hadn't changed his name.

The reason he could go the affidavit route is due to an amendment to that bill proposed by State Sen. Wendy Davis, who opposed the bill but bit manage to get this attempt to soften its impact through. Who is Wendy Davis? She's the woman who gained recognition with a 13-hour filibuster against a restrictive anti-choice bill - and is predicted to be Abbott's opponent in the governor's race.

That is, the likely GOPper candidate for governor next year would have been blocked from voting under a law he supported but for the effort of the likely Democratic candidate for governor next year, who opposed the bill he supported.

There is still the issue of the potential disenfranchisement of significant numbers of women whose names changed when they got married or divorced - which I have said before is, I believe, part of the point of the restriction. But just for the moment, let's appreciate the irony.


134.2 - The attack on The Commons

The attack on The Commons

I have several times mentioned what I call The Commons. When I first brought it up about a year and a-half ago, I talked a bit about the history of the idea of some resource held in common by a community; traditionally, most often, it was common ground for farming or pasture and perhaps for fishing rights or the like. Eventually, that notion was shrunk by the economic interests of the powerful down to "the town common," often enough some small area of lawn in front of the courthouse - although Boston Common and Sheep Meadow in Central Park in Manhattan at least recall some larger significance.

But what I really was and am interested in is not so much a specifically economic commons of a shared resource but a philosophical Commons, a social Commons, of a shared societal space, the idea of a public sphere wherein all can participate, all have a stake, all have a part - and all have some responsibility. That space of socially shared and mutual duty, the space of what is or at least by rights should be equally available to all.

That idea of The Commons, the idea that there are common interests and mutual responsibilities between and among all citizens simply by virtue of being in the same society, and the related idea of a social contract between public and government, is under unrelenting and vicious attack by the right wing.

Now, it's true that this sense of The Commons has always been under attack from the elites of our society; indeed, that is likely true of the elites of any society. Such elites almost universally simply dislike the idea of all having a stake in, being a part of, that society and therefore deserving of sharing in its benefits - nor do they care for the idea of they themselves having responsibilities to others in that society other than those self-imposed ones of noblesse oblige, the true purpose of which is to demonstrate that elite's superiority.

Still, the intensity and range of the attack we are seeing now is for us here nearly if not totally unprecedented. Some years back, George "I'm what passes for an intellectual on the right" Will wrote in his syndicated column that - and this is an exact quote - "'Back to 1900' is a serviceable summation of the conservative goal." We seem to be well on our way to a time even before that.

And this is the point I want to emphasize. I know I have talked about this before, but it bears repeating from time to time. When we hear about this stupid law in one state or this other inane proposal in another or this absurd nonsense in Congress, we need to remember that these are not isolated incidents. It is not just innocent coincidence that so many things are being pushed so aggressively in so many places at so many levels. It is not a fluke. It is a conscious, coordinated, attack on the very idea that we are a society of interrelated, connected people, an attack on the very idea of "We, the People."

In fact, a report released the first of this month gives some sense of the scope and range of right-wing attack over the past two years on one area, that of workplace laws and workers' rights and protections.

The report was prepared by Gordon Lafer, a University of Oregon political economist who’s served as a policy adviser in the House of Representatives. The report, titled “The Legislative Attack on American Wages and Labor Standards, 2011-2012,” covers how within just those two years:

- 15 states passed new laws restricting the ability of workers to unionize, limiting collective bargaining rights, and undermining existing unions;
- 16 states passed new restrictions and limitations on unemployment benefits;
- four states passed new restrictions on state minimum wage laws;
-two states restricted or repealed rights to sick leave; and
- four states reduced limitations on child labor, including a Wisconsin law ending limits on the number of hours 16-year-olds can work and an Idaho law letting 12-year-olds be hired for manual labor at their school for 10 hours a week, the latter with the avowed purpose of enabling schools to not hire adults who might want enough pay to live on. called those child labor laws "Newt's revenge" from the occasions he got cheers from audiences of slack-jawed yahoos by proposing that even children under 10 could be put to work.

And those weren't the only pre-1900 laws passed in that same two-year period:

- Michigan banned safety regulations covering repetitive motion injuries.
- Wisconsin banned compensatory and punitive damage suits over employment discrimination, which means that if they fired you illegally, even if you sued and even if you won, you couldn't even collect back pay.
- New Hampshire made it easier for companies to classify workers as “independent contractors” who lack the legal protections of employees, plus allowing those employers to contribute nothing to their Social Security or Medicare.
- Maine allowed employers to apply for employees to be considered disabled under a program that allows companies that hire the disabled to pay them less than minimum wage.

And those are just the ones that passed. Two states - Michigan and Indiana - passed so-called “right to work” laws, which are really "right to continue exploiting workers by blocking unions" laws, but attempts to do the same occurred in 17 more. A bill in Montana bill proposed to exclude tips from workers’ compensation calculations, meaning anyone injured on the job whose income partly came from tips would get less compensation. A proposal in Oklahoma would have required recipients of unemployment to do 20 hours a week of unpaid community service, which of course would also allow the state or local government to hire fewer people for actual jobs.

The one that got me the most, though, was a happily failed attempt in Florida to prohibit municipalities from passing any rules to address “wage theft.”

What's wage theft? It's when employers do not give workers the pay to which they are entitled. They don't pay for all the hours people have worked or they pay them less than minimum wage or they don't pay them overtime. There are numerous methods. They are all illegal - but employers aren't concerned since the chances of them getting caught are small and the chances of them facing serious consequences if they are, are minimal.

How big is wage theft? Lafer's report says that
[f]ully 64 percent of low-wage workers have some amount of pay stolen out of their paychecks by their employers every week.... In total, the average low-wage worker loses a stunning $2,634 per year in unpaid wages, representing 15 percent of their earned income.
Put another way: Total losses from gas station, convenience store, and bank robberies combined in 2009 was just under $57 million. Total value of wages stolen in 2008 is estimated at well over $185 million - over 3 times more.

But to the right wing in Florida, for an employer to steal wages from their employees is no crime. Again, happily that bill wasn't passed - but that doesn't mean it wasn't part of the overall landscape of the attack. And it doesn't mean it doesn't reflect the overall attitude that is driving the attack.

And in case you're still wondering about that, in case you're still thinking that this is coincidence, that it's not coordinated, not planned, in an interview with Lafer noted the "cookie-cutter" nature of the bills pushed in various places, the echo-chamber nature of the arguments, the repetetive phrasing of the claims; that is, how the same arguments are pushed, the same claims made, for the same proposals no matter the differences in local conditions.

For one example, 11 states passed similar reactionary so-called "reforms" to public education, generally involving measures benefitting private, profit-oriented schools, cutting public education funding, and attacking teachers' unions, even though in the performance of their public schools, the ranking of those states among the others ranged from 4th to 41st.

“Basically,” Lafer said in that interview,
the most powerful lobbies in the country are in a concerted attack across the country, and also across a wide range of issues, acting in such a way that is going to make it harder for people in the country to make a decent living.
Which I've been saying for over a year and a-half, but it's nice to have some backup.

But I don't want to stop there because, again, all this is just one aspect of the attack. As another example, we have heard much about "the war on women." I have one objection to that, only one; in fact you probably should call it a quibble. It's this: the failure to recognize that the war on women does not exist in a vacuum; it is another aspect, another front, in the overall attack on The Commons, the overall attack on the concept of "We, the People."

A particular facet of this, of course, is the on-going assault on the right to an abortion, on the right to choose. This year has been no exception.
During the first six months of 2013, states adopted 43 provisions to ban abortion, impose medically unnecessary restrictions on providers or otherwise regulate the procedure into nonexistence.
But it's more than that, as some are coming to realize: The attack is not only on the right to an abortion, it's an attack on the right of a woman to retain her independent personhood the instant she becomes pregnant. It becomes an attack not just on the right of a woman to decide to end her pregnancy but on the right of a woman to make any decisions during her pregnancy.

According to the group National Advocates for Pregnant Women, since 2005 there have been 200 documented cases in which a woman’s pregnancy was a necessary factor in criminal charges brought against her. A majority of these involved women who were accused of using drugs during their pregnancies and so charged with "child endangerment" by frothing prosecutors claiming that any reference to "child" in a child endangerment statute must by definition include fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses.

I'm going to interject something here. These prosecutors and their frozen-smile defenders will say "We are doing this to protect the unborn child," a claim made starkly clear by the fact that many of these women have found themselves in court with no attorney - but with a court-appointed attorney to "protect the interests" of the fetus.

So let me say this: There is no such thing as an unborn child. Period. If it's not born, it's not a child. When you start routinely calling a tadpole an "unborn frog," a caterpillar an "unborn butterfly," and an acorn an "unborn oak tree," then you can call a fetus an "unborn child." And not before.

But getting back to the issue, I said a "majority" of cases involved women forcibly confined or criminally charged based on being suspected of using drugs, a practice, by the way, condemned by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Society of Addiction Medicine, and the American Psychiatric Association. But "majority" is by no means all.

Women also have been criminally charged because of miscarriages and stillbirths. In one example case from Iowa, a pregnant woman fell down a flight of stairs, called paramedics to check on the health of her fetus, and then expressed uncertainty about whether she should carry the pregnancy to term. She was charged with attempted homicide of the fetus. In Utah, a woman was charged with homicide based on a claim that her decision to delay having a C-section was the cause of one of her twins to be stillborn.

I'm going to cut myself off here both for time and because we're at a point where someone might say "In the one case, the economy, the move is for less government but in the other, the personal, it's for more government. How can these be parts of the same attack?"

The answer is simple in that in both cases the goal is the same: power. Domination. Control. The essence of which, ultimately, is "I have no duty to you but you have duties to me. So economically, you're on your own and I have no responsibility for your welfare. Socially, I will tell you how to behave." Just like the lord of the manor and his serfs.

"Back to 1900?" Hell, they're thinking "Back to 1600."

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