Sunday, March 28, 2021

034 The Erickson Report for March 25 to April 7, Page 3: Asking for a favor

034 The Erickson Report for March 25 to April 7, Page 3: Asking for a favor

I'm going to ask a favor. A really big favor. I don't know if anyone will respond and I don't know, ultimately it might not matter one way or the other. But for the next few minutes I'm going to get personal with you, as personal as you ever have and  probably as personal as you will ever see me again in this show.

I have found it hard to do the past few of these shows. I've had to make myself do them, push myself through them. To be clear: It's not the being on camera part, it's not that, it's the prep work, the background, the following the news, the assembling of sources, the editing different bits into a coherent story, the gathering of the graphics, the laying out what goes where when and for how long, all the prep work that goes on before we get to camera.

It's not that I don't want to do it, it's that, well, I don't want to do it. It feels overwhelming, too much. I know it's only every two weeks, but it still feels overwhelming.

I have two reasons, better yet two explanations for this. One is that I am approaching the one-year anniversary of the sudden death of my wife, who went from complaining about an upset stomach to, well, dead in about 11 hours. And this being a year ago it was of course during the first surge of the pandemic, a time when I couldn't be with her in the ambulance, I couldn't even be with her in the ER.

Donna was, as the song says, the wind beneath my wings. She bore me up. And I've realized in the time since that I lost not only my heart that night but my spirit. I've dropped out of things that I was involved for the sake of focusing on making my way through the days.

This was the thing I didn't give up, didn't drop. I did for a while - which I think was natural - but the thing is I almost didn't come back at all. But I did. And I keep trying.

But there's another thing, a second thing, now. It's related to a phrase I made up to describe a feeling. Well, sort of made up. I’ve heard others use it but I know I used it before I heard it from anyone else, so even if I didn’t originate it, I still made it up for myself.

Anyway, the phrase is “The world is too much with me.”

The world is too much with me. It describes those times when I become aware. Truly aware. Emotionally, viscerally, consciously aware of the level of pain in the world around me, aware of the suffering, the loss, the despair, the desperation, the bloodshed, bigotry, the mindless hatreds persisting for generations over differences that in the long run of history don’t even rise to the level of petty. Aware that somewhere in the world, right at this very moment, someone in Yemen is dying of malnutrition with US acquiescence, someone is being brutalized by the Myanmar military, someone is being dragged to a "re-education" prison in China for the crime of being Uyghur, some Asian-American in the US is hoping to finish their grocery shopping without being sneered at, spit on, or attacked; that at this very moment, someone, somewhere, is being tortured, that 21 million people around the world are suffering with COVID, that despite the gains that have been made, nearly 10% of the entire population of the world lives in extreme poverty, surviving on less than $1.90 a day and over two-fifths survive on no more than $5.50 a day - and everywhere, everywhere, there are the tears of the suffering and the tears of the mourners except for the dry empty eyes that have no tears left to cry.

Most of the time I intellectualize. I know the numbers, the policies, and the politics; I rant and rave and denounce and decry. But I intellectualize. The rants are based in morality, the denunciations drawn from logic, but still there is an emotional distance, an emotional insulation if you will, between that and the rawness of the physical reality, and both the anger and the hope that lies behind it are driven less by passion than by principle.

And yes, the anger is driven by hope. As I wrote some years ago,
[e]ven many professional grouches (like me) are actually unregenerate romantics whose sharp words are honed on the inexplicable, indefensible, yet utterly unshakable conviction that things not only can be but must be better than they are.
The wind beneath my wings
But sometimes, just sometimes, I am aware and that "unshakable" conviction gets shaken. The experience is something like the almost-cliché one of looking at a clear night sky and feeling how small you are compared to the universe. Except without the panache and without the awe. Just with the overwhelming. The feeling is not inspiring. It’s debilitating.

I hope I offend no one by relating it to a description of, a hypothesis about, autism. I have heard it suggested that autism can be understood as a breakdown of the brain’s ability to filter sensory input, so the child is overwhelmed with information, unable to determine what information reaching the brain is more worthy of attention than any another information.

We filter all the time, we couldn’t get by if we didn’t. For example, and this is a question I've used in talking to people about meditation, what is your left little toe feeling right now? If you pay attention, you can sense it, feel it in your sock or your slipper or against the rug or whatever- but until you paid attention to it, you were unaware of it. But that sensory input, those nerve impulses, were reaching your brain the whole time. Your brain just knew they were unimportant and so you ignored them at the level of awareness.

It's the same as the experience I imagine almost every one of us has had of being startled by a noise - only to realize that it was actually because the furnace or the refrigerator turned off, had stopped making a noise. The sound had reached our ears which alerted our brain to it the entire time but we dismissed it from conscious awareness until a sudden change indicated something that might require our attention.

How would you, how would any of us, function if we were trying to consciously deal with every bit of sensory input our brain is receiving at any given moment - everything seen, everything heard, everything felt, smelled, tasted? We couldn’t. We'd be overwhelmed. And we well might, as autistic children often do, focus almost obsessively on some object or some simple activity in a desperate attempt to establish some order, some sense of control.

It’s something - a little something - like that for me. And please understand, I am not equating my dark times with autism, I'm only using that hypothesis about it to illustrate what I'm trying to explain. Which is that at times like this I tend to withdraw to, to retreat to, and focus on, computer games, crossword puzzles, sci-fi reruns, and books on science history. That is, to things that don’t involve dealing with the “real,” the present, on-going, events-unfolding, world.

Understand, this is not a feeling that there is only suffering, pain, and death in this life. It is not some sort of hip existential angst about the dark hand of fate. Even at such times I know there is beauty, happiness, even joy; that people fall in love, make love, are loved; that children play and laugh; that friends embrace; that there is learning, growth, discovery; that at this very instant, someone, somewhere, is being amazed by a leaf or a star or the antics of an animal or what they see through a microscope.

So it is not despair in the usually understood sense of the term. It is, rather and again, an overwhelming, a debilitating, sense of, awareness of, the totality of the pain that others are suffering, a sense of the sheer enormity of the task before us. The sheer weight of "so much needs to be done." It just doesn’t seem possible to do it. It’s not despair in the sense that it seems there is nothing good but it is a sort of hopelessness in the sense of it seeming impossible to have an adequate response to what there is that is bad. And from that bad emerge the cries for help, the calls for justice, the demands to do something, and every cry, every call, every demand, seems as worthy of respect and response as every other. Every issue seems as worthy of being addressed as any other. Every bit of related news seems as worthy of being covered as any other. The result is that I feel paralyzed, exhausted, and doing things like doing this show seem so irrelevantly small in the face of what there is to do, so idiotically pointless, that I struggle to find the energy to do it.

Which is doubly unfortunate because it can become a reinforcing cycle: It seems pointless so it doesn't get done and that just emphasizes the pointlessness so it's even less likely to get done and so on - which just undermines my ability to do here what I want to do, what I want to contribute.

During another low period, just about three years ago, I quoted something from the very first issue of the print version of "Lotus," which was a newsletter I published for a couple of years in the 1990s.

Quoting:
Some [folks] are good at petitioning. I'm not. Some are good at fundraising. I'm not. I lack both the focused concentration necessary for large-scale organizing and the patience for phone-banking. The list of my inadequacies is embarrassingly long.

My strength happens to be words. Advocacy. Writing. Giving speeches. And like that. So doing this is, simply, something I think I can contribute.

My dream for "Lotus" is that it can be a voice of conscience and a tool in an on-going movement, something of use to the many who keep on keepin' on, something of value to those whose skills in other areas so greatly exceeds mine. Something that helps.
That also was and is the idea of this show. To be something that helps. And when I hit a low like this, I truly can't help but wonder if it does and it seems to small and insignificant as to wonder what is the point of doing it.

So this is the favor. If you think what is done here is worth doing, if you find it helps in some way, if it informs or inspires or just keeps your spirits up, drop me a line at whoviating@aol.com.

Even as I say that, I feel that I shouldn't, that it will seem like I'm just fishing for compliments and that in any event there's no reason for you to have to deal with my moods.

But if you do, thank you.

034 The Erickson Report for March 25 to April 7, Page 2: A Longer Look at the filibuster

034 The Erickson Report for March 25 to April 7, Page 2: A Longer Look at the filibuster

Next up, we turn to an occasional feature called A Longer Look, where we take a somewhat deeper dive into a topic that we normally do. In this case, the topic is the filibuster.

Because once again, the filibuster has moved into the Senate spotlight. So I'm gong to offer a few thoughts on the topic, after we first run through some history.

According to History.com citing that wonderful volume the OED, the word filibuster is a linguistic corruption of the 18th century word flibustier, referring to pirates who pillaged the Spanish colonies in the West Indies. By the mid-1800s it had become filibuster and taken on its current political meaning.

It exists in the Senate and not the House because of a Senate rule that says once a senator is recognized on the floor, they may speak on an issue without being impeded by anyone.

That was the unintended consequence of an 1805 proposal by then-Vice President Aaron Burr, arguing that the Senate shouldn't be burdened by unnecessary procedural rules. In 1806, the Senate adopted his idea to drop a rule about forcing an end to debate because it was so rarely used.

And so the filibuster was born and it didn't take long for minority party senators to realize the power this gave them. The filibuster has been contentious ever since.

The first successful filibuster was in 1837, when a group of Whigs who opposed President Andrew Jackson used it to prevent his allies from expunging a resolution of censure against him.

Despite various attempts to reform it, the filibuster remained intact until 1917. Furious at a filibuster of his proposal to arms merchant ships against German U-boats during the early years of World War I, President Woodrow Wilson denounced what he called a “little group of willful men” who had “rendered the great Government of the United States helpless and contemptible.” He rallied public support sufficient to get the Senate to adopt Rule 22, which authorized a two-thirds vote to invoke “cloture,” or official closure to debate.

That was the status until 1975, when in the wake of Southern senators filibustering the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for a total of 57 days, the Senate cut the number of votes needed to invoke cloture to 60. Unfortunately, while certainly an improvement, it was a weaker reform than it seemed because it also changed the standard from 2/3rds of those “present and voting” to 3/5ths of those “duly chosen and sworn,” which unless there are vacancies means 60. Suppose there was a cloture vote today in the Senate, not everyone voted, and the tally was 59 yes to 29 no. Under the old standard, cloture is invoked. Under the new standard, it is not.

Since 2013, the rules have said that executive-branch Cabinet appointments and judicial nominations below the Supreme Court can't be filibustered; since 2017 those can't be, either, for which we can thank Fishface McConnell, who forced through the change because it was the only way he could get Neil Gorsuch onto the Supreme Court.

Which is where we stand now, as the pressure to kill or at least wound the filibuster gains ground in the wake of the GOPpers making the filibuster part of their standing operating procedure. Getting rid of it entirely appears to be a non-starter with both Joe "He-who-must-not-be-named" Manchin and Kyrsten "Thumbs-down" Sinema openly against it. The question them becomes how far can reforms go.

Okay. So with that background, what would I do about the filibuster?

You may be surprised to hear me say that I would be reluctant to eliminate it entirely. I think that way because I can conceive of situations where conscience can be a significant factor - declaring war, for example, or, since we never actually declare war any more since that would involve Congress actually being responsible for it, passing "Authorizations to Use Military Force." Expanding the federal death penalty would be another example. Anyway, I can conceive of cases where conscience is involved enough that it should take more than a bare 51-49 (or 51-50) majority to pass that bill.

But I would make several changes. I would, for one, drop the number needed to invoke cloture to 53, maybe 52. I would also go back to the "present and voting" standard, so the rule would say that invoking cloture requires 53 votes or 3/5ths of those present and voting, whichever is less.

I'd also support one helpful but essentially milktoast proposal, which is to go back to the so-called "talking filibuster," requiring the senator doing the filibustering to actually stand in the Senate well and hold the floor. During the Obama years it became usual for some GOPper to say "I'm going to filibuster this" followed by a quick cloture vote failing to get the 60 votes and the matter being dropped without anyone actually having to do anything. Lindsay Grahamcracker says he doesn't care, he would - his words- "talk until I fall over" to block any expansion of voting rights, which is something I and a lot of other progressives would look forward to seeing.

Related to that, I would also require that anything said during such a talking filibuster must be germane to the issue at hand. If a senator wandered from the issue, the Senate could by a simple majority vote require that senator to cede the floor. Admittedly, "germaneness" leaves a lot of wiggle room - during his infamous filibuster against the Civil Rights Act of 1957, Strom Thurmond read from the US Criminal Code and the voting laws of 48 states, all of which are arguably germane - but it does give some leverage against low-grade obstructionism.

Incidentally, I've seen some people argue that a talking filibuster could make things worse because it would prevent any other business from being addresses. But that concern is entirely misplaced: Another change that was made in the early '70s was to allow more than one piece of legislation to be on the floor at a time. Which means that if some bill is being filibustered, the Senate could simply switch to another bill, saying in essence "we'll get back to this one later." The idea that a talking filibuster could bring the Senate to a complete stop for, as one reporter put it, "days or even weeks" is just flat out wrong.

I would also rule that only the final passage of a bill or an amendment could be filibustered. No more trying to filibuster every procedural vote, of which any bill will see several.

Finally, an idea that I like and would be the most effective short of ending the filibuster outright - which of course also means it is the least likely to be adopted - comes from Sen. Jeff Merkley. He proposes to shift the burden away from those looking to stop a filibuster to those who want to continue it. Instead of needing 60 votes to stop debate by invoking cloture, it would take 41 votes to keep debate going. The difference is that it would require those who want to block the bill being filibustered to keep 41 senators in or immediately available to the Senate chambers the whole time, day and night, to protect against a cloture motion.

Whether any of that or any other reform happens remains to be seen, of course, the process of which will also reveal how serious the Democratic leadership in the Senate is about the agenda they claim to be supporting by how much pressure they bring on Manchin and Sinema - or we find, as I frankly expect we will, that maintaining the majority more important than actually getting anything of lasting importance done.

034 The Erickson Report for March 25 to April 7, Page 1: Atlanta and Boulder

034 The Erickson Report for March 25 to April 7, Page 1: Atlanta and Boulder

So we have to do this again. We have to hear of the carnage. We have to see and share the tears of the mourners. We have to be afflicted with the fatuous and hypocritical thoughts and prayers of the gun nuts and their bought and paid for lackeys in Congress. We have to count the dead. Again.

About 5pm on March 16, a man named Robert Aaron Long walked into three Atlanta-area massage businesses. Less than 45 minutes later, eight people were dead, including six women of Asian descent, along with a white woman and a Hispanic man.

Say their names:
Daoyou Feng, 44
Hyun J. Grant, 51
Suncha Kim, 69
Paul Andre Michels, 54
Soon C. Park, 74
Xiaojie Tan, 49
Delaina Ashley Yah-un, 33
Yong A. Yu-eh, 63

One other person, Elcias Hernandez-Ortiz, 30, was shot but survived.

There is obviously reason to think the murders were driven by racial or ethnic bigotry, but at the moment I'm preparing this it's not known for sure.

And frankly right now I don't care about the motive. I care about the fact that it happened and it keeps happening.

Six days later, around 2:30pm on March 22, a gunman carrying AR-15 type of assault rifle walked into a King Soopers grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, and without saying a word opened fire.

Minutes later, 10 people lay dead.

Say their names:
Tralona Bart-kowiak, 49
Suzanne Fountain, 59
Teri Leiker, 51
Kevin Mahoney, 61
Lynn Murray, 62
Rikki Olds, 25
Neven Sta-nis-ic, 23
Denny Stong, 20
Eric Talley, 51
Jody Waters, 65

A man named Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa has been charged with 10 counts of murder. I've heard nothing about motive but with a name like his I guarantee you that in some quarters he has already been labeled a terrorist.

The Colorado shooting was the seventh mass murder in the US of 2021 - that's about one every two weeks. Mass murder is defined as at least four killed in a single incident, not counting the shooter.

Mass shootings, on the other hand, are defined as at least four being being shot but not necessarily killed in a single incident. Colorado marks the 103rd US mass shooting in 2021 - about one every 19 hours.

Joe "He-who-must-not-be-named" Manchin
And so again Congress - more exactly, the Senate - is being pressed to move legislation to actually do something about it. And of course it will fail, in no small part because Joe He-who-must-not-be-named Manchin is against the two that have already passed the House while declaring himself to be a "law abiding gun owner."

I bring that last bit up because did it ever occur to you how utterly vapid that phrase is? "I'm a law-abiding gun owner." Every gun owner is "law abiding" - until they're not. Every criminal is "a law-abiding person" - until they're not.

Long bought a gun legally from a local gun shop shortly before his killing spree. He was a law-abiding gun owner - until he pulled the trigger.

Aliwi Alissa legally bought his assault weapon six days before the shooting. So for six days he was a law-abiding gun owner. Until he wasn't.

So I don't want to hear about it. I don't want to hear a thing, not one single damn thing, about the "thoughts and prayers" of the right-wing bozos, bigots, hypocrites, liars, and twits lamely trying to act like they give a damn about the carnage for which they, yes, are responsible because of their opposition to action.

And right now I especially don't want to hear any of the bullcrap about "law-abiding gun owners" and how the rest of us have to abide their fetish as the funeral processions continue because they lack the humanity or conscience to care.

And if any of you want to tell me I'm wrong about you, then unless you are an advocate for strong fun control, unless you agree that the issue is that there are too damn many guns out there and are openly advocating for steps to deal with that, then don't bother - because I am not wrong about you.

Friday, March 26, 2021

034 The Erickson Report for March 25 to April 7



034 The Erickson Report for March 25 to April 7
 
Atlanta and Boulder
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/17/us/atlanta-spa-shootings.html
https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/23/us/boulder-shooting-what-we-know.html
https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/reports/mass-shooting
https://www.politico.com/newsletters/playbook-pm/2021/03/23/gun-control-back-in-the-spotlight-492211
https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/what-are-we-doing-senators-debate-gun-control-in-hearing/ar-BB1eS6Zr
https://www.aol.com/news/colorado-marks-latest-mass-tragedy-051000248.html

A Longer Look: the filibuster
https://www.history.com/topics/us-government/history-of-the-filibuster
https://rule22.wordpress.com/what-is-rule-22/
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2020/10/01/fact-check-gop-ended-senate-filibuster-supreme-court-nominees/3573369001/
https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/lindsey-graham-says-he-would-speak-until-i-fell-over-if-talking-filibuster-returned/ar-BB1eIrEk
https://www.msn.com/en-us/news/politics/joe-manchins-filibuster-demands-might-end-up-making-republican-obstruction-even-worse/ar-BB1eMD9t
 
A Selfish Favor
https://www.pbs.org/newshour/features/uighurs/
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/23/us/chinese-coronavirus-racist-attacks.html
https://www.hrw.org/topic/torture
https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries
https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/poverty/overview
 

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

033 The Erickson Report for March 11 to 25, Page 4: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Outrages]

033 The Erickson Report for March 11 to 25, Page 4: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Outrages]

Now for the Outrage, and we have two, or in a way one and a-half as they involve the same person and the same topic, but two different examples.

The person is President Joe Blahden; the issue is his foreign and military policies.

On February 25, on Blahden's order, the US dropped seven 500-pound bombs in eastern Syria on what is claimed to have been a site housing Iran-backed militias. The attack, which killed 22 people according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, was undertaken without Congressional authorization and was not in response to any imminent threat. In fact, it was avowedly labeled retaliation for a rocket attack a week earlier on a US base in northern Iraq, a base which the Iraqi parliament said a full year ago it wanted closed. To what should be no one's surprise, this "retaliation" did not stop and more likely provoked the rocket attack which followed the bombing.

It was so far removed from any useful military purpose that military experts quoted by USA Today said it was actually about "sending a message" that the US intended to remain "engaged" in the Middle East.

Perhaps the worst part of this was when White House press secretary Jen Psaki said of the bombing, "when threats are posed, he has the right to take an action at the time, and in the manner of his choosing" and insisted it was within his "Article II authority," adopting exactly the same sort of "presidents can do whatever they damn please with the military, we don't need no stinking Congress" attitude that has plagued our nation with war for decades without resolution or end.

Our second example shows that on the other hand, Joe Blahden doesn't always have to show he's tough enough to "take action." Consider the case of Saudi Arabia.

As a candidate, he promised to make Saudi Arabia "the pariah that they are" over the 2018 murder of dissident Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi.

But when it came time to actually do something, he refused to take any action against Saudi Crown Prince and dictator Mohammed bin Salman even in the face of a US intelligence report concluding bin Salman had ordered Khashoggi's murder.

State Department spokesman Ned Price blew off the moral collapse by calling Saudi Arabia "a hugely influential country in the Arab world.” In other words, "Hey what did you expect?"

Instead, Price said, the US is "recalibrating" its relationship with the kingdom, a “recalibration” that looks a lot like another case of Obama 2.0: tsk-tsking and tut-tutting about massive human rights abuses, oppression, imprisonment, torture, kidnapping, and now murder while doing absolutely nothing so long as a few lessers can be thrown under the bus for the sake of appearances.

So again it's about "sending a message." It's just that this time, the message is "if you're at the top, then no matter what, so long as you sell us your oil and buy our guns, it's business as usual."

That is, the usual Outrage.

033 The Erickson Report for March 11 to 25, Page 3: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Clowns]

033 The Erickson Report for March 11 to 25, Page 3: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Clowns]

Next thing here is our recurring feature, Two weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages. And we start, as usual, withe the Clowns.

On March 2, the state legislature of Idaho rejected a $6 million federal grant designed to improve early childhood education. And one Clown applauding that decision is Rep. Charlie Shepherd, who declared the grant would hurt "the family unit."

How? Quoting him: "I don't think anybody does a better job than mothers in the home, and any bill that makes it easier or more convenient for mothers to come out of the home and let others raise their child - I don't think that's a good direction for us to be going."

Hey Shepherd: The 1950s called; they want their brain back.

But if you want full-blowm wacko, we have to go to Rep. Tammy Nichols, who opposed accepting the grant because, quoting, "The goal in the long run is to be able to take our children from birth and be able to start indoctrinating them, and teaching them to be activists, and to do the things that we feel as parents are inappropriate."

Yeah, and the ERA is about women becoming lesbians and leaving their husbands.

Shepherd later apologized on the House floor, saying, "I realize how my remarks sounded derogatory, offensive, and even sexist toward the mothers of this state."

No, they didn't sound derogatory, offensive, and sexist, they were derogatory, offensive, and sexist and your refusal to face that just means you're doubling down on being a Clown.

=

Next up, on February 26 the Oklahoma House of Representatives passed a bill that, according to its supporters, would allow the state legislature to declare federal laws it disagrees with unconstitutional.

The bill would let the legislature ask the attorney general to challenge federal laws in court. Should the AG decline to do so, the legislature could declare federal laws unconstitutional.

Rep. Jay Steagall, a supporter, said "We're a sovereign state, and we have authorities as a state."

Yes you do - but overruling the federal government is not among them. Didn't people in Oklahoma read the fine print when it became a state?

Clowns upon Clowns who are only going to enrich some lawyers and cost the state some hefty legal fees - once people stop laughing.

=

Finally for this time, our winner Clown is an unknown somebody at Shallowater High School in Lubbock County, Texas, who recently decided to have a “Chivalry Day” to show "how the code of chivalry and standards set in the medieval concept of courtly love carries over into the modern day." You can probably guess it didn't go well.

Boys and girls were each given a list of rules to follow with points awarded for each rule they demonstrated in practice.

Boys were told, for example, to dress in jackets and ties, “assist ladies who may have dropped an article by picking it up for them,” address women as “milady,” bow when greeting women, and rise when they enter the room.

But if you really want creepy, the girls - excuse me, the “ladies in the class” - were told “dress to please the men,” “address all men by title, with a lowered head and curtsy,” “do not initiate conversations with males,” do not show "intellectual superiority," "never criticize a man," do not "complain or whine," either "walk behind men" or "daintily, as if their feet were bound,” “clean up after the men” “obey any reasonable request of a male,” and a couple more.

The school quickly had the assignment canceled after parents made the entirely appropriate fuss about it.

Which only leaves one question: Who the hell ever thought this was a good idea? Whoever it was, definite champion Clown material.

033 The Erickson Report for March 11 to 25, Page 2: Updates on LGBTQ+ Rights

033 The Erickson Report for March 11 to 25, Page 2: Updates on LGBTQ+ Rights

We have some updates on something I talked about last time.

Last time, I referred to the nearly 200 bills across the legislatures of at least two dozen states have been introduced this year attacking transgender youth by denying them the option of playing scholastic sports or even denying them medical transitional care.

Vivian Topping, director of advocacy and civic engagement at the Equality Federation, called it "one of the worst sessions I've seen."

The first update is that a number of those bills are advancing; at least one, in Mississippi is headed for the governor's signature with more coming. What's really disturbing is how reactionary these bills are in light of the fact that they are so unpopular, opposed in some cases even by majorities of GOPpers in the states that are pushing them.

Another update is that of course, while transgender youth seem to be the particular target of the bigots now, they are not the only ones. All LGBTQ+ people are in the crosshairs.

At least 36 states have seen what are called "RFRA-type" bills introduced since January.

RFRA is the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 federal law saying that government cannot "substantially burden" religious practices without a compelling interest. Originally designed to protect religious minorities from discrimination, it has been twisted by the right into a weapon against LGBTQ+ rights. It was, for example, the basis for the Supreme Court ruling that Hobby Lobby could deny its employees contraception coverage.

States are now including language modeled on RFRA in bills ostensibly meant to allow churches to operate during the COVID pandemic but which actually are relying on a now-familiar ploy: Claiming a "religious freedom" exemption from respecting civil and human rights, insisting that invoking a god creates a constitutional right to be a bigot.

But our third update is that on the other hand, there is progress and the reality is that the bigots are fighting a losing battle and all these sorts of bills are approaching last-ditch attempts to hold on to legalization of their hate.

For one example of progress, Virginia is about to become the 12th state to ban the so-called "gay panic" defense in criminal trials, the one where someone accused of violently attacking an LGBTQ+ person says the shock of being hit on by them was so severe that they can't be held responsible for their actions.

More significantly, the Equality Act has passed the US House Representatives and while with numbskulls like Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema around, it doesn't have a good chance in the Senate, it does at least have a fighting one. Not that long ago that would have been unimagineable.

033 The Erickson Report for March 11 to 25, Page 1: Continuing Climate Change

033 The Erickson Report for March 11 to 25, Page 1: Continuing Climate Change

I start by telling you about something you may never have heard of but affects you every day, particularly if you live in the eastern parts of the US, and could have a major impact on you with the next few decades and even more on your descendents before the end of the century - a date when, let's recall, that a US child born today has a good shot at seeing.

It's called the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, or AMOC. It's part of a worldwide system of ocean currents distributing heat around the planet

Because the equator receives a lot more solar energy than the polar regions, heat builds up in the tropics. There is a principle in physics called thermodynamic equilibrium, which essentially means everything wants to be the same temperature as everything else. It's why your hot coffee cools off, because the heat energy in it is distributed to the surrounding air so that eventually the coffee and the air are the same temperature, have the same level of heat energy. That is true of the world just as it is for your coffee.

So the differing levels of heat energy in different parts of the ocean create currents that constantly carry warmer and cooler water in a conveyor belt of currents across and around the oceans. The warmer currents are in red, the cooler ones in blue. Warm water is less dense than cold water, so the warm currents are shallow ones, hear the surface of the water, while the dense, cooler, currents are deep ones - which is why the current can cross paths without interacting.

The point is, this system of currents has a major influence on both the long-term of climate and the short-term weather. It affects the wind patterns and how storms form - why for example, hurricanes often form more towards Africa and move westward across the Atlantic.

That warm current also explains why south and southwest England have mild enough weather that winter snow is rare in London and you can find palm trees in Torquay even though London is at about the same latitude as the mouth of the St. Lawrence River between Newfoundland and Labrador.

Why do I bring all of this up? To see why, let's look more locally. Because this is a entire belt of currents, we could start at any point, but for what is relevant to us at the moment we'll start in the Caribbean, with warm water being brought along the southeast US coast before cutting across the Atlantic to Great Britain and then heading for Greenland.

As the water reaches the area around Greenland, it has cooled enough - become dense enough - to sink to deeper water, with that deep current propelled by the force of the water sinking behind it.

What keeps this system going is that the tropics continue to get more solar energy than the polar regions, so that differential in heat driving the system still exists. Also, water in polar regions is saltier than that in the tropics because ice is essentially fresh water, so the amount of it locked up in ice can't contain any of the salt. Saltier water is denser than fresher water, and that difference in density also helps propel the system. The relevance of all that will become obvious in a moment or two.

The news here is that a new study published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Geoscience reports that this current is now moving more slowly than it has in at least 1,600 years and the belief is that this is directly related to climate change.

How? Because a warming climate will do two things: One, because polar regions are warming faster than the tropics the difference in heat energy between the two regions - one of the things driving the current - is being reduced. Second, melting polar ice puts fresh water into the oceans, reducing the salinity of polar oceans and therefore the difference in density between the warmer and cooler parts of the current, impacting another driver. A combined effect big enough and there isn't enough energy to drive the system - and the current breaks down, throwing global climate patterns into disarray, marked by storms and heat waves, along with effects such as faster sea level rise along parts of Europe, stronger hurricanes hitting the southeastern United States, and reduced rainfall across the Sahel.

Those effects can be so wide-ranging - North America to Europe to northern Africa - because, as years of research have made clear, the Atlantic portion of the world conveyor belt - the AMOC - is the engine that drives it, moving water at 100 times the flow of the Amazon river.

But that circulation has slowed down by at least 15% since 1950, something the new study calls "unprecedented in the past millennium." The specific suspected culprit is melting Arctic ice and the reduced salinity of polar oceans that results. The effects on weather patterns can already be detected.

The deeper concern is that if warming is not halted, the circulation may slow by 34% to 45% by the end of the century, by which time we may have already passed the tipping point, the point beyond which even if all warming was stopped entirely, it would be too late to prevent the circulation from slowing to a stop with catastrophic impacts.

Here it's necessary to note that, no, this is not the movie The Day After Tomorrow, the impacts would not be instantaneous, but over years and decades, yes, they would be devastating.

Realize that this is not a new concern. I wrote about this possibility, about this concern, 17 years ago. The difference is that then it was a longer-term concern about a serious but still hypothetical possibility. Now we have evidence that it is happening and that once again, we humans - especially we humans in advanced industrialized societies - are to blame.

This does not mean things are hopeless.

For one thing, a new report from Ember, a London-based environment think tank, found that in 2020, for the first time, the 27 countries of the European Union generated more electricity with renewables - wind, solar, and hydro - than with fossil fuels, continuing a shifting pattern developing over the past 10 years.

What's more, a study from late 2018 found that at that point, generating utility-level electricity through solar and wind was already cheaper than coal and new natural gas plants - without subsidies or a price on carbon.

The study from the financial firm Lazard Ltd. applied a Levelized Cost of Energy, or LCOE, analysis, which looks at the cost of power from a plant averaged over its entire lifetime. It found - over two years ago - that the cost of renewables had dropped so much that in many areas, building and running new renewables was already cheaper than just continuing to run existing coal and nuclear plants.

In other words, the economics are clearly in favor of a clean energy future.

Then there is the fact that according to the Peoples' Climate Vote, the largest survey of public opinion on climate change and policy solutions ever conducted, nearly 2/3 of people around the world, including 65% of those in the US, think it's a global emergency that warrants a serious response.

Survey data was gathered from 1.2 million respondents in 50 high-, middle-, and low-income countries covering 56% of the world's population. People between the ages of 14 and 18 expressed the greatest level of concern, with nearly 70% saying there is a climate emergency, but even 58% of those aged 60 and over agreed.

And then there is President Joe Blahden, who whatever his faults is more concerned about climate change than any previous president.

On his first day in office he canceled the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, the one intended to carry highly-polluting tar sands from Alberta to Texas. He has rejoined the Paris Accords, issued an executive order suspending new oil and gas leases on public lands, directed federal agencies to purchase electric cars by the thousands, and urged Congress to end some fossil-fuel subsidies.

And he has proposed to eliminate net greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by 2035 while proposing to invest $2 trillion over four years to transform to a clean energy economy. I'll note in passing that much of this would not have happened were it not for Bernie Sanders representatives on that unity task force, but the important thing here is that it happened.

And it's certainly doable, considering that the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has released a draft version of a report which argues that $2 trillion over 10 years would be enough to build an economy that is not only net-zero but would "also build a more competitive economy, increase high-quality jobs, and help address social injustice in the energy system."

Meanwhile, earlier this month the latest version of the federal CLEAN Future Act was introduced in the House of Representatives, an event greeted with applause by environmental groups such as Earthjustice and the NRDC.

This latest version aims to achieve US carbon neutrality by 2050 with an interim goal of reducing pollution by 50% from 2005 levels by 2030.

It all sounds so good, even allowing for the inevitable political hurdles and opposition from fat cats, corporations, and corporate-funded interests. It still sounds so good and so hopeful.

And it is, it is - as far as it goes.

Which is the problem: It doesn't go far enough.

For one thing, Blahden's order to suspend new oil and gas leases didn't prevent 31 new leases from being issued during his in 1st month in office.

For another, praise for the CLEAN Future Act was hardly universal. Groups like Friends of the Earth and Food & Water Watch said the legislation is fundamentally and dangerously lacking.

My own objection is that the bill treats fracking as a clean energy. But fracking is designed to increase production of natural gas. The whole point of it is not to move away from fossil fuels but to enable us to continue to rely on them. A climate program that embraces fracking is not serious. As Lukas Ross, program manager at Friends of the Earth put it, "A clean energy standard that qualifies fracked gas is a joke."

Meanwhile, Mitch Jones, policy director at Food & Water Watch, called the bill "a Green New Dud" because "it fails to grasp the fundamental truth of fighting climate change: We must stop extracting and burning fossil fuels as soon as possible. We should not waste time creating credit schemes and offsets markets, or prop up fossil fuels with carbon capture fantasies."

And we shouldn't. When I was preparing this piece, I kept thinking "if this was a war." But that's silly, because this is a war. A war we are waging on ourselves, on the climate, a war we are waging on the life networks and patterns of this planet and our collective future.

On January 27, Nature published a report saying that an analysis of ocean surface temperatures shows that the planet is hotter now than at any time in the preceding 12,000 years, and that it may actually be warmer than at any point during the last 125,000 years.

Each of the past four decades has been hotter than the one before. 2020 tied for the hottest year on record and the past seven years have been the seven hottest.

According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, more than 32,000 species are now threatened with extinction from human impacts like deforestation, pollution, and climate change; 500 of them could disappear in two decades. One critically endangered species is the North Atlantic right whale, of which fewer than 250 survive - and the greatest dangers facing them are collisions with boats and drowning from getting entangled in fishing nets, deaths which are on the increase because climate change is driving their food source, krill, further north, drawing the whales out of their protected areas.

No "natural cycle" or other BS is going to explain any of that that away.

It's not enough. Even the grand-sounding promises and solemnly-intoned pledges at international conferences are not enough.

According to new findings published in December by the United Nations Environment Program, if nations are to meet a central goal of the Paris agreement of holding the Earth's warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, they will have to “roughly triple” their current emissions-cutting pledges. If they are to keep heating below 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit), they would need to increase their targets at least fivefold - to make five times the cuts they are pledging.

And despite all the pledges, global greenhouse gas emissions, on average, have risen about 1.4 percent annually over the past decade. The world remains on a trajectory to see the temperature increase about 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) this century - a level that climatologists say would be catastrophic.

What we're doing - collectively - is simply not enough. And I mean the world, particularly the industrialized world, at large, not just the US. But if I've seemed a times to concentrate on the US, that's because I have. First off because it's us, it's the one we have the most control over. And we are the world's second largest producer of greenhouse gases and we have one of the if not the most carbon-intensive lifestyle. The carbon footprint of the average American is about 17.6 tons of carbon dioxide equivalents a year, about double the footprint of a person living in the EU or the UK, and almost 10 times that of the average citizen of India.

So yes, the world needs to do more and particularly we here need to do more and dammit yes, it will affect your lifestyle, yes, you might have to do without a few hi-tech goodies, yes, you might have to live with a little less convenience, you might have to take the train instead of flying everywhere, you might have to ride the bus to work instead of driving, you might have to make a lot of changes, some of them more significant than others.

But I'm going to ask you to think back a few decades - if you're as old as me, think back to the '60s. I want you to think back and ask yourself, I've asked this before but I'm asking it again and I want you to think seriously about it. I'm not considering how issues of poverty or bigotry or physical limitations might have affected you personally for this, just consider how the average, the typical, American lived then, the level of technology, the level of convenience, available at that time. And ask yourself: Was that way of living so terrible that you would sacrifice a world for yourself and your children rather than live that way again.

Because right now, yes, we are engaged in a war. And the problem is, we're winning.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

033 The Erickson Report for March 11 to 25

 


The Erickson Report for March 11 to 25

This episode:

Recent news on climate change
https://www.cbsnews.com/news/climate-change-atlantic-ocean-gulf-stream-system-amoc-weakest-1600-years/
http://whoviating.blogspot.com/2004/03/warm-up-to-main-event.html
https://www.commondreams.org/views/2021/01/26/president-biden-us-capable-too-europe-generates-more-electricity-renewables-fossil
https://thinkprogress.org/forget-coal-both-solar-and-wind-are-now-cheaper-than-new-natural-gas-plants-e281f5485e5f/
https://www.commondreams.org/news/2021/01/27/largest-ever-climate-poll-shows-64-global-public-believes-warming-planet-emergency
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-01-28/biden-s-early-climate-blitz-goes-faster-further-than-expected?utm_source=digg&utm_medium=email
https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2021/2/3/2013746/-Scientists-say-2-trillion-investment-can-decarbonize-energy-by-2050-paid-for-with-a-carbon-tax
https://www.commondreams.org/news/2021/03/02/green-new-dud-progressives-warn-house-climate-bill-fails-grasp-fundamental-truth
https://www.commondreams.org/news/2021/01/28/climate-campaigners-say-listen-science-new-study-shows-earth-now-warmer-any-time
https://climate.nasa.gov/news/3061/2020-tied-for-warmest-year-on-record-nasa-analysis-shows/
https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2020/12/09/carbon-footprints-climate-change-rich-one-percent/

Updates on attacks on LGBTQ+ rights
https://19thnews.org/2021/02/wave-of-anti-trans-bills-are-hitting-statehouses/
https://19thnews.org/2021/02/36-anti-lgbtq-religious-freedom-measures-are-in-covid-church-bills/
https://www.rawstory.com/republicans-anti-lgbtq-bills/
https://www.them.us/story/virginia-ban-anti-lgbtq-panic-defense-danica-roem
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/feb/25/us-house-equality-act-lgbtq-americans-discrimination

Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [Clowns]
https://apnews.com/article/donald-trump-early-childhood-education-education-boise-bills-581517bc89b86666887396ae8ecce4ce
https://www.koco.com/article/oklahoma-house-passes-bill-allowing-legislature-to-declare-federal-laws-unconstitutional/35661454
https://www.huffpost.com/entry/texas-school-chivalry-assignment_n_6041bfc6c5b660a0f387697e

Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [Outrages]
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2021/02/26/syria-bombing-biden-airstrikes-mark-test-us-role-worlds-police/6831034002/
https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2021/02/26/syria-bombings-biden-airstrikes-deliver-message-more-than-damage/6834550002/
https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-50998065
https://apnews.com/article/biden-retreats-saudi-arabia-sanctions-khashoggi-killing-d91d31edece5db07112d1c2d4dd3be33

Friday, March 05, 2021

032 The Erickson Report for February 25 to March 10. Page 8: Know The Rules

032 The Erickson Report for February 25 to March 10. Page 8: Know The Rules

Okay, let's do this quick. Last time out I went through my Rules for Right-wingers, a look at the various ways the right wing avoids facing reality or dealing in honest debate or both. I figured just for the heck of it, this time I would offer a few examples, all from the last few weeks.

First. Sen Ted Ooze has repeatedly brayed about "fraud! fraud! fraud!" in the November elections.

And not just November: Campaigning for the GOPpers in the Georgia run-off in January, he claimed in so many words that the Democrats were going to try to "steal" the election.

He refused to refer to Joe Blahden “President-elect.” He made clear his intent to challenge the ceremonial certification of Electoral College votes.

And then after the mob attacked the Capitol, Ooze told a Houston TV station that he was not - his word - "remotely" responsible for what happened.

Rule #12: Never, never, never admit any responsibility for the meaning or impact of your own words.

Second: GOPpers in the House tried to amend the resolution calling for Rep. Marjorie Taylor ColorofNausea to be stripped of her committee assignments by in each case having ColorofNausea's name replaced with that of Ilhan Omar. This was based on Omar's remark some time back which some claimed was anti-Semitic, a remark for which she not only apologized, saying she was unaware of its anti-Semitic overtones, she thanked her critics for educating her on the matter.

Rule #16: Freely employ false equivalencies.

Third: Sen. Ron "My brains come from the" Johnson minimized the significance of the attack on the Capitol, just saying "nobody condones that" - which he actually did, recalling a meaning of "to condone" is "to overlook an offense with relative tolerance."

He then said that Democrats were hypocrites for not denouncing the occasional violence that occurred during last summer's protests.

Rule #4: Issue a lengthy, ranting denunciation of "the left," which should look to include the words "hypocrites" and/or "hypocrisy."

Fourth: Until an organizing resolution was finalized to deal with the 50-50 split in the Senate, Lindsay Grahamcracker was still chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. As such, he refused to allow a hearing for Merrick Garland's nomination at Attorney General.

Grahamcracker, who was part of Fishface McConnell's rush to get as many reactionary judges on the federal bench as possible and eagerly endorsed the breakneck race to get Amy BugsBunny Barrett on the Supreme Court, accused Democrats of wanting to "rush through Judge Garland's hearing."

Rule #19: Intellectual consistency and honesty are for wusses and losers.

And fifth: According to a new study from New York University, there is no evidence for the frequent claim from the right wing that social media platforms are suppressing or even censoring right-wing views. The study found the claim to be "itself a form of disinformation."

Rule #13: When all else has failed - and even when it hasn't - lie.
Rule #21: The right wing is always the victim.


We'll wrap this up with a new rule. I'm going to have to reorganize the list; it's getting kind of long, but for right now:

Rule #22: All progressive proposals "too radical."

This especially applies to proposals that are popular, such as a Green New Deal, national health care, having the rich pay more taxes, and a $15 minimum wage.

032 The Erickson Report for February 25 to March 10. Page 7: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Outrage]

032 The Erickson Report for February 25 to March 10. Page 7: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Outrage]

Now we move on to the Outrage.

On February 23, the Israeli government began delivering doses of coronavirus vaccine to Honduras, Guatemala, and the Czech Republic. Why those three? Some humanitarian reason? Are they facing critically short supplies?

No and no. What the three have in common is that they have either moved or agreed to move their embassies to Jerusalem. That is, it is a reward for their diplomatic support of Israel's apartheid policies.

A reward given even as Palestinians under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza struggle to obtain inoculations and the administration of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyoyo delayed delivery of vaccines while the Knesset considered using them as bargaining chips.

Although the Prime Minister's office said on February 23 that it's giving some of its surplus coronavirus vaccine supply to the Palestinians, the vast majority of people in the occupied territories remain without access.

According to its health ministry, Israel has vaccinated 70% of its population over the age of 16. Meanwhile, the West Bank and Gaza have received roughly 32,000 doses - enough to inoculate less than about 1/2 of one percent of the 5.2 million Palestinians who live there.

Late last week, the Israeli government finally agreed to help vaccinate 100,000 Palestinians who regularly cross into Israel for work - because that, of course, is what is important: not getting Palestinians inoculated, just making sure they don't bring COVID into Israel.

Matthias Kennes, a registered nurse and medical referent for the Doctors Without Borders Covid-19 response in the West Bank city of Hebron, noted on February 22 that
You are over 60 times more likely to have a vaccination in Israel than in Palestine.
"It is" he said, "inexplicable and unbelievable. Worse than that - it is unjust and cruel."

Meanwhile, journalist Neri Zilber called it "both bad health policy and a disgrace."

It is all that. It is unjust, cruel, bad health policy, and a disgrace. It is also typical of Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. Which is is an Outrage.

032 The Erickson Report for February 25 to March 10, Page 6: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Clown]

032 The Erickson Report for February 25 to March 10, Page 6: Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages [the Clown]

Now for our recurring feature, Two Weeks of Stupid: Clowns and Outrages. I only have time for one of each this time out, so let's start, as usual, with the Clown.

Earlier, I noted that various states are considering bills to restrict or ban medical treatment for transgender youths. One in Kentucky merits a special mention. It employs the right-wing's latest go-to excuse, the "conscience" exemption, where a medical professional can refuse to act in the best interests of the patient based on a claim that it violates their convictions.

I am a sincere and deeply committed advocate of the right of conscience, but of course this has nothing to do with conscience and everything to do with enabling anti-trans bigotry. To see that, we need only look at the words of the bill's sponsor and our Clown, one Rep. Stephen Meredith. Quoting him:
You have a 12-year-old girl who's a tomboy. And her parents, who are misguided, think that she's really a girl trapped in a boy's body. And they don't want to see her go through the rest of her life miserable. So they're going to go and transition her.
So not only does he not even understand the terms of the discussion, since the parents would be seeing her as a boy trapped in a girl's body, not the other way around, his vision is that of parents taking a 12-year-old girl to be forcibly surgically altered to male without her desire or consent.If that wasn't insane enough, in the real world transitioning is a long and complex process even if there is no surgery, which only occurs about 25% of the time, a process which involves counseling and years of hormone therapy, across all of which time we are supposed to think that neither parents nor counselors nor surgeons would notice that she doesn't want to do this.

That, according to him, is the sort of realistic scenario that we must allow for bigotry in order to guard against.

If it is true that ignorance in bliss, Rep. Stephen Meredith of Kentucky must be one extremely happy Clown.

032 The Erickson Report for February 25 to March 10, Page 5: "Good News, but" on LGBTQ+ Rights

032 The Erickson Report for February 25 to March 10, Page 5: "Good News, but" on LGBTQ+ Rights

There has also been some Good News on the front of LGBTQ+ rights. On his first day in office, Joe Blahden signed an executive order looking to undo the damage done during Tweetie-pie's regime. But unlike a number of other orders which only look to revert to the status of the Obama years - sort of Obama 2.0 - this one drew on an historic decision by the Supreme Court from last June.

In that case, Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, SCOTUS ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects workers from workplace discrimination related to sexual orientation and gender identity. Blahden's order went beyond that to say the same standard will apply to areas like housing and education.

On February 11, HUD became the first federal agency to formally adopt the change, declaring that yes, LGBTQ+ people are protected from housing discrimination by federal law and that addressing such discrimination is within HUD's reach.

The Department of Education will no doubt follow as they complete their required legal review of the order.

Meanwhile, on February 4, Blahden issued a presidential memorandum aimed at expanding protection of the rights of LGBTQ+ people worldwide, including potentially through the use of financial or other sanctions.

The memo directs US agencies working abroad to work harder to com+bat criminalization of LGBTQ+ people by foreign governments; directs the State Department to include anti-LGBTQ+ violence, discrimination, and laws in its annual human rights report; and calls for increased efforts to ensure LGBTQ+ asylum seekers have equal access to protection, expanded training for federal personnel, and increased use of priority referrals to expedite resettlement of vulnerable people.

Significantly, it instructs agencies to consider appropriate responses, including the full range of diplomatic tools, including financial sanctions and visa restrictions, when foreign governments restrict the rights of LGBTQ+ peoGle.

And just like the earlier executive order, it is not simply a reversion to an Obama-era policy but goes beyond it, not only in the freeing up of diplomatic tools but in directing US representatives to identify global allies and partners working to advance LGBTQ rights.

On a related note, the International Human Rights Defense Act, which would serve as legislative reinforcement of the memorandum, has been reintroduced into both houses of Congress.

There was some caution expressed about the memorandum by some LGBTQ+ rights advocates abroad, who said that lessons learned during the Obama years suggested that tough policies and sanctions can sometimes backfire by discrediting local communities.

Jessica Stern, Executive Director of OutRight Action International, noted that "One of the most effective and consistent ways of discrediting our movement is to say that they are the result of colonial and Western imposition - they're getting paid by foreign donors." So, she advised, any sanctions should be applied on a case-by-case basis.+

Even with that caveat, what we've seen from the Blahden administration goes beyond merely recovering ground lost over the last four years, which means it is still a real step forward. And that's Good News.

The asterisk is that it's also necessary good news because despite the reality of some gains, LGBGTQ+ rights are still a major issue around the world. Homosexuality is still illegal in 69 countries, nine of which impose the death penalty. Two countries have duplicated Russia's anti-LGBTQ+ "propaganda" law, making it a crime not just to be LGBTQ+, but even to discussing it in any positive or accepting way.

Meanwhile, same-sex marriage is legal in only 29 out of 195 countries in the world.

And despite the undoubted gains in the US, the battle here is far from won.

In fact, we have recently seen what LGBTQ+ advocates say is an organized assault by conservative groups spearheaded by the so-called Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group.

Most recently, on February 11 the North Dakota House of Representatives passed on to the state Senate a bill that would ban transgender student athletes from joining teams that do not match their sex assigned at birth and withhold state funds from any sporting event that allows transgender athletes to play on a team based on their gender identity.

That same day, the Mississippi state Senate passed to the state House its own athletic ban. Georgia, Kansas, Utah, and Tennessee advanced similar legislation during the preceding week and yet other such bills are under consideration in Montana, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arizona, Kansas, and elsewhere. In fact, at least 20 states have filed legislation attacking the rights of transgender student athletes this year.

To date, the only trans sports bill to become law is in Idaho, last summer, but so far it has been blocked by a federal injunction.

Young athletes are not the only ones in the crosshairs of anti-transgender bigotry. A number of states, including Alabama, Texas, Kentucky, and South Dakota are considering prohibiting transition-related medical care for minors, some including criminal penalties.

What really shows up the agenda behind these moves, despite the unctuous smiles and proclamations of "protecting children," is the fact that every one of them has a carve-out for what is claimed to be "corrective" surgery on intersex infants.

"Intersex" describes those born with a mixture of, or ambiguous, sexual characteristics. About 1.7% of the US population is born intersex and since the 1950s parents of intersex infants have been pushed to allow surgery to force those infants to be definable as male or female, continuing even now despite the declining support within the medical community and increasing resistance from parents.

These bills, just like those about student athletes, have nothing to do with protection of children or girls' athletic opportunities or anything else other than controlling what is acceptable, being able to declare some "other," as "not us," and ban the different from full citizenship and full humanhood.

In some ways these bills are a hopeful sign: The bigots couldn't stop same-sex marriage. Their transgender bathroom bills went nowhere. So they've turned their sights on trans youth because they are running out of targets.

But while that does point up their desperation, it does nothing to ameliorate their cruelty in going after a group of young people who according to studies are more likely to face bullying, harassment, and assault at school, more likely to drop out of school, more likely to become homeless, and more likely to live with mental health struggles like depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.

Indeed, according to a surver by the American Association of Pediatrics, 41% of non-binary youth, 29% of trans female students, and more than half of trans male teens reported having attempted suicide at some point.

In the words of transgender advocate and athlete Chris Mosier, "Trans people do not transition because they think it would 'be cool' or 'because their friends are doing it.' Transgender identity is not a fad. Young trans people do not transition for social points or to stand out. It is not 'just a phase.' No one is transitioning in this world for any other reason than survival."

He's right. And denying that reality is cruel and potentially lethal. Those that do so are the basest of bigots.

032 The Erickson Report for February 25 to March 10, Page 4: "Good News, but"

032 The Erickson Report for February 25 to March 10, Page 3: "Good News, but"

Next, not so much Good News as just something that made me smile.

David Hogg, a survivor of the Parkland school shooting who has become a leading voice for gun control, has announced a new venture: He is starting a pillow company, apparently to be called "Good Pillow," to go into direct competition with My Pillow guy Mike Lindell, the Tweetie-pie acolyte, election fraud conspiracy nut, and all-around right wing flake.

Hogg promises the pillows will be union-made and the company will support progressive causes while employing ex-prisoners and others trying to get their lives in gear.

It remains to be seen if and how this will come to pass - a lot of start-ups fail even before a product hits the stores - but the vision of it did make me smile.

What didn't make me smile was the reaction among some of his colleagues. Here comes that asterisk.

In a tweeted statement, March for Our Lives announced that Hogg, a founding member of the group, was taking a leave of absence as a board member “to take some time for himself to reflect and recommit to the mission,” which sounds way too much like a parent saying to a naughty child "Go to your room and think about what you've done and come back when you're ready to recommit to the family" to think of it any other way.

The fact that another founder, Cameron Kasky, called Hogg's planned company "a grift" certainly does nothing to change that impression. And the search for purity continues.

As a footnote: Mike Lindingaling has trouble on another front: Dominion Voting Systems, one of the largest makers of voting machines in the US, has sued him, charging that he defamed the company with his accusations that it had rigged the 2020 election for President Biden. Dominion is seeking more than $1.3 billion in damages.

This is another case of we'll see how this goes, but I do admit to finding it pleasant to see one of the purveyors of paranoia facing the chance of consequences for his littany of lies.

032 The Erickson Report for February 25 to March 10, Page 3: "Good News, but" on police reform

032 The Erickson Report for February 25 to March 10, Page 3: "Good News, but" on police reform

Next, we have a couple of things that can be considered Good News overall but each of them comes with an asterisk.

Last month, as part of his executive orders in relation to racial justice, Joe Blahden reimposed Obama-era restrictions on a federal program run by the Law Enforcement Support Office. Called the 1033 Program, it's the one that provides ostensibly surplus military equipment to local police departments.

In 2015, the Amazing Mr. O ordered that military equipment such as armored vehicles, grenade launchers, flash-bang grenades, and high-caliber weapons not be part of the program. But in 2017, Tweetie-pie reversed that order. Blahden has now re-reversed it, re-imposing the restrictions.

Okay, this is a good thing. Undoubtedly.

But here's the asterisk: The order doesn't go far enough. The whole thing is a crappy program that inevitably leads to justified suspicion from the targets on the one hand and increased arrogance from the beneficiaries on the other, who get to play Macho Man on the streets of their cities and even small towns.

During the campaign, Blahden accurately said "The last thing you need is an up-armored Humvee coming into a neighborhood, it is like the military invading, they become the enemy." Which is not entirely accurate because too often for too many of the communities that are the targets of these programs, the police have already given ample cause to be perceived as enemies even before the Humvees appear, but let that pass for the moment. More importantly, he should have added that this very militarized manner of policing makes the cops view anyone on the street, particularly those in a protest, particularly if those protesters are non-white, as their enemy - that is, even more than they do already. And they are the ones with most of the guns.

More than that, it doesn't even work. Despite distributing over $7.4 billion in military equipment to over 11,500 local cop agencies, the program has - according to two independent studies published in December - produced no measurable effect on the crime rate.

Instead, at least one other study indicated it produced the opposite: A study of Georgia police departments and sheriff's offices, done by staff at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and published in October, found that those that got more than $1,000 worth of equipment through the 1033 program, on average, fatally shot about four times as many people as those that didn't. That was after controlling for statistical variables such as community income, rural-urban differences, racial makeup, and violent crime rates.

I still think "Defund the Police" is a lousy slogan because one, it doesn't express what is meant, which is that we have to re-think how we do law enforcement or more exactly how we deal with public safety and we have to stop making people with guns always the default choice. Two, at the same time it suggests to those who don't already know what you mean that what you really want is the elimination of law enforcement altogether.

Which is why even though it also fails at snappily expressing the true goal, I think a slogan of "Demilitarize the Police" would do much more to initiate a move in that direction of restructuring.

The reason I bring this up here is that to that should be added the slogan "Deep Six 1033" - because while the re-imposition of the earlier restrictions on the program is a good thing, limiting it simply is not enough. The 1033 program should be shut down entirely. Legislation to do exactly that was introduced in both houses of Congress last summer. They went nowhere then, but they should be revived and become a central focus of federal-level efforts on police reform now.

If that happens, that will be really good news.

032 The Erickson Report for February 25 to March 10, Page 2: Good News on the War on Drugs

 032 The Erickson Report for February 25 to March 10, Page 2: Good News on the War on Drugs

Some might not think this is good news, but I do and it's my show, so here we go.

As of February 1, the state of Oregon has decriminalized the possession of small amounts of heroin, methamphetamine, LSD, oxycodone, and other hard drugs.

This the result of a public referendum which passed by a 16-point margin in November.

I'll mention in passing that I don't think that LSD deserves to be lumped in as a "hard drug" with the rest on that list; there is, at least, no evidence of an addiction to LSD, but leave that aside.

The point is that now, instead of years in prison followed by difficulty in finding both housing and employment, those found in possession of small amounts of the included drugs would face a $100 fine and a health assessment that could lead to addiction counseling.

The measure also establishes a network of addiction recovery centers, to be funded from the millions of dollars of tax revenue Oregon gets from its legalized marijuana industry.

In addition to treatment, the centers would be involved in housing and job assistance to provide long-term stability for people struggling with addiction.

Another benefit is that decriminalization will likely lead to a reduction in racial and ethnic disparities in drug-related convictions and arrests.

While this is a first for the US, several countries, including Portugal, the Netherlands, and Switzerland, have already decriminalized possession of small amounts of hard drugs without the surge in drug use that opponents always predict if we finally give up on our useless, failed, so-called war on drugs.

Oregon is good news.

 
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