Sunday, October 22, 2017

36.6 - Special Comment: some sympathy and understanding for the white working class

Special Comment: some sympathy and understanding for the white working class

For the rest of the show, I'm going to be talking about something I've been meaning to raise for a time so I just decided I was going to go ahead and do it.

Although the thoughts involved are not new, the more immediate prompt was something that happened few weeks ago. Hillarybot Joy Ann Reid of MSNBC was on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah and was going on about how the Democrats should be the party of, I forget the term she used, outsiders or minorities or those without power, something along those lines. The idea is that it should be the party of women, minorities, LGBTQ folks, and so on, rather than dwelling on economic issues and the working class. When Noah said why can't you do both, she said, referring to the working class, "Because they're Republicans." That is, "Hey, working class people, we should write you off. You're a lost cause. We don't care about you and shouldn't waste any time on you."

She is far from the first to say this and she certainly wasn't the last either, that implied and sometimes explicit declaration often offered with an undercurrent of "Our time is coming; soon we will outnumber you."

At this point it's important to note that when people talk about "the working class" they are really - and usually state directly that they are, in fact - talking about the "white working class," with the emphasis on "white" rather than on "working class."

That is, they mean specifically white people who are working class - a group that, according to the Census Bureau and using the Bureau's definition of "working class," makes up 42 percent of the population of the US, more then any other single group.

So let's be blunt: When we talk about in effect writing off the working class, when we talk about pursuing so-called "identity" politics as opposed to - not, I repeat, in addition to or in conjunction with, but opposed to - so-called "lunchpail" politics, we are being profoundly politically stupid. When we think we can just write off 42 percent of the population, that is stupid.

And even more bluntly we are being profoundly immoral. When we say "Who cares about you, we don't care about you, in fact we shouldn't care about you," we are being immoral.

This notion of writing off the white working class is usually justified by saying they were the people who put TheRump over the top - actually they weren't, it was more upper-class whites that did that, but this is the argument, the argument that the white working class is, as one writer put it, "allergic to voting for Democrats" and that the reason for that, the real reason, the only reason, is racism. Period, full stop.

I say that is narrow-minded, insensitive, even cruel. So here I am going to have some words of sympathy, of understanding, for the white working class.

Right at top, we have to say that we have been through this before, we have had this discussion before: There were for example the "angry white male" of mid-1990s and the Tea Party of several years back.

So it's absurd to say we got TheRump because of bigotry with no other factors involved unless you are making the ridiculous assertion that this racism suddenly just appeared in 2016. But the racism was always there, it has been there, and despite the rise in hate crimes, despite the rise in overt bigotry, we as a  people are no more racist than before. The difference is that now it's more acceptable to show it, to express it.

But why? It can't be simply because TheRump started his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists, because that wouldn't have had the effect on what became his base unless it resonated with them in a way that wouldn't have in previous years - and,  more importantly, the increase in hate crimes began in 2015, before he declared.

For a "why" it would be better to look back to 2008, to the time when Barack Obama was attacked during the campaign for referring to people in western Pennsylvania as "clinging to their guns and their religion." The point was clumsily expressed and deserved a clearer explanation, but it was entirely valid: The people in the area were suffering real economic dislocations. Jobs were disappearing and the sort of stable communities on which those people had depended for generations were disappearing along with them. So of course they clung to their guns and their religion. When you are under pressure, constantly stressed, when the things you have counted on seem to be slipping away, you are going to cling ever more tightly to those things you have left, those parts of your world that still make sense, that you still can control. It is a natural, normal, entirely human reaction.

And let's be clear, those of the white working class are not without legitimate grievances: Their hopes are shrinking, their dreams for their family and their children are fading, they keep working harder and getting less for it - they are, in short, losing ground or at the very best, like Alice, running as fast as they can to stay in the same place. And it's been going on for decades.

Robert Reich recently said this:
Look at the past 44 years, 1972 to 2016. The average typical American is actually, adjusted for inflation, making less today than they were making in 1972.
That is, we have been working for 44 years to get exactly - nowhere.

Yes, yes, of course those of the white working class were not only ones affected, but the very fact of saying they were not the only ones means acknowledging that they were affected - that those grievances, those stresses, are real.

Meanwhile, things that they thought they could take for granted in social relationships - or,  more accurately, never thought about at all because privilege, the privilege which they possessed (and possess), is generally invisible to those that have it -  things that they thought they could take for granted have been subjected to almost constant assaults in which they are too often cast as the conscious villains of the piece rather than as what they are: the unwitting beneficiaries of standards and (pre-)judgments that profit them in the short run but damage them in the long run.

The result is that they feel pressured, frustrated, haunted by the suspicion that they've failed their families, that their efforts are unappreciated, and that they’re being blamed for things that "aren't my fault" - which combine to make them bitter and defensive; ready, even eager, to have someone to blame to relieve their own guilt and creeping despair.

Bill Clinton, of all people, expressed the idea well in a speech back in 1995, when the "angry white male" was the symbol du jour: Referring to middle-aged white men who when they were 20 looked forward to a "good life" of sending their kinds to college followed by a secure retirement, he said:
Now they've been working for 15 years without a raise and they think they could be fired at any time. And they go home to dinner and they look across the table at their families and they think they let them down. They think somehow, what did I do wrong? It's pretty easy for people like that to be told by somebody else in the middle of a political campaign with a hot 30-second ad, you didn't do anything wrong, they did it to you.
So the problem isn't that the "white working class"'s frustrations are without any legitimate cause. It's rather that the very people who are most responsible for that contracting future, for the sense of loss (and for the genuine loss of economic security) - that is, the corporate elite, the rich, the powerful, those who've selfishly gained from the economic trends of the past decades, those who benefit the most from the old oppressions and divisions - are the very people who are doing their damnedest (so far successfully) to get that white working class to point their fingers at anyone except them.

These people, who too many among us would dismiss and condemn, have been misguided. Misled. Lied to. Manipulated. Manipulated into directing their frustrations at the weak, not the strong; at the victims, not the victimizers; at the servants of the powerful (in and out of government), not the powerful themselves (mostly not in government).

The sad fact is, it's always easier to blame those weaker than yourself for reasons that are not only sociological but also psychological: In a foot race, you may resent or envy those in front of you, particularly if you see them pulling away - but it's those coming up from behind who make you feel a threat to your position. Meanwhile, challenging the legitimacy of the position of the leaders would require an adjustment in how the structure of the race itself is viewed. In other words, blaming the poor, blaming undocumented immigrants, blaming minorities, blaming affirmative action, blaming who- or whatever, that requires only calling them names. Blaming the rich requires re-thinking the nature of society. Which of those is more likely to be seized on by lost people who feel - and have been misled into feeling - their world no longer makes sense?

The thing is, social changes can cause confusion and resentment, but you get over it, you adjust and move on and, usually, the next generation isn't sure what all the fuss was about. Economic recessions, even depressions, cause genuine hardship, but you hunker down, you survive, and expect, in what I maintain is the real American dream, that at the end of the day your children will be at least a little better off than you were. Instead, we have seen an unremitting stagnation in personal income that has come to look as though it has no end, that this is no "slump" or "downturn" that will eventually reverse itself, that rather this is the way it is and is going to be, that it's not going to change, that work gets you nowhere and more work gets you more nowhere. Perhaps never before in our history, certainly never before in this century, has such a large portion of our population (and not just that white working class, either) looked at their children and felt that those children will wind up worse off than they themselves are - felt, that is, like failures.

What has this has done to that white working class? It's made them a little colder, a little harder, a little more inured to others' suffering, and a lot angrier. It's prompted them to regard as "unfair" anything that they don't see as benefitting themselves, personally and immediately. It's propelled them toward isolation from their own communities, fragmentation of any sense of mutual responsibility, and condemnation of anyone different or "other."

It's been demonstrated often enough by both psychological testing and historical analysis to be common wisdom that the one common factor that unites those who call themselves "conservative," crossing all lines of age, sex, race, nationality, and gender, is fear of change. The more change, the more conservatism grows. Conservatism, bluntly, is based on fear - the internal fear, the personal fear, that the world around you is no longer comprehensible. I've talked before of the idea of a "worldview," a way of organizing the world we perceive around us such that it makes sense. Our worldview significantly shapes our views on matters of philosophy and morality and it informs our positions on issues of public policy. What that worldview consists of can vary greatly from person to person, but every sane, sentient being has one; you can't function without it.

If the world, if society, around you is changing in ways you can't seem to understand, that don't fit your personal worldview, you can become disoriented and frightened - and that fear, that fear of the changes, will make you more conservative, angry at the prospect of change and with an increasing urge to show that anger, to have someone or something on which to focus that anger. (Which is also why people in general tend to become more conservative as they get older: The more "set in your ways" you are, the more used you are to things being a certain way, the more disturbing changes can seem.)

So why is all this relevant? Why does it mean that dismissing 42% of the population is not only politically stupid and immoral but also counterproductive?

Because people who feel economically secure can accept more change, can deal with, can adapt to change to a degree that others without that security can't. (Remember here we are not talking about changes you want or seek but about adapting to, accepting, changes you never sought and which are being thrust upon you.)

For an example, think of the 1960s. Think of social disruptions of civil rights movement, of the Indochina war, of emerging feminism, of the environmental movement (which at the time was charged with being a communist-inspired plot to "undermine the American way of life") and more. The divisions that were generated were not just between red and blue states or political parties or even between friends, these divisions were deep enough to rip up families. We had sit-ins, mass demonstrations, civil disobedience, riots, wars, terrorism.

But we survived and managed to get through it without generating the sort of calcified divisions that we are seeing today.

Why? One good reason is that the economy was pretty strong. You knew as member of the white working class that you could get job. Heck, you very likely had a job, one that you looked forward to staying with until retirement. In the six-year period of 1966-1971, unemployment was always below 5%; in the four years of 1967-1970, it was always below 4%. Except for a couple of years in the mid-1950s, it was the closest to the so-called "full employment" level of 3% in the past almost 70 years. And remember, it was not accompanied by that stagnation in personal income and unlike today, unemployment was not low because of a mass of low-paying, low- or no-benefit jobs.

And because you felt that security in your economic life, you were better able to handle the changes in society that you saw around you. Not to say you liked or even approved of those changes, but you could, at the end of the day, deal with them.

So, again: The racism has always been there. The difference now is that it is being justified, legitimized, exploited. We were no more racist in 2016 than we had been before, it was just more acceptable to show it - and there was more of an urge to have the anger focus on someone or something, just as with the "angry white male," just as with the Tea Party, because that white working class had felt so insecure for so long.

So we can't just say we got TheRump just because of bigotry without reference to the economy because it was the economy, it was that decades-long, growing frustration and feeling of failure and fear and anger that was lever, the crowbar, that was used to pry open the emotional gates containing the bigotry and use it as a weapon.

So when we propose to ignore 42% of the population, we are politically stupid. When we say we can't be bothered addressing the legitimate economic concerns of the working class in general or the white working class in particular, we are being immoral.

And when we ignore the reality that by not addressing those concerns we are enabling the reactionaries to marshal the emotional stresses arising from those concerns to their own greedy advantage we are doing damage to our own cause, that cause, the only one worth fighting for, being justice, political and economic and social.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

36.5 - We Are Not Alone: renewed hopes for peace in South Sudan

We Are Not Alone: renewed hopes for peace in South Sudan

There is another glimmer of hope in the on-going tragedy that is South Sudan. In the next couple of weeks government leaders, the opposition, and a cadre of armed groups are expected to come together to try to get peace talks restarted.

The peace process is supposed to be lead by the east African regional body known as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, or IGAD.

For the first time in months, a whiff of possibility hangs in the air - but we have heard this tune before, and much remains to be proven both to and by those involved.

Meanwhile, the past year has seen South Sudan’s humanitarian crisis sink to new lows. As armed conflict has spread, militia groups have fragmented and multiplied, making a comprehensive peace even more difficult. Some 7.6 million South Sudanese – about two-thirds of the entire population – depend on aid to survive and famine has been declared in two regions this year. Nearly four million are refugees.

The mission facing IGAD is enormous. But if the nations of the world will step up to back IGAD, it's not impossible.

And as Jan Egeland, Secretary-general of the Norwegian Refugee Council wrote recently, "The merry-go-round of peace initiatives over the years have failed. This next attempt must not."

36.4 - We Are Not Alone: Madagascar battles pneumonic plague

We Are Not Alone: Madagascar battles pneumonic plague

This is our new weekly feature, We Are Not Alone - a reminder that we are not the only nation on this planet and there are billions of people who have their own concerns without caring if it affects us or not.

First up this week, Madagascar is fighting an outbreak of pneumonic plague. There had been 805 cases reported by October 10; 74 people had already died.

Madagascar has a century of experience battling bubonic plague, which is transmitted by fleas jumping from infected rats to humans. The country sees about 400 cases a year, which is half the world's total. It is fatal about the half the time, if untreated, which it can be with antibiotics.

But this is pneumonic plague, spread through coughing, sneezing, or spitting and is almost always fatal if untreated. In some cases, it can kill within 24 hours.

World health officials, including the WHO and the Red Cross, and the government of Madagascar, have rushed out resources to fight the outbreak, but obstacles, especially in getting aid to the rural highlands, remain and the death toll is likely to mount.

36.3 - Not Good News: Americans increasingly ignorant of Constitution and ready to jettison free press

Not Good News: Americans increasingly ignorant of Constitution and ready to jettison free press

A new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll found that nearly half of voters, 46 percent, believe the news media fabricate - just make up out of thin air - news stories about TheRump and his administration, a figure that includes 76% of GOPpers, 44% of independents, and 20% of Democrats. And that doesn't even include the "undecideds," who are in effect saying "maybe they do." Maybe they just get in a room and just make stuff up about poor beleaguered TheRump.

Well, what should be do about such terrible lies? According to a poll from The Economist from a couple of months ago, they should be punished, as a majority of GOPpers and a plurality of independents in the poll agreed that courts should be able to fine news outlets that publish "biased or inaccurate" stories and even Democrats only managed a roughly even split on the question. Worse, significant minorities, including nearly 20% of Democrats, said in such a case the courts should be able to shut down a media outlet.

Maybe we shouldn't be surprised by these frightening results: Last month, the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania reported on the results of a survey of Americans' knowledge of the Constitution.

Among the results:
- 53 percent incorrectly think that undocumented immigrants do not have any rights under the Constitution;
- 37 percent can’t name any of the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment and only 3 percent can name all five (speech, religion, press, assembly, and petition); and
- only 26 percent can name all three branches of the federal government.

Everybody go out and get a copy of Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm - and read it.

Not Good News? Really Depressing News is more like it.

36.2 - Good News: memorial fund for Philando Castile wipes out school lunch debt

Good News: memorial fund for Philando Castile wipes out school lunch debt

More Good News, this one being under the subheading of Feel-Good News.

Philando Castile was the unarmed man shot and killed by a cop in July 2016 after being pulled over supposedly for a broken tail light. He worked as a nutrition services supervisor at the J.J. Hill Montessori school in St. Paul, Minnesota and was known sometimes to help pay for student lunches with his own money.

So some folks started a fund to provide money to make sure students could pay for lunch. Their goal was to raise $5000, but by October 13 they had raised $72,000 - enough to entirely wipe out student lunch costs for the whole student body for the whole year.

Meanwhile, Unity Autoworks, located in a suburb of the Twin Cities, has announced that they "will be replacing tail light and license plate bulbs indefinitely for free" because "a defective bulb should never be a reason to be murdered."

Okay, it's not really a case of making lemonade out of lemons, but at least it's in the vicinity.

36.1 - Good News: TheRump's new travel ban blocked

Good News: TheRump's new travel ban blocked

It's happened again. TheRump lost again. On October 17, US District Judge Derrick Watson blocked the latest version of TheRump's bigoted travel ban, which was supposed to go into effect this week.

The blocked ban, unlike the previous version, which was time-limited, was open-ended. And whereas the previous ban had targeted people from six Muslim-majority countries, this one targeted people from Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Chad, and North Korea, as well as certain government officials from Venezuela.

It was suspected in some quarters that the differing list of countries, most specifically the inclusion of North Korea and some officials from Venezuela, was meant to fool the courts into accepting that this wasn't really about barring Muslims.

If so, in the case of Judge Watson, it didn't work.

Watson, who also ruled against TheRump's earlier ban, said the new ban "suffers from precisely the same maladies as its predecessor: it lacks sufficient findings that the entry of more than 150 million nationals from six specified countries would be 'detrimental to the interests of the United States,'" and so violates federal immigration law.

This still has to make its way through higher courts, but we are off to a Good News start.

By the way, as a sort of sidebar to this, we have another example of how we are failed by the mainstream media.

The Supreme Court recently dismissed a suit related to the earlier ban on the grounds that the time frame for that ban had elapsed so it was no longer in effect and so the case was moot. It could have chosen to rule on the merits even so, but the decision to avoid ruling on a contentious issue when there was no real need is not surprising.

Despite that - despite the fact that the matter was dropped because the court said it was moot, most headlines kept describing the case not as moot but as "dismissed" and some even referred to it as a "win for Trump."

Friday, October 20, 2017

What's Left #36

What's Left
for the weeks of October 20 - November 2, 2017

This week:

Good News: TheRumps new travel ban blocked

Good News: memorial fund for Philando Castile wipes out school lunch debt

Not Good News: Americans increasingly ignorant of Constitution and ready to jettison free press

We Are Not Alone: Madagascar battles pneumonic plague

We Are Not Alone: renewed hopes for peace in South Sudan

Special Comment: some sympathy and understanding for the white working class

Sunday, October 15, 2017

35.6 - We Are Not Alone: Burma

We Are Not Alone: Burma

I have been meaning for some time to take a more internationalist view here. Too often we, not just me but all the political shows and podcasts and blogs and whatnot, tend to focus almost exclusively on domestic issues and address the rest of the world only when and only in terms of how events there affect us. We act like we are alone on the earth.

But we're not and so I've decided on a new weekly feature, called, appropriately enough, We Are Not Alone. The first thing back from break each week, we are going to spend at least a couple of minutes addressing some event or events beyond our borders even, perhaps especially, if they don't affect us.

This week, it's Burma, also known as Myanmar.

Rakhine province in southwest Burma has been the site of ethnic cleansing directed at the Rohingya, a stateless Muslim people. The UN human rights office has blamed the Myanmar military for brutally driving well over a half million Rohingya from northern Rakhine state into Bangladesh in the past several weeks, torching homes, crops, and villages to prevent those fleeing from returning.

There are survivor accounts of mass killing and rape as part of that ethnic cleansing.

Rohingya are not classified as an indigenous minority in Myanmar and so are denied citizenship under a law that links nationality to ethnicity. That is, they are not just not citizens, they are specifically barred from becoming citizens.

This is part of what to means to be stateless: There is no place where they can say "we are part of this nation." By comparison, the Kurds, for example, don't have a Kurdistan, but they are not stateless: The Kurds in Iraq may want independence, they do want independence, but even so they are citizens of Iraq. The same is true in Iran and Turkey. In Turkey, the Kurds may be accused of being terrorists, but they still are a recognized group in Turkey.

Not so the Rohingya. Despite having lived in Rakhine province for generations, they are regarded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They face restrictions and discrimination and are derided by much of the wider, largely Buddhist population of Burma, which has experienced a surge in Buddhist nationalism recently.

The Myanmar army's onslaught in Rakhine was triggered by a small-scale attack on clearly military targets in August by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, which is demanding full citizenship rights and recognition of Rohingyas as an indigenous community. Even before the government offensive, the small, lightly armed ARSA was only capable of hit-and-run raids - which is why it would be a more accurate description to say the August raid "was used to justify" rather than "triggered" the army's brutal response.

By the way, a quick sidebar to explain the Burma-Myanmar thing. The formal name of the country is Myanmar, a name that was imposed by the ruling military junta in 1989. Burma is the historical name and the one used by the common people. You'll find both names used pretty interchangeably except in formal legal settings and, usually, in reference to the military.

Anyway, in what was billed as the first part of a major push for improved relations among followers of different faiths in Burma, mass interfaith rallies were held in several places on October 10, attended by Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, and Christian leaders calling for peace and understanding.

Which sounds good: pleas for amity and reconciliation including in Rakhine. Except for one thing: These rallies were organized by the National League for Democracy, which is the ruling political party in the country. These were government-sponsored, government-organized rallies intended to push back against the international condemnation of the government by a show of gushing, gooey appeals to "unity" and in some cases directly defending the government and attacking its critics as lacking "understanding."

They existed, that is, to promote a message equivalent to an event in the US responding to issues of racism by solemnly intoning the greeting-card sentimentality of "All lives matter." The insistence - there as here - is that the one thing you can't do is hold anyone responsible.

It's not good enough. The government - and particularly the army that despite the outward frame of democracy, still is effectively in charge - is responsible. And should be held accountable.

There is some talk, vague, but talk, along those lines: The European Union and the United States are supposedly considering targeted sanctions aimed specifically at top generals of the Myanmar military, sanctions that were not even on the table a month ago. There is also some talk of increased humanitarian aid to Rakhine province.

Which unfortunately will be hard to do because the government will not allow international observers or aid workers into the area. Which very likely in a good indication of what those observers and workers would find, including seeing who is to blame.

35.5 - Outrage of the Week: backlash against kneeling NFL players

Outrage of the Week: backlash against kneeling NFL players

Next up, one of our regular features; this is the Outrage of the Week.

This week, the outrage revolves around the backlash against the NFL players who are players taking a knee during the pre-game playing of the national anthem, or are not coming onto the field until after it's played, or some other quiet protest.

It started with Colin Kaepernick, who did it as a quiet personal protest, saying he could not stand with his hand over heart in light of the repeated killings of young black men by police.

The protest caught on and spread. We have seen whole NFL teams kneel as well as teams at other levels; a few times we have even seen NFL owners joining the team.

What we have also seen, however, is pushback from government officials and those in the media who duly parrot the claptrap that such protests are "disrespectful," even "insulting" to the anthem and even somehow to the US flag.

Which is bullshit. The protests cannot be "disrespectful" or "insulting" because they are not about the anthem and they are not about the flag.

They are about police brutality.

They are about police murders of unarmed young black men.

They are about the bigotry of automatically seeing black men as thugs, as menacing, as dangerous.

They are about racism as expressed through the behavior of our police forces.

They are not about the anthem, even less are they about the flag. The anthem is just the organizing point, the symbol around which the protest is organized, not the target. Saying the protest is "about" or "directed at" or "disrespectful to" the anthem is like saying a march in Washington, DC is protesting Pennsylvania Avenue. It's like saying if there is a protest at the White House, that protest is not about some law or social condition or some policy of the current administration, it's about - and "disrespectful" to - the building itself and through that is "insulting" the very idea of the presidency, indeed the very idea of our constitutional form of government.

It's like saying that when Martin Luther King made his famous "I have a dream" speech in August 1963 that he was protesting the Lincoln Memorial. (After all, remember that he turned his back on the statue of Lincoln to give that speech!)

If that sounds silly, the idea that the NFL protests are "disrespecting" anything other than racism is equally silly.

Those who raise the claim know it. They know it. What they are trying to do is not to honesty critique the protests, they are trying to change the subject - because they don't want to deal with the actual topic. They don't want to deal with painful truths involved so they want to demonize the protest by demonizing the protesters.

They are, that is, lying to you, actively trying to mislead you. Lying to you to avoid facing their own bigotry and the bigotry they support though their official duties and their media maunderings and lying to you to enable you to avoid facing your own bigotry.

That's what the pushback is about: not "respecting" the anthem or the flag but about ignoring racism.

And there's one other aspect of this, one that I find particularly infuriating: the claim that kneeling for the anthem is "disrespectful" to "our soldiers," to "our fighting men and women."

Soldiers? Kneeling is wrong because it's disrespectful to soldiers? The anthem, the flag, is directly connected to soldiers?

That is positively un-American. Equating the anthem or the flag with one particular group - any particular group - is un-American. Period.

But this is worse: This is symbolically equating soldiers - symbolically equating the military - with America. Saying the military equals America.

You don't see it? You don't see what the problem is? Try changing "soldiers" to any other group. Say that kneeling during the anthem is insulting to teachers, who after all we call "the guardians of our future." It's insulting to hard-working American union members. It's insulting to peace and social justice activists, who raise the standard of free speech, free association, and the right to petition the government. It's insulting to civil rights lawyers, who are the voices of justice in the courts.

Does any of that sound like it should be the standard? (Remember that there are 2.7 times as many active teachers as active duty military.)

You still don't see it? What if we picked yet another group and said that it was insulting to whites? That seeing these (mostly black) NFL players kneeling during the anthem is insulting to white people?

Does that sound appropriate? No? Then why is it okay to single out soldiers as who are represented by the anthem, by the flag? In fact, what does that say about us as a people?

That threatens to get me off into a different topic, to our devotion to the military and to the militarism that runs though our national veins, so let me leave it for now except to say once more that saying the players' protest is insulting to soldiers, and so identifying soldiers with the anthem and the flag, is flatly un-American.

Let's get back to the actual target of the protest, because on that, the facts speak for themselves.

First off, know that there is no definitive data on the number of people killed by police and the government does terrible job of keeping track. So there is some play in the numbers, but the trends they show are unmistakable.

For one, blacks are far more likely to be killed by cops than whites are. In fact, compared to their percentage of the population, blacks are 5.5 times more likely to be killed by cops than whites are.

Black males aged 15-34 are nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by cops.

Black males aged 15-19 are 21 times more likely to be killed by cops than white males of the same age group.

That racial disparity persists among unarmed victims: Counting all racial minorities, not just blacks, an unarmed minority person is nearly three times as likely to get shot and killed by police than an unarmed white person. When you consider just African-Americans, the rate is five times higher.

And no, it has nothing to do with the crime rate and all the "well, they commit more crimes" mutterings: Multiple studies have found no correlation between police shootings and the local crime rate.

And its not because police are in such terrible danger that they have to repeatedly defend themselves in some supposed war:

Again, there is some play in the numbers, but according to, as of October 12, 931 non-cops had been shot and killed by ops in the US in 2017.

According to, as of that same day - October 12 - the figure was 941.

According to the Washington Post, using a more cautious methodology, the number was 770 as of October 8, which the paper noted is more than at the same point in 2016.

Meanwhile, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page, which is devoted to memorializing police who died in the line of duty, there had been, as of October 9, just 37 cops shot and killed by non-cops in the whole US in 2017, a number that is, the page noted, 16% below what it was at the same point a year earlier.

Cops shot and killed by non-cops, down. Non-cops killed by cops, up. And a kill ratio of somewhere between 21:1 and 25:1.

Here's a comparison for you, another way of looking at this: In 2016, 266 of the 1093 killed by cops were black. That's 24.4% of the total. If the proportion so far in 2017 is the same, then using lowest figure, the one from the Washington Post, 188 blacks have been killed so far this year by cops. Which means that cops have killed five times as many blacks as the total number of cops killed by everyone, blacks, whites, Hispanics, and anybody else.

There comes a point, one we are or at least by all that's rational should be well beyond, where despite the desperate fantasies such as the recent invention by an FBI Terrorism Task Force of a new threat of "black identity extremism" concocted out of the deaths of eight cops in six incidents spread over three years;

there comes a point where no honest person, no one with basic human decency and cognitive facilities outmatching those of a rabbit;

there comes a point where you simply cannot deny the truth reflected in these numbers. You simply cannot chalk these numbers up to any cause other than flat out racism.

And the fact that there are voices, powerful voices in government and media, that would do and are doing exactly that, that would and do deny that reality, that would and do insistently, persistently lie to you about those trying to raise awareness of that reality, that fact shows that those voices lack that honesty, lack that basic human decency, and that is the deepest sort of outrage.

35.4 - Not Good News: Dakota Access pipeline to continue operations during review

Not Good News: Dakota Access pipeline to continue operations during review

Unfortunately, this week we also have some Not Good New.

You remember, I surely hope, the activism and protest around the Dakota Access Pipeline, a 1,200-mile oil pipeline to be part of the system to get tar sands oil from Canada across the Midwest and ultimately to the Gulf Coast.

Still, a bit of history to get you up to date. The planned route of the pipeline, being built by a corporation called Energy Transfer Partners, crossed the Missouri River just upstream from the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota, threatening lands sacred to the tribe as well as its source of drinking water.

The outpouring of support that lead to the mass protests at the site were undoubtedly part of what moved the Obama administration to deny the final permits to cross the river and to promise a full environmental review that considered the Tribe's treaty rights as well as alternative routes.

And of course almost immediately on taking office, TheRump reversed all that and gave the permits.

The Tribe filed a lawsuit to challenge this decision, but construction went ahead and was completed while the case was proceeding.

In June, just weeks after pipeline operations had begun, the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the Army Corps of Engineers had not complied with environmental review laws before issuing permits for the pipeline to cross the Missouri River. The court ordered the Corps to do a new analysis of critical issues it hadn't properly addressed.

Here's where the Not Good News comes in: The court also ordered a separate briefing to assess whether the pipeline should be shut down while this so-called "remand" process is going on.

On October 11, the DC District Court ruled that the pipeline can keep operating. It rejected the claim that shutting it down would cause substantial economic harm to the company, noting that Energy Transfer Partners got itself into that situation by starting operations while the case was being litigated, but also ruled that because it is "possible" that when the remand is complete the Corps can justify its decision not to conduct a full review, the gunk can keep moving.

The Tribe had also asked for additional measures to reduce the risk of oil spills; that is still before the court.

For now, the Tribe intends to focus on the remand process and has a team of experts assisting it in providing input. The Corps of Engineers has stated that remand process should be complete by April 2018 and the court admonished the Corps not to treat this process as a "bureaucratic formality" but to give "serious consideration" to the errors identified by the court.

So the fight goes on, but right now the news is not good.

35.3 - Good News: cop who dragged nurse from hospital is fired

Good News: cop who dragged nurse from hospital is fired

Finally for this week, do you remember Alex Wubbels? She is the nurse who in July was arrested and physically dragged out of a hospital by a Salt Lake City cop named Jeff Payne after she - entirely properly - refused to let him take blood from an unconscious patient without a warrant.

Video of her arrest went viral and she was quickly released without charges.

The Good News here is that on October 10, Jeff Payne was fired - and to top it off, his supervisor, who told him to go ahead and arrest Wubbels, was demoted from lieutenant to regular officer.

Wubbels did have three advantages here: It was recorded - which while too often making no difference, without the video nothing would have been done here - she is white, and she is a nurse, a profession with a high degree of respect among Americans.

While none of that protected her from the mistreatment, together they did mean that, as too rarely happens, there were consequences for being a bad cop. And that is Good News.

35.2 - Good News: anti-nuclear weapons group wins Nobel Peace Prize

Good News: anti-nuclear weapons group wins Nobel Peace Prize

The 2017 Nobel Peace Prize has gone to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), a coalition of grassroots non-government groups in more than 100 nations.

The award going to a relatively a little-known group was something of a surprise, leading some to suspect that it was intended as a kick in the shin to TheRump over his bellicosity over North Korea and the expectation that he will try weasel out of the Iran nuclear weapons deal.

The Nobel committee denied that, saying it was a call to states that have nuclear weapons to fulfill their earlier pledges to work towards nuclear disarmament.

Either way, the renewed attention to the threat of nuclear war, a threat which has never actually gone away and now appears to be increasing, is welcome and in helping to generate that attention, this is Good News.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

35.1 - Good News: majority of GOPpers say society should accept homosexuality

Good News: majority of GOPpers say society should accept homosexuality

Starting off with some Good News, a recent survey by the Pew Research Center included a notable result: For the first time, a majority - 54% - of Republicans and Republican leaners say homosexuality should be accepted by society.

By contrast, only 35 percent of that same group felt that way in 2007.

Democrats and Democratic leaners, not too surprisingly, were more emphatic: 83 percent said homosexuality should be accepted by society.

On a related noted, because it also comes under the heading of LGBTQ rights, Stiles Zuschlag is a 17-year-old Maine boy who had been attending Tri-City Christian Academy in Somersworth, New Hampshire.

Stiles Zuschlag
That all changed when he came out as transgender in 2015. The school knew of his gender change, but he wanted to be clear that he should be addressed as Stiles and no longer as Alija.

So he spoke to a counselor at the school in August, who gave him an ultimatum: He had to confess his sins, renounce that he was a male, stop taking testosterone treatments, and go to Christian counseling - or find a new school.

So this year he found a new school, a public one: Noble High School, in North Berwick, Maine.

When an email began circulating asking for nominees for the position of this year's homecoming king, as a joke he asked for his name to be put in. You know what's coming: Not only was he nominated, on October 6, he won.

It's a small thing, even a very small thing; nonetheless, it's another little sign of progress, of acceptance of people for who they are. And just like GOPpers gradually coming around, that is Good News.

Friday, October 13, 2017

What's Left #35

What's Left
for the week of October 13-19, 2017

This week:
Good News: majority of GOPpers say society should accept homosexuality

Good News: transgender boy forced to leave Christian school; elected homecoming king at new one

Good News: anti-nuclear weapons group wins Nobel Peace Prize

Good News: cops who dragged nurse from hospital is fired

Not Good News: Dakota Access pipeline to continue operations during review

Outrage of the Week: backlash against kneeling NFL players

We Are Not Alone: Burma

Saturday, October 07, 2017

34.10 - The meaning of the White House response to Puerto Rico

The meaning of the White House response to Puerto Rico

Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on Sept. 20. It was the worst storm to hit the island in 90 years.

The hurricane completely destroyed the island's power grid, leaving all 3.4 million residents without electricity. Communication networks were crippled, with 95% of cell networks down and 85% of above-ground phone and internet cables knocked out. Many interior roads were impassable. Cities were flooded.

As a measure of how bad it was, as of October 5, two weeks after the storm hit, over 90% of the island was still without electricity and nearly half the inhabitants still did not have access to safe drinking water. The economy has come to a virtual halt because only a quarter of the island's ATMs are dispensing cash - and virtually none of the limited number of stores that are even open are in a position to accept credit cards.

And what did The Rump do? He delayed sending the Navy ship Comfort, an ocean-going, complete medical facility fashioned out of a supertanker, on the flimsy grounds that it could not get close enough to any port to avoid using helicopter support to get patients to and from the ship - which is what the Comfort usually does! It was a damn supertanker, for pity sake. It normally can't get closer than a mile or two offshore and has a helipad for just that reason.

The Comfort didn't finally arrive in Puerto Rico until October 3.

It took him eight days to waive the Jones Act, a 1920 law requiring that goods going by ship from one US port to another be on US-flagged vessels. By comparison, in the case of Hurricane Irma, that Act was waived even before Irma made landfall in Florida.

And when, more than a week after the storm hit, the mayor of San Juan went on the media to beg for more help, he responded in tweets that it was a partisan attack and that there was "such poor leadership by the mayor and others who are not able to get their workers to help. They want everything done for them when it should be a community effort."

And then wrapped that up by saying during his self-congratulation tour of the island that Hurricane Maria was not a "real catastrophe" like Hurricane Katrina.

So in short, TheRump is saying that Puerto Ricans are a people who whine about nothing, don't want to work, and want everything done for them.

My gosh man, why not just hang a sign around your neck reading I am a racist and be done with it?

It's long past dog whistles, it's foghorns. It's not winks and nods, it's billboards. It's like an episode of "Name That Tune" except instead of giving hints by playing just a couple of notes the band plays on and on and louder and louder until everyone's head aches with the noise.

We all know it. You base surely knows it and probably doesn't care. You are a slimy, racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, white supremacist bigot. We all know it - so why not just get it over with and say it and stop wasting our time with your halfhearted evasions?

34.9 - For the Record: UN death penalty vote, IRS no-bid contract, Warren torches Equifax executive, Yahoo data breach growing

For the Record: UN death penalty vote, IRS no-bid contract, Warren torches Equifax executive, Yahoo data breach growing

Next up, we have one of our occasional features. This one is called For the Record, where we cover a few things quickly just to make sure the don't get ignored.

So first, For the Record: On September 27, the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on the death penalty. It called on countries "that have not yet abolished the death penalty" not to use it for "crimes" such as apostasy, blasphemy, adultery, and consensual same-sex relations; to ensure that it is not applied in a discriminatory fashion; and not to apply it to persons with mental or intellectual disabilities or who are under 18 or to pregnant women.

That is, it didn't even call for an end to the death penalty but only that those nations that have it do not apply it unjustly. The resolution passed 27-13. The US voted no.

Note that homosexuality is illegal in over 70 countries. In 13 of them, the penalty is death.

For the record: On September 30, the IRS issued a $7.25 million no-bid contract for services to "verify taxpayer identity" and "assist in ongoing identity verification and validations" at the IRS.

The contract was given to Equifax.

For the record: As a natural follow-up that, at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs on October 4. Sen. Elizabeth Warren scorched former Equifax CEO Richard Smith, who retired after the September disclosure of a massive security breach that exposed personal information of nearly 150 million Americans.

She forced Smith to admit that Equifax actually profits from data breaches because they create business opportunities for the company to sell services such as credit monitoring to people who now face increase risk of fraud and identity theft.

She was even able to quote Smith as calling fraud a "huge opportunity for us" and noted that Equifax's profits had gone up 80% since 2013 despite having admitted to four separate data breaches in that same time.

Smith didn't even try to refute Warren's argument, perhaps because he doesn't care: Despite being CEO at the time of the breach, he still will collect a $90-million retirement payout.

Finally, For the record: On the other hand, perhaps Smith could have tried to insist the breach was no big deal: After all, it only affected nearly 150 million people.

Meanwhile, the number determined to be affected by Yahoo's 2013 data breach keeps growing. It's now thought to encompass all user accounts, which brings the number of compromised accounts to something like three billion.

34.8 - Footnote: media adopts right-wing framing

Footnote: media adopts right-wing framing

As an  important Footnote to that, I have many times expressed my frustration with the fact that we are uninformed, malinformed, and misinformed by our major news media. What I just spoke about raises another example.

CBS News, which is about as mainstream as you can get, had an article about that anti-choice bill the House passed, banning abortions after 20 weeks. It ended this way, and this is a direct quote:
Several anti-abortion groups, who argue fetuses are capable of feeling pain at 20-weeks, support the bill, while pro-abortion voices have spoken out against it.
Do you have to adopt the right-wing frame?

Do you feel some obligation to do so? Or are you just too lazy and incompetent to realize it?

Nobody is "pro-abortion!" I defy you to find one person anywhere, anytime, who went around advocating abortions, who went around saying "Abortions are great! You should have one! In fact, every woman should have at least one!"

Media, get a freaking clue! You can call people pro-choice, you can call them pro-freedom, you can call them, pre-abortion rights, pro-reproductive rights, pro-women having the power to decide about their own bodies, but you can't call them "pro-abortion" because no one is!

"Pro-abortion" is the right-wing framing of the issue, trying to stir up visions of hordes of women cavalierly having abortions as casually - and as frequently - as they change their socks. It is just another example of the frequent failures of our news media that they so thoughtlessly embrace that framing.

34.7 - Outrage of the Week: payments to "safety net" hospitals cut, Children's Health Insurance Program expired, due to Congressional inaction

Outrage of the Week: payments to "safety net" hospitals cut, Children's Health Insurance Program expired, due to Congressional inaction

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

Over the summer and into early fall, the Senate found time to spend weeks in yet another attempt to undo whatever good the Affordable Care Act has done and then after that failed they found weeks more to try again with an even worse bill - the Graham-Cassidy catastrophe - and when that failed they still found time to talk about trying again later.

That, the Senate had time for.

The House found time to pass a bill on October 3 banning abortions after 20 weeks and imposing a five year prison sentence on women who attempt to get abortions after that time and the doctors who would do them.

The bill is based on the lie that 20-week old fetus can feel pain, a lie that keeps circulating even though the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists considers the case to be closed as to whether a fetus can feel pain at that stage in development: Simply put, a fetus at 20 weeks just does not have enough of a brain to perceive pain and won't until about 27 weeks.

More: The bill was passed despite fact that its chances of passing the Senate, where it would have to overcome the 60-vote barrier, are at most negligible.

Even so, that the House had time for.

You know what they didn't have time for?

The Disproportionate Share Hospitals payments, for one thing. They are a part of Medicaid and Medicare which since the 1980s have offset a portion of the uncompensated care hospitals provide to patients every year.
But because of a quirk in the way Obamacare was implemented, those payments were facing $43 billion in cuts over the next few years, cuts set to kick in on October 1.

And safety net hospitals - which care for low-income patients as part of their mission - will, naturally, be hit the hardest: They provide on average eight times more uncompensated care than other hospitals - because again, part of their mission is to care for those who are the least likely to be able to pay.

Congress was supposed to pass an extension of those payments to head off the cuts, which, again, will hit the neediest the hardest. But they were too busy with bullshit to find the time to deal with it. That, they didn't have time for.

CHIP is the Children's Health Insurance Program. It provides matching funds to states for health insurance for families with children, geared to cover uninsured children in families with incomes too low to afford insurance but too high to receive Medicaid.
About 9 million children have health insurance thanks to the program, which is a big part of the reason that the US has - or at least had - almost eliminated the specter of children without health insurance.
It expired on September 30. Because Congress was too busy with bullshit to renew it. That, they didn't have time for.

Now I have to add that because the program piggybacks on Medicaid, this doesn't mean states will run out of money for the program immediately. But 10 states are projected to run out of matching funds by the end of the year and 22 more and Washington, DC will hit that wall by March if Congress does not act very soon.
We'll have to see if they can find the time. In the meantime, this is and will remain an outrage.

34.6 - Clown Award: Sen. Ron Johnson

Clown Award: Sen. Ron Johnson

And that in fact leads us right into one of our regular features, the Clown Award, given as always for meritorious stupidity.

It leads us in because our first nominee this week is Pat Robertson, who attributed the Las Vegas mass shooting to "disrespect for authority" including, particularly, disrespect for President TheRump.

Quoting Robertson,
we have disrespect for authority - there is profound disrespect of our president, all across this nation. They say terrible things about him - it's in the news, it's in other places.
He also blamed, among other things, "disrespect for our national anthem," which apparently means that Stephen Paddock saw NFL players kneeling for the anthem and went "That's it! Their disrespect justifies me killing a whole bunch of people."

I thought all this was pretty clownish but thent I thought "Does anyone still take Pat Robertson seriously?"

Realizing the answer is "no," I decided to move on to our second nominee, Rep. Tim Murphy of Pennsylvania, a favorite of the far-right anti-choice crowd who brags about how anti-abortion he is.

Turns out that back in January this "family values" bloviator was having an extra-marital affair with a woman who was concerned she may have gotten pregnant as a result. He told her to get an abortion.

A real clown! But wait, it's really just plain old run-of-the-mill right-wing hypocrisy. And it turns out that he has gone with the "spend time with my family" route and won't run for re-election in 2018. (Update: He resigned.)

So we turn to this week's winner of the Big Red Nose, Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin.

Sen. Ron Johnson: Clown
On September 28, when asked by a high school student whether he considered health care a right or a privilege, Johnson not only went with privilege, he also said that food and shelter and clothing should also be considered "privileges," reserved to those who can afford them.

"What we have as rights," he said, "are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Past that point, everything else is a limited resource that we have to use our opportunities given to us so that we can afford those things." He also referred to Rand Paul's statement from a few years ago describing a universal health care system as the imposition of slavery.

So in other words, there's only so much health care - or food or clothing or shelter - to go around, so it's up to you to be able to pay whatever the market demands and if you can't, well, you just didn't "use your opportunities."

Missing from Johnson's blathering was an explanation how you can have a "right to life" if you don't have food, shelter, clothing, or health care.

What was not missing is the fact that Ron Johnson is a smug, self-satisfied, prig - and a clown.

Footnote: Of the 25 wealthiest nations in the world, the United States is the only one not to recognize health care as a right by providing some measure of universal health care to its residents.

And it's worth noting that Article 25 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the US has endorsed and had a major hand in creating, says:
Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.
It's doubtful Sen. Clown Johnson knows - or cares.

34.5 - Las Vegas and gun control

Las Vegas and gun control

Consider this: A man carefully plans a mass murder. He checks out locations in Chicago and Boston before settling on Las Vegas. He amasses an arsenal. He sets up a base on the 32nd floor of a hotel a few days in advance. He has a hammer to break the room's windows to give him a clean line of fire. He has cameras to track the approach of police. He has at least 23 firearms with him. He has so-called "bump stocks" that enable a semi-automatic weapon to fire almost as fast as a fully-automatic one, hundreds of rounds a minute - devices that are entirely legal.

On October 1, he opens fire on the crowd at a country music festival.

Several minutes later, 58 people are dead and over 500 more are injured - many wounded by gunfire, but others trampled in the rush and crush to escape.

It was by any measure the worst mass shooting in US history and using a definition of mass shooting of four or more shot - not necessarily killed, but shot - in single incident, it was, as of October 5, the 275th mass shooting in the US this year. And the rate of mass shootings has been increasing since the 1960s, dramatically so the most recent several years.

And when a few voices now are raised to suggest, in Rep. Chris Murphy's pointed phrase, that Congress should "get off its ass" and enact at least some measure of gun control, what do we hear?

We hear that "Now is not the time." No, it's a time for reflection and mourning. Now is not the time. Oh, there can be a time for that debate, but it's not now. Later, yeah, later.

We hear that now instead is the time for "hopes and prayers" offered up like trinkets and baubles by the hypocrites with the bloody hands who feed at the trough of the NRA.

We hear it was the victims' own fault, as Senator John Thune says people have to "take precautions, protect themselves, and in situations like" Las Vegas - and this is a quote - "get small."

We hear the whole thing should be dismissed as, as Bill O'Reilly called it, "the price of freedom" and isn't it sad people died but it doesn't affect me personally so what do I care.

We hear that even raising the issue of too damn many guns too damn easy to get, too damn many dead the the end of a gun - nearly 34,000 in 2015, including 11,000 murders - to even raise that is - How dare you! - to "politicize a tragedy." It's "beyond disgusting," says Sen. John Cornyn, who blathered on that "Unfortunately I think some of the statements that have been made are fairly predicable," blissfully unaware of the mountainous irony.

"Now is not the time" is what we hear, droningly chanted by people for who it never has been and never will be "the time."

But of course it's the time. It's always the time. As Martin Luther King said, "The time is always right to do what is right."

But to be blunt I have no hope that will happen. I have no hope this Congress or bluntly any other Congress we can reasonably envision doing much of anything. Oh, maybe a few tweaks around the edges - even the NRA is allowing as how maybe, y'know, maybe bump stocks should be regulated more - and yes those tweaks will help but they will not fundamentally change the calculation or the nature of a nation steeped in violence and in an ideology that celebrates selfishness and praises power.

I have hope for a lot of things; truly strict controls on guns is not one of them.

And yet, and yet - that does not free us (me) from the responsibility to do what we (I) can do. We have to carry on as best as we can, if not in hope, then in anger.

34.4 - Not Good News: DOJ claims job discrimination against transgenders is legal

Not Good News: DOJ claims job discrimination against transgenders is legal

It's good that we have those opportunities to smile because we also have some Not Good News and it's on a more serious and significant note.

On October 4, Attorney General Jeff "I am not a bigot, I swear" Sessions sent a memo to US Attorneys' offices saying that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which addresses workplace discrimination, only prohibits discrimination on the basis of biological sex, and not gender identity.

That is, according to Mr. Not-A-Bigot, under federal law it is entirely legal to fire someone for being transgender. Or to refuse to hire them in the first place. Or to otherwise discriminate against them in the workplace.

This not only reverses the earlier interpretation of the law under the Obama administration, it also - and here is if you will the silver lining in this - it also flies in the face of the trend in federal appeals courts decisions over the past several years, which are gradually coming to recognize "gender" as a matter of personal psychological identity rather than a fixed biological category.

So this Not Good News is actually a result of Good News and may well be another example of the reactionaries trying to hold back the tide of change and becoming King Canute*.

*The story of King Canute as arrogantly demanding the tide of obey him is untrue; in the real recorded version of the story Canute was so fed up with the fawning of his courtiers that he staged the scene to show how helpless he was against the forces of nature. Still, the popular version of the story makes a useful point here.
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