Sunday, April 26, 2015

201.7 - Clown Award: South Carolina

Clown Award: South Carolina

Now for our other regular feature, the Clown Award, given for meritorious stupidity.

This week, the Big Red Nose goes to the state of South Carolina, which has filed what may be the most ridiculous brief yet among those submitted to the Supreme Court in the attempt by some states to maintain their bigoted rejection of same-sex marriage. Oral arguments on the case before the Court about same-sex marriage are to be heard on April 28.

In it's brief, South Carolina argues that the 14th Amendment - which guarantees "equal protection of the laws" to every "person" - was not intended to provide equal protection to every person. Specifically, it was not intended to have any effect on marriage laws. It "left marriage laws untouched," says the brief.

But in many states at the time of amendment's adoption, married women were not permitted to own property or enter into contracts; indeed, they had no legal existence apart from their husbands'. That was part of those states' "marriage laws."

Which means, according to South Carolina, the framers of the 14th Amendment explicitly preserved the rights of states to deprive a married woman of the ability to function independently from her husband.

Therefore, the argument goes, if the 14th Amendment permits discrimination against married women, if it provides no protection for married women, which is what South Carolina is claiming, it surely, the state contends, also allows for discrimination against same-sex couples who wish to wed. In fact, according to South Carolina, the 14th Amendment forbids only and solely racial discrimination, leaving states free to discriminate against women and LGBT folks - and assorted others - in any way they wish, so there.

If the issue was not so serious and immediate, this would be funny. Instead, it is just creepy.

The state of South Carolina: clown.

Sources cited in links:

Saturday, April 25, 2015

201.6 - Outrage of the Week: fast-tracking TPP

Outrage of the Week: fast-tracking TPP

Now for one of our regular features, the Outrage of the Week. And this week it involves a triple outrage that may come to have a huge impact on your life.

I have been meaning to talk about trade and trade agreements and related issues for some time but it always got put off because it seemed too big an issue to be tackled in this space. It always seemed there was too much to explain, too much background to go through, too many details to explain.

I don't know if that was a reflection of the actual issue or my lack of a good grasp of it or my laziness. It doesn't matter, because whatever the reason, that can no longer be allowed to stand in the way of addressing the fact that we are now faced with what Rep. Keith Ellison accurately called “the largest corporate power grab you never heard of.”

It's based in two trade agreements the US is negotiating: the Trans-Pacific Partnership with 11 Pacific and Asian nations, known as the TPP, and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, with the European Union. These agreements have been and are being negotiated essentially in complete secrecy and it would not surprise me if you have never heard of either one.

The TPP covers nearly 40% of the world's economy - and while a few summaries of some provisions have been released, the actual text remains under lock and key. Except for members of a certain few committees, even members of Congress can view the text of the agreement only in the Trade Representative’s office, without their own staff members or experts present. They are not allowed to take copies of the agreement back to Capitol Hill for deeper, independent evaluation. It went so far that the White House declared at least one Congressional briefing to be classified.

In January, Sen. Bernie Sanders wrote to Michael Froman, the US Trade Representative, to slam the extreme secrecy involved and urge more openness. He got nowhere.

The few parts that have been leaked show first that little of this "trade" agreement has to do with, well, trade. More of it has to do with how corporations can use the agreement to undermine health, safety, and environmental laws and worker protections that those corporations think not only have hurt their profits but might in the future hurt profits, while making it easier for corporations to offshore jobs and assert control over natural resources.

Meanwhile, the TTIP, which if anything is even less well-known than the TPP, concerns itself mostly with things like copyright protections such that for one thing could prevent nations from making drugs generic, thus protecting the profits of the pharmaceutical industry while denying medicines to millions of people in places like India who could no longer afford them and for another could establish a description of "intellectual property" so broad that it could potentially override "fair use" protections, giving corporations even more control over information than they have now.

And if all that wasn't outrageous enough, let's double up: The Amazing Mr. O wants so-called "fast track authority," also called "trade promotion authority," a procedure under which Congress agrees that no amendments can be made to the proposed agreements, no changes at all, it can only give them an up or down vote and must do so within 90 days. No other bill, no other agreement, no other treaty ever gets fast track authority. It's an attempt to steamroller Congress into approving a massive trade agreement which - remember - most of them will never have seen prior to its formal submission to Congress.

Now triple the outrage: The members of the Senate Finance committee were given 12 hours notice of a hearing to approve fast track authority! Not only are the agreements' supporters trying to fast-track the agreement, they are trying to fast-track fast-track!

We are being played for suckers by a collection of fast-talking con artists from the corporations and Wall Street and their allies, foot soldiers, and sycophants in Congress the White House.

There are still those opposed, including in Congress, including some significant names in Congress. This is not a done deal, which is likely part of the reason for the haste.

But that doesn't change the fact that its having gotten this far is an absolute outrage.

I'm sure there will be more on this in the coming weeks.

Sources cited in links:

201.5 - Footnote: more on Social Security

Footnote: more on Social Security

Two footnotes to the item about Chris Christie's camouflaged attack on Social Security:

One is that CPI and Chained-CPI are not the only measures of inflation the Bureau of Labor Statistics uses in producing inflation figures.

Another is the CPI-E, "E" for "elderly." It's intended to reflect the fact that us old folks tend to spend relatively less of our income than younger folks do on things like clothing, recreation, transportation, and food and more on housing and health care. So CPI-E weights its measure of inflation based on that difference, so it's a better measure of the inflation rate experienced by seniors - which means, for the most past, folks on Social Security.

Here's what's important: CPI-E usually shows a higher inflation rate than the standard CPI does. Which means that, contrary to those who say we should cut the cost of living increases for seniors, the facts say that those increases are already too low.

Despite the ranting and raving of the reactionary budget hawks and their Dimcrat echoers and enablers that the old geezers have it too soft, it is more likely that we have been short-changing them for years.

The other thing, and it's important to remember this, that President Hopey-Changey has on more than one occasion directly offered to approve two of Chris Christie's proposals, two proposals to cut Social Security benefits - raising the Medicare eligibility age and switching to Chained-CPI - in previous budget negotiations with the right-wingers in Congress.

These people are not on your side. Unless you are of the elite, unless you are of the comfortable, they are not on your side. Noblesse oblige is not support, it is not being on your side.

Sources cited in links:

201.4 - Update: Chris Christie on Social Security

Update: Chris Christie on Social Security

Last week, I raised the amazing possibility that I might, and I did emphasize might, agree with NJ Gov. Chris Christie on something after he proposed an income cap on receiving Social Security benefits. I did say I was wary both because it would turn Social Security into a partly means-tested program, which it never had been, and because the history of right-wing attempts to undermine Social Security said I should be wary, but okay, I was willing to look at his fleshed-out proposal and to at least consider the idea.

Well, we have his fleshed-out proposal and, guess what, history wins again.

Gov. Krispy Kreme did indeed propose phasing out Social Security benefits for people earning more than $80,000 non-Social Security income with a final cut-off at $200,000.

Beyond that, he also proposed raising the retirement age, which is already going up to 67, two mnore years to 69, raising the age for Medicare eligibility from 65 to 67, and coupling cost-of-living increases to what's called Chained-CPI.

That last part requires an explanation. Cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security have always been based on the Consumer Price Index, or CPI. It's the inflation rate we normally hear about. Chained-CPI calculates inflation in a different way, based on the premise that consumer choices change as prices change. It assumes, in the most commonly used "for instance," that if the price of beef goes up too much, you as a consumer will switch to cheaper cuts of meat.

On it's face, that doesn't seem a wildly unrealistic assumption, but here is the effect: Bear in mind that this is a very oversimplified example; I'm only using two commodities - beef and chicken - rather than an entire market basket of goods and services and the numbers are just for the purposes of illustration. But it does serve to make the point.

Okay. Suppose the price of ground beef goes from $4.00 per pound to $5.00 per pound, and that's getting a little pricey for you. So you switch to chicken, which has gone from $3.20 per pound to $4.00 per pound. The CPI says the inflation rate is 25% because that's how much the price for those commodities has gone up.

Chained-CPI, however says that even though the price of meat has gone up 25%, your cost is still $4.00 a pound, it hasn't gone up at all, so the inflation rate is zero even as the prices rise.

What this means at the end of that day is that by its nature, Chained-CPI, by assuming you always will and always can secure a lower-priced alternative to a product or service, always produces a lower inflation rate than regular CPI.

Chris Christie
So switching to Chained-CPI would be a stealth benefit cut for people on Social Security because while they would still get cost-of-living adjustments, the increase always would be less than it otherwise would have been. And the effect is cumulative, so the longer you're on Social Security (i.e., generally, the older you are), the bigger a gap you'll experience. It's a benefit cut - but it's one the politicos and their rich funders hope you wouldn't notice.

So Krispy Kreme's proposal, in sum, would mean having to work longer to get Social Security and getting less when you finally do. Work longer, cut benefits, and make it a means-tested program to justify cutting it further.

Balance is restored: Chris Christie is an ass.

Sources cited in links:

201.3 - Update: more RFRA nonsense

Update: more RFRA nonsense

Next up, a couple of Updates for you.

First, a little follow-up on the continuing fallout over Indiana's attempt to pass its version of a RFRA, or Religious Freedom Restoration Act, more properly called a God Gave Me The Right To Be A Bigot Act, the sort that would allow "religious belief" as a defense against a claim of discriminating against LGBT folks in public accommodations.

You know, of course, as I have mentioned before, that Indiana hastily amended the bill to say it couldn't be used to justify a violation of civil rights. That isn't all that much of an improvement since there is no law in Indiana against violating the rights of LGBT folks, but still, it showed the strength of the opposition.

Bobby Jindal
Some people, however, not only don't learn from their own mistakes, they don't learn from the mistakes others. Bobby Jindal, desperate to break out of single digits of support among the mouth-breathers who make up the biggest block of voters in GOPper presidential primaries, is pushing the Louisiana legislature to adopt a God Gave Me The Right To Be A Bigot Act even worse than Indiana's: Where that one provided a potential legal defense against a claim of discrimination if a judge could be convinced the action was based on sincere religious conviction, the Louisiana bill would grant people of who claimed religious belief absolute protection against any government action.

Meanwhile, on another front, the owner of a car repair shop in Michigan announced on Facebook that he would not serve openly homosexual customers because you know, Christianity.

Many folks figured he was trying to cash in the way a pizza shop in Indiana did when the owner said they wouldn't serve a same-sex wedding and a resulting GoFundMe campaign raised over $800,000 for the family. After the predictable negative reaction to his bigoted rant, he launched a GoFundMe page with raised a total of $5 before it was shut down for hate speech.

By the way, the owner, one Brian Klawiter, said in his Facebook rant that "Homosexuality is wrong, period. If you want to argue this fact with me then I will put your vehicle together with all bolts and no nuts and you can see how that works." Now, it's true that cars will not work well with just bolts - but apparently you can run a business in Michigan with just nuts.

Finally for now, according to a new Bloomberg poll, 74% of those polled said that sexual orientation should be protected from discrimination the same way race is protected and 58% expect that same-sex marriage will be legal in all 50 states within 10 years.

Note that latter figure is not about it you approve of same-sex marriage: You could hold that same-sex couples should have the same marriage rights as any other couple but think that won't happen for some time, if ever. On the other hand, you could oppose same-sex marriage rights but feel resigned to the idea that it's going to happen anyway.

What's important is that both those poll figures point in the same direction: The culture wars on same-sex rights, at least same-sex marriage rights, are over. The right wing has lost. The only question is how long the dead-enders will try to hold out.

Sources cited in links:

201.2 - Good News: potential breakthrough in treating Alzheimer's

Good News: potential breakthrough in treating Alzheimer's

Next up is something that I would more usually include in an episode of our occasional feature, And Another Thing, our occasional foray into cool science stuff, but I think it's important enough to be up front here.

Researchers at Duke University have made what is a potential breakthrough in the treatment of Alzheimer's, the disease of as-yet-unknown cause that undermines brain function.

Neurons in your brain are cells that process and transmit information through electrical and chemical signals. Those signals are passed across a gap between neurons via synapses.

What happens in Alzheimer's is that plaques build up along the nerve fibers and in the gaps, inhibiting the flow of information and so damaging brain function.

The result is that the cerebral cortex can atrophy and shrink and areas of the brain fill with fluid - the dark areas in the image to the right.

The Duke studies were done on mice and in these studies the researchers noticed that in Alzheimer’s, immune cells that normally protect the brain instead begin to consume a vital nutrient called arginine.

By blocking this process with a drug known by the abbreviated name DFMO, they were able to prevent the formation of those plaques in the brain and halted memory loss in the mice.

Now, mice often serve as an effective analog for human functions, but you can never guarantee that a procedure that worked with mice will work with humans. Still, there are two particular reasons to celebrate this discovery:

One is that it can break Alzheimer's research out of the box it's gotten stuck in of focusing almost entirely on amyloid, the protein that builds the plaques. That focus has not lead to marketable - and highly profitable - drugs, so of course the pharmaceutical corporations are losing interest in Alzheimer's research even as the number of Alzheimer's sufferers grows.

The other is that DFMO is already being studied in drug trials for certain types of cancer - so instead of the five, ten, or even 15 year gaps that are often seen between a finding like this one and the beginning of clinical trials, DFMO could be cleared for human trials quite soon.

And yes, that is Good News.

Sources cited in links:

201.1 - Good News: "Fight for 15" movement grows

Good News: "Fight for 15" movement grows

Starting, as I always like to, with some Good News, the movement known as "Fight for 15" continues to expand.

The effort for a living wage of $15 an hour for notoriously underpaid fast-food workers began with a single rally in New York City in November 2012. Since then there have been nine days of coordinated one-day strikes at fast food restaurants - and on April 15 there was the largest day yet: 230 cities across the country were the scene of such strikes.

The movement has grown enough that it has spread beyond the borders of the US: Some McDonald's outlets in Greece, Canada, Brazil, and Hong Kong saw protests by workers demanding higher wages. There were also reports of strikes in Italy and New Zealand.

Perhaps even more significantly, the movement has spread beyond fast-food restaurants to address the needs of underpaid workers across the reach of sectors of the economy where they are commonly found, areas such as health care, retail sales, home care, and child care.

In the words of Kendall Fells, organizing director of the group Fight for $15, which is backed by the Service Employees International Union, the movement has become "something different" and "much more of an economic and racial justice movement than the fast-food workers strikes of the past two years."

While the company would of course deny any connection, it clearly was in response to this movement that McDonald's announced an intention to raise the minimum wage it pays workers at the restaurants it operates directly to $10 an hour by the end of 2016 - and to pay them at least $1 an hour above the local minimum wage starting July 1. Some critics have noted that this doesn't apply to franchises, which are 90% of all McDonald's outlets, but even at that, it means the company is bending, is being forced by circumstances to raise the pay of its workers.

Which then directly relates this campaign to the broader question of the minimum wage itself. Widely, even wildly, popular with the public, raising the minimum is approaching a critical mass of not just opinion but of active concern. Some cities have passed and others are considering a local minimum of $15 an hour and a number of places have already raised their local minimum wage; in fact a majority of states now have state minimum wage levels above the pathetically-low federal minimum of $7.25 an hour.

Again, clearly in response to these developments, some retailers - specifically Gap, Walmart, TJ Maxx, Marshall’s, and Target - representing another area of the economy notoriously populated with underpaid workers, have promised to raise their bottom wages to $9 or $10 an hour.

Which, again, some have criticized as inadequate, which it is. But again, it means that the corporations are bending, they are being forced to recognize economic reality. Yes, they will do as little as they can get away with - but that doesn't change the fact that they, along with local and state governments, are being forced to move because millions of underpaid workers have gotten fed up and increasing numbers of them are willing to take it to the streets to say so.

And that is Good News.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #201

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of April 23-29, 2015

This week:

Good News: "Fight for 15" movement grows

Good News: potential breakthrough in treating Alzheimers

Update: more RFRA nonsense

Update: Chris Christie on Social Security

Footnote: more on Social Security

Outrage of the Week: fast-tracking TPP

Clown Award: South Carolina

Sunday, April 19, 2015

200.7 - Celebrating the 200th episode with a brief history of public access TV

Celebrating the 200th episode with a brief history of public access TV

For the rest of the show, I want to talk about something different. I said earlier that this is the 200th episode of Left Side of the Aisle; it's also our fourth anniversary: It was almost exactly four years ago today that we did this for the first time. So what I want to talk about is what made this possible: public access Television

You're watching me on TV right now (unless you're watching on YouTube). Yes, it’s TV - but it's special. It's public access TV - also called cable access television, community access television, and community television. It's also called PEG, for the channels you often see on public access: one each for public, education, and government.

Whatever you call it, public access TV involves providing equipment, training, and airtime so members of the general public can produce own programs and deliver them to the audience of that local cable TV system.

And potentially far beyond: This show is regularly seen, to my knowledge, on four cable systems covering more than a dozen communities with a combined subscriber base likely in excess of 50,000. So potentially, hypothetically, this show could be seen in 50,000 households. Just me, just an ordinary schlub - how did Eric Burden describe himself in that song? "An overfed, long-haired, leaping gnome." And there could potentially be thousands of people hearing what I have to say.

It's public access TV which makes that possible.

So what I want to do right now is to give a brief history of how we came to where we are. I'll note here once for all that public access TV exists in several countries other than the US, but it's history in the US is what I'm going to address. I'll also note that much of what follows is based on a paper prepared by videographer Bill Olson in 2000.

In the 1960s and 1970s, cable TV as we think of it now was getting going. Originally, "cable" TV would more properly be called Community Antenna TV, where large, sensitive antennas could receive weak signals from broadcast TV stations and deliver an amplified version to households in an area, usually rural, that otherwise would be served poorly, if all all, by broadcast stations. That is, this was still broadcast TV, just delivered by a central antenna, and there were no purely "cable channels."

But as cable systems including truly cable channels, ones that did not exist on broadcast, began to get established, the operators of those systems were desperate for programming to fill the hours and so were open to all sorts of options which the broadcast networks would not have considered.

Fred Friendly
Around that same time, the idea of the people who were the subjects of documentaries taking a role in the production and direction of those works was inspiring a generation of filmmakers. Counter-culture film cooperatives took the idea of the underground press - the expression of voices unheard in the traditional media - and expanded it to video in what became nicknamed "guerrilla television." They provided people with small, portable cameras and other necessary equipment so they could tell own stories, present own opinions, speak in their own voices, through documentaries and, often enough, news coverage of such as demonstrations, strikes, and other events that presented perspectives not otherwise seen.

According to one historian of the medium, public access in the US’s largest media market, New York City, was conceived in 1968 by Fred Friendly (yes, the same Fred Friendly who had been the head of CBS news) who was then an aide to Mayor John Lindsay. He proposed that cable companies having franchises with the city would set aside two channels where the public could lease airtime for a nominal fee. Ultimately, even the idea of a fee was set aside.

In July 1970, two companies signed franchise agreements with New York City, resulting in four channels being set aside: two for use by the general public, two for use by the city government. Public access programming began July 1971, with a potential audience of 80,000, which was the total subscriber base in Manhattan.

In response, groups sprang up to promote the idea of using public access and to help people with producing their own programming.

That is the FCC's logo, don't blame me
A breakthrough came in 1972: The FCC ruled that in the top 100 US markets, cable operators had to set aside three channels for public (including local government) use and to provide facilities and equipment for people to produce their own programs. (The agency added that if there was not sufficient demand to justify three channels, there could be fewer, but there had to be at least one.)

In 1976, that order was expanded to cover all systems with more than 3500 subscribers.

The cable industry, now experiencing explosive growth, of course hated the idea: It was "government regulation" that was damaging their profit potential for the benefit of a bunch of rubes. So the industry sued, and unhappily, in 1979, the Supreme Court, ever-eager to let industry know whose side it is on, ruled that the FCC lacked the regulatory authority to issue such a rule. Shades of the net neutrality argument.

However, by then, it was in a way too late. Cities and towns reaching franchise agreements with cable companies were often including a requirement for channel set-asides, so it didn't matter what the FCC couldn't say: The requirement was in the contract.

In the early 1980s, cable was still a competitive industry - unlike today when it's pretty much Time-Warner, Comcast, and Verizon and that's it. And cable was expanding so rapidly that cities and towns that announced an intention to license a cable system in their town would be deluged with proposals and so could make demands for set-asides and for assistance in maintaining those channels. Agree, or don't get the contract.

Meanwhile, in 1984 Congress passed the Cable Franchise Policy and Communications Act, which effectively gave back most of what the Supreme Court took away five years earlier. The law did not specifically empower the FCC to issue the rules it did, but it did specifically authorize local governments as part of a franchise agreement with a cable operator to require PEG channels and to collect franchise fees from that operator to fund those public channels - that is, to provide needed equipment and facilities. It also barred those cable operators from exercising any editorial control over what was on those channels while also, reasonably, freeing them from liability for what was on them.

logo of Fayetteville, AK public access
Interestingly, for those of old enough to remember him, the chief Senate sponsor of the bill was Barry Goldwater.

Creating such a local public access system required setting up a group to do so. Sometimes that was arranged by the local government, sometimes it was done by the local government itself through some agency, sometimes it was the cable company itself that ran an access center.

But whatever arrangement was used, the result was that the number of PEG channels grew and continues to grow. It's now estimated that over 1500 cities, town, and regions across the country have PEG channels available and those 1500 areas are managing something like 5000 channels.

You’re watching one of those channels now. This is public access TV. Public access TV. That means it’s for you. It’s for us. It's for all of us. Take advantage of it. I did. You should, too.

Sources cited in links:

200.6 - Clown Award: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Clown Award: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Now for a Clown Award, given as always for meritorious stupidity.

The winner of the Big Red Nose this week is Robert Kennedy Jr., the son of former Attorney General and former senator Robert Kennedy. RFK Jr. is one of those anti-vaxxers, as they're called, people who claim there is a link between a vaccine preservative called thimerosal and autism, based on the presence of a mercury compound in the preservative. They claim this even though when you rely on evidence from actual studies instead of from anecdotes, the supposed relationship disappears and the pharmaceutical industry hasn't even used thimerosal in routinely recommended childhood vaccines for the last 14 years.

Which means all those anti-vaxxers are clowns, as I said - I think rather gently - a couple of months ago when I called them "wrong scientifically and wrong ethically and wrong practically." But I have a particular reason for plucking RFK The Younger out of the crowd here.

In a speech last week, Kennedy used the term "holocaust" in reference to this imagined vaccine-autism link.

Some folks, as you'd expect, were not pleased about his use of the term, so on April 13, he issued a statement saying "I want to apologize to all whom I offended by my use of the word holocaust to describe the autism epidemic. I employed the term during an impromptu speech as I struggled to find an expression to convey the catastrophic tragedy of autism which has now destroyed the lives of over 20 million children and shattered their families."

Okay, we have two problems here. First, even though he used the active "I offended" rather than the passive "those who were offended," this is still a non-apology apology: It admits he offended some people but never actually admits that what he did was in and of itself offensive. Instead, he tries to explain it all away as the result of an "impromptu struggle" to "express the catastrophe."

The other is his problem with basic math.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.
According to the Census Bureau's estimates, of March 28, 2015, the United States has a total resident population of 320,590,000. People under 20 years of age made up 27.3% of those.

Thus, people under 20 number about 87,500,000 (27.3% of 320,590,000). Twenty million is 23% of 87,500,000. Thus, Kennedy is claiming that 23%, nearly a quarter, of everyone in the US under the age of 20 is autistic.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the actual rate of autism, or more exactly, autism spectrum disorders, is 1 in 68, or about 1.5%. Which means that Kennedy's figure is more than 15 times the actual rate, which is well into clown territory.

Robert Kennedy, Jr., failure at science, failure at math, an embarrassment to the memory of his father - and a clown.

Sources cited in links:

200.5 - RIP: Percy Sledge

RIP: Percy Sledge
So, another reason for breaking my "the world's a happy place" promise: We have an RIP this week as another part of my youth slips away.

Percy Sledge has died of natural causes at his home in Baton Rouge, LA. He was 74.

If you're going "who is that" or "the name rings a bell but I can't quite get it," you may not know who he was, but you know The Song he made - and made him - famous.

“When a Man Loves a Woman” has been called "the definitive soul ballad," "almost unbearably heartfelt," "the ultimate make-out song," and "a holy love hymn."

Sledge started singing at local clubs with a group called the Esquires in 1965. The next year, Atlantic Records released the song that made his career.

Percy Sledge
Sledge said the song, originally called "Why Did You Leave Me Baby," was inspired by a breakup with a former girlfriend who left him to pursue a modeling career when he lost his job. The tune was one he used to hum to himself as a child and, he said, "even when I was picking and chopping cotton in the fields." The words, he said, he improvised when singing at a local college party.

In a fit of generosity which he later called "the worst decision I ever made," he gave the songwriting credit to two of the Esquires, who had helped him with a few chords. As a result, he never saw a dime of songwriting royalties.

"When a Man Loves a Woman" was not his only hit - he charted about five other times - but it was by far his biggest. And even though the song has been covered by others - in fact Michael Bolton took his version to #1 in 1991 - if ever one song and one singer were joined as one thing, this was that thing.

RIP, Percy Sledge.

Sources cited in links:

200.4 - Just for the fun of it: Satanists want their Bible in schools, too

Just for the fun of it: Satanists want their Bible in schools, too

Something just for the fun of it, and it, too, comes from the great state of Oklahoma.

The first week in April, a third-grade teacher at Woodrow Wilson Elementary school in Duncan, Oklahoma, was caught passing out Bibles to the students in her class. She announced to the class that she had "the holy bible" and if anyone wanted one, they should come up to her desk - like a 3rd-grader in Oklahoma is going to feel free to say no to that when all of their classmates are taking one.

Well, one student told his parents, they got in touch with the American Humanist Association, which threatened to sue the school - just to be clear in case it isn't, this is a public school - threatened to sue the school if it didn't agree that, quoting the group's letter, "School District and its agents must refrain from leading, authorizing, permitting or condoning the distribution of Bibles" on school premises just before, during, or just after school hours.

On April 10, the school reluctantly agreed, saying that "The District understand that it has an obligation to follow the law set forth by our federal courts on this matter," which doesn't even admit that passing out Bibles in a public school is transparently unconstitutional, only that "grumble grumble courts have said that grumble grumble."

That's made clearer by the fact that the school's attorney said that the District reserves the right to allow the distribution of Bibles on school property to secondary students - apparently because the AHA's letter only referred to elementary and intermediate schools.

Now, that is really, really pathetic, especially that last bit which struck me as mere petulance. But that's not the fun part. This is and it makes me wonder how much this had to do with the school's backing down:

In the wake of the news about the teacher giving out bibles, an Oklahoma City group of Satanists wrote to the school, saying they wanted their book, The Satanic Bible, in the school, as well. Adam Daniels, the leader of the group, said "If they’re going to allow a religious book from the Christian church, then they have to allow a book from us because we’re on the same playing field."

After all, just as the the right is always saying about topics like climate change and evolution, don't we want the children exposed to all sides? Don't we want to "teach the controversy?"

Apparently not. Instead, KFOR News in Oklahoma City, reporting on the Satanists' letter, said "Daniels’ church isn’t the only Satanist organization that targets children."

Just a question: When I was sent to catechism as a youngster, do you think anyone ever referred to that as "the Catholic church targeting children?"

Me, neither.

Sources cited in links:

200.3 - Hero Award: Ashley Jiron

Hero Award: Ashley Jiron

While I didn't really find any good news this week, I did find someone deserving of a Hero Award, our occasional feature to acknowledge someone who on some matter big or small just did the right thing.

This has actually gone let's call it semi-viral so you might well have heard about it already, but still I want to mention it.

So our hero this time is Ashley Jiron, owner of P.B. Jams, a restaurant in Warr Acres, Oklahoma that focuses on peanut butter and jelly and other types of nut-based sandwiches.

Recently, she noticed that someone had been rummaging through the trash and taking thrown-away food.

Instead of calling the police or trying to find some sort of lockable trash bin, she posted a note, in fact several of them around the building:
To the person going through our trash for their next meal,
You're a human being and worth more than a meal from a dumpster. Please come in during operating hours for a classic PB+J, fresh veggies, and a cup of water at no charge. No questions asked.
-Your friend, the owner.
Ashley Jiron
Jiron says that even though she knows that pride and shame may keep that person from taking her up on the offer, she won't take the sign down until they come in because, she says, a free meal is the least she can do for someone who is obviously down on their luck. In fact she has already replaced several notes that either blew away or were ruined in the rain; now she covers them with clear tape.

In response to a suggestion from someone on Facebook telling her of a program at a pizza shop in Philadelphia, Jiron has started a "pay it forward" campaign at the restaurant, where customers can pre-pay for a meal for someone in need. So far, about 50 meals have been paid for that way.

Yeah, it's not much, yeah yeah and blah blah, it's not really costing her anything because the meals are still paid for, yeah yeah cynical blather and bluster, it's just for the publicity, and on and on.

I don't care. It was a nice thing, a good thing, the right thing, to do. Which makes Ashley Jiron a hero.

Sources cited in links:

200.2 - Surprise! I might agree with Chris Christie on something

Surprise! I might agree with Chris Christie on something

In a bit of not actually Good News but at least surprising news, I might - heavily emphasize might - agree with NJ Gov. Chris Christie on something.

He has proposed an income cap on Social Security benefits. He proposes that if you have more than $80,000 a year in non-Social Security income, your benefits start to get phased out to the point where if you have $200,000 a year in non-Social Security income, you do not receive any Social Security benefits.

This certainly could help solidify benefits for the vast majority of us who don't make $80,000 (much less $200,000) a year by reducing the drawdown from the trust fund. But again the key word is "could" and as always the devil is in the details.

Because there are some real potential downsides to this, which is why I'm wary of it even as, well, I'm willing to take a look at it. For one, it would, admittedly in a minimal way but still it would, make Social Security a means-tested program, which it has never been. Once you cross that line, it becomes easier to talk about cutting benefits because they're no longer based on what you put into the system but on some argued-about level of "need." That alone could disqualify his plan.

Another issue is the fact that Christie talked about the impact on "younger taxpayers" of Social Security benefits going to those who, yes, we have to admit, clearly could get by without them. But that reference hints at the possibility that his proposal does not involve cutting the benefits of the rich to protect the benefits of the rest but rather of cutting the benefits of the rich to justify cutting the Social Security tax rate, potentially putting the stability of the trust fund at risk by reducing the amount of tax funds coming in.

In other words, this could just be another in the achingly-long string of right-wing attempts to undermine Social Security, attempts that quite literally date back to the program's inception.

So okay, I will listen, I will look at the fleshed-out proposal, but I remain quite suspicious, not only because history tells me to be, but also because this proposal comes as part of a PR campaign to present Christie as someone "not afraid to ask the hard questions." And whenever a conservative talks about "asking hard questions," the answer is usually "screw the poor and middle-class."

Sources cited in links:

200.1 - Good News: a step toward normalizing relations with Cuba

Good News: a step toward normalizing relations with Cuba

Last week I said that to celebrate the 200th episode of Left Side of the Aisle, that for this one week the world would be a happy place.

Unfortunately, I have to pretty much break that promise because there wasn't a lot of good news to be found this week.

About the only Good News I found was that Barack Obama has given Congress the required 45-day notice of an intention to remove Cuba from the US's list of state sponsors of terrorism. (I had intended to add "a list which curiously enough we ourselves are not" on until I remembered that, unlike those other evil nations, we don't subcontract our terrorism.)

Getting back to Cuba, it has been designated a state sponsor of terrorism since 1982, but the US stopped actively accusing Cuba of supporting terrorism some time ago.

This is all part of an effort to normalize relations between the US and Cuba, something that is long overdue and which marks Obama's decision to do that as good news

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #200

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of April 16-22, 2015

This week:

Good News: a step toward normalizing relations with Cuba

Surprise! I might agree with Chris Christie on something

Hero Award: Ashley Jiron

Just for the fun of it: Satanists want their Bible in schools, too

RIP: Percy Sledge

Clown Award: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.

Celebrating the 200th episode with a brief history of public access TV

Thursday, April 16, 2015

199.6 - Everything You Need to Know: what's wrong with the world in just one photograph

Everything You Need to Know: what's wrong with the world in just one photograph

We wrap up the week with one of our occasional features, called Everything You Need to Know. It's where you can learn a great deal about something in a very short time or space.

In this case, it's Everything You Need to Know about just how screwed up the world really is in just one photograph.

The picture is that of a four-year-old girl named Adi Hudea, taken at the Atmeh refugee camp in Syria in December 2014. The photo was taken by Osman Sagirli, who is a Turkish photojournalist.

The caption in the Turkish newspaper where it was first published told the story:
Her face suddenly drops. She squeezes her bottom lip between her teeth and gently lifts up her hands. Where she remains like that without a word.
Adi Hudea
Sagirli was using a telephoto lens, and he realized afterward that Adi thought it was a weapon.

What kind of world is it where 4-year-old children are more familiar with how to respond to having guns pointed at them than they are with a camera?

I don't know how to stop the madness. I don't have an answer. But I will be damned if I will agree that creating more blood, more death, more refugees, more terrified children, is the way out.

And I do know that this one picture is Everything You Need to Know.

By the way, if you want to do something, Doctors Without Borders, a remarkable group of people, is providing direct medical aid in hospitals and health centers inside Syria and the staff is sending medical supplies and equipment to medical networks in Syria that they cannot access themselves. There is a link below where you can make a donation.

Sources cited in links:

Information on donating to Doctors Without Borders:

That page also contains information on what to do if  you want to specify the donation is for work in Syria.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

199.5 - Outrage of the Week: media blackout on CPC budget plan

Outrage of the Week: media blackout on CPC budget plan

Now for our other regular feature, the Outrage of the Week.

On March 25, the US House held a series of votes on various budget plans under an unusual arrangement where the budget that got the most votes would be the "official" house version.

At the end of the day, surprise, surprise, the official GOP plan got the most votes.

I want to mention one of losers. Specifically, the Peoples Budget, prepared by the Congressional Progressive Caucus. This is the 5th year the CPC has done its own budget proposal, with this year's being called A Raise for America.

It's important for you to realize something right at the top: This is a real budget, which has been subjected to independent analysis. It is not just a summary of principles or a bunch of bullet points or a list of headings or a concoction of fudged numbers with what Paul Krugman accurately called trillion doll asterisks.
This budget proposes a multi-trillion dollar public investment in areas such as the desperate need for infrastructure repair and improvement, upgrading our energy systems, and addressing climate change, the sorts of investment that not only create millions of new jobs but improve the quality of life for the nation as a whole.

It reduces income inequality by raising taxes on the rich and closing corporate loopholes while cutting taxes on low- and middle-income folks. It improves the lives of the poor with expanded social supports. It invests in education and provides debt-free college. It improves on Obamacare by creating a public option (if you can remember what that is). It invests in renewable energy technologies.

And it does all this and much more while reducing the annual deficit not only by raising taxes on the rich and corporations but by cutting military spending and ending pointless war spending and pointless wars.

And in fact, many of its proposals are popular with the public. For a few examples, 80% of Americans support raising the minimum wage, which this budget does. Two-thirds think the rich pay too little in taxes, 70% oppose the cuts to Food Stamps, and large majorities favor paid leave, equal pay, and affordable child care, all of which this budget supports, and say the government has a responsibility to ensure employers treat employees fairly by enforcing such policies.

As the budget describes itself,
A fair wage is more than the size of a paycheck. It’s having enough hours, paid overtime, sick and parental leave, and affordable health and childcare. It’s being able to afford a good education for your kids and never living in fear that your job will be sent overseas. It’s knowing you can make ends meet at the end of the month. The People’s Budget helps achieve that.
And does it in a way that is fiscally sound with a budget that stands up to analysis.

So of course it only got 96 votes in the House.

But that's not the real outrage here.

The outrage is that until this moment, most of you had never heard of that budget. Most of you, unless you haunt lefty news sites or are a real political wonk who reads or, you have never heard of this budget. The budget most in line with what Americans want, the one that does the most for the many instead of the few at the top, the one that does the most to advance economic and social justice, and the one that showed you can do all that while being more fiscally responsible than either of the major parties' alternatives, was subjected to an all but total media blackout.

I searched on Yahoo! News for major media coverage of this budget. I got nothing. I searched on Google News, got nothing. A search at the New York Times site produced zero hits. A search at the Washington Post site got exactly one hit.

I have said it many, many times before: We are by our national mainstream media uninformed, misinformed, and malinformed. And no matter how many times I say it, it is still an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

199.4 - Update: fallout from Indiana's God Gave Me The Right To Be A Bigot law

Update: fallout from Indiana's God Gave Me The Right To Be A Bigot law

So let's do an update on the fallout from Indiana's passage of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act or RFRA, better described as the God Gave Me The Right To Be A Bigot law. I mentioned last week that the reaction was so furious that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, aka Gov. NotWorthAFarthing, was promising "clarifications" before the ink was dry on his signature.

And so came the clarifications, which actually went further than many expected, saying the law cannot be used to justify denying anyone service, employment, housing, and so on based on a variety of causes, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

Some criticized the fix because it did not involve adding sexual orientation and gender identity to protected classes under Indiana's civil rights laws, meaning it is still legal to discriminate against LGBT folks in Indiana even with the fix. Personally, I have to disagree with those folks. While certainly the civil rights laws should be changed to include LGBT folks, a move to do it here would too easily be shot down as out of order because it's not germane to the particular legislation.

Plus, hey gang, this is progress. This is a win. Celebrate it, don't slam it. Build on it, build on the implicit recognition of the inherent wrongness of discrimination against LGBT folks that this "clarification" admits. Like the old civil rights song goes, "every victory brings another" so "carry it on."

In fact, it was a bigger win than just Indiana. The fallout extended to other states. Last week I mentioned that Montana had rejected a proposed ballot question on an RFRA likely because of what happened with Indiana's law.

Since then, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who had previously said he would sign that state's own version of a God Gave Me The Right To Be A Bigot law, changed his mind and says he won't sign it until the legislature either recalls the bill and changes the wording or passes supplementary legislation to the same end.

What's more, the Georgia state senate overwhelmingly passed a similar measure, but after seeing what happened in Indiana and Arkansas, the state House of Representatives let it die. Gov. Nathan Deal said if people want to bring it up again in the next session, they would be well-advised to stick closely to the language in the original federal version of the law and to include an anti-discrimination provision.

And then there's the North Carolina legislature, which was set to consider an even worse version of a God Gave Me The Right To Be A Bigot bill. But with a new business coalition called Compete North Carolina forming to oppose the bill and the prospect of a major pushback from the state's important tech sector, legislative leaders are now sounding let's just call it noncommittal. Asked about the bill, state Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger just said "It's been filed. A decision will be made as to whether or not we move it forward." State House Speaker Tim Moore said essentially the same thing.

So the win in Indiana has also meant wins in Montana, Arkansas, Georgia, and North Carolina. Those wins are not final, they might be thought of as at best the divisional title, not the World Series. But they are wins. And they are a demonstration of what I have been saying for some time: We may be losing in lots of ways, economically, socially, environmentally, in terms of privacy, but on this issue, justice will come.

Sources cited in links:

199.3 - Clown Award: Kentucky governor Steve Beshear

Clown Award: Kentucky governor Steve Beshear

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

This week was a difficult one in this regard because Teh Stupid was on full display across the nation. So much so that this week I have to include two runners-up.

The second runner-up, receiving a squirting flower, is former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who said, appropriately enough on April Fools Day, that advocates for LGBT rights "won't stop" until there are no more churches and no more Christians in America, which means, quoting him, people "spreading ... the unabridged, unapologetic Gospel that is really God’s truth."

Which parenthetically, likely means in HuckleberryHound's mind that Catholics are in the clear. Because, you know, Christians.

Our first runner-up is New Jersey Assemblyman Jerry Green, who takes home the size 17 floppy shoes. This takes a bit of background. Dan Damon is 75 and a well-known blogger about local government in Plainfield, New Jersey. Recently he was arrested for public lewdness after police allegedly caught him performing oral sex on a 23-year-old man in a parked car. The day after the news came out, Green was attacking Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp for not removing Damon from the library board. (Parenthetically, all three men - Green, Damon, and Mapp  - are rival Democrats.)

Well, Green was "shocked" that people were taking the arrest "so lightly," even though it is in fact a low-level disorderly persons offense. "This is a 75-year-old man having sex with a 23-year-old man who happens to be a Latino," he said. Now, that last part is weird enough on its own and I'm not sure what it has to do with anything, but after that is when Green really goes off the rails. He said:
The mayor has yet to come out and say anything at all, which is totally shocking. It's not that he doesn't know that (Damon) has a sickness. I'm just hoping nobody gets killed or hurt and that somebody in the administration recognizes that this is a danger to society.

When Mapp lashed back in an op-ed saying he is "appalled" that Green "would consider being gay a ‘sickness,’ suggest that gay people are prone to committing violence and murder, and consider being gay as a ‘danger to society," Green responded by calling Mapp "a total idiot," "a total embarrassment to this community," "an opportunist," and "a backstabber" and referred to him "Mr. Mapp" because "I cant even call him Mayor Mapp."

Green also insisted that he had no need to apologize to anyone because "I was one of the first persons in the African American community to come out for the rights of the gay community ten years ago."

Yeah, and I bet some of your best friends are gay, aren't they? Even if they are sick, violent, and a danger to society.

After that, the winner better be good.

And it is. And it's not even so much for the bigotry as it is for the absolutely, unvarnished, laugh-out-loud inanity.

Steve Beshear
So the winner of the Big Red Nose this week is the Democratic governor of Kentucky, Steve Beshear.

After Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway refused to defend in court the state's ban on same-sex marriage, arguing that he would not defend discriminatory laws, Beshear's office hired an independent law firm to pursue the case.

Kentucky is part of the 6th federal circuit, and it was the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals that bucked the trend of court decisions and upheld bans on same sex marriage. It was that decision that promoted the Supreme Court to take up that matter of same-sex marriage, with oral arguments now scheduled for April 28.

Okay. On March 27, Beshear's attorneys filed their brief on his behalf on the case now before the Supreme Court.

In it, the lawyers argued that the ban on same-sex marriage does not discriminate against same-sex couples. Why? How? The brief said, and I am quoting,
Kentucky’s marriage laws treat homosexuals and heterosexuals the same and are facially neutral. Men and women, whether heterosexual or homosexual, are free to marry persons of the opposite sex under Kentucky law, and men and women, whether heterosexual or homosexual, cannot marry persons of the same sex under Kentucky law.
Get it?  You tell two gay guys who do want to marry each other that they can't but that's fine and dandy and not at all discriminatory because you tell two straight guys who don't want to marry each other that they can't, either.

The utter stupidity is painful to witness.

The Louisville Courier-Journal reminded readers that nearly 50 years ago, in the case Loving v. Virginia, the state of Virginia defended its ban on interracial marriage in much the same terms, saying that the ban was not discriminatory because whites could not marry blacks and blacks could not marry whites, so everyone was treated the same.

And I suppose a ban on nursing a baby in public is also non-discriminatory because both women and men are barred from doing so.

Or, as French novelist Anatole France put it back in 1894,
The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, or to steal bread.

People supporting LGBT rights are sometimes fond of recalling the bans on interracial marriage and saying to those who support bans on same-sex marriage to "think how you are going to look in 40 years." Apparently Steve Beshear and his crack legal team - who must be on crack - are not prepared to wait.

Gov. Steve Beshear: clown.

Sources cited in links:
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