Saturday, May 14, 2016

Va-ka-SHUN! Va-ka-SHUN!

Just to let everyone know as if anyone cared, we are taking a short vacation.

The next episode of Left Side of the Aisle will be for the week of June 2-8.

I know you will miss us terribly but you'll bear up.

In the meantime, you have the best couple of weeks that you can.

See you in June and as always, peace.

247.5 - Rapid-fire items

Rapid-fire items

Everything but the kitchen sink
Last for this week, something rather different. As I expect you know, over the course of each week I gather up news items which I might want to address on the show. Not everything I find makes it in; in fact most things don't. I have observed on a number of occasions that when the show is finished it bears little resemblance to what I was envisioning when I sat down to prepare it, which I do the night before taping.

I have sometimes considered the idea of sometime just making an entire show out of items that I find, with each just noted with maybe a quick comment, so that instead of devoting maybe four or five minutes to each of six or seven topics I would give a minute or two (and occasionally less) to maybe 20 or more.

So just for the heck of it, I thought I'd spend these last minutes doing just that, to give a sense of what a show such as that that might be like. Let me know what you think and here we go:

1. First, a report on charter schools in Los Angeles concludes that they are costing traditional schools in the city's Unified School District millions of dollars in tax money.

The study calculates that between services to charters that take tax money the district intended to use for traditional schools and direct education tax dollars going to the charters, the budget for traditional schools is being drained by more than $500 million a year.

Meanwhile, an advisory board in North Carolina is wrestling with who to hold accountable when a charter school closes and fails to turn over student records, pay its ex-employees, or meet its other financial obligations.

Since 2012, 10 charter schools in the state have closed, displacing 1,100 students and 150 employees through fiscal mismanagement costing the public schools millions of dollars.

None of this should come as a surprise since the whole purpose of charter schools is to undermine public schools and ultimately to privatize education, turning it into just another profit center rather than a public obligation.


2. Next up: In 2003, Roy Moore, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, was kicked off the bench after refusing a federal court order to remove a Ten Commandments monument he had erected in the lobby of the state judicial building in Montgomery. In 2012, he was reelected to the same position.

Now he has been suspended and may be kicked off the bench again, this time for having "flagrantly disregarded and abused his authority" when he ordered state judges to ignore the Supreme Court ruling that established and recognized the right of same-sex couples to get married.

Personally, I hope they just leave him suspended and never get around to dismissing him because if they do, the mouth-breathers in Alabama will probably just vote him in again.


3. Here's an interesting thought I came across somewhere: Hillary Clinton said she wouldn't release the text of her speeches to Wall Street firms - for which she was paid over $200,000 a pop - until every other presidential candidate, including the GOPpers, did so as well.

Well, guess what: There are three candidates standing and two of them haven't given any such speeches. So her conditions have been met. So where are the transcripts, Hillary?


4. Meanwhile, efforts to bring attention to the issue of police brutality, especially toward minority communities, continue. In San Francisco, a group of five protesters who came to be known as the Frisco Five has just ended a 17-day hunger strike calling for the resignation of Police Chief Greg Suhr.

Although they did not succeed in that, they did draw attention both within and without the city to the issue of police violence in San Francisco and prompted the mayor to tell the PD to reform its use of force rules.


5. Next, an official report commissioned by the government of the UK on that nation's involvement in the Iraq War, including what mistakes were made in execution or planning for the war or its aftermath, is scheduled for release on July 6: seven years after it was commissioned and five years after its last public hearing.

It's last hurdle was a security check in which, according the the BBC,
officials were reportedly looking for information that has been inadvertently included that could damage relations with the UK's allies, breach national security or violate the UK's international obligations in any way.
The fact that after that, it's claimed that nothing was taken out doesn't give me confidence that come July we're going to see a revealing, hard-hitting, or insightful document.


6. Finally, speaking of war, an addendum to my item last week about our lovely little war in Iraq and Syria. In describing the involvement of Navy SEALS in a firefight with Daesh forces - Daesh, remember, being a sort of insulting name for ISIS, which is why I use it - military trainer Matthew VanDyke said Daesh "won't be able to sustain continued losses like those" they suffered in the battle.

The echoes of Vietnam keep ringing in my head. Now not only do we have "advisors" becoming more involved in combat, not only to we have mission creep, now it seems we're back to body counts.

Sources cited in links:

247.4 - Outrage of the Week: Wisconsin Gov. Scott WalkAllOverYou

Outrage of the Week: Wisconsin Gov. Scott WalkAllOverYou

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

Wisconsin Gov. Scott WalkAllOverYou is at it again, trying to find ways to humiliate and denigrate people applying for public benefits which they need and to which they are entitled.

We start with the fact that federal regulations do not allow states to make applicants for unemployment benefits or SNAP benefits (what we used to call Food Stamps) take a drug test. Scotty boy does not like that and is suing the federal government. Y'see, in the case of applying for cash benefits under the program of TANF, which stands for Transitional Aid to Needy Families and is what we used to call welfare, drug testing can be allowed - and WalkAllOverYou is insisting that unemployment and Food Stamps are exactly the same as TANF.

Scott WalkAllOverYou
Not satisfied with that, on May 4, he authorized rules allowing employers who made drug tests a condition of employment to voluntarily submit to the state information about the results of those tests and considerations of privacy be damned. If any of those people later apply for unemployment or SNAP benefits but either failed the employer's drug test or wouldn't take it, they can be denied benefits unless they agree to get drug treatment.

In other words, he is trying to make an end run around the federal regulations by creating a database of pee, allowing him the opening to potentially deny benefits to those in need with the claim that "Well, we didn't make them take the test." This, he says, is part of moving people from "government dependence to true independence," with "independence," it seems, consisting of getting no help at all and screw you. The "independence" which he seeks, that is, is for him and his cat cat cronies to be freed from any legal or ethical obligation to care about anyone or anything other than their own selfish desires.

And no matter how many times these drug-test regimens fail, no matter how many times they wind up showing that the poor are less likely to use drugs than the general population, as they invariably do, still we are afflicted with stupid, obnoxious, sneering, classist jerks like Scott WalkAllOverYou looking down their noses at the poor and viewing them as inferior beings.

It is - he is - a moral and ethical outrage.

Sources cited in links:

Friday, May 13, 2016

247.3 - Clown Award: Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America

Clown Award: Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America

Now for one of our regular features, the Clown Award, given as always for meritorious stupidity - although stupidity has a somewhat different meaning this week.

So, this week the Big Red Nose goes to Larry Pratt, a representative of Gun Owners of America, a group which is if anything more fanatical about guns and mythical "gun owners' rights" than the Nutzoid Rabbit-brains of America is.

Back in 2013, an investigation by Mother Jones magazine found that hundreds of children in the US are killed every year by guns. Many are killed in homicides and many others in accidents, mostly when the children themselves, sometimes as young as 2 or 3, pull the trigger.

Since then, more data has shown such events to be even more widespread than thought. According to the group Everytown for Gun Safety, in 2015, there were at least 278 unintentional shootings at the hands of - that is, by - young children and teenagers, with the most typical age of the child pulling the trigger being 3.

The New York Times reported on May 5 that during one week in April, four toddlers around the US killed themselves with guns, and a mother was fatally shot by her two-year-old while she was driving.

Gun nut Larry Pratt
Virtually all of these tragedies occurred because some grown-up, some I'm sure "responsible gun owner," left a gun unsecured. As a result, there have been increasing pushes for safety measures like trigger locks, gun safes, and even "smart-gun" technology, where a gun can only be fired by its intended operator. All, of course, are vigorously opposed by the gun nuts, who claim they threaten their sainted Second Amendment rights although it's damn hard to see how.

But that level of depravity isn't low enough for Larry Pratt. Asked about the yearly carnage among toddlers from guns, Pratt dismissed it as an issue, saying you can't base public policy on, quote, "occasional mishaps."

A 3-year-old child shooting themselves or a sibling, a 2-year-old killing their mother, shootings by or of children happening several times a week, and Larry Pratt, more concerned with how a trigger lock would interfere with his Wild West quick draw fantasies, dismisses them as "mishaps."

Y'know, there are different sorts of clowns, most of them funny, some of them a bit tragic, some of them, to some folks, even a bit creepy - but now we have the clown that make you nauseous.

Larry Pratt, nauseating clown.

Sources cited in links:

247.2 - Some updates on secret trade negotiations

Some updates on secret trade negotiations

Several times in the past I have made mention of a series of secret international trade deals being negotiated. Best known among them is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, which would create a "free trade zone" among 12 Pacific Rim nations which together account for 40 percent of the world economy - making it biggest trade deal since NAFTA, a deal which has been responsible for the loss of millions of high-paying manufacturing jobs in the US in exchange for the creation of millions of low-paid service industry jobs.

Opposition to the TPP among environmental and labor groups, already burned by NAFTA, have lead some nations, including Canada, to have second thoughts about the deal.

But not in the US, where Barack Obama continues to push for it, so much so that he regarded getting fast track authority for the agreement - under which Congress cannot amend the deal, only give it an up or down vote - to be one of the great achievements of his second term and so much so that the State Department upgraded Malaysia's ranking on human trafficking from, in effect, "horrible" to merely "very bad" so that it could stay in the deal.

And in fact, the deal was finalized last October and was signed in February.

So why do I bring this up? For one that, because that is not the end: The deal is signed but not ratified. It still has to be approved by Congress. One reason I haven't pushed this more is that everyone knows the deal is not going to come up before the election because no one in Congress wants to deal with it: They don't want to anger their corporate donors by opposing it or their voters by supporting it.

There has been some concern about the pact's supporters trying to get it rammed through in the lame duck session in December, when there will be less political pressure because it is just after an election when most people won't be paying much attention and some members of Congress won't be coming back so they don't have to care about the voters but they still have campaign debts to pay off and so big donors to please.

That possibility brings up to the hook for today's discussion of it.

Just before the West Virginia primary, Hillary Clinton came out in opposition to a "lame duck" vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This takes her beyond her previous statements mildly opposing TPP and she also made a strong statement criticizing our trade agreements in general.

Remember, Clinton had been in favor of the TPP; in fact she called it "the gold standard" for trade agreements. But in the face of clear opposition among the public and Bernie Sanders making it an issue in the campaign, she has gradually shifted her position from support to opposition. Her latest statement is the strongest expression of opposition yet.

Which is encouraging but unfortunately, there is a question as to how sincere this new-found opposition really is. Her campaign has recently sent up a trial balloon about a VP pick, trying to cement her position as the presumptive nominee. Unhappily,  the name hanging from that trial balloon is Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, a moderate Democrat with some degree of progressive cred - but who is also a "free trade" zealot who has been the Senate's most fanatical supporter of the TPP.

Which in turn brings to mind the statement a few months back from Tom Donohue, president of the US Chamber of Commerce, who said not to worry about what Clinton is saying about the TPP now because once she is office she will flip back to supporting it.

The fact is, no matter the outcome in November, coming in January if not in December, this is going to be a big deal and we have to be ready for a fight.

I should also note that the TPP is only one of three massive trade deals being negotiated in secret. Beyond the TPP there is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, which looks to do for North Atlantic trade what the TPP does for the Pacific Rim, and the Trade in Services Agreement, or TiSA, which looks to do for commercial services what the others do for commercially-produced products.

Together they represent the creation of a world economy where the benefit of corporations, especially transnational corporations, is not just standard operating procedure, it is a legal requirement of international treaties.

The TTIP is under strenuous attack in Europe from environmental, labor, and consumer groups. Recently, Greenpeace has warned that European Union, or EU, standards on the environment and public health are at risk of being undermined by the agreement. The charged was based on 248 pages of classified documents from the TTIP trade talks that were leaked to the group.

Greenpeace EU director Jorgo Riss said the documents
confirm what we have been saying for a long time: TTIP would put corporations at the center of policy-making, to the detriment of environment and public health.
A serious particular issue is the proposal to replace the EU's "precautionary principle" - under which manufacturers of potentially harmful products have to show they are sufficiently safe before they can enter the market - with the less strict US "managed risk" approach, under which hazards are dealt with after they arise from a product already in the market, not before.

According to the National Resources Defense Council, there are over 80,000 chemicals now in use in products in the US, most of which haven't been adequately tested for their effects on human health. The TTIP would spread that practice to Europe.

In addition, there have been serious charges the TTIP would be used to protect the megabanks from claims by European investors who allege that they were cheated during the debt crisis. It would so this by deflecting such claims to an "arbitration panel" dominated by the same economic interests that benefitted from the fraud in the first place.

Word is that the negotiators hope to have a deal ready to sign late this year, with the timing related to avoiding it becoming an issue in the US presidential campaign.

It should anyway.

Sources cited in links:

247.1 - Some items on LGBTQ rights

Some items on LGBTQ rights

We start the week with some recent news on the LGBTQ rights front. I know I talk about this a lot. One reason is that it's out there, people are thinking/talking/arguing about it; another is that it's been a long-standing concern of mine and it's good to see it reaching that critical mass of public awareness; and most of all because despite the losses, setbacks, and bigotries involved, it still is pleasant to be able to give some attention to something where it feels that we as a society and as a culture actually are making progress. Grudging progress, perhaps, but progress nonetheless.

So let me start by noting that as I do this, Italy is about to pass a law creating civil unions for same-sex couples. [Update: The bill passed on May 11 by a vote of 372-51.]

Italy was the last major Western European country not to recognize some form of legal partnership for same-sex couples, either marriage or civil unions, and even this bill is a heavily-watered down version of one earlier this year after fierce criticism from the Catholic right of a clause that would allow one partner in a same-sex union to adopt the natural child of their partner.

(In one of those "ya gotta just laugh" occurrences, references to "faithfulness" were also stricken because that would make the union "too much like marriage." Apparently, if you're in a civil union, unfaithfulness is to be encouraged.)

Be that as it may, this is still a clear step forward. Heavily-Catholic Italy was a place where this was "never" supposed to happen. So never say never. And in a few years when this has become pretty routine and civilization has not collapsed, there is hope of going further.

By the way, I should emphasize that I referred to Western Europe. Eastern Europe is still a tough place to be anything other than straight.

Here at home, the epicenter du jour is North Carolina, which took its place in the spotlight after the city of Charlotte passed an ordinance expanding protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and the state legislature responded by banning cities and towns in the state from passing laws to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in their localities. The state included what has become known as a "bathroom bill," one that requires transgender people to use public facilities that accord with the gender on their birth certificate rather than their gender identity, that is, how they think of themselves, how they view themselves, how they live.

North Carolina AttGen Roy Cooper
The bill, numbered HB2, lead to a shower of condemnation, withdrawals by businesses, cancelled concerts, threats of boycotts, and even a statement by state Attorney General Roy Cooper that he would not defend the law in court, which together had Gov. Pat McCrory quickly scrambling to "clarify" the state law.

It has also lead to the Department of Justice suing North Carolina, with US Attorney General Loretta Lynch calling its bathroom bill "state-sponsored discrimination" aimed at "a problem that doesn't exist" and likening it to Jim Crow laws.

The "problem" in this case is what has become the go-to argument for the right-wingers, the vision of men putting on dresses and wigs in order to go into women's bathrooms and locker rooms to harass and assault the women and Omigosh! little girls there.

And yes, it is a problem that doesn't exist. Politifact recently reported "search[ing] far and wide" for an example someone convicted of committing a sex crime in the opposite gender's bathroom or locker room in a place that lets transgender people use the bathroom they feel most comfortable with. They couldn't find a single example anywhere in the US. Neither have any conservative groups been able to point to a single case. It's a problem That. Does. Not. Exist.

What's more, not only is this bathroom bill, as even FOX news host Chris Wallace was moved to call it, "a solution in search of a problem," according to new poll by Public Policy Polling, most folks in North Carolina don't like it much.

According to their results, just 36% of voters in the state support HB2, compared to 45% who oppose it. 54% think it's had a negative impact on North Carolina's economy and 53% think it had a negative effect on North Carolina's national reputation. Perhaps most important, only 37% think its passage has made the state safer while 44% think it has not. And while a lot of the rhetoric around the bill been about protecting women, women both oppose the bill and think it's failing to make the state safer by even wider margins than the population as a whole.

That sort of, if you will, split decision between on the one hand bigots making wild claims to justify their bigotry and on the other people trying to simply face the reality of the existence and therefore of the rights of transgender people, also occurred in another place recently: Texas.

Kent Scribner
On April 26, the Fort Worth Independent School District announced guidelines for school district personnel in acknowledging and supporting the gender identity and expression "that each student consistently and uniformly asserts." It includes instructing personnel to address access to restroom and locker room facilities.

Now, the phrase about gender identity that a student "consistently and uniformly asserts" would seem to do away the screeching about boys putting on skirts to get a peek in the girls' locker room, but of course, that doesn't matter. So Texas' lieutenant governor Dan Patrick is calling for the resignation of school superintendent Kent Scribner, claiming Scribner "has lost his focus and thereby his ability to lead the Fort Worth ISD [Independent School District]" and just to be sure he had covered all his bases, he also said "I call upon the parents within the Fort Worth ISD to take immediate steps to repeal this stealthy scheme and remove Dr. Scribner from his post."

Hilariously, Patrick accused Scribner of having "placed his own personal political agenda ahead of" the students. This despite the fact that just last week, Patrick made clear he would support Texas passing a law prohibiting transgender people from using the bathroom that corresponds to their gender identity.

Scribner, for his part, says he is proud of the rules and will not resign.

Finally on this topic for this week, remember Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, one of those shrieking about how same-sex marriage was the doom of all that is good in the world?

Well, Bobby Jindal isn't the governor of Louisiana any more and on April 13, the current governor, John Bel Edwards, issued an executive order that protects state workers and state contractors from being fired, discriminated against, or harassed based on their gender identity or sexual orientation.

It has limitations in that it exempts religious organizations such as the Catholic church that contract with the state to provide services, and since it's an executive order, not a law, it doesn't effect those outside state government. And in fact, outside of a government setting Louisiana law does not provide protections against employment nondiscrimination for LGBTQ workers. Even so, this is still a clear - and considering the location, rather bold - step forward.

I still say: On this issue, it may take time, it may take a generation, but justice will come.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #247

NOTE: Left Side is taking a vaction. The next episode will be for the week of June 2 - 8.

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of May 12-18, 2016

This week:

Some items on LGBTQ rights

Some updates on secret trade negotiations

Clown Award: Larry Pratt of Gun Owners of America

Outrage of the Week: Wisconsin Gov. Scott WalkAllOverYou

Rapid-fire items

Saturday, May 07, 2016

246.9 - RIP: Dan Berrigan

RIP: Dan Berrigan

We end this week with an RIP. I have on several past occasions introduced one of these with some form of the phrase "another part of my youth slips away." So it is here, but this one is different, because it's not a part of my cultural youth, it's a part of for lack of a better term my spirit.

Dan Berrigan - teacher, author of more than 50 books of poetry and essays - Dan Berrigan - playwright, protestor, prisoner, and prophet - died on April 30, nine days short of his 95th birthday. The cause of death was heart failure after a lengthy illness.

Berrigan - more formally Father Daniel Berrigan, as he was a Jesuit priest - was at one time one of the best-known and most controversial figures on the American political scene and a figure whose grace and courage were a major inspiration to me as during the latter 1960s my eyes were opened and my political beliefs were turned radical by the Indochina War along with the words of humanity, insight, and truth from, among others, Dan Berrigan.

Even though his activism against poverty and other wrongs both predates and postdates it, Dan Berrigan first came to widespread public awareness through his opposition to the war that radicalized so many of my generation. With Martin Luther King, Jr., and others, he helped found Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam. With his younger brother Phil, another Catholic priest who later left the priesthood to get married, he founded the Catholic Peace Fellowship.

Fr. Daniel Berrigan
But he really came to public attention on May 17, 1968, when he, Phil, and seven others took over 300 draft files out of the Catonsville, Maryland draft board office, brought them to the parking lot, and burned them with homemade napalm, created for the occasion based on a recipe in a Green Beret handbook.

He turned the record of the ensuing trial into a play which became a movie, both called, appropriately, The Trial of the Catonsville Nine, the text for which consisted mostly of trial transcripts.

It included this line which has forever since echoed across my conscience. Quoting himself, Dan wrote
Our apologies, good friends, for the fracture of good order, the burning of paper instead of children, the angering of the orderlies in the front parlor of the charnel house. We could not, so help us God, do otherwise.
One historian called the Catonsville action "the single most powerful anti-war act in American history."  It lead to more than 100 similar raids on draft board, throwing a huge monkey wrench into the machine grinding out cannon fodder for an increasingly-unpopular war.

The nine were of course convicted - but when appeals ran out in 1970, Dan surprised everyone by refusing to report to federal prison. He went underground, from safe house to safe house, and spent four months dodging the FBI. During that time, he gave interviews and even a couple of speeches - he was, in the words of Phil Berrigan's wife Liz McAllister, "available to everyone except the FBI." This was so embarrassing to J. Edgar Hoover's FBI that Dan became the first priest ever to be on the agency's 10 Most Wanted list.

Ultimately, of course, he was caught as he knew he eventually would be. His hosts and guides made a mistake and he was arrested on Block Island off the coast of Rhode Island, the "Island" in "Block Island" being the mistake. He then spent two years in prison.

That, however, was far from the end of his story. On September 9, 1980, Dan, with seven other people, again including his brother Phil, walked into a GE plant in the town of King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, right past startled security guards, and started hammering on nose cones being fashioned for the MK (or "Mark") 12A, a highly-advanced, precision-targeted, nuclear weapon. They were trying symbolically to "hammer swords into plowshares," thus giving rise to the name the Plowshares Movement. Again, it inspired and in fact continues to inspire similar actions of what came to be known as "direct disarmament." But in the short term, it meant more prison time for Dan and others.

He never retreated from his radicalism, his pacifism, his nonviolence, or his activism. He continued to speak, write, and march. His last arrest for civil disobedience, as far as I know, was in 2006 at the age of 85.

I never met Dan Berrigan. I would have liked to but the chance never arose; the closest I came was being in the same room and that was partly of my doing. Every year, the War Resisters League had a Peace Dinner during which they gave a peace award to someone. It always had a very wonderfully nonviolent-lefty-activist vibe: no fancy meal on linen tablecloths with embroidered cloth napkins in front of a raised dais, it was a large-scale pot-luck, usually at a church hall somewhere in lower Manhattan.

In 1974, Dan had published an essay about the Middle East which was critical of Israel and if you think it can be hard to criticize Israel today because of the flak you get, those decades back it was much worse. The denunciations of him as everything from ignorant to pro-terrorist to antisemitic poured out of various voices, including a distressing number on the left. The word was he was feeling depressed and isolated by the reaction.

The Catonsville 9, May 17, 1968
The League had been planning on giving the award that year to Dave Dellinger, but the suggestion was made to switch it to Dan as encouragement and a display of solidarity. I was at the time on the Executive Committee of the War Resisters League and was one of those who convinced the others to make the change.

(Parenthetically, it developed that Dave Dellinger, when asked about it, enthusiastically endorsed the change.)

My other connection to Dan Berrigan, one even more tenuous, was during his time evading the FBI. The possibility was raised that my house was one of the ones he would stay in. It never got beyond the point of a possibility and I suspect there were in those months a lot more possibilities raised than were seriously pursued, but still it seemed pretty cool at the time. And still does, in fact.

Now, I didn't agree with Dan Berrigan on everything - for example, he was opposed to both euthanasia and abortion and I am strongly in favor of the right to both. And while I don't know what his feelings were on the matters, given his background and training I would not be surprised to find such disagreements over matters such as LGBTQ rights.

But despite those disagreements and despite not having met him, I did encounter his writings and more importantly his actions, which taken together became one of the things that helped to form and to inform the person I have become.

Because I've talked here about how I'm a green, a leftist, a radical, a democratic socialist, and such. But there is something I haven't talked about much that also informs my opinions and analyses: I am a pacifist.

Which usually is something you say on TV when you want to lose viewers. But it's true and, thanks in part to, among others, Dan Berrigan, it's part of who I am.

I am not going to inflict my autobiography on you; if you want to know how I shifted from what would these days be called a "liberal warhawk" to where I've wound up, ask. For the moment, I'll just say that my experience of actual - not movie, not cartoon, not play, but actual - violence and seeing its effects and seeing how people responded to it provoked my conscience to an utter clarity of "this cannot be right." That large-scale organized violence cannot be right.

And no, I'm not interested in any cliche tsk-tsking and tut-tutting about how "unrealistic" I'm being, nor do I need any lectures on the destructiveness of institutional violence, nor do I need to be reminded that it's easy for those of us not suffering under the yoke of an oppressor to urge the oppressed to foreswear murderous violence, especially when it is equally easy for us to romanticize such violence, to embrace it as "necessary" or "liberating" when we do not have to live with blood and gore and shredded limbs and the shrieks of the wounded, writhing in pain, and the wails of the widows and the widowers and the orphans and the cries of the parents holding their dead children while sitting among the smoking ruins of what had been their homes and fields.

Because that is the reality hidden behind the "necessity" of violence, a reality of tens - of hundreds - of millions around the world, past and present, abused by military power of one sort or another, almost if not always in the name of some supposed "higher purpose." A reality of the real effect of real violence on real people.

Wars and armed conflicts of one sort or another are now going on in Nigeria, Libya, Somalia, South Sudan, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and who knows how many other places, and in every one of them you can be damn sure that no one on any side has picked up a gun or dropped a bomb or fired a rocket or laid a mine or set a booby-trap without claiming to be on the side of the angels; no one has blown someone's head off or burned a village to the ground or tortured a prisoner without claiming it's in pursuit of "justice" or "freedom" or "self-defense" or the "glory of God" (or "Jesus" or "Allah" or whoever).

Peace and RIP, Dan Berrigan
That's the reality. Not musings about how you'd "prefer" nonviolence or about "self-defense" or, horribly, the "creative" aspects of violence. The reality, rather, of death, destruction, and despair in which everyone on every side claims that they are the wounded innocents and they had "no other choice."

But we refuse to see that reality, we ignore it, we repress it, even as despite that we know it. We repress it so far that we commit to its opposite, we commit to the notion that "security" outranks "justice" and that such security is found in being rough and tough rather than in being fair and just.

Dan Berrigan saw it and could not ignore it, could not repress it. Instead, he threw his life against it, fully embracing his own credo that "One is called to live nonviolently even if the change one works for seems impossible."

Because it is only by hammering on the impossible that it can be reformed first into the unlikely and then into the inevitable. Dan Berrigan has laid down his hammer. Let's hope that enough among us find the grace and courage to pick it up.

RIP, Dan Berrigan.

Sources cited in links:

246.8 - Lovely little war: Navy SEALs involved in direct combat with Daesh

Lovely little war: Navy SEALs involved in direct combat with Daesh

I'm going to cover this just briefly because I want the central fact to stand alone.

On May 3, a US Navy SEAL named Charlie Keating IV was killed by Daesh militants during what was called an "extremely heavy, extremely intense" firefight with US forces and Kurdish peshmerga troops in northern Iraq about 20 miles north of Mosul.

According to military trainer Matthew VanDyke, at least 20 SEALS assisted the peshmerga in the firefight.

That is, US forces were actively engaged in direct combat with Daesh forces. Exactly how are they not the "boots on the ground" which we were told would not happen?

"Well," the answer comes back from our Nobel Peace Prize president, "they're because I say they're not." We just define them in a way that makes them something else.

Let me just ask my supposedly oh-so-progressive Democratic party friends: If this was President Donald Trump doing exactly the same thing with exactly the same arguments, would you sit still for it? So why the silence now?

I keep saying it because I keep having cause to: Watch this space.

Sources cited in links:

246.7 - Outrage of the Week: Wisconsin restricts voting rights

Outrage of the Week: Wisconsin restricts voting rights

But even as we edge in the right direction on one part of voting rights, we still seem to be moving further in the wrong direction on another aspect of that: voter ID laws.

Which brings us to Outrage of the Week.

Wisconsin has one of the most restrictive voter ID laws in the nation. It requires a government-issued photo ID in order to be able to vote.

Despite claims about a nonexistent plague of in-person voter fraud, the real purpose of such laws, is to suppress the votes of students and minorities, who tend to vote more liberal. If there ever was any doubt, we now have the word of a former top staffer for a Republican legislator in Wisconsin, who stated he was at a meeting where GOPper legislators openly said they wanted the law because it would help them at the ballot box.

It's estimated that 9 percent of Wisconsin registered voters, that's 300,000 voters, do not have a government-issued photo ID and will be disenfranchised in this year's elections.

Scott WalkAllOverYou
So the city and county of Milwaukee decided to help with this by providing local photo IDs to city and county residents who were having trouble getting such IDs.

So what's happened? On April 25, Wisconsin Gov. Scott WalkAllOverYou signed a bill passed by his cronies in the legislature prohibiting towns and counties from spending money on, or issuing, photo IDs. It also prohibits using city or village IDs to vote.

How blatant can you be?

How obvious can you make it that your intent is to actively hinder people - the young, the poor, minorities - from being able to vote? How transparent can you make your intention to rig the game, to fix the game, to show your desire to go back to the days of literacy tests and poll taxes, to guarantee the continuation of government of the rich and powerful, by the rich and powerful, and for the rich and powerful?

This is disgusting. It is despicable. It is an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

246.6 - Virginia extends voting rights

Virginia extends voting rights

Recently, we've had some good news about voting rights, including Maryland's restoration of some rights to felons who've done their prison time and a unanimous SCOTUS smacking down an attempt to redefine "one person one vote" in a way to benefit the reactionaries.

More dramatically on that score, on April 22 VA Gov. Terry McAuliffe used a broad interpretation of executive clemency powers to restore voting rights to more than 200,000 state residents who had been permanently barred from voting because of a felony conviction.

Maryland and Virginia are part of a trend: The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, which tracks issues of voter rights, says that over the last two decades about 20 states have acted to ease their restrictions on felons being able to vote.

Nice to know that voting rights are being expanded in one way, anyway.

Sources cited in links:

246.5 - Clown Award: psychologist James Mitchell

Clown Award: psychologist James Mitchell

Well, we don't have a Chutzpah Award but we do have a Clown Award, one of our regular features, and given, as always, for meritorious stupidity.

This week, the Big Red Nose goes to a psychologist named James Mitchell.

Suleiman Abdullah Salim and Mohamed Ahmed Ben Soud were kidnapped and tortured by the CIA - excuse me, they were "subjected to enhanced interrogation" - they were kidnapped and tortured by the CIA in the period after 9/11. They are suing Mitchell and another psychologist named John "Bruce" Jessen, who were hired by the CIA to help develop the agency's torture program.

The government usually tries to short-circuit any such cases by claiming some variety of the state secrets privilege, which is itself legally bogus but that's for another time.* The problem for the torture-philes here is that the ACLU, which is representing Salim and Ben Soud, says it can litigate the case relying entirely on public records, so the "It'll harm national security!" dodge is not available and so far the government has made no move to block the case from proceeding, although it still could.

Mitchell and Jessen, who were paid at least $81 million to design torture techniques for the spooks, tried to claim they were immune from civil suits because they were working for the government. The effort failed: In a landmark decision, in mid-April federal Judge Justin Quackenbush of the Eastern District of Washington, where the suit was filed, said "I don’t think I have any other choice" but to let the suit go forward.

But of course the shrinks' lawyers weren't done - and this is where it starts to get good - now arguing that the pair, quoting, "did not create or establish the CIA enhanced interrogation program." In fact, that claim will be "a major focus" of the defense. Nope, not us, uh-uh, don't know what you're talking about.

James Mitchell

Mitchell has written an as-yet-unpublished book called Enhanced Interrogation: Inside the Minds and Motives of the Islamic Terrorists Trying To Destroy America. The pre-publication promotional material for the book describes Mitchell as the "creator of the CIA's controversial Enhanced Interrogation Program" and having had "a leading role in [its] development." It calls him "one of the primary terrorist interrogators" and says the book offers "a dramatic firsthand account of the design, implementation, flaws and aftermath of the program."

That is, Mitchell and his partner Jessen are claiming they had nothing to do with creating the CIA's program of torture - while Mitchell has written an entire book in which he claims to be its creator.

That is truly meritorious stupidity. James Mitchell and John "Bruce" Jessen are both scumbags for their work - but Mitchell is truly, truly, a clown.

Quick footnote: the publication date of Mitchell's book, set for May 10, has been pushed back indefinitely. Can't think why.

Sources cited in links:

*I have written about the "state secrets privilege and why it is bogus a few times, including here and here.

246.4 - A new definition of chutzpah

A new definition of chutzpah

Next up, just something I had to mention. If I had a Chutzpah Award, this would be a runaway winner.

For those of you who have lead a very sheltered life, "chutzpah" is Yiddish and it refers to having monumental gall. The classic illustration is that of someone who murders their parents and then pleads for mercy on the grounds that they are an orphan.

We now have a new illustration.

Darnell Earley was the Emergency Manager appointed by Michigan Gov. Rick SnidleyWhiplash to be the overlord of the city of Flint.

Darnell Earley
One of Earley's brilliant ideas was to save a few bucks by switching the city's water supply from the Detroit city water system to the Flint River.

Soon afterward, warnings appeared in the governor's office about the quality of that water supply. Despite that, it wasn't until another year had passed before the switch was made back to the Detroit supply, a year during which the city's 100,000 residents drank water contaminated with lead, a neurotoxin - and a year during which the Michigan state Department of Environmental Quality was deliberately kept in the dark about what was happening.

Earley is under criminal investigation for his role in all this. In late April, the Detroit Free Press uncovered the fact that his legal expenses were already $75,000 and climbing at the rate of $500 per billed hour.

So what did he do? He billed the city of Flint for the money, demanding the city cover his legal costs.

Hey, I poison you, I poison your kids, what could be more natural than you having to pay to try get me off? Yeah, it's natural - if you've got a hell of a lot of chutzpah.

Sources cited in links:

246.3 - Not Good News: Racism persists

Not Good News: Racism persists

Unhappily, that leads us to the Not Good News, which is the necessary reminder that even as we become more aware of bigotry against LGBTQ people and make real if unsteady gains against that bigotry, our old bigotries - such as sexism and racism - have not disappeared.

In fact, sometimes, they are just right out there.

The clothing chain Old Navy recently ran an ad featuring an interracial couple, which sparked an explosion of racist trolls on Twitter, calling the ad "disgusting," swearing - naturally - never to enter an Old Navy again, and actually thundering about miscegenation - the mixing of races - and I swear I feel like it's 1953 again. There are still people who talk about miscegenation? Really? I am out of touch, apparently.

Still, one of the hardest parts of racism to deal with is the fact that it can be subtle, so subtle, so wrapped into our unthinking assumptions, that we honestly do not recognize it.

 The Old Navy ad 
It has been known for some time that African Americans are routinely under-treated for their pain as compared with whites.

For example, a 2000 study out of a hospital emergency department in Atlanta showed 74 percent of white patients with bone fractures received painkillers compared with 50 percent of black patients. A 2007 study found that physicians were more likely to underestimate the pain of black patients compared with other patients. A paper last year found that black children with appendicitis were less likely to receive pain medication than their white counterparts.

Now a new study out of the University of Virginia suggests a reason why: When asked if they believed in a series of inaccurate or even "fantastical" differences between whites and blacks, over half of white medical students and residents believed at least one.

It's doubtful that any of those med students or residents would call themselves racist and quite likely that their denials would be sincere. But that doesn't undo the embrace of false beliefs nor does it undo the harm done when their nonwhite patients do not get the care they should because of those beliefs, because of that unaware racism.

It can be frustrating and even depressing to think of how far we've come - and yet we still have so very far to go.

Sources cited in links:

246.2 - Good News: "Bathroom bill" fails in conservative Texas city

Good News: "Bathroom bill" fails in conservative Texas city

There is also some Good News on the gender equality front - or perhaps I should just say the "in touch with reality" front - in this case in the form of a negative.

Rockwall, Texas, is a politically conservative suburb of Dallas. Recently, its mayor, one Jim Pruitt, proposed one of those idiotic so-called "bathroom bills" demanding that transgender people use the restroom in line with what's on their birth certificate rather than their gender identity, how they view themselves and how they live. He gave all the usual fear-mongering lines about "protecting our children" from men having "unfettered access to women's restrooms" and blah blah rant and rave about hypothetical sexual predators exploiting the law even though experts insist the argument is bogus.

Even though a string of witnesses from the public opposed the law and members of the City Council called it unenforceable, Pruitt still made a motion to approve his proposal.

It died for lack of a second.

And in that silence lies the Good News that reality is seeping in even in those places we don't usually expect it.

Sources cited in links:,_Texas

246.1 - Good News: Connecticut controls guns

Good News: Connecticut controls guns

We start the week with a bit of Good News, which is that despite the irrational fear the letters "N-R-A" can provoke in timorous legislators more concerned with their sinecures than the lives of their constituents and the Wild West gun-slinging fantasies and the historical ignorance of a majority of the Supreme Court, some places here and there still manage to find ways to limit the damage caused by guns.

This time, the place is Connecticut. Under current law, if a victim of domestic violence gets a permanent restraining order against their abuser, that abuser is banned from possessing firearms. But that process can take several weeks, during which time the victim's life could be in danger.

Under a bill just passed with the support of Gov. Dannel Malloy, even those who are subject to a temporary restraining order are not allowed to possess a gun; in fact if they own one they are required to surrender it to police within 24 hours.

As Gov. Malloy noted, "Women in abusive relationships are five times more likely to be killed if their abuser has access to a firearm." With the passage of this bill, that several-week long open window between issuance of a temporary and a permanent restraining order will be closed, potentially saving a good number of lives: Between 2000 through 2012, Connecticut averaged 14 intimate partner homicides per year, and firearms were the most commonly used weapons.

This is not the first time Connecticut has strengthened its gun laws since the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. Perhaps it is a case of familiarity - familiarity with the effect of guns - breeding contempt.

And in this case, contempt is Good News.

Oh, and a quick footnote, Connecticut's two senators, Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, are pursuing a federal-level version of this same legislation.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #246

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of May 5-11, 2016

This week:
Good News: Connecticut controls guns

Good News: "Bathroom bill" fails in conservative Texas city,_Texas

Not Good News: Racism persists

A new definition of chutzpah

Clown Award: psychologist James Mitchell

Virginia extends voting rights

Outrage of the Week: Wisconsin restricts voting rights

Lovely little war: Navy SEALs involved in direct combat with Daesh

RIP: Dan Berrigan

Monday, April 25, 2016

245.5 - What now for progressives?

What now for progressives?

Back in February, I made what I said at the time would be one of a very few few and perhaps my only comment on the Democratic primaries. It turns out that "few" rather than "only" was the correct description, because here's another one.

So, as predicted, Hillary Clinton won the New York primary handily, in fact by a slightly larger margin than the "poll of polls," the average of all the polls, had predicted.

Obviously, I'm disappointed since in February I made clear my reasons for preferring Bernie Sanders over Clinton, but I'm not surprised: Contrary to Sanders' strongest partisans, I never expected him to win this primary (although it was pleasant imagining it if only for the uproar it would cause). My real disappointment is that I had hoped the result would be closer than it proved to be; I was actually hoping it would be in single digits.

The reason I never expected Sanders to win is that it was a closed primary; you had to be a registered Democrat and in fact registered as such some time in advance.

Parenthetically, apparently making sure you were registered and registered in the party you intended was a problem. Some 126,000 voters in Brooklyn alone had been purged from the voter rolls and about 10% of voters in the borough who turned up to vote were unable to. The city Board of Elections dismissed the whole thing as problems no different than in any other election - which is kinda creepy when you think about it.

Meanwhile, however, New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's voter complaint hotline had "received more than 700 complaints from voters across the state" before 4 pm - which meant that, even with a few hours of voting still to go, there were nearly five times more complaints than the total number of such complaints for the 2012 general election.

But getting back to results: Again, I never expected Sanders to win because it was a closed primary; you had to be a registered Democrat. Across the campaign to date, Sanders has done best in open primaries, where independents can vote. According to exit polls, he beats her among independents by margins ranging from 15 to 40 percentage points. She, on the other hand, easily outdistances him among voters who consider themselves Democrats, period. So: open primary, good shot for Sanders, depending on how many independents vote in that primary; closed primary, pretty confident of a Clinton victory.

You can argue about the merits of open versus closed primaries, with supporters of the former saying we should encourage the widest involvement in voting that we can and supporters of the latter saying that candidates of a party should be chosen by the members of that party - but that isn't the point here. The point is that Clinton had a big advantage going in, and that was reflected in the results.

What this means is that while it's still mathematically possible for Sanders to win the nomination, as a practical, political matter it's just ain't gonna happen.

Which is, really, the reason I bring all this up. Because the question becomes, what now?

The Clinton sycophants have an easy answer: Sanders should concede, withdraw, kiss the ring, and on bended knee pledge fealty to all things Clinton, forgetting all this "political revolution" crap and devoting himself to upholding the status quo.

Which I don't expect will happen and more to the point should not happen. The primary fight should go on because the fight itself should go on. This is where it gets important: Bernie Sanders has said far more than once that his political revolution is not about him. It's about - these are now my words, not his, but I think a fair reflection of the idea - it's about changing the nature and the structure of political, social, and economic power in our country, in our society.

It is about racial, ethnic, gender, sexual, equality and freedom. It is about the economy, about an economy for the many, not the few, for the workers, not the bosses, banks, and billionaires. It is about education. It is about health care. It is about housing. It is about peace.

It is about justice.

Justice, as I put it over 30 years ago, in its truest sense: economic, social, and political. It is about a justice that rejects the ascendancy of bombs over bread, of private greed over public good, of profits over people. It is about a justice that centers on the preciousness of life and will fight to maintain and even expand that preciousness. It is about a justice that affirms and embraces the right of every human being to a decent life free of hunger, fear, and oppression.

The political revolution is not about Bernie Sanders.

It is not and we must not allow it to be. But right now he is the biggest symbol of that movement, a political epicenter of the hope, the fight, the drive, for that justice. Which is why the fights in the primaries must go on, right through to the convention. Then at the convention, take the fight to the rules committee, take it to the platform committee, take it to the floor, even to having to go through the actual roll call and no, when Clinton gets a majority in that roll call, do not agree to a measure to make it unanimous.

Let the convention be contentious. Let it be chaotic. But let it be clear that this is not the end. Let it be clear that as he himself has said, this is not about Bernie Sanders. This is about change. This is about, again in his phrase, political revolution.

So what we need to be thinking about now is how to carry on beyond the convention. When the powers-that-be have prevailed, as I unhappily expect they will, what then?

An immediate question, of course, is how we deal with the general election. I think first that all Sanders supporters will have to deal with the fact that yes, he will endorse Clinton and yes, if she wants, he will campaign for her. It's a little hard to imagine what he would say on her behalf since she represents exactly the sort of compromised, untrustworthy model of an establishment-favored and flavored candidate that he has slammed for 40 years, but I suppose they could find something.

Anyway, we each of us have to decide how we will relate to the general election. But that brings up something else, so I'm going to go off on another tangent here. I've never thought of myself as a Bernie-or-Bust type; in that earlier comment on the primaries I said that if Clinton is the nominee and I lived in a toss-up state - which I decidedly don't; we usually don't even see much presidential campaigning here - I would "have to choke back my bile and vote for her" because despite all the reasons I gave for saying "a solid case can be made that Hillary Clinton does not deserve the support of progressives," she was still clearly preferable to any possible GOPper opponent and unlike some years, this is a year when the Supreme Court is very much on my mind. However, since I don't live in a toss-up state, I said, I will vote third party. (Note to nit-pickers: This has nothing to do with how I might or will deal with down-ballot races. This is about the presidential level.)

The thing is, in the weeks since I have become so disgusted with the Clinton campaign that I am feeling pushed toward a Bernie-or-Bust attitude. The utter ruthlessness has been astounding. And I am not referring to her supporters on social media, who have frequently gone way over the top with lies, sneering, and mockery about Sanders and his supporters - and yes, I would say that Sanders supporters have been sometimes almost as bad, although I would say not as often or as bad. But no, not her social media supporters, I mean her campaign - in which I include big name supporters like Paul Krugman, Charlie Rangel, and Barney Frank.

For example, Bernie Sanders said before the New York primary that the reason he is as far behind in delegates as he is, is because she did so well in the deep South, which is a very conservative area and unlikely to be carried by a Democrat in the general election. All of which is true. But to the Clinton campaign, this is proof that Bernie Sanders is a racist! who dismisses the votes of southern blacks and says they're not real democrats.

During a debate, he says to her something like "let me finish" and this proves that Bernie Sanders is a sexist! In fact, pretty much any criticism he makes of her is called sexist by some Clinton surrogate or another.

A Sanders surrogate uses the term "Democratic whores" and the world explodes even though the meaning - referring to people beholden to big money interests - was perfectly clear and some even pointed out that if this had been a contest between two men no one would have raised an eyebrow at the phrase. No matter. It's a sexist dog whistle!

During a debate, she is asked a question about his positions on guns and he gives a chuckle that any sane person would read as "Oh, here we go again." But in Hillary world, it means He thinks guns are a laughing matter! and He has no concern for the victims of gun violence!

It's really getting harder and harder for me to imagine myself voting for her. Happily, I still won't have to make that choice. Others will. Best of luck to you in making it. I would say that you should never forget that it is never a "waste of your vote" to vote for what you believe in. As Eugene Debs said, "I'd rather vote for what I want and not get it than vote for what I don't want and get it."

Still, know that for what it's worth, whatever choice you make, I understand and I'll have your back either way.

But that bring us back full circle to the question of "What now?" Because not only is this not about Bernie Sanders, it's also in exactly the same sense not about elections. It's not even about voting. It's about the process of change. Voting is a part of that process, which is why, in a sense, for the moment, it is about Bernie Sanders because right now he is the vehicle, using electoral politics, to push for that change. But after the convention, that campaign will be over and he may in fact disappoint supporters by embracing, at least for the election, Clinton. But then after November, the elections, the voting will be over. Then what? Where do we go? What do we do? How do we keep pressing?

The last time we allowed ourselves to get suckered into believing that "change" was all about a particular election, we got the Amazing Mr. O and spent the next years wondering when and how "Yes we can" got turned into "Yes I might if it's not too difficult and the rest of you shut up and get in line." We can't let that happen again if we don't want to have to spend the next four years explaining away new wars and new "grand bargains" with GOPpers and why big money in politics is really really bad unless it goes to Hillary Clinton's campaign fund. We have to find ways to keep pushing.

And I have to tell you something: Tweets and Facebook posts and the rest are not gonna cut it. Period. Oh, they can be great for circulating ideas, for passing on information, for keeping each others' spirits up, for organizing, but they themselves will not change anything. Oh, sure, they can affect little bits here and there; they can embarrass a restaurant into changing a policy or an individual store into apologizing for something, and I'm sure someone could come up with some more significant example of a more significant effect, but change the fundamental nature of power in the US? Not a chance.

Way, way, back in the dreaded '60s, I said something along the lines of "the system can withstand any number of people just saying 'No' to that system. That won't change anything. We have to do "No," we have to act on our beliefs."

It's still true. We need to act on our beliefs. If we are going to see the kind of change we talk about, if we are going to see that political revolution, if we are going to change the nature of social power in this country, we have to act. We can't just talk - have to act. And we can't just vote - we have to act. We can't even just campaign for a favored candidate, even though, yes, that is a form of action, but it is not near enough - we have to act outside of and beyond electoral politics. We have to be in public, in the streets, even filling the streets, in the jails, even filling the jails.

We have to be loud, noisy, disruptive, but most of all creative; we have to be impolite, rude, to power; and we have to not care what they call us - because they will call us all sorts of things - but keep on going anyway.

Look, this has all been rather rambling, based on some things I threw together about 3am one morning. And I know I haven't offered any concrete proposals, proposed any specific actions, which is because I don't have any to offer although I would cite Democracy Spring as one recent example. What I want to press home, the whole point of this is to press home, is that if we actually believe in this political revolution, if we actually want to see, in that wonderful Biblical phrase that Martin Luther King quoted in his I Have a Dream speech, if we want to see "justice rolling down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream," if we actually believe what we say, then it's time we looked beyond the next primary, beyond the convention, beyond November, beyond political candidates, beyond voting, and ask ourselves "What  now? And what then?"

Sources cited in links:
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