Saturday, April 22, 2017

19.2 - Re-introducing myself on our 6th anniversary

Re-introducing myself on our 6th anniversary

Okay, I’m going to spend the rest of the show on that more sort of personal note.

Knowing that only a very small number of you have seen the show from the beginning - in fact only a very small number could have seen the show from the beginning - I thought I’d take advantage of the anniversary to give myself a break from the worries of the world and spend the rest of the show introducing (or re-introducing) myself, so that what I say here can be put into a broader context of ethical, moral, and political convictions. Which, by the way, is something I think all political commentators should do at some point to give their viewers or readers a context into which what they say can be placed.

I have several times described What's Left as an example of what’s known as advocacy journalism, a type of journalism that respects the standards of accuracy and the separation of fact and interpretation of fact from opinion but nonetheless has a definite and clear point of view. It is journalism intended to inform and inspire and by putting facts into an ethical context to spur action. That is and always has been my goal here.

So to introduce myself, I'm going to start out by talking about a socio-psychological concept called "worldview." Your worldview is your way of mentally organizing the world around you so that it makes sense, your way of putting order to what you perceive.

We all have a worldview. And not just individuals, cultures have a worldview. In fact, one of the things that defines a culture is a shared worldview, a generally-shared (but often implicit) understanding of how reality functions. That worldview can be radically different from one culture to another and can vary within a culture over time. For example, the worldview we hold today in this culture is dramatically different from the worldview held by the first wave of European settlers of North America in the 16th and 17th centuries.

The point is, still, that no matter what the particular worldview is, every culture has one; without a shared worldview, a culture will fracture for lack of a bond to hold it together.*

The same holds true for individuals: You have a worldview, you need to have a worldview as it is difficult if not impossible to function otherwise. Without a worldview, everything appears as chaos. Even something as seemingly basic and obvious as cause and effect is part of your worldview, a concept of how reality works. Imagine trying to function without any notion of cause and effect. That will give you a sense of trying to function without a worldview.

More important to my immediate purpose is that within your worldview, there is a more limited version of it which applies to political/moral/ethical considerations. That worldview drives your sense of right and wrong, proper and improper; it informs your convictions about what should and shouldn't be.

For most people, forming that personal worldview is part of maturation. Again for most people, that worldview doesn't change much once it is formed. It can, but not usually and even then by very much. Even what appear to be such changes, for example in political beliefs, often enough are not changes in basic concepts that constitute a worldview but in the interpretation of events and experiences in light of that worldview. Your worldview, that is, is part of your basic psychological make-up - and that doesn't change easily once formed. That doesn’t mean it can’t change - but it is quite uncommon.

So having said that, what I want to do is lay out what I think are important elements of how I reached the final, you could say mature, form of my worldview.

Perhaps the most important thing to say is that I am, in many ways, "a child of the '60s," having come to political awareness during that brief (and, some would have it, mythical) interregnum marked at one end by the Sgt. Pepper summer, known to some as the Summer of Love, and at the other by Altamont - or, if you prefer a political description, by Flower Power and the Days of Rage.

For those of you who are less than about 55 and have no idea what those terms mean, you can look them up. For now, it's enough to know that we're talking about the period of say, 1967-1970.

Like most - at least male - members of my generation, it was Vietnam, the Vietnam War, that initially drew me beyond vague "concern" into concrete political involvement: Even for those of us "safe" with draft deferments - and again, that's something that folks now maybe can't relate to, the fact that there was a military draft, under which you could be required under pain of lengthy imprisonment to join the Army and go wherever they sent you, even into a war you thought criminal, and the fact that you can't relate to that is something about which I'm glad - but during the Vietnam era, even for those of us with deferments, who could feel confident that at least for now you couldn't be drafted, that war was always there. It swirled around us like a mist, a fog, it tugged at us like an undertow, it threaded in and out of our lives, our thoughts about our futures, our consciousnesses, and the only way you could ignore it was by making the focused effort to do so.

In fact, I think that those of what I'll call the "Vietnam generation" have a greater understanding of the impact that World War II had on our parents than those of what I'll call the "Iraq generation" have of the impact Vietnam had on us. Because no matter how you measure it, the Vietnam War - which is properly called the Indochina War because it involved Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia - was a much bigger war than Iraq or Afghanistan ever were.

For example, peak US troop strength in Iraq was 168,000 and the peak year for Iraq and Afghanistan troop strength combined was fiscal 2008, at 188,000. Peak US troop strength in Vietnam was over 536,000, nearly three times as many - and by the way, South Vietnam, where the vast majority of those troops were, was about 40% the size of Iraq.

US troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan combined, up to April 18 of this year, total just over 6,900. US troops killed in the Indochina War totaled over well over 58,000 - well over eight times as many. US wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan combined reached around 50,000; those wounded in Indochina were over 300,000, over six times as many.

So yes, a much bigger war. Significantly more troops, significantly more wounded, significantly more dead. And for those of us who questioned the war, who asked our government about the whens, wherefores, and, most importantly, whys of the war, it seemed that each of the "answers" we got just raised at least two new questions.

Politically, I had grown up in the mold of my parents, a mold that was at one time called a "(Hubert) Humphrey Democrat" and which I came to call a "right wing liberal," a type that is now commonly called a "liberal war hawk," that species of American political animal that's at least fairly liberal on domestic issues and clearly conservative on foreign policy, a type whose philosophy I later summed up as "hooray for justice, beauty, truth, and Kill Commies."

My personal breaking point over the war came when I heard the man who was then the commander of US forces in the war, I believe it was William Westmoreland, say "We're winning the war, just give us six more months" - and I recalled having heard exactly the same thing six months earlier. I still recall thinking "Okay, I'll give you your six months - but after that you've lost me."

And of course, the war didn't end in six months, it dragged on for years more amid repeated promises that it was, really, already over.

The sort of, the term was and is, increasing alienation that generated plus mounting evidence of what the governments we supported in South Vietnam were really like - brutal dictatorships - eventually prompted me to, very shyly, attend a meeting of a local peace group. That was, if memory serves, in the fall of 1968. I still remember walking into this room in a church basement and being greeted by a tall man with a beard and a not-inconsiderable resemblance to Abraham Lincoln. In fact, he later added a mustache because he got tired of the Lincoln jokes. His name was Jack Caroli.

Okay, you can relax; it's over now. I've no intention of inflicting my entire autobiography on you.

But knowing the roots of my involvement in the movement may help to some degree to explain where I've wound up: I'm an aging hippie, an educator, and a political activist, the terms' order of presentation depending on circumstances and my mood of the moment. I'm also a democratic socialist-green with an anarchist bent and a civil liberties absolutist who has, by both logical conclusion and moral compulsion, a commitment to active nonviolence both as political tactic and way of life. The only isms I wholeheartedly endorse are skepticism and eclecticism.

I have also flippantly described myself at times as a socialist-anarchist-communalist-capitalist-eclecticist-iconoclast. After people's eyes stop glazing over, I explain:

I'm a capitalist in that I believe in the "Ma and Pa" store, the community-level enterprise, the small factory, the two- or three-store chain.

I'm a communalist in that I believe that cooperative ventures are better than competitive ones.

I'm a socialist in that I believe that beyond a certain size, profit-seeking enterprises cannot be trusted to be responsible to the communities in which they operate and at that point the community as a whole has the right and the responsibility to step in to exercise control and make decisions, up to and including assuming ownership.

I'm an anarchist in that I believe in doing that with as little government as necessary and with individual freedom and civil liberties being at the maximum possible consistent with social justice.

I'm an eclecticist in that I believe you can put this together into a reasonably coherent social philosophy.

And I'm an iconoclast in that - well, you may have heard that the I Ching, the Chinese "book of changes," is based on the notion that "the only thing that doesn't change is the fact that everything else changes." My version of this is that I believe "the only ultimate answer is that there is no other ultimate answer" and so if we ever did build a society along the lines I envision the first thing I'd do is to try to figure out what was wrong with that one and how it could be improved.

In doing this show, I'm guided by four editorial principles:

1) "To thine own self be true." Which, as I expect you know, is a quote from Shakespeare.

2) "The US isn't the worst - but it is the biggest." That's a quote from Joan Baez.

3) "Sometimes a bit of humor contains more inner truth than the most serious seriousness." That's from a chess grandmaster named Aron Nimzovich.

4) "No one but no one, no matter their ideology, political perspective, or status as 'left' or 'right,' can be by that reason exempt from either criticism or praise." That's from me.

The bottom line point is that I have always believed that in any political movement, everyone has some skill they can use, some skill they can contribute to advance the cause. While my list of inadequacies on any compilation of useful skills is quite lengthy, I do have some skill with words. With writing. Talking. Giving speeches. And like that.

In front of a gray wall
So this, ultimately, is just another way I think I can be of use, another way to try to advance the idea of justice, another attempt to maintain the hope that is the only thing that keeps us going. It is, if you will, another light against the darkness, another, again if you will and if you remember the song, another candle in the rain.**

That’s enough about me. As for the show itself, there have been some changes in it over the time it's been on. At first, the show consisted of just me standing in front of a gray background, rambling on about whatever I was rambling on about that week.

After a time, in order to keep the camera crew from going insane trying to follow me around as I wandered around the stage as I talked, we went to having me sit on a stool and around that time we added graphics.

On a stool with graphics
But I was just more comfortable standing, so we set up a podium and there I was, standing with my right hand leaning on a podium, still in front of that same gray background. This made me happy because I was standing and made the camera crew happy because I was standing in one place.

Then it got fun because we were able to start using what's technically called chroma key but is more commonly known as green screen, where we can replace the background with whatever image we want to put up. As I do the show, all that is behind me is a blank green wall. But through the magic of computers, we can replace that with whatever we want. So we had me, my podium, and graphics. What more could I ask.

At the podium
Then I blew out my knee bad enough that I couldn't stand without crutches. So we started used the desk-style look while I recovered - which yes, I did some time back, thank you for asking - but after a few weeks, I decided I like it. So that's the look we have for now - but don't be shocked if you see me standing again at some point.

Over the course of doing the show, we developed two regular features: One is the Clown Award, given for meritorious stupidity, which was supposed to be an occasional feature but there has been more than enough stupidity to keep it going, and it has become, I think, our most popular feature. The other regular feature, of course, is the Outrage of the Week because what would I do if I couldn't be outraged about something.

We also have developed some occasional features, which pop up time to time, including the Hero Award, given to recognize someone who just did the right thing on a matter big or small; Everything You Need To Know, where a truth can be revealed in no more than a sentence or two; The Little Thing, where some passing reference in a news story points to something significant which isn't getting enough notice; And Another Thing, for fun science stuff; For the Record, where we address issues briefly just to make sure they don't get ignored; Updates on old stories; and of course the not-quite-regular but happily frequent feature, Good News.

I have been helped so much over these past six years by several people without who this simply would not have happened or even if it did would not have gone on nearly so long as it has and hopefully will. These folks have helped me and do help me. So I want to acknowledge them and say thank you.

First and foremost, my deepest thanks to Donna, just for being Donna. She is my strength, my source, my reason to get up each day.

Next there are the folks here at the station where I do this, leading off with Will McKinnon - cameraman and video editor extraordinaire of song and fable.

Then there is or there are Kris, Yvanna, and Dylan, who keep things moving around here with their youthful energy and can, amazingly, even make the old fart sometimes feel like one of the gang.

And there’s Rich Goulart, Executive Director and the all-around go-to guy here, who was willing to take a chance: When I first approached him about doing a weekly show of political commentary, one I flippantly described as a left-wing Glenn Beck minus the chalkboard and the paranoia, he - I could tell - wasn't too sure that it wouldn't peter out after a few weeks. But he took the chance to let me do it my way and I hope in the time since he's been given enough cause to be happy with his decision.

Finally, I want to thank not a person but a concept: public access television.

You're watching me on TV right now (unless you're watching on YouTube). Yes, it's TV - but it's special. It's public access TV - also called cable access television, community access television, and community television.

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

And potentially far beyond: This show is regularly seen, to my knowledge, on four cable systems covering more than a dozen communities with a combined subscriber base likely in excess of 250,000. So potentially, hypothetically, this show could be seen in 250,000 households. Just me, just an ordinary schlub - how did Eric Burden describe himself in that song? "An overfed, long-haired, leaping gnome." And there could potentially be thousands of people hearing what I have to say.

It's public access TV which makes that possible.

From its roots in the late '60s and despite initial intense opposition form the cable industry, public access TV has become firmly established. It's now estimated that over 1500 cities, town, and regions across the country have public access channels available and those 1500 areas are managing something like 5000 channels.

You're watching one of those channels now. This is public access TV. Public access TV. That means it's for you. It's for us. It's for all of us. Take advantage of it. It doesn't have to be political. It could be about a hobby, about an interest, whatever. It doesn't have to be a series, it could be a one-off: Maybe you  have a story you want to tell about some place or some person or some historical event. Take advantage of public access TV. Go to your local cable access station and talk to them - I bet they'll be glad to help.

Public access television. I took advantage of it. You should, too.

Let me finish up by thanking those of you who watch the show and those of you who have commented on it. Thank you for taking the time and I look forward to more comments and, I hope, to make a show worth watching. Let me know how I do.

*The possibility of social fracture from lack of a shared worldview is an issue that appears to be arising in the US. It may be that fault line has always been there but just has been successfully papered over until recently - which means it could be again - or it could mean that in terms of worldview, we really are becoming two different societies trying to share a common geography with all the risks of intensifying conflict that entails.


Friday, April 21, 2017

19.1 - The roots and the struggle

The roots and the struggle

This is show number 19 of What’s Left, and if I include the shows done under its former title of Left Side of the Aisle, it is show number 280.

More to point, it is being recorded on April 20, which if memory and counting both serve, is six years to the day from the recording of the very first episode of Left Side of the Aisle. We’ve been at this for six years now.

So this week is going to be a little different. I want to spend most of the show talking about something more, I suppose you could call it, personal.

That doesn't mean there isn't a great deal to talk about even if we, as we Americans too often do, narrow our focus to what looks to affect us in the short term and the world at large be damned.

And of course of necessity a lot of what we have to talk about especially in that narrow focus has to do with Donald TheRump, as would in fact be true of pretty much any president.

But in a truer, more basic, that is, more radical, sense, what we have to talk about, what we have to address, is about him but it's not. It's about the people around him, but it's not. It's about the people who supported and still support him, but it's not. It's about all of that, but it's not all about any part of it. It's about the well, the common source, all of them draw from.

It's about a vile undercurrent in our society, a vile undercurrent that TheRump, call him what you will, you have to recognize that he is a successful real estate salesman, a fact which I have maintained from the beginning explains him, a vile undercurrent that TheRump recognized and exploited.

A vile undercurrent of bigotry, of hatred, of fear that runs through our society, a stream that has at times in the past run stronger and weaker but never runs dry.

An undercurrent of bigotry, of hatred, of fear that contrary to what some establishment Democratic partisans will insist, TheRump did not create, could not have created, it was not within his power to create.

No, he did not create it. But what he did do was he unleashed it, unleashed it for his own selfish ends and his own ego. With the tacit cooperation of the easily manipulated, sensation- and headline-hungry media, he made it acceptable, more socially-acceptable than it has been in decades, to be openly racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and he rode on that tide of bigotry, hatred, and fear and it proved to be just big enough, barely big enough, but enough, to get him into the White House.

And once there he surrounded himself with a cackling cabal of bigots and il Duce wannabes who think in their perverted little brains that they are the real voice of the nation, the voice of our soul instead of what they are, the voice of our sickness, and he turned them loose to pursue their fantasies.

He unleashed the bigotry, hatred, and fear that exists within his own administration, he unleashed their love of violence, their love of the military, their love of militarism - which means their love of force, of brutality, of power, of dominance, whether exercised by the army or by the police, unleashed their xenophobia, their racism, their sexism, their hatred for modernity, their hatred for science, their hatred for and fear of knowledge itself.

So we have seen an expanded war in Syria, the MOAB in Afghanistan, intensified drone attacks, war-driven famine in Yemen created by US arms, thinly-veiled threats to attack North Korea if it even so much as tests a missile we don't like, and far more; while at home we see the bigoted, xenophobic scumbag in charge of immigration enforcement declaring that his agency must not be criticized even as it tries to sweep away anything so much as hinting of "the other"; we see plans to do away with established consent decrees and let violent, racist police forces go right back to being violent and racist; we see rights and protections stripped from everyone from women who just want health care to women who just want decent jobs to everyone who just wants to use the Internet; all of that and far more with the common goal of making things the way they used to be and actually never were - except for rich white men.

I said a few weeks ago and I say again that I have never before seen an administration so persistently indifferent to the needs of the many not only here but around the world, so insistently determined to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted, so unreservedly favoring the powerful over the powerless, the rich over the poor, the corporations over the people, so eager to embrace bigotry, this is the first time an administration has seemed so utterly devoid of redeeming virtues.

So yes, there is much to talk about and much do to, but across all of our acts of resistance we need to recall that ultimately, at bottom, at root, this cannot be just about Donald TheRump or his co-conspirators or his blinkered minions but is, must be, about the well from which they all drink, that well fed with that undercurrent of bigotry, hatred, and fear.

At the end of the day, TheRump and the Rumpettes are the symptoms, the outgrowths, not the disease. And we should constantly remind ourselves that for a society just like for a patient, it's sometimes -  including the present moment - necessary to focus on the symptoms of a sickness, but we should never confuse the symptom with the cause.

But frankly, it's also true that sometimes it's necessary for our own health - mental if not physical - to step back for a moment, so I'm giving myself a week off from all that.

Except for one observation, just because I feel like it.

Three months ago, I argued that Russian interference in the elections - which I was entirely prepared to stipulate happened - was not aimed at electing TheRump but at damaging Hillary Clinton so she would be a weak president.

Well, on April 19 Reuters reported that a Russian think tank connected to Vladimir Putin developed a plan to affect the 2016 elections. Initially, it was aimed at building up TheRump - but by October they had decided that Clinton was likely to win the election and so they proposed intensifying messaging about voter fraud to undermine the electoral system's legitimacy and thereby, yes, damage and weaken Clinton's presidency.

So who ya gonna listen to: CNN, MSNBC, and the Democratic Party establishment - or me?

What's Left #19

What's Left
for the weeks of April 20 - May 6, 2017

This week:
The roots and the struggle

Re-introducing myself on our 6th anniversary

Monday, April 17, 2017

18.5 - Outrage of the Week: militarism unleashed as national policy

Outrage of the Week: militarism unleashed as national policy

Finally, we have our other regular feature; this is the Outrage of the Week.

This week it's a bit different in that it's not about a single issue or a particular event. Rather, it's on a broader question of a part of what I'll call our national ethos.

On April 13 in Afghanistan, the US dropped the largest non-nuclear bomb ever used in combat, a 22,000 pound device known as the GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast or MOAB, which some have described as standing for "mother of all bombs." It's 10 times the size of the largest generally-used bombs in the US arsenal and has a yield of 11 tons.

Asked if he authorized the use of the bombs, TheRump said "Everybody knows exactly what happened. What I do is I authorize my military. We have given them total authorization and that’s what they’re doing, and frankly that’s why they’ve been so successful lately."

Some people, especially on the establishment, Democratric Party-oriented left, jumped on his use of the word "my," claiming he was acting like "a dictator or boy king." But that misses the real point, the important point, which was the statement "We have given them total authorization," which if it means anything, it means "I have told the military to do whatever they damn please and don't bother me with details."

The so-called MOAB provides a clear example: Why use it? Beyond insisting it was "the right weapon," the Pentagon won't say. What did it accomplish? Beyond referring to the claim that 36 insurgents were killed, they won't say that, either. They claim the target was the tunnels and caves used by Daesh in eastern Afghanistan on the border with Pakistan.

GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast
But they also claim that over recent months Daesh has well over half its fighters and two-thirds of its territory in the country and Daesh is in fact a minor factor in Afghanistan compared to the Taliban. So why use your biggest weapon on your weakest opponent? More to the point, the MOAB is not a ground penetrator. It's not designed to take out things like "tunnels and caves." So it's clearly not "the right weapon," especially when we have ground-penetrating bombs in our arsenal.

So why use it? Because they could. Because they had an open area that they could try it out on. Remember it had never been used in combat and what good is a toy if you can't play with it?

That's what we're seeing: the military being told to do what it wants.

That's why Army Gen. John W. Nicholson, commander of US forces in Afghanistan, could casually tell the Senate Armed Services Committee in February that he needs "a few thousand" more coalition troops while allowing as how he supposed he could make do with 30,000 - 2.5 times the number there now.

That's why TheRump has witnessed - and I say witnessed, not directed, he just let it happen - a drone strike just about every day he has been in office, a rate five times that of Barack Obama, who was often and rightly condemned for his drone war on multiple Muslim nations.

That's why in Iraq, where despite the lies about it, we have had "boots on the ground" for some time - I suppose I could say back on the ground except that there never was a moment when we didn't have boots on the ground in Iraq - in Iraq the US has streamlined the process for calling in airstrikes, strikes that as Iraqi and other forces get near Mosul have killed an increasing number of civilians, so much so that casualties in March broke records for a single month, so much so that concerns have been raised by human rights organizations including Amensty International that US forces may be acting with an unprecedented disregard for lives of noncombatants.

That's why in Syria, US personnel have expanded their footprint, including a detachment of Marine artillerymen and a contingent of US Army Rangers both entering Syria in March.

That's why the US Air Force has expanded an air base in northern Syria intended to play a major role in the coming attack on Raqqa, Daesh's self-proclaimed capital, another target of increased airstrikes and increased civilian deaths.

What we are seeing here is an expansion of militarism. Contrary to what some have said, we are not seeing a "TheRumpian military policy" except to the extent that the "policy" consists of giving the military a free or at the minimum an increasingly-free hand, and like a horse given its head that may not take off at an immediate gallop but will surely build up to one, we can and should anticipate more airstrikes, more boots on the ground, more drone strikes, more death, more blood, more civilians and other more noncombatants killed, more homes destroyed, more refugees - and more attempts to keep it all just beyond our awareness, just beyond our field of vision, just beyond our sense of outrage.

And that in turn is why the Pentagon will now no longer disclose how many US personnel are deploying to Iraq and Syria and why TheRump has returned authority to conduct drone strikes to the CIA: Those moves allow for more secrecy, the better to keep the carnage we create out of our awareness.

It was said a few decades ago, around the start of the first Gulf War, that Americans would not object to military adventures so long as the number of American casualties was low - that, in effect, we didn't care how many people got killed so long none of us were among the dead. At the time it was thought a horrible moral judgment on Americans which could not be true - but history has shown otherwise and it is now a basic part of Pentagon military strategy. Even so, there is always the chance that our national conscience could be awakened - the way the civilian casualties in Mosul breached the headlines being a fleeting example - so all the more reason to keep even the number of soldiers involved hidden behind a PR smokescreen about "security."

At this point it's important to say no, no, no! Do not fall for the partisan ruse that this all has to do with TheRump, that it is all his doing. The issue, again, is not TheRump, it is militarism. This goes back far, far, before him.

Indeed, we need only go back one administration. Remember that Barack Obama came into office on the wings of optimism and hope and "yes we can" and promises to end wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He left office with "boots on the ground" in Iraq and Afghanistan and Syria and a legacy of an illegal war in Libya, the expansion of the militaristic surveillance state, and having bombed more countries than George Bush did.

The US - the Obama administration - dropped over 23,000 bombs on six nations in 2015 and over 26,000 bombs on seven nations in 2016, totals which are in both cases surely low because a "strike" can involve more than one bomb. And, it needs to be noted, we as a nation stood largely silent - because we weren't the ones doing the dying.

And yet it's not unfair to say that Obama was at least to some extent trying to hold the reins, trying to exert some counterforce, refusing to just turn the military loose. But he faced the same enemy that multiple presidents have faced, the same entrenched - it's become a cliche but that's only because it's accurate - that same Military-Industrial Complex with an appetite for arms and an aptitude for aggression.

So no, this militarism is not something new with TheRump and not his creation and not his doing. What is different here, what is threatening here, is that he is prepared to stand by and let it happen.

And the potential consequences that presents for unknown numbers of people around the world is a true moral outrage.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

18.4 - For the Record: various items

For the Record: various items

Next in line is an occasional feature which seems to becoming more regular: For the Record, where we cover some news or event very briefly, just a sentence or two, just to make sure it gets mentioned. This week's are actually about events from a couple of weeks ago but they are worth mentioning before they slip too far into the rearview mirror.

So, For the Record: An article about how the far right-wing organizations Club for Growth and Heritage Action were attacking some GOPpers for not being reactionary enough over health care legislation quoted David McIntosh, president of Club for Growth, as referring to "the left wing among House Republicans," which is now my new top example of "oxymoron."

For the Record: Daesh - that is, ISIS - released its first statement directly referencing President TheRump early this month, declaring that the US is "being run by an idiot." Which brings to mind the old saying "If it's true, what does it matter who said it?"

For the Record: German skin-care company Nivea got itself into trouble recently by posting an ad pushing the phrase "white is purity." The company pulled the ad in the face of the reaction, saying it was "not meant to be racially insensitive." Which would be easier to accept if in 2011 the company hadn't put out an ad featuring a black man being urged to "re-civilize yourself." Sometimes the excuse of "not thinking it through" just isn't good enough.

Finally, For the Record: David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt are the pair behind those bogus, deceitfully-edited videos falsely claiming that Planned Parenthood was profiting by selling body parts of aborted fetuses. A couple of weeks ago they were indicted in California on 15 felonies related to their illegal recordings.

The pair had previously been indicted on different charges related to the same videos in Texas, but those charges were dropped on a legal technicality.

As a quick reminder, officials in 13 states have investigated the claims made in the videos; none of them found any wrongdoing by Planned Parenthood. Officials in eight other states didn't think an investigation was even warranted.

18.3 - The little Thing: US leads in cyberwar

The little Thing: US leads in cyberwar

Next is one of our occasional features. It's called "The little Thing" and it's when some there is something in an article, something passed over without comment or reference, that strikes me as much more significant or revealing than the way it's treated.

It this case, it came in a BBC report on the arrest in Spain of a Russian programmer suspected of large-scale hacking and of installing malicious software in hundreds of thousands of computers.

Much of Pyotr Levashov's alleged activity involved ransomware, the name given to computer viruses that block access to your computer or some portion of it and demanding some sort of ransom to unblock it, a release which is rarely if ever granted even if the ransom is paid.

Despite the claim of his wife Maria that his arrest had to do with a computer virus he created that was related to "Trump's win," the arrest more likely had to do with going after Russian cybercriminals who have been helping the Russian government with its cyberwar programs, which have included, it is alleged, state-sponsored cyberattacks on Russia's neighbors.

And this is where the little thing comes in. It was a comment quoted in the middle of the article with no mention of its meaning. It was from Milan Patel, managing director at a cybersecurity firm called K2 Intelligence and former chief technology officer of the FBI's cyber division. He said:
We've reached a boiling point with Russia. They are the closest competitor to the US when it comes to cyberespionage and cyberattacks. With Russia now, a lot is coming to the forefront and being made public about how they run their cyber activities.
Wait, stop. They are "the closest competitor to the US?" Doesn't that mean the US is ahead of them? Doesn't that mean that the US is the world's leader "when it comes to cyberespionage and cyberattacks?"

It's a little thing, but just another reminder that the NSA has an entire bureau dedicated to enabling the agency to hack any computer system anywhere in the world, operating under the slogan of - and this is real - "getting the ungettable."

What's the line about people in glass houses?

Saturday, April 15, 2017

18.2 - Clown Award: Minister Kenneth Adkins

Clown Award: Minister Kenneth Adkins

Next up, the Clown Award, given as always for meritorious stupidity. And this week we had what can only be called a cavalcade of clowns.

I thought of going for the obvious and giving the Clown Award to presidential mouthpiece and Melissa McCarthy impersonator Sean Spicer for his observation that Hitler never used gas on his own people - but you know what, everybody got him for that and I wanted to pick a less-painfully obvious target.

The next possibility was another one that you may already know about. It arises from the fact that "InStyle" magazine used a picture of Amy Schumer in a one-piece swimsuit for its May cover.

Swimsuit designer Dana Duggan took offense at that, tweeting "You could not find anyone better for this cover? Not everyone should wear a bathing suit."

After she got major flak for that trash talk, she ran behind the "It's my freedom of speech" defense. Yeah, Ms. Duggan, but what people like you seem always to forget is yes, you have freedom of speech - but so do we. So quit your whining.

But what makes this especially clownish is that Duggan, who admits she doesn't use plus-size models, said Schumer should not be on the cover, should not be in a swimsuit, that it's a matter of "beauty," and that she's "tired of the media and publications trying to push the FAT agenda," which is "not pretty and not healthy," all while insisting that she was not fat-shaming anyone.

Amy Schumer cover
Dana Duggan
Yeah, well, Dana Duggan, I'm not a particular fan of Amy Schumer but at least whatever fat she may have is spread over her whole body, unlike than yours, which is all in your head.

The next candidate was Jeffrey Lord, a frequent commentator on CNN.

TheRump told the Wall Street Journal this week that he was considering cutting funding for the subsidies that help to cover deductibles and co-pays for low-income people under the AHCA. The idea is that cutting those subsidies would threaten the survival of the program's system in the near term and so would force Democrats to negotiate on repealing the whole act.

In other words, he's threatening to destroy whatever good has come out of the Affordable Health Care Act in order to force Democrats to cooperate in destroying whatever good has come out of the Affordable Health Care Act.

And in a discussion of health care legislation on CNN, that plan, according to Jeffrey Lord, makes Donald TheRump "the Martin Luther King of healthcare."

Sometimes the clownishness just goes without saying.

Here's a good possibility. Valeri Cordón, an elder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints - the Mormons - gave a speech at the church's biannual General Conference the first weekend in April in which he declared that your promise to tithe - that is, to give 10% of your income to the church - outweighs all other obligations, even to the point of letting your children go hungry.

Jeffrey Lord
Of course, Jesus declared "Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Luke 6:20-21), told a rich man that to be sure of being saved he should keep the commandments and "go and sell what you have, and give to the poor" (Matthew 19:21), and said "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God" (Matthew 19:24), but when your church is making an estimated $7 billion a year by tithing, who's gonna let a few hungry children spoil things?

But even he could not match the combination of inanity and venality of our winner. So this week the Big Red Nose goes to a Georgia-based preacher named Kenneth Adkins.

It's been not quite a year since Omar Mateen shot up the LGBTQ-oriented Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, killing 49 people and wounding 53 others in the worst mass shooting in US history.

In response to the attack on the nightclub, Adkins tweeted out "Dear Gays, Go sit down somewhere. I know you want some special attention," but "You are sinners who need Jesus."

Valeri Cordón
He came back later to add that the victims got "what they deserve."

Earlier, in 2014, Adkins had helped lead a fight against expanding Jacksonville’s anti-discrimination law to protect LGBTQ people, during which he, among other offenses, portrayed black church leaders who supported expanding the law as slaves being sold on auction blocks. He also - of course - is opposed to transgender rights because of the "sexual predators in the bathroom" nonsense.

Which related to why he is here, because sexual predation is something he was familiar with.

On April 10, Kenneth Adkins was convicted in Brunswick, Georgia of eight counts of sexually molesting a minor: five counts of child molestation, two counts of aggravated child molestation, and one count of enticing a child.

Kenneth Adkins
The jury took just an hour to reach its verdict.

Thus is demonstrated the principle of Karma.

And I would call it an act of, if you will, Christian forbearance that I only call him a - and if you have any doubt about the rightness of the award, consider that one point during the battle over expanding Jacksonville's anti-discrimination ordinance, a fight that, by the way, was won by the good side, Adkins dressed in drag and said on Facebook "I am gonna 'pee' next to your women in the women's bathroom and let's see how you feel," apparently, it appears, blissfully unaware that women's bathrooms do not have urinals and hey, bro', "your women" have undoubtedly already shared a restroom with a transgender women and never knew it.

Call him a bigot, call him a hypocrite, call him a predator, it doesn't change the fact that Kenneth Adkins is a clown.

18.1 - Good News: NY advances free college tuition

Good News: NY advances free college tuition

Starting the week off right, we have Good News that the dream of free higher education is one tiny step closer to reality.

New York state has created and adopted a program offering universal public college tuition coverage at SUNY (State University of New York) and CUNY (City University of New York) campuses. In other words, free four-year college tuition.

Called the Excelsior Scholarship program, the name coming from the fact that "Excelsior" is the state motto of New York, its only requirements are being a state resident, having a family income of less than $100,000, rising to $125,000 by 2019, and that the recipient be a full-time student maintaining the minimum GPA requirement for their particular program. There is no age limit and there are no caps on the number of residents who can benefit.

There are some states that have comprehensive grant and scholarship programs for four-year college, and free tuition at two-year state colleges already exists in three states with about a dozen others considering it - but New York's is the only truly universal, four-year college, program.

An estimated 80 percent of New York State's families with college-age children could use the new program along with adult students entering college for the first time.

I have seen two concerns expressed about the program, one being that the program requires recipients upon graduation to stay in the state for as many years as they received the scholarship - but that kind of requirement is not that unusual; the idea being that you got this benefit which has enabled you to obtain some skill or skills, and in return for that you agree to apply the skills you learned locally for a time.

The bigger, more serious concern, that it doesn't go far enough to address the needs of low-income students, who often find the costs of housing, food, and transportation to be obstacles every bit as big or even bigger than tuition. Which is abundantly true: At a SUNY school, tuition is about $6500 a year - but room and board and fees come to over $14,000, a figure that doesn't include the cost of books.

Even so, there is still a good amount of Good News here in that by cutting the cost by thousands of dollars a year, college has been brought within the reach of working- and middle-class families for who it had been unattainable and it at the very, very least represents a recognition that higher education should not be a privilege of the wealthiest or a direct conduit to life-long debt. The Excelsior Scholarship is far from perfect - but it is a clear step in the right direction, and that makes it Good News.

As a quick footnote to that,you may have noticed a familiar figure on the stage in the photo of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announcing the proposal for the program at a press conference in January. The reason that's relevant is that on on April 3, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Pramila Jayapal introduced the College for All Act.

It would eliminate tuition and fees at four-year public colleges and universities for families making up to $125,000 – about 80 percent of the population – and make community college tuition- and fee-free for all as well as offering debt relief to students, expanding existing federal aid to cover all the costs of college, not just tuition, and addressing the needs of the poorest students.

In his press release, Sanders noted that the entire cost of the program could be covered by a small tax on some forms of Wall Street speculation.

What's Left #18

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of April 13-19, 2017

This week:

Good News: NY advances free college tuition

Clown Award: Minister Kenneth Adkins

The little Thing: US leads in cyberwar

For the Record: various items

Outrage of the Week: militarism unleashed as national policy

Sunday, April 09, 2017

17.11 - Outrage of the Week: new illegal Israeli settlement

Outrage of the Week: new illegal Israeli settlement

Recently I saw an online ad that started with the farcical claim that people are claiming that "if only the Palestinians had a state, there would be peace in the Middle East." Okay, alarm bells going off, red flags rising, because no one says that. People will say that such a state is a necessary component of peace, but no one in their right mind would say it is a panacea.

The ad goes on to say something like "did you know that Israel has offered the Palestinians a state" and how the Palestinians refused, thus proving they have no interest in peace and so forth and so on.

Well in fact, I did know about that supposed offer. It came in 2000 when Bill Clinton, desperate to secure some kind of Mideast agreement to secure his legacy convinced Yassir Arafat to meet with him and then-Israeli PM Ehud Barak even though Arafat thought nothing would be accomplished and a failed meeting would be worse than no meeting.

At that meeting, Barak made his supposedly "generous offer" to Arafat, involving a Palestinian state in Gaza and something like 90% of the West Bank. Arafat refused, the talks broke down, Clinton blamed Arafat, and so it was, and among Israeli loyalists still is, said that the Palestinian "true face" was exposed, one determined not to make peace with Israel.

There is just one problem: The deal that Barak proposed was one that the Israelis knew in advance Arafat would not, could not, accept. It was nothing but a propaganda ploy designed to head off the possibility of a settlement.

What was wrong with the "generous" offer? A number of things, but two stand out. One, the 10% of the West Bank not part of this Palestinian state would be occupied by Israeli "security corridors" connecting settlements and outposts, which would have effectively sliced the West Bank into a bunch of Bantustans, with Palestinians needing the permission of the Israeli military to get from one part of their country to another.

The other, perhaps even more important, issue was that the agreement would have required the Palestinians to completely relinquish any "right of return," the dream of the families of those who fled or were driven from their homes during the 1948 war to return to them someday. This is an intensely emotional issue among Palestinians: I remember one activist telling me some years ago "the Jews did not forget their homeland in 2,000 years but they expect us to forget ours in twenty-five."

In terms of the symbolic, emotional impact, you might well compare it to leaders of the Zionist movement being told in 1948 that sure, you can have a Jewish state in Palestine - provided you agree that no more Jews can ever move there in the future.

No Palestinian leader could have accepted that and survived politically - and perhaps physically. And the Israelis knew it. What's more, they also knew that
[e]ven those who hold an 'extreme' position on the issue, among them Arafat, have adopted the position that if Israel recognizes the right of return in principle, its implementation can be partial and limited.
The offer was a fraud and a PR ploy and considering it is still cited now, it has to be regarded as one of the most successful PR coups of modern times.

Which brings us to now.

Showing its own commitment to peace, Israel continues to expand settlements in the West Bank, trying to make Israeli control of the area a fait accompli that turns into Israeli possession of the area.

About 400,000 Israeli settlers live in 126 settlements scattered aross the West Bank and another 200,000 Israelis live in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians still hope to make the capital of a Palestinian state. Those settlements are regarded by the world community - including the EU, at least as of now the US, the International Court of Justice, the United Nations, and almost all experts on international law - as illegal.

Israel doesn't care. In fact, two months ago, the government announced plans to expand those existing settlements by another 5500 homes.

And on March 30 Israel's Security Cabinet unanimously approved the construction of an entirely new settlement in the West Bank, the first new settlement in Palestinian territory since 1999.

Apparently, the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu no longer feels it necessary to play the lying game of building more and more housing in existing settlements while claiming the lack of entirely new ones means expansion has been "halted."

What makes this especially outrageous is that the new settlement, which will be constructed north of the Palestinian city of Ramallah, is intended for Israeli settlers evacuated from Amona, an outpost that was destroyed by Israeli authorities in February because it was not sanctioned by the Israeli government (the position of the Palestinian Authority being of no concern).

In other words, it was "Your settlement is not sanctioned. It must come down. But don't worry - we'll just build you a new one! Your settlement was illegal? Who cares?"

PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi said the announcement "once again proves that Israel is more committed to appeasing its illegal settler population than to abiding by the requirements for stability and a just peace."

Netanyahu said the building of the new settlement was "keeping a promise." Apparently, keeping the promises he has repeatedly made for honest negotiations are not ones he regards as worth keeping.

And if you do believe in peace, you must regard that as an outrage.

17.10 - Clown Award: Pennsylvania state Senator Scott Wagner

Clown Award: Pennsylvania state Senator Scott Wagner

Now for one of our regular features, the Clown Award, given as always for meritorious stupidity. And oh my word have winner this week.

Start with the fact that globally, 2016 was the hottest year on record. It broke the record set in 2015, which broke the record set in 2014.

Add the fact that the 20-teens are well on their way to being the hottest decade ever, which would break the record set by the 2000s, which broke the record set by the 1990s, which broke the record set by the 1980s, and I assume you can see a pattern developing here.

As an illustration of what's happening, consider the two images to the right. The top one shows the extent of Arctic sea ice in September 1984. Just to orient you quickly, Canada is at the bottom of the image, Russia is at the top, and Greenland is the big island in the right center. Green is open water and the blue to white areas are ice, with the whiter the color, the older the ice. Okay? September 1984.

The second image is September 2016.

In the words of David Carlson, director of the World Climate Research Program at the World Meteorological Organization, "We are now in truly uncharted territory."

So it would seem incumbent on officials to have some notion of what they are talking about when they address our climate future, wouldn't it?

Apparently not. So the week the Big Red Nose goes to and no it's not Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt, even though he doesn't believe that carbon emissions are "a primary contributor to global warming that we see," because coming from someone who spent a good part of his career suing the EPA on behalf of the fossil fuel corporations, that kind of slippery evasion - note the deployment of the weasel word "primary" - is to be expected.

No, what we have here goes beyond the greasily evasive to the downright stupid. So the winner of the Big Red Nose is Pennsylvania state senator and gubernatorial hopeful Scott Wagner.

In giving a talk favoring drilling for natural gas on state lands in Pennsylvania, Wagner allowed as how climate change is probably happening, but fossil fuel emissions are absolutely not a problem. Why? Because he knows the real source of global warming.

First he said
I haven't been in a science class in a long time
and then he immediately proved it by saying
the earth moves closer to the sun every year - you know the rotation of the earth. We're moving closer to the sun.
What's more, he said
We have more people. You know, humans have warm bodies. So heat comes off.
Scott Wagner
That is truly award winning facepalm stupidity. Now, the Earth's orbit is not a perfect circle so yes, we do get a little closer to the Sun part of the year - and a little further from it the other part of the year. But that's not what he meant and we all know it. He's saying that overall, over the course of a year, on average, we are getting closer to the Sun every year.

No, we're not. In fact, we are getting a tiny bit further from the Sun every year. And neither the annual variation nor the change in the overall average have anything to do with the Earth's rotation.

And what? Global warming is caused by increased body heat from a growing population? Are we really even supposed to take that seriously?

Assuming you wanted to, one physics fan did a calculation and determined that assuming a population of 7 billion well-fed people, on any given day the Sun delivers to the Earth over 120,000 times as much energy as the total all those people give off.

And if you want to be really scientific and thorough about it, if you trace it all the way back, you find that the source of all of our human energy is plants that themselves were built on stored solar energy, whether we got it directly from plants or from animals that ate the plants or from animals that ate other animals that ate the plants. Which means that all the heat energy our bodies generate is merely returning to the environment energy that we removed from it in the course of eating - so the net impact of our body heat on the warming of the environment is zero.

Now, you may not have known those details or the details about the Earth's orbit - but my gosh, we're slowly spiraling into the Sun? Body heat is what's changing the climate? Absurdity piled on top of inanity.

Scott Wagner- chief scientist and environmental instructor in the school of clowns

17.9 - Footnote: mudslides in Colombia kill hundreds

Footnote: mudslides in Colombia kill hundreds

Approximate location of Mocoa
As a footnote to that, as if Colombia didn't have enough troubles, in the early hours of April 2 torrential rains caused flooding that generated mudslides in Putumayo province in the southwest part of the country, burying the provincial capital of Mocoa and killing over 250 people, with hundreds more injured.

Some 400 FARC former rebels at a nearby camp have offered to help in rescue and rebuilding efforts, but they will have to get government permission to leave the camp.

The offer of help didn't impress one right-wing Colombian senator who is a member of a political party that opposed the peace settlement. He accused FARC of causing the mudslides by setting off some dynamite. He had to apologize after it turned out that he got both the day and the location of the event wrong.

17.8 - Update: progress on implementing Colombian peace accord

Update: progress on implementing Colombian peace accord

Next up, an Update on the progress of implementing the peace agreement between the rebel group known as FARC - in English, The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia - and the government of Colombia to end a civil war that went on for more than 50 years. Nearly a quarter-million people were killed in the war and millions more were driven from their homes.

The settlement, which came last summer, was my choice for Good News of the year for 2016, a title that the peaceful, negotiated end of a 50-year-old war would seem to deserve.

With all that in mind, an Update is certainly not out of line.

Progress has been slower than hoped, delayed and delayed again, but it is progressing. In accordance with the agreement, former FARC fighters are making their way to UN-overseen camps where they are handing over thousands of weapons and other materials. Those weapons are to be stored in secure containers until they can be turned into three memorial statues.

Originally, the surrender of arms was supposed to have been completed by December 31, a date which proved to be hopelessly optimistic. It now is to be completed by June. So yes, implementation has been delayed - but it is happening.

There are still difficulties and resentments, some driven by the hard fact that the camps are not up to the standards promised in the accords, with some on each side grumbling that the other side is responsible for the delay in getting them fully ready.

A bigger threat, though, is found in reports that the Colombian military is trying to undermine the peace process by bribing FARC rebels heading for the camps to abandon the peace process and sell their weapons to the army rather than turning them in. If enough former rebels do so and do not go to the camps for demobilization, the agreement could fall apart, preventing FARC from participating in reconstruction and from becoming a legal political movement, a key part of the agreement.

Meanwhile, Amnesty International is reporting that violence is continuing in parts of Colombia because right-wing militias are moving in to areas vacated by FARC and committing what - this is my judgment, not AI's - are likely revenge murders, doing it even as the Colombian government refuses to recognize the existence of such paramilitary groups.

Finally, it should be noted that there is another guerrilla group, the ELN - in English, the National Liberation Army. The ELN is more radical than FARC but a fraction its size. Negotiations between government and ELN broke down, but are now being restarted.

Let's just hope that Colombia can continue on the rocky road down which it has already gone some distance.

17.7 - For the Record: a brief comment on the gas attack in Syria

For the Record: a brief comment on the gas attack in Syria

For the Record, two quick observations on a topic which I have shamefully neglected and even now am not going to give the attention it deserves: Syria, specifically, the gas attack on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, an opposition-held town in Idlib province in the north of that nation.

The death toll has risen to 89 at last report, with over 500 harmed and confidence is high not only from sources like the US government but more importantly from the World Health Organization and Doctors Without Borders that the weapon was a neurotoxin like sarin.

The first observation is that Russia's attempt to pin the blame on the Islamist forces in the town, claiming that a Syrian attack on a "terrorist warehouse" containing an "arsenal of chemical weapons" intended for fighters in Iraq doesn't pass the laugh test. It is utterly childish, one expert even calling it "infantile" and another "fanciful."

Approximate location of Khan Sheikhoun
What makes it especially nonsensical is that Russia claimed that the Syrian attack on this supposed warehouse took place at 4:30am Eastern Standard Time - but the first photos of victims were posted online at 2:28am EST, just over two hours before, if we believe Russia, the raid happened.

The other observation is that presidential mouthpiece and Melissa McCarthy impersonator Sean Spicer declared that we know who really is to blame for the attack: Barack Obama, because he was "weak and irresolute" after a chemical weapons attack in 2012.

So in other words, they are claiming that Bashar al-Assad felt he had a free hand to use gas on Khan Sheikhoun because of something Barack Obama did or didn't do five years ago - while the fact that just a few days before the attack Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, and Spicer himself all said that the US was no longer focused on getting Assad out of power had absolutely nothing to do with it.

Which goes to show that when it comes to infantile and laughable arguments, the Russians ain't got nothing on us.
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