Saturday, July 25, 2015

213.8 - Clown Award: Planned Parenthood idiotically apologizes for "tone" of official in sting video

Clown Award: Planned Parenthood idiotically apologizes for "tone" of official in sting video

Okay, it's time for our other regular feature, the Clown Award, given as always for an act of meritorious stupidity.

You know, of course, about The Video, the one made secretly and possibly illegally, showing Dr. Deborah Nucatola, senior director of medical services for Planned Parenthood, discussing the transfer of tissues from aborted fetuses for use in medical research, supposedly with representatives of a human biologics company but who actually were anti-choice activists with the Center for Medical Progress, a bogus outfit headed by serial offender David Daleiden, who has been trying to bring down Planned Parenthood for years. He was previously associated with the infamous Operation Rescue, which opposed abortion rights with what were politely called "aggressive tactics" but actually involved harrassing, threatening, and often enough spitting on and assaulting women trying to enter clinics. After that, he was with Live Action, which also used undercover videos to accuse Planned Parenthood clinics of everything from racism and manipulative counseling to sex-selective abortion and infanticide.

Two things about the new video became clear almost immediately. One, release of the video was part of a coordinated effort: Two members of the grossly misnamed House Pro-Life Caucus, Reps. Tim Murphy and Trent Franks, admitted they had seen the video weeks earlier but had kept silent about it until now. When he was asked by Congressional Quarterly why he did that, Murphy struggled for an answer and then abruptly ended the interview, saying "This interview didn't happen."

The other thing that became clear is that the cut-down version of the video initially released was deceitfully edited in a lying attempt to make it look like Planned Parenthood is making profits off the illegal sale of body parts, deceit that became patently obvious in the full video. The same just as quickly proved to be true on July 21 when the same collection of anti-choice wackos released their second secret video of a Planned Parenthood executive.

Simply put, there was nothing illegal, nothing unethical, in those videos and the right-wing anti-choice, anti-women's rights, bozos are trying to use an "ick" factor about medical procedures to twist legal, ethical, tissue donation into some evil scheme by Planned Parenthood to get rich. They are serially-lying scum.

So this week, the Clown Award goes to: Planned Parenthood!

Why? Because during the group's official response to the first video, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards apologized for the "tone" of Dr. Nucatola's comments. Specifically, she said:
Our top priority is the compassionate care that we provide. In the video, one of our staff members speaks in a way that does not reflect that compassion. This is unacceptable, and I personally apologize for the staff member's tone and statements.
No, no, no! You don't apologize when you have done nothing wrong! That is idiotic and only serves as a basis for legitimizing false accusations as well as having the entirely predictable result that half or more of the headlines would not be "Planned Parenthood rejects phony charges in phony video" but would be - and were - "Planned Parenthood apologizes!"

Dr. Nucatola was not "compassionate?" She was not dealing with a client, for pity's sake! She was - so she thought - dealing with bio-medical professionals who would be used to the type of somewhat detached language and attitudes most medical professionals adopt in order to do their jobs with unclouded judgment. (There is a reason surgeons are advised not to operate on members of their own families.) In that context, there was nothing wrong with her tone, just like there was nothing illegal or unethical in her words.

Apologizing was a stupid and lame move. Unlike in boxing, there is no "rope-a-dope" strategy in politics and "duck and cover" just means you are losing on points. What's required is full-throated counter-attack. Planned Parenthood's enemies are serial liars with roots in violent attempts to deny women health care through everything from blockades to bombings, from mob pressure to murder, and the failure of Planned Parenthood to label them as such and denounce them as such is foolish and self-defeating.

Planned Parenthood of America: You are an honorable organization doing valuable work and I stand with you. But this week, you are clowns.

Sources cited in links:

213.7 - Footnote: Since 9/11, right-wingers have killed far more Americans than American jihadists have

Footnote: Since 9/11, right-wingers have killed far more Americans than American jihadists have

We have a Footnote to the outrage, a footnote that by providing some perspective demonstrates just how outrageous and how ignorant Clark's proposal is.

According to one recent set of statistics, in the years since 9/11, right-wing extremists have killed nearly twice as many people on American soil as domestic jihadists have.

Over that time, 48 people died during "deadly right-wing attacks" while 26 people died during "deadly jihadist attacks," according to a report by the New America Foundation.

And the difference may be considerably more extreme: According to the New York Times, since 9/11 there has been an average of six terrorist plots a year perpetrated by American Muslims, which resulted in 50 deaths. Meanwhile, according to the Combating Terrorism Center, a privately funded think tank housed at West Point, between 2001 and 2012 attacks by right-wing extremists averaged about 30 a year, a total of 337, resulting in the deaths of 254 people, more than five times as many as radical Islamists did.

Different organizations come up with different numbers, largely due to differences in the definition of the terms "right wing," and "jihadist" (or "Islamic radical") and what constitutes a "terrorist" attack. But what they find over and over again is that the right wing is deadlier and a greater threat than homegrown jihadists, and in fact a recent survey of 382 law enforcement agencies found that they were far more concerned with right-wing violence than radical Islamic violence.

Wesley Clark is not only an outrage, he's an ignorant buffoon.

Sources cited in links:

213.6 - Outrage of the Week: Wesley Clark proposes internment for "disloyal" Americans

Outrage of the Week: Wesley Clark proposes internment for "disloyal" Americans

Now for one of our regular features, the Outrage of the Week.

Since the tragic mass shooting in Chattanooga, there has been much talk about "homegrown terrorism," virtually all of which, of course, has focused on radical Islamist violence, as Dylann Roof gets flushed down the memory hole.

That focus has been focus maintained even though the Chattanooga murders haven't been definitively labeled as terrorism, at least not yet, not that the government, with the cooperation of the media, hasn't been trying to push the idea that it was, complete with an Islamist connection.

Because in our imagination, all terrorists, of course, even domestic ones, are foreign-looking with foreign-sounding names who are part of a global conspiracy out to destroy us, while right-wing mass killers are isolated wackos and deeply troubled people.

Timothy McVeigh
Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez
So the person on the left, who is Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, the Chattanooga shooter, fits our notion of what a "terrorist" looks like. The person on the right does not. Even though the person on the right is Timothy McVeigh.

Oklahoma City. You remember.

But I'm getting off my point. The pundit class is all a-flutter with the big question: What will we do, what can we do, about these homegrown (of course) Islamic terrorists who are doubtless in our midst even if we can't tell who they are?

Well, Gen. Wesley Clark, the one-time golden boy of good liberal Democrats who for a time thought he would make a great president, has an answer.

Lock 'em up and throw away the key before they have the chance to do anything. Oh, and not only us: "Our allied nations like Britain, Germany and France" should do the same.

That's what he said on MSNBC on July 17 during a discussion about the Chattanooga shooting. Not in just those words, of course, he is more refined than that, more elegant in speech. But that is in essence what he said. And just to be clear, he's not talking about people who have committed some sort of crime, some act of terrorism. You don't have to actually do anything to wind up shut away in Clarkland.

No, you just have to be considered "disloyal." You just have to be "radicalized," you just have to not "support the United States." We did it in World War II, he said, when "if someone supported Nazi Germany at the expense of the United States, we didn’t say that was freedom of speech, we put him in a camp, they were prisoners of war."

Of course, the World War II internment of Japanese-Americans and, to a lesser extent, German-Americans and Italian-Americans, is now considered to be one of the most shameful chapters in US history. But that doesn't matter to Clark, who not only wants to intern - that is, imprison - "radicalized, disloyal" Americans (remembering, again, that right-wing terrorists need not concern themselves), not only does he want to imprison "radicalized, disloyal" Americans, he wants to "identify the people who are most likely to be radicalized. We’ve got to cut this off at the beginning."

Wesley Clark
In other words, not only does he want to imprison people not for what they do but for what they say or even for what they think, he may even include imprisoning people for what the government thinks they may think in the future.

The fact that radicalization  is a complex and amorphous process we really don't understand but which can serve political needs well, presents no issue for him. In fact, that very political malliability can easily serve to push the idea along.

Indeed, to show the depth of his grasp of the concept, Clark suggested that American Muslims could come to embrace radical Islam after "losing a girlfriend" or if "their family doesn’t feel happy here."

So yeah, it's sweep 'em  up and lock 'em up. As for the throw away the key part, he said that the imprisonment should last for "the duration of the conflict." Since we've already been told that the "war on terrorism" could be a "generations long effort," the key would not only be thrown away, it would be landfilled. A life sentence in an internment camp for thinking "disloyal" thoughts.

Utterly nauseating.

Later, Clark tried, rather lamely, to walk back some of what he said without actually taking any of it back, largely by the now-stale trick of "I never said that particular word."

For example, he tweeted that
Never said "muslim", "internment" or called for new camps.
Well, that's true, you never said the words "internment" or "new camps." (Maybe the old ones are good enough?) But you did say, quoting, "it’s our right and obligation to segregate them from the normal community." And your press representative did say, oddly by way of defense of you, that "there is a role for government to step in to prevent a dissenter from becoming an active shooter, or worse." Yeah, call in the precogs.

The worst thing about all of this is from the political principle known to some as "Nixon goes to China." The idea was that because Nixon was a foreign-policy hawk, he could make an opening to China in the way a foreign-policy dove or moderate could not get away with politically. In the same way, Bill Clinton was able to push through his disastrous welfare "reform" in a way a conservative president could not have.

Now we have the image of "Hey, even the 'liberal' Wesley Clark thinks we should start locking up anyone we're suspicious about."

If this had been said by one of the typical right-wing bozos, there would be some huffing and puffing but it wouldn't be taken seriously as a current policy proposal. Maybe something they hoped for in the future, but not to be taken seriously now.

But because this comes from Wesley Clark, because this comes from someone so thoroughly establishment, because this comes from someone placed on the left half of the American political spectrum, the half expected to be more resistant to such a plan, because of all that, Clark has given the idea of camps for think-crimes a legitimacy that a Sean Hannity never could.

And that is such an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

213.5 - Happy Birthday to "The Nation"

Happy Birthday to "The Nation"

I have to say Happy Birthday to "The Nation," our country's oldest news magazine, which this year is celebrating it's 150th anniversary. It's first issue came out in July 1865.

The Nation was founded by abolitionists who were concerned for the welfare of newly-freed slaves. But in a lot of ways it was also right wing in those early years: nativist, anti-labor, and pro-corporate.

Now, however, and for some time now, it's editorial position could be described as around the left end of the Democratic Party - which, I will note, also means it's somewhat to the right of me.

No matter. The Nation has not always been the same politically, but it has done what so many other political journals and periodicals have not: It has persevered. And for that, if nothing else, it's anniversary deserves note.

Sources cited in links:

213.4 - Too little, too late: Cleveland admits it should not have hired cop who killed Tamir Rice

Too little, too late: Cleveland admits it should not have hired cop who killed Tamir Rice
Here's a bit of news to be filed under the heading better late than never - except wait, no it isn't

The Cleveland Police Department has in effect admitted that it never should have hired Timothy Loehmann, the failed cop who shot down 12-year-old Tamir Rice quite literally less than two seconds after pulling up to him in a squad car, then failed to offer any sort of aid as the child lay on the ground bleeding to death.

The two supervisors who hired Loehmann have been disciplined, found guilty of having "failed to adequately supervise and review an applicant's background investigation" and of administrative charges including neglect of duty.

Which I'm sure brings complete closure to Tamir Rice's family.

Loehmann was hired in 2014, after he resigned from the Independence Police Department on his first day. The police academy supervisor there wrote that Loehmann's performance during handgun training was "dismal," and that Loehmann had trouble following orders. He was then rejected by at least five different area police agencies before landing a job in the Cleveland PD by supervisors who never checked with Independence.

Loehmann shot Tamir Rice on November 22 - November 22, that is seven months ago, and still Loehmann has his job and the "investigation " (there supposedly is one) drags on.

In that time we have learned that the Cleveland Police flat out told multiple lies about what happened, for one, claiming Loehmann told Tamir three times to put up his hands, when the video (which the police did not know existed at the time they made that statement) shows there was no time for anyone to have said anything three times.

We also learned that investigators couldn't find any hard evidence that Loehmann said any such thing.

We also have learned that a Cleveland Municipal Court judge found probable cause that Loehmann should face murder and other charges.

And yet the case drags on, with prosecutor Timothy McGinty said that he expects to present the case to a grand jury "within months." That is, more months on top of the seven months this has already dragged out. While Tamir Rice's family waits for justice.

Sources cited in links:

213.3 - RIP, Theodore Bikel

RIP, Theodore Bikel

We have an RIP this week, just a very brief note here, to note the passing of Theodore Bikel.

He died of natural causes at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles on July 21. He was 91.

Bikel was probably most famous for defining the role of Tevye the Milkman in "Fiddler on the Roof," a role he played for over 2200 performances. But his acting skill and his versatility with accents saw this native of Vienna, Austria play, among others, a Dutch doctor, German army officers, a French general, Russian military men, and a Hungarian phonetics expert - and it was his role as a Southern sheriff in "The Defiant Ones" that got him an Oscar nomination.

He appeared in movies, on Broadway, and on hundreds of TV shows. He was also an accomplished folksinger. He recorded 37 albums, including ones that contained songs in multiple languages, including Ukrainian and Zulu. And in something a little special to me, in 1959 he helped found the Newport Folk Festival.

So RIP, Theodore Bikel.

Sources cited in links:

213.2 - The fight for LGBT rights goes on

The fight for LGBT rights goes on

When the Supreme Court, or at least a majority of it, recognized that the fundamental right to marry should not be limited by the gender of the person you love any more than it should be limited by their race, I celebrated it - but added that this did not mean the fight for equal rights for LGBT, of it you prefer, LGBTQ, people. So a few notes on various fronts on that.

For one, the bigots are still searching out ways they can continue to discriminate and - well, be bigots - and it  turns out that the US Senate - or, to be accurate, a sufficient number of the members of the US Senate - have got their backs.

Just over a week ago, the Senate voted down the Student Nondiscrimination Act, intended to provide LGBTQ some protections against bullying and unfair treatment.

The legislation, actually got a majority of votes including some from the GOPpers - but the vote was 52-45, meaning it fell short of the supermajority of 60 votes that every damn thing needs now because filibusters have become quite literally a routine part of Senate business.

The would have established a mandate that public schools must refrain from and actively combat, anti-LGBT discrimination in those schools. The bill also would have empowered LGBT students to seek help through the courts if they felt they had been discriminated against. And of course we couldn't have that.

Senator Al Franken, who has championed the measure for several years, noted that the bill would simply take the protections against discrimination or harassment which already exist for factors such as gender, race, national origin, and disability and extend them to cover LGBT students. Quoting Franken on the need for the bill:
More than 30 percent of LGBT kids report missing a day of school in the previous month because they felt unsafe. Nearly 75 percent of LGBT students say they’ve been verbally harassed at school. And more than 35 percent of LGBT kids report being physically attacked.
His words were given added weight by a recent report from the New York Civil Liberties Union, the state branch of the ACLU, which found that transgender students in that supposedly liberal state are facing high levels of discrimination and illegal treatment, including exclusion, segregation, and unconstitutional bias - and it’s likely that this is commonplace in many parts of the United States.

However, opponents of Franken's bill dismissed it as "well-intentioned" but would lead to "costly lawsuits." Which is kind of odd since states - such as New York - which have adopted state-level protections of LGBT students have not seen a big rise in lawsuits. Others said LGBT students are already covered under Title IX, even though Title IX makes no mention of LGBT students and besides, if they are already covered, what is the problem with saying so specifically? Finally, it was argued that this is a local-level, education issue, not a federal-level one, an argument I will take as a sincere one when and only when those same people start moving to strip away protections based on gender, race, national origin, and the rest and openly propose leaving all such protections to those same jurisdictions which haven't acted on them before.

Meanwhile on another front, speaking of the local level, there are, of course, still the country clerks who refuse to provide marriage licenses to same-sex couples, sometimes trying to cover themselves by refusing to give out any marriage licenses at all but who even then will cop to religious bigotry as the reason for their actions.

Now, the rational response is to say "if you refuse to do your job, if you claim your religion prevents you from doing your job, then quit." But that, again, is the rational response, which doesn't apply here because like most right wingers, they want to stand up for what they believe in - without ever facing any consequences. So they want to be able to refuse to do their jobs yet still keep them.

But for the right wingers in Congress, that's small stuff. They're thinking big. In fact, they want to help every anti-LGBT bigot ignore laws and violate the human rights of LGBT folk at no cost to themselves.

Right wingers in both houses of Congress are pushing a bill that would ban any federal-level "discriminatory action"
against a person, wholly or partially on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.
In the bill, "person" is defined in a way that would include even for-profit corporations and "discriminatory" means any change in pretty much anything related to tax status, federal contracts, benefits, employment, and more. Put another way, some corporation decides that "God hates fags" and fires an employee for marrying a same-sex partner, or some "Christian" organization turns away gay people from federally-funded homeless shelters and drug programs, and the feds pretty much have to act as if that is just fine.

The bill already has 130 cosponsors in the House and it is thought it will pass if it comes to a vote. The prospects in the Senate are dimmer but that doesn't mean they won't push it as part of working to legitimizing this whole idea of theocracy.

Finally for now, there's another reason to bring this bill up: note the phrase "or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage." This bill would essentially empower any business anywhere in the country to fire anyone, any time, for any sex of any kind outside of heterosexual marriage without fear of any consequences from the feds. Some folk have been saying it allows for discrimination against unwed mothers - and yes, women do get fired for getting pregnant outside of marriage - but in fact it clearly goes well beyond that.

And this is not just a case of poor wording or not thinking it through. Sen. Mike Lee, who introduced the Senate version of the bill, was asked about a hypothetical university firing an unmarried woman for having sex out of wedlock. He said, "There are colleges and universities that have a religious belief that sexual relations are to be reserved for marriage" and they "ought to be protected in their religious freedom." In other words, they know exactly what they are saying.

Just last week, in discussing a suit about insurance coverage of birth control, I said "we told you years ago they would not stop at abortion." You can't say you weren't warned this sort of thing was coming.

Sources cited in links:

213.1 - Good News: US and Cuba resume diplomatic relations

Good News: US and Cuba resume diplomatic relations

Well, I managed to find one bit of good news this week.

On July 20, the Cuban flag was hoisted in front of a building in Washington, DC, symbolically marking that site's shift from the limited role of "interest section" to that of full-fledged embassy.

Just hours before, at the stroke of midnight, the US and Cuba resumed full diplomatic relations for the first time in over 50 years and each nation's interest section almost immediately changed their identification to "Embassy." Fittingly for the times, the Cubans made the switch on Twitter and the US on its Twitter and Facebook accounts.

The United States and Cuba severed diplomatic relations in January 1961, so it has been 54 years since there were normal diplomatic contacts between the two nations, but the two have been inching toward renewed relations for the past six years.

This is intended to be the start of a new,  post-Cold War era in relations between the two nations, even as serious differences and sources of conflict remain, although, happily, at least some of them are technical and legalistic rather than ideological - with conflicts in the latter category presenting the biggest obstacle to further improvements in relations.

The bottom line here is that US policy toward Cuba has been stupid and pointless and it was long past time to get beyond the rigid mental straightjackets of the past decades. So this reestablishing of embassies, yes, that is good news.

Damn, I have to say congratulations to Barack Obama two weeks in a row. The stars truly must be in some odd alignment.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #213

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

This week:

Good News: US and Cuba resume diplomatic relations

The fight for LGBT rights goes on

RIP, Theodore Bikel

Too little, too late: Cleveland admits it should not have hired cop who killed Tamir Rice

Happy Birthday to "The Nation"

Outrage of the Week: Wesley Clark proposes internment for "disloyal" Americans

Footnote: Since 9/11, right-wingers have killed far more Americans than American jihadists have

Clown Award: Planned Parenthood idiotically apologizes for "tone" of official in sting video

Sunday, July 19, 2015

212.8 - Iran: comments on "the deal"

Iran: comments on "the deal"

Finally for this week, the deal with Iran.

I have to say that I'm in an odd position to comment on the deal with Iran because the whole business was and is premised on the claim that Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons, that in fact it's on the verge of doing so and only constant pressure has prevented that.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been peddling that line since 1993, when he claimed Iran would have nukes in three to five years - which would make them 18 to 20 years over due now. He has repeated that claim over and over in the years since, varying only in the always-frighteningly-short time frame - and has done it even when his own intelligence agencies were telling him it wasn't true.

In fact, the Christian Science Monitor came up with warnings about an Iranian bomb dating all the way back to the late 1970s - when the Shah was still in power.

This has been so consistent over so long that I said a while back that the old riddle "What is always coming but never arrives?" now has two answers: "tomorrow" and "Iranian nuclear weapons."

So I'm in a funny position to comment because I was never convinced that the central conceit driving the whole sanctions-negotiations regime - the imminent Iranian bomb - was true.

So to me the negotiations appeared to amount to a group of mostly Western nations bullying Iran over its nuclear program without even any hard evidence that "nuclear" was an adjective for "weapons" rather than "energy," bullying which if it were directed against us, political leaders would denounce as the grossest affront to our national interests and rights and sovereignty and would provoke daily calls for war.

But in a way that doesn't matter now because we are sort of between the proverbial rock and hard place in that the failure of negotiations would have significantly increased the risk of a military attack on Iran, which is what a number of the agreement's opponents - and Israel - want the US to do.

So the success of the negotiations was clearly the better or more precisely less bad option available and so I have to be glad for what has been achieved and to say - I don't say it much, so cherish it - congratulations to Barack Obama.

The right wing, of course, is frothing with fury and full of predictions of catastrophe for the US or Israel or the whole world in some order or combination - none of which will come true unless they succeed in blocking the agreement, which would be likely to make Iranian leaders think hey, damn, we'd better get nukes for our own protection, these people be crazy, which would really ratchet up the prospects of bloody war of the sort the right wing has long wanted.

Asked his reaction to the new deal, House Majority leader John Boehner, Sir John of Orange, said "no deal is better than a bad deal."

In this case at least, no, it isn't. Even if this was a bad deal, which it actually is as it amounts to imperialist bullying, but even if it was a bad deal in the sense our leaders and our pundit class mean, still it is better than no deal. Let's hope enough people in Congress realize that.

Sources cited in links:

212.7 - Greece: what the "bailouts" mean

Greece: what the "bailouts" mean

I was thinking of doing a big bit on the whole "Greece fiscal crisis" business but I decided to put if off because, frankly, to do is full justice, with context and background, would take up the entire show.

For the moment, though, I will say this: It should come as no surprise to anyone that the coverage of this by the American mass media has been just dreadful. It is presented with essentially no context or background, has focused almost entirely on a combination of personalities - in particular, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras, who is presented as either a fire-breathing leftist radical or a incompetent loose cannon and often both - and on a version of the horse-race coverage American media loves so much because it gives the impression of being informative without actually having to do much work, in this case going on and on about who has the upper hand in negotiations.

Here's one example of how bad it is: You know, I'm sure, that the overall issue is economic support for Greece, which was hit harder than most of the rest of Europe when the world economy cratered in 2008. Well, on July 6, in the wake of Greece's referendum on austerity, the Washington Post reported that
[Prime Minister] Tsipras also is expected to present new proposals to a tough audience: seeking to persuade European partners that Greece can be trusted to trim its spending.
Trim its spending?

Alexis Tsipras
As a condition for previous aid, Greece has been forced into a program of severe austerity imposed by the European Union and the IMF, the International Monetary Fund. Over five years, between 2010 and 2015, Greece cut government spending by 23 percent. In addition to cutting government spending, it cut salaries, slashed pensions, privatized public assets, deregulated businesses, and raised taxes, all based on the demands of the EU and IMF, with the entirely predictable result that the economy sank into an even deeper hole. Unemployment has been stuck above 25 percent since the end of 2012, 40 percent of children now live in poverty, infant mortality is sky-rocketing, and youth unemployment is close to 50 percent.

And when austerity fails, as it always does, as it has in the case of Greece, when it only leaves the victim in a downward-sucking whirlpool of increasing debt, the answer for struggling nations is always the same, and it is the answer now given to Greece: more austerity.

And now we have this new deal, announced on July 13, one described by Reuters as
Euro zone leaders ma[king] Greece surrender much of its sovereignty to outside supervision in return or agreeing to talks on an 86 billion euro bailout.
Note well: not even a bailout, but talks about a bailout. Greece is on its knees and instead of helping it up, the EU - particularly German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who appears to be the most extreme hardliner on this - is beating it with a club. Every provision, every sentence, every line, ever word, every punctuation mark of this so called deal, this economic terrorism, has one single, overriding purpose: See to it that at the end of it all, no matter what, no matter how, the banks get paid.

That's what matters in the long run and it's the only thing that matters in the long run. Whatever suffering actual people have to go through to secure that,well, that's just not important.

In fact, the conditions the EU is putting on Greece now are so onerous that even the IMF is saying they are too harsh and that any new deal should include significant debt relief for Greece, that is, some of that indebtedness should just be written off and that unless that is part of a new deal, the IMF won't take part.

That's what's happened, that's what has been going on, that is what is being done to Greece: a depression the likes of which have not been seen in Europe since the early 1930s.

But what does one of the leading American newspapers wonder? If Greece can "trim" its spending.

What a waste our major media is. No wonder Americans have so little awareness or understanding of the wider world around them.

Sources cited in links:

212.6 - Outrage of the Week: State Dept. to upgrade Malaysia's ranking on human trafficking so it can stay in the TPP

Outrage of the Week: State Dept. to upgrade Malaysia's ranking on human trafficking so it can stay in the TPP

Five weeks ago, I noted that the in the version of fast-track authority on the Trans-Pacific Partnership which the Senate passed, there was a provision that would bar bar any country engaging in human trafficking, that is, the slave trade, from getting the benefits of the trade deal.

Human Rights Watch said it was "incomprehensible" that anyone would oppose that amendment, but someone did: the Obama administration.

Why? Because one of the 12 countries involved in the still-secret negotiations over the TPP is Malaysia - which our own State Department considers to be among the worst offenders, home to some of the worse abuses, in slavery. The White House said that blocking Malaysia from the deal could bring the whole thing down, so Obama wanted the provision out.

As I said at the time,
that 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.
It appeared to me to be moral bankruptcy in its purest form.

Until now.

You see, the version of fast-track authority that ultimately passed Congress watered down the provision about human trafficking somewhat, but it was still there, still saying that any nation listed by the State Department as "Tier 3," that is, as in the worst category of slavery-involved nations, could not get trade benefits. Malaysia is in Tier 3.

But according to multiple sources, the State Department's new report on human trafficking, due out this week, will upgrade Malaysia to Tier 2.

Malaysia was just dropped to Tier 3 last year because of, among other things, an extensive sex slave industry, widespread forced labor in the country's electronics and palm oil industries, and official corruption involving profiting from human trafficking.

Human rights advocates had expected it to remain at Tier 3, given how it's dragging its feet on convictions in human-trafficking cases and the continued, pervasive, forced labor - in other words, because little had changed.

Indeed, as recently as April, the US ambassador to Malaysia called on the country to take prosecution of human traffickers more seriously. And in May, just as the Amazing Mr. O was cranking up his efforts to get fast-track through the Senate, Malaysian police announced the discovery of 139 graves in jungle camps used by suspected smugglers and traffickers near the border with Burma.

Despite all that, the State Department is expected to move Malysia up to Tier 2, which means - Guess what! Hooray hooray, Malaysia can be part of the TPP and the deal remains on track!

As Phil Ochs used to say, "Thank God for coincidence!"

Representatives of human rights groups and at least some in Congress. say that, in the words of Human Right Watch, moving Malaysia to Tier 2 would be "a decision as so extraordinarily unwarranted that political interference can be presumed."

The depth of moral corruption to which this administration will sink in order to do the bidding of the banks is almost incomprehensible. It is an utter, utter, outrage.

Sources cited in links:

212.5 - Footnote: Why do we keep arguing about guns on the NRA's terms?

Footnote: Why do we keep arguing about guns on the NRA's terms?

There is, however, a Footnote to that, because something in that article about Whataburger continuing to ban guns raises an important question.

The article quotes Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, as saying this:
"Just like many members of Moms Demand Action, Whataburger’s president and CEO is a gun owner who supports and promotes responsible gun ownership - and he knows that support for the Second Amendment can go hand-in-hand with good business practices."
I am getting thoroughly sick and tired of, thoroughly disgusted with, every expression in favor of even the most absurdly moderate, the most ridiculously feeble, forms of gun control being prefaced with some version of "I'm a gun owner! I support the Second Amendment! I love guns, I really really do!"

It's as if - no, it is - that you have to adopt the gun nuts' terms, adopt the gun nuts' attitudes, that you have to be a "gun lover" before you can speak, that you have to declare yourself almost totally on the side of the gun nuts before you can say "but I do have this one tiny little difference...."

When are we going to learn that you can't fight an opponent by adopting the opponent's terms of how the fight is fought? Why do we keep acting like we have to endorse, embrace, the worldview of the Nutzoid Rabbit-brains of America - the NRA - when recent studies by both the biennial General Social Survey (conducted by the AP-NORC Center at the University of Chicago) and the Gallup poll clearly show that gun ownership is a minority position in this country? Less than half of US households have a gun - and that number is declining. So why do we keep acting like we are the minority, even the small minority, which has to prove it has a "legitimate" position?

We all know why: political cowardice. Which is why - the only reason way - moves to end the carnage never get anywhere.

Sources cited in links:

212.4 - Hero Award: Whataburger continues ban on guns in its restaurants

Hero Award: Whataburger continues ban on guns in its restaurants

Keeping with the upbeat nature of things, we have a Hero Award this week, which is given out around here to someone or some group or some whatever that just does the right thing on a matter big or small.

In June, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill allowing gun owners who previously qualified for concealed carry permits to carry their handguns openly in shoulder or hip holsters. To walk around here, there, everywhere, openly packing heat and you better not rile me, boy. The law will go into effect in January.

Well, on July 2, the CEO of a Texas-based hamburger chain called Whataburger issued a statement saying the chain will continue its policy of prohibiting customers from openly carrying firearms in its restaurants.

Whataburger is described as a cult favorite with some 780 stores in 10 states and the ceo, Preston Atkinson, said the company has to "think about how open carry impacts our employees and customers," with "many" of them saying "they’re uncomfortable being around someone with a visible firearm who is not a member of law enforcement."

Which would seem to be a reasonable, even very moderate, statement, but of course the gun nuts are up in arms, you'll pardon the expression, issuing denunciations and threatening boycotts.

In his announcement, Atkinson insisted that the decision to maintain its longstanding ban on openly carried handguns, despite the new law, was a business decision, not a political one. And in fact, the company has stayed out of the maelstrom erupting on its Facebook page, limiting official posts to subjects like root beer floats.

So perhaps it was just a business decision. But the company had to know that doing it, especially in Texas, would get them a lot of flak and potentially cost them business, at least from the "my gun's bigger than your gun" crowd, and did it anyway, with a position that by prohibiting the open carry of guns goes beyond previous examples such as Chipotle and Starbucks, which merely requested that customers not do so.

So perhaps it was a business decision. It still was the right thing to do - and gets Whataburger a Hero Award.

Sources cited in links:

212.3 - Good News: Boy Scouts end blanket ban on gay scout leaders

Good News: Boy Scouts end blanket ban on gay scout leaders

One last bit of good news for this week. Two weeks ago, I gave a Hero Award to the Girl Scouts of America for the announcement that the group would accept transgender girls and the subsequent return by one chapter of a $100,000 donation, which had been given with the stipulation that it would not be used to support transgender girls.

At that time, I said that the Boy Scouts of America continued to "struggle, fuss, and fume," trying to come up with policies that are sufficiently non-discriminatory to get it out from under criticism without having to actually be non-discriminatory.

Well, guess what, I may have spoken a bit too quickly.

On July 13, the executive committee of the Boy Scouts of America announced it had unanimously approved a resolution that would end the organization's blanket ban on gay adult scout leaders and let individual scout units set their own policy on the matter.

It will become official policy if ratified by the organization's 80-member National Executive Board at a meeting on July 27.

The move is far from perfect as by its nature it allows indiviual scout units to continue being bigots, a move no doubt made to accommodate groups such as the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention, which sponsor large numbers of Scout units. And it's worth noting that  it comes only after a number of local scout councils adopted policies saying they would choose adult leaders without regard to sexual orientation, openly defying the national ban on gay scout leaders.

Still, when we recall that it wasn't until January 2014 that the BSA allowed openly gay youth as scouts even as it continued the ban on gay scout leaders, we can agree with Eagle Scout Zach Wahls, leader of Scouts for Equality, who said:
While this policy change is not perfect, it is difficult to overstate the importance of today's announcement.
Put another way, it's good news.

Sources cited in links:

212.2 - Good News: court finds that invoking God does not automatically exempt you from following laws

Good News: court finds that invoking God does not automatically exempt you from following laws

Another bit of good news comes from another court, this one the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled on July 14 that a Catholic order of nuns called Little Sisters of the Poor, which runs about 30 nursing homes around the country, must comply with the Affordable Care Act and allow their employees to obtain contraception coverage through a third-party insurer.

The Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, requires most employers other than houses fo worship to cover the full range of contraception in their employee health plans at no out-of-pocket cost to the women. Because of right-wing screeching about the horrible, horrible, birth control involved - hey folks, we told you years ago they would not stop at abortion - an exemption was written into the law allowing religiously-based nonprofits, such as the Little Sisters, to opt out of covering birth control if it is against their beliefs. All they have to do is file a form with the federal government saying so. In those cases, the government directs the third-party insurer to provide the contraception coverage.

The Little Sisters sued over the rule because they said even filling out that form makes them complicit in providing birth control, even if they don't have to pay for or even cover it. Put more clearly, they not only wanted to be able to refuse to pay for birth control, not only to be able to refuse to cover birth control, they wanted to be able to actively hinder their employees' ability to get birth control by preventing the third-party coverage requirement from kicking in.

Well, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals knocked that down, ruling that the accommodation carved out for groups such as them is "as easy as obtaining a parade permit, filing a simple tax form, or registering to vote." In fact, it may be easier than the latter two since there is no requirement that you show how providing birth control coverage is against your religion; all you have to do is declare it. There is no hearing before a hostile board like those who claimed conscientious objector status under the draft law had to go through.

What's more, the court found, the requirement to file the form "does not substantially burden their religious exercise under RFRA [i.e., the Religious Freedom Restoration Act] or infringe upon their First Amendment rights."

The cost of the group's suit is being borne by a right-wing legal outfit called the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, whose concept of "religious liberty" is pretty much that both businesses and individuals should be free to discriminate against anyone they want and ignore any laws they don't like so long as they claim that God said so. In response to the ruling, Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the fund, claimed this is a case of "the world’s most powerful government insist[ing] that it must crush the Little Sisters’ faith" which surely ranks among the most hyperbolic statements of recent times.

Or maybe it was just the frustrated rantings of a loser. In either case, this blow against the increasingly-argued notion that invoking God automatically frees you from any legal or social obligations is good news.

Sources cited in links:

212.1 - Good News: suit attacking civil asset forfeiture proceeds

Good News: suit attacking civil asset forfeiture proceeds.

Let's start with some Good News.

I have in the past talked about the ongoing outrage of what's politely called civil asset forfeiture and more accurately called cops legally stealing your stuff to pad their own budgets. I first brought this up on this show nearly two years ago and most recently just several weeks ago.

I have described and do describe civil asset forfeiture as a corrupted and corruption-ridden outgrowth of the so-called War on Drugs. The process allows police to seize assets - money, cars, businesses, houses, anything - based on nothing more than their claimed belief that those assets either are related to illegal drug activity or were paid for with the proceeds of illegal drug activity. They can do this even if they have no basis for any charges against the person possessing the asset and are not required to prove their claim.

Once an asset is seized, it becomes the responsibility of the person whose property was taken to prove that the asset was not obtained through the drug trade, that is, they have to prove a negative, and have the burden of proof in doing it.

The use of civil asset forfeiture exploded after the passage of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act in 1984, under which proceeds from seizures went to the police departments that made the seizures rather than to the general fund of that jurisdiction, which meant that cops now had a profit motive for seizing property. The result at the federal level was for proceeds from forfeiture going from $27 million in 1985 to $556 million in 1993 to $4.2 billion in 2012.

There seems to be a slowly-rising - too slowly, but rising - sense of outrage about the practice as it has begun to gather more attention, and that is good news.

Our particular bit of good news this week is that US District Judge James Gritzner in Iowa has refused to dismiss a lawsuit brought against two local Iowa cops who seized $100,000 from two men driving through the state on their way home to California.

In April 2013 William Davis and John Newmerzhycky were returning home from a World Series of Poker event. They were pulled over by cops who intimidated and manipulated them in allowing a "voluntary" search of their car. That search turned up the money and a small amount of marijuana, which for the cops was sufficient justification for stealing the cash.

The two ultimately got $90,000 of the money back - and now are suing the two cops to get back some of the money it took to get back what had been stolen from them. As part of it, they are also suing a company called Desert Snow, which advises cops on how to conduct such stops, including advising them to do such things as single out cars with out-of-state license plates under the idea that they are less likely to contest the theft.

That suit is what Judge Gritzner said can continue. This doesn't mean that Davis and Newmerzhycky will win their suit, although I certainly hope they do, but it is another small indication of a shifting of sentiment away from the idea that police can steal your stuff and do it without consequences.

And yeah, that's good news.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #212

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

This week:

Good News: suit attacking civil asset forfeiture proceeds

Good News: court finds that invoking God does not automatically exempt you from following laws

Good News: Boy Scouts end blanket ban on gay scout leaders

Hero Award: Whataburger continues ban on guns in its restaurants

Footnote: Why do we keep arguing about guns on the NRA's terms?

Outrage of the Week: State Dept. to upgrade Malaysia's ranking on human trafficking so it can stay in the TPP

Greece: what the "bailouts" mean

Iran: comments on "the deal"

Monday, July 13, 2015

211.2 - Our worst unacknowledged evil: Part 2

Our worst unacknowledged evil: Part 2

When I say we tell the poor like it or lump it, I'm not exaggerating in the least. Just consider by way of way of example the way we demonize the hungry, the folks who rely on SNAP - the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, what we used to call, and often still do call, Food Stamps - for food purchases.

A Wisconsin state representative wants people getting SNAP benefits to have to go to "privately run food pantries" - more bluntly put, he wants "separate but (no doubt) equal" grocery stores for poor people.

One member of Congress has called on his constituents literally to spy on what people using EBT cards buy at the supermarket and to question them if they think anything they are buying looks suspicious or "inappropriate."

The state of Wisconsin has a list of precisely what you can and can't buy with your SNAP benefits right down to things like what type and size of canned beans you can buy.

Maine wants to say SNAP recipients can't use any of their benefits for candy or soda because heaven forbid poor children should have something fun or a treat.

It's not just SNAP, not just Food Stamps, it's all assistance in all forms. More than 20 states have extensive lists of what cash assistance can't be used for - with one state official insisting the list has educational value in that it sends the message that cash assistance should be used for necessities. Because of course the poor are unaware of the need for food or clothing or housing or medicine or transportation or whatever else and we have to "educate," that is, control, them, all for their own good, of course, because they are inferior and can't be trusted to make their own decisions.

And then there is the drug testing. No matter how many time it turns out that poor people looking for help are less likely to use drugs than their richer fellow citizens, no matter how many times it turns out that forcing applicants to submit to a drug test winds up costing the state more than it saves, no matter now many times these programs are miserable failures that do nothing more than brand all poor people as drug addicts, still they get pushed.

And the thing is, that's why they get pushed: They get pushed, and they get public support, because they label the poor as druggies, because we are prepared to assume that all poor people are somehow inferior, they are irresponsible, they are lazy, self-indulgent, moochers who spend all their time and money getting high. They're not like us! And because they are poor, rules of privacy protection and against self-incrimination don't apply to them.

We put demands on the poor that we simply do not put on the rich. It does not occur to us.

In his recent book Divide, journalist Matt Taibbi refers to "a creepy inverse correlation between rights and need" [emphasis in original] that exists in the US, where the protection of Constitutional, of basic human, rights is inversely proportional to how rich you are. Put another way, the poorer you are, the less rights you have.

He cites the example of CalWORKS, the state of California's what would in the past have been called welfare program. Everyone who applies for aid and is accepted must agree to have their homes be preemptively searched for evidence of fraud at a time of the agency's choosing, which of course they do not tell you in advance because then you could hide the evidence of fraud of which they assume you are guilty - and if you're not there when they come, you can be declared "uncooperative" and denied aid. In short, not only are you in effect a prisoner in your home until this raid takes place, the Fourth Amendment does not exist for you and neither does innocent until proven guilty - because you are poor and need help.

Can you even conceive of someone declaring their children as deductions on their tax return being told they have to agree to have their home preemptively searched to prove those kids really live there and really are dependent on them? Remember, that deduction is a benefit, a tax benefit that by cutting your taxable income puts extra money in your pocket just as surely as does any cash aid to a poor person - in fact, in both cases, that is the idea: giving you more money to spend. But can you imagine anyone being told they have to surrender their Fourth Amendment rights in order to claim that benefit?

You know, some of those drug-testing regimens not only want you to be drug-tested to get benefits, they want you to be tested on a regular basis to keep them.

Can you even imagine, can you even conceive of, someone declaring a home mortgage deduction on their income taxes being told that every year that they do so that they have to submit to a drug test to prove that they are not using the benefits we are providing to them to get high?

The fact is, of course you can't. You can't imagine a non-poor person being told they have to surrender basic rights in order to obtain a public benefit.

But you can imagine it being done to a poor person; in fact, it happens every day and you know it happens every day. It is the great unacknowledged evil in our society - unacknowledged because even though you might be aware of the fact that the poor are treated differently, it doesn't register that way, it doesn't register as an evil the way equally blatant racism and sexism do. In point of harsh fact, it often doesn't even register as an evil but is perceived by far too many of us as a good thing, a proper thing, a right thing, to assume, to build public policy on the idea, that poor people are lazy, ignorant, drug-addicted frauds just sitting on their asses waiting for a handout.

Although most of us would be loath to admit it, the fact is, that is what many of us believe even if we would not express it so bluntly. The tell is that we don't as a society regard the different, the cruel, ways the poor are treated as an evil.

That great unacknowledged evil of our society, the one we don't face, the one we refuse to recognize, is called classism and it is our contempt for the poor, a contempt that cuts across lines of gender, age, race, and even income class, a contempt that is pervasive, constant; it is all around us in ways major and minor, big and small. Classism is driven by the moral corruption of power among the rich, but it infects our entire society.

In Divide, Matt Taibbi said "We have a profound hatred for the weak and the poor." When asked how he came to that conclusion - which I would re-label an insight - he said it was from visiting US courtrooms and seeing the different ways poor and rich defendants get treated by the courts.

When a poor person, a person without means, comes before a judge in an inner-city courtroom, he says, the judge doesn't want to hear anything the defense attorney has to say and seems angry at having to deal with this person at all. But when he attends trials involving white-collar criminals, Taibbi says, the judge is often very interested in what the defense attorneys - the plural is deliberate - have to say, even to the point of asking their advice on points of law, and there is a sense of admiration for the accused, who are regarded as somehow special, important, respectable, even superior, people.

As I would sum it up, what the word "justice" means in the US political and legal system depends almost entirely on who is asking for it.

Even the way we donate money reflects that class division, reflects the classism of our society. Repeated studies have shown that, as a percentage of household income, the poorest 20% of the population gives more than the richest 20% - and that gap has grown in recent years. Also to the point is that the poor give mostly to religious organizations and social-service charities, while the wealthy give to colleges, museums, and the arts - in other words, the stuff they themselves use. In fact, of the 50 largest individual gifts to public charities in 2012, not one went to a social-service organization or charity that principally serves the poor and the dispossessed.

We are an unjust society. And I don't just mean an unequal one - I mean a morally corrupt one. A society whose richest - that is, most powerful - members are by that very wealth, that very power, twisted into an ethically-bankrupt indifference to the concerns and needs of others, an indifference, that, precisely because it is expressed by the most powerful among us, again, infects the rest of us.

And it will not change. Not on its own. It's not something we can grow out of as a society, especially because we are now ever-more growing into it. It will not change on its own. It will, rather, only get worse absent direct action against it. And no, neither Hillary nor even Bernie represent that kind of direct action.

Because this is not about faces and this is not about just slowing the decline, which is all your "Hillary's the one"s and "Feel the Bern"s will ever do - now I will grant you that there's nothing wrong with doing that, nothing wrong with slowing the decline, so long as you realize that's all you're doing: You're not reversing the decline, you're just slowing it down. But ultimately, at the end of it all, that simply isn't good enough. A slower decline is not good enough. Because the issue here is about change, about real change; this is about power, about changing power - and when you talk about confronting power in search of real change in power, you are talking about revolution.

Frederick Douglass said it: "Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will."

I have said it before: Change is going to require struggle. It's going to require a genuine social revolution. It's going to require disruption. It's going to require people in the streets. It's going to require more, a lot more, than twitter feeds and Facebook posts and far more than "vote for Democrats!" It's going to require a combination of the intensity and determination of the labor movement of the 1930s, the fearlessness of the civil rights movement of the '50s and '60s, the passion of the antiwar and counterculture movements of the '60s and '70s, and the creativity of the Occupy movement of this century.

That revolution does not have to be, it should not be, violent, but it does have to be aggressive. We have to be loud, boisterous, insistent, not just once but over and over again. We have to fill the streets and yes the jails. We have to make "business as usual" impossible. We have to be disruptive, noisy, disrespectful, impolite.

I think of something from some years ago: On May 17, 1968, a group of nine antiwar protesters went into the draft board in Catonsville, Maryland, pulled out a pile of files on men about to be drafted, took them outside, and burned them with homemade napalm before waiting for arrest. At his sentencing, one of the nine, Daniel Berrigan, read a statement in which he said the action was
in consequence of our inability to live and content in the plagued city, to say "peace peace" when there is no peace, to keep the poor poor, the thirsty and hungry thirsty and hungry. Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise.
We, too, have to be prepared to anger the orderlies to overcome those who stand behind them.

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

I hope that revolution comes soon. I don't know if it will, I don't know if it will come at all. No one ever doesWhat I do know is that it is possible and that when it happens, whenever it happens, it will, as do most revolutions, come as a complete surprise to those who are its targets.

Sources cited in links:
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