Saturday, September 23, 2017

33.6 - The little Thing: Airlines ripping off last-minute passengers is emblematic of capitalism

The little Thing: Airlines ripping off last-minute passengers is emblematic of capitalism

Finally for this week, one of our occasional features, this one called The little Thing, where I was struck by something in a story which was being overlooked, not getting the attention or comment it deserved.

We start by noting that as Hurricane Irma approached Florida, there were, not surprisingly, a lot of people trying to leave.

One person, Leigh Dow, was looking for a flight online. Instead of what she expected for last-minute flyers, that is, flights for about $400-500 one way, the prices were running to $1700. When she found a Delta flight on Expedia for over $3200, she got mad enough to tweet about it - a tweet which went viral, sparking outrage and even moving two US Senators (Richard Blumenthal and Ed Markey) and Representative Charlie Crist to write letters to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, asking her to look into reports of possible price gouging.

After a lot of harrumphing and fuming and fussing, Delta got Dow a flight for $315, the Expedia price was chalked up to some kind of screwup, some airlines capped their fares out of south Florida, and some others, such as JetBlue, cut their one-way fare to $99.

George Hobica, the founder of, chalked up the increases to standard industry practice and dismissed the notion that the airlines were taking advantage of the emergency, saying "I don't think airlines would be callous or stupid enough to be consciously jacking up fares."

"Sure," he said, "some are high, but last-minute fares are often more expensive in general."

And, in fact, airfare data by Hopper, an airfare search engine, shows that the price hikes that took place the week immediately before the storm were similar to those from two weeks before that.

So all's well and no price gouging, right?

Except for The little Thing, the thing I didn't hear any comment on even though this certainly should have provoked it.

"Last-minute fares are more expensive." Well, of course they are, we all know that, but what does that truly mean?

It means that it is standard operating procedure for airlines to rip off passengers who need to get a flight last-minute for whatever reason. It's standard practice to jack up the price when people are in a take-it-or-leave-it situation.

It has nothing to do with cost: Certainly the incremental cost to the airline of the last passenger to book a flight is no greater than that of the first passenger to do so; in fact having the plane be fuller is to the airline's advantage. There is no economic necessity whatsoever for last-minute fares to be so much more expensive.

Except, that is, for the "necessity" of the logic of capitalism, the "logic" of "maximize profit any way you can," the "necessity" of "get more," and if you can take advantage of someone's situation to do that, then you not only can, by that controlling logic you "must." The fact that last minute walk-up passengers are for the most part business fliers trying to close a deal or make a meeting or whatever and who are working on expense accounts doesn't change any of that.

I've said before that it's not profit itself, it's the love of profit, where profit is made out to be the goal of economic activity, not the means of driving it, the love of profit is the baseline cause behind economic inequality and all the poverty, homelessness, hunger, and the rest that goes along with it. And the fact that airlines so casually taking advantage of last-minute flyers as a normal part of business, the fact that this provokes so little response, is proof of how wound into our psyches that destructive love is.

33.5 - Clown Award: Air Force chaplain Captain Sonny Hernandez

Clown Award: Air Force chaplain Captain Sonny Hernandez

Next, let's lighten things up a little bit - a very little bit, as it turns out - with the Clown Award, given out here on a regular basis for some act of meritorious stupidity.

First among the nominees is former Milwaukee sheriff and man who wears a hat to keep his brains from falling out David Clarke, who has been given 100 days to revise his master's thesis after he was found to have failed to properly attribute sources - that is, he had plagerized - at least 47 times.

The dean of the school said he didn't think it was "intentional deception," which is maybe true: It could have been plain old incompetence and besides, intentional deception would require a degree of cleverness and subtlety which appears to lie entirely beyond this bozo's grasp.

Next up is that generic GOPper senator (because he's an old white man) Chuck Grassley of Iowa.

Speaking to a group of Iowa reporters on September 20, Grassley explained his support for the catastrophically bad Graham-Cassidy health care destruction bill the GOPpers are desperately trying to get through the Senate, saying that, quoting,
You know, I could maybe give you 10 reasons why this bill shouldn't be considered. But Republicans campaigned on this so often that you have a responsibility to carry out what you said in the campaign. That's as much of a reason as the substance of the bill.
So yeah, it shouldn't even be considered but heck, we said it in a campaign so whaddaya gonna do, y'know, because of course no GOPper (or any other politician) ever broke a campaign promise before and so it's better to condemn people to a premature death from lack of affordable health care than to admit we screwed up.

I could ascribe that to sheer cold-blooded inhumanity, but I'm feeling kind for some reason so I'd just ascribe it to advancing senility.

But our winner this week has no excuses for being an evil clown.

evil clown Sonny Hernandez
So the winner of the Big Red Nose is Air Force chaplain Captain Sonny Hernandez, who ministers to thousands of men and women at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio.

On September 12 he posted an article on a right-wing website saying that, quoting,
Christian service members who openly profess and support the rights of Muslims, Buddhists, and all other anti-Christian worldviews to practice their religions - because the language in the Constitution permits - are grossly in error, and deceived.
What's more, such "counterfeit Christians," as he called them, ultimately "serve Satan." (And I'm sure lots of people just heard The Church Lady in their heads.)

In other words, actually believing in freedom of religion, actually upholding your oath to support the Constitution, an oath with Hernandez took, is to be a devil-worshipper.

Sonny Hernandez: religious bigot, fanatic, and clown.

As a footnote to that, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation says that the number of complaints it has received from servicemen and -women in the Army, Air Force, Marines, and other branches of the military has doubled since Trump's election.

33.4 - And the wars drag on: Afghanistan, Syrian, Iraq, and Yemen

And the wars drag on: Afghanistan, Syrian, Iraq, and Yemen

Updated And we should be ready take any Good News we can find, because the world at large doesn't appear to be offering much of it.

On September 18, Secretary of War James Mattis announced that more than 3000 additional US troops are being sent to Afghanistan. He had already said two weeks ago that more would be going, but he hadn't said how many. This will bring the total US deployment in Afghanistan to at least 14,000.

This comes in the wake of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's statement on August 22 that "this entire effort was intended to put pressure on the Taliban, to have the Taliban understand that you will not win a battlefield victory. We may not win one, but neither will you."

Which if it means anything at all, it means a literally unending war stretching unknown years into the future of military stalemate. And so what had been Bush's War and became Obama's War is now undeniably TheRump's War. And nothing changes except the length of the list of the dead.

And speaking of wars, oh yeah, there's still one in Syria, isn't there?

Deir Ezzor is the largest city in the eastern reaches of Syria. It sits on the southern (or western) shore of the Euphrates River, a river which serves as a convenient demarcation line between what is informally considered southern (and western) Syria on the one side and northern (and eastern) Syria on the other. The city had been under siege from Daesh - that is, ISIS, but I prefer the insulting name Daesh - but while the siege has been broken on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by Iranian forces backed by Russian air cover, fighting around the area, still a Daesh stronghold, continues.

And continues on more than one front: US forces and allied militias are also closing in on Daesh from the other side - the eastern side - of the Euphrates River, bringing into uncomfortably close proximity Russian and Russian-backed forces on the one hand and US and the US-backed SDF, or Syrian Democratic Forces, a militia made up mostly of Kurdish fighters, on the other.

So we shouldn't be surprised at competing claims of being attacked. On September 16, the SDF said its positions had been attacked by Syrian or Russian aircraft, injuring six. There were US troops present at the time; none were hurt.

On September 18, the SDF said that any further attempts to advance on the eastern Euphrates would be met with retaliation.

On September 21, Russia claimed that its forces had twice come under mortar attacks from the SDF and threatened that further attacks "will be immediately suppressed with all military means."

And of course, the Russians deny any involvement in the September 16 attacks and the SDF denies that any mortar attacks have been launched.

This had lead to a highly-unusual face-to-face meeting between high-ranking Russian and American military officers to try to keep this from getting completely out of control - but the tensions will remain and very likely increase.

That's because for one thing, political credit for defeating ISIS in the area is at stake. But the underlying and even more important issue is the one of ultimate influence and control in eastern and northern Syria, with Assad wanting it all back under his direct noxious control and the Syrian Kurds unwilling to give up the relative autonomy they have gained as a result of the civil war, as indicated by the fact that they are holding elections as part of a plan to set up a federal system in Syria.

So bluntly, it's hard to see how direct US-Russian conflict can be avoided forever, unless the two were to agree to let Assad and the Kurds fight it out on their own for control of eastern and northern Syria - which of course isn't really a solution for anyone except the Russian and American soldiers who would not die.

And which probably wouldn't be possible anyway because Turkey is sending troops into Idlib, supposedly as part of a "de-escalation" agreement for Syria but is really about suppressing Kurdish forces, who Turkey regards as "terrorists" amid fears that any autonomy for Syrian Kurds would increase calls for Turkish Kurds to have the same rights.

So let's see, Afghanistan, Syria, and um - oh yeah, Iraq. Even as our traditional national amnesia mixes with our short attention span, there is still fighting in Iraq:

US and "coalition" airstrikes continue in Iraq, including one along the Syria-Iraq border in western al-Anbar province on September 18 that according to the journalistic monitoring group Airwars killed at least six civilians and wounded up to two dozen more.

Meanwhile the Iraqi military says it is beginning an offensive to retake Hawija, one of two remaining  ISIS bastions in the country.

And as it loses ground, ISIS turns more to suicide attacks, including one on September 15 that killed more than 80 people in an attack on a restaurant frequented by Shia Muslim pilgrims in Nasiriyah in southern Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq is planning on a September 25 non-binding referendum on independence, a move which has gotten opposition from multiple fronts, each for their own reasons: The central government just doesn't like the idea of independence - to be fair, central governments never do - but also because any such state would be in possession of some of what are now Iraq's oil fields; Iran and Turkey, each because they fear it could promote ideas of autonomy or even independence among their own Kurdish populations; the US, for fear it would hurt Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi's re-election chances; and even UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who says it will "distract" from the battle against ISIS.

It is to the point where Turkey, Iran, and Iraq - who could hardly be considered mutual friends - have jointly agreed to consider unspecified "countermeasures" against Kurdish northern Iraq over the referendum.

The upshot is that on September 18 Iraq's Supreme Court ordered the suspension of all preparations for the referendum "until it examines the complaints it has received over this plebiscite being unconstitutional."

Which leaves Massoud Barzani, president of the KRG, in what one analyst called a "very delicate position" politically because if he's going to back down on this referendum, he needs to get something in return. The question is what that could be beyond vague assurances of the sort that the US, for one, has given the Kurds for years about how we really really do support greater Kurdish autonomy - someday, just not now. I don't think that would be good enough.

One last quick reminder on the "Yes, there are still wars" front:

On September 12 Human Rights Watch charged the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen with war crimes, with airstrikes on civilian targets carried out deliberately or recklessly in violation of international law. The group called on the UN to immediately return the coalition to its annual "list of shame" for violations against children in armed conflict.

And as I pointed out in July, the US is directly complicit in these war crimes, which Saudi Arabia would be unable to carry out without US assistance.

And so to slightly paraphrase what folksinger Mick Softley said of Vietnam in 1964, "and the wars drag on."

Updated with the the news that the Kurdish referendum took place as scheduled on September 25 in defiance of the Iraqi Supreme Court and the international pressure. Despite some earlier claims that holding the referendum was controversial even among the Kurds, turnout was estimated at 76% with (at that time) an hour of voting still to go. Turkey is now threatening to block the export of oil from northern Iraq (the pipeline passes through Turkey) and the Iraqi army has started "major maneuvers" with the Turkish army at the border, suggesting the possibility of a coordinated retaliation against the Kurds.

33.3 - Not Good News: SCOTUS reinstates TheRump' ban on refugees while case is on appeal

Not Good News: SCOTUS reinstates TheRump' ban on refugees while case is on appeal

And that Good News is extra nice to have because we also have some Not Good News regarding TheRump's bigoted attempts to ban refugees and many Muslims from entering the US.

Back in June, the Supreme Court agreed to take up the issue of those attempts and said that while the case was under consideration it would partially reinstate the ban, "partially" meaning the ban would only apply to people without "a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States."

The question ever since has been what that phrase means. TheRump's administration, to no one's surprise, interpreted it very narrowly. It said it covers only what amounts to little more than the immediate family of an American resident, just if you will one step out from that person, so only parents, children, siblings, and in-laws could enter and what's more, that refugees were not covered because a connection to a resettlement agency was not "a bona fide relationship" with a US entity.

On September 7, a panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling rejecting both those contentions. It expanded family connections to include grandparents, grandchildren, aunts, uncles, nephews, nieces, and cousins as well as saying that yes, a connection to a refugee agency is a bona fide relationship.

Which would appear to be Good News, but the Not Good News is that on September 12, the Supreme Court - without any recorded dissents - blocked the part of that ruling relating to refugees from going into effect wile the government appeals, leaving the 24,000 refugees affected by the ban in an ever-stretching legal limbo, with oral arguments not until October 10 and a decision not until who knows how long after that.

But there is some Good News among the Not Good News. The administration did not even challenge the other part of the 9th Circuit ruling, the part that smacked down the White House's restrictive definition of what constituted an immigrant having a relationship with someone already in the US. So that part of the ruling, with its expanded definition, stands. And so yes, that is Good News within the Not Good News.

33.2 - Good News: Teamsters Local is a "sanctuary" union; California is a "sanctuary" state

Good News: Teamsters Local is a "sanctuary" union; California is a "sanctuary" state

We've also got some Good News on matters related to immigration.

For one thing, on September 13, Teamsters Joint Council 16, an umbrella group of 27 union locals representing 120,000 workers around the New York City area and in Puerto Rico, passed a resolution declaring itself a "sanctuary union." It will not assist federal immigration agents in deporting its members and will proactively provide trainings, legal assistance, and organize support for immigrant Teamsters.

This followed the deportation of Eber Garcia Vasquez, who had been working as a Teamster for 26 years and was deported despite having no criminal record, reporting in once a year regarding his request for asylum, and doing everything else he was supposed to do.

So much for the "bad hombres" bull, as even some ICE agents are admitting, saying the practice is to arrest and deport people because they can, not because those people are a danger, and doing it even as Jeff "Not a racist, not me, nope" Sessions foams at the mouth about how sanctuary policies put us all in danger from "predators" because "a sanctuary city is a trafficker, smuggler, or gang member's best friend" while he repeatedly lies about a non-existent rise in violent crime, which in fact is at the lowest level in several decades.

But if Jeffykins is that upset about sanctuary cities, he must be absolute apoplectic about California, which on September 16 made itself a sanctuary state. Although the bill as passed is not as strong as the version first proposed, it still is the most wide-ranging such law in the US.

And if that didn't make him pop a few blood vessels, maybe this did: On September 15, a federal judge in Chicago issued a nationwide injunction against TheRump's effort to smack down sanctuary cities by withholding federal funds for public safety programs.

District Judge Harry Leinenweber found that penalizing cities for protecting undocumented immigrants was both unlawful and unconstitutional and that Sessions doesn't have the authority to impose such conditions on the program.

The judge made the injunction national because, he wrote in his ruling, there is "no reason to think that the legal issues present in this case are restricted to Chicago or that the statutory authority given to the attorney general would differ in another jurisdiction."

The decision follows one in California in April, also about the attempt to end aid to sanctuary cities, and a related one in Texas in July; that one addressed a Texas state law allowing police to inquire about a person's immigration status even during routine interactions. In both those cases, as the newest one in Chicago, justice for immigrants prevailed.

Which only makes sense, not only legally and morally, but logically: Police around the country often support sanctuary cities because that allows immigrants to report crimes without fearing retaliation or deportation, which contrary to the bigoted xenophobic ranting of such as Jeff Sessions, actually makes those cities safer.

33.1 - Good News: House pushes back against civil asset forfeiture

Good News: House pushes back against civil asset forfeiture

I have some Good News on a topic I have discussed before, but to get to it I have to give some background first.

I have talked before (for example, here) about civil asset forfeiture, a practice under which police can seize property when they merely suspect it's used in, or purchased with the profits from, criminal activity - and they can keep it even if the owner is not convicted or even charged with any crime, with the original owner under the almost-impossible-to-meet obligation of proving a negative, that the property had no connection to any crime.

The practice has become controversial over the past several years and nearly half of all states have passed some form of asset forfeiture reform as a result of a combination of public pressure and media investigations that revealed asset forfeiture abuses and their disproportionate impact on poor and minority residents.

As a result of that pushback, in January 2015, then-Attorney General Eric Holder said he was mostly ending the so-called "Equitable Sharing" program, one under which the feds could "adopt" a seizure made by state or local cops then give 80% of the value of what was seized back to the cops - which meant it was nothing but a scheme enabling state cops to get around state-level restrictions preventing them from profiting on such seizures.

That turned sour in July of this year when Attorney General Jeff "I am not a racist, I swear" Sessions said he was re-instituting Equitable Sharing.

Which brings us, finally, to the Good News: In one of those weird moments of joint concern, GOPpers focused on property rights on the one hand and liberals and progressives focused on privacy and the 4th amendment on the other joined together to offer amendments to the massive Fiscal 2018 appropriations bill moving through Congress, amendments to undo Sessions' move and to restrict others parts of asset forfeiture.

One of those other parts are "restructuring" laws which allow the IRS to seize the bank accounts of small business owners that frequently deposited or withdrew amounts under $10,000 under the assumption that was done to hide criminal activity. Again, no actual evidence was required and the feds could just keep what they took. On September 5, the House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill to undo those laws.

And on September 12, the House passed by voice vote - which indicates overwhelming support - a measure to block Sessions' roll-back of the Obama-era limitations on Equitable Sharing and lock those limitations into law.

And remember, these were not committee votes, this was the whole House. These provisions still have to get through the Senate, but opposition to civil asset forfeiture lives there as well, so while it's not sure thing, is surely is within the range of possibility.

And that is Good News.

What's Left #33

Left Side of the Aisle
for the weeks of September 22 - October 6

This week:

Good News: House pushes back against civil asset forfeiture

Good News: Teamsters Local is a "sanctuary" union; California is a "sanctuary" state

Not Good News: SCOTUS reinstates TheRump's ban on refugees while case is on appeal

And the wars drag on: Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen

Clown Award: Air Force chaplain Captain Sonny Hernandez

The little Thing: Airlines ripping off last-minute passengers is emblematic of capitalism

Saturday, September 16, 2017

32.7 - Outrage(s) of the Week

Outrage(s) of the Week

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

I had two possibilities this week, one of which is overall potentially much more significant that the other but that other one is just so cheap, so low, that I found it hard to choose.

So I'll lay them both out. You can decide.

The cheap, low one is from last month.

In November 2016, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services adopted a rule that prohibited nursing homes that accept Medicare or Medicaid funds from including forced arbitration language in their resident contracts.

Forced arbitration - I have talked about this before - is where in order to use a product or service you have to forswear your rights to go to court even as a member of a class action suit and agree to let any dispute be settled by a supposedly neutral arbiter chosen by the corporation whose income depends on being contracted by corporations to handle such arbitrations - which is a good part of the reason why corporations win 93% of the time.

More specifically, it means, in this instance, that in order to get admitted to the nursing home, prospective residents and their families would have to sign away their rights to take the corporation to court and agree that any dispute, even up to allegations of abuse, neglect, or sexual assault, would be settled by such a "neutral" arbiter. Don't agree? You don't get in. Take it or leave it; if you don't, there are others who will so we don't give a damn.

So as of last November, the rule became that nursing homes couldn't do that. Now, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services want to undo that rule and again leave the elderly and their caretakers, at a time when they are under great emotional stress, to the tender mercies of the nursing home industry, which of course has been lobbying and suing over the rule ever since it went into effect.

There is just no other word for this but "low." It is so unfeelingly despicable, so morally outrageous, so ... low, that I don't know what else to say about it.

So let's move on the other other case.

First, you may know this but just to be sure: An amicus brief - properly, amicus curiae, literally "friend of the court" - is a legal brief filed by someone who wants to address some aspect of a case but who is not a party to it. Usually they are filed as support for one side or the other.

The ACLU reports that the TheRump administration has filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court arguing - follow me here - that businesses have a constitutional right to discriminate against LGBTQ people, that a business could properly and rightly put out a sign saying "We Don't Sell To Gays" even if a state or Congress says such discrimination is illegal.

The case revolves around a baker who ran afoul of Colorado's anti-discrimination laws when he refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple and who now wants SCOTUS to free him from any consequences of that. And now the White House has weighed in on his side because they insist it is his constitutional right to be a bigot, not just personally, but in his business dealings.

What makes this especially outrageous - and dangerous - is that the baker and the White House are not even "just" making the hackneyed claim that it's a freedom of religion issue: The baker insists - with White House backing - that creating a wedding cake is an act of creative expression to the point where it makes him a participant in the event, in the celebration, and anyone attending would assume that the cake meant he approved of the union.*

Therefore, the argument goes, denying him the "freedom" to be a bigot, denying him the "freedom" to refuse to serve a same-sex couple, becomes "compelled speech," he is "compelled" to say he supports same-sex marriage, and compelled speech violates the First Amendment.

In other words, they are claiming that not only his freedom of religion is at stake, but his freedom of speech as well.

But where does this logic end? If it's a violation of First Amendment rights to say that you cannot discriminate against others, that you can't be a bigot in your dealings with the public, where does it end? How can it be unconstitutional to say you can't discriminate against LGBTQ people but constitutional to say you can't do it in the case of blacks? or women? or Jews? or Muslims? or anyone else you happen to dislike or disapprove of?

The White House brief tries to thread that needle, claiming that this exemption for bigotry would not apply to discrimination based on race by arguing, in effect, that discrimination based on race is really, really bad - but discrimination based on being LGBTQ? Eh, not so much.

Which just proves that they are as bigoted and un-American as the baker - and every bit as much an outrage.

*Because after all, whenever you see a wedding cake, don't you immediately think about the baker's opinion of the marriage? Yeah, me neither.

32.6 - Good News: Martin Shkreli in jail

Good News: Martin Shkreli in jail

Oh, one other bit of Good News, although I might more describe this as "satisfying news."

smirking prig Martin Shkreli
Smirking prig Martin Shkreli, who became famous for buying the rights to a life-saving medication then jacking up the price 5000%, had been free on bail while awaiting sentencing on a charge of securities fraud.

On Twitter, he offered $5000 for a sample of Hillary Clinton's hair, supposedly to "match sequences" related to a claim that the Clinton Foundation is "willing to kill to protect its secrets."

US District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto was unamused by this supposed "satire" and revoked Shkreli's bail. He's in prison now.

And yeah, that is at least satisfying news.

32.5 - Good News: Medicare for All bill introduced

Good News: Medicare for All bill introduced

The other Good News is that Bernie Sanders and 15 other Senators have - I'm very tempted to say finally - rolled out a Medicare For All bill.

The reason this is Good News - despite the bill's at best faint chances of passing - is that it shows that the idea of single-payer health insurance is becoming, has become, mainstream. It has had significant support among the public for some time - most polls put the percentage supporting it somewhere in the high 50s to the mid 60s - but getting it addressed seriously in the mass media has been problematic and the institutional Democratic Party has been downright dismissive: Remember when Hillary Clinton said it was "never" going to happen?

Now it's become a serious enough issue that that we are seeing party stalwarts snipe that the proposal isn't "serious" because it doesn't present a finely detailed plan with exact financing of how to structure the program or how exactly to institute it or to nitpick at the very idea of single-payer, or, on the other hand and most significantly, issuing blah-blah statements about how they really do support single-payer "in concept" but it's just "the wrong time" - without ever indicating what the "right" time would be except for an unspecified future someday because first "we have to elect more Democrats" - all of which means they are feeling the heat.

Now personally, I don't think Medicare For All goes nearly far enough, not only because there is much Medicare doesn't cover - although admittedly Sanders' proposal is considerably more extensive in what it covers - but also because for all its merits, single-payer is still health insurance, not health care, and I want to get away from that model. What I want is a National Health Service, based on neighborhood health centers and building up through community and regional hospitals to a few national hospitals dealing with the rarest and most complicated treatments.

There's obviously much more to the idea than that and maybe I'll get into some more details at some time, but the point here is that Medicare for All is not a final answer - but it damn well is a big improvement and damn well is a step in the right direction. So even though we know it won't pass, the very fact that there is such noise about it damn well is Good News.

32.4 - Good News: Senate committee overturns abortion gag rule

Good News: Senate committee overturns abortion gag rule

Okay, we have got a few bits of Good News or at least potentially Good News to tell you about.

In what has to be regarded as something of a surprise, the Senate Appropriations Committee moved to reinstate funding for the United Nations Population Fund and to overturn the global gag rule, a longstanding provision that bars US support for international health organizations that offer or even discuss abortion services or merely advocate for the liberalization of abortion laws, even if they were to use their own, non-US money to do so.

It's possible that one reason for this development is that TheRump expanded this so-called Mexico City Policy to include not only abortion, but a wide variety of health services, including family planning, nutrition, child health, HIV/AIDS, prevention and treatment of tuberculosis, malaria, infectious diseases, neglected tropical diseases, and even to water, sanitation, and hygiene programs. Instead of $575 million in family planning funds, it would cover $8.8 billion in global health aid, so the difference is substantial and proved a bridge too far for even a couple of GOPpers on the committee.

The vote was narrow, 16-15, and it still has to get through the whole Senate which is a whole other battle, but for the moment, savor an unexpected victory, especially as this comes at a time when Texas is applying for a Medicaid waiver to allow it to deny Medicaid reimbursement to Planned Parenthood, another GOPper attempt to financially cripple the organization and block women's access to birth control as The Handmaid's Tale creeps closer to reality.

32.3 - News on voter suppression

News on voter suppression

Next up, some news on voter suppression and voter rights.

First up is Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach-where-you-came-from, author of the nation's most notorious anti-immigrant law and long a champion of preventing people from voting, who latched onto a report by New Hampshire GOPpers to claim that "thousands" of illegal voters voted in New Hampshire in the fall of 2016.

The claim was based on the fact that a New Hampshire Secretary of State report said that 6540 people in New Hampshire took advantage of same-day registration there, using an out-of-state driver's license as proof of identity - but only 1014 of those people had obtained a New Hampshire driver's license as of August 30. This was enough for Kobach-where-you-came-from to claim that as many as 5500 people voted illegally.

It took Dave Weigal of the Washington Post just one hour to debunk the claim by showing that these "illegal voters" were in fact college students voting where they go to school while using as registration ID a driver's license from the state from which they came - which is entirely legal in New Hampshire.

But that didn't keep the thoroughly bogus claim of "voter fraud" from quickly echoing through the right-wing media world, from the Washington Times to Fox to Breitbart to Drudge to the National Review and more.

Kobach-where-you-came-from, it needs to be said, is a member, indeed he's vice-chair, of TheRump's also-thoroughly-bogus commission on "elections integrity." Another member is J. Christian Adams, who also backed the claim, as did Vice-President and Commission chair Mike NotWorthaFarthing.

Kris Kobach-where-you-came-from
And the commission appears ready to double-down on this concocted lie.

Meanwhile, it was revealed on September 12 that back in February a member of the right-wing Heritage Foundation had lobbied Attorney General Jeff "Not a racist! Really!" Sessions to exclude Democrats, "mainstream Republicans," and academics from the Commission.

When Heritage Fellow Hans von Spakovsky was asked point blank if he was author, he said no, only to have the Heritage Foundation, just two hours later, say "um, actually, yes, he was."

So Spakovsky is a liar who thinks only right-wingers should be on a commission about voting rights - and is also, you guessed it, on that very commission.

This Commission is worse than bogus, worse than an utter farce. It is outright danger to democracy and must be treated as one.

As if that wasn't enough bad news on this front, on September 12 the Supreme Court ruled by the unsurprising margin of 5-4, with the usual breakdown, to block two lower court rulings that had ordered Texas to redraw some congressional and legislative districts that were found to be racially discriminatory. This is while the Court "considers Texas' appeal."

The result is that Texas almost certainly will hold elections next year in racist districts. Just the way the right-wing likes it.

32.2 - Clown Award: Nigel and Sally Rowe

Clown Award: Nigel and Sally Rowe

So it seems appropriate that this brings us to our next item, the Clown Award, given as always for meritorious stupidity.

Appropriate because one of our nominees this week is right-wing talk radio host Mark Levin, who recently came out with what may be the stupidest denial argument ever.

On his August 30 show, he listed several scientists: Aristotle, Archimedes, Galileo, Tesla, Faraday, Newton, Pasteur, Einstein, and Edison, mispronouncing Archimedes as "Archie-medes," then asked "What do they all have in common?"

His answer was that none of them ever wrote about human-caused climate change, which, he said, proves that climate change is not about science but about importing "a foreign ideology."

Then we have Kimberley Paige Barnette, a candidate for mayor in Charlotte, NC, who had a big "Vote for Me!" post on her Facebook page which listed among her qualifications "Republican," "smart," "traditional," and "white."

She was running far behind the other candidates. Happily, she stayed there, finishing last.

Next, we have Rand Paul, auditioning for the next remake of Stephen King's "It," proposing that we pay for relief for victims of Harvey and Irma by making equivalent cuts in foreign aid, because after all why shouldn't we let those damn foreigners suffer.

Notably, we have Hillary Clinton, proving yet again that she still doesn't get it. In her new book, she again blames pretty much everybody except herself for losing to the most unpopular presidential candidate ever. Not only the expected targets like sexism and Bernie Sanders - I mean, apparently just that he ran in primaries against her was in and of itself just such a mean, horrible, destructive thing to do - but pretty much everyone and everything within reach.

In fact, she even blames what she calls her biggest gaffe - the bit about "putting coal mines out of business" - on Barack Obama, who she also blames for getting her to "go easy" on Sanders - as if the accusations and innuendos of racism and sexism were "going easy."

She even blamed the energized anti-Trump women-lead marches and demonstrations, asking why weren't they there for her, sniffle.

Nigel Rowe
The only reason she isn't the Clown - well, two reasons, because yes there was someone worse, but this is one - is that the institutional Democratic Party seems at long last to have had enough of her, with even people like Chuck Schumer, Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden criticizing her and there appears to be a general feeling, including among donors, that she should just go away. Here's hoping she will take the hint.

Which leaves this week's winners of the Big Red Nose and they are Nigel and Sally Rowe (I only have a picture of Nigel), the Bible-thumping Christian parents of a six-year-old boy attending an unnamed Church of England primary school near Portsmouth, England who are threatening to sue the school because it allowed a boy in their son's class to wear a dress.

They intend to argue that the school has acted without due regard to pupils and not respected their rights to bring up their children according to their biblical beliefs.

In other words, they are saying the school was obligated to insure that every other parent made sure that their own children acted in that school according to the Rowes' beliefs, and those parents' own religious (or lack of religious) beliefs be damned. Only the Rowes' beliefs mattered. And it's hard to imagine anything more transparently clownish than that.

And yet there is more. To top it off, they said it was "simply not the case" that they were demonstrating prejudice against transgender people - even as Nigel Rowe went on BBC to insist that boys are boys and girls are girls and the "way we are" is "within our DNA" and all this transgender nonsense is "a political agenda."

Nigel and Sally Rowe. Yeah. Clowns.

32.1 - Harvey, Irma, and global warming

Harvey, Irma, and global warming

The big news of late, at least in the US, has been the twin hits of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The economic cost of the devastation is estimated to exceed $200 billion. Some 106 were killed in the US plus at least 44 more dead in Caribbean, which was devastated particularly by Irma.

There are multiple ways to assist the victims, both in the US and the Caribbean and I urge you to explore them.

But I also have to mention the gorilla in room, which actually did get mentioned sometimes in the coverage of the storms, but which needs to be slammed home: anthropogenic global warming - or climate change, call it what you will, they mean the same thing.

Now, this does need to be noted at the top: You can't say that Harvey or Irma were caused by global warming in the sense that they would not have happened in the absence of global warming. We can't say that. Hurricanes are caused by weather conditions.

Hurricane Harvey
But here's the point: Hurricanes draw their strength from warm waters. So as the climate warms, as the oceans warm, there is more energy for storms to draw on.

So what we can say is that climate change makes storms like Harvey and Irma more likely. That is, we can't say that there will be more hurricanes - that actually is regarded as one of the weaker predictions of climate change - but we can say that the hurricanes we see are more likely to be stronger and more destructive: Remember that  Irma was the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the open Atlantic (that is, outside the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico).

Which leads directly to the next point: Despite the claims of the nanny-nanny naysayers to the contrary, we can say it is possible to attribute some extreme weather events to climate change.

Not necessarily individual storms, but extreme weather patterns - such as drought, heat waves, and floods - can in at least some cases can be attributed directly to climate change.

That's one of several significant findings in a climate change report by the staff of 13 federal agencies, which found that average temperatures in the United States have risen rapidly and drastically since 1980, that recent decades have been the warmest of the past 1500 years, and Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now.

The authors note that thousands of studies, conducted by tens of thousands of scientists, have documented climate changes on land and in the air that have been confirmed by many lines of evidence which together demonstrate that human activities are the primarily cause.

And people know it. Not just around the world, where we've come to expect that people are aware of the dangers and the need for action, but even in the US.

According to the latest survey from Morning Consult/Politico, two-thirds of registered voters are concerned about climate change, with 41 percent "very concerned" and another 26 percent "somewhat concerned."

But this is one really got me and shows how far perceptions have changed. A few months ago, the New York Times reported a survey finding that 69 percent of Americans support limiting global-warming-creating carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired power plants. But more than that, more than that, a majority of adults in every single congressional district in the country agreed. Even in deep coal country in places like Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Kentucky, a majority said yes, limit the emissions.

But still the nanny-nanny naysayers and their corporate backers drive Congress and the White House. That report from those 13 agencies was for the next National Climate Assessment, due in 2018. The draft was to be submitted on August 18. On August 20, TheRump disbanded the federal advisory panel overseeing the report.

This supposedly will not affect the current assessment, the one due next year, but it does mean that absent future action, it will be the last one as the determination of the nanny-nanny naysayers in and out of government to ignore reality grows even more determined and strident.

And our time is running out.

Link for the Pope Francis quote:

What's Left #32

What's Left
for the week of September 15-21, 2017

This week:

Harvey, Irma, and global warming

Clown Award: Nigel and Sally Rowe

News on voter suppression

Good News: Senate committee overturns abortion gag rule

Good News: Medicare for All bill introduced

Good News: Martin Shkreli in jail

Outrages of the Week
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