Thursday, April 16, 2015

199.6 - Everything You Need to Know: what's wrong with the world in just one photograph

Everything You Need to Know: what's wrong with the world in just one photograph

We wrap up the week with one of our occasional features, called Everything You Need to Know. It's where you can learn a great deal about something in a very short time or space.

In this case, it's Everything You Need to Know about just how screwed up the world really is in just one photograph.

The picture is that of a four-year-old girl named Adi Hudea, taken at the Atmeh refugee camp in Syria in December 2014. The photo was taken by Osman Sagirli, who is a Turkish photojournalist.

The caption in the Turkish newspaper where it was first published told the story:
Her face suddenly drops. She squeezes her bottom lip between her teeth and gently lifts up her hands. Where she remains like that without a word.
Adi Hudea
Sagirli was using a telephoto lens, and he realized afterward that Adi thought it was a weapon.

What kind of world is it where 4-year-old children are more familiar with how to respond to having guns pointed at them than they are with a camera?

I don't know how to stop the madness. I don't have an answer. But I will be damned if I will agree that creating more blood, more death, more refugees, more terrified children, is the way out.

And I do know that this one picture is Everything You Need to Know.

By the way, if you want to do something, Doctors Without Borders, a remarkable group of people, is providing direct medical aid in hospitals and health centers inside Syria and the staff is sending medical supplies and equipment to medical networks in Syria that they cannot access themselves. There is a link below where you can make a donation.

Sources cited in links:

Information on donating to Doctors Without Borders:

That page also contains information on what to do if  you want to specify the donation is for work in Syria.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

199.5 - Outrage of the Week: media blackout on CPC budget plan

Outrage of the Week: media blackout on CPC budget plan

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

On March 25, the US House held a series of votes on various budget plans under an unusual arrangement where the budget that got the most votes would be the "official" house version.

At the end of the day, surprise, surprise, the official GOP plan got the most votes.

I want to mention one of losers. Specifically, the Peoples Budget, prepared by the Congressional Progressive Caucus. This is the 5th year the CPC has done its own budget proposal, with this year's being called A Raise for America.

It's important for you to realize something right at the top: This is a real budget, which has been subjected to independent analysis. It is not just a summary of principles or a bunch of bullet points or a list of headings or a concoction of fudged numbers with what Paul Krugman accurately called trillion doll asterisks.
This budget proposes a multi-trillion dollar public investment in areas such as the desperate need for infrastructure repair and improvement, upgrading our energy systems, and addressing climate change, the sorts of investment that not only create millions of new jobs but improve the quality of life for the nation as a whole.

It reduces income inequality by raising taxes on the rich and closing corporate loopholes while cutting taxes on low- and middle-income folks. It improves the lives of the poor with expanded social supports. It invests in education and provides debt-free college. It improves on Obamacare by creating a public option (if you can remember what that is). It invests in renewable energy technologies.

And it does all this and much more while reducing the annual deficit not only by raising taxes on the rich and corporations but by cutting military spending and ending pointless war spending and pointless wars.

And in fact, many of its proposals are popular with the public. For a few examples, 80% of Americans support raising the minimum wage, which this budget does. Two-thirds think the rich pay too little in taxes, 70% oppose the cuts to Food Stamps, and large majorities favor paid leave, equal pay, and affordable child care, all of which this budget supports, and say the government has a responsibility to ensure employers treat employees fairly by enforcing such policies.

As the budget describes itself,
A fair wage is more than the size of a paycheck. It’s having enough hours, paid overtime, sick and parental leave, and affordable health and childcare. It’s being able to afford a good education for your kids and never living in fear that your job will be sent overseas. It’s knowing you can make ends meet at the end of the month. The People’s Budget helps achieve that.
And does it in a way that is fiscally sound with a budget that stands up to analysis.

So of course it only got 96 votes in the House.

But that's not the real outrage here.

The outrage is that until this moment, most of you had never heard of that budget. Most of you, unless you haunt lefty news sites or are a real political wonk who reads or, you have never heard of this budget. The budget most in line with what Americans want, the one that does the most for the many instead of the few at the top, the one that does the most to advance economic and social justice, and the one that showed you can do all that while being more fiscally responsible than either of the major parties' alternatives, was subjected to an all but total media blackout.

I searched on Yahoo! News for major media coverage of this budget. I got nothing. I searched on Google News, got nothing. A search at the New York Times site produced zero hits. A search at the Washington Post site got exactly one hit.

I have said it many, many times before: We are by our national mainstream media uninformed, misinformed, and malinformed. And no matter how many times I say it, it is still an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

199.4 - Update: fallout from Indiana's God Gave Me The Right To Be A Bigot law

Update: fallout from Indiana's God Gave Me The Right To Be A Bigot law

So let's do an update on the fallout from Indiana's passage of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act or RFRA, better described as the God Gave Me The Right To Be A Bigot law. I mentioned last week that the reaction was so furious that Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, aka Gov. NotWorthAFarthing, was promising "clarifications" before the ink was dry on his signature.

And so came the clarifications, which actually went further than many expected, saying the law cannot be used to justify denying anyone service, employment, housing, and so on based on a variety of causes, including sexual orientation and gender identity.

Some criticized the fix because it did not involve adding sexual orientation and gender identity to protected classes under Indiana's civil rights laws, meaning it is still legal to discriminate against LGBT folks in Indiana even with the fix. Personally, I have to disagree with those folks. While certainly the civil rights laws should be changed to include LGBT folks, a move to do it here would too easily be shot down as out of order because it's not germane to the particular legislation.

Plus, hey gang, this is progress. This is a win. Celebrate it, don't slam it. Build on it, build on the implicit recognition of the inherent wrongness of discrimination against LGBT folks that this "clarification" admits. Like the old civil rights song goes, "every victory brings another" so "carry it on."

In fact, it was a bigger win than just Indiana. The fallout extended to other states. Last week I mentioned that Montana had rejected a proposed ballot question on an RFRA likely because of what happened with Indiana's law.

Since then, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who had previously said he would sign that state's own version of a God Gave Me The Right To Be A Bigot law, changed his mind and says he won't sign it until the legislature either recalls the bill and changes the wording or passes supplementary legislation to the same end.

What's more, the Georgia state senate overwhelmingly passed a similar measure, but after seeing what happened in Indiana and Arkansas, the state House of Representatives let it die. Gov. Nathan Deal said if people want to bring it up again in the next session, they would be well-advised to stick closely to the language in the original federal version of the law and to include an anti-discrimination provision.

And then there's the North Carolina legislature, which was set to consider an even worse version of a God Gave Me The Right To Be A Bigot bill. But with a new business coalition called Compete North Carolina forming to oppose the bill and the prospect of a major pushback from the state's important tech sector, legislative leaders are now sounding let's just call it noncommittal. Asked about the bill, state Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger just said "It's been filed. A decision will be made as to whether or not we move it forward." State House Speaker Tim Moore said essentially the same thing.

So the win in Indiana has also meant wins in Montana, Arkansas, Georgia, and North Carolina. Those wins are not final, they might be thought of as at best the divisional title, not the World Series. But they are wins. And they are a demonstration of what I have been saying for some time: We may be losing in lots of ways, economically, socially, environmentally, in terms of privacy, but on this issue, justice will come.

Sources cited in links:

199.3 - Clown Award: Kentucky governor Steve Beshear

Clown Award: Kentucky governor Steve Beshear

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

This week was a difficult one in this regard because Teh Stupid was on full display across the nation. So much so that this week I have to include two runners-up.

The second runner-up, receiving a squirting flower, is former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who said, appropriately enough on April Fools Day, that advocates for LGBT rights "won't stop" until there are no more churches and no more Christians in America, which means, quoting him, people "spreading ... the unabridged, unapologetic Gospel that is really God’s truth."

Which parenthetically, likely means in HuckleberryHound's mind that Catholics are in the clear. Because, you know, Christians.

Our first runner-up is New Jersey Assemblyman Jerry Green, who takes home the size 17 floppy shoes. This takes a bit of background. Dan Damon is 75 and a well-known blogger about local government in Plainfield, New Jersey. Recently he was arrested for public lewdness after police allegedly caught him performing oral sex on a 23-year-old man in a parked car. The day after the news came out, Green was attacking Plainfield Mayor Adrian Mapp for not removing Damon from the library board. (Parenthetically, all three men - Green, Damon, and Mapp  - are rival Democrats.)

Well, Green was "shocked" that people were taking the arrest "so lightly," even though it is in fact a low-level disorderly persons offense. "This is a 75-year-old man having sex with a 23-year-old man who happens to be a Latino," he said. Now, that last part is weird enough on its own and I'm not sure what it has to do with anything, but after that is when Green really goes off the rails. He said:
The mayor has yet to come out and say anything at all, which is totally shocking. It's not that he doesn't know that (Damon) has a sickness. I'm just hoping nobody gets killed or hurt and that somebody in the administration recognizes that this is a danger to society.

When Mapp lashed back in an op-ed saying he is "appalled" that Green "would consider being gay a ‘sickness,’ suggest that gay people are prone to committing violence and murder, and consider being gay as a ‘danger to society," Green responded by calling Mapp "a total idiot," "a total embarrassment to this community," "an opportunist," and "a backstabber" and referred to him "Mr. Mapp" because "I cant even call him Mayor Mapp."

Green also insisted that he had no need to apologize to anyone because "I was one of the first persons in the African American community to come out for the rights of the gay community ten years ago."

Yeah, and I bet some of your best friends are gay, aren't they? Even if they are sick, violent, and a danger to society.

After that, the winner better be good.

And it is. And it's not even so much for the bigotry as it is for the absolutely, unvarnished, laugh-out-loud inanity.

Steve Beshear
So the winner of the Big Red Nose this week is the Democratic governor of Kentucky, Steve Beshear.

After Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway refused to defend in court the state's ban on same-sex marriage, arguing that he would not defend discriminatory laws, Beshear's office hired an independent law firm to pursue the case.

Kentucky is part of the 6th federal circuit, and it was the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals that bucked the trend of court decisions and upheld bans on same sex marriage. It was that decision that promoted the Supreme Court to take up that matter of same-sex marriage, with oral arguments now scheduled for April 28.

Okay. On March 27, Beshear's attorneys filed their brief on his behalf on the case now before the Supreme Court.

In it, the lawyers argued that the ban on same-sex marriage does not discriminate against same-sex couples. Why? How? The brief said, and I am quoting,
Kentucky’s marriage laws treat homosexuals and heterosexuals the same and are facially neutral. Men and women, whether heterosexual or homosexual, are free to marry persons of the opposite sex under Kentucky law, and men and women, whether heterosexual or homosexual, cannot marry persons of the same sex under Kentucky law.
Get it?  You tell two gay guys who do want to marry each other that they can't but that's fine and dandy and not at all discriminatory because you tell two straight guys who don't want to marry each other that they can't, either.

The utter stupidity is painful to witness.

The Louisville Courier-Journal reminded readers that nearly 50 years ago, in the case Loving v. Virginia, the state of Virginia defended its ban on interracial marriage in much the same terms, saying that the ban was not discriminatory because whites could not marry blacks and blacks could not marry whites, so everyone was treated the same.

And I suppose a ban on nursing a baby in public is also non-discriminatory because both women and men are barred from doing so.

Or, as French novelist Anatole France put it back in 1894,
The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, or to steal bread.

People supporting LGBT rights are sometimes fond of recalling the bans on interracial marriage and saying to those who support bans on same-sex marriage to "think how you are going to look in 40 years." Apparently Steve Beshear and his crack legal team - who must be on crack - are not prepared to wait.

Gov. Steve Beshear: clown.

Sources cited in links:

199.2 - RIP: Sarah Brady

RIP: Sarah Brady

We have an RIP this week.

In the summer of 1985, a woman phoned the national headquarters of the the Nutzoid Rabbit-brains of America - the NRA - and left a message: “My name is Sarah Brady, and you’ve never heard of me, but I am going to make it my life’s ambition to try to put you all out of business.”

Sarah Brady, widow of James Brady, the press secretary to Ronald Reagan who was shot and paralyzed during the assassination attempt on Reagan in 1981, and the woman who for years became the public face of efforts for gun control, has died at the age of 73. The cause of death was pneumonia.

Sarah Brady
Interestingly, it wasn't the shooting of her husband that turned her into a gun control activist. That came four years later, in 1985. As she describes it, her young son picked up what she thought was a toy gun on the seat of a friend's pickup. Her son started to wave it around and she took it from him only to discover that it was in fact a real, fully loaded, .22, similar to the gun that was used to shoot her husband. The thought of would could have happened, she said, hit her like a ton of bricks.

She was instrumental in the 1993 passage of the Brady bill, named for her husband, which required a waiting period and a background check on all handgun purchases through federally licensed dealers and instituted a ban on manufacturing and sales of assault rifles, a ban which expired in 2004 and was not renewed because the wusses in Congress turn all wobbly-kneed when the NRA -  - scowls.

That fact also brings up the sad state of the debate - or lack of it - over gun control and how low we have gone. The only legislative goal her organization - the Brady Center - lists is universal background checks. Meanwhile, a group it partnered with for a time, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, started in 1974 as the National Coalition to Ban Handguns, a name that was dropped 15 years later. While that group's mission - banning certain sorts of weapons including types of handguns - is supposedly the same, none of its current campaigns address any of that.

Meanwhile, we keep dying by the gun by the tens of thousands every year, over 30,000 of us in 2013, the most recent yearly figures available. Indeed, in that year  in 17 states and the District of Columbia, more people died by gunshot than died in car accidents.

Sarah Brady was not able to stop that trend and I would say her stands, her positions, on gun control were not nearly aggressive enough - but she did what she could and she did far more than most. For that, she deserves our thanks and our respect.

RIP Sarah Brady.

Last thing: The NRA issued a statement saying that its thoughts and prayers were with the Brady family and, quoting, "Although we disagreed on public policy, Sarah Brady was an honorable American who we always respected."

Frankly, I don't believe that last part for one second.

Sources cited in links:

199.1 - Good News: right-wing denial of climate change is crumbling

Good News: right-wing denial of climate change is crumbling

We have a sort of Good News to start the week, and it comes from something of an odd source: Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, who some time back I dubbed Our Lord of Perpetual Smirk.

He reports, quoting,
There is no denying it: Climate-change deniers are in retreat.

What began as a subtle shift away from the claim that man-made global warming is not a threat to the planet has lately turned into a stampede.
In fact, this has reached the point, he says, where the deniers are denying they ever denied. This is nothing new for right-wingers and their corporate backers; I recall writing to a friend sometime in the 1980s about how, when facts become so overwhelming even they can't deny them, conservatives will try to change the subject by "airily acknowledging what they previously vociferously denied. 'Oh sure, that. Of course, that. But not this other.'"

In the case of climate change, it's trying to move from questioning the existence of human-driven global warming to grousing about how much it will cost to do anything about it and whining about "regulations."

In fact, it has gotten to the point where even American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, which pushes right wing state-level laws that are often written by industry lobbyists, is feeling the heat. As recently as 2013, ALEC was offering "model legislation," still available at its website, to state lawmakers saying that the science on climate change was uncertain about the role of human activity ad that "such activity may lead to deleterious, neutral or possibly beneficial climatic changes."

At recently as December, a speaker at an ALEC meeting got applause for declaring "carbon dioxide is not a pollutant" but rather "the very elixir of life."

But now, ALEC, which has been losing corporate members and sponsors over the issue of climate change, has threatened to sue two major activist groups, Common Cause and the League of Conservation Voters, for even suggesting that ALEC has a problem on the issue. ALEC's lawyers demanding that the two groups immediately "cease making false statements" and "remove all false or misleading material" suggesting that ALEC does not believe in global warming. That's how bad it's gotten for the right.

Both groups, by the way, say they will do no such thing and point to ALEC's own record and its model legislation as evidence of their contention.

ALEC isn't the only example. The Heartland Institute is probably best known for backing the anti-science trash and latter-day incarnation of creationism called "intelligent design" used to attack the scientific theory of evolution. But the Institute also has previously embraced a description of it as "the world’s most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change."

But in December, a representative of the group, writing in the conservative journal Human Events, went the "airily admitting" route, saying the science on a human contribution to climate change is "settled ... in favor of the alarmists" and that the real issue is "technologies that can reduce CO2 emissions without destroying whole economies," which of course in their minds anything like a carbon tax or regulations on industry would.

Another example of the same tactic comes from one Scott Segal, a lobbyist for the energy industry, who now says "the science issue just isn’t as salient as it once was" and that while debate over the science was once "all the rage," now "the key issue" is whether regulations to do anything about it "cost too much, weaken reliability or are illegal." In other words "of course, that, but not this."

As Milbank notes, this is a tactical retreat, a retreat to what the corporations and their right-wing allies think is surer ground from which to resist things such as new and necessary restrictions on power-plant emissions

But here's the thing: Yes, it's a tactical retreat. But it is a retreat. A retreat that marks a shift in the debate from "is there human-driven climate change" to "what do we do about it." I expect the continuing corporate answer to that latter question to be "whatever you're proposing, we should do something else" which is why I remain a skeptic on whether or not we will actually do anything about global warming before it is well past too late, which it may already be.

But today I'm going to let myself enjoy the experience of knowing there is a level of fact on climate change that even the right can't deny along with whatever feeble hope that knowledge brings.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #199

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of April 9-15,2015

This week:
Good News: right-wing denial of climate change is crumbling

RIP: Sarah Brady

Clown Award: Kentucky governor Steve Beshear

Update: fallout from Indiana's God Gave Me The Right To Be A Bigot law

Outrage of the Week: media blackout on CPC budget plan

Everything You Need to Know: what's wrong with the world in just one photograph

Information on donating to Doctors Without Borders:

That page also contains information on what to do if  you want to specify the donation is for work in Syria.

Sunday, April 05, 2015

198.8 - And Another Thing: new research suggests way life began

And Another Thing: new research suggests way life began

One of the most common misunderstandings about evolution is found in the charge - intended as a withering attack - that it can't explain how life began.

That's true - it can't. It's also wholly irrelevant because that's not what evolution in about. Evolution is about how life changes in response to, and in turn affects, environment. The question of how life began is an entirely different field of study called abiogenesis (or biopoiesis).

The problem for abiogenesis is that the origin of life on Earth looks like a string of conundrums. There has to be something like DNA or RNA to make proteins but modern cells can’t copy DNA and RNA without the help of those very proteins. And none of these molecules can do their jobs without fatty lipids, which provide the membranes that cells need to hold their contents inside - but the protein-based enzymes encoded by the DNA or RNA are needed to synthesize lipids.

That is, everything needed for the thing it is responsible for creating to have already existed in order for that first thing to be there to make it. It's the old chicken-and-egg question.*

Now, a team of researchers at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom have found that just two simple compounds, hydrogen cyanide (HCN) and hydrogen sulfide (H2S), each of which would have been abundant on the early Earth, plus ultraviolet light, also abundant on the early Earth, can initiate a series of chemical reactions that produce all three major types of biomolecules - nucleic acids, amino acids, and lipids.

These are separate sets of reactions; it's not one reaction producing all three at once in the same place. The important point is that these reactions provide an independent means of producing these types of molecules, breaking out of the chicken-and-egg trap by providing a point of entry into the now-existing pattern.

This work, published in the peer-reviewed journal "Nature Chemistry," does not prove this is how life started but it does provide at the very least a plausible mechanism by which it could have happened, a mechanism that is in line with current best knowledge about the chemistry and conditions of the early Earth.

Which I think is pretty doggone cool.

*Which does have an answer, by the way.

Sources cited in links:

198.7 - Unintentional Humor: US learns Israel is spying on negotiations with Iran by spying on Israel

Unintentional Humor: US learns Israel is spying on negotiations with Iran by spying on Israel

After that, I want to lighten up a bit with some Unintentional Humor, an occasional feature about something that isn't supposed to be funny - but somehow, just is.

On March 23,  the Wall Street Journal reported that based on information from present and former officials of the Obama administration confirmed by Israeli sources, Israel had been spying on the US-lead negotiations with Iran over nuclear issues and then leaking cherry-picked details intended to undermine the talks.

Israeli officials vociferously denied spying on the US, saying they don't do that and haven't since, well, since their spy Robert Pollard got caught doing exactly that in the 1980s. Besides, they said, there are lots of people we could have spied on to get this information. (Note that the accusation of cherry-picking was conspicuously not denied.)

But here's the really good part: US officials said they learned Israel was spying on the talks when US intelligence agencies intercepted communications in which Israeli officials referred to information which the US believes could only have come from the parties in the negotiations.

In other words, the US learned the offensive fact that Israel was spying on the negotiations - because US agencies were spying on Israel.

And so it goes.*

*Yes, I stole that from Linda Ellerbee. And I still miss NBC News Overnight.

Sources cited in links:

198.6 - Outrage of the Week: Media failure on voter suppression

Outrage of the Week: Media failure on voter suppression

So why aren't people more disturbed by this process of voter suppression, why aren't they more upset about their rights being stripped away in service of an economic and social elite?

Maybe because - in part, certainly because - of the utter failure of our so-called media to simply tell the truth. And that failure is the Outrage of the Week.

In reporting on the Supreme Court's refusal to take up the challenge to the Wisconsin law, this is how the Washington Post described the issue: It referred to
measures that Republicans say combat fraud and Democrats say discourage voting among minorities, the elderly and the poor.
Earlier in March, this is how our "paper of record," the New York Times, put the issue:
Republicans have passed new laws requiring voters to show identification cards and restricting early-voting hours, arguing that these methods would help prevent voter fraud.

Democrats say such fraud is nearly nonexistent, and charge that the laws are a new push to disenfranchise minority voters and the poor.
In other words, it's just "A said this and B said that." Just another bit of political back-and-forth, just more blah-blah, just more partisan blather, who knows who's right and yada-yada-yada.

But there is an objective reality here, an objective reality testified to by multiple studies from multiple sources, an objective reality that declares loudly and clearly that one side here is lying and one side is telling the truth. Yes, they are each taking the stand that serves their partisan gain, but that doesn't change the hard fact that one side is lying and one side is telling the truth.

But our national media, which most of us for better or worse (but usually worse) still depend on for news and facts, having long since replaced journalism with official stenography, won't say that, it just says "A says this and B says that," figuring it's done its job while leaving us uninformed, malinformed, and misinformed as our right to vote is slowly and increasingly circumscribed in service to a long-term goal of subverting democracy in pursuit of enshrining a permanent, unchallengeable elite of a sort that would make a medieval lord of the manor jealous.

We are often told by the Tea Party minions of the right that our democracy is in danger. They are right - but not for any of the reasons they suppose. And the fact of their - and our  - ignorance, the cause of their - and our - ignorance, is an outrage.

Note: Yes, there is a difference between this post and the video in that the decision to make this the Outrage of the Week was made after the video was completed.

Sources cited in links:

198.5 - Voter suppression is a right-wing scam

Voter suppression is a right-wing scam

Something that I haven't talked about for a bit but which is really, really important is voter suppression, the active attempts by the right wing to keep people from voting - or more exactly, to keep the "wrong sorts" from voting, the "wrong sorts" being those who can't be expected to reliably vote the way the right wing wants them to. The right wing, that is, is trying to game the system so that only right-wing voters get to vote.

This is, to be blunt, a deliberate and conscious plan born of a deliberate and conscious intent to do away with anything that could be called a real democracy.

That is not an overstatement. Back in 1980, Paul Weyrich, co-founder of the Heritage Foundation, founder of the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, and so-called father of the modern right wing, said, quoting, "I don't want everybody to vote. ... As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down."

In 2008, the Supreme Court upheld an Indiana voter ID law requiring people to present a photo ID at the polling place in order to be allowed to vote. And Weyrich's dream of voter suppression took a huge leap forward. Since then multiple states have tried to impose voter ID laws based on the claim that this prevents the rampant voter fraud that exists. They have largely succeeded in the courts agaist claims these laws are unconstitutional despite overwhelming evidence on two points:

One, voter fraud of any sort in the US is extremely rare and the only type of fraud voter ID laws address, which is "in-person" voter fraud, where someone tries to vote by pretending to be someone else, is essentially non-existent.

For several years, Justin Levitt, a professor at the Loyola University Law School, has been studying and tracking cases of in-person voter fraud. Not just prosecutions, but, in his words, "any specific, credible allegation that someone may have pretended to be someone else at the polls, in any way that an ID law could fix." Last fall, he wrote that he had found
about 31 different incidents ... since 2000, anywhere in the country.

To put this in perspective, the 31 incidents ... come in the context of general, primary, special, and municipal elections from 2000 through 2014. In general and primary elections alone, more than 1 billion ballots were cast in that period.
To put that in further perspective, even if all 31 were cases of actual fraud and all of them occurred in general and primary elections and none in special or municipal elections, which would maximize the rate, that still is a fraud rate of 0.000003 percent.

Meanwhile, Professor Levitt found, in just four states that have held just a few elections under ID laws, more than 3,000 votes in general elections alone have reportedly been affirmatively rejected for lack of ID. That is, people who showed up to vote and were told they could not because they didn't have the required ID.

Which raises the second point, which is that not only is in-person voter fraud vanishingly rare, thousands upon thousands of people are being denied their ability to vote by these laws.

The Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, which studies voting issues, reports that as many as 11 percent of otherwise-eligible voters do not have photo IDs. More significantly and more to the point of the right wing's real intentions, the Center reports that the percentage of people lacking demanded IDs
is even higher for seniors, people of color, people with disabilities, low-income voters, and students.
That is, even higher among those the right wing considers the wrong sorts.

Voter photo ID laws are nothing but a right-wing scam to hinder and where possible block the votes of anyone they think are more likely to vote in a liberal, even if just a vaguely liberal, rather than a reactionary direction.

Why do I return to this now? Because they've notched another victory in their drive to turn voting into an exercise for the elite.

On March 23, the Supreme Court turned away a challenge to Wisconsin’s voter photo ID law.

Passed in 2011, the law had been under legal challenge since. In 2011, federal District Court Judge Lynn Adelman struck down the law as unconstitutional, finding that
virtually no voter impersonation occurs in Wisconsin and it is exceedingly unlikely that voter impersonation will become a problem in Wisconsin in the foreseeable future,
since it would be "crazy" to do it when you compare the risk - a felony charge - with the gain - possibly changing a single vote. Adleman also noted that the state of Wisconsin in its defense of the law "could not point to a single instance of known voter impersonation occurring in Wisconsin at any time in the recent past."

Unfortunately, a panel of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision in a ruling handed down literally just hours after hearing arguments and without citing a single basis for it or addressing a single finding Judge Adelman made. It was the appeal of that decision that the Supreme Court refused to hear, again, without explanation.

M. Wuerker via DailyKos
Which means that neither the Appeals Court nor the Supreme Court actually engaged the arguments. They just shrugged them off and said, in effect, "So what if people are being prevented from voting to solve a problem that doesn't exist. Who cares?"

This is what Wisconsin Gov. Scott WalkAllOverYou called "great news for Wisconsin voters."

What is the effect of this "great news?"

As many as 300,000 registered voters in Wisconsin could be disenfranchised, could be prevented from voting, because they don't have a form of ID required under the law, a number disproportionately composed of African-American and Hispanic voters. To give some sense of what that means in context, that 300,000 is equal to 12.5 percent of the turnout in the 2014 elections.

And obtaining the required ID often is no easy task for those affected. Supposedly the state provides free IDs at state Department of Motor Vehicles offices, but only one-third of them are open full-time and only one in the whole state is open on Saturday. And don't forget, those who need these IDs don't drive and would have to rely on public transportation to get to a DMV office during those limited hours.

But the right-wingers don't care - or, let me correct myself: They do care; this is exactly the kind of result they are hoping for.

And this is all happening even as Richard Posner, the conservative judge who as a member of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals who wrote the decision that found Indiana’s voter ID law constitutional, the decision that was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2008, opening the floodgates to these sorts of laws, now says he “absolutely” got that case wrong and that voter ID laws do disenfranchise people entitled to vote.

Sources cited in links:

193.4 - Clown Award: Bill O'Reilly

Clown Award: Bill O'Reilly

Okay, it's time for one of our regular features, the Clown Award, given for meritorious stupidity.

I had retired two people from the Clown Award 'cause they were just too easy as targets, so it wasn't fair to the other aspirants. But just occasionally, as today, I'll bring bring one of them out of retirement if only to show that the old folks still got it. One of those people is Supreme Court justice Antonin Skeltor. The other is this week's dishonoree.

So the winner of the Big Red Nose this week is the man with the world's most perfect initials, Fox News host Bill O'Reilly.

See, he wrote this book called Killing Jesus. It was a best-seller due to the compulsive need of his audience - whose average age, no lie, is 72 - to lap up everything he spills. It was also bad enough and historically wrong enough that a biblical scholar whose political objection to BillO is that he's not conservative enough wrote an entire book of his own ripping it apart.

Well, Killing Jesus the book has been made into "Killing Jesus" the cable-tv movie. Based on the reviews, a bad movie. For example, the New York Daily News considered the movie to be so-so, observing that "many of the characters feel as if they could have stepped out of a modern-day action-adventure drama." More harshly, the Guardian called it "a Tea Party version of the son of God" and the Boston Globe called it "shallow," "distended," and "overbaked."

But BO knows the real truth behind this sort of judgement.

So on his show on March 30, he dismissed all criticism of the film. The negative reviews, he declared with all the authority of the Sermon on the Mount, were just part of the on-going "assault" on "Judeo-Christian tradition" by the "secular-progressive left" who wrote bad reviews of his self-described "noble endeavor" because it had a religious agenda, which they cannot tolerate. Because, as we all know, people like Martin Luther King, the Berrigans, Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, the list goes on an on, none of them were Christians.

And that must be true because "Any embrace of Christian tradition is a danger to the agenda of the left," according to this week's clown. "It was easy to see that" in the reviews.

Bill O'Reilly
And after all, the movie must be good, because the book it was based on was inspired by the Holy Spirit - or, as we called it when I was a kid, the Holy Ghost. BO told "60 Minutes" that the Holy Spirit came to him in the middle of the night and "directed" him to write the book.

So he did, and Killing Jesus followed his earlier books Killing Lincoln and Killing Kennedy. Which raises the question of if he was channeling the Holy Spirit or the spirit of the late Jim Bishop, whose books included The Day Christ Died, The Day Lincoln Was Shot, and The Day Kennedy Was Shot.

No matter. What's important is that BO knows the truth and the truth is that "it is open season on Christians" in the US who are horribly oppressed - why, it seems like every other day we hear about some poor oppressed Christian being fired from their job because their boss found out they (gasp) went to church the previous Sunday. And that is the real reason, the only reason, his crappy mov- excuse me, his "noble endeavor" - got bad reviews.

They say the Lord works in mysterious ways. BO certainly is one of the more mysterious of them. Bill O'Reilly: clown.

Sources cited in links:

198.3 - Not Good News: Arkansas and North Carolina considering even worse versions

Not Good News: Arkansas and North Carolina considering even worse versions

Unhappily, that segues us back into Not Good News: The Arkansas legislature has passed a law essentially identical to Indiana's and that bill's sponsors say there will be no "clarifications."

Doug McMillion, the CEO of Walmart, which is headquartered in the state, has called on the governor to veto the bill, but Gov. Asa Hutchinson has previously indicated he will sign it.

And North Carolina is considering a bill that's even worse: Where other laws say the issue arises in the face of a "substantial burden" on the supposed free exercise of religion, this one only requires a "burden." And where other laws say that those claims can be overriden by a "compelling state interest," this one says that interest must be "of the highest magnitude." Simply put, it would make a claim by any passing bigot - whether individual or corporation - for a special exemption from civil rights laws easier to make and harder to challenge.

A number of people have noted that a difference between Indiana's God Gave Me The Right To Be A Bigot laws and the others, most of which were passed years earlier, is the political and social environment in which they were enacted. Which is absolutely true; there has been real progress. The reaction to the Indiana law proves it. But that very fact means that the reactionaries will fight even harder, look for every trick they can find, to resist and roll back that progress. This is not over.

Note: There obviously have been some fast-moving events regarding the Indiana law which occurred after this show was done and so are not addressed here. They will be addressed next week in an Update.

Sources cited in links:

198.2 - Good News: reaction to that law "scorches" Indiana Gov. Mike Pence

Good News: reaction to that law "scorches" Indiana Gov. Mike Pence

Which makes the reaction to the passage of the God Gave Me The Right To Be A Bigot Act such Good News, as Indiana Gov. Mike Pence was, in the words of the Indianapolis Star, "scorched by a fast-spreading political firestorm," one intense enough that Gov. NotWorthAFarthing almost immediately started promising unspecified "clarifications."

Just some examples of the pushback: The Indianapolis Star, the state's largest newspaper, published a blistering front page editorial demanding the law be changed to ensure it does not allow for discrimination against LGBT people.

Thousands of people rallied outside the state capitol in opposition to the law.

Indianapolis rally against the law
Greg Ballard, the mayor of Indianapolis, called on the state to add sexual orientation to its civil rights law and said he would issue an executive order requiring all local businesses to follow the city’s human rights ordinance, which does include LGBT protections.

Nine CEOs of some of Indiana's largest employers, including Eli Lilly, Anthem, and Indiana University, signed a letter to Gov. NotWorthAFarthing and to legislative leaders telling them to reform the act so it can't be used to "justify discrimination based upon sexual orientation or gender identity."

CEO of Angie's List Bill Oesterle canceled his company's proposed plan to expand its Indianapolis headquarters.

The CEO of San Francisco-based declared it will stop holding meetings in Indiana.

AFSCME, which represents public employees, said it's moving its October conference for women out of Indianapolis.

Former NBA star Charles Barkley and sports commentator Keith Olbermann called for the NCAA to remove the Final Four from Indianapolis and the NCAA itself said it is "surprised and disappointed" by the law and said, depending on what that "clarification" says, it will have to "make judgments about whether or not it changes the environment for us doing our work and for us holding events."

The governors of three states - Connecticut, Washington, and New York - and the mayors of at least four cities - Portland OR, San Diego, San Francisco, and Seattle - have announced they are banning taxpayer-funded travel to Indiana.

And in what is likely a result of the fallout, the Montana state legislature rejected a proposed referendum that if passed by voters would have given people grounds to disobey any state laws that they claim violate their religion.

In Montana, at least they didn't pretend this had nothing to do with LGBT rights: Supporters referred to allowing county clerks to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples and letting pharmacists refuse to fill birth control prescriptions as examples of what the bill would accomplish.

The important thing is, they failed. The vote was as close as it could be, a tie in fact, but they failed. And that, too, is good news.

Note: There obviously have been some fast-moving events regarding the Indiana law which occurred after this show was done and so are not addressed here. They will be addressed next week in an Update.

Sources cited in links:

198.1 - Not Good News: Indiana passes God Gave Me The Right To Be A Bigot law

Not Good News: Indiana passes God Gave Me The Right To Be A Bigot law

I like to start every week if I can with some Good News. This week, however, we are starting with some Not Good News.

You have no doubt heard that on March 26, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The problems with this piece of trash start with the name: the Religious Freedom Restoration Act - as if religious freedom had been stripped from the residents of Indiana and now had to be "restored." What freedoms had been lost? What examples where there of people denied the ability to practice their religion? No examples were offered unless you want to count the reference, by at least one member of the legislature, to the case in a different state where someone - a florist - was sued for discrimination for refusing to sell flowers for a same-sex wedding.

Which just shows what this bill is really about and what "freedom" is being "restored" here: the "right," the "freedom," to be a bigot and to ignore anti-discrimination laws.

Because that's what the bill does. The most controversial part of it is Section 9, which says that, quoting the law,
A person whose exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened, by a violation of this chapter may assert the violation or impending violation as a claim or defense in a judicial or administrative proceeding, regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding. [emphasis added]
That last part is the big one. Defenders of the law note that the federal government and 19 states have passed so-called some version of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act - but every one of those laws is about the government supposedly "burdening" religious practice and not one of those offers the protection to for-profit businesses or covers disputes between private parties that this one does. Nor do those other laws specifically define corporations as "persons" under the law, as Section 5 of Indiana's does. When defenders of this bit of noxious gas tell you it's "just the same as all the others so what's the problem," they either have no idea what they are talking about or are lying through their teeth. There is no third option.

One of the chief liars is Governor One-Cent who, when asked directly if the bill would allow for discrimination against LGBT people, talked in bumper stickers about Hoosiers being "against discrimination" but ran away - more than once - from actually answering the direct yes-or-no question.

Indeed, when he signed the bill in a private ceremony from which all media were barred, three of those present were lobbyists for groups that want to limit civil rights for LGBT folks. One of those lobbyists, Eric Miller of Advance America, praised the new law as doing exactly what Governor NotWorthAFarthing lied to avoid admitting: It would, Miller said, protect Christian bakers, florists, and photographers from penalty "for refusing to participate in a homosexual marriage, among other examples."

This bill should not be called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, it should be called the God Gave Me The Right To Be A Bigot Act. Several sources have claimed the actual impact of the bill will be small because to date few such claims have held up in court. I don't know if that's true or not. I also don't care. The right wing sees this bill, sees these sorts of bills, as a means to oppose same-sex marriage and oppose civil rights for LGBT people. That is what they are about, that is what they are for, and that is why they should and must be opposed.

Note: There obviously have been some fast-moving events regarding the Indiana law which occurred after this show was done and so are not addressed here. They will be addressed next week in an Update.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #198

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of April 2-8, 2015

This week:
Not Good News: Indiana passes God Gave Me The Right To Be A Bigot law

Good News: reaction to that law "scorches" Indiana Gov. Mike Pence

Not Good News: Arkansas and North Carolina considering even worse versions

Clown Award: Bill O'Reilly

Voter suppression is a right-wing scam

Outrage of the week: media failure on voter suppression

Unintentional Humor: US learns Israel is spying on negotiations with Iran by spying on Israel

And Another Thing: new research suggests way life began

Note: There obviously have been some fast-moving events regarding the Indiana law which occurred after this show was done and so are not addressed here. They will be addressed next week in an Update.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

197.7 - White House denies Netanyahu's denials

White House denies Netanyahu's denials

The only good thing that has come out of all of this has been the response of the Obama administration. White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest dubbed Netanyahu's remark about Arab voters "a pretty transparent effort to marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens and their right to participate in their democracy.”

And White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough dismissed NetanYahoo's lame attempt to pull an Emily Latella "never mind" on his campaign pledge to block a Palestinian state, saying “We cannot simply pretend that those comments were never made, or that they don’t raise questions about the prime minister’s commitment to achieving peace."

Obama is supposed to be "reassessing" the US relationship with Israel, including pulling down the diplomatic cover it has long given Israel at the United Nations as well as becoming less active in protecting Israel in international forums and finding new ways to express opposition to the expansion of settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

But here's the thing, another example of when it comes to The Amazing Mr. O how the words soar while the deeds crawl if they move at all: Despite claims that matters have reached what one called "a tipping point," there is no sign yet of any actual changes in policy or much of anything else besides words.

Most importantly, the White House has specifically ruled out any reassessment of what is called "security cooperation" between the US and Israel - which means in point of actual fact the $3 billion in military aid the US gives to Israel every year.

As Daniel Kurtzer, former U.S. ambassador to Israel, noted, “The administration is putting everything on the table except security assistance." Rep. Adam Schiff added that "I think the military to military and intelligence cooperation is going to go on no matter who is" prime minister of Israel.
In other words, we're going to keep sending them the big bucks no matter what.

So why would Israel care about the rest of it? Why should they care?

Israel, particularly under governments such as NetanYahoo's, has shown itself time and again entirely willing to ignore the voices of the rest of the world, to ignore the International Court, to ignore the European Union, to ignore the United Nations, to ignore the Security Council, to ignore the United States, has shown itself to be immune to moral and ethical criticism no matter the source, and even now revels in its isolation as if that were a badge of honor and proof of its virtue instead of the judgment of world opinion.

Why, then, should the White House expect NetanYahoo to care about anything except the continued flow of US dollars, the continued flow of weapons, the continued flow of what makes possible his government's ability to simply ignore the rest of the world in pursuit of its own dreams of a modern Israel standing astride the Middle East like a colossus and rivaling King David's domains in the greatest imagined extent of their glory and power?

There is only one change in US policy that might have real impact: An end to so-called "security assistance." An end to military aid. Even that might not sway Israel from its denial of Palestinian rights, might not pause its theft of Palestinian land, might not hinder its on-going illegal annexation of the West Bank. But even if it's true that we may not be able to stay the hangman's hand, we can at least stop paying for the rope.

Sources cited in links:

197.6 - Defending my charge that Benjamin Netanyahu is a racist

Defending my charge that Benjamin Netanyahu is a racist

Okay, we've covered Benjamin Netanyahu being an imperialist, a liar, and a hypocrite. Which leaves racist.

While the polls were open, while the voting was taking place in Israel on March 17, NetanYahoo posted a video to Facebook in which he said, quoting
The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls. Left-wing organizations are busing them out. Get out to vote, bring your friends and family, vote Likud in order to close the gap between us and Labor.
He said it was the work of "the left" trying to "distort the true will of Israelis" and give "excessive power" to "radical Arabs."

This isn't even dog-whistle territory. By the way, if you've heard term but weren't sure of the origin, it came from the increasingly common practice among right-wingers and other assorted bigots to express their bigotry in vague or neutral-sounding code words with the idea that only the intended audience would "hear" what was being said.

But this doesn't even have the subtlety of a dog-whistle. This is blatant. "We are in danger! The Arabs are coming! The Arabs are coming! In droves! Busloads of them! Hurry, hurry, before it's too late!"

Presenting the image of Arabs voting - these Arabs, don't forget, are citizens of Israel - as a "danger," presenting the image of a group of Israeli citizens having a high rate of voter turnout as threatening, is patently, transparently, bigoted, racist, and foul.

And before you argue, as some have tried to do, that this was just election rhetoric and the only "threat" was to victory in a particular election, transfer the election to the US and the words to some US politician. "Our party is in danger. African-American voters are coming out in droves!" or "Our party is in danger. homosexual voters are coming out in droves!" or "Women voters are coming out in droves!" or "Hispanic voters" or for that matter "Jewish voters." Would any of those strike you as bigoted, as racist or homophobic or sexist or anti-Semitic? Would you dismiss them as meaningless electioneering rhetoric? If not - and I would hope the answer is no - then you cannot dismiss NetanYahoo's words.

Some didn't. For example, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, who is president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish denomination in the US, said he was "disheartened, distressed and frankly stunned" by NetanYahoo's video. He called it "anti-democratic and such a sad commentary on how Arab citizens of Israel are viewed."

The Rabbinical Assembly, an international association of conservative rabbis who normally don't comment on political matters, called NetanYahoo’s video "indefensible ... unacceptable ... divisive and undemocratic."

In Israel itself, the Zionist Union alliance, which was one of the groups running for seats in the Knesset, denounced the statement as racial fear-mongering, saying “No other Western leader would dare utter such a racist remark.”

Oh but that was before NetanYahoo turned liar and hypocrite again: Safely past the election, he offered a mealy-mouthed non-apology apology, saying he was "aware" that "some were offended" by what he said and he was "sorry" about that. Which is the classic mode of the non-apology apology: You'll notice that he didn't say "I said something offensive that I should not have said and I'm sorry," it's the passive voice "some were offended" - and in any event be assured that it was "never his intent" to offend and he's really really sorry that you took it that way.

Instead, he insisted his real concern in the statement was "foreign entities" interfering in the election. Which sounds kind of funny coming from someone who just a few weeks ago was in the US for the clear purpose of being a "foreign entity" undermining US foreign policy and negotiations with Iran. But more to the point, he never dealt with anything about "foreign entities" in the actual statement - and, again, transfer this to a US election: "When I talked about blacks voting in droves, I wasn't talking about them, I was talking about all those communists paying for the buses!" If that wouldn't persuade you that the original remark was entirely innocent, neither should NetanYahoo persuade you about his.

But then again, let's be entirely fair, which is more than he deserves. of course it wasn't his intent to offend. His intent was to gin up racist fears for his own personal, political, and ideological gain.

Well, then, does that mean that NetanYahoo isn't himself a racist, just someone who exploits racism? That's something I call a distinction without a difference. You don't get to play that game: You use racism, you exploit racism, you employ racism, you are a racist. Which means that if you are Benjamin NetanYahoo, you are a racist. Perioid.

Sources cited in links:

197.5 - Defending my charge that Benjamin Netanyahu is a liar and a hypocrite

Defending my charge that Benjamin Netanyahu is a liar and a hypocrite

I also said Netanyahu is a liar and a hypocrite, and again it is the West Bank along with Gaza that provides the clear evidence.

In 2009, Benjamin NetanYahoo made a widely-noted speech in which he pledged a commitment to the two-state solution, i.e., an independent Palestinian state existing side-by-side with Israel in mutual recognition.

Not long after that, Ron Dermer, who was NetanYahoo's aide at the time of the speech and now is Israel's ambassador to the US, promised UK Prime Minister Tony Blair in writing that Israel would not only give the Palestinians a state, but one along the lines of the Green Line, the 1967 borders of Israel.

Okay, with that in mind: On March 7 of this year, NetanYahoo was quoted by his party as saying Israel will not cede any territory for the for the establishment of a Palestinian state. There would be "no withdrawals" from the West Bank and "no concessions." Likud party spokesman Elie Bennett said Netanyahu's 2009 speech was "not relevant" in the "current realities."

The next day, March 8, NetanYahoo's office issued a statement claiming he "never said such a thing," and that he still supported a two-state solution.

On March 16, on the eve of the Israeli elections, NetanYahoo himself flatly ruled out a Palestinian state, saying that if he was re-elected he would absolutely not agree to that.

Then, on March 19, having won the most seats in the Knesset with the likelihood of remaining as prime minister, NetanYahoo told MSNBC that he wants “a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution."

That's a record which surely would seem to make him a liar.

But it's even worse because every one of those pronouncements is chock full of weasel words about a Palestinian state "someday" or "in the future" or "when conditions improve" or-or-or, often along with conditions to be imposed on such a state that he knows - he has to know - are unlikely to be acceptable to the Palestinians.

Weasel words, that is, that make it possible for him to say both that he is for and against a Palestinian state while insisting he never actually changed his position, a position that makes a Palestinian state one forever pushed into the distant future.

Which would mean the March 7 statement from Likud, the one he denied the next day, had it spot on when it described NetanYahoo's "entire political biography" as "a fight against the creation of a Palestinian state."

Because that's what he's dong: hiding behind weasel words and emphasizing whichever part, "for" or "against," is politically useful at the moment ("I'm FOR a two-state solution [whisper] eventually, someday." "I'm AGAINST a two-state solution [whisper] for now.") but each of which serves the same purpose of always pushing an independent Palestinian state into some undefined future.

In other words, no Palestinian state. Ever. Israeli control of all of Judea and Samaria. Forever. Without him ever having the integrity or the guts to say so directly. Which makes him both a liar and a hypocrite.

Sources cited in links:,7340,L-4634773,00.html
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