Sunday, November 30, 2014

Excuse me for a moment....

There will be no Left Side of the Aisle this week. I am taking the week off, dammit.

There may be a post or two over that time, but that depends on events and my mood.

I'll see you again next week, for sure.

Hope you had a great Thanksgiving.


Monday, November 24, 2014


Okay, so it happened. Just as we knew it would - we kept hoping it wouldn't, but we knew it would. Which is why even though the taste is so bitter, the disappointment so sharp, there is no sense of surprise. Just the aching hurt of seeing it happen yet again.

Another black man shot to death by another white cop. Another white cop walks.

It has long since become depressingly, disgustingly, predictable.

"No probable cause." Not even for involuntary manslaughter. "No probable cause."

Darren Wilson did nothing wrong when he shot down Michael Brown, we're told. Nothing at all. According to St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch, he was just defending himself. He "feared for his life," so shooting Brown down and then leaving his body lying in the street for four hours, never even bothering to call paramedics, that was just, well, it was ... okay. Reasonable. Appropriate. He was just defending himself.

Defending himself against what? When after the initial scuffle at Wilson's patrol car, after Brown broke away and ran away, Wilson chased after him, shooting - shooting, that is, at the back of a man Wilson had good cause to think was unarmed. Trying, bluntly to "apply deadly force" against an unarmed man who was running away from him.

Did Darren Wilson "fear for his life" at that moment?

When Michael Brown turned to face him, did it ever cross Wilson's mind that Brown was the one who had good cause to "fear for his life?" He was, after all, the one someone else was trying to shoot in the back.

Unimportant. Irrelevant. Because Darren Wilson is a cop. And Michael Brown, well, he was ... unimportant. Irrelevant. Just another black guy who got aggressive - or, often enough, just mouthy - with a white cop. And we all know - or are supposed to know and to accept - that in that case white cops can't be held responsible for what happens after that. Because the cop "followed procedure" or "acted within guidelines," procedures and guidelines that should result in cops' badge numbers starting with double-0, at least when dealing with young black men. Because there wasn't, there almost never is, "probable cause."

The legal purpose of grand juries is supposed to be a check on arbitrary prosecutions, a way of making prosecutors show they have enough evidence to proceed to trial. For that reason, they usually only hear the prosecution case: If that's not good enough for trial, a defense case is unnecessary. But in this case, the prosecutor by his own account introduced "everything" - which means he also included any exculpatory evidence or testimony they may have had, material that would normally be presented by the defense at trial, not by the prosecution.

As much as grand juries are in legal fantasy independent panels, they are in reality creatures of the prosecution. A prosecutor who really wants an indictment can get one. And a prosecutor who really does not want an indictment and who has gone to a grand jury only because of political pressure or social protest, can insure there isn't one.

I say here for the record that I will go to my grave convinced that prosecutor Robert McCulloch wanted Darren Wilson to get off scot-free. And justice can go fuck itself.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

183.4 - The source-based story of the "First Thanksgiving"

The source-based story of the "First Thanksgiving"

Okay, I've done this a couple of times, I think, so it's becoming a tradition, at least as much of a tradition as anything can be around here.

Thanksgiving is on its way, so gather 'round, kiddies, I'm going to tell you the real story, the based-on-actual-historical-sources story, of the first thanksgiving. By which, of course, I mean the event that occurred in what is now Plymouth, Massachusetts in the fall of 1621 which is the basis of our now-traditional thanksgiving holiday.

One of the reasons I do this every year is that it is truly amazing just how much misinformation, mythology, and general muddle-headedness there is out there on this topic and I like to try to bring some hard historical reality to the discussion.

So to start our Thanksgiving tale, consider this:
Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruits of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And though it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.
That comes from a letter dated December 11, 1621. It was written to a "loving and old friend" in England by Edward Winslow, a Mayflower passenger and a leader in the early years of the colony. It was contained in a book published in England in 1622 under the rather ponderous title of A Relation or Journal of the beginning and proceedings of the English Plantation settled at Plimoth in New England, by certain English Adventurers both Merchants and others.

The book is popularly known today by the less cumbersome name of Mourt's Relation and consists of eyewitness accounts of various events during the first year of the settlement.

Here's why that letter is important here: It is the only contemporaneous account of what we know as the "First Thanksgiving" which is known to exist.

The only other even near-contemporaneous account comes from William Bradford, long-time governor of the settlement, who wrote about it in his journal at least 10 to 12 years later. Even there he just sort of brushes by it, endorsing Winslow by referring to "not feigned but true reports."
They now began to gather in the small harvest they had, and to fit up their houses against the winter, being all well recovered in health and strength and had all things in good plenty. For as some were thus employed in affairs abroad, others were exercised in fishing, about cod and bass and other fish, of which they took in good store, of which every family had its portion. All the summer there was no want; and now began to come in store of fowl, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besides waterfowl there was great store of wild turkeys, of which they took many, besides venison, etc. Besides they had about a peck a meal a week to a person, or now since harvest, Indian corn to the proportion. Which made many afterwards write so large of their plenty here to their friends in England, which were not feigned but true reports.
That's it. That's all of it. That's what the entire "First Thanksgiving" story is built on. Everything else is speculation, interpretation, and guesswork, some of it informed, all too much of it not.

Some things we can tell from the accounts: For one thing, based on other references in those same sources, we know that the event took place after September 18 and before November 9. Mostly likely, it was in late September or the beginning of October, as that would have been shortly after harvest.

In considering the event, the first thing to realize is that this was not a "thanksgiving." In the period, a thanksgiving was a religious occasion, a day set aside for prayer to give thanks to God for some special and unexpected blessing.

The first public day of thanksgiving in the town actually came in the summer of 1623: A crop-threatening drought had lead to a day of "humiliation," a day of fasting and prayer to beg forgiveness for whatever they had done to cause God to bring this on them. Literally immediately after, there came a soaking rain which saved the crops and so a day of thanksgiving seemed appropriate.

So no, this was not a thanksgiving. Such days would occur occasionally as the cause arose; to plan for one in advance, much less to plan for one every year as we do now, would be regarded as a gross presumption on God's will and intentions.

What this was instead was a very traditional, very secular, English harvest feast, a celebration of a good harvest to which it was customary to invite those who had been helpful to you over the course of the year (which is very likely why the natives, who had indeed been helpful, were there). True, the settlers didn't have a good harvest - Bradford describes it as "small" - but they had a harvest. That surely raised everyone's spirits: It indicated they were going to make it. Reason enough for a celebration, especially considering what they had been through so far.

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

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

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

Anyway, back to our story. As for the eternal question of what they ate, we can confident they had fowl such as duck or goose (as the governor "sent four men on fowling" in preparation) and yes, quite possibly turkey ("of which they took many," Bradford said) They very likely also had fish, specifically cod and bass, and quite possibly deer.

Another aside: I say "quite possibly" to raise the issue of using historical sources without running too far ahead of them, a sin of which too many of the revisionist accounts are guilty: Even though Winslow says the natives "went out and killed five deer, which they ... bestowed on our governor ... and others" we can't tell if those deer were brought soon enough to be butchered, dressed, and presented as part of the feast or if they were brought afterward as a sort of thank you, a reciprocal gift in return for having been "feasted" for three days. Bradford's mention of venison doesn't resolve things because in the period, "venison" meant "hunted meat," not just deer. So while they quite probably had deer, either from the natives or their own hunting or both, we can't say it definitively.

Getting back to the menu, lobster and other shellfish is another real possibility; elsewhere in the letter that I quoted Winslow mentions that they are abundant in the area - as are eels, of which they could take "a hogshead in a night." If you think "eels, eew," know that an English person of the period would have responded "They're just another sort of fish." (A hogshead is a cask holding about 63 gallons of liquid. Yeah, Winslow was likely exaggerating; he was like that.)

Beyond that, we can reasonably argue for some others foods such as a sort of pie made from squash from their gardens, sweetened with dried fruit which they would have brought with them from England, salad from other stuff from their gardens, and a sort of coarse corn bread. Water would have been the major and perhaps the only beverage: Their supply of barley would be limited (Winslow says the "English grains," which would mean such as wheat, rye, and oats as well as barley, "grew indifferent good") and there is no mention of hops. No hops, no beer; no much barley, not much ale. Even if they did have some barley, there may well would not have been enough time for brewing since harvest. So they might have had a little ale or even maybe a little wine brought from England and reserved for a special occasion, but again is was likely mostly water.

So that is pretty much it, pretty much everything we know or can reasonably assume about the event. Not much to build a whole mythology on, is it?

Even so, it drove the pap we got fed as children, marked by images of picnic tables laden with turkey, mashed potatoes, and apple pies surrounded by natives dressed like they just came from the great plains and smiling "Pilgrims" dressed in the fashions of the 1690s.

And that same sparseness of detail - and one of the reasons I go through this every year - is probably a good part of the reason the event provides so much latitude to those who want to replace the childhood (and childish) image of noble settlers and savage natives with one of noble natives and savage settlers, who every year, regular as clockwork, treat us to the historical revisionism that has become as traditional as turkey and cranberry sauce. In place of the happy talk mythologies of peace, love, and harmony we were spoon-fed as children we find people snarling out dark tales of drunken, murderous, bloodthirsty settlers facing off with natives "crashing the party" and doing it in such numbers because Massasoit feared he'd be kidnapped or killed otherwise. It is a vision that, as much as the earlier one, is an attempt to overwrite history with ideology. It is, in other words, pure bunk.

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

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

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

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

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

Assigning the role of angel or demon to either side is trash: Neither of these peoples were either. Neither were saints, neither were devils.

So I reject the revisionist history, indeed I resent the revisionist history. I resent it first because it’s lousy history. It's based on ideology, not information; it looks to satisfy demands of politics, not of scholarship, and it is every bit as full of false tales and mythology as the nonsense and pap that we got fed as schoolchildren.

Plymouth in the fall of 1621 genuinely was a scene of peaceful and friendly relations, of good feeling, between English settlers and their nearest native neighbors. The "First Thanksgiving" was a moment of celebration when everyone on both sides, even if they were still wary each of the other, believed that yes, this was going to work out. That wasn’t going to happen; it was a false hope, even a foolish hope. It was brief enough moment, lasting by even a generous understanding no more than a few decades, and a rare enough moment in our nation's history of cruelty toward and genocide of the native peoples of this continent such that while "the First Thanksgiving" shouldn't be a source of happily-ever-after "why can't we all just get along" fairy stories, neither is there any need to co-opt it into the service of ideology-driven revisionsim.

Because that moment of hope did exist. And frankly, I resent the attempts to strip away that one moment of hope in pursuit of a modern political agenda.

I remember a friend of mine some years ago talking about “the urge to find angelic forces in the world,” that is, the seeming need many of us have to fix on some group, some movement, some something that we can convince ourselves is utterly pure in its motives and behavior. In our attempts to find some better balance in our understanding of what was done to the natives of North America, the cruelties inflicted on them, the racism and bigotry which targeted them, too many of us in considering the “Pilgrims” of Plymouth have chosen to simply swap one mythology for a perhaps more satisfying but equally false one.

Balance, it seems, is still a long way off.

So anyway, I hope you enjoy your Turkey Day, I hope you have time to spend with your family or friends or better yet both and I hope you can understand why I celebrate the day as an expression less of thankfulness for the past (or even the present) than as an expression of hope for the future. That hope, too, may prove as foolish as that of 1621, indeed I often think it is - but the blunt fact is, hope is also the one absolute, indispensable requirement for any effort to make that future a better one.

Sources cited in links:

183.3 - Right-wingers and their sense of entitlement

Right-wingers and their sense of entitlement

This is a personal rant to express my frustration about something.

Recently on this show I said that no one is quicker to whine about how unfair and mean you are, no one is quicker to wrap themselves in the mantle of the oppressed, silenced victim than a right-winger losing an argument.

I was wrong about that: It's not only when they're losing an argument. It's all the time. No group of any sort (with the possible exception of the rich) has a greater sense of entitlement, a greater sense that everything has to be arranged for their benefit and if it's not it's just evil and wrong and you're a big meanie.

Recently I was watching the public access station which I call home, where my show is produced. I saw a show produced in a neighboring town, a show hosted by a very conservative commentator, who was grousing about how "the liberals control everything." The fact that he was saying this just before the elections made it doubly amusing, but what I want to get to is that as an example of such "control," he said that on "a station in a neighboring town," the "liberal side of the aisle" is on "three times as much" as he is, which he claimed was evidence of an unforgivable liberal bias on the part of that station.

Okay. Considering my show is called "Left Side of the Aisle," I'm comfortable in assuming he meant me. Well, in terms of actual air time, which would seem to be the relevant metric here, it's true, I am on there more than he is, although it's close to two and a-half times rather than three, but I won't quibble about that. The thing is, on the station he calls home, he's on five hours a week. I'm on 30 minutes. He's on there ten times more than I am. But that was no indication of bias on that station's part, oh no. When the difference benefits him, it's not bias. When it doesn't, it is.

This is just routine about right-wingers. I actually raise this in order to give you another example:

In every state except Maine and Nebraska, states go with the winner-take-all approach when it comes to the Electoral College. That approach has been consistent across US history. But in recent years, GOPpers in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin have each considered changing to a method to distribute their state's electoral votes based on which presidential candidate wins each congressional district.

They all ultimately backed off, but now Michigan GOPpers are thinking of trying to push a measure to do that through the state legislature's lame-duck session.

What have all those five states got in common? You got it: Democratic presidential candidates have been winning there.

You're not winning? Change the rules! Because everything has to be arranged for their benefit. Like a grasping 2-year-old screeching "mine! mine!" everything has to be arranged for their benefit. They don't know how to function any other way.  And it's really quite sad.

Sources cited in links:

183.2 - Good News: Same-sex marriage in South Carolina

Good News: Same-sex marriage in South Carolina

Two quick bits of Good News regarding the on-going battle for marriage justice.

A couple of weeks ago, I noted that South Carolina was the only state in the 4th circuit still enforcing a ban on same-sex marriage, with the state arguing that the circuit court decision striking down such bans somehow didn't apply to South Carolina.

No more. On November 12, federal District Court Judge Richard Mark Gergel ruled that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, in accordance with the precedent set by the Fourth Circuit. The decision has been stayed until November 20th to allow time for an appeal, which the state will likely file - to the same appellate court that already struck down such laws.

In another bit of good news on this front, the 6th circuit may have upheld Michigan's marriage discrimination against same-sex couples, but a federal judge ruled that the issue of employee benefits is not about marriage and so said the state law banning the same-sex partners of public employees from receiving benefits is unconstitutional. Part of the strength of the case was the fact that several municipalities were already providing such benefits so the law had the effect of stripping away benefits from people who already had them - and legally it is almost always harder to defend taking something away from people than it is to defend keeping them from having it in the first place.

Sources cited in links:

183.1 - Good News: Keystone XL on hold

Good News: Keystone XL on hold

The Keystone XL pipeline, the one intended to carry tar sands - about the dirtiest, most polluting source of oil there is - from Canada to Texas so it could be sold overseas, and against which I have spoken here a number of time, is still on hold.

It looked for a while like it might not be. The House, striving mightily to prove that is it reactionary, not merely right-wing, easily passed a bill to move the pipeline forward. For a time it looked like the Senate would follow suit. All because of Mary Landrieu.

Mary Landrieu is the Democratic senator from Louisiana. She is facing a runoff election on December 6 which she is widely expected to lose, as her opponent is, and has consistently been, ahead in the opinion polls. In an attempt to make herself look good in Louisiana, she co-sponsored the pro-pipeline bill in the Senate, even though the section of the pipeline involved has nothing to do with her state.

So, proving yet again that partisanship outweighs policy and ego trumps the environment, the Senate Dimcratic leadership urged members of their caucus to vote for her bill just to slightly improve her dim chances of keeping her seat - even though, even if she did, the GOPpers would still hold the majority. The attitude seemed to be "She's a colleague! A member of our insular elite! No price to the environment is too great to help her!"

The hard reality of the Senate is that it still takes a filibuster-proof 60 votes to pass anything. A few days before the vote, she was assured of 59.  And when the vote came on Tuesday afternoon, that's what she got: 59. Those days of politicking and pressure from the party leadership failed to move one more member.

That is good news.

It's only temporary, though: The newly-GOPper-ruled Senate will take the pipeline up again when Congress reconvenes in January and it will very probably get through. Which means the focus will be - as in fact is has been all along - on Barack Obama, who will finally have to decide if all his environmental talk is anything more than that. Frankly, I'm not convinced it is - but I'm not convinced it's not, either. So we need to keep up the pressure.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #183

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

This week:

Good News: Keystone XL on hold

Good News: Same-sex marriage in South Carolina

Right-wingers and their sense of entitlement

The source-based story of the "First Thanksgiving"

Saturday, November 15, 2014

182.5 - Hero Award: Arnold Abbott

Hero Award: Arnold Abbott

Finally for this week, we have one of our occasional features: We call it the Hero Award and it's awarded for just doing the right thing on a matter big or small.

Our Hero this time is Arnold Abbott.

Every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. for the past 23 years, 90-year-old Arnold Abbott has been feeding the homeless at a public beach in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He organized and heads the Maureen A. Abbott Love Thy Neighbor Fund, named in honor of his late wife, with who he first began giving food to the homeless back in 1979.

But since January 2013, 21 cities across the country have passed laws restricting public feedings of the hungry and homeless and 10 more have similar rules under consideration, according to an October report from the National Coalition to the Homeless. Nationwide, at least 57 cities have limited or banned public feeding.

In late October, Fort Lauderdale became one of those cities, passing a law for the specific purpose of making it harder to feed hungry homeless people.

The new law not only requires permits for setting up on public property, it requires portable toilets, hand-washing facilities, and more, facilities which the kind of shoe-string organizations that do this kind of work obviously cannot afford. Violations are punishable by up to 60 days in jail or a $500 fine, or both.

Arnold Abbott
On November 2, two days after the law went into effect, Abbott and several volunteers were running a food station outside a public park in open defiance of the law. He and two members of the local clergy were charged with violating the law and taken away. The city insists they were not "arrested," merely "cited" for a later court appearance, but since they were taken from the scene by police and held before being released, that strikes me as little more than a semantic difference.

Three days later, at 5:30 pm, Abbott was there at the beach where he has been every Wednesday for 23 years. He was cited again, facing now a second $500 find and/or 60 days in jail.

He says he will not give up. It's unlikely that the city government of Fort Lauderdale will be shamed into changing its ways; this is not the first measure the city has passed responding to the homeless there by trying to make them invisible rather than by assisting them.

Be that is it may, one thing remains clear: Arnold Abbott is a hero.

Sources cited in links:

182.4 - Some good news from the election

Some good news from the election

Okay, it's been more than a week since the election and I expect people are feeling kinda down, not without cause, so I thought I would spend some time going over some bits of good news coming out of the election. They are sort of scattered around, but they are still worth noting.

For one thing, Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida won re-election by a double-digit margin. Which is worth noting because he was pretty much target #1 for the right -wing nutballs in this election.

For another, Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim to be election to the House, was re-elected by a margin of over 40 points.

A small but interesting case involves the city of Richmond, California, home to a refinery operated by Chevron. A major fire a few years ago caused a lot of damage and the city sued Chevron to recover some of the costs. Rather than taking its chances in court, Chevron preferred to try to take over the city government. It ran a slate of hand-picked pro-corporate candidates into the city's elections and pumped in $3 million in advertising - remember, this is a municipal election - $3 million in advertising on behalf of its favored few.

They lost: Progressive candidates won the mayor's office and three of the four open seats on the City Council.

It is true in politics as elsewhere that money talks. But sometimes, just sometimes, people wisely refuse to listen.

On a matter we have talked about here any number of times, guns: Voters in the state of Washington voted to institute universal background checks on firearms purchases, including for gun shows and private sales, while at the same time rejecting a measure that would have banned background checks unless required by federal law. Both victories were by comfortable double-digit majorities.

The right-wing of course immediately tried to dismiss that result - because, remember, as far as they are concerned elections are meaningless unless they win, which is why voter suppression is, according to them, actually a matter of "protecting the integrity of the process." Anyway, the right-wing site blew the Washington vote off based on wins in various races across the country by candidates endorsed by the NRA, the Nutzoid Rabbit-Brains of America, claiming that means that nationally, gun control advocates got a "shellacking" - even though guns were not an issue in most of those campaigns. Interestingly and perhaps revealingly, does not mention the fact that the NRA, knowing it would lost the Washington vote, never contested it. Could it be that a good part of the reason the Nutzoids seem to win so often is that they only get involved when they're confident they will?

On another front, Massachusetts has become the third state in the nation to require employers to grant people paid sick time. Two major municipalities - Trenton and Montclair, NJ - did the same and Oakland, California, approved an expanded version of that state's requirement.

This is something that is gaining ground: Just two years ago, just one state and three cities had such laws. Now, the number is three states and sixteen cities.

Meanwhile, Oregon and Alaska became the third and fourth states to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes, following the path set by Colorado and Washington, while the District of Columbia repealed all penalties for possession of small amounts and even allowed for some limited, private cultivation of the drug.

A vote in Florida to legalize medical marijuana received 57 percent of the vote. Unfortunately, it failed because this was a proposed constitutional amendment, which requires 60 percent to pass. But still, it got 57 percent despite a massive onslaught of misleading ads involving gross exaggeration and fear-mongering.

However, most of the results I just cited have come in places generally thought of as more or less liberal: California, Washington, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon. But now, the references to Alaska and to some extent Florida get us to the meat of this, the meat of what I wanted to consider, the meat of both the elation and the frustration, the hope and the despair: The people of the United States continue to vote for liberal or progressive policies even as they vote for reactionary right-wing candidates.

Here's an example: The city of Denton, Texas, known as the place where hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking,"  was invented, voted to ban the process in the city.

Fracking, in case you're not familiar with it, is a means of increasing production from oil and natural gas wells by pumping a mix of water, sludge, and one of several different cocktails of toxic chemicals - we don't know exactly what ones because the mixtures are considered a "trade secret" which the companies do not have to reveal - pumping that mixture into a well under such pressure that it literally fractures the surrounding rock, allowing more fossil fuel to be extracted from the fissures created. The practice has been connected to contaminated water supplies and earthquakes.

And by a margin of 18 points, the voters of Denton made it the first city in Texas to ban fracking in wells in the city.

Similar bans passed in Mendocino and San Benito counties in California and the city of Athens, Ohio. Unhappily, attempts at such bans lost in another California country and three cities in Ohio. But as Bruce Baizel of the group Earthworks said, if Denton, which probably is more familiar with fracking than anywhere else, "can’t live with fracking, then who can? The answer is ‘no one.’"

Even on reproductive rights, an area where we seem to be moving backward, it developed that there are limits to just how far back we will slide. A so-called “personhood” measure is one that declares a fetus - even a zygote - is a "person" with full legal rights from the very moment of conception. Such measures would not only ban all abortions, they would even ban some methods of birth control.

Well, in North Dakota, a state so against abortion that only one provider survives in the entire state, 64 percent of voters just rejected a personhood initiative, repeating the result that occurred in Mississippi three years ago. Another personhood proposal was on the ballot in Colorado. That one, too, failed. But that was expected. But North Dakota?

Another area about which very little got mentioned: Conservative groups made a big push to oust certain elected state Supreme Court justices in Tennessee, North Carolina, Kansas, and Montana on the grounds that they are too liberal - which means they are liberal to any degree at all, which in the wingnut ads became dangerously radical. All together, there were 9 judges targeted across the four states, three of them safely red, one ambiguously purple. Despite the assault, every one of those nine judges kept their seat.

But the big one, the one that had everyone talking, was the minimum wage. Initiatives to raise the minimum wage appeared on the ballots in four of the deepest-red states: Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Every one of them passed by margins ranging from 10 to 38 points, passed in states that on the same day sent to Congress a slew of right-wing fanatics who would do away with the minimum wage completely if they possibly could.

This is nothing new, this is a continuing pattern that goes back at least thirty years, and probably longer. But I say 30 years because I specifically remember that in the presidential election of 1984, with Walter Mondale going against Ronald Reagan, public polls were asking people "how do you feel about this issue and that issue and the other issue" and over and over again, the answers people gave lined them up more with Mondale than with Reagan. But when those same polls asked "who are you voting for," the overwhelming answer, reflected in the final result, was "Reagan." People were not only voting against their own interests, they were voting against their own desires.

And they still are.

Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that they are not voting at all: Turnout for the 2014 midterms is estimated at 36%. Apparently, a lot of us think the right to vote is so precious that we'd better not touch it at all.

Now, that is something to get depressed about.

Sources cited in links:

182.3 - Clown Award: FCC Chair Tom Wheeler

Clown Award: FCC Chair Tom Wheeler

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

The winner of the Big Red Nose this week is one of the most important people of who you have probably never heard who is not a right-wing billionaire: Tom Wheeler.

Our story starts sometime back, but the current chapter began on November 10, when Barack Obama, the Amazing Mr. O, put an end to months and months of vacillating and tip-toeing - in other words, months and months of being Barack Obama - and came out in favor of the "strongest possible rules to protect Net neutrality," the principle that internet service providers, or ISPs, can't favor some Internet traffic over others, that all Web traffic must be treated equally. It has been a bedrock philosophical principle of the Internet all along and has been a major driving force behind its development and expansion, because everybody had equal access so everybody had an equal chance to get their message out, whether that message was commercial or philosophical or political or, as seems to be true with most every human endeavor, porn.
That principle has been under attack for some time by the major ISPs such as Comcast and Time-Warner, who want to cut deals with high-traffic websites to promise them faster transmission speeds in return for special fees. Years ago, when the idea was just getting going, Al Gore used to refer to what became the Internet as "the information superhighway." You can think of what the telecoms want as putting toll booths on every entrance ramp to that highway so if you can afford the tolls, you get to be on the multi-lane highway, but if you can't, you're stuck on the single-lane, rutted back roads complete with traffic jams and red lights. Many of the big websites also like the idea because it tends to cement their dominance against the risk of some new upstart website competing for their traffic, since the giants could easily afford the fees that would be imposed and start-ups quite possibly couldn't.

The FCC has been muddling about, trying to find a way to satisfy the corporate giants while at least looking like it's protecting Net neutrality.

Now, Obama has come out in favor of the simplest, most straightforward way of dealing with this: reclassify ISPs as "common carriers" under the Telecommunications Act, which would allow their regulation as public utilities and, just as is the case with your telephone, make it illegal, quoting the law, "to make any unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities, or services." Just as every phone call is equal, all Web traffic would be equal.

Tom Wheeler
Enter Tom Wheeler.

Why is he important? Because Tom Wheeler is the chair of the FCC.

Just hours after Obama's statement, and even as his own office released a statement claiming that Wheeler opposes what are called Internet "fast lanes," Wheeler was telling a group of business executives from major Web companies such as Google, Yahoo, and Etsy that he wants a more "nuanced" position, what he calls a "hybrid" approach, one which essentially would allow precisely the sort of fee-for-speed arrangements that the principle of Net neutrality rejects while claiming to protect Net neutrality by saying that paid prioritization deals would have to prove that they are just and reasonable. In other words, such deals would be subject to review on a case-by-case basis and look at how well that procedure has worked to control corporate mergers.

Anyway. Skip the legal technicalities involved here. In fact, skip the technical technicalities. Here's a handy quick guide to four things to keep in mind in thinking about this.

One: If someone loudly insists that they are absolutely opposed to "site-blocking," which means ISPs using their control of traffic to block users from access to legal websites of which the corporation disapproves, they are trying to con you. Everyone from every point of view on this has been against site-blocking all along. The real fight here is not over site-blocking, it is over paid prioritization and its opposite, throttling, which is deliberately slowing down access speed to a site. Anyone ballyhooing their opposition to site-blocking is trying to hide their approval of prioritization and throttling.

Two: Verizon, a telecom with a major stake in the outcome of all this, is starting a new on-line tech and lifestyle magazine called Applicants for jobs there have been told in so many words that they will not be allowed to write anything about Net neutrality. (Or domestic spying, by the way, another area where Verizon has let's call it a vested interest.)

Three: Ted Cruz is against Net neutrality; he called it "Obamacare for the Internet," which is obviously supposed to be something self-evidently bad although I'm not sure exactly what.

Four: Tom Wheeler is a former lobbyist for the telecommunications industry who recently declared about his position on the FCC "I am an independent agency." Not "I am with an independent agency" or even "I head an independent agency," but "I am an independent agency."

L'├ętat, c'est moi.

Which means there's a fifth thing you should keep in mind: Tom Wheeler is a clown.

Sources cited in links:

182.2 - Not Good News: Sixth Circuit, as expected, endorses discrimination against same-sex couples

Not Good News: Sixth Circuit, as expected, endorses discrimination against same-sex couples

Which, of course, immediately brings up the Not Good News.

On November 6 - the first week in November was a busy one on this front - on November 6 the 6th Circuit federal court upheld, approved, sanctioned, legal discrimination by the states of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee against same-sex couples wanting to get married or have their marriages from other states recognized.

The ruling by the three-judge panel was a split one, 2-1. Neither the ruling nor the split were unexpected; people have been predicting this is the way it would come down ever since the oral arguments.

What struck me, however, was not the decision itself, which again while disappointing was expected, but the utter vacuity of the logic of the ruling. Essentially every argument the majority offered to approve of bans on same-sex marriage could have been - and in fact, usually were - offered in defense of bans on interracial marriage just a few decades ago.

For example, during oral arguments, Judge Jeffrey Sutton said "I would have thought the best way to get respect and dignity is through the democratic process." Writing the majority opinion, Sutton seconded his own words, writing that it is up to legislators, not judges, to decide whether to preserve the "traditional" definition for marriage, with the definition of "traditional" having included "of the same race" in numerous states in this country well into my lifetime. Put another way, Sutton is saying that states get to define what is a marriage and, apparently, human rights are subject to majority approval. It would appear - I don't see how it could be argued otherwise -  that Sutton thinks that Loving v. Virginia, the landmark Supreme Court ruling in 1967 that struck down bans on interracial marriage, was decided wrongly.

What's more, the decision here found what it considered a rational basis for the state bans: establishing ground rules "to create and maintain stable relationships within which children may flourish." What, so same-sex couples are unfit parents? Is he seriously trying to argue that? Oh, and by the way, that was also an argument raised against interracial marriage: Think of the children! Think of the problems and difficulties the children of such a marriage will have!

Now, it's true, the court said, that marriage has also come to be viewed as a way to solemnize relationships characterized by love and commitment. "Gay couples, no less than straight couples, are capable of such relationships," that majority declared. Grand of them to acknowledge that, although it would have been better if they hadn't immediately followed that up by saying, in effect, "yeah, big deal, so what, you still can't get married."

The majority even threw in the slippery-slope argument: If it's unconstitutional to restrict marriage to one-man-one-woman, "it must be constitutionally irrational to stand by the monogamous definition of marriage." I'm surprised they didn't raise the specter of people marrying farm animals.

In fact, the opinion was so vacuous and offered so few cohesive arguments and nothing whatsoever new, that the dissenting judge, Martha Craig Daugherty, suggested that moving the case to the Supreme Court may have been the goal of Sutton and Judge Deborah Cook in their ruling.

"Because the correct result is so obvious," Daugherty wrote, "one is tempted to speculate that the majority has purposefully taken the contrary position to create the circuit split."

The point here being that this decision creates a split among the circuit courts, with the 4th, 7th, 9th, and 10th Circuits knocking down bans on marriage equality and the 6th now endorsing them. That sharply increases the chances that the Supreme Court will step in to make a final ruling. The question is when: An appeal would have to be ready before mid-January for there to be a chance for the Supreme Court to hear the case this session, which ends in June. Otherwise, it would be pushed back to the following term and so probably not decided until June 2016.

It's true, as it's said, that justice delayed is justice denied. Even so, that doesn't change the fact that, as I keep saying, justice is coming.

Sources cited in links:

182.1 - Good News: Missouri ban on same-sex marriage found unconstitutional in both state and federal court

Good News: Missouri ban on same-sex marriage found unconstitutional in both state and federal court

Starting, as we always try to do, with some Good New, we have still more on marriage justice. On November 5, Judge Rex Burlison of the St. Louis Circuit Court of Missouri - a state court - declared Missouri's ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional.

“The Court finds and declares," Burlison wrote, "that any same-sex couple that satisfies all the requirements for marriage under Missouri law, other than being of different sexes, is legally entitled to a marriage license.”

The city of St. Louis and the country of St. Louis immediately began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Advocates say the ruling applies statewide.

State Attorney General Chris Koster appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court but did not asked for a stay - which is a bit unusual but  perhaps not too surprising in this case since Koster had earlier signaled that his office was backing off defending the ban: Last month, when a Kansas City judge ruled that the marriages of same-sex couples wed in states where that is legal must be recognized by Missouri, Koster declined to appeal. So the appeal here may be pro forma.

Which may be especially true because two days later, on November 7, a federal district judge, Ortrie Smith, also found that the state's ban violated guarantees under the US Constitution of due process and equal protection. This is the first federal decision on same-sex marriage in the 8th Circuit. Four other states in that circuit - Arkansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas - have bans same-sex marriage, while it is legal in Iowa and Minnesota.

And to round things out, on that same day, November 7, the 10th Circuit court refused to hear an appeal from Kansas against a district court ruling saying that Kansas could not enforce its ban on same-sex marriage. That decision was expected, since the 10th Circuit had already struck down essentially identical provisions in other states, but still it was welcome because it means that Kansas can no longer stall and delay on granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle 182

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of November 13-19, 2014

This week:

Good News: Missouri ban on same-sex marriage found unconstitutional in both state and federal court

Not Good News: Sixth Circuit, as expected, endorses discrimination against same-sex couples.

Clown Award: FCC Chair Tom Wheeler

Some good news from the election

Hero Award: Arnold Abbott

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Outrage of the Week: Time and teacher-bashing

Outrage of the Week: Time and teacher-bashing

Finally for this week, we have our other regular feature, the Outrage of the Week..

You may have already heard about this or seen something about it, it has been in the news, but there may be some aspects you don't know.

This week, the outrage starts with the cover of Time magazine for November 3. It portrays a judge's gavel about to smash an apple alongside the text "Rotten Apples: It's Nearly Impossible to Fire a Bad Teacher."

Which, right off the top, is a problem because it's not "nearly impossible" to fire a bad teacher - you just have to have an actual reason and give them a hearing.

Media watchdog FAIR says that the cover, insultingly depicting the teaching profession as full of "rotten apples" that deserve to be smashed, might make you suspect Time "is doing some good old-fashioned teacher-bashing." And, the group says, "You'd be right."

A petition drive started by the American Federation of Teachers produced more than 100,000 names in less than a week, demanding Time apologize for the cover.

And here the outrage deepens. Nancy Gibbs, Time’s managing editor, responded in the magazine by claiming that
Union leaders … are charging that by writing about legal efforts to remove bad teachers from classrooms, with the cover line 'Rotten Apples,' TIME has insulted all teachers....
That statement is a blatant lie. The petition specifically objected to the cover, not the stories. In fact, it said that "the cover doesn’t even reflect Time's own reporting" and that the articles themselves "present a more balanced view of the issues."

So for Time to charge that petition supporters - oh, wait, it's "union leaders," I guess no one else signed - for Time to claim that the petition said that writing about efforts to remove bad teachers is an insult is, again, a blatant lie.

But it gets even worse because the petition was too kind to the article.

The article is about a small group of very rich Silicon Valley "tech titan" millionaires who, despite lacking any educational expertise or experience, have decided that they are the ones who can fix America's supposedly broken public schools and that the way to do that is to attack tenure, the system that says that after a certain point on the job, a teacher can't be fired except for cause.

What got this started? What gave them the idea that this is our educational panacea? David Welch, one of these millionaires, says he asked a "big-city California superintendent" how to fix the schools and was "blown away" by his answer, which was "Give me control over my workforce." That is, a guy with power thinks the answer to any problems is to give him more power. I can see why these millionaires identified with that so strongly.

Time does admit that teacher tenure used to be important, noting that before tenure laws,
a teacher could be fired for holding unorthodox political views or attending the wrong church, or for no reason at all if the local party boss wanted to pass on the job to someone else.
But now, apparently, Time wants us to believe that is all in the past. There is no more job discrimination, no one gets fired for their political views or their religion or for being homosexual, or because someone wants to give the job to someone else, or for being a thorn in the side of the bosses, no, that's all in the past! Just doesn't happen any more! So who needs tenure?

But the worst thing of all is that after going on about the supposed "flood of new academic research" backing up the millionaires' attacks on tenure, the article admits in the 27th paragraph of a 28-paragraph story that the methodology involved is at best questionable and may be useless if not downright bogus.

So Time magazine, after drooling and fawning over a bunch of very rich elitists who are going to "repair public education" in an article that did not quote a single teacher or union official but did manage to include comments from a researcher for a "conservative education think tank" and someone from the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, an article that never even hinted at the connection between attacks on tenure and attacks on teachers' unions and how the former is just the wedge to attack the latter, after all that, Time gets around to mentioning that the whole anti-tenure enterprise may be based on vapor. And it illustrates it with a picture of a gavel about to smash a supposedly rotten apple.

The whole thing is at best journalistic malfeasance - and an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

182.4 - Clown Award: The American people

Clown Award: The American people

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

The winner of the Big Red Nose this week is ... the American people.

And I don't say that because of the election results, even though I'm tempted to. Those results were pretty much as expected and as predicted and making the incredibly bold, even daring, assumption that the Dimcrats can play political hardball - and yes, I am suppressing a laugh right now - but assuming that, things won't be much different in practical terms in DC; the only difference being who is doing the filbustering.

At the same time, it is possible - don't count on it - but there is a small hypothetical possibility that there could be some small steps on some matters worth doing - such as immigration reform - because now that the GOPpers are in control of the Senate and can take credit for it, they may agree to some things that before they filibustered just so that the Dims could not get the credit.

On the other hand, if the Dimcrats do start playing hardball and remind the GOPpers that it still can take 60 votes to pass anything these days, amuse yourself by guessing just how long - or, properly, how short - a time it will be before the GOPpers and Fox News start screeching about "obstructionism" when the Dims start acting exactly like the GOPpers have done these past six years - and then how much longer before the demand that Dems "stop being obstructionist" and submit to GOPper desires becomes conventional wisdom in the mainstream media. In fact, the predictable pundit pronouncements that the Dims must move to the right (which they misidentify as the "center") are already starting.

Anyway, that's not why the American people are this week's clowns. Rather, it's because we are a people easily manipulated, easily stampeded, and most of all, easily frightened. For all our protestations of daring and courage, we are a timorous people, easily and readily scared of and by the world around us.

For the latest evidence, and for the source of this week's award, consider the reaction to the current paranoia about Ebola.

Now, Ebola is a severe disease, but it is not highly infectious until symptoms are far along; in fact you can't catch Ebola from someone who shows no symptoms. What's more, Ebola is not airborne but is transmitted through direct physical contact with an infected person or with their bodily fluids. such as their blood - and in fact not all fluids: neither sputum does not appear to be a vector for the virus, urine is not a vector, and vomit may not be. All this is according the to Centers for Disease Control.

And frankly, those healthcare workers who caught Ebola did so because they broke protocol: They didn't follow the rules for dealing with a potentially infections patient.

Despite that, according to a brand new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 71 percent of Americans support mandatory 21-day quarantines for health professionals who have treated Ebola patients in West Africa, even if they have no symptoms, even if they test negative for the virus. Why? Just because.

Just because, that is, we are so flipping easily scared out of our wits by the latest boogeyman, whatever it is, and now it's Ebola.

Republicans supported the mandatory isolation, Democrats supported it, independents supported  it. Every age group and every level of education supported it, all by majorities ranging from 60 to 85 percent.

The question of mandatory quarantines came into the public debate after nurse Kaci Hickox was forced to spend a weekend in a tent at Newark airport solely because she was returning from dealing with the Ebola epidemic in western Africa on behalf of the CDC. This, even though she was asymptomatic and tests showed no trace of the virus.

After she got out of that - by threatening to sue the state - she went home to Maine, which has a voluntary 21-day quarantine. But when she didn't voluntarily quarantine herself because, remember, she still showed no symptoms, the state went to court to try to force her to submit to this supposedly "voluntary" isolation.

The effort failed as the court, relying on CDC data, shot down the state's demand in no uncertain terms:
The court is fully aware of the misconceptions, misinformation, bad science and bad information being spread from shore to shore in our country with respect to Ebola. The court is fully aware that people are acting out of fear and that this fear is not entirely rational.
Kaci Hickox
But that of course made no difference. In comments on the story - and as I always say, if you want to see the fanatics at play, if you want to see the fear at play, don't read the article, read the comments - in comments on the story, she was called, among many other things:
selfish - a disgrace to the profession - just wants her 15 minutes of fame - appalling - should lose her nursing license - A terrorist comes in many different shapes and sizes [I really like that one] - She wants to go on talk shows - the stupidest woman in the Universe
and a whole lot more.

One predictable - and predicted - effect of her experience and this kind of vituperation is that healthcare workers will become less willing to go to Africa to try to help contain the disease and treat its victims for fear not of the disease but of being stigmatized and quarantined when they get home. Doctors Without Borders is already reporting precisely that chilling effect. The irrational fears about the disease are making it harder to deal with it.

Let me tell you just how bad this has gotten.

Susan Sherman was a religious education teacher at St. Margaret Mary school in Louisville, Kentucky. She is also a registered nurse and recently had been on a mission to Africa.

Because of that, parents raised concerns and the school wanted her to take a 21-day leave and produce a health note from her doctor. Realizing she had marked and labeled, she chose to resign rather than put herself through that.

Here's the thing: On the map of Africa here, the area marked in bright red on the west coast covers Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, the nations were the Ebola outbreak is happening. The area marked in brownish red on the east coast is Kenya - which is where Susan Sherman was. Among the nations where Ebola is, the one closest to Kenya is Liberia. It's capital is Monrovia. The capital of Kenya is Nairobi.

The distance from Monrovia to Nairobi is over 4,600 miles. That is over 1,600 miles greater than the distance between Boston and Los Angeles. But due to our pusillanimous paranoia and our appalling geographic stupidity, Susan Sherman is out of a job because some parents thought she was too close to Ebola. Because, you know, Africa.

We refuse to let facts penetrate the fear. We prefer to shiver and shake and quiver in a corner sucking our thumbs. And then we wonder why right-wingers whose entire schtick is screaming "They're coming to get you!" win elections.

As individuals, Americans are truly wonderful people. But as a whole, we are a bunch of clowns.

Sources cited in links:
// I Support The Occupy Movement : banner and script by @jeffcouturer / (v1.2) document.write('
I support the OCCUPY movement
');function occupySwap(whichState){if(whichState==1){document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}else{document.getElementById('occupyimg').src=""}} document.write('');