Friday, February 28, 2014

148.2 - How power corrupts - and wealth is power

How power corrupts - and wealth is power

Repeated psychological studies say that one of the main problems with authority, with power, is that it makes us less sympathetic to the concerns and emotions of others. People in positions of power are more likely to rely on stereotypes and generalizations when judging other people. They also spend much less time making eye contact, at least when a person withless power is talking.

That is, the very experience of having power removes us from connection with others. Put another way, power undermines empathy. It promotes acting on your own desires in a social context without considering the effects of your actions on others. It involves a heightened sensitivity to your own concerns and a reduced sensitivity to the interests, experiences, or needs of others. Power corrupts. And in our capitalistic society, wealth means power.

As one example, consider a series of experiments done four years ago by Joris Lammers of Tilburg University, the Netherlands, and Adam Galinsky of Northwestern University.

Without getting too bogged down in procedural details, they essentially "primed" some people in the experiment to feel more powerful than others and then compared their responses to various tests and hypothetical situations. What they found, in sum, is that high-power people judged others more harshly but themselves more leniently and what was objectionable to them when done by others was significantly less so when done by themselves. The attitude seemed to be "It's okay for me but not for you."

Lammers and Galinsky argue that people with power think it's justified for them to break rules not only because their power means they can get away with it, but also because they feel at some level that they are entitled to take what they want. Because they are entitled to it in a way that lesser people are not. Because power corrupts. And wealth means power.

More recently, research published last year in "The Academy of Management Journal" found that giving someone a sense of power instills a black-and-white sense of right and wrong - especially wrong.

Scott Wiltermuth of the University of South Carolina Marshall School of Business and Francis Flynn of the Stanford Graduate School of Business set up four experiments in which they made some participants feel powerful, giving them the ability to control resources and administer rewards and punishments.

When presented with cases of transgressions, these participants, the "powerful" people, were found more likely to say flatly that a given action is either “yes, immoral” or “no, not immoral.” Less powerful people were far more likely to say “it depends.” And that same "moral clarity" led the “powerful” participants to propose harsher punishments for the same infractions. Interestingly and I say revealingly, this same certainty did not lead those "powerful" participants to propose greater rewards for good behavior. It was all about punishing the lessers. Because power corrupts. And wealth means power.

Kraus and Keltner also addressed this. Their experiments showed a connection between the social essentialist belief that our work ethic, intelligence, and ultimately our socioeconomic status are part of our genetic inheritance, fixed, unchanging, the idea that it's all from our genes, a connection between that and a preference for harsh punishments and a resistance to “restorative” punishments such as community service. Because power drenies empathy. Power denies understanding. Power denies the needs of others. Power corrupts. And wealth means power.

Being rich undermines your morals and makes you a self-absorbed, arrogant, condescending, bigot whose ethics and empathy have been corrupted by power, leaving you a vapid, amoral, sociopathic husk with a sense of entitlement surpassing that of a spoiled 6-year-old brat, often with an attitude to match.

And these are the people who are in charge of our society, who have the most power, the most economic power and political influence, in our society.

These are the people the media listen to, give a respectful hearing to no matter how outlandish or idiotic their ramblings and yes, I'm looking at you, Tom Perkins and the rest of your billionaire buddies, give a respectful hearing to them because these are also the people who own the media.

These are the people the government listens to, and that, too, is backed up by research:

For just one example, a study done by Thomas Hayes of Trinity University published in "Political Science Quarterly" showed that US senators respond almost exclusively to the interests of their wealthiest constituents.

Hayes compared a massive database of public opinion surveys to their senators’ voting records for the period 2001 through 2010. What he found was that from 2007 through 2010, senators were somewhat responsive to the interests of the middle class, but mostly responsive to the interests of the rich. During the first six years Hayes studied, the interests of the middle class didn't figure in - and the interests of the poor just never figured in at all at any point.

By the way, it's important to note that the Hayes' research showed that the neglect of the poor and working poor was a bipartisan affair, with Democrats no more responsive to the poor than Republicans.

So to sum up, the most powerful people in our society, the people the media listens to, the people the government listens to, are the same people that a mass of psychological and sociological research says are the most likely among us to be vapid, amoral, self-absorbed, arrogant, condescending, bigoted sociopaths. And we wonder why we're screwed.

And it's not going to change. It's not going to reverse on its own. MIT economist Daron Acemoglu, who co-authored Why Nations Fail, says that this is "a general pattern throughout history. When economic inequality increases, the people who have become economically more powerful will often attempt to use that power in order to gain even more political power. And once they are able to monopolize political power, they will start using that for changing the rules in their favor.”

It's not going to reverse on its own. It's self-reinforcing, self-replicating. Wealth leads to power leads to more wealth leads to more power, leads to, it goes on, with fewer and fewer getting more and more. That's why the rich are in terms of wealth, running away from the rest of us. It's why they get more and more of the benefits of society and the economy, while the real income, the purchasing power, of the average worker is going effectively nowhere and is actually below where it was 35 years ago.

It's not going to change, it will only get worse and the single remaining question is how fast it will get worse - unless we make it change.

Frederick Douglass said it: "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will." Change is going to require struggle. It's going to require a genuine social revolution. It's going to require disruption. It's going to require people in the streets. It's going to require more, a lot more, than twitter feeds and Facebook posts and far more than "vote for Democrats!" It's going to require a combination of the intensity and determination of the labor movement of the 1930s, the fearlessness of the civil rights movement of the '50s and '60s, the passion of the antiwar and counterculture movements of the '60s and '70s, and the creativity of the Occupy movement of this century.

Quoting Douglass again, "It is not light that we need, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake." We are, I fear, approaching a time when there will be the stark choice: confront or capitulate. Not one of those movements I mentioned could fairly or even rationally be called violent. But each in their own way, in their impact, they brought the fire, the thunder, the whirlwind. We need that sort of storm again.

Back in 1995, George Will, who is what passes for an intellectual in the right wing, said in his syndicated column that "'Back to 1900' is a serviceable summation of the conservative goal." It's damn well about time we faced the fact that he wasn't exaggerating. We need the earthquake.


148.1 - How being rich can make you a sociopath

How being rich can make you a sociopath

This is going to be an unusual edition of Left Side of the Aisle in that it's going to address a single topic, something I've discussed in brief form the past couple of weeks: the sickness of being rich.

In fact, I have to start with a correction or more properly a clarification of something from last week:

Last week, I said that being rich is a sickness. That's not quite right. Rather, it's an unhealthy condition. It's the same sort of thing as being obese: Obesity is not itself a sickness; you can be fat and healthy your entire life. However, it is an unhealthy condition is that it does put you at greater risk for variety of ailments, such as problems with cholesterol or diabetes or heart problems.

In the same way, being rich is not itself a sickness: It's possible for you to be rich and yet a decent human being. But it puts you at much greater risk for a variety of social sicknesses, social pathologies, such that while in the end they may not be damaging to you individually, they can have severely damaging effects on the society around you.

Simply put, being rich puts you at risk of being a self-absorbed, selfish, conceited, narcissistic sociopath utterly convinced of your own inherent superiority, lacking a social conscience, and callously indifferent to the welfare of others not of your elevated social class - and perhaps indifferent even to them. And the richer you are, the greater the risk.

And no, that is not hyperbole. There is a mountain of sociological and psychological evidence backing it up. Don't believe me? Settle in; you're about to get a lesson. Here's some data:

Consider, for one example, a study published two years ago in the "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences." Psychologist Paul Piff of UCal Berkeley and four colleagues from the University of Toronto conducted a series of seven studies which showed that, in the words of the title of their paper, "Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior."

The studies found that, compared to lower-class individuals, upper-class individuals were more likely to break the law while driving, more likely to exhibit unethical decision-making, more likely to take valued goods from others, more likely to lie in a negotiation, more likely to cheat to increase their chances of winning a prize, more likely to endorse unethical behavior at work, and to have more favorable attitudes toward greed. In sum, the fact is, being rich undermines your morals.

In a follow-up study, published in August 2013 in "Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin," Piff and some colleagues conducted five experiments which demonstrated that “higher social class is associated with increased entitlement and narcissism.”

The experiments involved several hundred undergraduates plus 100 adults recruited from online communities. They used multiple methods for measuring narcissism, entitlement, and social class in multiple populations. The strength of the study is that they approached the same basic question several different ways - and the results were consistent: Essentially, the richer you are, the more you tend to be a self-important twit.

For example, when asked to visually depict themselves as circles, with size indicating relative importance, richer people picked larger circles for themselves and smaller ones for others. They also looked in the mirror more frequently and spent more time looking when they did.

Another test measured how participants scored on a standard scale of “psychological entitlement” and found that those of a higher social class - the judgement of social class being based on income levels, education, and occupational prestige - those of a higher social class were more likely to feel they are, in words of one question, "just more deserving than others.” People further down the social ladder were likelier to say “I do not necessarily deserve special treatment.”

Significantly, the researchers asked college students in one experiment to report the educational attainment and annual income of their parents. Remember, these are students: They have not yet made their mark or achieved any success on their own. Even so, those with more highly educated and wealthier parents remained higher in their narcissism and self-reported feeling of entitlement.

This is important because it's often argued that, sure, there's a connection between being rich and being a narcissist, but that's because narcissistic people, self-involved people, are more likely to become successful and thereby become rich. But these results say the opposite: that the narcissism comes first, that it's the wealth that breeds the narcissism, not the other way around - which sounds odd, I realize, but what I mean is that the studies say that it's not that you're rich because you're narcissistic, it's that you're narcissistic because you're rich. And rich people justify their excesses by convincing themselves that they are more deserving of it. Which means being rich undermines your morals and makes you self-absorbed and selfish.

As a sidebar, that fact is reflected in the fact that statistics on charitable giving show that, measured as a portion of your income, the poorest among us donate early two and a-half times as much as the richest: 1.3% of income for the rich, 3.2% for the poor. And reflecting that narcissism, the rich are more likely to donate to things either that they use themselves, such as theater groups or symphonies, or to projects to which their names can be attached, such as at universities and museums, while the poor donate to things that actually benefit other people.

The narcissism that Piff and his colleagues uncovered relates to another study, also published last August, this one done by Michael Kraus of the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign and Dacher Keltner of UCal-Berkeley. The study appeared in the "Journal of Personality and Social Psychology."

Kraus and Keltner set out to examine social class essentialism. To understand this, you have to understand what essentialism is. Essentialism is the belief that surface differences between two groups of people or things can be explained by differences in their fundamental natures. More directly, that they are manifestations of their fundamental natures. An illustration often used is that dogs are dogs and have a certain dogness about them and cats are cats and have a certain catness and dogs and cats are separate things and will remain so.

It's a type of categorization. Categorization is natural and normal; in fact, it would be hard to see relationships among various things without establishing some categories. The thing is, essentialism sees such categories as natural - that is, they don't just exist in our heads, they are not just mental constructs created as a means of mentally organizing and making sense of the world, they actually exist in fact and what's more, these categories are both discrete and stable. Things that appear different on the surface look different because they are actually different in their essential nature.

Put simply, essentialism is categorization taken to the extreme. Which means that essentialism is the cause of bigotry, prejudice, and stereotyping because it defines surface differences as fundamental differences. People can hold essentialist beliefs about more biological categories such as gender, race, and sexuality, as well as more cultural ones such as nationality, religion, and political orientation. I've commented more than once that the fundamental, baseline requirement for justifying war is defining the target as "not us," as "other," as in some way discrete from us. That's essentialism.

Okay. Kraus and Keltner wanted to see if people regarded social class essentially. That is, did people view social class as natural, inherent, and fixed; did they view outward signs of different social classes as reflecting fundamental differences among the people occupying them. More simply put, did people think that your genes are what determine what social class you occupy.

First, they developed a scale for measuring essentialistic beliefs about class. People were asked the beliefs about statements such as “I think even if everyone wore the same clothing, people would still be able to tell your social class.”

Participants also gave a subjective rating of their own social class rank within their community; again, social class was based on education, income, and occupational status. Even after controlling for political orientation and objective measures of a participant’s income and education, the researchers found that higher social class was associated with greater social class essentialism. That is, overall, the higher a social class you were in, the higher a social class you thought of yourself as being in, the more you thought it was because you just deserved to be there. That you were supposed to be there. That you just deserved, by your very nature, to be of a higher status, to be elevated above, the people around you. Being rich undermines your morals and makes you self-absorbed and arrogantly condescending.

Kraus and Keltner looked deeper into the connection between social class and social class essentialism by testing participants’ belief in a "just world." "Just world" theory was developed in the 1960s. It says that people are motivated to believe that the world is a fair place because the alternative - bad things happen to good people for no reason - is too distressing. "Just world" theory is used to explain reactions such as blaming the victim for what happens to them: “She shouldn’t have dressed that way” and that sort of thing, finding a way to feel that what happened to the victim was in some way justified.

So in the tests, participants were asked their reactions to statements such as “I feel that people get what they are entitled to have.”

Kraus and Keltner found that the higher people perceived their social class to be, the more strongly they endorsed just-world beliefs. In other words, if you feel you’re doing well, you'll convince yourself that success comes to those who deserve it - which means, then, that those of lower status must not deserve it. They have less because they are supposed to have less, they are poor because they are supposed to be poor and by their very nature do not deserve to have any more. Put more bluntly, the upper classes think that the lower classes are not merely unfortunate, they are genetically inferior and the higher your class, the more likely you are to believe that. Being rich undermines your morals, it makes you self-absorbed and arrogantly condescending, and it makes you a bigot no different from those who insist that blacks are genetically inferior to whites.

This is where this work connects back to Piff's. Remember, Piff's research showed that it's not that narcissistic people are more likely to become rich but that being rich makes you narcissistic, makes you believe that you have more because you deserve to have more, that you simply are better than people who have less and they have less because they deserve less. What Kraus and Keltner's work means is that they approached the same question from a different direction - and got the same answer.

In summing up previous research done by others, Piff said that upper-class individuals also “showed reduced sensitivity to others’ suffering” as compared with working- and middle-class people. He suggested that was because lower-class individuals are more likely to spend time taking care of and interacting with others in a social network while upper-class individuals seek to differentiate themselves from others.

But there's another at least equally and I think more plausible explanation for this lack of empathy on the part of the rich. At least in our capitalistic society, wealth means power. It was Lord Acton who said, in it's popular form, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Over the years, psychologists have performed literally hundreds of experiments testing the concepts of power and its exercise and overwhelmingly they have come to the same conclusion: Lord Acton had it right. Power corrupts. And wealth means power. And that's what we'll talk about next at a post linked here.

Left Side of the Aisle #148

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of February 27 - March 5, 2014

This week:

How being rich can make you a sociopath

How power corrupts - and wealth is power

Saturday, February 22, 2014

147.10 - Being rich is a sickness

Being rich is a sickness

Last thing for today. I won't have much time for this, so much of it will have to be put off until next week, but I will say this. I mentioned last week about the wealthy and about how being rich is sick. It is. Being rich is a sickness.

I've previously mentioned Tom Perkins, who has become the patron saint of "I've got mine, so screw you," the man who compared protests against wealth inequality with Kristallnacht.

It turns out he's not alone: There have been other billionaires saying "Just suck it up, you'd be rich in other countries" and how the criticism is all for "political reasons" and that poor people should stop their gripin' and get some education to "get out of the ghetto" and how "you just don't work as hard as we do."

The thing is, these people actually believe this. They do.

The rich really are different. They quite truly live in a different world than the rest of us and as economic inequality increases, those worlds become even more and more separated until the uppers don't even need to be aware of the lowers.

I mean, these people have so much money, they literally don't know what to do with it. There's a store in the SoHo district of Manhattan in New York City called Dean and Deluca, which has Gläce Luxury Ice,
a meticulously designed and differentiated ice brand specifically designed for use in premium drinks and cocktails. ... Gläce Ice pieces are individually carved from a 300 lb block to ensure flawless quality and a zero-taste profile.
If you’re so inclined, you can buy a package of 10 of these ice cubes. Seventy-five dollars. That's $7.50 per cube.

It's true: These people have so much money, they don't know what to do with it.

And this is not new, by the way; this separation is not new: I remember back in the early 1980s, Ronald Reagan referred to $50,000 a year as "a low to moderate income." This, remember was in the 1980s, a time when the median income was about $20,000.

So this is not new. The difference now is that the rich are becoming so separated from the rest of us - they're not even just separated economically and socially, but psychologically. Being rich, and the social and economic power that comes with being so rich, is a sickness. It's a disease, a disease that can make you callous, selfish, conceited, and indifferent to the needs and suffering of others.

This was raised most recently and dramatically by the case of Ethan Couch. He's a 17-year-old; he's the one with the blood-alcohol level triple the Texas legal limit who last June drove his car, slammed his car, into a group of people who were helping a woman fix her car. Four people were killed. Nine others were injured. Texas District Judge Jean Boyd sentenced him to 10 years probation. This is where his attorneys used the "affluenza" defense, saying he had grown up with a sense of entitlement that he had no sense that there would be any consequences for anything he did. That's the attitude the rich are absorbing.

By the way, quick note in passing: This same judge, Jean Boyd, a year or two earlier was the judge in a case where there was a 14-year-old kid who punched somebody, who fell and hit his head on the sidewalk and died as a result. That kid was sentenced to 10 years in juvenile detention. That kid, you probably guessed was not rich and was African-American. Same judge.

I've got so much more on this, results of actual studies, I just don't have time so I'll have to pick this up next week. The point is, when I say it's a sickness, I mean it's real. It's real that being of higher status distorts your sense of self. It actually does make you feel more entitled. It makes you feel better than other people. It makes you feel that you deserve whatever you got and that other people who don't have what you've got are inherently inferior to you. This is a real psychological condition of being rich and powerful. And I will do more about this next week.


147.9 - CBO report on minimum wage: Where did those job figures come from?

CBO report on minimum wage: Where did those job figures come from?

Speaking of a different sort of outrage, you may have heard that the Congressional Budget Office has released its report on the effect of raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

And what they say was, well, this could life 900,000 people out of poverty, increase the living standards of several million people, but, the CBO said, it would also cost 500,000 jobs. And of course the right wing has jumped on this immediately: "We told you raising the minimum wage would cost jobs!" [sneer]

The thing is, how did they get this? No one seems to know how the Congressional Budget Office arrived at this figure. What they actually said in the report was that the effect of jobs could be anywhere from "negligible" to costing a million jobs. So apparently they just grabbed some off-the-shelf figures and picked the number in the middle without any regard to how likely any of the alternatives are.

The fact is, the last six times we have raised the minimum wage it no discernible effect on employment. The most recent comprehensive study shows no impact on employment, which is in fact the consensus view among economists, as attested to by a letter on the issue signed by over 600 economists.

Despite that, the Congressional Budget Office is saying "oh, we dunno, half a million jobs. Whatever." I have no idea where they got this. I do know how it's going to be used by the right wing to favor corporations and demean the poor.


147.8 - Outrage of the Week: Criminalizing feeding the homeless

Outrage of the Week: Criminalizing feeding the homeless

Last August, the city of Columbia, South Carolina, approved a new plan giving its homeless population an impossible choice: leave or be arrested. They set up this system where if you were homeless and found downtown, you would be arrested. And where they wanted you to go was this place, this homeless shelter on the outskirts of town which would only hold about one-sixth of the estimate homeless population of Columbia - and at this homeless shelter, you couldn't leave the premises without prior permission and could not in any event leave on foot.

So basically, if you were homeless, your choice was to be arrested downtown or essentially imprisoned outside it.

Well, now the city is now taking even more steps to criminalize homelessness and prevent people from assisting them. It has begun to strictly enforce an old and formerly seldom-used ordinance that requires groups of 25 or more to obtain a permit and pay a fee before gathering in a public park.

A number of charities had at different times been setting up food pantries, distributing food, in the city's parks. One of these groups is the local chapter of Food Not Bombs, an informal nationwide network of people providing meals to the hungry. This group has been serving food to the homeless in Finlay Park in Columbia every Sunday for the past 12 years. But now, they're being told by the city "oh no, you can't do that any more unless you apply for a permit at least 15 days in advance and pay a $120 fee - each time." For the math-challenged among us, that would cost Food Not Bombs $6,240 in fees per year to continue its good works.

Food Not Bombs is not a 501(c)(3), it's just a group of individuals, private individuals, who bring food, prepare the food, and distribute the food, and then clean up afterward and they've been doing this for 12 years. But now Columbia, South Carolina, is saying "oh, no, that means that there are icky homeless people around so you can't do that any more unless you suddenly get really rich."

Stopping groups like Food Not Bombs from doing things like this, from feeding the homeless, is precisely the point. Precisely the point.

By the way, Columbia, South Carolina, is not the only city doing things like this; Raleigh, St. Louis, Harrisburg, Los Angeles, Miami, Tampa, Palo Alto, lots of cities are doing everything they possibly can to make homelessness invisible, telling homeless people, in effect, "Just go away" where they are not directly trying to force them out. We are back to the not-distant days of dealing with homelessness by pretending it doesn't exist.

They call it good policy. I call it a moral outrage.


147.7 - Hero Award: Transform Now Plowshares

Hero Award: Transform Now Plowshares

Now for one of our occasional features, the Hero Award, given to people who just do the right thing. In this particular case, it's a rather big "right thing."

In the predawn hours of July 28, 2012, three nonviolent activists - Catholic nun Megan Rice, 82, Vietnam veteran and Catholic layman Michael Walli, 63, and house painter Gregory Boertje-Obed, 56 - hiked a wooded ridge outside the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. They cut through four fences and splashed human blood and spray-painted biblical messages on the exterior of the building that warehouses an estimated 400 tons of highly-enriched uranium - enough for 10,000 nuclear bombs.

The three activists, who call themselves “Transform Now Plowshares,” were convicted last May of intending to harm national security under a statute supposedly intended to address terrorism. On February 18, they were sentenced to between three and over 5 years in prison on top of the 8-plus months they have already been imprisoned awaiting sentencing. The prison terms will be followed by three years of supervised release. There was also a demand they pay $53,000 in restitution, apparently to cover the cost of repairing the fence and cleaning the paint.

The judge, District Court Judge Amul Thapar, made some effort to be understanding. For example, he denied the government's demand that the trio be sentenced to far longer terms and he praised the trio’s conscience and good works while allowing each to make a statement and even lead the attendees in a brief song.

However, he could not refrain from a condescending lecture which revealed a deep ignorance of the tradition and role of radical nonviolent activism and radical nonviolent protest. For example, he said that perhaps the threat of significant jail time “will lead people back to the political process I fear they’ve given up on” and that “If all that energy and passion was devoted to changing the laws, perhaps real change would’ve occurred by today” - as if such legal efforts had not been going on "with all that energy and passion" since the dawn of the nuclear age.

In their final statements, the three said in different ways that the maintenance of a stockpile of immoral and costly weapons that violate international laws against weapons of mass destruction - and face facts, people, nukes are the only weapons that really, truly fit that description - that maintenance of such a stockpile is a greater crime than any of which they were accused. Which is undoubtedly true.

The government says these three are criminals, no different from terrorists and saboteurs. I say they are heroes.

Footnote: The trio’s intrusion shut down operations at the site for two weeks, prompted four congressional hearings, and exposed a glitch-ridden security system that cost $150 million a year to operate. Babcock + Wilcox, the private contractor managing the site, was docked $12.2 million in fees and lost a 10-year contract worth $23 billion to manage both Y-12 and another nuclear weapons facility in Amarillo, Texas. WSI Oak Ridge, which provided the security guards at the site, lost its subcontract.

So the government could have said "Hey, gee, thanks for exposing all these security flaws" and called them whisleblowers - but then again, if it did that, the Obama administration would have wanted them to be put away for even longer.


147.6 - Footnote: Kansas tries to legalize discrimination

Footnote: Kansas tries to legalize discrimination

As a footnote to that, let's be clear here: The battle against bigotry is by no means won. On this front, we are winning, but progressive tense has not yet become past tense.

As one example, the Kansas state House of Representatives recently passed a bill that declared that both public and private employees - any employee - can refuse "any service," quote unquote, to same-sex couples, so long as they claim it is because they have a religious reason to oppose marriage equality, civil unions, or "similar arrangements." The evidence required to prove such claim of a religious exemption is all but nonexistent, and individuals who try to file suit against private businesses for discrimination will be required to pay the business's legal fees if that business is found to be within these impossibly broad new "rights."

State Rep. Charles Macheers argued that the provision was designed to prevent discrimination against religious individuals, who suffer from such oppression. Quoting him:
Discrimination is horrible. It’s hurtful. It has no place in civilized society, and that’s precisely why we’re moving this bill.
Right, because discrimination is so horrible, we are going to write into the law the right for religious bigots to discriminate the way they want to.

Under the law, government agencies would still be mandated to render services to Kansans, but individual employees - again, any individual employee - would be empowered to refuse assistance to individuals that violated their religious beliefs on marriage. Under the law, that would even allow for, say, a cop to answer a call about a domestic dispute - or even a burglary - arrive at the house to find it's same-sex couple, say "Forget it, I won't help you" and leave. And there would be no recourse.

This has become part of the latest reactionary attempt to hold back the tide of history: Bills have been introduced in several states with this same argument, that it is a violation of First Amendment rights of freedom of religion to expect people to just do their jobs when they are dealing with LGBT people.

Still, it's silver lining time. After the bill passed the House and headed for the state Senate, all hell broke loose in Topeka. The capitol was inundated with state and national media and faced a major voter backlash. Students doing voter registration at one campus in the state said that even the most conservative among those who approached their table said this bill went too far.

The upshot? The day after the bill passed the House, Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle said the bill will not pass in her chamber as it is currently written. She said that she had been favor of the bill, Gov. Sam Brownback had been favor of the bill, and the House speaker had been favor of the bill "until the ramifications became more clear."

Yep. They were all for it - until "the ramifications became clear." Those ramifications being that they discovered, doubtless to their surprise, that even in the prairie heartland, there is a point beyond which you cannot go.


147.5 - Clown Award: Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder

Clown Award: Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder

The statement that the Supreme Court is likely to find it difficult to defend bans on same-sex marriage is particularly true when you consider just how desperate the anti-justice forces are getting and how lame their arguments are becoming.

Which bring us to one of our regular weekly features, the Clown Award, giving weekly for meritorious stupidity.

This week, the big red nose goes to Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, for coming up with the most clownish excuse for bigotry yet.

In 2011, Michigan passed a law banning benefits from being provided to same-sex partners of employees of state or local governments.

In June 2013, federal Judge David Lawson issued a preliminary injunction keeping the state from enforcing the ban, saying that the plaintiffs had a good chance of winning in federal court, again referring, as other judges in similar cases have, to the equal protection guarantee of the US Constitution.

The administration of Gov. SnidelyWhiplash has now filed its response, asking the judge to vacate the injunction and issue declaratory judgment in favor of the state. Why should the judge uphold the ban? Because, the Gocernor's office says, the ban will save the state money.

Seriously. That's the justification. The ban, it argued, "is a logical and cohesive part of the effort to reduce costs and to address the fiscal insecurity of local governments" by "eliminat[ing] local government programs that are irrational and unfair."

Wait, though, doesn't that mean that you're calling providing benefits to same-sex couples "irrational and unfair?" Doesn't that show exactly the sort of unconstitutional bias the plaintiffs are claiming?

Oh, no no no, the state says, the law "does not target same-sex couples." Heaven forbid!

This despite the fact that, one, the law is titled the “public employee domestic partner benefit restriction act” and requires that to be elibible to be covered under the employee's benefits the person must be living in the same house and either married to or a dependent of the employee, despite the fact that, two, in issuing the injunction, the judge wrote that "[t]he plaintiffs fortify their position with statements from the sponsors of the legislation suggesting that Public Act 297 targets same-sex partners and was motivated by animus," and despite the fact that, three, the state's own motion here says that the purpose of the law is to "[e]liminat[e] policies that disfavor familial relationships."

Plus the fact that unmarried opposite-sex couples have a way around the restrictions if they choose to take it: They could just get married, an option which is not available to same-sex couples in Michigan.

But oh no, it has nothing to do with same-sex couples! Nothing! Nothing at all! It's all about fiscal responsibility! Yeah, that's the ticket!
Of course, the state could save a lot more money by simply eliminating all partner and family benefits - in fact, it could save even more than that by just eliminating benefits altogether. But don't be absurd! They don't want to do that! They couldn't do that!

And the fact that they only people truly impacted by this law are same-sex couples? Just coincidence. And like the man said, "Thank god for coincidence."

Governor John SnidelyWhiplash: a true clown.


147.4 - Good news: Same-sex marriage rights advance in KY, VA

Good news: Same-sex marriage rights advance in KY, VA

This is some good news that I mentioned last week, but couldn't discuss properly because the court decision involved had come down just a couple of hours before I recorded the show.

On February 12, US District Judge John Heyburn ruled that the state of Kentucky must recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states and countries where such marriages are legal, finding that the state's ban on doing so treats "gay and lesbian persons differently in a way that demeans them." That is, if you are a same-sex couple that got married in, say, New York and you move to Kentucky, you are still married in Kentucky.

Heyburn said that government may define marriage and may attach benefits to it, but it can't "impose a traditional or faith-based limitation" without a sufficient justification for it. Quoting the ruling:
Assigning a religious or traditional rationale for a law does not make it constitutional when that law discriminates against a class of people without other reasons.
The decision is relatively narrow, as it applies only to recognizing same-sex marriages performed in places where they are recognized, but that was the issue before the court. So it doesn't mean that same-sex couples can get married in Kentucky.

But in plain language, Heyburn’s ruling made it clear that if such a case comes before him, he’ll rule the same way: He will rule in favor of marriage justice and against discrimination.

Heyburn’s ruling is the 10th straight decision in favor of same-sex marriage by a state or a federal judge since the Supreme Court issued its landmark Windsor ruling, which struck down parts of the Defense of Marriage Act and said that there could be no valid basis for Congress to prevent states from recognizing same-sex marriages.

Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, whose office mounted a tepid defense of the law Heyburn shot down, hasn't said whether or not he will appeal. If he doesn't, he will join the AGs in Virginia, Pennsylvania, California, Illinois, Nevada, and most recently Oregon in declining to defend such a ban in their states.

Speaking of Virginia, it was just a day after Heyburn's ruling, February 13, when US District Judge Arenda Wright Allen ruled Virginia's ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional because it violates Constitutional rights to due process and equal protection guaranteed under the Fourteenth Amendment.

The constitutional right to equality should apply to all, she said in her ruling, including same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses.

This came not long after state Attorney General Mark Herring announced that he had determined in his professional judgment that the ban was unconstitutional and he would not defend it in court.

Allen's decision is in line with similar rulings in recent weeks from federal judges in Oklahoma and Utah. The effects of all three of these cases are on hold pending appeal, so the decisions are not final. But it's also true that the AGs in those states could decide not to throw good public money after bad and drop the matter. We'll have to see.

In any event, one of these cases, if not one of these then one of those coming up in Texas or Arkansas or elsewhere, will wind up going to the Supreme Court. But the truth is, it's getting hard to see how even this Court, in the face of this string of cases all based on the Court's own logic in Windsor, could find a way to defend bans on same-sex marriage.


147.3 - Good news: Westboro Baptist Church gets pwned - again

Good news: Westboro Baptist Church gets pwned - again

More good news: The Westboro Baptist Church has been owned - again.

You know about Michael Sam, the defensive lineman with the University of Missouri Tigers who is likely to become first openly gay player in the NFL.

Well, on February 15, he headed to Columbia, Missouri, to join his teammates in accepting the Cotton Bowl trophy for winning the 2014 Cotton Bowl.

Westboro Baptist Church said they were going to protest the event, calling Sam "a filthy pervert" and "a rebel against God."

Students at the university were not going to put up with that. They decided to create what they called "a wall of love" around the event.

Hundreds of supporters turned out, creating a human wall made up of students, faculty, and former Tigers football players which stretched a half-mile around the arena where the award ceremony was taking place, making the fourteen WBC wackos who showed up look appropriately lame and ridiculous.

And once again, the Westboro Baptist Church has done more to advance the cause of unity than their bigoted agenda. In fact, they do that so well that sometimes I have this fantasy that the members of the WBC, few as they are, are actually the world's greatest performance artists who actual goal is to foster a united front against the insane bigotry which they are actually mocking.

I know, no such luck. Still, it's a nice thought.


147.2 - Good news: Greenwald, et. al., win Polk Award

Good news: Greenwald, et. al., win Polk Award

Congratulations to Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, Laura Poitras of The Guardian and Barton Gellman of the Washington Post for winning the prestigious Polk Award for excellence in journalism.

And what did they win it for? They're the ones who covered all the stuff that Edward Snowden revealed about all lthe spying the NSA is doing on us.

So those people who are the ones who are primarily responsible for us actually knowing about all this stuff? They just won a prestigious journalism award. So good on them.


147.1 - Good news: Strong words from Kerry on climate change

Good news: Strong words from Kerry on climate change

On February 16, Secretary of State John Kerry called climate change "perhaps the world's most fearsome weapon of mass destruction," and described those who do not accept the science as "shoddy scientists" and "extreme ideologues," and said big companies and special interests should not be allowed to "hijack" the climate debate.

Wow. He actually said that? And this came just two days after China and the US, the world's largest producers of greenhouse gases, announced they had agreed to intensify information-sharing and policy discussions about their plans to limit their emissions after 2020. Saying "limits" instead of "reductions" and "after 2020" instead of "now" is hardly encouraging, but at least it's something, at least it indicates some growing awareness - significantly, on the part of China - of the problem. Apparently, I'm in a mood to be optimistic.

There is a dark cloud over this: In his speech, made in the middle of a trip to Asia and the Middle East, Kerry also said that it made no sense for some nations to act to stem climate change while others did nothing. Which is an invitation to do nothing on the grounds that no need act until everyone else does, no one need be first. I have more than once described the Obama White House as one where the words soar but the deeds crawl.

Comments on the article were of course chock-a-block with the usual claptrap, but that's almost to be expected - some, too many, people simply are unwilling to be inconvenienced in any way for the sake of future generations. A number of them used the increasingly-popular line that "oh big deal, the climate is always changing" - remember, these are the same sort of people who not long ago would have been insisting that the climate was not changing - but now it's "we have ice ages, we have warm periods, the climate is always changing." As if no one had ever noticed that before.

Well, just in case any of you other there are among the nanny-nanny naysayers for who no amount of scientific evidence will ever be enough, I want to ask you this:

If people in a town started to get sick and die of a certain disease and a mountain of evidence was presented to show that a certain person had put the bacterial agent involved in that disease in the town's water supply, would you insist that no, that couldn't be true, no human agent could be involved, because people have been dying of disease for as long as there have been people?

Because that is exactly your logic when you deny the reality of present human-driven climate change on the grounds that the Earth also has seen natural periods of warming and cooling.


Left Side of the Aisle #147

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of February 20-26, 2014

This week:

Good news: Strong words from Kerry on climate change

Good news: Greenwald, et. al., win Polk Award

Good news: Westboro Baptist Church gets pwned - again

Good news: Same-sex marriage rights advance in KY, VA

Clown Award: Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder,_The_Pathological_Liar#Tommy_Flanagan.2C_the_Pathological_Liar

Footnote: Kansas tries to legalize discrimination

Hero Award: Transform Now Plowshares

Outrage of the Week: Criminalizing feeding the homeless

CBO report on minimum wage: Where did those job figures come from?,0,872599.story

Being rich is a sickness

Saturday, February 15, 2014

146.7 - Outrage of the Week: unemployment benefits, SNAP, minimum wage

Outrage of the Week: unemployment benefits, SNAP, minimum wage

I'm going to wrap up, last thing for today, with our other regular feature. This is the Outrage of the Week.

The thing is, though, it's not a single outrage; it's a sort of a compilation of outrages that lead to a single conclusion, something I've actually talked about before and I'm sure will again - but let's just say this week it's kind of like a perfect storm of evidence.

Just recently again, again, again, the Senate was unable to pass an extension of federal unemployment benefits. This last time they said at least five Republicans needed to vote for it in order to get through the filibuster. Only four did and the bill failed 58-40.

And even if the Senate eventually does somehow manage to pass this extension of unemployment benefits, Republican leaders in the House haven't even talked about bringing it up for a vote.

And all of this is happening at a time when there are still a record number of Americans who are long-term unemployed. Right now, 3.9 million Americans have been unemployed for six months or longer. Now, there's a little down from the peak of 4.1 million, but still these kinds of numbers are unprecedented in our history.

And things about this bill - here's something about this bill, about the most recent version of this extension of unemployment benefits: The right-wingers in the Senate have been saying all along that their deal was that they wanted this bill to be paid for, they wanted the cost here to be covered by some sort of cost reduction or extra income there.

It was paid for. They didn't care. They filibustered it anyway.

The GOPpers said they wanted to be able to offer amendments to the bill. They were given the opportunity to offer amendments to the bill. They didn't care.

Right now, something like 1.7 million jobless Americans have lost all of their extended benefits; they have been six weeks without any of these benefits and this again is at a time when you're facing record numbers of unemployed, of long-term long-term unemployed.

That's just one thing. That's just point one. You want to get to point two, okay. This one just - I'm sorry, I find this so incredibly offensive I find it hard to talk about it.

It's food stamps, or SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. A House-Senate conference report just cut a little more than eight billion dollars over the next ten years from the SNAP program at a time when hunger is still an issue, at a time when the child poverty in this country is one of the highest in the entire industrialized world, when hunger is still a major issue, we're cutting up an incredibly successful program. The food stamp program has been one of the most successful federal programs: It has clearly, dramatically, measurably, reduced hunger in the United States and probably that's one of the reasons that these right-wingers are against it: Because it works, and the only thing they hate more than government spending which looks to benefit somebody other than themselves is federal spending that actually works at benefiting somebody other than themselves.

Now admittedly, this eight billion dollar cut was a lot less than the right-wingers wanted; the House Republicans, they voted for a 39 billion dollar cut. But let's not forget that the Senate Democrats also wanted to cut it and so the argument - again, at a time when again hunger is still real, unemployment is still real, millions. tens of millions of people are struggling, child poverty remains high, poverty remains high - they were arguing not over whether or not to cut food stamps but over how much to cut food stamps and we're supposed to accept and even be happy with this cut on the grounds it wasn't deeper.

Meanwhile, the conservatives are grousing over the farm bill of which SNAP, which is an Agriculture Department program, is part, the republicans are grousing that in this bill that snap got cut too little and farm commodity supports got cut too much.

The cut in food stamps could mean as much as a ninety dollar a month cut in a in benefits for some 850,000 of our poorest citizens. And remember, this is on top of the five billion dollar cut in the program that took place back on November 1st which was the fault of Obama and the Democrats because they borrowed money from the stimulus program that was supposed to pay for this and they never put it back. That was their fault.

But then on top of this, the right-wingers want to add insult to injury: They want to cut the food stamps and then to turn around and slap those who still have them. A dozen right-wingers in the House have introduced a bill to say that people who use the federal food stamp program would have to show a photo ID when they buy their food.

The basis for this, they said, is that a recent Government Accountability Office report found that 2.2 billion dollars in food stamps were improperly handed out back in 2009 which of course is benefits issued and so has nothing to do with a photo ID to use them - but the thing is, they know, they know, they have to know that a lot of these poor people don't have photo ID's and so wouldn't be able to use a the benefits even if they got them.

And just like with voting, what do they say? They say it's "to protect the integrity of the program."

"To protect the integrity of the program." Just like the lies they spread about voters and their mythological voter fraud in order to justify their voter ID laws that would cut out so many poor people from being able to vote.

"It's about the integrity the program." No, it's about you wanting to cut people off from any supports and leave them adrift.

And then here's the one on top, the third point for this like perfect storm of outrageousness and this may be the worst because I just can't understand why this is an issue - although actually I do I'll get to that in a minute.

It's the minimum wage.

Two recent polls - a Quinnipiac poll and a Pew Research Center USA poll - both say voters want the minimum wage increased. Democrats do, independents do, even a majority of Republicans, self-identified Republicans, say they support an increase in the minimum wage and still it is not happening.

The federal minimum wage today is $7.25 an hour. If it had just kept pace with inflation since 1991, it would be over $12 an hour. If it has kept pace with worker gains in productivity since 1968, when the minimum wage was at its peak purchasing power, it would now be nearly $22 dollars an hour.

The fact is, right now, some 3.6 million people in this country are working at or below the minimum wage. That's roughly equal to the population of Los Angeles. And what's more, millions more have their pay actually tied in some way to the minimum wage, so if you raise the minimum wage you don't just benefit those 3.6 million people, you actually benefit nearly 28 million workers who would have a better life and a better chance to advance themselves.

And this nonsense that raising the minimum wage kills jobs? It doesn't. In fact there was just recently a letter signed by 600 economists who said that no, it doesn't, it does not kill jobs.

Instead, the proposal now to raise the minimum wage to just $10.10 an hour - which is still less than it should be - but raising it to just $10.10 an hour would reduce the number of people living in poverty by over four and a-half million.

So why isn't it happening? I'll tell you why. Because one other thing it is, is a stealth taxpayer subsidy to the fast-food and restaurant industry because these McWorkers, as they've come to be called, they are paid safety net benefits out of taxpayer funds, they get benefits like food stamps and other things because they don't make enough at their jobs to live on. Not raising the minimum wage is the equivalent of a $7 billion annual subsidy for this industry. That's why it's not happening: to protect profits.

It's all about, driven by, expressive of, the utter, complete, rank, selfishness justified by self-serving fantasies about the moral and ethical shortcomings have those lower in the economic scale than you. The belief that hungry people are crooks. That unemployed people are lazy. That low-wage workers have no ambition. That poor people have no work ethic.

It is just justifications of selfishness and greed and I'm going to talk more about this next week, about the sickness, the true sickness, of what I call classism, the contempt for the poor and the conviction that those who are poorer than you are fundamentally inferior to you. More on this soon.


146.6 - Clown Award: Drug Free America Foundation

Clown Award: Drug Free America Foundation

Now it is time for one of our regular - and one of our favorite - features, the Clown Award, given for meritorious stupidity.

This week the winner of the big red nose is the Drug Free America Foundation, which brought down on itself the mockery of the entire Internet when it tweeted the question "What happens if marijuana is legalized?" and answered its own question with an incredibly goofy poster.

The DFAF cited neither studies nor data, but simply claimed that legalization would double or triple the total number of users and what's more would trigger the zombie apocalypse. Except maybe it's not an apocalypse because these are lazy zombies, which is kind of a contradiction of the concept of a zombie, but we've already seen that tightly-reasoned arguments are not DFAF's stong point, so I guess lazy zombies fits right in there.

When pressed by Tom Angell of the reform group Marijuana Majority and Jack Healy of the New York Times for supporting data, DFAF first cited an outfit called, which seems to be a collection of every anti-marijuana paper, comment, or remark in existence, and when that didn't overawe people, it resorted to, quoting its tweet, "Do the research yourself, we have and you know it's true." In other words, "We can't prove our case, you go and prove it for us."

Mason Tvert, communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, responded by saying that "If they truly believe in what they are saying about marijuana, it wouldn't surprise me if they also truly believe in real zombies."

And perhaps the apocalypse, at least for the DFAF, since a recent Gallup poll showed a clear majority - 58% - of Americans favoring legalization, including a majority of every age group from 18 to 64.

I've mentioned before that legalization is something I support and which I think is coming but which isn't high on my list of personal political priorities. But I suspect that legalization may come rather sooner than later, particularly if the opposition to it comes from outfits like the Drug Free America Foundation, who are on current evidence a bunch of clowns.


146.5 - Update: GOPpers still trying to push Iran sanctions bill

Update: GOPpers still trying to push Iran sanctions bill

Some weeks ago, I denounced a bill in the Senate that proposed to move the goalposts on negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, a bill that would like result in a breakdown of the negotiations.

Those negotiations, as I've noted several times, amount to a group of mostly Western nations bullying Iran over its nuclear program, bullying which if it were directed against us, political leaders would denounce as the grossest affront to our national interests and rights and sovereignty and would provoke daily calls for war. No matter; we are sort of between the proverbial rock and hard place in that the failure of the negotiations would significantly increase the odds of a military attack on Iran. So the success of those negotiations is clearly the better or more precisely less bad option available.

So it was good news when, as I noted last week, the move to pass the bill stalled to where even the rabidly pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, gave up on pushing it and said it's better to wait and see what happens with the negotiations.

But apparently, some people do not want to give peace a chance.

Forty-two senators, all GOPpers, signed a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid demanding that he allow a floor vote on the Iran sanctions bill.

If he doesn’t, the Daily Beast says, they are planning to make his life miserable by using every parliamentary trick in the book to raise the issue over and over again, perhaps even to the point of filibustering every other piece of legislation, demanding a vote as the price for letting anything else at all happen.

So let's see: The White House says the bill will blow up the negotiations. Iran says the bill will blow up the negotiations. AIPAC says "there should not be a vote at this time on the measure." Bob Menendez, one of the original sponsors, now says diplomacy should have time to work. But the GOPpers don't care.

I don't know if this is because they actually actively want a war with Iran - although some, such as John "bomb bomb bomb bomb Iran" McCain give every indication of wanting just that - or because they just figure passing the bill will embarrass Obama and damn the consequences. One way or the other, they are either bloodthirsty warmongers or amazingly stupid.


146.4 - Keystone XL and the jobs lie

Keystone XL and the jobs lie

I've got an Update about the Keystone XL pipeline. Actually, I should call it a follow-up rather than an Update, but what the heck.

Very quick reminder: The Keystone XL pipeline would move tar sands oil - the dirtiest, most polluting way to get oil there is - from a huge pit in Alberta, Canada, across the prairies of the US, to refineries in Texas, after which it will sold on the international market.

I talked last week about the State Department report on the pipeline and how supporters were trying to spin it into something virtually requiring quick approval despite the report's obvious shortcomings. The biggest shortcoming being how it tries to avoid the whole question of the major and if you will majorly bad effect of expanding tar sands production on global climate change even as it admits the pipeline will promote that expansion. The effect on the climate, the report admitted, would be like putting the exhaust from an additional 6 million cars into the atmosphere.

It also develops that the report's contention that the pipeline will have little impact on greenhouse gas emissions because the sludge would just be transported another way is a view not shared by Canadian government and industry officials. Even Ross Girling, CEO of TransCanada, the company pushing the pipeline, said that developing tar sands will be set back "for decades" if new pipelines are not available "immediately."

But what I wanted to mention here is another part of the report which has gotten less attention than it deserves: jobs.

All along, supporters have been claiming the project will create untold tens of thousands of jobs. And all along, their predictions have proved to be grossly inflated. For example, in 2012, TransCanada was claiming that the project would "create 20,000 construction and manufacturing jobs in the US" as well as "118,000 spin-off jobs" - nearly 140,000 jobs in total. A year later, those 20,000 construction jobs had shrunk to 9,000.

So what does the State Department report say? It claims that during construction, the project will "support" - remember that word, it's important - will "support" a total of 42,100 total jobs, "direct, indirect, and imputed." Sounds impressive until you get into the details: "Direct" means jobs actually involved in building the pipeline. There will only be about 3900 such jobs, the report concludes. "Indirect" means jobs at companies supplying materials and equipment needed for the construction project. "Imputed" refers to jobs - again - "supported" by the money those workers will spend: A pipeline worker goes into town and has dinner at a restaurant or buys a new pair of boots, the jobs of that waitperson or sales person is an "imputed" job.

What's more, after saying this, not there but on the next page, the report gets around to defining what it means by a "job," which, it turns out, is "one position that is filled for one year." Since the project is estimated to take two years, that means they're not talking about 42,000 jobs but 21,000 jobs, only 1950 of which will be in constructing the pipeline - little more than a fifth of what TransCanada claimed and less than a tenth of their original claim.

But then get this: The report even qualifies that by saying that the term "support" includes jobs that are already filled but that would be directed to support of the pipeline project. So this ever-shrinking number is not even additional jobs but includes people who are already working.

And to cap the climax, which is a great old expression, I love that expression, to cap the climax, after the thing is built, after all those jobs vanish, during its operations, how many jobs would the pipeline require in the US, according to the State Department? Fifty. Yes, 50: 35 permanent workers and 15 temporary contractors.

Interestingly, when it's talking about the 42,000 "supported" jobs, it talks about the economic stimulus involved, about all the money being pumped through the economy. But when it talks about the 50 jobs, it reassuringly says such a small number will have "eligible impacts on population, housing, and public services in the proposed Project area." That is, in each case it focuses on what looks better for the project.

Opponents haven't given up. On the day the State Dept. report came out, a call also went out for vigils to express opposition to the pipeline. Three days later, thousands of people turned out for over 250 vigils that covered all 50 states. Some vigils had just a few people; others had several hundred or over a thousand. And there are already plans being laid for both court challenges and large-scale civil disobedience should Obama approve the project.

No matter how much those who Teddy Roosevelt called "the malefactors of great wealth," those "curses to the country" who "sacrifice everything to getting wealth" - everything here including the future of the planet - those people who want us to just give up and go away, the fact is we are not about to do so.

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