Sunday, September 14, 2014

174.7 - Clown Award: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy

Clown Award: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy

Last but never least, it's the clown award, awarded weekly for meritorious stupidity.

The winner of the Big Red Nose this week is GOPper House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and few have deserved it more.

Okay. Start with the fact that the USDA has a website, gasp, which includes a blog, again gasp.

On August 29, Kathryn Sosbe of the US Forest Service posted on that blog. Her post was titled "How Does Your Marshmallow Roast" and was in honor of National Roasted Marshmallow Day and yes there is such a thing; it was August 30.

Anyway, in the post Sosbe talks about s'mores, which, as she says, is for some people the best possible use of the humble marshmallow. She goes over how to make them and a brief history.

She then gives some safety tips for roasting, especially if children are the ones doing it - safety tips which, oddly, the children in the accompanying pictures are not following.

Next, she suggests some variations on s'mores, such as substituting grilled pineapple slices for the chocolate, before closing out with some other ways to use marshmallows as campfire treats

It's like one of those silly filler things you can find in the free newspaper you picked up somewhere, right? Nothing of importance, right?

Kevin McCarthy
Not to Kevin McCarthy! He knows the real agenda here and it's horrifying, I tell you, horrifying! And he told other House GOPpers about it in a memo last week.

“This perfectly captures what is wrong with our government," he rages. "Hard-earned tax dollars supporting bureaucrats who can’t pass up an opportunity to tell us how to live our lives."

Yes, because a blog post including alternatives to traditional s'mores is undermining American initiative! It's telling us how to live our lives, says Kevin McCarthy, who offered no calculation of how many "hard-earned tax dollars" he had spent getting out this vital missive.

Kevin McCarthy, the man who knows what's really wrong with government: dictating how we roast our marshmallows!

Kevin McCarthy: clown.

Sources cited in links:

174.6 - Update: fast-food workers' strike

Update: fast-food workers' strike

Here's an update for you. Last week I said that fast food workers were planning another one-day strike to push for a living wage but it was kind of odd telling you much about it because it was to happen the day after I recorded the show - which meant that it hadn't happened yet when I did the show but would have happened by the time you saw the show.

Well, it's a week later, and it all happened and frankly I think it was terrific. Protests and strikes occurred in over 100 cities, involving thousands of workers at  places like McDonald's, KFC, Taco Bell, Wendy's, and more. There was nonviolent civil disobedience - generally sit-ins blocking traffic - at a number of sites. A representative of Fight for 15, the group organizing the walkout, said nearly 500 people had been arrested or cited - that is, given the equivalent of a traffic ticket without an arrest - during the actions.

This was a country-wide protest: Police arrested 47 people in Kansas City; 27 in West Milwaukee; 19 in New York City; 30 in Detroit; 11 in San Diego; 8 in Wilkinsburg, Pennsylvania; seven in Miami; three in Denver. Nineteen citations were issued in Chicago; 10 in Indianapolis; 13 in Hartford; 10 in Las Vegas.

Now, I will say that there are people who don't think the movement's goal of a living wage of $15 an hour is wise on the grounds that such a wage will encourage more highly-educated people to compete for those jobs, leaving the less educated even further behind. This "argument," I will note, is based on nothing but their own assumptions, one of which is that raising the wages for these low-paid workers, in effect creating a baseline for the prevailing wage in an area, would not affect other wages for other jobs in that same area, raising the wages for more skilled work with higher educational requirements, which would do away with that supposed incentive of more educated people to go flip burgers.

Still, the reason I mention that at all is that even some of those people will admit the strikes have been what one called "a stunning success," saying that, again quoting,
Kansas City
[f]or the cost of a few Super Bowl ads, the SEIU and some dedicated fast food workers have managed to completely rewire how the public and politicians think about wages.
As I noted last week, these strikes have been central to the effort to keep the twin issues of the minimum wage and wage inequality in the public debate even as corporate America, the rich, and many in government, to the extent those don't overlap, would rather not have us thinking about them.

And there is a lot to think about.

According to a survey by the Federal Reserve released last week, the gap between the richest Americans and the rest of the nation widened after the Great Recession, worsening the already-bad  income inequality in the US.

From 2010 to 2013, average income for U.S. families rose about 4 percent after accounting for inflation. All of the income growth was concentrated among the top 3 percent of earners, who sucked up 30.5 percent of all income.

Looking at wealth rather than income made it worse: In 1989, the richest 3 percent held 44.8 percent of the net worth in the country. By 2007 that was up to 51.8 percent and by 2013, it was 54.4 percent.

According to a new study out of the Harvard Business School, release September 8, that widening gap is "unsustainable" and will ultimately be damaging not only to the economy as a whole, but to the corporations that depend on it for their profit.

Even so, the same study concluded, the situation is unlikely to improve any time soon and workers will continue to struggle to make ends meet while corporations continue to reap the benefits of that inequality.

Janet Yellen
Although that study doesn't say this, one reason it's unlikely to get better without seeing people in the streets was found in the response of Fed Chair Janet Yellen - Janet Yellen was another of those "great choices" that we were all obliged to love because Obama nominated her and so this is what you get when you do that - Janet Yellen responded to evidence of growing income inequality by calling it a disturbing trend, attributing some of it to the weak jobs market but also to underlying trends like technology and globalization.

Note the passive voice. In other words, income inequality, she's saying, is not the result of conscious decisions by corporate leaders to maximize their profit by squeezing their workers, it's not the result of a decades-long right-wing campaign to contain, undermine, and ultimately destroy unions, it's not the result of any refusals or failures of the Congress and the White House - or the Fed - to address it, it's not, that is, the result of anything anyone actually did. It's all about disembodied "trends" such as "technology and globalization." Forces of economic nature not subject to or driven by human control or direction. It's "a disturbing trend," but hey, what can you do?

That's what you get when you forget that when it comes to the interests of corporate America and our economic elite, people like Janet Yellen are not on your side. Barack Obama is not on your side. The workers in the streets are on your side. And don't you forget it.

Sources cited in links:

174.5 - Unintentional Humor: Bill O'Reilly speaks the truth

Unintentional Humor: Bill O'Reilly speaks the truth

We're going to lighten things up for just a moment with an installment of our occasional feature, Unintentional Humor, where something that's not intended to be funny, just is.

And my oh my do we have a knee-slapper this time.

It came from the TV on September 3 when in an attempt to trash John Stewart of "The Daily Show," Bill O'Reilly ringingly declared to his audience "When you hear something on a partisan-driven program, do not believe it!"

You heard the man.

Sources cited in links:

174.4 - Outrage of the Week: Air Force bars atheist from enlisting

Outrage of the Week: Air Force bars atheist from enlisting

Now it's time for one of our regular weekly features, it's the Outrage of the Week.

The United States Air Force has apparently decided that the Constitution doesn't apply to it.

The case is that of an unnamed technical sergeant at Creech Air Force base in Nevada. His service time is coming to an end in November and last month he tried to re-enlist. But he was refused. The Air Force wouldn't take him. They told him he's got to go.

Why? Was he a troublemaker? Did he have a bad reputation? Was he insubordinate? A security risk? What?

None of the above. He's an atheist and since he enlisted, the Air Force has changed its rules about the oath you have to take to join (or re-join), which ends with "So help me god." Formerly, someone joining the Air Force could opt for a different phrase, but in October 2013 the Air Force said no, you have to say it, no option, no choice: You have to declare a belief in God or you can't be in the Air Force. The USAF is the only branch of the US military with the requirement.

If the Air Force doesn't budge, the sergeant is prepared to sue in federal court. The American Humanist Association has taken up his case and will represent him if need be.

It's hard to see how this could not be unconstitutional, not only based on the First Amendment but on the fact that Article VI of the Constitution says that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

While it appears from the rest of that clause that it is thinking about elected or appointed offices, don't forget that at the time the Constitution was framed there was no expectation of a standing army and they would not have even imagined an air force. Given that, and given that we have both a standing army and air force, it surely seems that being a member of the Air Force should be considered a "public trust" under the meaning of that article.

This may seem like a minor thing for an Outrage of the Week - after all, who cares about atheists, there are so few of them - but don't forget that this involves a basic constitutional right and it's not only atheists who would be affected. It could impact agnostics, depending on how strongly they feel about saying they believe in God, and even more directly, there are religions that are not monotheistic, that don't believe in God as a single entity, and still others that don't hold a belief in a "God" that is anything like the Judeo-Christian version.

But all of that is ultimately irrelevant because the issue here remains the same: basic rights. The basic - the fundamental - right to be able to fully participate in society and stripping away that right from a group does not become unimportant just because a majority, even a large majority, of the population feels it is not affected.

It's important for another reason: This is not the first time this sort of evangelizing has been found in the Air Force. Several years ago, the US Air Force Academy faced accusations that evangelical Christians exerted a dominating influence over the institution.

When the Air Force responded with what seemed an honest attempt to emphasize respect for all belief systems, even setting up a pagan/nature religions worship area at the Air Force Academy, it was assailed by right-wing Christians and their allies in Congress on the wacko claim that the efforts to avoid religious favoritism were actually an attack on freedom of religion - "freedom of religion" being defined here as "evangelical Christians being able to say and do whatever they want, including officers telling subordinates what religious practices they should follow."

It was after that -  not immediately after, but not much more than a year after that - that the Air Force started requiring enlistees to declare they believe in God. And then a month later, this is now last November, the Air Force Academy, the same academy earlier found to be overrun with evangelicals abusing their authority, hired a long-time advocate and practitioner of the thoroughly-bogus and often harmful "gay conversion therapy" to oversee its counseling program for young cadets.

So you may still think it's unimportant that an atheist is barred from the Air Force - even though it's not - but I doubt you think it's unimportant that it appears that the most conservative forms of right-wing Christianity still are finding a warm and welcoming embrace at the Air Force academy to the point of controlling the sort of counseling cadets get. That, I suspect you will agree, is an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

174.3 - Not Good News: the string is broken

Not Good News: the string is broken

And, unfortunately, we also have some not good news on this same front.

The unbroken string of more than 20 straight victories in federal court on marriage justice has come to an end. We knew it would come eventually; we can't expect to win every single decision. But still it's a disappointment when it happens, even if it's not unexpected.

It came in the case of Louisiana, where U.S. District Court Judge Martin Feldman declared that no “fundamental right” was at stake and the state needed only to show a legitimate reason for barring same-sex couples from marrying - which, he declared, the state did, that "legitimate reason" being, quoting him, "linking children to an intact family formed by their two biological parents." By which logic, as I just noted a minute or two ago, divorce and adoption should both be banned.

His only other argument is the classic slippery-slope one that allowing for same-sex marriage would of necessity mean allowing for parents to marry their children and brothers to marry each other and so on. As Richard Posner said, such an argument "cannot be taken seriously."

It really is a rather bizarre ruling and I expect that opponents of marriage justice who give any thought to it will not want this to be the case on which their argument rests.

Consider that after dealing with the technical legalities, that is, the background of the case and the requirements for a summary judgment, he starts his actual argument by referring to being gay or lesbian as a "lifestyle choice," placing him firmly among the scientific ignoramuses who still insist that people "choose" to be homosexual. Do me a favor: If you ever meet one of those folks, ask them when and why they "chose" to be straight.

He claimed that the fundamental right at issue was not marriage, but "same-sex" marriage, the idea of which, he went on, is too new to be a "fundamental" right. New? The legal battle in the US over same-sex marriage has been going on for 42 years and male-bonding ceremonies date to the 12th century or earlier. And of course the "right to marry" is the right at issue: If Feldman was considering a voting rights case, I doubt he would try to make this type of nonsensical differentiation between a "right to vote" and a "black right to vote."

His finding that Louisiana need only show a "legitimate reason" for its bigotry was based on a confusion between "strict scrutiny" and the somewhat lower "heightened scrutiny," two different standards of the level of justification a state must be able to offer for a law for a law to withstand a legal challenge.

And he completely and blatantly misstated what the Constitution says. In trying to dismiss a comparison to Loving v. Virginia, the famous Supreme Court case that struck down bans on interracial marriage, Feldman claims that was because the 14th Amendment "expressly condemns racial discrimination as a constitutional evil." But it doesn't. It makes no reference to race at all. It says all persons have the protections of due process and that no person can be denied the equal protection of the laws.

I've mentioned several times that it seems to me that each of the decisions in favor of marriage justice has some line, some bit of phrasing, that is notable for its insight if not its elegance. Somehow it seems fitting that the decision upholding what is the old, the outdated, the fearful, the bigoted, should lack any trace of either.

Sources cited in links:

174.2 - And the beat goes on

And the beat goes on

On Thursday, September 4, a three-judge panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld lower court decisions that that declared the bans on same-sex marriage declared by Indiana and Wisconsin are both unconstitutional.

The decision came down just a week after hearing oral arguments, which can be taken as an indication of how clear the judges thought the legal and constitutional issues are.

Writing for the court, Judge Richard Posner called the states' arguments against same-sex marriage "totally implausible" and that the argument that same-sex couples should not be allowed to marry because they can't conceive children "is so full of holes that it cannot be taken seriously." Later in his ruling, he sarcastically observed that
Heterosexuals get drunk and pregnant, producing unwanted children; their reward is to be allowed to marry. Homosexual couples do not produce unwanted children; their reward is to be denied the right to marry. Go figure.
Then, just four days later, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held oral arguments on same-sex marriage bans in Idaho, Nevada, and Hawaii - and the members of the three-judge panel made no secret of their disdain for the arguments for bigotry.

Attempting to defend the bans in Idaho and Nevada, Monte Stewart of the Coalition for the Protection of Marriage argued that male-female marriages presents a message that, quoting one news report,
strengthens a child’s “bonding right” with his or her biological parents. Widening that institution to include same-sex couples, he continued, “weakens the social expectation of the child’s bonding right,” and sends the “social message that fathers are not a valuable part of child rearing.”
That didn't go over well.

Judge Marsha Berzon responded that Stewart was sending a message that families headed by same-sex couples were "second-rate" and "less desirable."

Judge Ronald M. Gould questioned where the very term “bonding right” came from. Stewart seemed to have invented it.

Something I noticed but the judges apparently did not address was Stewart's reference to this "bonding right" a child's biological parents. But if that is so important, shouldn't Idaho and Nevada be banning adoption? Shouldn't giving a child up for adoption - the very thing these same sorts of people are constantly proposing as an alternative to abortion - be illegal on the grounds that it denies the child its "bonding rights" with its biological parents?

While they didn't note that, Judge Stephen Reinhardt did ask why in the case of this "bonding right" Idaho does not ban divorce. Stewart's only answer was the thoroughly lame "They may."

Reinhardt, who wrote the 2012 ruling overturning California's infamous Proposition 8, also observed that people who are attracted to their own gender “also have the right to live their lives as human beings.”

Which is pretty much all that the advocates for marriage justice are looking for.

The 7th Circuit was the third federal appeals court to strike down bans on same-sex marriage as unconstitutional; by all appearances, the 9th circuit will make four.

Overall, more than 30 state and federal courts have ruled in favor of marriage equality since the Supreme Court  down a central part of the Defense of Marriage Act last year. Same-sex marriage is now recognized in 19 states and in Washington, D.C.

The Supreme Court is widely expected to weigh in on the matter during its upcoming term, which runs from October to next June.

Sources cited in links:

174.1 - Good News: "Save the Whales"

Good News: "Save the Whales"

We start the week the good news of proof that activism and conservation - or, to be more accurate, activism-driven conservation - can and does work. "Save the whales" almost became a joke a rather few years back, the phrase adopted by right wing trolls and numbskulls to mock all things radical, progressive, or merely liberal as foolish nonsense.

But guess what: because of that mocked activism, whales have been saved. Including, it now develops, a population of the largest animal that has ever existed on Earth: blue whales.

According to a new survey, the population of California blue whales, once near extinction as the result of whaling, has made a remarkable comeback and now stands at about 2,200, or 97 percent of 19-century historical levels.

They are the only population of blue whales known to have recovered from the depredations of whaling. Some others have, in fact, become extinct. But it still shows, in the words of Cole Monnahan, a doctoral student at the University of Washington who lead the study, "the ability of blue whale populations to rebuild under careful management and conservation measures."

Blue whales can grow to be 100 feet long and weigh more than 190 tons - twice as much as the largest known dinosaurs.

The comeback would be even more dramatic were it not for the fact that at least 11 of the whales are struck and sometimes killed by ships along the west coast each year - nearly four times the level allowed under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, a law that exists precisely because of the sort of activism the bozos of the right tried to ridicule. The deaths aren't enough to reduce the population, but they are enough to hinder its growth.

That said, this is still a remarkable success story for conservation efforts that quite bluntly exist only because a bunch of silly lefties thought it made sense to not kill off what is, again, the largest animal ever to exist on Earth.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #174

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of September 11-17, 2014

This week:

Good News: "Save the Whales"

Good News: and the beat goes on

Not Good News: the string is broken

Outrage of the Week: Air Force bars atheist from enlisting

Unintentional Humor: Bill O'Reilly speaks the truth

Update: fast-food workers' strike

Clown Award: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy

Saturday, September 06, 2014

173.7 - Clown Award: Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders

Clown Award: Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders

The Outrage of the Week slides smoothly over into our other regular weekly feature, the Clown Award, given as always for meritorious stupidity.

This week we have a double winner, a shared award. This week the Big Red Nose goes to Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders for defending the right of Israel to bomb hospitals and schools.

At a recent local town hall meeting in Barnstable, Warren was criticized for her vote in favor of sending $225 million in military aid to Israel.

Warren defended herself by saying, this is a quote, "America has a very special relationship with Israel. Israel lives in a very dangerous part of the world, and a part of the world where there aren't many liberal democracies." She also said Hamas attacks "indiscriminately" and referred to them as "terrorists" but that civilian casualties are "the last thing Israel wants" and when pressed about that, she said that Hamas used civilians as human shields and "Israel has a right to defend itself."

Okay, you tell me: Is there a single original thought in there? Is there a single line not lifted from an Israeli government press release?

During the most recent war, Israel shelled schools and hospitals on the grounds that rockets and militants had been located nearby. Not in the schools and hospitals - although there were two cases where Hamas stored rockets in a school - but not in the schools and hospitals, not on the schools and hospitals, but near the schools and hospitals. Which means, first, so much for the "precision attacks" Israel is always claiming to make. And as I've mentioned before, the Gaza Strip has about the same population density as the city of Boston. Just how far away from a civilian target could some crew with a rocket launcher get?

Even more to the point, the Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War prohibits attacks on hospitals, "unless they are used to commit, outside their humanitarian duties, acts harmful to the enemy." Even under those circumstances, civilian hospitals can only be attacked "after due warning has been given, naming, in all appropriate cases, a reasonable time limit and after such warning has remained unheeded."

But for Warren, simply having a military asset somewhere close to a hospital makes shelling that hospital legitimate self-defense. Providing, that is, the shelling is done by Israel.

And when asked about the idea of conditioning future US aid on a halt to more settlements in the West bank, settlements which are, again, clearly illegal under international law and recognized as such for years by US policy, Warren said "I think there's a question of whether we should go that far" - while making no suggestion of, in that case, how far we should go.

For his part, Bernie Sanders got into a testy, even heated, exchange with constituents at a recent town meeting over his defense of Israel. Sanders supposedly ended on a note of what was called resignation. "This is a very depressing and difficult issue. This has gone on for 60 bloody years," he said. "If you're asking me, do I have a magical solution? I don't. And you know what, I doubt very much that you do."

True, I don't have a magical solution. But a good start would be for people to stop saying that "It must be okay because Israel did it." In other words, stop being clowns.

Sources cited in links:

173.6 - Outrage of the Week: Israel steals West Bank land

Outrage of the Week: Israel steals West Bank land

Okay, this is why Cee Lo Green got outranked. This is the Outrage of the Week.

Last week, I said the big Good News was the "unlimited ceasefire" reached between Israel and Hamas, putting at least a temporary end to the bloodshed in Gaza. (Yes, I know it wasn't only in Gaza but so much of the blood that was shed was there that it is reasonable to refer to events that way. Over 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, died in the war, as opposed to 71 Israelis, 65 of them soldiers.)

How bad is it in Gaza now? According to a new report by Shelter Cluster, an international organization involved in assessing post-conflict reconstruction, unless Israel stops blockading the import of concrete and other building materials into Gaza, it will take 20 years to rebuild the area's battered housing stock - and that doesn't even include reconstructing damage from fighting between Israel and Hamas.

Shelter Cluster is chaired by the Norwegian Refugee Council with the participation of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency - the UN refugee agency - and the Red Cross.

The assessment said that 17,000 housing units in Gaza were destroyed or severely damaged during the most recent war and 5,000 units still need repairs from damage sustained in the previous Israeli attacks. In addition, it says, Gaza has a housing deficit of 75,000 units. In short, there are scores of thousands without proper shelter.

So in light of that, what does Israel do?

It steals land on the West Bank.

On August 31, Israel announced the biggest land seizure in the occupied West Bank in 30 years.

Nearly 1,000 acres in the Etzion Jewish settlement bloc near Bethlehem were summarily declared "state land" by the bogusly-named Civil Administration, bogus because it is actually run by the Israeli military.

The military gave no reason for the land theft, but Israel Radio said the step was taken in response to the kidnapping and killing of three Jewish teens by Hamas militants in the area in June, an incident that lead to rapidly soaring tensions, exchange of fire, and the  outbreak of the most recent war. So obviously the way to avoid a repeat is to take an outrageously provocative action in that very same area. Of course.

Israel has been condemned around the world for its settlements on the West Bank, which are illegal under international law, and faced a new round of condemnation over this latest land grab. The US, the UK, France, the European Union, Japan, and the General Secretary of the UN joined other nations including Turkey and Norway in condemning the seizure and calling for it to be reversed.

The Israeli peace group Peace Now said the appropriation was meant to turn a site where 10 families now live adjacent to a Jewish seminary into a permanent settlement - but the Israeli government claimed it would not constitute a new settlement because the site is officially designated a neighborhood of an existing settlement several miles away. I wonder if the government's media person managed to keep a straight face while saying that.

A local Palestinian mayor said Palestinians owned the tracts that had been taken and harvested olive trees on them. But that's never made a difference in previous land grabs, so why should it matter now?

Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, called on Israel to cancel the seizure. "This decision will lead to more instability. This will only inflame the situation after the war in Gaza," he said.

That is unlikely to sway Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who broke off talks with Abbas in April after the Palestinian leader reached a reconciliation deal with Hamas and who declared in the wake of the ceasefire that Israel would not resume talks with Abbas until he breaks ties with Hamas - even though a Fatah-Hamas coalition would mean Hamas participating in a government that openly recognizes Israel, which would mean of necessity Hamas having to tone down its anti-Israel rhetoric and very likely reduce the chances of renewed rocket attacks from Gaza.

Why wouldn't Israel want that? Why wouldn't Israel want developments that would by their nature lead to the at least partial moderation of Hamas? Bluntly, I suspect it's because of what I have maintained for some time: Israel does not want peace. Or, more exactly, the right-wing coalitions which dominate the national government do not want peace. They do not want a settlement, they do not want an actual end to the conflict - or, again more exactly, an end to the conflict which does not involve the complete subjugation of Palestinians.

Consider this: The platform of the Likud Party, the party of Benjamin Netanyahu, said several years ago, quoting now,
The Jordan river will be the permanent eastern border of the State of Israel.
If you note on the map where the Jordan River is, you'll realize immediately that this means that by this platform, the entirety of the West Bank is Israel.

Quoting again,
- Jerusalem is the eternal, united capital of the State of Israel and only of Israel. The government will flatly reject Palestinian proposals to divide Jerusalem.
- The Government of Israel flatly rejects the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state west of the Jordan river.
- The Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are the realization of Zionist values. Settlement of the land is a clear expression of the unassailable right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel.
That platform has been modified some since 2005, after Israel withdrew its settlements from Gaza, the better to turn the Strip into an outdoor prison. But the Likud Party has never in its statements of principles accepted a Palestinian State. As recently as mid-July, Netanyahu declared that Israel will never "relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan." That is, there could be a Palestinian state, maybe - provided that it is an unarmed, defenseless vassal of Israel.

This is nothing new. In a recently-discovered video from 2001, Netanyahu is talking to a group of Israeli West Bank settlers at a time he thought the camera was off.

In the video, he boasted about derailing the Oslo peace process, described American foreign policy as easily manipulated, and said the only way to deal with the Palestinians was "beat them up, not once but repeatedly, beat them up so it hurts so badly, until it's unbearable."

He also said that the US will "make statements" but that it won't do anything; it won't, he said, "interfere with us." Which is spot on and why the statements from the State Department about the land grab, which urged Israel to "reverse this decision" because it's "counterproductive," will have no effect because they will no more be followed up with any actual actions - such as cutting off military aid - than any of the previous statements over the years were.

So Israel celebrates a ceasefire in Gaza by refusing to negotiate with the Palestinian authority, stealing land in the West Bank for illegal settlements, and avoiding any possibility of a long-term settlement while pursuing its dreams of "greater Israel" involving taking all of the West Bank - and the US responds by harrumphing and tsking and doing nothing.

Altogether enough to say: It's an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

173.5 - Failing to take violence against women seriously

Failing to take violence against women seriously

Before we go to break, here's something that easily could have been the Outrage of the Week.

Here's the story: In July of 2012, one Thomas DeCarlo Callaway, better known as musician and singer Cee Lo Green, was having dinner with a 33-year-old woman. He slipped a drug, supposed to have been Ecstasy, into her drink, a fact acknowleged in a documented phone call he later made.

The next thing she remembers is waking up in her bed in her hotel room, naked, alongside Green.

Prosecutors did not file any charges of sexual assault, citing lack of evidence - which is, of course, the whole point of drugging someone: the lack of later evidence. Green did admit to sexual contact, he just insisted - Surprise! - that it was "consensual." Even so, Green was charged with one felony count of giving her the drug.

Here's where we get to the outrageous part.

At a preliminary hearing on  August 29, Green pleaded "no contest" to the charge. Technically, it's nolo contendere, which translates to "I do not contest the charges." It allows the accused to offer no defense without admitting actual guilt. However, in terms of potential penalties, it is the same a a guilty plea or a conviction.

So what was his punishment? Remember, to be a felony a crime must have a maximum penalty of at least a year and a day in prison. So what did Green get for drugging a woman, leaving her either unconscious or so stoned as to be incapacitated, and then having sex with her under conditions which by any sane definition of the term constitute rape?

He got three years probation and was ordered to do 360 hours of community service and attend 52 Alcoholic Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous meetings, along with paying some restitution to his victim.

We continue to fail to take violence against women seriously.

Despite all that is in front of us, despite all we have seen and heard, we still will not take it seriously.

Cee Lo Green certainly doesn't: In a series of tweets after he avoided the slammer, he bizarrely claimed that, quoting,

"If someone is passed out they're not even WITH you consciously! So WITH implies consent… women who have really been raped REMEMBER!!!"

And so, it seems, we are back to "legitimate" rape, where "with" implies consent and not remembering it means it didn't happen.

An online petition campaign in response to the tweets, demanding his new show "The Good Life" be canceled, got more than 30,000 signatures in less than three hours.

On September 1, Green took to twitter again to "apologize." What he actually said was "I sincerely apologize for my comments being taken so far out of context." Besides the fact that this doesn't even rise to the level of an "if anyone was offended, I apologize" non-apology, it's Twitter! It's 140 characters! Just what is this greater context his statements were taken out of?

Happily, that sort of lame non-apology didn't help his cause and neither did the fact that he deleted not only the original tweets, but the "apology" as well. The next day, TBS and Time-Warner canceled "The Good Life." Which is the best thing to come out of this: actual consequences.

One final thought: as part of his non-apology, Green declared "I'd never condone the harm of any women." Which in his own mind might actually be true: He might think of what he did as not involving harm.

Because we do not take violence against women seriously.

Sources cited in links:

173.4 - Update: war hawks still at it

Update: war hawks still at it

Our other, linked, Update is this one:

Last week, I gave the Clown Award to the war hawks, particularly those in Congress, for loudly and repeatedly insisting that Obama "do something" about ISIS while refusing to offer any suggestions or proposals as to what that something might be. That is, they want to be on record as being tough, but not in any way that involves them taking any actual responsibility.

Well, guess what, this week they were still at it.

Rep. Mike Rogers, who heads the House Intelligence Committee, said Obama's foreign policy “in absolute free-fall.” Meanwhile, Rogers' equivalent in the Senate, Diane Feinstein, said Obama is “too cautious” in combating ISIS. Both offered dire predictions of attacks on the United States or Europe if ISIS is not crushed, with Rogers raising the specter of hundreds of ISIS-trained Americans coming home to wreak havoc.

John McCain kept up his barrage of Sunday morning news show appearances, demanding fast action to not just contain but outright defeat ISIS, echoed by Rep. Peter King, who said “The longer we wait, the more dangerous” it becomes.

Not one of these brave people with their strong voices offered any hint of what it was that should actually be done. It was a massive chorus of "do something, just don't ask me what or expect me to take any responsibility for it."

So I guess the bottom line is that I shouldn't be surprised that Obama figures he can do whatever he wants with the military, since that's pretty much what major members of Congress are telling him. They're even insisting on it.

Sources cited in links:

173.3 - Update: US raid on Somalia

Update: US raid on Somalia

We have two linked Updates of things we have addressed before. The first Update comes in the form of a reminder.

On Monday, September 1, US military forces carried out an attack in Somalia targeted against the militant Islamist group called al-Shabaab.

In an unusual move, the Pentagon acknowledged the attack; however, it gave no details. According to journalists in Somalia, the strike was a drone missile attack near the port city of Barawe, an al-Shabaab stronghold.

The reminder here is that this was not the first covert US military operation in Somalia in recent years. In October 2013, the Pentagon deployed a small team of "advisers" to Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, to coordinate operations with troops from the African Union who were fighting against al-Shabaab. Those "advisers" almost immediately got into a firefight with the militants during a house raid.

Since then, US commandos have conducted raids and operations in Somalia, raids and operations the military does its best to keep secret.

So here's the update: Does anyone recall any Congressional authorization for this? Or is this, as it appears to be, yet another case of Mr. Nobel Peace Prize President figuring he can do anything he likes with the military and he don't need no stinking authorization?

Don't try to use the AUMF, the Authorization to Use Military Force, which was used as the legal basis for the invasion of Iraq and has been used since to justify attacks on groups "affiliated" with al-Qaeda in places such as Yemen and Pakistan. But you can't use it for this: As far back as May 2013, the Amazing Mr. O himself called the AUMF “outdated.”

So what's the authorization? Or do I again ask, Mr. President, just who the hell do you think you are?

Or maybe I should ask instead when we will see the "covert actions" in Ukraine. Or is that a different story because, unlike the other places where we conduct our "limited air strikes" and our secret drone wars, in the case of Ukraine we'd be dealing with people who really can shoot back?

Sources cited in links:

173.2 - Good News: Texas anti-choice law blocked

Good News: Texas anti-choice law blocked

Our other bit of good news can be filed under the heading "Take It Where You Find It."

Last year, the Texas legislature, which has become so frothingly reactionary that even Molly Ivins wouldn't have been able to find an amusing story about it, passed some of the worst anti-choice, anti-women's-freedom bills in the country.

The bill requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and required that all procedures take place in a surgical facility, that is, one that meets hospital-level standards - requirements that are made of no other clinics of any sort in the state. Another part of the bill, passed by people who in another context would screech about the horrors of "a government take-over of health care," limits when and where physicians may prescribe medications that can induce abortions.

In March, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a district court decision and upheld several of those restrictions in what Planned Parenthood accurately called a "terrible" ruling.

So where's the good news? Like I said, it's take it where you can get it but here it is:

On August 29, US District Judge Lee Yeakel sided with plaintiffs going after the part of the law which was not at issue in the earlier case, the requirement that clinics meets hospital-level standards, including operating rooms and air filtration systems. These are excessively stringent demands that would have left just seven such clinics in the entire state of Texas, population 26 million. The previous decision by the 5th Circuit upholding the law had already forced the closing of more than a dozen clinics; this rule would force the closing of 18 more.

As a result, Yeakel found that "The overall effect of the provisions is to create an impermissible obstacle as applied to all women seeking a previability abortion."

This victory may be short-lived: Yeakel also was the judge whose decision striking down other parts of this exercise in "back to 1900" ideology was overturned by the 5th Circuit.

But like I said, with good news you take it where you get it, in this case by knowing that those who believe in a woman's right to choose have not given up.

Sources cited in links:

173.1 - Good News: fast-food workers campaign

Good News: fast-food workers campaign

We start today, as I try to do whenever I can, with some Good News.

This is kind of interesting Good News, because it hasn't happened yet at the time I do this but will be over by the time you see this.

On Thursday, September 4, workers at places like McDonald’s, Wendy’s, and KFC staged a protest walk-out, a one-day strike, in their on-going campaign to secure a living wage for workers in the fast-food industry.

According to Fight For 15, the group organizing the campaign, strikes were to take place in more than 100 cities and some of those actions are to include nonviolent civil disobedience such as sit-ins to dramatize the importance of the issue. What's more, thousands of home care workers are expected to join in solidarity.

The "15" in Fight for 15 comes from the call for a $15 an hour wage. The other major demand is the right to unionize without retaliation for trying to do so.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average hourly wage for restaurant workers in May 2013 was just $8.74 - which is not a living wage.

The strikes began with just 200 workers in New York City in November 2012 but in the two years since have occurred every few months, including the one pictured, which took place at Union Station in Washington, DC. While the gains for those in the industry have been modest so far, the campaign has made a notable impact in making the issue of the minimum wage one that can't be ignored.

For one example, thirteen states increased their minimum wages by an average of 28¢ an hour at the start of the year and other increases in other states are already scheduled to come into effect.

More recently and perhaps more significantly, in July the National Labor Relations Board ruled that McDonald’s and its franchisees are jointly responsible for violations of wage and labor standards committed by those franchisees. The corporations have always insisted that they bear no responsibility for those violations. Now they can't.

The strikers in Thursday's actions are being supported by the Service Employees International Union.

So it's fed-up workers demanding justice and taking it to the streets to that end: Now, that is good news.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #173

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of September 4-10, 2014

This week:
Good News: fast-food workers campaign

Good News: Texas anti-choice law blocked

Update: US raid on Somalia

Update: war hawks still at it

Failing to take violence against women seriously

Outrage of the Week: Israel steals West Bank land

Clown Award: Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders

Saturday, August 30, 2014

172.11 - Footnote: WBC are wimps

Footnote: WBC are wimps

By the way, just as a very quick Footnote, I had another potential clown this week but I passed it up because it was just way too easy:

The hate-filled Westboro Baptist Church apparently wanted to issue the ice bucket challenge to Equality House, the rainbow-painted house run by Planting Peace that stands across the street for their compound.

You know, the deal where you nominate someone to get doused with a bucket of ice water and they either accept the challenge and then challenge another or donate $100 to the ALS Foundation.

So the Westboro Baptist Church - which is not part of any Baptist Convention and is not a church - wanted to challenge Equality House. And how did they do it? By dumping the ice water on a sign on their lawn.

Not only are they bigots and clowns - they are wimps, as well.

Sources cited in links:

172.10 - Clown Award: war hawks

Clown Award: war hawks

Now for our other regular feature, it's the Clown Award, given for meritorious stupidity

The Big Red Nose this week goes to the war hawks in Congress, exemplified by Senators John McPainInTheAss and Lindsey Grahamcracker.

They are eager, champing at the bit, straining at the lead, they want more war.

Rep. Paul Rantin' said on August 23 that the United States military needs to “finish [ISIS] off because we will either fight them here or we will fight them there,” even if that means deployment of ground troops to Syria or Iraq, which should not be “off the table.”

Sen. Grahamcracker, for his part, argued Monday that Obama “is derelict in his duties by not aggressively confronting ISIL wherever they reside, including Syria” because anything less than "attacking their safe haven in Syria" is "placing the American homeland at risk."

(Sidebar: Do you get creeped out the way I do whenever one of these bozos starts talking about the "homeland?" How did that militarist-hyper-nationalist term get popular?)

The Washington Post editorial board says the US needs to pull together a coalition of “Kurds in Iraq and Syria, Sunni tribal leaders in Iraq, the Iraqi government if it can become more inclusive, what is left of the Free Syrian Army,” put some "boots on the ground," and launch a war in the cross-border area of Iraq and Syria.

They're all-out for war, perhaps missing "the smell of napalm in the morning," all ready for the blood and gore and guts and veins in your teeth and eating dead burnt bodies and shrink, I wanna kill - but there is one thing they are not all out for: taking any responsibility.

For example, on August 26, Rep. Michael Turner blasted Obama as not having a “coordinated plan” to defeat ISIS. But asked whether he would support US airstrikes targeting ISIS in Syria, he avoided the question.

In fact, Politico reports that few lawmakers really, truly want to take a vote on military action so close to the November elections. But that is not the only reason: In 2013, a non-election year, many lawmakers were privately relieved when Obama dropped his request for Congressional authorization for strikes on Syria after support collapsed on Capitol Hill.

Robert Chesney, a professor at the University of Texas who specializes in national security law, said that “The preferred position for many in Congress is not to be on record one way or the other in this situation.”

I disagree: They want to "be on record," they want to "be on record" with tough talk and sweeping claims about the necessity of regional war and blather about "the homeland" and "fight them there or fight them here" and lots of macho-talk fear mongering. They just don't want to be on record in any way that involves them taking and responsibility.

They are, all of them, not just these two, they are without doubt, clowns.

Sources cited in links:

172.9 - Hero Award: John Stewart

Hero Award: John Stewart

I have to stop there in order to give out a Hero Award, which we give as the need arises to people who just do the right thing on a matter big or small.

This time, the award goes to John Stewart of The Daily Show. On his show for August 26, he spent the first roughly 10 minutes on a truly, truly righteous rant about the refusal of white America to recognize the pervasive existence of racism and the insistence of too many that they are "tired" of hearing about race as an issue.

"If you're tired of hearing about it, think how exhausting it must be to live it," Stewart notably declared.

I encourage you, I plead with you, I beg you, to get online or get to the library or something and watch this segment. I would have been proud to have done it myself.

Sources cited in links:

172.8 - More on Ferguson

More on Ferguson

Last week, I said that the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, were not really about the shooting down of Michael Brown but rather were really about everything that had happened before. I mentioned the increasing poverty, the increasing unemployment, and the fact of a militarized police force that looks nothing like the community.

I want to touch on that again, that "what happened before" with regard to relations with the police from a somewhat different angle: the question of whether or not there was racial profiling of blacks in the city by the 95% white police force. How, to put that another way, did the bulk of the community experience their contacts with police?

An NPR story asked that question of people in Ferguson and got the sort of answers that should come as no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. One said "Every time you see a cop, it's like, 'Am I going to get messed with?'" A father said "I should not have to teach my kids how to be arrested. I should not have to teach my son to do everything possible to make sure that you're not killed when a police officer pulls you over." A woman told the story of her 12-year-old son coming home in tears after being stopped and patted down by a cop while walking home. "He said, 'Mom, how long will this happen to me?' And I said, 'For the rest of your life.' "

And if you want to persist in thinking this is all fantasy, all hyperbole, some hard figures: In 2013, the Ferguson Police Department made 5,384 stops and 611 searches. 86 percent of the stops and 92 percent of the searches were of black people. Only about 65 percent of the town's population is black.

Oh, the bigots will cry, that just shows that black people are more likely to be criminals. Except - same year, same police figures: Once you allow for the difference in population, it works out that African-Americans were nearly twice as likely to have been subjected to a search as whites were and were twice as likely to get arrested - even though whites were more than one and a-half times more likely to have been found with contraband. They were 1-1/2 times more likely to have contraband but only half as likely to get arrested. And if that does not demonstrate a clear pattern of racial discrimination in the policing of Ferguson, I can't imagine what would short of a signed confession.

Look, let's face facts: Most cops are good cops. Most cops are trying to do the best they can for the communities where they work. But when you have people who you give a badge and a gun, people who you give the authority to kill people, people who are trained to smack down any challenge to their authority, who will tell you, as an LAPD cop recently did in an op-ed in the Washington Post, and I'm quoting now, "if you don’t want to get shot, tased, pepper-sprayed, struck with a baton or thrown to the ground, just do what I tell you," that is, in other words, just shut up and passively submit to anything I want even if it violates your rights and abuses my authority because I'll just beat the crap out of you (if you're lucky) and arrest you (if you're still alive) and whatever happens will be your fault - even though, by the way, it's not illegal to argue with a cop, it's not illegal to give a cop lip, it's not illegal to be obnoxious to a cop -  when you have people who are increasingly trained to think in terms of "us versus them," when you have people who are increasingly being armed with weapons of war to patrol the streets, when you have that, then "most" is simply not good enough.

Because Ferguson is not the exception.

Kimberly Norwood is a law professor at the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis. She confessed recently that when driving, she has a bit of a lead foot. But, she said, "the few times I have been stopped in my suburb, the first question I'm asked is whether I live 'around here.'" Not one of her white friends, she said, had ever been asked that question when they were pulled over.

On August 22, TV producer Charles Belk was in Beverly Hills to attend a pre-Emmy event. He was suddenly arrested, handcuffed, made to sit on the curb, then booked on a charge of taking part in an armed robbery of a Citibank, with bail set at $100,000. His car was impounded, he was denied a phone call, and he wasn't given a very good explanation as to why he was being held.

The reason turned out to be that he is a tall, bald, black man, which was the description the cops had of one of the robbers. So, apparently, they just grabbed the first tall, bald, black man they saw. Six hours later, after he made repeated requests, the cops actually looked at the security film from the bank. It wasn't him. They let him go. He's supposed to be grateful.

On August 23, Kametra Barbour was driving in Forney, Texas with her three young children, ages six to nine. She was stopped by police. She was made to get out of the car and walk backwards toward the cops, where she was handcuffed.

Why? The cops tell her that they had a 911 cal4l about "a vehicle matching your description and your license plate, waving a gun out the window."

Here's the problem: The 911 call was about four black men waiving a gun out the window of a beige- or tan-colored Toyota. This was a woman with small children driving a burgundy red Nissan Maxima. Only one thing matched: the color. And not the color of the car.

The cops realized their "mistake" when Barbour's 6-year-old son got out of the car and, in a heart-breaking moment, started walking toward the cops with his hands up.

Because Ferguson is not the exception. It happens to people of color in this country everywhere, every day. Everywhere, every day, African-Americans are assumed to be criminals, are stopped, hassled, harassed, for no reason other than the color of their skin. That's why there is such a dramatic difference - a 20 percentage point difference - between the attitudes of whites and blacks on the question of "trusting the police" - it's the dramatic difference in their day-to-day experience.

So yeah, most cops are good cops. But when we face the reality we do, "most" just isn't nearly good enough.

Sources cited in links:

172.7 - Outrage of the Week: NSA goes Google

Outrage of the Week: NSA goes Google

Now for one of our regular features, the Outrage of the Week.

We have known for some time now that the NSA has been spying on Americans, collecting huge amounts of information about the metadata of our telephone calls, recording what number called what number, when, and for how long. That information is supposedly only available to a limited number of NSA employees who can access it only in terrorism-related investigations.

But beyond that and beside that, the NSA has swept up some 850 billion records about phone calls, emails, cellphone locations, and internet chats. These are supposed to relate to foreign intelligence, but the reality is that data on unknown millions of Americans is included in that figure, either accidentally or deliberately.

Now it develops that the NSA has developed what some are calling its own version of Google, a massive searchable database called ICREACH, a database to which more than 1,000 analysts at 23 government agencies that perform intelligence work have access - agencies including purely domestic agencies such as the FBI and the DEA.

Information shared through ICREACH can be used to track a person’s movements, map out their networks of associates, and potentially reveal religious affiliations or political beliefs.

In fact, part of the idea was to enable "pattern of life analysis," which involves monitoring who individuals communicate with and the places they visit over a period of several months, in order to observe their habits and so predict their future behavior.

Rather than being a repository, ICREACH appears to be a querying tool that can scan a variety of databases. The information in those databases was swept up by programs authorized under Executive Order 12333. Collection of data under this order does not have court oversight and receives minimal congressional scrutiny because it targets foreign communication networks rather than domestic ones. But despite that supposed limitation, the very nature of the program means that data about millions of Americans will be included, even if they are not suspected of any wrongdoing.

And that information, which is supposed to be applied only to investigations related to foreign intelligence, is now and for several years has been shared with domestic law enforcement. And the difference between what is foreign intelligence and what is domestic intelligence, the difference between "the Constitution applies because it's domestic" and "the Constitution doesn't apply because it's foreign" becomes ever more blurred, and what what supposed to be a bright red line separating one from the other now is as best a dusty rose.

They fake it, they fudge it, they finagle it, but at the end of the day it merges into one giant spy network that is spying on anyone and everyone - and yes, that means us and every other person they can find, whether guilty or innocent.

It's an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

172.6 - Unintentional Humor: a new definition of "freedom"

Unintentional Humor: a new definition of "freedom"

Talking about the Delsea Drive-In raises an example of what we around here call Unintentional Humor, where something that's not intended to be funny, just is.

When the story first came out about a diabetic being barred from the theater because he had with him some food to protect against a potential crash in his blood sugar levels, a lot of people were wondering how theater owner John DeLeonardis knew what was in the bag.

Well, the "House Rules" for the theater say that "Trunks/hatches must be popped and interior lights must be on upon approach to box office." That is, they are going to more or less search your car to make sure you don't have a stray candy bar before they will let you in.

There's also a section that indicates that employees are roaming the lines between the cars and can at any moment demand you produce your ticket to avoid getting kicked out.

And after that, the rules point to "the increased freedom resulting from an open-air environment."

Ah yes, the free wind blowing in my hair.

Sources cited in links:

172.5 - Update 3: John DeLeonardis

Update 3: John DeLeonardis

The last of our Updates involves John DeLeonardis, owner of the Delsea Drive-In theater in Vineland, NJ. Last week I gave him the Clown Award because of his refusal to allow a 16-year old diabetic to enter the theater with his emergency kit because it contained "contraband" - his diabetic supplies, including a juice box and some candy to protect against a potentially life-threatening crash in his blood sugar levels.

"No food. No drink. Bottom line," DeLeonardis said. "Sorry your kid has an affliction but what can I tell you?"

He later told local media he had no plans to change his policy against outside food.

Uh-huh. Amazing what a little bad publicity will do. The theater website's section on "House Rules" now contains a section specifically stating that diabetic supplies including Glucerna-type drinks (a family of drinks which are specifically intended for people with diabetes), hard candies, and bottled water are "not considered outside food or beverages."

I'm just not sure if this makes him less of a Clown because he changed the policy or more of one because he doesn't admit what drove the change.

Sources cited in links:

172.4 - Update 2: homelessness

Update 2: homelessness

On another front, last week I condemned New Orleans for joining the ranks of US cities striving to make homelessness invisible rather than trying to do something about it - and just shunting people into shelters is not an answer.

The Update here is that some places are trying to actually do something:

For example, the city of Portland, Oregon, is nearing approval of a project to construct communities of tiny homes on public land in order to house homeless and low-income residents.

The houses are indeed tiny, measuring only 192 square feet, but they are well-designed and more importantly provide a stable place of residence. Not a bed in an overcrowded shelter, but a stable place; a place, if you will, to plant your feet so you can stand back up. They would cost $250-$350 a month in rent, allowing people making as little as $5,000 a year to afford them.

Other tiny house projects of various sorts have already borne fruit in a half-dozen places, including in Wisconsin, Texas, and New York, with the houses often built by members of the local Occupy movement.

Portland hopes to have its first micro-community in place by February 2015.

Sources cited in links:
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