Monday, April 25, 2016

245.5 - What now for progressives?

What now for progressives?

Back in February, I made what I said at the time would be one of a very few few and perhaps my only comment on the Democratic primaries. It turns out that "few" rather than "only" was the correct description, because here's another one.

So, as predicted, Hillary Clinton won the New York primary handily, in fact by a slightly larger margin than the "poll of polls," the average of all the polls, had predicted.

Obviously, I'm disappointed since in February I made clear my reasons for preferring Bernie Sanders over Clinton, but I'm not surprised: Contrary to Sanders' strongest partisans, I never expected him to win this primary (although it was pleasant imagining it if only for the uproar it would cause). My real disappointment is that I had hoped the result would be closer than it proved to be; I was actually hoping it would be in single digits.

The reason I never expected Sanders to win is that it was a closed primary; you had to be a registered Democrat and in fact registered as such some time in advance.

Parenthetically, apparently making sure you were registered and registered in the party you intended was a problem. Some 126,000 voters in Brooklyn alone had been purged from the voter rolls and about 10% of voters in the borough who turned up to vote were unable to. The city Board of Elections dismissed the whole thing as problems no different than in any other election - which is kinda creepy when you think about it.

Meanwhile, however, New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's voter complaint hotline had "received more than 700 complaints from voters across the state" before 4 pm - which meant that, even with a few hours of voting still to go, there were nearly five times more complaints than the total number of such complaints for the 2012 general election.

But getting back to results: Again, I never expected Sanders to win because it was a closed primary; you had to be a registered Democrat. Across the campaign to date, Sanders has done best in open primaries, where independents can vote. According to exit polls, he beats her among independents by margins ranging from 15 to 40 percentage points. She, on the other hand, easily outdistances him among voters who consider themselves Democrats, period. So: open primary, good shot for Sanders, depending on how many independents vote in that primary; closed primary, pretty confident of a Clinton victory.

You can argue about the merits of open versus closed primaries, with supporters of the former saying we should encourage the widest involvement in voting that we can and supporters of the latter saying that candidates of a party should be chosen by the members of that party - but that isn't the point here. The point is that Clinton had a big advantage going in, and that was reflected in the results.

What this means is that while it's still mathematically possible for Sanders to win the nomination, as a practical, political matter it's just ain't gonna happen.

Which is, really, the reason I bring all this up. Because the question becomes, what now?

The Clinton sycophants have an easy answer: Sanders should concede, withdraw, kiss the ring, and on bended knee pledge fealty to all things Clinton, forgetting all this "political revolution" crap and devoting himself to upholding the status quo.

Which I don't expect will happen and more to the point should not happen. The primary fight should go on because the fight itself should go on. This is where it gets important: Bernie Sanders has said far more than once that his political revolution is not about him. It's about - these are now my words, not his, but I think a fair reflection of the idea - it's about changing the nature and the structure of political, social, and economic power in our country, in our society.

It is about racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, equality and freedom. It is about the economy, about an economy for the many, not the few, for the workers, not the bosses, banks, and billionaires. It is about education. It is about health care. It is about housing. It is about peace.

It is about justice.

Justice, as I put it over 30 years ago, in its truest sense: economic, social, and political. It is about a justice that rejects the ascendancy of bombs over bread, of private greed over public good, of profits over people. It is about a justice that centers on the preciousness of life and will fight to maintain and even expand that preciousness. It is about a justice that affirms and embraces the right of every human being to a decent life free of hunger, fear, and oppression.

The political revolution is not about Bernie Sanders.

It is not and we must not allow it to be. But right now he is the biggest symbol of that movement, a political epicenter of the hope, the fight, the drive, for that justice. Which is why the fights in the primaries must go on, right through to the convention. Then at the convention, take the fight to the rules committee, take it to the platform committee, take it to the floor, even to having to go through the actual roll call and no, when Clinton gets a majority in that roll call, do not agree to a measure to make it unanimous.

Let the convention be contentious. Let it be chaotic. But let it be clear that this is not the end. Let it be clear that as he himself has said, this is not about Bernie Sanders. This is about change. This is about, again in his phrase, political revolution.

So what we need to be thinking about now is how to carry on beyond the convention. When the powers-that-be have prevailed, as I unhappily expect they will, what then?

An immediate question, of course, is how we deal with the general election. I think first that all Sanders supporters will have to deal with the fact that yes, he will endorse Clinton and yes, if she wants, he will campaign for her. It's a little hard to imagine what he would say on her behalf since she represents exactly the sort of compromised, untrustworthy model of an establishment-favored and flavored candidate that he has slammed for 40 years, but I suppose they could find something.

Anyway, we each of us have to decide how we will relate to the general election. But that brings up something else, so I'm going to go off on another tangent here. I've never thought of myself as a Bernie-or-Bust type; in that earlier comment on the primaries I said that if Clinton is the nominee and I lived in a toss-up state - which I decidedly don't; we usually don't even see much presidential campaigning here - I would "have to choke back my bile and vote for her" because despite all the reasons I gave for saying "a solid case can be made that Hillary Clinton does not deserve the support of progressives," she was still clearly preferable to any possible GOPper opponent and unlike some years, this is a year when the Supreme Court is very much on my mind. However, since I don't live in a toss-up state, I said, I will vote third party. (Note to nit-pickers: This has nothing to do with how I might or will deal with down-ballot races. This is about the presidential level.)

The thing is, in the weeks since I have become so disgusted with the Clinton campaign that I am feeling pushed toward a Bernie-or-Bust attitude. The utter ruthlessness has been astounding. And I am not referring to her supporters on social media, who have frequently gone way over the top with lies, sneering, and mockery about Sanders and his supporters - and yes, I would say that Sanders supporters have been sometimes almost as bad, although I would say not as often or as bad. But no, not her social media supporters, I mean her campaign - in which I include big name supporters like Paul Krugman, Charlie Rangel, and Barney Frank.

For example, Bernie Sanders said before the New York primary that the reason he is as far behind in delegates as he is, is because she did so well in the deep South, which is a very conservative area and unlikely to be carried by a Democrat in the general election. All of which is true. But to the Clinton campaign, this is proof that Bernie Sanders is a racist! who dismisses the votes of southern blacks and says they're not real democrats.

During a debate, he says to her something like "let me finish" and this proves that Bernie Sanders is a sexist! In fact, pretty much any criticism he makes of her is called sexist by some Clinton surrogate or another.

A Sanders surrogate uses the term "Democratic whores" and the world explodes even though the meaning - referring to people beholden to big money interests - was perfectly clear and some even pointed out that if this had been a contest between two men no one would have raised an eyebrow at the phrase. No matter. It's a sexist dog whistle!

During a debate, she is asked a question about his positions on guns and he gives a chuckle that any sane person would read as "Oh, here we go again." But in Hillary world, it means He thinks guns are a laughing matter! and He has no concern for the victims of gun violence!

It's really getting harder and harder for me to imagine myself voting for her. Happily, I still won't have to make that choice. Others will. Best of luck to you in making it. I would say that you should never forget that it is never a "waste of your vote" to vote for what you believe in. As Eugene Debs said, "I'd rather vote for what I want and not get it than vote for what I don't want and get it."

Still, know that for what it's worth, whatever choice you make, I understand and I'll have your back either way.

But that bring us back full circle to the question of "What now?" Because not only is this not about Bernie Sanders, it's also in exactly the same sense not about elections. It's not even about voting. It's about the process of change. Voting is a part of that process, which is why, in a sense, for the moment, it is about Bernie Sanders because right now he is the vehicle, using electoral politics, to push for that change. But after the convention, that campaign will be over and he may in fact disappoint supporters by embracing, at least for the election, Clinton. But then after November, the elections, the voting will be over. Then what? Where do we go? What do we do? How do we keep pressing?

The last time we allowed ourselves to get suckered into believing that "change" was all about a particular election, we got the Amazing Mr. O and spent the next years wondering when and how "Yes we can" got turned into "Yes I might if it's not too difficult and the rest of you shut up and get in line." We can't let that happen again if we don't want to have to spend the next four years explaining away new wars and new "grand bargains" with GOPpers and why big money in politics is really really bad unless it goes to Hillary Clinton's campaign fund. We have to find ways to keep pushing.

And I have to tell you something: Tweets and Facebook posts and the rest are not gonna cut it. Period. Oh, they can be great for circulating ideas, for passing on information, for keeping each others' spirits up, for organizing, but they themselves will not change anything. Oh, sure, they can affect little bits here and there; they can embarrass a restaurant into changing a policy or an individual store into apologizing for something, and I'm sure someone could come up with some more significant example of a more significant effect, but change the fundamental nature of power in the US? Not a chance.

Way, way, back in the dreaded '60s, I said something along the lines of "the system can withstand any number of people just saying 'No' to that system. That won't change anything. We have to do "No," we have to act on our beliefs."

It's still true. We need to act on our beliefs. If we are going to see the kind of change we talk about, if we are going to see that political revolution, if we are going to change the nature of social power in this country, we have to act. We can't just talk - have to act. And we can't just vote - we have to act. We can't even just campaign for a favored candidate, even though, yes, that is a form of action, but it is not near enough - we have to act outside of and beyond electoral politics. We have to be in public, in the streets, even filling the streets, in the jails, even filling the jails.

We have to be loud, noisy, disruptive, but most of all creative; we have to be impolite, rude, to power; and we have to not care what they call us - because they will call us all sorts of things - but keep on going anyway.

Look, this has all been rather rambling, based on some things I threw together about 3am one morning. And I know I haven't offered any concrete proposals, proposed any specific actions, which is because I don't have any to offer although I would cite Democracy Spring as one recent example. What I want to press home, the whole point of this is to press home, is that if we actually believe in this political revolution, if we actually want to see, in that wonderful Biblical phrase that Martin Luther King quoted in his I Have a Dream speech, if we want to see "justice rolling down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream," if we actually believe what we say, then it's time we looked beyond the next primary, beyond the convention, beyond November, beyond political candidates, beyond voting, and ask ourselves "What  now? And what then?"

Sources cited in links:

Sunday, April 24, 2016

245.4 - Lovely Little War: Obama sending 200 more troops to Iraq

Lovely Little War: Obama sending 200 more troops to Iraq

And more news from our lovely little war in the Middle East.

The drumbeat to renewed overt US war in Iraq got a bit louder on April 18 with the announcement that Barack "I've got a Nobel Peace Prize and you don't" Obama is sending another 200 US troops to Iraq, troops that will be embedded closer to the front lines.

The additional troops will bring the total to over 4,000 and exceed the previously-declared "cap" on US troops in Iraq, but that presented no problem: Obama simply raised the cap.

There actually are hundreds more US forces in Iraq, but for various reasons they aren't counted in the total. The true number is thought to exceed 5,000.

The new forces are to be embedded as "advisors" - I can never help but remember that embedded "advisors" is how the Indochina War started - at the battalion level, significantly closer to the front lines than the division and brigade levels at which they had been previously.

In addition to the troops, the US is supplying $415 million to the Kurdistan Regional Government and setting up a third long-range rocket artillery unit, and has agreed to employ Apache attack helicopters and the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, which are truck-mounted rocket launchers, to support Iraqi forces looking to take Mosul back from Daesh.

Of course, this is not nearly enough for some people. Sen. John McCan't, who never saw a war he didn't want to expand and blood he didn't want to shed, dismisses it as "grudging incrementalism" and says it just proves the need for a vastly increased death - excuse me, I mean military - excuse me, I mean "defense" budget.

I keep telling you to "Watch this space." Because it keeps getting filled in, little by little.

Sources cited in links:

245.3 - Outrage of the Week: censoring a textbook

Outrage of the Week: censoring a textbook

And now for our other regular feature, this is the Outrage of the Week.

The Outrage of the Week this week is a tiny bit anachronistic because it involves something that happened over a month ago, but which I just learned of a few days ago.

Textbook publisher McGraw-Hill Education had put out a a college-level political science textbook called Global Politics: Engaging a Complex World. It was described as "stress[ing] the importance of global events and offer[ing] students a number of lenses through which to view the world around them." Which seems like a laudable goal and suggests embracing the ability to recognize that not everyone views the world in the same way, the different people can interpret events and histories differently, and dealing with those differences is part of what's involved in "engaging a complex world."

However, it seems that in one area, such recognition of differences are not be allowed.

In a discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the book contains a graphic of four maps, intended to illustrate the loss of Palestinian land over the past 70 years. There is some legitimate dispute about whether the maps accurately reveal what they say they do - one of those matters of different people having different interpretations of the same history - although, interestingly, it appears that no one claims that the last map, showing bits and pieces of Palestinian-controlled land engulfed by Israeli-controlled land, is inaccurate.

The point here, is that the idea of a "legitimate dispute" was unacceptable to the pro-Israel fanatics because it's not in line with Israeli government propaganda. So, no, these maps weren't one of "a number of lenses through which to view" the conflict, they were all LIES! Anti-Israel LIES! And if it's anti-Israel, why by definition that makes them anti-Semitic LIES!

Some of the complaints about these "mendacious maps" seem trivial - such as attacking the first map on the grounds that no one called them "Palestinians" at that time and the second on the grounds that the UN partition plan it shows was never actually implemented; some are head-scratchers - such as objecting to the third map on the grounds that there was no "Palestinian-controlled land" because there was no actual Palestinian state; and some are just out-of-their-minds nuts - like the claim the fourth map shows actual "Palestinian-controlled lands" but that was because Israel created them in some other-worldly act of kindness and generosity toward the Palestinians. But none of that matters, because the maps are LIES!

So what did McGraw-Hill Education do? According to a spokeswoman, "As soon as we learned about the concerns with it, we placed sales of the book on hold and immediately initiated an academic review. The review determined that the map did not meet our academic standards." She even lamely added that the company really, truly, we pinkie-swear that we have no idea how those maps got in there in the first place.

The book was withdrawn and is being destroyed.

In other words, McGraw-Hill Education ran - "as soon as" complaints were made, they "immediately" reacted - the company ran to allow pro-Israel partisan zealots to censor its textbook. Because there are some lenses through which you are not to be allowed to look.

In an open letter to McGraw-Hill Education, over three dozen respected Palestinian, Israeli, and American academics called on the publisher to reverse what they called a "shocking and unacceptable" "blatant act of censorship."

I call it an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

245.2 - Clown Award: the state government of Utah

Clown Award: the state government of Utah

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

This week, the Big Red Nose goes to the state government of Utah.

Utah, like every state, has some problems related to the overall concerns about public health. Poverty, pollution, people lacking access to health care, the kinds of things you can find most everywhere and which are certainly not unique to Utah.

But what among its problems did the state government of Utah find important enough, serious enough, damaging enough, to declare in an official proclamation to be a public health crisis?

Pornography. Dirty pictures. Dirty movies. They, the state formally declared, are "evil, degrading, addictive, harmful," with wide-ranging harm to individuals and society. They're like "drugs and alcohol" in their ability to "tempt our youth" into "addiction" to porn - an addiction, incidentally, which researchers say does not exist.

At a formal signing ceremony, Gov. Gary Herbert declared that "We hope that people hear and heed this voice of warning."

The proclamation said there is a need for education, research, prevention, and changes to policy to deal with this scourge - and to show you just how serious they think it is, just how vital it is to act against this "evil," this "scourge," the resolution is non-binding and provides no funds for any of that education, research, or prevention.

It couldn't be plainer than the Big Red Nose on your face: Utah is governed by clowns.

Sources cited in links:

245.1 - Good News: Democracy Spring protests push to restore power of the vote

Good News: Democracy Spring protests push to restore power of the vote

Our Good News this week involves an update of last week's report on the Democracy Spring protests in Washington, DC.

The Democracy Spring actions, now concluded, were a week-long series of workshops, rallies, speeches, and nonviolent civil disobedience, all around the theme of restoring the power of voting by means such as, among others, restoring the voting rights act, clamping down on voter suppression, and getting big money out of the political process.

Last week, I was able to report that on the first two days of protests, over 500 people had been arrested in civil disobedience at the capitol. By this past Monday, the last day of the protests, over 1400 had been arrested, including 300 on that final day, marking it as the largest non-violent direct action protests in Washington for a single week. In addition, some 5,000 rallied on the Mall on Sunday.

I need to make something clear: When I said "The Democracy Spring actions, now concluded," I meant that specific week of protests to draw attention to the issues involved. Part of what's involved in the actions, goes beyond that; it means people going back to their own constituencies - their own organizations, their own workplaces, their own neighborhoods - and their own home districts where they can dig in with their own legislators to push them to move to restore the power and the meaning of the vote.

This is a new movement, just getting started, but it represents people waking up to the erosion of our right to vote and more importantly, again, the erosion of the meaning of our vote. What we have to do now is, as NAACP president Cornell Brooks said the the crowd before getting arrested, "Stay woke."

Sources cited in links:

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Left Side of the Aisle #245

Left Side of the Aisle
for the weeks of April 21 - May 4, 2016

Good News: Democracy Spring protests push to restore power of the vote

Clown Award: the state government of Utah

Outrage of the Week: censoring a textbook

Lovely Little War: Obama sending 200 more troops to Iraq

What now for progressives?

Saturday, April 16, 2016

244.8 - Quick comment on LGBTQ rights: We are not willing to go back

Quick comment on LGBTQ rights: We are not willing to go back

We close the week with a relatively brief comment on something I haven't talked about in a while.

I said in the wake of the Supreme Court decision recognizing a right of same-sex marriage that the fight was by no means over. The dead-enders against recognition of the rights and even the reality of the existence of LGBTQ people were not about to give up their bigotry so easily.

The backlash has come, mostly from the expected quarters and the expect places, and always on the expected basis: religion. "I believe that my god, who is of course the only god that is real, said such-and-such, therefore I am freed from all civil, ethical, and legal obligations to do anything or deal with anyone I find icky."

The specific claims of First Amendment protections for bigotry are relatively new, arising only after other people were able to win recognition of their own rights, but the appeals to God, to religion, as justification for discrimination and oppression are not. Now it is being directly largely against LGBTQ people, most particularly transgender people, but before that the same sort of arguments were (and still are) used about abortion and even about birth control; before that, it was segregation; before that, it was slavery. The target shifts, the language changes some, the tactics get adjusted, but always, as bottom, it's the same: It's using religion as a weapon of bigotry.

In recent months, states such as Virginia and Tennessee and Oklahoma have considered bills to allow people to use religious claims to enable bigotry and the legislatures of states like Mississippi and Georgia and North Carolina have passed them.

But in the face of that backlash, there is light. The opposition to the Georgia bill was so intense, including opposition from corporations such as Intel, Coca-Cola, Dell, and Hilton, a threat from the NFL to block Georgia from getting a superbowl, and the prospect of an estimated $2 billion in economic losses, that Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed it.

Meanwhile, the reaction to North Carolina's law, including being roundly condemned and mocked by state newspapers, causing both the NCAA and the NBA to suggest they may have to re-think scheduled events in the state, the announcement by PayPal that it was cancelling a planned facility, and the declaration by the state attorney general that he won't defend the law in court, was harsh enough that within days, Gov. Patrick McCrory was issuing a "clarification" in an attempt to deflect the criticism.

As of this writing, Mississippi has not yet felt that kind of backlash to the backlash, but there is some heat starting to be generated.

The point of going through all this is just this: Recent events have made it obvious that we still have a long way to go on sexual and gender justice. But those same recent events have made it equally obvious that we as a society are not willing to go back.

I started the week with Good News; I appear to have ended the same way.

Sources cited in links:

244.7 - Outrage of the Week: undermining the Postal Service

Outrage of the Week: undermining the Postal Service

Now for our other regular feature, the Outrage of the Week. This one is going to require a bit of background.

A couple of times over the past five years or so I have written about the recurring attempts to undermine and ultimately do away with the US Postal Service. We have had repeated waves of claims that the USPS was on the brink of financial collapse, of fiscal disaster, of crushing bankruptcy; it's on the edge, the precipice, of utter failure and ruin.

Nearly five years ago, the New York Times was telling us that "the United States Postal Service has long lived on the financial edge, but it has never been as close to the precipice as it is today." In the years since, the drumbeat of impeding doom and disaster has gotten both louder and softer, but it has never stopped.

You might be forgiven if you wonder how this can continue for year after year, how the agency can continue for year after year to be on the precipice without ever falling into the abyss, but that doesn't matter to the true believers in imminent catastrophe - or, more to the point, to those who want to bring on the catastrophe in order to do away with the Postal Service, turning the job over to private profit while destroying one of the biggest and strongest unions in the US, that of the postal workers.

But let's face some facts: Mail is a bargain. You can mail a one-ounce letter, about three sheets - that's six pages of text - anywhere is the US; you could send one from Key West to Point Barrow, for 49¢, an amount that otherwise might get you half a candy bar.

And when I say anywhere, I do mean anywhere. The USPS is legally required to provide universal service and it makes deliveries to over 150 million individual addresses nationwide every week. It has to make mail service available to everywhere - you may have to travel a bit to get to a post box or to where a whole group of mailboxes stand at the end of some rural byway, but mail must be available to everyone. Even if you are way out in the country, even if you are in some neighborhood deemed "too dangerous" for services like taxis, the mail still must be available. That is a requirement which does not exist for the Postal Service's private competitors like UPS and FedEx. They don’t have to do that: They think your address is too inconvenient or too risky or otherwise not profitable, they just don't do it.

At the same time, the thing is that the Postal Service is in a truly weird situation. It is a quasi-governmental agency, run independently but still subject to legal restrictions set down by Congress even though it receives no federal money, no taxpayer money at all. It's entirely funded through the sale of postage and postal services. Despite that, despite contributing not a penny to its support, Congress has a huge say in how the USPS is operated.

For example, in 2006, Congress passed the Postal Accountability Enhancement Act, one of those classically misnamed bits of legislation. Among other things, that bill mandated that within 10 years, that is by 2016, the Postal Service fully fund retiree health benefits for future retirees out to 75 years in the future. That is, Congress was requiring of the USPS that within 10 years it have enough money set aside to fully fund health care benefits for future retirees who hadn't even been born yet. That is a requirement of, a task taken on by, no other agency, corporation, or organization in or out of any level of government in the US. And it's costing the USPS about $5.5 billion a year, an amount significantly larger than the annual deficit that we're told has it perpetually on the edge of collapse.

Despite all that, the Postal Service has not only managed to survive, things were actually looking a little brighter: In February, the USPS was able to report that in the first quarter of FY2016, it posted a net income of $307 million, a reversal from a string of losses.

And now we come to the Outrage of the Week: Something else Congress did a while back was to ban the agency from raising the cost of postage beyond the inflation rate. Two years ago, the Postal Regulatory Commission allowed a temporary hike above that limit, raising the price of a stamp to 49 cents.

On April 10, the price of a stamp dropped back to 47 cents, a two cent drop that will save each of us almost nothing but represents a $2 billion annual loss to the Postal Service. Just at the moment the Postal Service might be beginning to see a glimmer of fiscal daylight through the surrounding darkness, that is the moment that the Postal Regulatory Commission dealt the agency a $2 billion blow by its failure or perhaps unwillingness to extend the temporary hike.

The US Postal Service has been ranked number one in overall service performance of the postal services in the 20 wealthiest nations, it has been named the Most Trusted Government Agency for six years running, and has been ranked the sixth Most Trusted Business in the nation. The USPS is proof that even under ridiculous handicaps, government programs can work and work well - and that, along with the fact that it also proves that a strongly-unionized workforce can provide for its members while still maintaining a high level or service, has given a panoply of reactionaries more than enough reason to strive to make it fail.

I don't know if the Postal Regulatory Commission's failure to act is part of that effort or just the result of callous and bone-headed indifference to the impact. I do know that it is an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

244.6 - Special Clown Award: Hillary Clinton and Bill de Blasio

Special Clown Award: Hillary Clinton and Bill de Blasio

We're going to follow that up with a special edition Clown Award because I couldn't let this one slip by. The award is for sheer tone-deaf bone-headedness and it goes to Hillary Clinton and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio and if you know what I'm talking about, you know why.

But just in case you don't, this is the deal: On Saturday, April 9, Clinton and de Blasio took part in a skit as part of the Inner Circle dinner, an annual NY entertainment show for local politicians, reporters, and other insiders - and just parenthetically, that very phrase, "politicians, reporters, and other insiders," tells you a great deal about why our political media coverage is so dismal - but anyway, they took part in this skit.

First, Hill and Bill: don't quit the day jobs.

But the real point is that the skit has her saying to him "Thanks for the endorsement. It took you long enough." To which he responds, "Sorry, Hillary. I was running on CP time."

Hillary Clinton / Bill de Blasio
"CP time" stands for "colored people time" and it is based on the racist idea that African-Americans are perpetually late for events because they are too slow or lazy to get there on time.

Some gasps from the audience and someone shouting "No!" were clearly audible on the NBC video of the event. The third person on stage, actor Leslie Odom, Jr., said "I don't like jokes like that," prompting Clinton to say "Cautious politician time," which was apparently intended to be the scripted punch line that saved the skit.

It didn't.

It was crude, racially-insensitive at best, and stunning in its, yes, tone-deaf bone-headedness. I can only imagine the level of outraged cries of "racism" her supporters would be mounting if the same thing had been done by Bernie Sanders.

I am sure than neither Hillary Clinton nor Bill de Blasio are racist - but I am equally sure that at that moment they were both total bozos.

Sources cited in links:

244.5 - Clown Award: Florida Gov. Rick Scott

Clown Award: Florida Gov. Rick Scott

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

Our runaway winner this week is a man who has proven you can be a crybaby and a bully at the same time: Florida Gov. Rick Scott, or, as we know him around here, Voldemeort.

You may have heard about or even seen the video of a woman launching a tirade against Voldemort at a Starbucks in Gainsville, Florida, berating him for not doing enough to help people and for a failure to create good jobs, a tirade that out clown feebly tried to parry before ducking out.

Cara Jennings, the woman in the video, had nothing to do with it. Someone else took it, someone else posted it. And it went viral, with over 2 million views.

Okay, another viral video, something in a few days, maybe a few more, to be filed away with all the other now-forgotten viral videos.

But that couldn't be allowed: Voldemort had been embarrassed! This affront to his majesty could not go unpunished! Not after he ran home crying!

So a video hit piece on Cara Jennings quickly appeared. The clear result of some quick oppo research, the video says that - gasp! - she has described herself as an anarchist and - gasp GASP! - she refused to recite the Pledge of Allegiance oh woe is us!

Gov. Rick Voldemort Scott
It also says that she is a "former government official," which she was, having served on her home town's City Commission for four years - which is admittedly a little odd for an anarchist but the video, creepily enough, uses the term "former government official" as if it was a bad thing that she served in town government.

More to the point, the video calls Jennings a "latte liberal" who is "sitting around coffee shops, demanding public assistance, surfing the Internet, and cursing at customers who come in." Now, Jennings is not on public assistance - although as she later pointed out it should make no difference if she was - she was actually working on a freelance project for the SEIU at the time, and the only target of any impolite language was Voldemort himself, but the real point here is that this video was done by Voldemort's political action committee and was put up on his official YouTube channel. There is no way on Earth - any Earth - that he can claim this was not his doing.

The governor of Florida is using the resources of his political campaign machine to launch a very personal attack on an individual private citizen because she had the temerity to mouth off to him in a Starbucks.

Gov. Rick Voldemort Scott - who, just like his movie namesake, tries to come off as tough and powerful but in the end is revealed to be only a pathetic little clown.

Sources cited in links:

244.4 - Update: what "equitable sharing" spawns

Update: what "equitable sharing" spawns

This is an Update of something I talked about last week: civil asset forfeiture and Equitable Sharing. Civil asset forfeiture is a program under which police can seize your property based merely on their belief that it was used in, or gained through, illegal drug activity. Equitable Sharing is a federal program under which cooperating local police can keep up to 80% of the value of assets seized - enabling local police departments to circumvent state laws, state laws which often allow them to keep a much smaller portion of the value of seized assets, and occasionally none at all: It all goes to the general state fund.

Equitable Sharing had been largely stopped in January; last week I had the bad news that it had been reinstated. Equitable Sharing is corrupt outgrowth of the corrupt regime of civil forfeiture, itself an outgrowth of the corrupt and failed war on drugs. I want to give you an example of what that corruption looks like.

Willow Springs is a suburb of Chicago. Its police department has obtained money from Equitable Sharing. That money is supposed to be used for "enhancing law enforcement operations." But according to a new audit conducted by the Justice Department and released about two weeks ago, the police there have spent just under 1 million dollars on items that do not meet that standard, such as 13 vehicles, including two chromed-up, tricked-out Harleys, a Chevy Camaro, a Ford F-250, and a 26-foot boat, all of which have been rarely used.

The police even bought what the town itself described as a "fully loaded" Ford Expedition SUV for a former police chief.

This is just another example - there are many - of how Equitable Sharing and the whole practice of civil forfeiture which it embraces serve as an incentive for police departments to take first and think about it later. Because since this money comes from the federal program, there is no requirement for them to justify their purchases to local legislators or the public. There is no oversight. The only mechanism for oversight is a possible DOJ audit, which may not occur until years after the fact.

The issue of civil forfeiture goes beyond local police departments, of course. Prosecutors often will resort to seizing the property of people accused of crimes - not convicted, mind you, accused and so much for innocent until proven guilty. Consider the case of Sila Luis, accused by the feds of Medicare and banking fraud. When she was indicted, she had $2 million in assets left and prosecutors, deciding that those assets would be needed for restitution, seized everything she had - including assets that those same prosecutors admitted had no relation to the charged crime.

She challenged the seizure, saying she needed the "untainted" assets to hire a lawyer for her defense. Happily, in a rare even if tiny dent in the who regime of asset seizure, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 the end of March that seizing the untainted assets was a violation of Luis's 6th amendment right to counsel of her choice and could not be allowed because, in the words of Stephen Breyer, the untainted property "belongs to the defendant, pure and simple."

This is a very narrow victory as it seems only to involve assets which prosecutors agree is unrelated to the crime and which is needed for a defense, but at least it is a victory, it declares that there is a line the government can't cross, even if that line is pretty far away.

By the way, the three dissenters were Anthony Kennedy, Sam Alito, and Elena Kagan - all of who seem to think that the government stripping a defendant of the financial ability to defend themselves is just Jim dandy.

Sources cited in links:

244.3 - Good News: hundreds arrested in civil disobedience

Good News: hundreds arrested in civil disobedience

Our third Good News entry for the week comes from a place where we need a lot more good news: the streets. Streets filled with protesters.

On April 2, 150 people set out from Philadelphia on a March to Washington, about 140 miles away. They were part of an action called "Democracy Spring," a coalition of over 100 organizations which together demand legislation to restore the voting power of ordinary citizens by means such as ending the influence of big money in our political system, restoring the Voting Rights Act, and clamping down on gerrymandering and voter ID laws, which are a tool of voter suppression against minorities, students, and the elderly.

On Monday, April 11, hundreds marched through Washington, DC to the Capitol. Media accounts put the crowd at about 600 but from the video I saw, that seems an undercount.

At the Capitol, over 400 people sat on the steps, refusing to leave, and were arrested in the first of what is planned to be a series of nonviolent civil disobedience actions through the week.

Police, badly underestimating the potential crowd, initially brought a single bus to Capitol Plaza to take the protesters away.

The action continued on Tuesday, with 85 more people - all of them seniors - cheerfully arrested.

I'm recording this on Wednesday and I don't know what has happened today, but I do know that over 3,500 people from 33 states have pledged to take part in actions at the Capitol this week to protest the slow erosion of our democracy, which would make this one of the largest civil disobedience actions of the past several decades.

Which is good news. And I say we need a lot more good news of this sort.

Update: As of Saturday evening, arrests for nonviolent civil disobedience were over 900 and may well be over 1,000 before the week-long series of actions ends on Monday.

Sources cited in links:

244.2 - Good News: Treasury cracks down on "corporate tax inversions"

Good News: Treasury cracks down on "corporate tax inversions"

Next up in Good News is a topic that has had some attention recently, it's the issue of what are known as corporate tax inversions.

In a tax inversion, a US merges with - more accurately, buys out - a smaller foreign firm. But it is portrayed as the bigger US firm being taken over by the smaller foreign one and the foreign company's address becomes the corporate address. So what had been a US firm is now claimed to be a subsidiary of a foreign firm which can lower its tax rates through internal borrowing and can more easily move non-US profits around the world and back to shareholders while avoiding U.S. taxes.

In short, it's a scam. A legal scam, but still a scam.

On April 4, credit where it's due, the Obama administration's Treasury Department released its third and most far-reaching set of rules to combat corporate inversions. Corporations and their lawyers mostly shrugged at the previous two rounds of rules, but these are being called unexpectedly aggressive and are being taken very seriously. The next day, the Amazing Mr. O renewed his call for legislation to limit corporate tax inversions, which he called one of the "most insidious tax loopholes out there."

The new regulations target "serial inverters," companies that have grown larger through repeated inversions, and make it harder to engage in what's called "earnings stripping," where US-based profits are shifted on the books to other countries to avoid US taxes.

GOPpers were quick to denounce the move; one, Rep. Charles Boustany, said "This proposal will do little to stop actual inversions."

Which is especially interesting because pharmaceutical companies Pfizer Inc. and Allergan had been working on a $160 billion merger, which would have created an Irish company, even though Pfizer would continue to operate out of New York City and Allergan - a product of multiple inversions whose corporate address is in Dublin - has its offices in Parsippany, New Jersey.

The merger was to be the biggest inversion deal ever and dodge an estimated $32 billion in US taxes. But just two days after the new rules were announced, the deal was cancelled.

Sometimes, it just works out.

Sources cited in links:

244.1 - Good News: Wisconsin "right-to-work" law struck down

Good News: Wisconsin "right-to-work" law struck down

Okay, as always or at least whenever possible, we start with some good news.

Despite their name, right-to-work laws have nothing to do with having a right to work, that is, a right to a job sufficient to provide for you and, if you have one, your family.

Instead, they are state laws - or in some cases state constitutional amendments - that declare that unions cannot require people working at unionized workplaces to join the union or pay dues or pay some sort of fee to the union, but that at the same time those unions are required to have all such free-riders covered by the benefits in the union contract. That is, they have to represent them for free. Such laws or constitutional provisions exist in 26 states and are widely and quite correctly seen as intended to weaken and where possible undermine unions so we can go back to the good old days of the nineteen-teens.

Right wingers defend right-to-work on the grounds that, quoting one, "No one should be forced to join a union or pay union dues as a condition of employment." But what they're really saying, then, is that those people should be able to have the higher pay that union contracts bring, they should have the better working conditions, the paid vacation time, the paid sick time, all the benefits of unions, without having to do anything for them - they should, that is, be collecting free stuff. Which in a slightly different context, would have these same right-wingers calling them lazy welfare cheats.

Gov. Scott WalkAllOverYou
Anyway, getting to the news, when he came into office, Wisconsin governor Scott WalkAllOverYou insisted that he had no interest in establishing a right-to-work law in Wisconsin. He was lying, of course, and in March 2015 Wisconsin became a right-to-work state.

The law was challenged and the good news is that on April 8 it was struck down as violating the Wisconsin state constitution, being a seizure of union property without compensation since now, unlike before, they must extend benefits to workers who don't pay dues.

The down side is that this was a County Circuit court decision, subject to appeal and with Walker by some I have to admit clever politics having pretty much packed the state supreme court with cronies, the future is not bright.

But for now, I will still call it good news, a win for the rights of labor and working men and women, that has pushed the foul and welfare-for-the-rich issue of right-to-work laws back into the public debate.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #244

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of April 14-20, 2016

This week:

Good News: Wisconsin "right-to-work" law struck down

Good News: Treasury cracks down on "corporate tax inversions"

Good News: hundreds arrested in civil disobedience

Update: what "equitable sharing" spawns

Clown Award: Florida Gov. Rick Scott

Special Clown Award: Hillary Clinton and Bill de Blasio

Outrage of the Week: undermining the Postal Service

Quick comment on LGBTQ rights: we are not willing to go back

Sunday, April 10, 2016

243.9 - And Another Thing: Possible Viking site found in Newfoundland

And Another Thing: Possible Viking site found in Newfoundland

Last for this week, let's end on something lighter, with an episode of our occasional feature called And Another Thing, where we turn away from political things to talk about some cool science stuff. This time, it's some cool archaeology stuff.

The Norse sagas and Viking legends are often ripping good yarns of exploration and discovery with a good number of epic battles thrown in - kind of like Peter Jackson for history geeks.

But they have also provided historical material, including enabling the discovery in 1960 of a Viking settlement at L'Anse aux Meadows at the northern tip of Newfoundland. It was the only known Viking site in North America.

Until, quite possibly, now.

Archaeologists using satellite images have discovered what they believe to be a Viking site at Point Rosse at the southeast tip of Newfoundland, some 600km - about 370 miles - south of L'Anse aux Meadows.

Excavations at the site have uncovered evidence of a Norse-like hearth and eight kilograms of early bog iron. The Norse were the only ones extracting iron from bogs 1,000 years ago.

They haven't found a lot of artifacts, which actually strengthens the idea that Vikings were present at the area at some point, because they tended to have fleeting settlements, so there would not have been a lot of time for things to be discarded or broken and so be left at the site for later discovery. That is, the lack of artifacts doesn't prove the idea that the site was a Viking settlement as opposed to some other sort, but it does even less to contradict it.

It needs to be emphasized that this is a possible Viking site; much more study needs to be done if that is to be confirmed. It took several years to get widespread agreement that L'Anse aux Meadows was a Norse site.

But lead researcher Sarah Parcak says that her team has not found any contradictory evidence, suggesting, she said, that means that either this is a Norse site - or a new culture that presents as Norse.

If it is confirmed, it would widen our understanding and knowledge of the Viking experience in North America. Which personally I find rather exciting - because, after all, Vikings! Looting and pillaging their way across hundreds of years of European history: That's my heritage!

Sources cited in links:

243.8 - Outrage of the Week Number 2: Nearly 2/3 of Americans approve of torture

Outrage of the Week Number 2: Nearly 2/3 of Americans approve of torture

What could be as bad or even worse than that? Try this:

According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll taken the end of March, nearly 2/3 of Americans - 63% - believe that torture is "often" or "sometimes" justified when directed "against suspected terrorists to obtain information about terrorism." That's an increase of 19 percentage points from a 2014 survey by Amnesty International. Only 15% of respondents rejected torture. And yes, while more GOPpers than dumcrats endorsed torture, still a majority of the party of our Nobel Peace Prize prez said "sure, waterboarding, maybe pull out a few fingernails, what the heck."

Those numbers put us in the same general territory as Nigeria - which is fighting a seven-year-old insurgency that has displaced 2 million people and killed thousands - and Kenya - which has been the target of a series of lethal attacks launched by the terrorist group al-Shabaab.

What is wrong with us? How did we become such a timorous, frightened, trembling people?

How did we come to throw away our sense of morality, our sense of simple decency, our very humanity, in support of forms of brutality that don't even work?

No, torture does not work. Period. Not only are there numerous studies both historical and psychological, even our own US Senate knows it. A 2014 report by the Senate Intelligence Committee determined that the torture - the "enhanced interrogation" - used by the CIA in the years following 9/11 was essentially useless.

Even the 20 examples the CIA came up with to claim that torture was not totally useless were found by the Committee to be wrongly characterized.

The best you can hope for with torture is that it's useless - rather than being counterproductive by both being useless and increasing anger toward us and so creating new terrorists.

This should be old news - it is old news. So why are so many people in the "home of the brave" huddling in the corner, sucking their thumbs, clutching a security blanket?

It has become difficult for me not to be ashamed of being an American.

You know, back in December their was a brief fuss when the New York Times revealed allegations that back in 2012 Navy SEALs had tortured detainees in their care in Afghanistan. When Army soldiers who witnessed it reported it to their superiors, not only did the SEALs receive no serious discipline, the brutal methods continued until an innocent Afghan man died after less than a day in their custody - and the whole thing was hushed up, hidden away, concealed.

It appears now that in the future they needn't go to the trouble of hiding it - or even stopping it. And that is an incredible outrage.

Sources cited in links:

243.7 - Outrage of the Week Number 1: 1 million losing Food Stamps

Outrage of the Week Number 1: 1 million losing Food Stamps

Next up is our other regular feature, this is the Outrage of the Week.

And just like with the Clown Award, there have been a plethora of possibilities. So since we've been away for two week, we decided to pick two.

First up: One of the little-known provisions of the SNAP program is its designation of "Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents," referring to low-income adults aged 18-49 and without children. This group includes some of the poorest people in the US, earning, on average, only 17 percent of the official poverty rate, or barely $150-170 per month in income.

Nonetheless, the 1996 welfare deform (that is not a typo) law imposes work requirements on them. They are eligible for only 90 days of food stamp benefits unless they have paid employment or job training for at least 20 hours a week

In the wake of the financial collapse of 2008, states with high unemployment could apply for waivers of that requirement. But the standards were tough - unemployment not only had to be high, it had to be significantly higher than the national average. As the official unemployment rate has come down, fewer states can qualify for the waivers and fewer still have sought to get them.

In 2015, 22 states began re-imposing the work requirements. And this year, 22 more will join them. The 90-day clock on benefits started running on January 1 - which means it ran out on April 1 and adults who no longer qualify have begun losing their benefits.

As a result, it is estimated that as many as 1 million people - again, including the poorest of the poor - will lose the food stamps this year, always with the same tired cliches that get thrown at the poor that assume they are just shiftless or lazy: The work requirement will "encourage people to rejoin the workforce." It will "discourage dependency." And perhaps the worst: "Anybody can find a 20-hour a week job."

Well, the fact is that the average length of time it takes unemployed Americans to find new work is now roughly 30 weeks, which is less than the record set in 2011 but is still 2.5 times the 90 days the work requirement allows.

Will these requirements encourage work? Will they "discourage dependency?" Of course not. The notion of the shiftless, lazy poor is a vile fantasy concocted to justify our own indifference to the needs of others. What they will do is increase hunger at the expense of - I say it again - the poorest of the poor in this country. And it is happening in silence, with barely a mention if there is mention at all from any major political figure.

And that is an Outrage.

Sources cited in links:

243.6 - Clown Award: Idaho Gov. Butch Otter

Clown Award: Idaho Gov. Butch Otter

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

And oh my, we were drowning in clowns these past two weeks, so much so that for a short time I was tempted to do an entire show of clowns. But instead, I've pared the number down to just four.

So our third runner up this week in the competition for the Big Red Nose is Terrence Veninga of Checotah, Oklahoma.

Last August, the Save Yourself Survival and Tactical Gear store and gun range in nearby Oktaha, Oklahoma (population 390) declared itself to be a "Muslim free zone," with one of the owners, Chad Neal, saying he didn't "want to have any jihadis training on our gun range." Because, obviously, if I was a terrorist looking to improve my marksmanship, the Save Yourself Survival and Tactical Gear store and gun range in Oktaha, Oklahoma, is the first place I'd think to go. Congratulations on defending America, Mr. Neal.

Which brings us to Mr. Veninga. He and some other self-described "patriots" have been - get this, now - "defending" the store (against what isn't clear) by standing around outside with loaded guns.

His gun, an old Colt .45, fell from its bucket holster, hit the ground, and went off, hitting him in the wrist. Yes, that's right, this patriot patriotically defending a very patriotic gun store against the hordes of anti-patriots preparing for an assault on Oktaha, Oklahoma, succeeded only in shooting himself.

A worthy entrant in our competition for Clown Award.

Our second runner-up also involves the issue of guns. It is the Republican party.

GOPper wet dream (except it's real)
Leaders of the Republican party have made it clear that they will brook no interference in the right of every person to carry a gun anywhere, any time. The Second Amendment and our very freedom demand no less.

Well, almost anywhere, any time. One place that won't be happening is the Republican National Convention, where packing heat is to be strictly forbidden.

Now, the party can claim that "It's not us, it's the venue [sniffle]." See, the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, where the event will be held, bans carrying gun - which it can do, since it's private property, private property being the only thing more holy to GOPpers than guns. Maybe.

The thing is, the party didn't have to choose that venue. They could have picked some place that allowed guns. Or may purchased additional insurance to indemnify the Arena against any damages in order to convince the owners to change their mind. But they didn't.

Okay, but what about the fact that after the question came up, the Secret Service categorically ruled out the idea of guns at the convention? Yeah, sure, but these brave, rough-and-tough stalwarts of the right could have declined Secret Service protection and said "we're self-reliant, free Americans; we'll take care of ourselves." But they didn't. Which means they are getting protection they would deny to the rest of us.

Is it hypocrisy? Nah. It's more likely they were just scared that too many of their delegates would be too much like Terrence Veninga. Doesn't make them any less clowns.

Paul LePage
Our first runner-up and so the winner of the size 18 floppy shoes, is a man who under normal circumstances would be a runaway winner pretty much every week. He is Paul LePage, the governor of Maine and a man who makes Donald TheRump look like Bertrand Russell.

On March 31, the Labor Committee of the Maine state Senate rejected LePage's nominee to the state Unemployment Insurance Commission on a party-line vote. So on April 1, LePage cancelled a swearing-in ceremony for Susan Deschambault, who had won a special election on Tuesday -  and his office specifically stated that it was cancelled because of the Labor Committee vote.

LePage also withdrew three of his nominees, including two who hadn't been voted on yet. He gave no reason.

Doesn't matter. We know the reason: Paul LePage is a two-year old having a temper tantrum. And a clown.

So what could top all that? Something that goes beyond the silly, hypocritical, or childish to have actual significant impact on people's lives.

So the winner of the dishonor of the Big Red Nose this week is Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, who apparently has the IQ of his namesake without the compensation of the nice coat of fur.

Idaho is one of the idiot states that has not taken advantage of Medicaid expansion. As a result, about 78,000 folks in Idaho fall in the coverage gap between Medicaid and Obamacare subsidies - which the Medicaid expansion was designed to fill. Many of those folks can't afford access to health care. But don't worry, the legislators swear they have begun to "take up the issue" of Medicaid expansion "in a meaningful way" - a mere four years after the option became available.

Butch Otter
And what of Gov. OtterHisMind? He'd like to see something happen, but isn't really worried about it because he doesn't agree with the claim that people in Idaho are dying because they fall in the coverage gap and so can't get health insurance.

After all, he said - and here it comes:
I see plenty of people in hospitals and they have insurance. And they're in the hospital. But they still die.
That's right, because people with health insurance can still die, people without health insurance are no worse off. Having access to health care doesn't really make a difference because after all, we all die eventually.

Idaho Gov. Butch OtterHisSkull - you can't get to be much more of a clown than that.

Sources cited in links:
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