Saturday, November 15, 2014

182.5 - Hero Award: Arnold Abbott

Hero Award: Arnold Abbott

Finally for this week, we have one of our occasional features: We call it the Hero Award and it's awarded for just doing the right thing on a matter big or small.

Our Hero this time is Arnold Abbott.

Every Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. for the past 23 years, 90-year-old Arnold Abbott has been feeding the homeless at a public beach in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He organized and heads the Maureen A. Abbott Love Thy Neighbor Fund, named in honor of his late wife, with who he first began giving food to the homeless back in 1979.

But since January 2013, 21 cities across the country have passed laws restricting public feedings of the hungry and homeless and 10 more have similar rules under consideration, according to an October report from the National Coalition to the Homeless. Nationwide, at least 57 cities have limited or banned public feeding.

In late October, Fort Lauderdale became one of those cities, passing a law for the specific purpose of making it harder to feed hungry homeless people.

The new law not only requires permits for setting up on public property, it requires portable toilets, hand-washing facilities, and more, facilities which the kind of shoe-string organizations that do this kind of work obviously cannot afford. Violations are punishable by up to 60 days in jail or a $500 fine, or both.

Arnold Abbott
On November 2, two days after the law went into effect, Abbott and several volunteers were running a food station outside a public park in open defiance of the law. He and two members of the local clergy were charged with violating the law and taken away. The city insists they were not "arrested," merely "cited" for a later court appearance, but since they were taken from the scene by police and held before being released, that strikes me as little more than a semantic difference.

Three days later, at 5:30 pm, Abbott was there at the beach where he has been every Wednesday for 23 years. He was cited again, facing now a second $500 find and/or 60 days in jail.

He says he will not give up. It's unlikely that the city government of Fort Lauderdale will be shamed into changing its ways; this is not the first measure the city has passed responding to the homeless there by trying to make them invisible rather than by assisting them.

Be that is it may, one thing remains clear: Arnold Abbott is a hero.

Sources cited in links:

182.4 - Some good news from the election

Some good news from the election

Okay, it's been more than a week since the election and I expect people are feeling kinda down, not without cause, so I thought I would spend some time going over some bits of good news coming out of the election. They are sort of scattered around, but they are still worth noting.

For one thing, Rep. Alan Grayson of Florida won re-election by a double-digit margin. Which is worth noting because he was pretty much target #1 for the right -wing nutballs in this election.

For another, Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim to be election to the House, was re-elected by a margin of over 40 points.

A small but interesting case involves the city of Richmond, California, home to a refinery operated by Chevron. A major fire a few years ago caused a lot of damage and the city sued Chevron to recover some of the costs. Rather than taking its chances in court, Chevron preferred to try to take over the city government. It ran a slate of hand-picked pro-corporate candidates into the city's elections and pumped in $3 million in advertising - remember, this is a municipal election - $3 million in advertising on behalf of its favored few.

They lost: Progressive candidates won the mayor's office and three of the four open seats on the City Council.

It is true in politics as elsewhere that money talks. But sometimes, just sometimes, people wisely refuse to listen.

On a matter we have talked about here any number of times, guns: Voters in the state of Washington voted to institute universal background checks on firearms purchases, including for gun shows and private sales, while at the same time rejecting a measure that would have banned background checks unless required by federal law. Both victories were by comfortable double-digit majorities.

The right-wing of course immediately tried to dismiss that result - because, remember, as far as they are concerned elections are meaningless unless they win, which is why voter suppression is, according to them, actually a matter of "protecting the integrity of the process." Anyway, the right-wing site blew the Washington vote off based on wins in various races across the country by candidates endorsed by the NRA, the Nutzoid Rabbit-Brains of America, claiming that means that nationally, gun control advocates got a "shellacking" - even though guns were not an issue in most of those campaigns. Interestingly and perhaps revealingly, does not mention the fact that the NRA, knowing it would lost the Washington vote, never contested it. Could it be that a good part of the reason the Nutzoids seem to win so often is that they only get involved when they're confident they will?

On another front, Massachusetts has become the third state in the nation to require employers to grant people paid sick time. Two major municipalities - Trenton and Montclair, NJ - did the same and Oakland, California, approved an expanded version of that state's requirement.

This is something that is gaining ground: Just two years ago, just one state and three cities had such laws. Now, the number is three states and sixteen cities.

Meanwhile, Oregon and Alaska became the third and fourth states to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes, following the path set by Colorado and Washington, while the District of Columbia repealed all penalties for possession of small amounts and even allowed for some limited, private cultivation of the drug.

A vote in Florida to legalize medical marijuana received 57 percent of the vote. Unfortunately, it failed because this was a proposed constitutional amendment, which requires 60 percent to pass. But still, it got 57 percent despite a massive onslaught of misleading ads involving gross exaggeration and fear-mongering.

However, most of the results I just cited have come in places generally thought of as more or less liberal: California, Washington, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon. But now, the references to Alaska and to some extent Florida get us to the meat of this, the meat of what I wanted to consider, the meat of both the elation and the frustration, the hope and the despair: The people of the United States continue to vote for liberal or progressive policies even as they vote for reactionary right-wing candidates.

Here's an example: The city of Denton, Texas, known as the place where hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking,"  was invented, voted to ban the process in the city.

Fracking, in case you're not familiar with it, is a means of increasing production from oil and natural gas wells by pumping a mix of water, sludge, and one of several different cocktails of toxic chemicals - we don't know exactly what ones because the mixtures are considered a "trade secret" which the companies do not have to reveal - pumping that mixture into a well under such pressure that it literally fractures the surrounding rock, allowing more fossil fuel to be extracted from the fissures created. The practice has been connected to contaminated water supplies and earthquakes.

And by a margin of 18 points, the voters of Denton made it the first city in Texas to ban fracking in wells in the city.

Similar bans passed in Mendocino and San Benito counties in California and the city of Athens, Ohio. Unhappily, attempts at such bans lost in another California country and three cities in Ohio. But as Bruce Baizel of the group Earthworks said, if Denton, which probably is more familiar with fracking than anywhere else, "can’t live with fracking, then who can? The answer is ‘no one.’"

Even on reproductive rights, an area where we seem to be moving backward, it developed that there are limits to just how far back we will slide. A so-called “personhood” measure is one that declares a fetus - even a zygote - is a "person" with full legal rights from the very moment of conception. Such measures would not only ban all abortions, they would even ban some methods of birth control.

Well, in North Dakota, a state so against abortion that only one provider survives in the entire state, 64 percent of voters just rejected a personhood initiative, repeating the result that occurred in Mississippi three years ago. Another personhood proposal was on the ballot in Colorado. That one, too, failed. But that was expected. But North Dakota?

Another area about which very little got mentioned: Conservative groups made a big push to oust certain elected state Supreme Court justices in Tennessee, North Carolina, Kansas, and Montana on the grounds that they are too liberal - which means they are liberal to any degree at all, which in the wingnut ads became dangerously radical. All together, there were 9 judges targeted across the four states, three of them safely red, one ambiguously purple. Despite the assault, every one of those nine judges kept their seat.

But the big one, the one that had everyone talking, was the minimum wage. Initiatives to raise the minimum wage appeared on the ballots in four of the deepest-red states: Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota. Every one of them passed by margins ranging from 10 to 38 points, passed in states that on the same day sent to Congress a slew of right-wing fanatics who would do away with the minimum wage completely if they possibly could.

This is nothing new, this is a continuing pattern that goes back at least thirty years, and probably longer. But I say 30 years because I specifically remember that in the presidential election of 1984, with Walter Mondale going against Ronald Reagan, public polls were asking people "how do you feel about this issue and that issue and the other issue" and over and over again, the answers people gave lined them up more with Mondale than with Reagan. But when those same polls asked "who are you voting for," the overwhelming answer, reflected in the final result, was "Reagan." People were not only voting against their own interests, they were voting against their own desires.

And they still are.

Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that they are not voting at all: Turnout for the 2014 midterms is estimated at 36%. Apparently, a lot of us think the right to vote is so precious that we'd better not touch it at all.

Now, that is something to get depressed about.

Sources cited in links:

182.3 - Clown Award: FCC Chair Tom Wheeler

Clown Award: FCC Chair Tom Wheeler

Now it's time for one of out regular features, the Clown Award, given as always for meritorious stupidity.

The winner of the Big Red Nose this week is one of the most important people of who you have probably never heard who is not a right-wing billionaire: Tom Wheeler.

Our story starts sometime back, but the current chapter began on November 10, when Barack Obama, the Amazing Mr. O, put an end to months and months of vacillating and tip-toeing - in other words, months and months of being Barack Obama - and came out in favor of the "strongest possible rules to protect Net neutrality," the principle that internet service providers, or ISPs, can't favor some Internet traffic over others, that all Web traffic must be treated equally. It has been a bedrock philosophical principle of the Internet all along and has been a major driving force behind its development and expansion, because everybody had equal access so everybody had an equal chance to get their message out, whether that message was commercial or philosophical or political or, as seems to be true with most every human endeavor, porn.
That principle has been under attack for some time by the major ISPs such as Comcast and Time-Warner, who want to cut deals with high-traffic websites to promise them faster transmission speeds in return for special fees. Years ago, when the idea was just getting going, Al Gore used to refer to what became the Internet as "the information superhighway." You can think of what the telecoms want as putting toll booths on every entrance ramp to that highway so if you can afford the tolls, you get to be on the multi-lane highway, but if you can't, you're stuck on the single-lane, rutted back roads complete with traffic jams and red lights. Many of the big websites also like the idea because it tends to cement their dominance against the risk of some new upstart website competing for their traffic, since the giants could easily afford the fees that would be imposed and start-ups quite possibly couldn't.

The FCC has been muddling about, trying to find a way to satisfy the corporate giants while at least looking like it's protecting Net neutrality.

Now, Obama has come out in favor of the simplest, most straightforward way of dealing with this: reclassify ISPs as "common carriers" under the Telecommunications Act, which would allow their regulation as public utilities and, just as is the case with your telephone, make it illegal, quoting the law, "to make any unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities, or services." Just as every phone call is equal, all Web traffic would be equal.

Tom Wheeler
Enter Tom Wheeler.

Why is he important? Because Tom Wheeler is the chair of the FCC.

Just hours after Obama's statement, and even as his own office released a statement claiming that Wheeler opposes what are called Internet "fast lanes," Wheeler was telling a group of business executives from major Web companies such as Google, Yahoo, and Etsy that he wants a more "nuanced" position, what he calls a "hybrid" approach, one which essentially would allow precisely the sort of fee-for-speed arrangements that the principle of Net neutrality rejects while claiming to protect Net neutrality by saying that paid prioritization deals would have to prove that they are just and reasonable. In other words, such deals would be subject to review on a case-by-case basis and look at how well that procedure has worked to control corporate mergers.

Anyway. Skip the legal technicalities involved here. In fact, skip the technical technicalities. Here's a handy quick guide to four things to keep in mind in thinking about this.

One: If someone loudly insists that they are absolutely opposed to "site-blocking," which means ISPs using their control of traffic to block users from access to legal websites of which the corporation disapproves, they are trying to con you. Everyone from every point of view on this has been against site-blocking all along. The real fight here is not over site-blocking, it is over paid prioritization and its opposite, throttling, which is deliberately slowing down access speed to a site. Anyone ballyhooing their opposition to site-blocking is trying to hide their approval of prioritization and throttling.

Two: Verizon, a telecom with a major stake in the outcome of all this, is starting a new on-line tech and lifestyle magazine called Applicants for jobs there have been told in so many words that they will not be allowed to write anything about Net neutrality. (Or domestic spying, by the way, another area where Verizon has let's call it a vested interest.)

Three: Ted Cruz is against Net neutrality; he called it "Obamacare for the Internet," which is obviously supposed to be something self-evidently bad although I'm not sure exactly what.

Four: Tom Wheeler is a former lobbyist for the telecommunications industry who recently declared about his position on the FCC "I am an independent agency." Not "I am with an independent agency" or even "I head an independent agency," but "I am an independent agency."

L'├ętat, c'est moi.

Which means there's a fifth thing you should keep in mind: Tom Wheeler is a clown.

Sources cited in links:

182.2 - Not Good News: Sixth Circuit, as expected, endorses discrimination against same-sex couples

Not Good News: Sixth Circuit, as expected, endorses discrimination against same-sex couples

Which, of course, immediately brings up the Not Good News.

On November 6 - the first week in November was a busy one on this front - on November 6 the 6th Circuit federal court upheld, approved, sanctioned, legal discrimination by the states of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee against same-sex couples wanting to get married or have their marriages from other states recognized.

The ruling by the three-judge panel was a split one, 2-1. Neither the ruling nor the split were unexpected; people have been predicting this is the way it would come down ever since the oral arguments.

What struck me, however, was not the decision itself, which again while disappointing was expected, but the utter vacuity of the logic of the ruling. Essentially every argument the majority offered to approve of bans on same-sex marriage could have been - and in fact, usually were - offered in defense of bans on interracial marriage just a few decades ago.

For example, during oral arguments, Judge Jeffrey Sutton said "I would have thought the best way to get respect and dignity is through the democratic process." Writing the majority opinion, Sutton seconded his own words, writing that it is up to legislators, not judges, to decide whether to preserve the "traditional" definition for marriage, with the definition of "traditional" having included "of the same race" in numerous states in this country well into my lifetime. Put another way, Sutton is saying that states get to define what is a marriage and, apparently, human rights are subject to majority approval. It would appear - I don't see how it could be argued otherwise -  that Sutton thinks that Loving v. Virginia, the landmark Supreme Court ruling in 1967 that struck down bans on interracial marriage, was decided wrongly.

What's more, the decision here found what it considered a rational basis for the state bans: establishing ground rules "to create and maintain stable relationships within which children may flourish." What, so same-sex couples are unfit parents? Is he seriously trying to argue that? Oh, and by the way, that was also an argument raised against interracial marriage: Think of the children! Think of the problems and difficulties the children of such a marriage will have!

Now, it's true, the court said, that marriage has also come to be viewed as a way to solemnize relationships characterized by love and commitment. "Gay couples, no less than straight couples, are capable of such relationships," that majority declared. Grand of them to acknowledge that, although it would have been better if they hadn't immediately followed that up by saying, in effect, "yeah, big deal, so what, you still can't get married."

The majority even threw in the slippery-slope argument: If it's unconstitutional to restrict marriage to one-man-one-woman, "it must be constitutionally irrational to stand by the monogamous definition of marriage." I'm surprised they didn't raise the specter of people marrying farm animals.

In fact, the opinion was so vacuous and offered so few cohesive arguments and nothing whatsoever new, that the dissenting judge, Martha Craig Daugherty, suggested that moving the case to the Supreme Court may have been the goal of Sutton and Judge Deborah Cook in their ruling.

"Because the correct result is so obvious," Daugherty wrote, "one is tempted to speculate that the majority has purposefully taken the contrary position to create the circuit split."

The point here being that this decision creates a split among the circuit courts, with the 4th, 7th, 9th, and 10th Circuits knocking down bans on marriage equality and the 6th now endorsing them. That sharply increases the chances that the Supreme Court will step in to make a final ruling. The question is when: An appeal would have to be ready before mid-January for there to be a chance for the Supreme Court to hear the case this session, which ends in June. Otherwise, it would be pushed back to the following term and so probably not decided until June 2016.

It's true, as it's said, that justice delayed is justice denied. Even so, that doesn't change the fact that, as I keep saying, justice is coming.

Sources cited in links:

182.1 - Good News: Missouri ban on same-sex marriage found unconstitutional in both state and federal court

Good News: Missouri ban on same-sex marriage found unconstitutional in both state and federal court

Starting, as we always try to do, with some Good New, we have still more on marriage justice. On November 5, Judge Rex Burlison of the St. Louis Circuit Court of Missouri - a state court - declared Missouri's ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional.

“The Court finds and declares," Burlison wrote, "that any same-sex couple that satisfies all the requirements for marriage under Missouri law, other than being of different sexes, is legally entitled to a marriage license.”

The city of St. Louis and the country of St. Louis immediately began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Advocates say the ruling applies statewide.

State Attorney General Chris Koster appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court but did not asked for a stay - which is a bit unusual but  perhaps not too surprising in this case since Koster had earlier signaled that his office was backing off defending the ban: Last month, when a Kansas City judge ruled that the marriages of same-sex couples wed in states where that is legal must be recognized by Missouri, Koster declined to appeal. So the appeal here may be pro forma.

Which may be especially true because two days later, on November 7, a federal district judge, Ortrie Smith, also found that the state's ban violated guarantees under the US Constitution of due process and equal protection. This is the first federal decision on same-sex marriage in the 8th Circuit. Four other states in that circuit - Arkansas, Nebraska, and the Dakotas - have bans same-sex marriage, while it is legal in Iowa and Minnesota.

And to round things out, on that same day, November 7, the 10th Circuit court refused to hear an appeal from Kansas against a district court ruling saying that Kansas could not enforce its ban on same-sex marriage. That decision was expected, since the 10th Circuit had already struck down essentially identical provisions in other states, but still it was welcome because it means that Kansas can no longer stall and delay on granting marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle 182

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of November 13-19, 2014

This week:

Good News: Missouri ban on same-sex marriage found unconstitutional in both state and federal court

Not Good News: Sixth Circuit, as expected, endorses discrimination against same-sex couples.

Clown Award: FCC Chair Tom Wheeler

Some good news from the election

Hero Award: Arnold Abbott

Saturday, November 08, 2014

Outrage of the Week: Time and teacher-bashing

Outrage of the Week: Time and teacher-bashing

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

You may have already heard about this or seen something about it, it has been in the news, but there may be some aspects you don't know.

This week, the outrage starts with the cover of Time magazine for November 3. It portrays a judge's gavel about to smash an apple alongside the text "Rotten Apples: It's Nearly Impossible to Fire a Bad Teacher."

Which, right off the top, is a problem because it's not "nearly impossible" to fire a bad teacher - you just have to have an actual reason and give them a hearing.

Media watchdog FAIR says that the cover, insultingly depicting the teaching profession as full of "rotten apples" that deserve to be smashed, might make you suspect Time "is doing some good old-fashioned teacher-bashing." And, the group says, "You'd be right."

A petition drive started by the American Federation of Teachers produced more than 100,000 names in less than a week, demanding Time apologize for the cover.

And here the outrage deepens. Nancy Gibbs, Time’s managing editor, responded in the magazine by claiming that
Union leaders … are charging that by writing about legal efforts to remove bad teachers from classrooms, with the cover line 'Rotten Apples,' TIME has insulted all teachers....
That statement is a blatant lie. The petition specifically objected to the cover, not the stories. In fact, it said that "the cover doesn’t even reflect Time's own reporting" and that the articles themselves "present a more balanced view of the issues."

So for Time to charge that petition supporters - oh, wait, it's "union leaders," I guess no one else signed - for Time to claim that the petition said that writing about efforts to remove bad teachers is an insult is, again, a blatant lie.

But it gets even worse because the petition was too kind to the article.

The article is about a small group of very rich Silicon Valley "tech titan" millionaires who, despite lacking any educational expertise or experience, have decided that they are the ones who can fix America's supposedly broken public schools and that the way to do that is to attack tenure, the system that says that after a certain point on the job, a teacher can't be fired except for cause.

What got this started? What gave them the idea that this is our educational panacea? David Welch, one of these millionaires, says he asked a "big-city California superintendent" how to fix the schools and was "blown away" by his answer, which was "Give me control over my workforce." That is, a guy with power thinks the answer to any problems is to give him more power. I can see why these millionaires identified with that so strongly.

Time does admit that teacher tenure used to be important, noting that before tenure laws,
a teacher could be fired for holding unorthodox political views or attending the wrong church, or for no reason at all if the local party boss wanted to pass on the job to someone else.
But now, apparently, Time wants us to believe that is all in the past. There is no more job discrimination, no one gets fired for their political views or their religion or for being homosexual, or because someone wants to give the job to someone else, or for being a thorn in the side of the bosses, no, that's all in the past! Just doesn't happen any more! So who needs tenure?

But the worst thing of all is that after going on about the supposed "flood of new academic research" backing up the millionaires' attacks on tenure, the article admits in the 27th paragraph of a 28-paragraph story that the methodology involved is at best questionable and may be useless if not downright bogus.

So Time magazine, after drooling and fawning over a bunch of very rich elitists who are going to "repair public education" in an article that did not quote a single teacher or union official but did manage to include comments from a researcher for a "conservative education think tank" and someone from the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, an article that never even hinted at the connection between attacks on tenure and attacks on teachers' unions and how the former is just the wedge to attack the latter, after all that, Time gets around to mentioning that the whole anti-tenure enterprise may be based on vapor. And it illustrates it with a picture of a gavel about to smash a supposedly rotten apple.

The whole thing is at best journalistic malfeasance - and an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

182.4 - Clown Award: The American people

Clown Award: The American people

Now for one of our features, the Clown Award, given for meritorious stupidity.

The winner of the Big Red Nose this week is ... the American people.

And I don't say that because of the election results, even though I'm tempted to. Those results were pretty much as expected and as predicted and making the incredibly bold, even daring, assumption that the Dimcrats can play political hardball - and yes, I am suppressing a laugh right now - but assuming that, things won't be much different in practical terms in DC; the only difference being who is doing the filbustering.

At the same time, it is possible - don't count on it - but there is a small hypothetical possibility that there could be some small steps on some matters worth doing - such as immigration reform - because now that the GOPpers are in control of the Senate and can take credit for it, they may agree to some things that before they filibustered just so that the Dims could not get the credit.

On the other hand, if the Dimcrats do start playing hardball and remind the GOPpers that it still can take 60 votes to pass anything these days, amuse yourself by guessing just how long - or, properly, how short - a time it will be before the GOPpers and Fox News start screeching about "obstructionism" when the Dims start acting exactly like the GOPpers have done these past six years - and then how much longer before the demand that Dems "stop being obstructionist" and submit to GOPper desires becomes conventional wisdom in the mainstream media. In fact, the predictable pundit pronouncements that the Dims must move to the right (which they misidentify as the "center") are already starting.

Anyway, that's not why the American people are this week's clowns. Rather, it's because we are a people easily manipulated, easily stampeded, and most of all, easily frightened. For all our protestations of daring and courage, we are a timorous people, easily and readily scared of and by the world around us.

For the latest evidence, and for the source of this week's award, consider the reaction to the current paranoia about Ebola.

Now, Ebola is a severe disease, but it is not highly infectious until symptoms are far along; in fact you can't catch Ebola from someone who shows no symptoms. What's more, Ebola is not airborne but is transmitted through direct physical contact with an infected person or with their bodily fluids. such as their blood - and in fact not all fluids: neither sputum does not appear to be a vector for the virus, urine is not a vector, and vomit may not be. All this is according the to Centers for Disease Control.

And frankly, those healthcare workers who caught Ebola did so because they broke protocol: They didn't follow the rules for dealing with a potentially infections patient.

Despite that, according to a brand new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 71 percent of Americans support mandatory 21-day quarantines for health professionals who have treated Ebola patients in West Africa, even if they have no symptoms, even if they test negative for the virus. Why? Just because.

Just because, that is, we are so flipping easily scared out of our wits by the latest boogeyman, whatever it is, and now it's Ebola.

Republicans supported the mandatory isolation, Democrats supported it, independents supported  it. Every age group and every level of education supported it, all by majorities ranging from 60 to 85 percent.

The question of mandatory quarantines came into the public debate after nurse Kaci Hickox was forced to spend a weekend in a tent at Newark airport solely because she was returning from dealing with the Ebola epidemic in western Africa on behalf of the CDC. This, even though she was asymptomatic and tests showed no trace of the virus.

After she got out of that - by threatening to sue the state - she went home to Maine, which has a voluntary 21-day quarantine. But when she didn't voluntarily quarantine herself because, remember, she still showed no symptoms, the state went to court to try to force her to submit to this supposedly "voluntary" isolation.

The effort failed as the court, relying on CDC data, shot down the state's demand in no uncertain terms:
The court is fully aware of the misconceptions, misinformation, bad science and bad information being spread from shore to shore in our country with respect to Ebola. The court is fully aware that people are acting out of fear and that this fear is not entirely rational.
Kaci Hickox
But that of course made no difference. In comments on the story - and as I always say, if you want to see the fanatics at play, if you want to see the fear at play, don't read the article, read the comments - in comments on the story, she was called, among many other things:
selfish - a disgrace to the profession - just wants her 15 minutes of fame - appalling - should lose her nursing license - A terrorist comes in many different shapes and sizes [I really like that one] - She wants to go on talk shows - the stupidest woman in the Universe
and a whole lot more.

One predictable - and predicted - effect of her experience and this kind of vituperation is that healthcare workers will become less willing to go to Africa to try to help contain the disease and treat its victims for fear not of the disease but of being stigmatized and quarantined when they get home. Doctors Without Borders is already reporting precisely that chilling effect. The irrational fears about the disease are making it harder to deal with it.

Let me tell you just how bad this has gotten.

Susan Sherman was a religious education teacher at St. Margaret Mary school in Louisville, Kentucky. She is also a registered nurse and recently had been on a mission to Africa.

Because of that, parents raised concerns and the school wanted her to take a 21-day leave and produce a health note from her doctor. Realizing she had marked and labeled, she chose to resign rather than put herself through that.

Here's the thing: On the map of Africa here, the area marked in bright red on the west coast covers Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea, the nations were the Ebola outbreak is happening. The area marked in brownish red on the east coast is Kenya - which is where Susan Sherman was. Among the nations where Ebola is, the one closest to Kenya is Liberia. It's capital is Monrovia. The capital of Kenya is Nairobi.

The distance from Monrovia to Nairobi is over 4,600 miles. That is over 1,600 miles greater than the distance between Boston and Los Angeles. But due to our pusillanimous paranoia and our appalling geographic stupidity, Susan Sherman is out of a job because some parents thought she was too close to Ebola. Because, you know, Africa.

We refuse to let facts penetrate the fear. We prefer to shiver and shake and quiver in a corner sucking our thumbs. And then we wonder why right-wingers whose entire schtick is screaming "They're coming to get you!" win elections.

As individuals, Americans are truly wonderful people. But as a whole, we are a bunch of clowns.

Sources cited in links:

182.3 - Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday!

A quick light note to take us to the break:

I just have to offer a sincere Happy Birthday to someone who just turned 60 this week.

Yes, folks, Godzilla is now 60.

The first Godzilla film was released in Japan on November 3, 1954. The monster's name, and the title of the film, was "Gojira," which, as near as I can tell from a website for Japanese pronunciations, was pronounced "GO-ji-ra" or "GO-zhi-ra." The name was supposed to be a combination of "gorilla" and the Japanese word for "whale." Which strikes me as odd because I don't think he looks even a little like either a gorilla or a whale, but on the other hand he would make one whale of a gorilla so maybe it works out.

Godzilla became the name we know him by with the American release of an Americanized version featuring Raymond Burr in 1956 under the title "Godzilla, King of the Monsters."

An interesting note about the American release is that while it downplayed the social commentary and anti-nuclear weapons messages of the original, it was the first post-World War II major commercial release in the US to present Japanese in principal, heroic roles or as sympathetic victims.

Godzilla: 60 years old and still stompin'. Happy B-day, big guy.

Sources cited in links:,_King_of_the_Monsters!

181.2 - Footnote: There are still battles to be fought

Footnote: There are still battles to be fought

Even as we are winning this battle, there are still others to be fought on this same front.

There is, for example, no federal law protecting workers from being fired or otherwise discriminated against just for being gay or lesbian. A proposed federal law known as ENDA, the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, would offer such protection to anyone working for an employer with at least 15 employees. It has been introduced in nearly every Congress since 1994. It has never passed.

This is despite the fact that according to a new Harris poll, two-thirds of Americans support such legislation, and 55 percent reject exemptions for any employers - even churches.

Meanwhile, while some states have enacted their own protections, there are still 29 states where you legally can be fired for being gay or lesbian; in 32 states you can be legally fired over issues of sexual identity, that is, for being transsexual.

Most Americans think that this problem has already been solved: A 2013 poll found that 69 percent of Americans think that firing someone just for being homosexual is illegal. Those Americans are wrong.

Sources cited in links:

181.1 - Good News: Another one bites the dust

Good News: Another one bites the dust

Starting, as we do when we can, with Good News, we see that another one bites the dust: On Tuesday, November 4, federal District Court judge Daniel Crabtree ruled the ban on same-sex marriage by Kansas is unconstitutional.

Oral arguments had taken place the previous Friday, but Crabtree declined to make an immediate decision. Based on his ruling, the concern was over the legal technicalities the state tried to introduce with regard to the issue of "abstention," which is where federal courts should avoid  "interfering" with an issue in the state courts.

There is a case before the state Supreme Court involving a Kansas county judge who relied on the federal court precedent to order a court clerk to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. However, Crabtree determined that the two cases were different enough that his ruling would not impact the other case. So he did the right thing and ordered that the state of Kansas cannot enforce its ban on same-sex marriage.

Crabtree, as is common in such cases, stayed his own ruling, in this case until November 11, to allow the state a chance to appeal. Hopefully, state officials will do what others have done: recognize the pointlessness of such an appeal to a court that has already ruled on the matter, and give it up.

Something which, it develops, some states are simply refusing to do.

South Carolina is now the only state in the Fourth Circuit still enforcing a ban on same-sex marriage. The state argues that the cases that were before the Appeals Court did not specifically address the provision of South Carolina's state constitution outlawing same-sex marriage, so the ruling doesn't apply to South Carolina.

There are now several suits in both state and federal court challenging the state's numbskull refusal to face reality.

That reality was reflected by the announcement last month from Attorney General Eric Holder that the federal government now recognizes same-sex couples from 33 states as legally married and therefore eligible for federal benefits.

Because indeed yes, things have changed.

For one example, just two years ago, Colorado's House Republican leadership twice torpedoed a civil unions bill.

This year, GOPper candidates for governor, US Senate and US House in the state said nothing when the US Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal from a ruling by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals striking down bans on same-sex marriage, which effectively legalized same-sex marriage in Colorado. Same-sex marriage was a non-issue in this year's election.

GOPper insiders and political analysts in the state say say the rapid shift was necessary for the political survival of those candidates, as polls have gone from showing Colorado voters evenly split on recognizing same-sex marriage to favoring it by 61 percent - in the past three years. Even GOPpers in the state support at least civil unions.

Speaker of the House John Boner - Sir John of Orange - openly campaigned for an openly gay GOpper candidate in California, something that would have been unthinkable a few years ago. And bear in mind it's not just GOPpers, not just the right: Remember that among others, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, and Hillary Clinton have all - in Obama's word - "evolved" on the issue over the past few years.

Meanwhile, Creighton University, a Jesuit school in Omaha, Nebraska has decided to provide health benefits to spouses of homosexual employees who were married in states where such marriages are recognized. This is despite the facts that a)Jesuits are Catholics and b)same-sex marriage is not recognized in Nebraska and it is not one of the states affected by recent court rulings.

What's more, it turns out that Creighton is one of 22 Jesuit universities that do the same thing.

The president of Creighton, Rev. Timothy Lannon, said the move was not meant to imply an endorsement of same-sex marriage but was merely a matter of treating employees fairly.

Which, when you come right down to it, is pretty much all anyone is asking for: basic human fairness.

But as I've said before, the dead-enders will not give up, even as they are sounding more and more desperate.

For example of that desperation, here's a headline at a right-wing site called the Daily Signal: "The Government Should Stop Waging War on Those Against Same-Sex Marriage."

Because now that they are losing, now that their bigotry is no longer the law of the land, now that their bigotry is rejected by a majority of the people of this country, they whine and cry and bleat about how "oppressed" they are. Because no one is quicker to cry and sniffle and mewl about how "mean" you are and how "unfair" it all is, no one is quicker to claim they are a victim, than a right-winger who is losing an argument.

One last thing on this: Since same-sex marriage was legalized in North Carolina, at least six judges in the state have resigned from the bench, saying they do not want to go against their Christian faith.

To which I say, good! If you have certain personal beliefs, that can prevent you from being able to do certain jobs. You can't be a Christian Scientist and be a surgeon. You can't be a pacifist and be a soldier. As a judge, your job, your role, is to interpret and follow the law, not to interpret and enforce your personal religious belief. If you can't do that, you can't be a judge.

As far as I'm concerned, the same applies to the arguments that have been raised claiming that people in private businesses such as, for one example that gets cited, florists, should be free to use their personal religious views to discriminate against same-sex couples. First off, if the same argument was made about interracial couples - which it was, just a few decades ago - if someone claimed the Bible is against interracial marriage so they are free to discriminate against interracial couples in their business, we would find it nonsensical on its face. "You don't get to do that," we'd immediately say. There is no reason the response should be different here.

If you are - still using the example of a florist - if you are a florist operating a public business who provides flowers for weddings, you don't get to say "Well, I'll sell to this couple getting legally married but not to that couple getting legally married because I don't like that they can get married." If you can't deal with that, you don't get to be a florist.

Bottom line: If you can't sell your product or service to anyone who legally comes to you to buy it, you can't do that job. Period. Freedom of religion is not freedom to discriminate.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #181

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of November 6-12, 2014

This week:

Good News: Another one bites the dust

Footnote: There are still battles to be fought

Happy Birthday!,_King_of_the_Monsters!

Clown Award: The American people

Outrage of the Week: Time and teacher-bashing

Noted in passing

Something I just want to note in passing because it strikes me funny.

Based on the rapidity with which I get my first few hits on my posts, there are a handful of people who find them worthwhile enough to get them automatically. One among that number likes my stuff enough to give every post a +1.

Apparently, now, there is someone else who dislikes what I say enough to give everything a -1, cancelling out the positive rating. Enough so that not only do they rate everything down, but they went back to old posts to do the same thing. Which strikes me, frankly, as quite hilarious.

We now return you to our regular doom and gloom.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

180.8 - Global Warming: Hottest September on record

Global Warming: Hottest September on record

Last for this week, something just to note very briefly,

This past September was the warmest since records began in 1880, according to new data released by NASA. The announcement continues a trend of record or near-record breaking months, including May and August of this year.

The newly released data makes it likely that 2014 will go down as the warmest year on record, records which go back 134 years.

The map here shows the temperature anomalies in September compared to the 1951-1980 average. That is, the difference in temperatures in various regions between September 2014 and the average of the 30 Septembers from 1951 to 1980.

The yellow regions were warmer than average; the orange ones even warmer than that; the red ones warmer still. (The figures are in degrees Celsius.) This September, some areas were nearly 9 degrees Celsius - over 15 degrees Fahrenheit - warmer than average.

Although these temperature records are significant, they are, of course, just a few data points. What's important is that they are part of the overall record, the overall mass of data points, that together point to the long-term trends of warming. They indicate that the world is still warming, the warming has not stopped, and the threat continues to grow.

This news comes right around same time that the Pentagon is re-asserting its stance that climate change will present "major challenges" to the US military, including more and worse natural disasters and food and water shortages sparking conflict and instability around the world.

Meanwhile, only 40% of Americans believe climate change is caused by human activity.

We are so screwed.

Sources cited in links:

Saturday, November 01, 2014

180.7 - Guns: Some haven't given up on controls

Guns: Some haven't given up on controls

I have two brief things to close out the week.

The first is about guns, a topic I haven' t talked about in a while because on the whole, it's just too depressing a subject.

But did hear some news the other day which I wanted to pass on.

Former US Rep. Gabrielle "Gabby" Giffords - you remember her, she was the one shot in the head in a 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona, that killed six people - Gabby Giffords now spends her efforts with her gun-control advocacy group, Americans for Responsible Solutions.

She has started on a cross-country "Protect All Women Tour" aiming to highlight the connection between guns and domestic violence.

Three facts are important here:
- Women in the Us are eleven times more likely to be murdered with guns than women in other high-income countries.
- At least 53 percent of women murdered with guns in the US in 2011 were killed by intimate partners or family members.
- The number of women shot to death by intimate partners is 38% lower in states that require a background check for every handgun sale.

Giffords hopes to enlist women in her fight for gun control. What's the NRA's response? An ad campaign featuring bullets of various calibers cast in soft light and labeled "Love at first shot."

I'm glad to know people are still carrying on that fight. It's one I need to get back into.

Sources cited in links:

180.6 - Clown Award: Debbie Dunnegan, recorder of deeds for Jefferson County, Missouri

Clown Award: Debbie Dunnegan, recorder of deeds for Jefferson County, Missouri

Now for one of our regular weekly features, the Clown Award, given for meritious stupidity.

It's not often that I can point up award-winning stupidity by doing nothing beyond quoting someone's own words. But someone has pulled it off.

So the winner of the Big Red Nose this week is Debbie Dunnegan, the Republican recorder of deeds for Jefferson County, Missouri.

In a recent post to her Facebook page, she posed a question. This is it, in full:
I have a question for all my friends who have served or are currently serving in our military … having not put on a uniform nor taken any type military oath, there has to be something that I am just not aware of. But I cannot and do not understand why no action is being taken against our domestic enemy. I know he is supposedly the commander in chief, but the constitution gives you the authority. What am I missing? Thank you for your bravery and may God keep you safe.
Debbie Dunnegan
She later said that she used a poor choice of words. I'm surprised she didn't claim it was "inarticulate" which seems to be the term of art for back-pedalers these days. She also claimed the post was entirely innocent and pulled out that all-purpose dodge, it was taken out of context. This is the whole thing, from her own page. What is the context from which it was taken?

She also insists "meant no ill intent toward the president." No of course not; she just considers him "our domestic enemy" and wonders why there has not already been a military coup to overthrow the government, which, she claims, the Constitution gives the military the authority to do.

I must have missed that provision.

What I didn't miss is that Debbie Dunnegan is a clown.

Sources cited in links:

180.5 - Outrage of the Week: DOJ and FBI want to outlaw privacy

Outrage of the Week: DOJ and FBI want to outlaw privacy

Apple and Google are planning to enable encryption by default on their smartphones. That is, your personal data on your smartphone would automatically be encrypted such so that no one without the correct password can access the data. Even the OS makers and phone companies couldn't get to it.
Apple’s iOS 8 already allows users to encrypt some information on their phones while the next version of Google’s Android OS, Android L, will enable full-phone encryption by default.

And according to Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director James Comey, this means that Apple and Google are pro-terrorist and pro-sexual abusers of children and are, Comey's words, marketing “something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law.”
They both want the companies to drop the plans for encryption, with Comey going beyond that to call on Congress to pass a law requiring that all communication tools allow police access to user data on the devices.

Because everything we have learned in the past 15 months,
everything we learned from Ed Snowden,
everything we learned about PRISM,
everything we learned about the world-wide NSA network,
everything we learned about the spying,
everything we learned about the surveillance,
everything we learned about the mass collection of domestic phone records,
everything we learned about the cell-phone tracking,
everything we learned about data mining,
everything we learned about the sweeping up of stunningly massive numbers of emails and internet chats,
everything we learned about entire departments devoted to encryption-breaking,
everything we learned about all of the rest,
all of that is not enough for them. All of that does not quench their thirst for more power to invade every private detail of our lives, does not slake their desire for the control provided by information, does not relieve their fear that there might be something, somewhere, about someone, which they can't know. They have to have access to all of it, every bit, and we must be actively prevented from putting anything beyond their reach, from keeping any of it for ourselves.

And they try to justify this with the achingly-old slippery slope arguments of how if we don't give them everything they want, the terrorists, the criminals, the child kidnappers, the murderers, will have free reign and they will come and murder your children in their beds!

Oh but trust them, do! They only have your safety at heart, truly! It's all "court-authorized law enforcement tools," "lawful investigations," "following the letter of the law," "lawfully obtained information" - all for the purpose, you know it, of "saving lives." And all of which ignores the fact that its the unlimited reach in "what the law allows" that they want which is the issue here.

And despite what they try to make you think, even "court-authorized" often doesn't figure into it. There are these things called National Security Letters, or NSLs. I've written about these for several years, at least as far back as 2005. They are administrative subpoenas issued by the FBI - even by low-level officials in the FBI - which do not require prior judicial review. When served on a communications service providers like phone companies or an ISP, they allow the FBI to secretly demand data about ordinary American citizens' private communications and Internet activity without any meaningful oversight. Recipients are legally barred from ever revealing they were served an NSL.

Twitter is now suing the US government, claiming its inability to reveal at least small chunks of aggregate information about the demands for records it has received is a violation of its free speech. It'll be interesting to see how courts react to this call for corporate free speech as opposed to corporate free speech in giving political donations. But to show you just how much this involves control of information, not only can't service providers which have been served with an NSL tell you that, service providers which have not received a single request for customer data can't tell you that, either.

In 2013, a federal district court in California declared aspects of NLS's to be unconstitutional; however, that decision as stayed pending appeal. That appeal is now before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but in the meantime, there are no restrictions on their use.

Still, still, let's all calm down: You'll be able to have your encryption. Holder said he hopes that "technology companies would be willing to work with us to ensure that law enforcement retains the ability" to obtain the information it wants. So yeah, you'll have your encryption - and they'll have a backdoor to get around it, one built into the system, one making it not only possible but easy.

Because nothing will ever be enough for them.

Comey said “Are we so mistrustful of government - and of law enforcement - that we are willing to let bad guys walk away?”

The answer to that question is yes - because it's becoming increasingly difficult to tell which side of that wiretap "the bad guys" are on. And that, surely, is an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

180.4 - Update: Catholic Church tells gays and lesbians "Never mind"

Update: Catholic Church tells gays and lesbians "Never mind"

We have some more Not Good News, this one in the form of an Update.

Last week I mentioned a Vatican discussion document described as "an earthquake" in the Church's attitude towards gays and lesbians and their relationships. While not questioning Catholic doctrine on the "intrinsically disordered" nature of homosexuality and its opposition to same-sex marriage, it was far more open and welcoming than current practice.

Alas, it was too good to be true.

The first sign came just three days later, when the Vatican issued a revised version of the English-language translation of the official version, which is in Italian. The new translation was significantly cooler and more distant than the original.

For one example, where the original said that same-sex relationships can provide "precious support in the life of the partners," the new one says such relationships constitute "valuable support in the life of these persons." The support is no longer "precious" and the people are no longer "partners." While the original referred to "welcoming" and "a fraternal space in our communities," the new version talks about "providing for ... a place of fellowship."

A Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said English-speaking bishops - I think we can guess who, I think "English-speaking" is PR code for "American" - had requested the changes on the grounds that the first translation was hasty and error-ridden, even though it was closer to the original Italian than the revised one.

(By the way, the English version was the only one changed.)

The cloud that cast over the discussion paper became a full-blown storm when Catholic bishops met on October 18 to consider the document, one of several on different aspects of the institutional church's attitude toward the family in a synod called by Pope Francis.

The bishops scrapped the whole thing, refusing to accept even a doubly-watered down version of the paragraph on providing gays and lesbians "a fraternal space in our communities," which was changed to the vapid statement "people with homosexual tendencies must be welcomed with respect and delicacy."

The vote was 118-62, considerably short if the 2/3 majority needed to pass. What wasn't clear was if the "no" votes on the section actually included protest votes by progressive bishops who refused to accept the watered-down language, wanting something stronger. What was clear is that there is a real division within the institutional Catholic church on its relationship to gays and lesbians, including - even if church won't admit it, they are there - gays and lesbians who are Catholics.

Francis DeBernardo of the New Ways Ministry, a leading U.S. Catholic gay rights group, tried to make lemonade, calling the latest developments a "mixed bag."

"It would have been nicer if they kept the earlier version, but the fact that we’re still speaking of 'valuable support' is positive," he said, adding that this was only the beginning of a process to get the church to accept homosexuals.

Good luck on that, my brother.

Sources cited in links:

180.3 - Not Good News: Voter suppression wins one

Not Good News: Voter suppression wins one

However, the Good News about a failure of voter suppression brings us to some Not Good News.

On October 18, the Supreme Court said that Texas can use its draconian new voter ID law, described as the toughest in the nation, for the November election.

As I reported last week, that law had been struck down by a federal district court, which found it to be an “unconstitutional poll tax” that intended to discriminate against minority voters, only to have that ruling frozen by the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The DOJ and several civil rights groups filed an emergency appeal to the Supreme Court, but the Court refused to hear it, leaving the stay of the order striking down the law in place and so leaving Texas free turn away maybe 600,000 voters, many of them black or Latino, from the polls because they don't have the particular sorts of identification Texas demands. Interestingly and revealingly, those approved sorts include concealed handgun licenses but not college student IDs.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued a six-page dissent which blasted both the appeals court and the SCOTUS majority for ignoring the findings of fact at trial. She wrote that
[t]he greatest threat to public confidence in elections in this case is the prospect of enforcing a purposefully discriminatory law, one that likely imposes an unconstitutional poll tax and risks denying the right to vote to hundreds of thousands of eligible voters.
She also picked apart the supposed logic the appeals court used in staying the lower court ruling, which is that it was too close to the election to make a change. She said that
there is little risk that the District Court's injunction will in fact disrupt Texas' electoral process. Texas need only reinstate the voter identification procedures it employed for ten years (from 2003 to 2013) and in five federal general elections.
The argument from Texas officials that the numbers about who will be turned away are meaningless because all registered voters are able to obtain ID fared no better.
Even at $2, the toll is at odds with this Court’s precedent. And for some voters, the imposition is not small. A voter whose birth certificate lists her maiden name or misstates her date of birth may be charged $37 for the amended certificate she needs to obtain a qualifying ID. Texas voters born in other States may be required to pay substantially more than that.
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan joined in her dissent.

One last thing to remember is that none of the recent decisions involving voter suppression - the good one in Wisconsin and the bad ones in North Carolina, Ohio, and Texas - addressed the merits of those laws, only whether they could be enforced while the challenges to the laws move through the courts. Which means there is a still a fight to be fought, even though it's pretty cold comfort.

Sources cited in links:
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