Monday, October 20, 2014



There is going to be a delay in posting the next edition, that is, #180, of Left Side of the Aisle. I'm not sure how long; it could be delayed as much as a week from its usual time, which means it could be as late as a week from Saturday  - that is, November 1.

I apologize for this, but there are some things we have to take care of which have to take priority.

I'll have my laptop with me so it's possible there could be some posts put up here in that time, but there will be no video of the show before the end of next week.

I will now proceed to stroke my own ego by imagining that at least some folks will be disappointed.

In the meantime, as I always close the show, you have the best week you possibly can. Peace.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

179.8 - Outrage of the Week: the sick rich

Outrage of the Week: the sick rich

Now for our other regular feature, it's the Outrage of the Week, which this week is brief and to the point.

More than 20% of workers laid off in the last five years haven't found new jobs, according to a Rutgers University survey released couple of weeks ago. Among those who say they've found a new job, 46% said it came with a pay cut and 44% reported a drop in status.

Two-thirds of all adults said the recession hurt their standard of living - and more than half of them think those changes are permanent.

Despite five years of economic recovery, poverty is still stubbornly high in America.

According to the latest figures from the Census Bureau, more than 45 million people, or 14.5 percent of all Americans, lived in poverty line last year. That's a half percentage point lower than 2012, but still 2.2 percentage points above 2006.

(Poverty level was defined as an annual income of no more than $11,490 a single person and $23,550 for a family of four.)

Meanwhile, median household income stood at just under $52,000 last year, 8% below what it was in 2007 and 9% below where it was at its 1999 peak: fifteen years of getting literally less than nowhere.

And while this is happening, the Wall Street Journal can whine about how you can be making $400,000 a year, which is approaching eight times the median household income in the US, and still feel like you're just scraping by and the administration of Wisconsin Gov. Scott WalkAllOverYou can reject a call to raise the minimum wage in the state by saying that "there is no reasonable cause to believe” that the minimum wage, which is $7.25 an hour, that's $15,080 a year full time, less than 2/3 the poverty rate for a family of four, his administration can say that "there is no reasonable cause to believe” that $7.25 an hour is not a living wage.

I have said before and I will say again, the rich in our country are, on the whole, sick. Psychologially, spiritually, ethically, morally, sick to their very souls. They are an outrage, matched by the outrage that we put up with it.

Sources cited in links:

179.7 - Clown Award: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Clown Award: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Now it's time for one of our regular features, the Clown Award, given for meritorious stupidity.

You may have heard about this, perhaps not, but here it is anyway. The winner of Big Red Nose this week is Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft.

On October 9, during a Q&A after he gave a speech at a plenary session at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing taking place in Phoenix, Arizona, Nadella was asked what women in the industry should do to be paid more.

This was his answer, and it's a quote:
It’s not really about asking for the raise, but knowing and having faith that the system will give you the right raises as you go along. That, I think, might be one of the additional superpowers that, quite frankly, women who don’t ask for a raise have. Because that’s good karma. It’ll come back because somebody’s going to know that’s the kind of person that I want to trust. That’s the kind of person that I want to really give more responsibility to. And in the long-term efficiency, things catch up.
In other words, women, don't ask for a raise. Just don't. Trust in the benevolence of the capitalist system and your "good karma" because that kind of passive acceptance of whatever you get offered is a "superpower" that women have.

And he said this, of all places, at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

Grace Hopper
For those of you who don't know who Grace Hopper was, in 1934 she became the first woman to get a PhD in mathematices from Yale University. During World War 2, she joined the Navy Reserve and wound up programming the Mark I, one of the first electronic computers. After the war, she helped develop the UNIVAC computer. She co-developed COBOL (for COmmon Business-Oriented Language) - one of the first general computer languages. She invented the first compiler, a computer program that translates a "higher" computer language, one that looks more like a language to us, into "machine code," the form the computer actually uses. To top it off, she is credited  with popularizing the term "bug" for a problem with a computer program after she solved a malfunction with the Mark I by finding an actual bug - a moth - stuck in a relay. She retired from the Navy Reserve in 1986 at the age of 79 with the rank of Rear Admiral. She has a US Navy destroyer and one of the first Cray supercomputers named in her honor.

And it was at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing that Satya Nadella said that women should just trust in the "superpower" of their "karma" and not ask for the raises which they are due.

Now, after word of this got around, Nadella back-pedaled faster than a circus performer on a unicycle, which I know is a bad metaphor, but work with me here.

Satya Nadella
Initially, he gave the classic and classically lame excuse that he was "inarticulate" in his answer, even though that would mean that his answer was unclear and frankly his meaning seemed pretty clear to me: This was no gaffe, no slip of the tongue; I mean, he went on for a whole paragraph. Apparently a lot of other people reacted as I did because within hours, he was sending an email out to Microsoft employees falling all over himself to take it all back. Oh, yes, men and women should get equal pay for equal work, he said, and oh yes, if you think you deserve a raise, you should ask for one. Oh yes.

By the next day, he was declaring his desire to become a leader in addressing the issue of diversity in the tech industry.

Now, truth be told, and in fairness, Microsoft is no worse than the rest of the industry on the issues of women's roles in the company and women's pay. But "no worse than the rest" is not a very high standard to meet.

And this takes no account of the psychological tightrope women have to walk. Many - perhaps most - women do not ask for raises and they pay a penalty for doing so, including lower income over their working lives, a lack of acknowledgement of their contributions, and even a loss of opportunity because they are perceived as too passive. But women also pay a penalty if they do ask for a raise: They can get branded as aggressive or "pushy" or unpleasant, which can hinder their careers every bit at much as not asking.

Which  means, if Nadella really does want to address diversity in the industry, it's not enough to say "sure, ask for a raise." And it's damn sure that telling women that they should depend on the "superpower" of their "good karma" marks you as a complete and total clown.   

Sources cited in links:

179.6 - Update: voter suppression continues

Update: voter suppression continues

On our other update, voter ID - and you have to understand, "voter ID" has become a sort of shorthand for a whole range of means of voter suppression -  has had an interesting week.

On October 9, the Supreme Court ruled that North Carolina's new voting laws, seen by many as the most restrictive in the country, can go into effect for this fall's elections.

Those laws eliminate same-day voter registration, ban the counting of votes cast in the wrong precincts, eliminate a week of early voting, and end a program that allowed high school students to register to vote. All of those means are more likely to be used by minority voters than white voters my what a shock.

North Carolina's requirement to have ID at the polls doesn't go into effect until 2016, but poll workers this year are allowed to ask people if they have ID. Aside from the potentially intimidating nature of the question, I think it would be interesting if someone could keep track of which voters are asked that and which aren't.

That's the down side. However, on the up side, on the same day, the Supreme Court blocked Wisconsin's voter ID law from going into effect. Wisconsin's law had been struck down by a federal district court, but that ruling was overturned by the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals on October 6. SCOTUS gave no reason for the ruling, but it may have been on the basis of a previous case called Purcell v. Gonzalez, which found that changes in election law should not go into effect too close to election day, the better to avoid confusion among voters.

Unfortunately, on the down side again, the 5th Circuit Court relied on that same case to reinstate the voter ID law in Texas. That law had been struck down in a blistering ruling by District Court judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos, who called the law an  “unconstitutional poll tax” that intended to discriminate against minority voters, creating “an unconstitutional burden on the right to vote.” Unhappily if not unsurprisingly, the conservative 5th Circuit Court blocked her ruling from going into effect, specifically citing Purcell decision as a reason.

So: voter suppression advances in North Carolina and Texas and is held back in Wisconsin. Voter suppression 2, right to vote 1.  Not a happy score.

I've said it before and I will say it as many times as necessary: This is about power, This is about dominance. If the right wing thinks you are a member of a group that will not favor them, they will try to keep you from voting at all. That's what this is about and don't you ever forget it.

Sources cited in links:

179.5 - Update: Protests continue in Ferguson

Update: Protests continue in Ferguson

We've got two updates on things we're talked about in the past.

First, many of us may have forgotten about Ferguson, Missouri, the place where unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot down by a white cop on August 9. For many of us, the word "Ferguson" may have faded into the mists of the ever-lengthening list of such events.

But some people have not forgotten.

On October 13, hundreds of protesters braved pouring rain and tornado watches to stage a four-hour rally outside Ferguson police headquarters, four hours being the length of time Michael Brown's body was left lying in the street by police after he was killed.

It was the last of four days of protests and nonviolent civil disobedience across the St. Louis region. (Ferguson, recall, is a suburb of St. Louis.)

In addition to the march on Ferguson police headquarters, protesters held protests at Emerson Electric, a major employer; St. Louis City Hall; a Ferguson shopping center; and three Wal-Marts. They also tried to crash a private fundraiser for a St. Louis County executive candidate. More than 50 were arrested in civil disobedience.

Among those who attended were Christian, Jewish, and Muslim clergy members, some of who approached individual cops at the scene and asked them to "repent" for Brown's killing and other acts of violence.

One of those cops, Ray Nabzdyk, gave this remarkable answer:
My heart feels that this has been going on too long. We all stand in fault because we didn't address this.
If that conviction can spread, it will reduce the chances of something like Brown's killing happening again. Which can't happen soon enough: Since Brown's death, three other black males have been shot and killed by cops in the St. Louis area.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

179.4 - Unintentional Humor: NH State Rep. Steve Vaillancourt

Unintentional Humor: NH State Rep. Steve Vaillancourt

We now have an edition of one of our occasional features. This one is called Unintentional Humor, where something not intended to be funny, just is.

On October 10, New Hampshire state Rep. Steve Vaillancourt put up an obnoxious post - "obnoxious" in this case being short for "obviously noxious" - in which he called US Rep. Ann Kuster "ugly as sin" and compared her - unfavorably - to drag queens.

His excuse for this exercise in misogyny is an old study that he remembered or came across or something, which said a good-looking candidate can have a five-to-seven point advantage over a less-attractive candidate of the same gender. The science is actually weak and is rebutted by experience - that is, by analyses of actual elections, not by looking at photographs in laboratory experiments - but that's not what makes this funny.

Nor is the fun found in the fact that his comments were so outrageous that even the person supposed to benefit by the comparison, Kuster's opponent, Marilinda Garcia, said they "are sexist and have absolutely no place in political discourse," although that helps.

No, the real humor, the unintentional humor, is that Steve Vaillancourt, the guy who hopes voters judge candidates by their looks, is this guy.

Sources cited in links:

179.3 - Good News: House of Commons supports Palestinian state

Good News: House of Commons supports Palestinian state

One other bit of Good News I want to note.

On October 13, the British House of Commons voted in favor of recognizing Palestine as a state.

The motion stated:
That this House believes that the Government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel as a contribution to securing a negotiated two-state solution.
The vote was 274 to 12.

David Hearst, editor of Middle East Eye, noted the anger in many voices in the debate over the measure, such as that of Sir Alan Duncan, the former Tory minister for international development, who likened the settlements in the West Bank to apartheid and said they represented a "wicked cocktail" of occupation. The next day, Duncan told a British military think tank that "Anyone who supports illegal Israeli settlements in Palestinian land is an extremist who puts themselves outside the boundaries of democratic standards."

Hearst suggests that "Incrementally Israel is losing impunity for its actions," something that may be reflected in the statement of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who after a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday called on Israel to scrap plans to expand settlements in East Jerusalem, calling the plans a "clear violation" of international law.

The resolution is non-binding and has no legal impact on government policy and is unlikely to have any immediate impact on government policy; in fact, government ministers were told to abstain on the vote. But coming at a time when, as I noted two weeks ago, Netanyahu wants to turn the clock back to a time when the rights of the Palestinians were not even on the agenda, this vote is a welcome declaration of support for the right of Palestinians also to have what the Israelis already have: a homeland.

Sources cited in links:

179.2 - Good News: more on marriage justice

Good News: more on marriage justice

I've got some Good News on marriage justice. Let's take recent events in something approaching chronological order.

Let's start by remembering that on October 7, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down state bans on same-sex marriage in Idaho and Nevada. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy issued a stay of the order when Idaho said it wanted to appeal. Embarrassingly, he had to amend the order several hours later when it was realized the stay also covered Nevada even though that state had no intention of filing an appeal.

Either way, it was clear that Idaho had little chance of having its appeal heard by the Supreme Court when the issues involved were all but identical to those in the appeals of the five other states whose appeals SCOTUS had already rejected, so on October 10, the Court lifted its stay. On Monday, October 13, the 9th Circuit Court dissolved the order, making same-sex marriage legal in Idaho. Such couples could begin marrying on October 15.

Meanwhile, on Thursday the 9th, acknowledging its loss at the Supreme Court, West Virginia began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, followed by the most populous county in Kansas doing so the next day.

Then on Sunday, October 12, US District Court Judge Timothy Burgess struck down Alaska’s state constitutional provision limiting marriage to one man and one woman, issuing his ruling just two days after hearing oral arguments. Burgess wrote:
Refusing the rights and responsibilities afforded by legal marriage sends the public a government-sponsored message that same-sex couples and their familial relationships do not warrant the status, benefits and dignity given to couples of the opposite sex.
Alaska was the first state to put such a ban in its state constitution, having done do in 1998. It is now the latest ban to fall before the requirements of the US Constitution. Marriages there were to begin on October 16.

And finally, on Monday the 13th, Wisconsin, one of the five state whose appeal was rejected, formally threw in the towel, announcing that 500 same-sex couples who had gotten married before the lower-court order which tossed out its discriminatory ban was stayed, will be recognized by the state and that the state will treat same-sex and opposite-sex couples the same way regarding marriage.

As a quick sidebar, Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell said Sunday he would appeal the district court decision but it seems pointless since the 9th Circuit has already ruled on the issue and as I mentioned last week, SCOTUS is unlikely to take up any appeal until and unless some Circuit Court rules against marriage equality, thereby creating a conflict among the various circuits. Meanwhile, the beat goes on.

In fact, here's something for you: There is a new Vatican document, prepared after a week of discussions among 200 bishops on the church's views of the family. It's intended to form the basis for a discussion of the Catholic Church's institutional attitude toward gays and lesbians as part of a synod on the family called by Pope Francis.

This document has been called "a stunning change," "revolutionary," and "an earthquake" in the Church's attitude towards gays and lesbians and their relationships.

The document declares that homosexuals have "gifts and qualities to offer" and that the church should recognize that same-sex relationships can have positive aspects, that partners in same-sex relationships can offer each other "mutual aid to the point of sacrifice [which] constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners." It encourages the church to find "a fraternal space" for gays and lesbians.

Now, it says all this while also saying the church needs to find a way to do this without compromising Catholic doctrine on marriage and the family, which means it does not call for change in the church's opposition to same-sex marriage or in its condemnation of homosexual acts. (Parenthetically, the institutional church does not regard being homosexual as sinful; however, homosexual sex is.)

For that reason, for those of us standing on the outside, this may not seem like much. But when you remember this document, again, will form the basis for discussion of the church's institutional attitude toward gays and lesbians, and you put this call for being more welcoming and less judgmental up against the present church position, which calls homosexuality "intrinsically disordered," when you consider that in response to this document, a conservative Catholic website blamed it on "perverted clerics" and Cardinal Raymond Burke, head of the Vatican court, actually warned against Catholics welcoming gay couples into their homes, you can see that yes, this is a dramatic shift, emblematic of the fact that even the Catholic Church is being dragged - well, at least into the 18th century.

But, again, the battle is not over.

North Carolina is one of the states that has given up the fight and recognized the legality of same-sex marriage. Even so, on Monday state Magistrate Gary Littleton, in Pasquotank County, North Carolina, refused to marry two men on the grounds of his religious belief that marriage is one man and one woman.

Meanwhile, a federal judge in North Carolina has allowed Republican lawmakers there to intervene in a pair of challenges to the state's now-defunct ban on same-sex marriage, which could enable them to appeal those cases to the Supreme Court. Again, the Supreme Court is unlikely to accept those appeals, but we have to remember that the dead-enders are still with us.

Sources cited in links:

179.1 - A note about sources

A note about sources

I'm going to start this week with something I've been meaning to mention for a little while now but I keep forgetting. So this time I decided to do it at the beginning of the show so I wouldn't forget.

A short while back I heard on another show on this station someone making a claim about a political issue. It was a claim, a factual claim, making an assertion about a government practice which I had never heard of before from any source, left, mainstream, or right. No source was given, no basis for the claim was provided. I wondered to myself where that had come from, what was the source and was there one beyond mere rumor or idle speculation or pure imagination.

So here's what I want to say: On this show, when I make an assertion of fact - not an opinion or an interpretation, but an assertion of fact - I have a specific basis for it. It might be a report or a study from some organization or government agency, it might be a news report, it might be something else. But there is a basis for it that is independent of me.

Opinions on, interpretations of, or judgements about such facts are on me - but the basic assertions themselves, the basic assertions of fact, are based on something, again, independent of me and my convictions. And I frankly think it's pretty easy to tell which is which around here, to tell which are assertions of fact and which are judgments.

So here's the point: If you ever hear me say something here and you wonder "Where did he get that from," this is what you do. Go to my website, which is, again, called Lotus - Surviving a Dark Time and the URL is I do the show on Wednesday and usually by that Saturday it is posted to my blog and broken down by segment. Each such segment, each post, contains links, hyperlinks, to the material from which that particular bit of information is drawn and at the end of each segment there is a list of the sources used in that segment.

So if you ever wonder where I got such-and-such from, I tell you where I got it from and you can go to the website, follow the link to the source, and check it out for yourself.

Left Side of the Aisle #179

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of October 16-22, 2014

This week:

A note about sources

Good News: more on marriage justice

Good News: House of Commons supports Palestinian state

Unintentional Humor: NH State Rep. Steve Vaillancourt

Update: Protests continue in Ferguson

Update: voter suppression continues

Clown Award: Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella

Outrage of the Week: the sick rich

Monday, October 13, 2014

178.5 - Racism and that Boston Herald cartoon

[Welcome to Jon Swift Roundup 2014 readers. I hope you'll be interested in reading more of my stuff at or in watching my show Left Side of the Aisle on YouTube.]

Racism and that Boston Herald cartoon

We're going to finish up today with something needs to be talked about.

You may have heard about, you may even have seen, the editorial cartoon in that appeared in the Boston "Herald" on October 1. In case you haven't, it's reproduced to the right. You need to see it, not just to have it described, so that you can judge it in its proper context.

The cartoon was meant to satirize the recent incident of a serious breakdown in the security the Secret Service provides to the president, a breakdown which allowed a man to get over the White House fence and actually into the White House before he was stopped.

The caption says "White House Invader Got Farther Than Originally Thought.” It shows Obama brushing his teeth while a man in the bathtub behind him says "Have you tried the new watermelon flavored toothpaste?"

And if that last bit made you cringe, you are a normal human being with a decent awareness of social and cultural reality.

The cartoonist, Jerry Holbert, "apologized," saying he got the idea after finding "kids' Colgate watermelon flavor" toothpaste in the bathroom at his home and was "completely naive or innocent to any racial connotations."

For the paper's part, it said "We regret the reaction this cartoon elicited among many and apologize for it. Clearly, that was not Jerry’s intent and it certainly was not the intent of the Boston Herald."

Now, I want to take the cartoonist at his word. That means leaving aside the question of why he thought it appropriate to use a children's toothpaste flavor in the context of an adult - and even more leaving aside the fact that I find it incredibly hard to credit the notion that a grown man could be so astonishingly unaware, so "completely naive," as to have no notion of the impact or connotations of a watermelon reference in the context of a black man.

But still, I want to take him at his word. I even want to take the "Herald" at its word.

But even if I do, we are still faced with the fact that these statements are not apologies. An apology is "I did something wrong," not "It's too bad you reacted that way." An apology is "I regret what I did," not "I regret how you reacted." These non-apologies are an attempt to shift blame, to shift responsibility from the one who acted to the one who was acted on. "I'm innocent; too bad you can't take a joke."

The "Herald" did somewhat better next time around after its non-apology had, it would seem, been vetted: Newspaper spokeswoman Gwen Gage referred to the cartoon as "unacceptable in its insensitivity and racial overtones," but she still insisted both the paper and the cartoonist "intended no such inference."

Holbert also did better on his second round of apologies, saying later that "I didn’t think this all the way through" and "I really did it wrong," which at least takes some responsibility, while still insisting he is altogether innocent of any bad intent.

He is so innocent, in fact, that when the syndicator of the cartoon contacted him, suggesting he change the toothpaste flavor from watermelon to raspberry because of the racial element of watermelon, he says he disagreed but went along because that's what they wanted. Curiously, the syndicator said Holbert agreed, not disagreed, and "happily" made the change, which makes things kind of odd because now we have conflicting stories, but never mind because that's not what's really important.

Because what's important and what's worse is that Holbert could be telling the truth - he could be that blissfully ignorant, that blissfully unaware, that blissfully insulated, so that he took no notice of the meaning of the words he used, of the implications they carried, so blissfully insulated from the fact of context because context matters.

He could be that unaware of the pokes and prods, the jibes and jabs, the slings and arrows, the daily pile of small insults that are normal part of the lives of African-Americans in this society. He could be that unaware of the protection, the insulation, his white skin provides him. He could be that unaware of his privilege, his privileged position. Because as others have said, that is the point of privilege: It is designed to be, it is intended to be, invisible to those that have it.

Because privilege, remember, is not always about what you get - it's also about what you don't get. It's not always about what others think about you, what they assume about you - it's about what they don't think about you, what they don't assume about you.

I can walk down the street past a group of women without them clutching their purses a little tighter.

I can go into a store without security watching me everywhere I go, or at least without them making it painfully - in both the symbolic and the literal sense - obvious they are following me everywhere I go.

I can walk into a fancy jewelry store in sneakers, jeans, and a t-shit with a hole in it without every head swiveling toward me and every clerk in the place looking at me like "What are you doing here?" and reminding themselves where the alarm button is.

I can flash some bling without people thinking I either stole it or that I'm a pimp.

I can see a cop car behind me in my rear-view mirror and my only concern is watching the speed limit.

I have never felt the need - and I'm damn sure Jerry Holbert hasn't either - never felt the need to be in the streets with a sign declaring "I am a man."

That's privilege. I have that privilege. And that privilege is not based on money, it's not based on education, it's not based on dress, it's not based on erudition, it's based on one overriding factor: my white skin.

That is privilege. and until we make an awareness of that privilege part of our everyday experience, until we stop dismissing the anger of our brothers and sisters as unimportant because we don't see what the offense is so they should "just get over it," until that time, black parents will still have to teach their children how to avoid getting shot by cops, knowing that neither wealth nor position will protect them, and live in fear of the day, which they know will come, when their child is called "nigger" for the first - but not the last - time.

Sources cited in links:

178.4 - Outrage of the Week: Antonin Scalia says government can favor religion over non-religion

Outrage of the Week: Antonin Scalia says government can favor religion over non-religion

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

He is the gift that keeps on giving. After he won a couple of times, I retired him from competing for the Clown Award because he was just too easy a target, but here he is, coming storming back to seize the position of the Outrage of the Week. He is that beacon of buffoonery, that incubator of inanity, that epicenter of egregiousness, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.

He recently gave a talk at Colorado Christian University, a place where, according to University president Bill Armstrong, he has more admirers than anywhere else on Earth.

To put that accolade into context, Bill Armstrong has argued that federal accreditation of colleges is a "government takeover" of private colleges - an op-ed illustrated with the image, appropriately. to the right - and the university is among the places that have argued that having to make contraceptive care available to their employees through their health insurance plans is a violation of religious freedom even though the institution would neither manage nor pay anything for the coverage.

So Scalia was, as even the right-wing Washington Times admits, "preaching to the choir" when he declared that separation of church and state doesn't actually mean separation of church and state, not really. Quoting him:
I think the main fight is to dissuade Americans from what the secularists are trying to persuade them to be true: that the separation of church and state means that the government cannot favor religion over non-religion.
It is, he went on, “utterly absurd” to think otherwise, arguing that the Constitution is only obligated to protect freedom of religion - not freedom from religion.

This is idiotic - which is nothing new for Justice Skeletor - because as others have pointed out, no freedom from religion means the government could require non-believers to choose a religion; being forced to swear a belief in a religion in which you do not believe would seem to be the definition of a violation of religious freedom.

It is outrageous that a Supreme Court justice could actually, seriously, propose such a thing.

But here's the other thing, the "rest of the story" if you will, and why this is the Outrage of the Week: I have talked before about what I call "the Commons," and how is under attack by the right wing.

Traditionally, "the Commons" referred to resources held in common by a community, often common pasture land. However, "The Commons" as I mean it in this context is a philosophical Commons, a social Commons, it refers to the idea of there being a public sphere in which all can participate, all have a stake, all have a part - and all have some responsibility. It is that space of socially shared and mutual duty, of what is, or at least by rights should be, equally available to all.

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Skeletor
That 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 the public and the government, is what is under attack from the right - or, more accurately, the wrong.

Justice Skeletor's claim that there is no freedom from religion guaranteed by the Constitution is part of that attack. I say that even though non-believers hold a variety of political beliefs - some atheists, for example, are very conservative politically even though overall atheists tend to be more liberal than the general American population. The point is that the net effect of such claims as his - the purpose of such claims as his - is to make it legitimate to read certain people out of full participation in society, to read them out of being full members of society, based on who they are or what they believe.

For example, it is, ultimately, the legal basis for the refusal to recognize same-sex marriage: You can be cut out of full participation in society based on who you love. Skeletor would extend that - or, if I'm going to be historically accurate, re-extend that - to your beliefs about god. It is an attack on the Commons, it is an attack that is one with attacks on voting rights, it is an attack on the idea of "community" - and it is an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

178.3 - Clown Award: Colorado state Board of Education member Pam Mazanec

Clown Award: Colorado state Board of Education member Pam Mazanec

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

You may have heard about the protests by students in Colorado over the attempts of a right-wing school board to water down the new Advanced Placement US History curriculum created by the College Board and turn it into a propaganda forum for a string of right-wing bumper stickers promoting "patriotism," "respect for authority," and the glories of "free enterprise" while discouraging "civil disorder, social strife or disregard for the law." Which makes me wonder how, if they are going to reject strife and disregard for law, they are going to be able to cover the American Revolution, but let's leave that aside.

The students - and the teachers and parents who joined them - have forced the school board to back down at least part way, but the issue remains.

The thing is, the principles laid out for the APUSH course, as it has been called, have really gotten the clown juices flowing.

For one example, Fox News contributor Ben Carson told the audience at the Center for Security Policy's National Security Action Summit last week that the framework has an anti-American bias, one so extreme that, quoting, "I think most people when they finish that course, they'd be ready to go sign up for ISIS."

But the possibility, however remote, that this may have been hyperbole leaves Carson falling short of the standards for the Clown Award, despite the fact that the statement is stupid in either case, hyperbole or not.

So this week the Big Red Nose goes to Pam Mazanec, a member of Colorado's state Board of Education, who jumped into this fray last week by posting on a Facebook page intended to discuss the curriculum the argument that the framework may have been conceived by people with an "agenda" who wanted to "downplay our noble history."

As an example of that "nobility," she said, quoting,
I note our slavery history. Yes, we practiced slavery. But we also ended it voluntarily, at great sacrifice, while the practice continues in many countries still today!  This is part of the argument that America is exceptional.
"Sacrifice?" She can only mean one of two things: Either she was referring to the Civil War, which would seem to undermine the "voluntarily" part of her claim, or she was suggesting that slavery was of such great benefit to us as a people and still would be so that was an act of great nobility and grandeur, an act of "American exceptionalism," to have done away with it at any time for any reason and aren't we so great.

However, this is a partial, incomplete, list of nations that either had ended or at least were in the process of consciously dismantling slavery by the time the US civil war began:

Argentina, Austria, Bolivia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, England, France, Greece, Haiti, Japan, Mexico, Moldavia, Netherlands, Panama, Peru, Portugal, Prussia, Russia, Scotland, Serbia, Spain, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
"Exceptional" seems to have lost some of its luster these days.

We actually didn't ban slavery until the 13th amendment, adopted in December 1865. (No, not the Emancipation Proclamation from 1863: That only applied to states in the Confederacy and there is a serious legal question if Lincoln actually had legal power to issue it.) We only did it after dozens of other nations had either done so or were in the process of doing so and even then it took decades of agitation, four years of bloody war, and a Constitutional amendment, an amendment that Mississippi didn't approve until 1995 and then didn't notify the US archivist of the fact, necessary for formal approval, until 2013.

It's true that slavery still exists in many places even though it is illegal everywhere. Indeed, if you allow a somewhat broader definition of slavery than a matter of being legal property, if you include forced servitude by virtue of debt or by having been lured into a trap through false promises of work, the sex trade, and other such conditions, if slavery can be understood as being trapped and exploited with literally no where to go and little hope of escape, then slavery exists across the world, including, I daresay, the US.

But that's not what Pam Mazanec meant. She meant classic bondage of one person being the legal owner of another, of one being the legal property of the other. And she thinks that our record on this is so noble, so far beyond that of other nations, that it proves we are "exceptional" and our children should be taught to love Big Brother I mean Uncle Sam.

She is wrong. She is an ignorant buffoon. And she is a clown.

Sources cited in links:

178.2 - Footnotes to the Good News

Footnotes to the Good News

A couple of quick Footnotes to the preceding:

First, Missouri not a state affected by the Supreme Court's refusal to hear the first appeals on same-sex marriage, but even so, just hours after the Court acted, Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster indicated that the state is backing away from defending its own same-sex marriage ban.

Last week, a state judge in Missouri had ordered the state to recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states. In a statement Monday, Koster referred to the Supreme Court decision of the appeals and said the state is obligated to honor contracts entered into in other states - which would include marriages.

Missouri's own ban on marriage equality is still in place but it is under legal challenge - as are, in fact, bans in all 20 of the states not affected by recent decisions.

Next up, SCOTUS will only accept a case for review if at least four of the nine sitting justices want to hear it. Assuming the four more moderate members of the court - Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Breyer, and Kagan - voted no, it's interesting if rather pointless to speculate on which of the foul five - Roberts, Thomas, Scalia, Alito, and Kennedy - declined to hear the appeals. There had to be at least two.

Kennedy is a good guess, as he has authored some decisions favorable to same-sex rights. For the other, my money is on John Roberts - because while he's every bit as reactionary as Thomas, Scalia, Alito, he seems less of an ideologue and perhaps rather more concerned than the others about how he will be viewed by history.

Finally, a reminder the fight is not over:

The day after the decision was released, Justice Anthony Kennedy issued a stay of the 9th Circuit Court ruling striking down same-sex marriage bans in Idaho and Nevada. Rather embarrassingly, several hours later he had to revise the order because it covered both states and Nevada had already said it was not going to appeal the Circuit Court decision, so it should only have affected Idaho.

Again, such stays when the losing side declares an intent to appeal is not unusual and in the long run may mean nothing at all, especially since the Supreme Court, having rejected an appeal from other states, would appear unlikely to take up the one from Idaho. As I noted earlier, it will probably take an adverse decision at the appellate level - one upholding marriage discrimination - thus creating a conflict among the Circuit Courts, before SCOTUS will take it up.

The other point on the fight continuing is that even though Wyoming's ban on same-sex marriage should be considered invalidated by the Supreme Court's action, on the appeals from those five states, state officials say they will continue to fight to maintain their bigotry, using the excuse that the suit in question in Wyoming is in state court, not federal court, and therefore, they claim, the Circuit Court ruling is not binding on them.

Considering that this means they are arguing that a state can simply ignore a federal court, it can be taken as a sign of how desperate the bigots are getting.

Sources cited in links:

178.1 - Good News: now there are 30

Good News: now there are 30

I'm going to start, as I always like to when I can, with some Good News and if you have seen this show even just a few times you likely know what this Good News is going to be.

10 years ago, there was one. Now there are, in effect, 30 - and soon, there could be 35.

On Monday, October 6, the Supreme Court, without comment, refused to hear appeals from five states looking to have their discriminatory bans on s upheld in court. The five states - Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin - had lost in federal appeals courts, which recognized the unconstitutionality of the bans.

That refusal to accept the appeal marks the end of the road for those cases. They are over. Those states have lost. Same-sex marriage is now legal in those states. Same-sex marriage had already been legal in 19 states and Washington, DC; this kicks the number up to 24.

What's more, it also means those appellate decisions are binding on the other states in the jurisdictions they cover. That covers six additional states: Colorado, Kansas, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wyoming. Which means same-sex marriage is now essentially legal in 30 states.

It gets better:

The next day, October 7, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down bans on same-sex marriage in Idaho and Nevada, finding, as virtually all other courts considering the issue have found, that the bans are an unconstitutional violation of the 14th Amendment.

The ruling found time to ridicule an argument by Idaho Gov. Butch OtterKeepHisMouthShut that same-sex marriage makes the institution less "child-centric," claiming allowing such marriages "will lead opposite-sex couples to abuse alcohol and drugs, engage in extramarital affairs, take on demanding work schedules, and participate in time-consuming hobbies."

In a response in a footnote, Judge Stephen Reinhardt remarked that "We seriously doubt that allowing committed same-sex couples to settle down in legally recognized marriages will drive opposite-sex couples to sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll."

The ruling should also cover three other states in the 9th Circuit that currently ban same-sex marriage: Arizona, Montana, and Alaska. Which brings the total of places where same-sex marriage is or soon will be legal to 35 states and DC.

This doesn't mean that SCOTUS will not take an appeal on the issue in the future, especially if the 6th Circuit Court upholds the bigotry, as a number of observers think it will: Having different circuits come to different conclusion on same constitutional issue makes it hard for SCOTUS to stay out. But by not taking it up now, by choosing to let this first opportunity pass by, the Court creates a new powerful momentum: By time a case is taken up, thousands of same-sex couples will have married based on the decisions so far, which means the Supreme Court would not only have to overturn all those decisions, which so far have been overwhelmingly in favor of marriage justice, it would have to invalidate thousands of marriages, which would create a good deal of legal chaos.

Which leads one legal observer to say the Court's refusal to accept the appeal of the five states "increases the already high probability that we are headed for an eventual ruling invalidating such laws nationwide" and a syndicated columnist to call it "another piece of evidence that the fight over [same-sex] marriage is effectively over in this country."

I can't help but recall that more than ten years ago, in May 2004, I wrote of same-sex marriage:
The time is coming. Later than we may have wished but sooner than we may have expected.
Sooner, indeed. Good news indeed.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #178

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of October 9-15, 2014

This week:

Good News: now there are 30

Footnotes to the Good News

Clown Award: Colorado state Board of Education member Pam Mazanec

Outrage of the Week: Antonin Scalia says government can favor religion over non-religion

Racism and that Boston Herald cartoon

Saturday, October 04, 2014

177.7 - Clown Award: GA state senator Frank Millar

Clown Award: GA state senator Frank Millar

All that leads us right into our other regular feature, the Clown Award, given as always for acts of meritorious stupidity.

The winner of the Big Red Nose this week is Georgia state senator Frank Millar.

In a long-winded email, Millar ranted that an appointee of Gov. Nathan Deal "has disappointed those of us that hoped he could help bring the county together," the county in this case being DeKalb County, Georgia.

The source of his "disappointment" appears to be that DeKalb County plans to reserve Sunday, October 26 for early voting and one of the polling places will be at South DeKalb Mall, an area, Millar whines, and I'm quoting, "dominated by African American shoppers and it is near several large African American mega churches such as New Birth Missionary Baptist."

And he pledges to put a stop to it! He will put a stop to this business of making it easier for black people to vote!

Frank Millar
Although immediately after, he admits he can't do that before the legislature reconvenes in January.

Offering further proof that foot-in-mouth disease extends to electronic media, Millar later defended his email on his Facebook account, saying "I would prefer more educated voters than a greater increase in the number of voters," which in this context if it means anything at all, it means that he regards black voters as uneducated.

Georgia state senator Frank Millar - apparently a bigot, clearly a clown.

Sources cited in links:

177.6 - Voter ID is back in the news: They are still trying to keep us from voting

Voter ID is back in the news: They are still trying to keep us from voting

Something I've talked about before is in the news again: efforts by states to restrict the right to vote - or, more specifically, efforts by the right wing to keep certain types of people from voting. People like, the poor, minorities, students - people they think won't vote for them so they want to keep them from voting at all. In fact, I've been talking for more than six years about the right-wing's use of bogus claims of "voter fraud" as an excuse to restrict the ability of disfavored people to vote.

Okay, so how rare is voter fraud? Just how bogus are the claims? Actual fraud, knowingly voting illegally or to knowingly illegally voting more than once in an election, is almost nonexistent. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, which studies voting issues, it's measured in tiny fractions of a percent and by tiny I mean a few thousandths of a percent or less.

For example, a Department of Justice study from a few years ago of federal elections for the period of 2002-2005 found just 26 cases of convictions for any form of voter fraud. During that same time, there were around 197 million votes cast in those elections: That a "fraud rate" of 0.000013% - just over 1/100,000 of 1%.

More recently, in August Justin Levitt, a professor at the Loyola University Law School, described how he for years had been tracking allegations of fraud in general, primary, special, and municipal elections across the country and how he had found since 2000 some 31 different incidents of credible accusations of voter fraud - out of more than 1 billion ballots cast in that time. That's a fraud rate of 0.0000031% - 3 millionths of a percent. And that's assuming all those 31 cases really are fraud.

Meanwhile, in just four states that have held just a few elections under their harsh ID laws, more than 3,000 votes in general elections alone have been affirmatively rejected for lack of the required ID. Which of course doesn’t include voters without ID who for that reason just didn’t show up. No fraud prevented, thousands of legitimate voters turned away.

In fact, the evidence for massive voter fraud is so embarrassingly scant that the r/w has started to float an entirely different excuse: It's not about fraud, it's about "consistency" and "fairness" and "uniformity" and yet somehow these entirely different issues, these entirely different concerns - gasp what a surprise - require exactly the same sort of "fixes" and "reforms" that have exactly the same sort of impacts on poor and minority voters.

And if you don't believe this is part of a conscious strategy on the part of our homegrown reactionaries to try to put the fix in the election system so that it always tilts in their favor, consider this:

In the five years preceding the 2012 election, almost half of states enacted some form of legislation restricting voter access such as requiring photo identification or proof of citizenship to vote, more stringently regulating voter registration drives, shortening early voting periods, repealing same-day voter registration, or other methods that have their greatest impact on the poor and minorities, the very people the right wing wishes it could keep from voting entirely.

To cite just one example, a study by the Brennan Center a few years ago found that about 7% of American adults - about 13 million people - do not have ready access to the sort of citizenship papers these restrictive laws are increasingly demanding in order to register to vote, a burden that falls especially hard on the poor: While 7 percent of adults lack such proof of citizenship, 12% of poor adults do. And even if they could get them, the financial burden of doing so is sometimes prohibitive.

Meanwhile, by the way, less than half of voting-age women with access to a US birth certificate have one with their current legal name, women being another group the right wing would love to see kept out of the voting booth.

Even a study preferred by the reactionary Heritage Foundation found that “registered voters without photo IDs tended to be female, African-American, and Democrat.”

A study last year by sociologist Keith Bentele and political scientist Erin O’Brien, both of UMass Boston, found that, quoting them,
restrictions on voting derived from both race and class. The more that minorities and lower-income individuals in a state voted, the more likely such restrictions were to be proposed. Where minorities turned out at the polls at higher rates the legislation was more likely enacted.
Put another way, the more the turnout among minorities and poor increased in the 2008 election in states controlled by the right wing, the more likely restrictions were to be passed before 2012 election. Again quoting the researchers:
Ultimately, recently enacted restrictions on voter access have not only a predictable partisan pattern but also an uncomfortable relationship to the political activism of blacks and the poor.
All the talk about massive voter fraud is bogus, it is a lie being consciously and deliberately spread by right wing for the conscious and deliberate purpose of making it harder for groups such as minorities and the poor - along with women and students - to vote.

The right wing knows this; when they are talking to each other, they don't even try to hide it.

Paul Weyrich, founder of the American Legislative Exchange Counsel (ALEC), the right-wing organization pushing these laws, declared at a convention of Evangelical Republicans several years ago that “I don’t want everybody to vote. ... As a matter of fact, our [i.e., the reactionaries'] leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.”

For a time this spring it looked as though the effort had reached it's apogee and was starting to fade.

In April, a federal court struck down Wisconsin's voter ID law and Gov. Scott WalkAllOverYou, who had threated to call special session of the legislature to revise the law to get around an expected adverse decision, was forced to admit that couldn't do it in time for the 2014 election.

In May, Pennsylvania gave up, announcing it would not appeal a state court decision from January striking down Pennsylvania's voter ID law.

Also in May, the GOPper Attorney General of Iowa was forced to admit that after spending $250,000 and two years trying to find proof of massive voter fraud in order to justify a voter photo ID law in the state, had come up with just 27 voters charged with voter fraud - none of them for voter impersonation, the only kind that a photo ID requirement would affect. That's 27 out of more than 1.5 million votes cast: a "fraud rate" of less that 2/1000 of 1 percent.

And then in June, a petition drive in Nevada to get a voter ID question on the November ballot stalled.

But any celebration was premature.

In March, a US District Court ruling said that Kansas and Arizona can force new voters to show citizenship documents when they register to vote, as opposed to signing a legal oath on the federal voter registration form, as they could do previously.

“State election officials maintain authority to determine voter eligibility,” according to District Judge Eric Melgren, and apparently the right to be free of discriminatory requirements be damned. “Arizona and Kansas have established that their state laws require their election officials to assess the eligibility of voters by examining proof of their US citizenship beyond a mere oath.”  Which strikes me as an exceedingly odd argument in that it more or less says that these state laws are justified because they are state laws.

If decision upheld by higher courts, would mean that residents in these and other states with similar laws, like Georgia and Alabama, would have to present something like a passport or a birth certificate, the very sort of documents poor folks and minorities are more likely to lack, in order to register to vote. A driver’s license, college ID, or a signature given under penalty of perjury would no longer suffice.

In April, the Elections Department of Miami-Dade County, Florida's most populous, responded to an inquiry about if they had assessed accessibility of polling place bathrooms to those with disabilities by instituting a policy of closing all restrooms at all polling places in the county. So when you're faced with one of those 6-hour long lines like people were in 2012, make sure you're wearing your depends.

But the real reason for bringing this up now is the harsh one-two punch received by those of us who can still recall when the argument was over how to get more people to vote, not over how many hoops we would make people - certain people - jump through in order to do it.

The first blow came in mid-September: In what was called a stunningly fast decision, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated Wisconsin's discriminatory voter photo ID law - just hours after a three-judge panel heard oral arguments. This was the law that had been shot down in May. The appeals court didn't rule on the law itself, rather, it said "The State of Wisconsin may, if it wishes, enforce the photo ID requirement in this November's elections" while the appeals about the law itself continue. Right. "If it wishes." Like that was a question.

So of course Wisconsin is doing just that. Which is causing some degree of chaos among that state's local election officials who now have to scramble to meet the demands of the law and face the prospect of massive confusion on election day and having to figure out what to do about absentee ballots that were already sent out under the old rules, which were in force until the 7th Circuit decided it just couldn't wait to turn loose the forces of legal voter suppression.

The clearest winner here is reactionary Gov. Scott WalkAllOverYou, who is in a tight re-election race and wants every advantage he can get.

The second blow really shows just how eager the right-wingers are to secure their victories as they rush to make sure their plans are in place for this year's election:

Early in September, Federal District Judge Peter Economus blocked the attempt by the state of Ohio to restrict early voting. Particularly important were the "Golden Week," during which people can register and vote on the same day, and Sunday voting.

On September 29, literally just sixteen hours before early voting was to begin, the foul five on the supreme court, the disgusting denizens of the court's right wing majority, stayed that order and let Ohio institute its cutbacks on early voting, including getting rid of Golden Week

Remember because this is important: It is a documented fact that minorities take more advantage of early voting than non-minorities do. Which means that the more you restrict early voting, the more you restrict minority voting.

That's what this is about. That's why so many of these new restrictive laws look to take back the early voting that was created to encourage people to vote and reduce the shamefully long lines on election day itself. And that's why the Supreme Court, or at least a majority of the Court, was so eager to let Ohio get on with it.

If they don't think you will vote for them, they will try to keep you from voting at all. That's what all this is about. And don't you ever forget it.

Sources cited in links:
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