Sunday, July 24, 2016

254.5 - The world in numbers

The world in numbers

Finally for this week, we'll take a quick tour around the world using numbers.

The first number is 50,000. That is the number of people who have been fired or suspended from their jobs in Turkey in wake of last week's failed coup in what now has every sign of being a combination purge and witch-hunt intended to suppress any dissent to the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. More than 9400 people have been arrested. Amnesty International has called it "a crackdown of exceptional proportions."

Turkey had stood as the proof that a nation could be both Muslim and democratic, but in recent times there had been concern that Erdogan and his allies in the national legislature had been pushing the nation in an Islamist - by which I mean here a theocratic - direction. In the wake of the failed coup, Erdogan has taken steps to further centralize his power, intensifying that concern.

The next number is 30. That is the number of years for which the British parliament voted to renew the country's Trident program, Trident being a submarine-launched nuclear missile. Trident program is, that is, Britain's nuclear weapons program.

According to new prime minister Theresa May, apparently out to prove she is as Margaret Thatcher as can be, abandoning weapons of mass destruction would be "an act of gross irresponsibility" while she accused critics of the program of being "the first to defend the country's enemies."

The approval for extending the program came despite the fact that the government's own "National Security Strategy and Strategic Defence and Security Review" found, quoting, "no direct threat to the UK or its vital interests from states developing weapons of mass destruction" - which means, put another way, there is no basis for the claim that Trident is needed to "defend" Great Britain.

The renewal passed handily, 472-117, but beyond absolutely dreaming of a time when 20% of the US Congress would vote to shut down our nuclear weapons programs, I do wonder how many of the "ayes" were based on the attitude expressed by UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon, who said he hoped the vote would somehow prove in the wake of the Brexit vote that the UK is still a player.

Because, it still seems, being able to commit mass murder is how you show you count as a nation.

Next up is the number "less than 9." According to Oxfam, that is the percentage of the world's refugees being hosted by the world's six richest nations combined - and of those six, one hosts a third of their combined total. Those six - the US, China, Japan, Germany, the UK, and France - together account for nearly 57% of the world's GDP.

By contrast, the six nations - Jordan, Turkey, the Palestinian Territory, Pakistan, Lebanon, and South Africa - that host more than half of the world's 24.5 million refugees and asylum seekers account for less than 2% of the world's GDP.

Those with the most are doing the least; those with the least are struggling to do what they can. Sadly, not an unusual situation.

As a quick footnote, these figures do not include people who have been driven from their homes by violence, war, and human rights violations but who have not left their country and so are not counted as refugees but as "internally displaced persons." Include those people and the number of displaced persons rises from 24.5 million to over 65 million, the highest total that the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has ever recorded.

The next number is 8. That is how many of the nine primary uses for which medical marijuana is recommended for which prescriptions for corporate-produced drugs have declined in states with medical marijuana laws.

This is based on a detailed study of drug prescriptions over the period 2010-2013 which examined the difference between the annual number of prescriptions per doctor in each category of use in states with and without medical marijuana laws. Thus, for example, they found that a typical doctor in a state with medical marijuana issued nearly 1900 fewer prescriptions for pain killers each year than did doctors in states without medical marijuana.

And so on down the line: Fewer prescriptions per year for anxiety, nausea, psychosis, seizures, sleep disorders, depression, and spasticity, which is uncontrolled muscle stiffness or spasms and is often associated with conditions such as cerebral palsy and multiple sclerosis. The only exception was glaucoma, for which prescriptions per doctor rose in states with medical marijuana.

To check their results, the researchers looked at prescriptions for other conditions, ones for which medical marijuana is not recommended, specifically, blood thinners, anti-viral drugs, and antibiotics. They found no difference between medical marijuana states and others, confirming that it was the medical marijuana laws, not something else, that made the difference.

Want to know why Big Pharma is fighting against medical marijuana? The answer is in the numbers: Medical marijuana is cutting into their profits.

Next comes 63. According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, that is the percentage of Americans who hold that race relations in the US are generally bad, with a majority of respondents saying they are getting worse.

The good news, if you can call it that, hidden in the bad is that the increase from 48 percent found in a Pew Research survey this spring was largely driven by white Republicans and white independents who had resisted seeing racial discrimination as a problem but now have been forced to acknowledge it.

Finally, 0.0067, or if you prefer 1/150, or 2/3 of 1 percent. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, a company that invests in renewable energy, that is how much solar power per unit of output cost in 2015 as compared to what it cost in 1975. Meanwhile, the number of solar installations is now 115,000 times what it was then.

The company predicts that even as coal and natural gas prices stay low, within 15 years wind and solar will be cheaper in many countries and cheaper in most of the world not long after. In some places where solar energy is most easily available, it is already clearly cheaper: Dubai has received a bid to supply 800 megawatts of solar power at a rate equivalent to "US 2.99 cents per kilowatt hour." By comparison, the average residential price for electricity in the United States is 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.

It's not just the Middle East, either: Austin, Texas, and Palo Alto, California, have signed contracts for solar-generated power at under 4 cents/kwh. Even if you take out the federal investment tax credit, it still comes out at 7 cents/kwh, still well below that national average of 12 cents/kwh.

Unfortunately, this still means that we are truly up against it when it comes to global warming because the timelines involved reach out to 2040, by which time we may already be irrevocably committed to blasting through the 2 degrees Celsius target if in fact we have not already done so - but at least it offers some hope and a promise that the very worst can be headed off.

Sources cited in links:

254.4 - Clown Award: Rep. Steve King

Clown Award: Rep. Steve King

Now for our other regular feature, the Clown Award, give for meritorious stupidity and this week it's a real real winner.

The Big Red Nose this week goes to Rep. Steve King, right-wing flake from Iowa. He was on MSNBC the afternoon of July 18 as part of the network's coverage of the GOPper convention. He was on a panel moderated by Chris Hayes along with White House correspondent April Ryan and Charles Pierce, a writer for Esquire.

When Pierce said that the convention hall "is wired by loud, unhappy, dissatisfied white people" King said Pierce should "go back through history and figure out where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you're talking about. Where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?"

Hayes, clearly taken aback, asked King "Than white people?" to which our clown said "than Western civilization," which he described as "rooted in western Europe, eastern Europe and the United States of America" - in other words, essentially white people - "and every place where the footprint of Christianity settled the world."

Hayes, obviously fearing things were about to fly out of control, cut off the segment.

Now, King is an old-line racist and often seems genuinely mentally disturbed. As one example, in 2013, talking about immigration reform, he declared that for every illegal immigrant in the country who becomes a valedictorian, "there's another 100 out there that weigh 130 pounds, and they've got the calves the size of cantaloupes because they're hauling 75 pounds of marijuana across the desert."

For another, earlier this year, he said the decision to have Harriet Tubman replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill was "racist" and "sexist" and part of attempts by Obama to "upset this civilization."

Rep. Steve King (R-Bedlam)
(One very pointed response was a commenter who suggested King should move for a new $15 bill with Tubman's image, calling that a 3/5 compromise. Even if he heard the comment, I expect King wouldn't get it. If you don't, please please look it up: the 3/5 compromise.)

Even against that background this latest descent into dumbness, this latest sinkhole of stupidity, is truly meritorious in its self-satisfied ignorance.

Leaving aside areas like philosophical and religious concepts, which King would likely sneer are of no "value" because not Christian, we should note that the very idea of civilization itself as we understand the term did not come from the Western world: The first settled communities arose in Mesopotamia.

The non-Western world also created astronomy, monetary systems, critical innovations in art and architecture, and games like chess and go, among other things.

Want more specifics? Among the contributions from China have been ink, paper, porcelain, gunpowder, some of the earliest clocks, and the compass, to name a few.

In addition to preserving knowledge from ancient Greece and other places while Europe hunkered in superstition and ignorance sufficient to become known at the Dark Ages, on their own Muslims came up with, among a bunch of other things, hospitals, coffee, perfume, the first university, and oh, yeah, our modern system of mathematics, which has made our entire modern world possible. Muslims developed it after adopting the concept of zero, which came from India.

In fact, the word algebra comes from the Arabic word al-jabr and the word algorithm, referring to a mathematical process following a set of rules, derives from al-Kwarizmi, the name given to a 9th-century Arabic mathematician. Or would you rather balance your checkbook in Roman numerals?

Oh, and one more thing that the non-western world contributed, something that lamebrain Steve King would have to regard as a big contribution? Christianity.

My gosh, looking at Steve King it is hard to believe that so little rational knowledge could be in such a fat head.

Rep. Steve King: bigot, bozo, buffoon, and world-class clown.

Sources cited in links:|main5|dl22|sec1_lnk2&pLid=1686787329_htmlws-main-bb

254.3 - Protesters plan "Fart-In" during Democratic convention

Protesters plan "Fart-In" during Democratic convention

Oh now here's something that sounds like it could be a put-on or a prank but I have to say I hope it's true. It's just too cool, too clever, to be a fake.

On July 28 at the Democratic National Convention, protesters outside the building - along with some Bernie Sanders delegates inside - intend to hold what they are calling a "Fart-In." The plan is for people to eat a bunch of beans and generate the expected results a few hours later.

Obviously people can't time their toots but the hope is to generate a certain let's call it atmosphere at about the time Hillary Clinton will be accepting the nomination. The idea, as described by former Philadelphia health commissioner Dr. Walter Tsou, who plans to take part, is to have "a whimsical way" of saying "There's a lot of things that stink about the whole Democratic primary process."

Sheri Honkala
That charge was given much-added weight by the resignation of Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman-Schultz in the wake of WikiLeaks having released thousands of DNC emails containing proof that the self-proclaimed "neutral," "impartial" organization had actually been actively supporting Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders, just as Sanders' supporters had long suspected.

The phew-test is being organized by Cheri Honkala of the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign from an idea apparently first suggested by Saul Alinsky.

It's unknown how many people inside the hall will take part and those that will are keeping quiet about it. And for those who would dismiss the Fart-In as juvenile or pointless, I'll note that it's the very oddness of the plan that has gotten it - and the concerns that are driving it - attention from the media, including such as US News + World Report, Fox, NBC, the NY Post, the Philadelphia Daily News, Time, and more. And getting attention for the concerns involved is what any protest is about. Which means this one is already a success.

Kudos to Cheri Honkala for putting together a protest truly worth a hill of beans.

Sources cited in links:

254.2 - Outrage of the Week: Supreme Court legitimizes corruption

Outrage of the Week: Supreme Court legitimizes corruption

Next up is one of our regular features: This is the Outrage of the Week.

This actually happened a couple of weeks ago but something happened this week that makes it relevant now.

On June 27, in its last decision of the term, the Supreme Court unanimously, 8-0, overturned the conviction of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, who had been convicted in 2014 of official corruption.

McDonnell and his wife Maureen, who was convicted of conspiracy on similar charges, received over $175,000 in loans and gifts, including vacations, designer clothes for Maureen, a Rolex watch, a $15,000 catered meal for their daughter's wedding, and the loan of a Ferrari, all from a businessman named Johnnie Williams who wanted help in promoting a tobacco-based dietary supplement.

The case hung on the question of what constitutes an "official act" under the law. And the Supreme Court found that, quoting Chief Justice John Roberts, who wrote the decision, "Setting up a meeting, talking to another official, or organizing an event (or agreeing to do so) - without more - does not fit the definition of an official act." And that's true even if the person doing all that is the governor, meaning those "other officials" to who he was talking cannot be on an equal footing with the person making the "request."

Peter Overby of NPR noted that "the Supreme Court said what a government official gets isn't important. What counts is whether that official makes any pledges." In other words and more bluntly, unless you can show some direct quid-pro-quo, unless you can show a case of "you give me this and I will do that," unless you can show that some politician is arranging meetings and make phone calls and so on because and only because they are being in some way paid to do so and that they are doing things they would not do for constituents absent that payment, then, according to the Supreme Court, it is not corruption.

On the basis of this, others convicted of corruption may be appealing their convictions based on this ruling. Not only Maureen McDonnell, but Sheldon Silver, former speaker of the New York State Assembly, and even former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez is under indictment on similar pay-to-play charges and his case, too, may now be thrown into question.

In fact, that's why I bring this up now, because it is already had an impact: On July 18, state prosecutors in Utah announced they are dropping charges against former state Attorney General Mark Shurtleff, who had been charged with accepting lavish gifts from businessmen who were in trouble with state regulators.

While it wasn't the only reason they gave, prosecutors specifically cited the dismissal of the case against McDonnell as having left them with no way to pursue the case against Shurtleff.

The members of the Supreme Court sought to cover their philosophical behinds by calling the facts of the case "distasteful" and "tawdry" in a decision that dripped with solicitous concern about the hypothetical damage the case could do to the relationship between politicians and their constituents if were it not overturned. Not overturning McDonnell's conviction, the Court said in effect, would leave the poor beleaguered politicos terrified of - and this is the actual illustration Roberts came up with - leave them terrified of doing anything in response to "homeowners who wonder why it took five days to restore power to their neighborhood after a storm" for fear they themselves would be prosecuted for corruption on the grounds that, quoting Roberts again, "the homeowners invited the official to join them on their annual outing to the ballgame."

That this sort of pathetic nonsense is supposed to pass for rational understanding of the real world and the real lives of real people, that it really in its exalted legal analysis equates the influence and power of a rich businessman able to dole out $175,000 in gifts in pursuit of profit with that of a group of homeowners able to afford an "annual outing to the ballgame" is mind-boggling. It serves to bring to mind Anatole France's famous remark that "the law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets, and steal bread."

The court insisted that its decision leaves ample room for prosecuting corruption, but lacking evidence of outright, laid-bare bribery, it's hard to see how.

Noah Bookbinder, who is the Executive Director of the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, denounced the decision as making it harder to prosecute public officials for their corruption. "The Supreme Court essentially just told elected officials that they are free to sell access to their office to the highest bidder. If you want the government to listen to you," he said, "you had better be prepared to pay up."

Because that's how the game is played and the utter failure by the Supreme Court to recognize that, to present McDonnell as having engaged in nothing more than ordinary constituent service, is either appalling ignorance or willful deceit that in either case further entrenches the systematic corruption of money in our political system - with the blessing of the Supreme Court.

And that is an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

254.1 - Good News: win for voting rights in Wisconsin

Good News: win for voting rights in Wisconsin

We can start with some Good News. On July 19, voting rights scored a significant victory in Wisconsin. Which means it only affects one state, but any victory for voting rights anywhere is Good News. July 19 was the day that Federal District Court Judge Lynn Adelman ruled that Wisconsin voters without photo identification can cast ballots in this fall's elections by signing an affidavit swearing to their identity.

The result is that voting rights have been restored to thousands of Wisconsin voters who are not able to obtain the required IDs and would have been disenfranchised.

Wisconsin is one of the states that instituted a requirement that voters show a state-approved phto ID at the polling place in order to be able to vote. This was supposedly in response to an epidemic of "voter fraud" - an epidemic that exists only in the lying PR claims of the right wing, which knows full well it is all lies intended to serve their despicable cause.

How do we know that? Because they have said so. For example, after Pennsylvania passed its voter ID law in 2012, state House Majority Leader Mike Turzai told his fellow GOPpers at a Republican State Committee meeting that the law "is gonna allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania," a statement met with loud applause.

In the case of Wisconsin, Ari Berman of The Nation reports that when asked why the GOP would carry Wisconsin in November, Congressman Glenn Grothman responded, "Now we have photo ID." Arguing for the law, State Senator Mary Lazich told a closed-door meeting of the Senate GOP caucus that "We've got to think about what this could mean for the neighborhoods around Milwaukee and the college campuses around the state." The significance of this lies in the fact that in 2012, Wisconsin's black population favored Obama over Romney by, get this, 88 percentage points. Seventy percent of that population lives in Milwaukee. Meanwhile, 18-to-24-year-olds, those populating "college campuses around the state," went to Obama by 26 percentage points.

What's more, a chief of staff for a former GOP state senator said Republicans were "giddy" about making it harder for people to vote.

It's estimated that when Wisconsin's law was passed in 2011, 9% of registered voters - some 300,000 people - did not have the required ID and the state made no attempt to help with that: No money was allocated to educate the public about the law and the non-partisan agency tasked with overseeing Wisconsin's elections was replaced by a six-member board divided equally between Democrats and GOPpers, all but guaranteeing the same sort of political deadlock that has made the Federal Election Commission such toothless a joke. The state DMV is supposed to be issuing the required IDs, but as of last month, it had rejected nearly a fifth of all applicants, 85 percent of them black, Latino, or Native American.

The law was bad enough that in 2011, Adelman ruled that the law was unconstitutional. Unfortunately, he later was reversed by an GOPper-dominated appeals court in a ruling handed down literally just hours after hearing arguments and without citing a single basis for the decision or addressing a single finding Judge Adelman made.

Because of that prior ruling, Adelman could not strike down the law, but he could soften it. And by allowing people without the demanded ID to vote by swearing to their identity, he did just that, ruling that "a safety net is needed for those voters who cannot obtain qualifying ID with reasonable effort."

Technically, the ruling is a preliminary injunction, issued because Adelman found that those arguing for a way for voters without IDs to cast ballots were "very likely" to succeed in their suit.

Legal technicalities aside, the result is that thousands of Wisconsin voters, most of them young or people of color, will now be able to vote this fall despite the continuing efforts of Gov. Scott Walkalloveryou and his reactionary cronies to stop them.

And that is Good News.

Sources cited in links:

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Left Side of the Aisle #254

Left Side of the Aisle
for the weeks of July 21 - August 3, 2015

This week:

Good News: win for voting rights in Wisconsin

Outrage of the Week: Supreme Court legitimizes corruption

Protesters plan "Fart-In" during Democratic convention

Clown Award: Rep. Steve King|main5|dl22|sec1_lnk2&pLid=1686787329_htmlws-main-bb

The world in numbers

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Left Side of the Aisle #253

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

This week:
Why "Black Lives Matter" still matters

"There is too much death"

Hero Award: Najih Shaker Al-Baldawi

Hero Award: Allison in London

The little Thing

Chelsea Manning

Monday, July 11, 2016

Left Side of the Aisle #252

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of July 7-13, 2016

This week:
- Good News on guns
- Not Good News on guns
- Good News on LGBTQ rights
- Not Good News on LGBTQ rights
- Good News on resisting bigotry
- Not Good News on resisting bigotry
- How the media encourages fear of Muslims
- How the media misleads on the economy
- People are catching on that the economy is rigged
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