Sunday, June 28, 2015

209.3 - Our worst unaddressed evil

Our worst unaddressed evil

I have written in the past that we as Americans have much to be proud of in our heritage - and much to be ashamed of. We are a people of great ideals - and great irrational fears. Of  great promise - and great failures.

The other day I was recalling an episode of "Dr. Who," a British sci-fi series. The villain in this particular story was a robot. After it was destroyed, someone remarked on how it seemed "so human." The reply is that "It was capable of great evil - and great good. So yes, I suppose you could say it was human." I was thinking the line should have been "you could say it was American."

So just like, I suppose I have to say in fairness, probably every other culture in history, we have our evils and I'm sure we each could come up with our own list. But I think there are two great unaddressed - and I'll get to what I mean by unaddressed in a moment - two great unaddressed evils in our society: sexism and racism.

I am not going to get into one of those pointless arguments about which of those is worse or more pervasive or more perverse, arguments which are unresolvable, a waste of time, and a waste of energy that would be better spent dealing with whichever one you thought more in need of that effort.

But what I mean by "unaddressed" is that there are evils that we don't regard much, which usually remain below our awareness. But these two, sexism and racism, we do know about. We are aware of. We don't have to be reminded that they exist at all. That's what I mean by "unaddressed." It's like someone standing in front of you to who you just do not speak.

And in terms of being unaddressed, I say that racism is worse than sexism. Note that I am not saying that racism is worse than sexism, rather than in terms of being unaddressed it is worse - because it is so much more visible.

Sexism is often subtle, not so easily perceived as such even by those who may have felt its direct sting. It's built on a foundation of independent but overlapping suppositions about gender and the social meaning of gender and of gender identity and the concept of biology-driven roles for each gender, concepts which at some point in the history of our species even may have made some sense but now serve - as all bigotries do - as a foundation for dominance and control.

All of which means that teasing the evidence of sexism out of our relationships, our personal relationships, our interpersonal relationships, our social relationship broadly defined, can sometimes be difficult. That doesn't make it any less real, just less obvious.

But racism? That is obvious. I mean, how can we deny this? How can we continue to deny, no, not to deny, to pretend to deny? Racism is an open, gaping wound in our society visible to anyone who will actually simply look, simply listen.

Seeing racism, being aware of racism, doesn't require subtle analysis, it doesn't require study, it doesn't require scholarly explanations or for that matter, simplistic explanations, either. It requires only the eyes to see, the eyes to read, the ears to hear.

Dylann Roof
And yet we refuse to face it. Even when it is thrown in our faces like an ice-cold drink, we refuse to acknowledge it and yes, you know I am thinking about Charleston.

On June 17, 21-year-old Dylann Roof walked into the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, sat with the parishioners for an hour during Bible study - then stood up, said he was there "to shoot black people," pulled out a gun, and calmly began murdering them in cold blood.
"You've raped our women, and you are taking over the country. You have got to go. ... I have to do what I have to do."

Roof appears in multiple pictures he posted online wearing a jacket with patches from apartheid South Africa and formerly white-ruled Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and waving a Confederate battle flag or burning a US flag. He told friends he wanted to start a race war. He told cops after his arrest that he deliberately chose the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church because of its history and connection to civil rights campaigns.

But still, still, too many of us look for a reason, some reason, any reason to avoid facing the simple hard reality of racist violence - or, as believe it or not Hillary Clinton accurately called it, racist terrorism.

Instead, the usual suspects run and hide behind the usual excuses. The right wing babbled and burbled that it all was about religion that it was not an attack on blacks but on Christians - more exactly, they mean, on them (because in the right-wing mind, they are always the victim).

On Fox and Friends, Steve Doocy talked about "hostility toward Christians ... maybe that's what it was about." Fox News host Heather Childers suggest Roof could have been motivated by "pure hatred for religion."

Meanwhile, Rick Santorum, regarded and so presented by the media as a rational candidate for president with rational things to say, responded to the murders by referring to "assaults on our religious liberty we’ve never seen before."

Another candidate who is offered up by the media as chock full of reasonable arguments is Lindsey Graham, who reacted to the news by saying "it’s 2015, there are people out there looking for Christians to kill them."

Rick Santorum
Others blame the victims: Charles Cotton, a board member of National Rifle Association, the Nutzoid Rabbit-brains of America, noted that the church's pastor, Clementa Pinckney, was also a member of South Carolina's state Senate, where he had opposed a bill that would have legalized concealed carry of handguns in churches. Therefore, according to Cotton, it was Pinckney's fault that he and eight of his parishioners were murdered by a white racist.

(Quick sidebar: A 2012 study revealed that not one of the 62 mass shootings in the previous 30 years was stopped by a civilian with a gun.)

Others even deny the racism outright or even try to say the whole thing is kind of good news: The Wall Street Journal editorialized that the very fact that officials condemned the shooting is proof that "the system and philosophy of institutionalized racism" no longer exists. So racist terrorism proves that racism is a thing of the past.

And at the end of it all, when the dodges fail and even when they don't, we make excuses for the violence. We humanize the murderer. Where low-level black street criminals are "thugs" who are somehow emblematic of their "culture," white racist murderers are isolated cases with no broader meaning. They are each time - as Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley described Roof - just "one hateful person" with - as former FBI special agent Jonathan Gilliam suggested on CNN - "some mental issues."

Lindsey Graham
And so it gets dismissed, isolated, cut off from the society that surrounds us, an unfortunate tragedy that says nothing about the rest of us.

But this time it is so big, so obvious, that we can't entirely dismiss it. We have to respond somehow. So what are we going to do? How are we going to respond? What will be the focus of our efforts? How are we going to "solve" this? Why, we're going to take down the Confederate battle flags! Because that is what it's about, the Confederate battle flag! Not the hatred, not the bigotry, not the racism, the Confederate battle flag.

Take down the flags! That will take care of the poverty, the unemployment, the discrimination in housing, and all the rest. That will take care of the thousand daily cuts and slights of suspicion, mistrust, even fear based on nothing but your color, that will keep the next Tamir Rice or Freddie Gray from happening. That will fix everything while we remain unaffected, our own souls remain pure, clean, innocent, because we surely don't fly Confederate battle flags so the racism, the bigotry, it's nothing to do with us.

And so we can take a deep breath, congratulate ourselves on our progress as we still treat people like Rick IShouldBeInASanitarium and Lindsey Grahamcracker and the rest of that crew as serious people with something serious to say.

And we will do it until the next "isolated incident" from "one hateful person" with "some mental issues" arises.

And then we will just start over and do all the same things again. Because always and forever, we find a way to reassure ourselves that at the end of the day, it's never about us.

Sources cited in links:

209.2 - Pope Francis strikes again

Pope Francis strikes again

Well, Pope Frankie has done it again. Twice, in fact. First was his encyclical - an encyclical is a teaching document on Catholic doctrine - his encyclical on climate change, which was a fairly comprehensive and worthy-of-respect overview of the reality and impact of climate change and environmental degradation, especially on the poor, coupled with the observation that "It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been." That is, it is remarkable how little we have done - which lead to the deliciously morally-twisted assertion by Fox news pundit Greg Gutfeld that Pope Francis is "the most dangerous person on the planet" beause he "doesn’t want to be your grandfather’s pope."

I'm gong to leave that aside for now as I plan to do a fairly thorough update on news and new research about global warming aka climate change next week.

But I wanted to be sure to mention his other hit this week: It was in an off-the-cuff talk after he completed his prepared comments to a crowd of thousands during his visit to the city of Turin. Because this was, again, off the cuff, there is nothing official about it, nothing doctrinal about it - and no, for you non-Catholics out there, "papal infallibility" only applies to formal statements about church dogma, not to casual remarks - but for that very reason it may be more revealing of where his heart truly is.

What he did was tell that crowd of thousands that arms manufacturers who call themselves Christians are hypocrites. What's  more, he said that those who invest in the arms industry are equally guilty of being hypocrites, saying "duplicity is the currency of today…they say one thing and do another."

Interestingly, he also called out the Allied powers of World War II, saying they "had the pictures of the railway lines that brought the trains to the concentration camps like Auschwitz to kill Jews, Christians, homosexuals, everybody. Why didn't they bomb (the railway lines)?" Why didn't they, in other words, use their knowledge and firepower to hinder the Nazi death machine?

It's actually a pretty good question - although in fairness it must be said based on news accounts he didn't address the Catholic Church's own let's just call it not-overly aggressive resistance to Naziism during that same time. While it's not true, as some have claimed, that the Church collaborated with the Nazis and the Fascists, it is true that the institutional church didn't do nearly what it could have.

Anyway - I've joked recently that what with the kinds of things Pope Francis has been saying, if only the Catholic Church could move at least into the 20th century in its attitudes about women, about women's roles, about women's health, I could become a Catholic again.

That is just a joke, it will never happen because that would make me one of those hypocrites who says one thing and does another, claiming at least by implication to believe things I do not - but I was in fact brought up Roman Catholic and it's just kinda nice to be able to look at the Pope and for the first time since John XXIII say "Not too bad. Not too bad."

Sources cited in links:

209.1 - Update on fast-track

Update on fast-track

Okay, let's go straight to it.

On June 23, Senate gave the bankers' buddy, the Amazing Mr. O, what some called the biggest legislative victory of his second term, voting to advance the bill to give him so-called Trade Promotion Authority, better known as fast-track, on the massive, still-secret so-called "trade" deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. The vote was 60-37, those 60 votes being the minimum needed to move the bill forward by overcoming legislative objections. Final passage, now assured, requires only a simple majority.

Thirteen Dems, including such supposed liberals as Patty Murray and Ron Wyden, voted to please the transnational corporations rather than protect the environment and the working people of the US.

Let me give you a quick recap of the maneuvering over the past couple of weeks: The Senate passed fast-track connected to something called Trade Adjustment Assistance, a long-standing program intended to help workers who lose their jobs as a result of trade deals. I don't understand why such a program is necessary since all of these deals are supposed to be just so awesomely great for everyone, but there it is.

Anyway, the Senate's fast-track authority bill passed with 62 votes in favor. In the House, a coalition of liberals opposed to TPP and Tea Party types opposed to Trade Adjustment Assistance combined to produce over 300 votes against renewal of that program, which served to block the fast-track bill from advancing because the rules of debate required that both bills - the Trade Adjustment Assistance and fast-track itself - pass for the two to move forward as a package.

Then the pro-corporate caucus that is the House leadership - with the support of the pro-corporate caucus that is the White House - separated Trade Adjustment Assistance from fast-track and got the latter passed as a stand-alone measure by a margin of about a half-dozen votes, saying there would be a separate vote on Trade Adjustment Assistance in about six weeks.

So that stand-alone bill went back to the Senate, which has now approved it - which means that fast-track is headed to Obama's eager grasp without the Trade Adjustment Assistance program.

The Senate is likely to pass Trade Adjustment Assistance as separate legislation, but its fate in the House is uncertain both because a lot of the right wingers oppose it in principle - the magic of The Market (pbui) supposedly taking care of everything - and because more liberal members may still try to derail TPP by blocking Trade Adjustment Assistance, since Obama has said he wants both and has even suggested that he wouldn't accept fast-track without Trade Adjustment Assistance attached to it.

However, expecting Obama to be true to his word is an iffy proposition. Recall that when he was running for president in 2008, he promised to renegotiate NAFTA - the North American Free Trade Agreement, the one that established a massive "free trade" zone of Canada, the US, and Mexico and which was supposed to provide an economic boom and massive job growth to all three nations but instead, combined with other over-promised trade deals, has seen the US lose five million manufacturing jobs, having even service jobs outsources, continuing downward pressure on wages, and a ballooning trade deficit. As a candidate, PHC* promised to renegotiate NAFTA to correct its "evident shortcomings," a promise which he renewed shortly after his inauguration - and then promptly forgot. No move has been made in that direction since.

Right now, when I'm doing this, which is the afternoon of Wednesday the 24th, what I expect is that he'll sign the fast-track bill and then grandly call for Congress to pass the Trade Adjustment Assistance extension, lobbying the liberal members of the House with "I got fast-track. It's a done deal. I want Trade Adjustment Assistance but if you don't pass it, I'm going to use fast-track anyway. So it's fast-track with Trade Adjustment Assistance or fast-track without Trade Adjustment Assistance - your choice." That is, he will dare Congress to vote it down.

What makes this worse is that in the course of this sausage-grinding, the fast-track bill has gotten worse and worse.

Remember how the Senate version included restrictions on human trafficking - the slave trade - and Obama wanted them out? The bill as passed by the Senate weakened those provisions as well as weakening provisions relating to currency manipulation and to trade enforcement - trade enforcement referring to what you actually do when one of the nations violates one of the supposed protections for workers or human rights or the environment - and added provisions that prohibit trade deals from addressing climate change or immigration issues.

What's more, something people don't realize, is that this is a six-year renewal of Trade Promotion Authority, not something restricted to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It means in effect that any trade deal brought to Congress by Obama or whoever is the next president already works under fast-track. One such deal could be the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a series of trade deals being worked out - of course - mostly in secret, but these are between the European Union and US. Sort of like a TAP: a Trans-Atlantic Partnership.

You may have noticed I called the TPP a "so-called" trade deal. That's because it is not a trade deal. Trade is about trade, about the exchange of goods and services; international trade is about the exchange of goods and services across international boundaries. TPP is not a trade agreement. In fact only five of its 29 draft chapters - and let me emphasize here that what we know is from leaks, remember this is still all secret - but only five of its 29 draft chapters deal with trade.

TPP is not a trade agreement. Rather, it is a statement of corporate and investor rights. It is not designed to promote trade, it is designed to protect investor returns and corporate profits. "Trade" is merely the cover story.

How much of a cover story? It develops that when the deal is finalized, only the final text will be released. Everything else, negotiating documents, understandings, side agreements, codicils, are all to be kept secret until four years after the agreement goes into effect. Even the agreement to keep those secrets was itself intended to be secret. We are only supposed to know what our Lords and Masters deign to tell us in their own interest.

I really thought we had a chance to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It's not a done deal yet: Remember that fast-track passed the House by a vote of just 218-208, an effective margin of just six votes, if just six votes had flipped it would have failed, so when the finished deal finally is presented to Congress, some of those now-secret provisions may spook enough people to vote it down.

But right now I'm not counting on that as I can hear the clinking of champagne glasses echoing through the top-floor offices of transnational corporations on both sides of the Pacific - and also down the halls of the White House.

We are so screwed.

*PHC = President Hopey-Changey

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #209

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of June 24 - July 1, 2015

This week:

Update on fast-track

Pope Francis strikes again

Our worst unaddressed evil

Sunday, June 21, 2015

I Have a Favor to Ask - totally non-political

Simply put, can anyone tell me what the heck this plant is? It's growing wild as a low bush in front of our little front garden and no one among our neighbors knows what it is any more than we do.

Answer, if you can, either here or at - but if you do the latter, please say something in the subject line like "bush" or "mystery bush" or "mystery plant" or whatever so I don't mistake it for spam. Thanks!

Please excuse the poor quality; these were taken in a rush with a brand-new camera for which I have not even yet read the manual.

Friday, June 19, 2015

208.9 - Outrage of the Week: US sabotages conference on Non-Proliferation Treaty

Outrage of the Week: US sabotages conference on Non-Proliferation Treaty

Finally for this week is our other regular feature: the Outrage of the Week.

And this week it starts with something I bet you didn't hear about: the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) took place at the UN from April 27 to May 22.

Of course you didn't hear about it; there was essentially no new coverage at all of any kind.

Over 100 nations came together to discuss the status and progress of the NPT, the main international device to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, which would seem to be a laudable enterprise, despite the continuing danger found in the fact that eight nations admit to having nuclear weapons and the estimated total number of such weapons is in excess of 17,000, with 16,000 of them in the arsenals of just two nations: the US and Russia.

But instead of making progress or even just issuing a bland motherhood and apple pie consensus statement, the conference broke down in disarray and angry exchanges, sufficient to, in the judgment of Joseph Gerson of the American Friends Service Committee, "shake the foundations" of the NPT.

Why? How? Because, again in Gerson's words, the US "sabotaged" the conference by blocking the conference's consensus statement because it included a call from Egypt to convene a conference within six months to work on establishing a nuclear-weapons-and-weapons-of-mass-destruction-free zone in the Middle East.

And why would the US do that? The real clue is found in the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked the US - along with, let it be said, the UK and Canada - for undermining the proposal.

Because, you see, a nuclear-weapons-free Middle East not only would mean a nuclear-weapons-free Iran for example, it would also mean a nuclear-weapons-free Israel. Israel, with a nuclear arsenal estimated at anywhere from 80 to perhaps 200 nuclear weapons, is the only state in the region with such weapons and the only state in the region not to have agreed to the NPT. It denies having nukes but everyone knows that's a lie and even those denials have become pro forma and expressed with a smirk rather than any real conviction. It's the only state in the region with nuclear weapons and it damn well intends to keep it that way.

The Amazing Mr. O
And the US is prepared to be Israel's enabler, even if that means threatening the structure of the NPT which has at the very very least severely limited the spread of nuclear weapons. Yes, eight nations - nine when you count Israel - have nuclear weapons, but before the NPT, predictions were that by now there would be around 30.

But so ready is he to run interference for Israel in the international community, Barack Obama - and let's take a moment here to remember that one of the bases for giving him that Nobel Peace Prize was his supposed dedication to eliminating nuclear weapons - Obama is so eager to run interference for Israel that he is prepared to risk the structure of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Which leads me to wonder which of his principles Obama is not prepared to throw over - and to express my outrage at his abandonment of this one.

Sources cited in links:

208.8 - Clown Award: Tim Hunt

Clown Award: Tim Hunt

Now for one of our regular features, the Clown Award, given in recognition of some act or expression of meritorious stupidity.

The Big Red Nose this week goes to Tim Hunt. Who is Tim Hunt? Well, he's a biochemist who won the 2001 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine - and he is an unapologetic sexist toad.

On June 8, at the World Conference of Science Journalists in Seoul, South Korea, he told his audience that he had a reputation as a male chauvinist - and then went on to prove it, saying:
"Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab. You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry."
Later, in a classic non-apology, Hunt actually stood by his comments, saying he "did mean the part about having trouble with girls," but insisted "I'm really, really sorry I caused any offense. I certainly didn't mean that. I just meant to be honest."

Right. You call them "girls," say they can't deal with criticism, suggest they don't belong in a research lab, but you didn't mean any "offense." Well, of course, because how could anyone think of any of that as offensive when you were just being "honest?"

Honest about being a sexist toad, yes. Beyond that....

The fact is, while there has been measurable progress, gender bias and discrimination remain a real barrier for women in academia, particularly in the areas known as STEM - for science, technology, engineering, and math.

Tim Hunt
For example, in 2012, 62 percent of men in academia were tenured compared to only 44 percent of women, and women were far more likely to be in non-tenure track positions than men (32 percent of women in academia compared to just 19 percent of men).

In 2013, women earned about half of the bachelor’s degrees awarded in science and engineering and 38 percent of doctorates, but only made up 26 percent of tenured faculty members.

A study in 2012 revealed that chemists and biologists are likely to favor a young male scientist over a woman with nearly identical qualifications and are more likely to offer the man a job. When women do get hired, their pay averages nearly $4,000 less than what men are paid.

None of this, seemingly, matters to Tim Hunt, who's only being "honest" about disruptive, weepy women in his lab. As the UK newspaper The Independent noted, "With lab rats like him, is it any wonder there's a shortage of women in science?"

Oh, but really it's all okay because Hunt said that he didn't want to stand in the way of women, just that he was in favor of single-sex labs. Academic apartheid, in other words.

But considering that a good part of his complaint was about disruption caused by romantic involvements - he apparently has little self-control - by his own logic wouldn't he also have to ban gays and lesbians from their gender-segregated labs? Where would he propose stopping?

The pushback against Hunt was hard enough - even the Royal Society, the UK's leading science organization, of which he is a member, distanced itself from him - that he lost his honorary post, and yes it was an honorary post, at University College London.

That's okay though, because Tim Hunt can always pursue another career - as a clown.

Sources cited in links:

208.7 - Our Lovely Little War: new US base in Iraq could be "model" for more

Our Lovely Little War: new US base in Iraq could be "model" for more

Last week, I told you about our Nobel Peace Prize Prez sending 450 more US troops to Iraq to establish a new base, a new "training facility," in Anbar Province.

This week, I can tell you that Gen. Martin Dempsey, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called the new base a natural extension of US assistance that could serve as a model to be replicated elsewhere in Iraq, involving even more US troops, saying the idea for additional such bases is being looked at "all the time." He called such bases "lily pads" from which, apparently, Iraqi forces - not US forces, of course not, no never - from which Iraqi forces could, I suppose, hop forward.

Dempsey said he has not recommended putting US troops closer to the front lines to call in airstrikes - but he pointedly held out the possibility, saying "We continue to plan for and ensure that that option is available."

In response to the announcement of the additional 450 troops, several war hawks invoked "the lessons of Vietnam," those lessons being, as near as I can figure out from the rambling of their aging brains, "nuke 'em." Or more politely, "bomb them back to the Stone Age" - but since they're not actually prepared to be so honest about their desires, they just refer to some form of "go in big, now."

But of course they won't put their vote where their mouth is as Congress continues to dodge any sort of actual responsibility for any of this.

Thus on June 11, the House of Representatives rejected an amendment to a defense bill that would have forced lawmakers to vote on a formal authorization for the use of military force against Islamic State. The amendment, sponsored by Adam Schiff, would have required Congress to vote on a new authorization for military force by March 31, 2016, prohibiting funds in next year's defense appropriations to be used for air strikes against ISIS until and unless Congress authorized it.

It was voted down by 231 to 196 because the last thing that collection of cowards making up the majority wants to do is to have to actually say yes or no to war, to actually have something on record that can be pointed to, as opposed to just sniping about how one is conducted from the safety of their press releases.

One other thing on this: In referring to his "lily pads," Dempsey said "Is this a game changer? No. It's an extension of an existing campaign that makes the campaign more credible."

Y'know, I recall the lessons of - not the Vietnam War, the Indochina War - the lessons of that indelible stain on our history, rather differently than the war hawks. That's relevant here because what Dempsey has outlined clearly envisions a wider and deeper US involvement in Iraq, including moving "closer to the front lines," while insisting this really is no change. And I recall that among the lessons the government took from the Indochina War, a lesson which Dempsey clearly recalls, is "When you are changing your policy, say you aren't; when you're not changing your policy, say you are."

On, and speaking of Vietnam, we have an anniversary this week:
June 16, 1961 - Following a meeting between South Vietnamese envoy Nguyen Dinh Thuan and President John F. Kennedy, the United States agreed to increase the presence of American military advisors in Vietnam from 340 to 805, and to provide direct training and combat supervision to South Vietnamese troops. The number of U.S. personnel rose to 3,200 by the end of 1962.
Like I said: Watch this space.

Sources cited in links:

208.6 - Footnote: White House may endorse plan to remove Trade Adjustment Assistance from bill for fast-track authority

Footnote: White House may endorse plan to remove Trade Adjustment Assistance from bill for fast-track authority

Two Footnotes to that - we're rather heavily footnoted this week - one serious, one just for fun.

The serious one is that another possibility under discussion for how the House will deal with voting on fast-track would be to decouple it from the worker assistance provision and vote for a bill that only includes fast-track authority. If that happened and it passed, it would mean the Senate, which has already passed its own trade package which did include trade assistance, in the position of negotiating with the House for a final package that did not include workers assistance that Democrats have backed for four decades.

The word is that the White House might quietly endorse this strategy - dropping trade adjustment assistance from the bill altogether - in order to get the trade deal done. The NY Times called this "an odd twist" but I find it no surprise: Last week I talked about how for the sake of the TPP Obama was prepared to close his eyes to Malaysia's involvement in the human slave trade - so what's the big deal about the domestic detritus of our deals?

The fun one is that ran down how declared and expected presidential candidates of the two major parties stand on TPP. Some were yes, some were no, some were leaning yes, some leading no - and when they got to Bernie Sanders,  it was "Hell, no."

You may not agree with the man's politics - I will admit I agree with a good amount of it, although he's too conservative for me on some things - but you can't say you don't know what he thinks.

Sources cited in links:

UPDATE: As I expect you know, the House did have a re-vote on Thursday, June 18, again the day after I recorded the show dammit, on a fast-track bill that was indeed decoupled from Trade Adjustment Assistance. It passed 218-208, essentially the same margin as before.

The bill now goes back to the Senate, where it remains to be seen if enough Senators are willing to sign off on fast-track authority with only the promise that adjustment assistance will be dealt with later as a separate bill. (Fast-track authority, including TAA, passed the Senate with just 62 votes, just two more than the minimum required to overcome a filibuster.)

More on this, obviously, next show.

Sources cited in Update:

208.5 - Update on fast-track for TPP

Update on fast-track for TPP

Okay, last week I gave what was then the most timely update on the question of Obama getting Trade Promotion Authority, or fast-track, on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the massive, still-secret trade deal looking to unite 12 Pacific Rim nations, involving 40% of the world's economy, in a single massive free-trade zone.

Unfortunately, the one thing I couldn't tell you was how the vote on the motion turned out because it was to take place on Friday, two days after I recorded the show. So even though events were moving fast, in a way I couldn't. I had to lag behind.

Ah but now it's this week and in case you've been asleep for the past several days, let me update you.

I mentioned last week that fast-track had become even more controversial in the House of Representatives because of a move to finance extension of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), which is intended to help workers out of a job due to trade agreements, with a $700 million cut in Medicare. The pro-TPP gang tried to finesse the issue by holding two separate votes, one on trade assistance and one on fast-track and we'd have to see how that worked out.

Happily, it didn't. The rules of debate required that both bills, trade assistance and fast-track, pass in order for the package to move forward.

With unions, environmentalists, privacy advocates, consumer groups, health care groups, family farmer associations, civil rights groups, and even church groups pushing for defeat, when the Trade Adjustment Assistance bill came up for a vote on June 12, it went down to a resounding defeat, 302-126. The GOPper leadership insisted on going ahead with the vote on fast-track, even though that was now symbolic. That did pass, by the narrow vote of 219-211.

Corporate media have a storyline ready to explain the outcome: It was all the fault of (gasp-shrink-in-horror) "Big Labor." And they said it in sometimes very revealing language.

For example, USA Today said House Democrats are opposing TPP "for a simple, but not very good, reason. Labor has pulled out all the stops to persuade, cajole and pressure them into killing it," adding later that blocking the pact "would be widely interpreted as the Democrats putting the interests of unions first."

Omigosh how horrifying! How disgraceful! The Democrats - not all of them I hasten to add, but enough - Democrats supported the interests of a core constituency! They put the interests of ordinary working people ahead of those of transnational corporations and international banks! How DARE they!

Remember what I keep telling you about they are not on your side. Sometimes the mask slips a bit, sometimes is slips a little more.

Anyway, what the symbolic vote the fast-track did was give the pro-corporate lobby that is the House leadership a basis to push for a re-vote the next week.

The re-vote never came - or, more accurately, hasn't come.

Instead, on June 16, the House voted 236-189 to put off the vote on trade adjustment aid for six weeks, until the end of July.

The first thing to note is that this makes clear that the corporate lackeys in the House - and the White House - still don't have the votes to get fast-track through. And they want to give themselves time to cajole, confound, and coerce enough members to get the Amazing Mr. O the banker-pleasing power on trade that he wants. In fact, they want to give themselves all the way until the summer recess, which indicates they know this won't be easy.

It also means, by the same token, that despite what happened on Friday, this is not over - fast-track and through it the TPP have been wounded, wounded badly, but this is not over.

Still, there are additional hopeful signs in that some of the other nations involved are getting rattled.

Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb said things are getting "quite problematic" and it appears the government is close to admitting defeat on the whole deal.

Meanwhile, Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam is saying that US credibility in the Asia-Pacific region is on the line, and you know that when someone resorts to pulling out that line, which always kind of translates in context to "you have to do this stupid thing so that people will believe you when you go to do something else stupid," they are desperate.

What all this means, in sum, is that fast-track, again, is not dead and the fight isn't over - Is it ever? - but fast-track and by that means the entire Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, can be defeated. We can do this.

Sources cited in links:

UPDATE: As I expect you know, the House did have a re-vote on Thursday, June 18, again the day after I recorded the show dammit, on a fast-track bill that was decoupled from Trade Adjustment Assistance. It passed 218-208, essentially the same margin as before.

The bill now goes back to the Senate, where it remains to be seen if enough Senators are willing to sign off on fast-track authority with only the promise that adjustment assistance will be dealt with later as a separate bill. (Fast-track authority, including TAA, passed the Senate with just 62 votes, just two more than the minimum required to overcome a filibuster.)

More on this, obviously, next show.

Sources cited in Update:

208.4 - Footnote: North Carolina not the only state doing this

Footnote: North Carolina not the only state doing this

Three Footnotes to that:

1. The issue is much bigger than North Carolina. The Guttmacher Institute says North Carolina is among 23 states, mostly in the South and the Midwest, that have passed laws dealing with the required administration of ultrasounds by abortion providers.

2. Whenever I hear about one of these laws saying doctors have to explain the risks of an abortion procedure, I always wonder how a supporter of such laws would respond to a proposed amendment requiring those doctors to also fully inform their patients about the risks of pregnancy, childbirth (including post partum issues), and parenting - which are actually significantly greater than those of abortion.

3. On a Good News note, a recent Gallup poll shows Americans declaring themselves "pro-choice" (as opposed to the nonsensical term "pro-life," which truly doesn't fit at least the leadership) by a statistically-significant margin for the first time since 2008. All age ranges have shown a significant increase in "pro-choice" sentiment over the past few years. While various people have suggested various reasons, I can't help but think that a major cause is the extreme (and extremist) nature of the anti-choice laws imposed over the past four years or so and people are starting to think "this has gone too far" and are pulling back from the wackos.

Sources cited in links:

208.3 - Good News: SCOTUS will not hear appeal of decision striking down part of North Carolina's draconian anti-choice law

Good News: SCOTUS will not hear appeal of decision striking down part of North Carolina's draconian anti-choice law

In 2011, North Carolina adopted one of the nation's most extreme anti-choice laws, part of which required a woman seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound done by a physician who would be required by law to display the sonogram and describe the fetus to woman. Ridiculously, the bill's supporters said the woman could look away and not listen if she didn't want to have the procedure.

In December 2014, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals knocked down the ultrasound requirement in no uncertain terms as a violation of doctor's Constitutional rights of free speech. The requirement was "ideological in intent" and clearly intended to "convince women seeking abortions to change their minds or reassess their decisions." It imposed a "virtually unprecedented burden on the right of professional speech."

"The state cannot," the court declared, "commandeer the doctor-patient relationship to compel a physician to express its preference to the patient."

The good news here is that on June 15, the Supreme Court refused to hear North Carolina's appeal of that decision, leaving the circuit court decision as the final word on the matter. So at least the women of North Carolina are freed of that burden and physicians in North Carolina no longer must be sock puppets for the state.

The downside to this - because there seems to be a downside to everything these days - is that the decision does not affect any of the other falsely-called "informed-consent" provisions, which include forcing doctors to explain the risks of abortion, discuss alternatives, and tell the woman she can visit a state-sponsored website that describes the fetus, because those were not issues before the court.

Sources cited in links:

208.2 - Footnote: GOPpers trying to prevent FCC from enforcing Net neutrality

Footnote: GOPpers trying to prevent FCC from enforcing Net neutrality

Or rather, it will be good news if we get that far because there is a Footnote to this, because what the corporate lackeys in law firms could not accomplish, the corporate lackeys in Congress are trying to:

On June 10, the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Committee passed out its appropriations bill for fiscal 2016. One item cut the budget of the FCC by nearly 20%, down to $315 million, and includes a provision saying that none of those funds can be used to "implement, administer, or enforce" the rules on Net neutrality until three corporate-driven legal challenges are fully resolved - which of course could take years.

Simply put, this is a cheap, backdoor way to try to do the bidding of the telecomms and block Net neutrality and doing it this sneaky way, buried deep in a $20 billion appropriations bill, because they know that the public, including an overwhelming number of self-described conservatives, support Net neutrality.

They really are quite shameless.

Sources cited in links:

208.1 - Good News: Net neutrality upheld in first court case

Good News: Net neutrality upheld in first court case

Let's start the week, as I usually manage to do, with some Good News.

I've spoken several times about Net neutrality, the principle that all traffic across the internet is treated equally, with no privileged treatment, no "fast lanes," for those with the means to cough up extra bucks. A couple of months ago, the public interest scored big when the FCC reclassified broadband as a public utility subject to regulation just like regular landline telephone service, empowering the FCC to set rules for Net neutrality, which it did on February 26. The rules were formally announced in April, scheduled to go into effect on June 12.

And of course as soon as they came out, also came the corporate-funded suits to toss out the rules.

As part of that, they wanted the courts to issue a stay enjoining the FCC from enforcing the rules while the case proceeded.

The good news is that on June 11, the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia flatly refused to do so, finding that the corporations and their trade associations had failed to meet the requirements for such a stay, which included proving irreparable harm from the rules' implementation. Put another way, the corporations could not show how they would be harmed by having the rules go into effect. So the rules went into effect, on schedule, on June 12.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, his past life as a lobbyist for the telecommunications industry (perhaps) safely behind him, called the ruling a huge victory for Internet consumers. Which it is: Net neutrality is now the law. And, as often happens on those rare occasions when we rein in the corporations, time will surely reveal that all the predictions of disaster that are always the cry of the corporations will prove to be vapor. And that is good news.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #208

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of June 18-24, 2015

This week:

Good News: Net neutrality upheld in first court case

Footnote: GOPpers trying to prevent FCC from enforcing Net neutrality

Good News: SCOTUS will not hear appeal of decision striking down part of North Carolina's draconian anti-choice law

Footnote: North Carolina not the only state doing this

Update on fast-track for TPP

Footnote: White House may endorse plan to remove Trade Adjustment Assistance from bill for fast-track authority

Our Lovely Little War: new US base in Iraq could be "model" for more

Clown Award: Tim Hunt

Outrage of the Week: US sabotages conference on Non-Proliferation Treaty

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

207.9 - Outrage of the Week: Obama thinks TPP more important than stopping slavery

Outrage of the Week: Obama thinks TPP more important than stopping slavery

Let's close out the week with our other regular feature, the Outrage of the Week.

It involves an interesting bit of what one report called political ju-jitsu in the Senate passage of Trade Promotion Authority on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. (I told you I'd get back to it.)

The final bill included an amendment to bar any country engaging in human trafficking from getting the benefits of the trade deal.

Human Rights Watch declared that "It's simply incomprehensible why anyone could be against this amendment," which seems a reasonable enough sentiment.

So you know who is against it? The Obama administration.

Why? Because the amendment would affect Malaysia, which is one of the 12 nations involved in negotiating the deal. Our own State Department considers Malaysia to be among the world's worst offenders in human trafficking, in, more directly, slavery, home to some of the worst abuses on this, with a government that has no formal plans to change its ways. This amendment would keep Malaysia out of the TPP, which Obama claims is a deal-breaker on the whole thing, and so he wants the provision out.

Which means the O gang is so intent on scoring this deal for the transnational corporations and trade banks that would be the primary beneficiaries of it that it is fully prepared, to even in effect argue for, allowing Malaysia to continue active involvement in the international slave trade.

How can they justify this? They can't.

They claim that Malaysia being in the pact is only way to encourage it to improve its labor standards. It's the same nonsense we always hear when some portion of our elite wants to ignore injustices and cruelties when it benefits their interests: If we're just nice enough to them, they'll get better. We've heard this crap before; we heard it in the case of apartheid in South Africa, where the mantra was not "free trade " but "constructive engagement." It was bull then, it is bull now.

In fact, the State Department has downgraded three countries on this score - Panama, Colombia, and Morocco - since they entered into trade pacts with the US.

But the O gang and their supporters in Congress want to ignore all that in order to please the CEOs, the transnational corporations, and the banks. To call it an outrage hardly does it justice.

I'll say it again, as many times an necessary: These people are not on your side. And don't you ever forget it, not for one second.

Sources cited in links:

Monday, June 15, 2015

207.8 - Update: TPP and fast-track

Update: TPP and fast-track

Let's have an update about the status of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the huge, still-secret trade bill Obama is trying to get through Congress.

The immediate issue is Trade Promotion Authority, commonly called fast-track, which would allow Obama to present the negotiated deal, once it is finished, to Congress on a take-it-or-leave-it basis: Congress could approve or reject the treaty but it could not change the terms.

The Senate passed fast-track, gave Obama his Trade Promotion Authority, on May 22 - and I'm going to come back to that later, but let me update you on the current status first.

Fast-track has now gone to the House, were it appears it my have an even harder time than it did in the Senate. In fact, that climb may have just gotten steeper.

One of the issues involved in all this is that of retraining American workers who wind up out of work because of the trade deal. How that's supposed to happen, how anyone is supposed to be harmed, when this deal is just so great for workers and all others I'm not sure, but hey at least they're thinking about that part.

A bill in the House would cut $700 million from Medicare to fund an extension of what's called Trade Adjustment Assistance, or TAA, which aids workers who lose their jobs as a result of trade deals.

A number of seniors' groups and, perhaps a bit surprisingly, labor unions (which normally support TAA) have condemned the idea, so much so that they have urged House members to vote against the extension of Trade Adjustment Assistance if it is not funded independently. Which speaks to just how much more controversial the trade legislation - which already faces substantial opposition from members of both parties in the House - has become.

The supporters of fast-track are trying to derail the opposition by separating the funding of the TAA from the bill for fast-track authority, voting on fast-track first and the TAA funding only after as a separate bill. It remains to be seen how effective that will be as a tactic. (Update: As I expect you know it failed because the rules required that both pieces pass for fast-track to pass and the TAA bill lost badly.)

Many progressive politicians and activists (and even some non-progressive ones) are aware that the agreement will widen income inequality while putting at risk protections for workers, consumers, and the environment.An economist named Peter Morici summed it up this way:
U.S. multinationals would still profit from the TPP - they will be able to more easily move production to Asia to advantage labor and other resources made cheaper by manipulated currencies. Rich shareholders would profit and smile but ordinary working Americans would face more unfairly advantaged foreign competitors, unemployment and more downward pressure on wages.
Obama has called TPP the "most progressive trade deal” in US history. Which admittedly could be true, considering just how low a bar that is to get over.

It can't be said enough: These people are not on your side!

[Note from ye olde blogger: I seem to have deleted the version of this file that contained all the links. Damn. If I do manage to find it, I will add the links back in. Sorry for the screw-up.]

207.7 - Clown Award: Jon Hilsenrath of the Wall Street Journal

Clown Award: Jon Hilsenrath of the Wall Street Journal

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

This week the Big Red Nose goes to someone you likely never heard of, but he still matters: He is Jon Hilsenrath, chief economics correspondent of the Wall Street Journal.

At the Journal's blog on June 2, he wrote what he called, yes he did, "A letter to stingy American consumers," wondering in short "what's wrong with you?"

He whined that consumer spending didn't increase in April as compared to March and actually groused that the level of savings was up - remember when the complaint, the supposed basis of all that was wrong with the economy, was that we didn't save enough? Now it's that we save too much!

He says that "We know you experienced a terrible shock" when the economy collapsed in 2008 and all that followed from that, but, quoting him, "these shocks seem like a long time ago to us in a newsroom." In other words, aren't you over that yet?

"Do you know the American economy is counting on you?" And guess what, "The Federal Reserve is counting on you too."

We have an economy where the unemployment is still not back to where it was before the big collapse brought about by gross criminality driven by ego and sheer corporate greed and where the number of involuntary part-timers, people who are working part-time only because they cant find full-time work, has increased and is expected to stay up as the result of corporate decisions about what's most profitable.

We have a economy where there is nowhere in the country you can afford a one-bedroom apartment at minimum wage, even working full time, and nowhere in the country you can afford a two-bedroom apartment while making less than $14 an hour and in 13 states you have to earn more than $20 an hour.

We have an economy where corporations are increasingly using temporary visas known as H-1Bs to replace American technology workers with foreign workers because they will work for 25 to even 50 percent less than Americans - and the CEO-led Partnership for a New American Economy, which pushes for an overhaul of immigration laws, wants an increase in H-1B visas.

We live in an economy where there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth over the fact that corporate profits dropped in the first quarter of 2015, even though as one commenter pointed out that was only because of the beating energy sector profits took as the result of the drop in oil prices. Take energy out of the mix and corporate profits were up a very healthy 9.6% over the first quarter of 2014.

What's more, even after that drop, corporate profits were still at a level that would have been a record any time in the 60 years before 2008 - which was to that point, the record.

We live in an economy where despite those high profits, the 2015 Business Roundtable CEO Economic Outlook Index says that US CEOs are scaling back expansion and hiring plans for the second half of 2015 by nearly 10 percent.

We live in an economy where real median household income - actual purchasing power - is about 10% below where it was around 1999 and has continued to decline even after the "end of the recession."

In sum, we live in an economy where we are still struggling, where we are getting nowhere and have been that way for years on end, corporations are raking it in but are refusing to use that pile of cash to hire or invest but would rather lobby for a change in immigration laws allowing them to cut worker pay (and so increase profits) even more - and who is to blame for the sluggish economy?

We are! We're stingy, self-concerned, unwilling to recognize that the Federal Reserve is counting on us! We need to go out and spend spend spend, go deeper into debt, struggle harder, longer, for lower wages, after which we can be the target of another lecture about how our debt and our bankruptcies and our foreclosures are all our own fault.

And to newsroom-ensconced, isolated, overpaid twits like Jon Hilsenrath, this all makes perfect sense.

Jon Hilsenrath - and all the rest of the bozos - pure clowns.

Sources cited in links:
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