Sunday, August 02, 2015

214.7 - Why "All lives matter" is no answer to "Black lives matter"

Why "All lives matter" is no answer to "Black lives matter"

So a guy named Dustin Lee Gunnells is driving in Towns County, Georgia on July 15. He's stopped by the cops. He is uncooperative. He reaches for a gun. He is grabbed. He reaches for another gun, this one in a holster at the small of his back. Cops, according to the official statement, get him "under control and disarm him."

Okay. Uncooperative driver. Actually reaches for an actual gun, not once but twice - both guns, by the way, were loaded and the one at his back was cocked. And there were at least four more guns in the car.

He is under arrest - but he is alive and well. Not dead.

If you took a guess as to his race, you'd be right.

Which brings me to something I want to say, I've been wanting to say, and it involves a rather long introduction

In response to the call of "Black lives matter," the chant of "Black lives matter" directed at politicians, the movement that has become known as "Black lives matter," a number of people among our pundit and political classes - as well as some well-intentioned ordinary folk - have responded with "All lives matter," simultaneously declaring their supposed concern with the issues the movement is raising and scolding that movement for its supposedly narrow, self-interested vision. They don't have the broad view. Not like me, I'm interested in everyone, not just some!

But the fact is "All lives matter" completely misses the point in the case of some, and intends to distract from the point in the case of others.

"All lives matter" would be a valid response if we actually acted like all lives matter, if we actually acted like all lives were equal in our eyes, if we actually treated all lives equally.

But we don't. We treat some lives as better than others, we treat some lives as more deserving than others, we act as if some lives are more valuable than others.

Shall we go down the list, from birth to death?

The infant mortality rate among African-Americans in the United States is more than twice that among whites.

Black pre-schoolers are far more likely to be suspended than white children. Black children make up 18 percent of the pre-school population, but represent almost half of all out-of-school suspensions.

In the K-12 years, black children are three times more likely to be suspended than white children. Black students make up almost 40 percent of all school expulsions, and more than two thirds of students referred to police from schools are either black or Hispanic.

Even disabled black children suffer from institutional racism. About a fifth of disabled children are black – yet they account for 44 and 42 percent of disabled students put in mechanical restraints or placed in seclusion.

Black children are 18 times more likely to be sentenced as adults than white children, and make up nearly 60 percent of children in prisons. Black juvenile offenders are much more likely to be viewed as adults in juvenile detention proceedings than their white counterparts.

Education, which we claim is the great equalizer, isn't: Black college graduates are twice as likely as whites to be unemployed and the overall jobless rate for blacks has been double that of whites for decades. A study found that people with “black-sounding names” had to send out 50 percent more job applications than people with “white-sounding names” just to get a call back.

For every $10,000 increase in pay, blacks’ percentages of holding that job falls by 7 percent compared to whites. The higher you go in the wage scale, the fewer blacks there are there.

About 73 percent of whites own homes, compared to just 43 percent of blacks. The gap between median household income for whites and blacks is astounding: about $91,000 versus about $7000. That gap has tripled in the past 25 years. The median net worth of white families is about $265,000; it's $28,500 for blacks, a little over one-tenth as much.

A black man is three times more likely to be searched at a traffic stop, and six times more likely to go jail than a white person. Not because they’re more prone to criminal behavior, but, according to a study by the Sentencing Project, because of an "implicit racial association of black Americans with dangerous or aggressive behavior." We just assume black people are likely to be criminals.

On the New Jersey Turnpike, blacks make up 15 percent of drivers, more than 40 percent of stops and 73 percent of arrests – even though they break traffic laws at the same rate as whites. In New York City, blacks and Hispanics were three and four times as likely to be stopped and frisked as whites.

Black Americans are victimized by the so-called War on Drugs: Despite roughly equal usage rates, blacks are nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for simple possession of marijuana.

If a black person kills a white person, they are twice as likely to receive the death sentence as a white person who kills a black person. Local prosecutors are much more likely to upgrade a case to felony murder if you’re black than if you’re white.

Black people are sentenced to prison terms that are up to 20 percent longer than white people convicted of essentially similar crimes. They are 38 percent more likely to be sentenced to death than white people for the same crimes.

And a young black man is 21 times more likely to be killed by a cop than a young white man is.

And yet we refuse to face it.

The National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago did a study using a weighted questionnaire with a range of possible answers which was designed to reveal unadmitted, even unrecognized, biases.

The results? More than half the survey respondents rated African-Americans as less intelligent than whites; 62 percent rated African-Americans as lazier than whites; and more than three out of four survey respondents said that African-Americans are more inclined than whites to prefer welfare over work.

And yet we refuse to face it.

In a test developed by University of North Carolina psychologist Keith Payne, called the Weapons Identification Task, most white people who take the test find that they associate black people with guns and white people with tools and non-violent images.

And yet we refuse to face it. In fact, we will go out of our way to avoid facing it.

Newly published research out of Stanford University finds that white people who are exposed to evidence of white privilege are likely to respond by creating a counter-narrative centered around the personal hardships they have experienced. Put another, probably clearer, way, whites who were shown evidence of white privilege and then filled out a questionnaire about their childhood memories would indicate that they have experienced more hardships, more difficulties, in their lives than those whites who were not shown that evidence of privilege first.

What the results ultimately indicated was that the people in the study - and, by extension, white people in the US as a general rule - may well accept the reality of white privilege in the abstract, but convince themselves that they themselves have not benefitted from it. That is, white privilege may exist, but not for them. They did not gain from any such privilege. They made it all on their own, baby.

We refuse to face it. We even adjust our memories to enable us to refuse to face it.

Which brings me back to "All lives matter" and the thing that I wanted to say, say to any of you out there who have thought to themselves any variation of "Well sure black lives matter - because all lives matter, don't they?"

"All lives matter" is a misdirection, a trick, a trap. "All lives matter" looks to take the harsh reality of racism that affects African-Americans from birth to death, from day to day, week to week, year to year;
it looks to take the daily stresses, the daily strains of things like seeing a cop car in your rear-view mirror and having to worry about if your rear license plate is on crooked;
it looks to take the hundred daily cuts of suspicious looks from security guards and store clerks;
it looks to take the unemployment, the poverty, the circumscribed futures;
it looks to take the institutional racism and police violence that make the cry "Black lives matter" necessary in the first place;
the vapid phrase "all lives matter" looks to take all of that and immerse it, sink it, drown it in a thick, syrupy-sweet, sticky goo of greeting card sentimentality.

Yeah, all lives matter, sure. And when we start acting like we really believe that, then it will become a reasonable response to the moral call "Black lives matter" - and not before.

Sources cited in links:

214.6 - Update: State Dept. upgrades Malaysia's ranking on human trafficking

Update: State Dept. upgrades Malaysia's ranking on human trafficking

Two weeks ago, I expressed my outrage at reports that the State Dept.'s new annual report on human trafficking would upgrade Malaysia from Tier 3, the group of the worst offenders, to Tier 2.

The reason this was important is that the fast-track authority on the Trans-Pacific Partnership which Congress passes said that any nation in Tier 3 could not be in that trade deal. Which meant Malaysia was out, which meant, according to the White House, that the whole deal could fall apart. If Malaysia could be moved to Tier 2, everything would be back on track.

The Update here is that, yep, the SOBs did it. They moved Malaysia out of Tier 3, a shift that, in the words of Human Rights Watch, was "so extraordinarily unwarranted that political interference can be presumed."

I said it then, I say it now: The depth of moral corruption to which this administration will sink in order to do the bidding of the banks is almost incomprehensible.

Sources cited in links:

214.5 - Update: Despite lies of opponents, public still supports Planned Parenthood

Update: Despite lies of opponents, public still supports Planned Parenthood

The impact of those doctored videos being used to attack Planned Parenthood is banging around the halls of Congress, eagerly echoed by the usual collection of right-wing twits there and in the echo-chamber right-wing media - but it does not seem to be penetrating beyond that, as least so far.

According to a new poll commissioned by Planned Parenthood to measure the impact of the videos, nearly two-thirds of American voters oppose a proposal to strip federal funds from Planned Parenthood, with less than 30 percent in favor - and just a quarter would choose a congressional candidate who wants to defund the group over one who does not.

When presented with the claims about the video made by the the anti-abortion group that recorded the videos along with Planned Parenthood's response, more than half of those polled said they are inclined to believe Planned Parenthood, with only a quarter believing the anti-choicers.

Despite the bleating and bloviating from the right, the majority of the American public is still prepared to say, "I stand with Planned Parenthood" against those who would destroy it.

As a sidebar, I expect that part of the reason for the results is that nearly a quarter of women polled said they had personally visited a Planned Parenthood clinic for health care.

This, of course, won't stop the fanatics and their dutiful mouthpieces. Facts never do. In the House, a resolution has been introduced - with 135 co-sponsors - calling on the Justice Dept. to investigate Planned Parenthood and in the Senate, Majority Leader Fishface McConnell  is fast-tracking a motion to cut off all federal funding for the group.

On the other hand, these poll results should stiffen the spine of those who should oppose all that.

Understand, this is nothing new: The attacks on Planned Parenthood go back well over a decade. It's part of a regular right-wing strategy: attack the big target, figuring if you can take that down, the rest will fall. The case of Kermit Gosnell made a splash, but ultimately had little if any impact because he was one guy.

In fact, you've already forgotten him, haven't you? He was the Philadelphia abortion provider who is now in prison, life without parole, after being convicted two years ago of killing viable fetuses after abortions, along with a host other grisly crimes.

Oh, yeah, you remember him now. But that's the point. You have to be reminded. Because he was just one individual. A particularly slimy one, but still one. The right wing doesn't care about him except for how his case can be exploited as a symbol. You don't go after one crooked abortionist, you go after the most effective advocate for women's health and a woman's right to choose. And you are prepared to lie through your teeth to do it.

That's what's going on with the Planned Parenthood videos. Remember it.

Sources cited in links:

214.4 - FBI and DHS batting .000 on "terror alerts"

FBI and DHS batting .000 on "terror alerts"

Next up, we might call this the statistic of the week if I did a regular segment called the statistic of the week, which I don't, but no matter, here is the statistic of the week.

So here it is, the statistic of the week: The FBI and DHS are 0 for 40.

What does that mean? Since 9/11, the FBI and the DHS have issued more than 40 "terror warnings" about serious threats of potential terrorist attacks in the US.

Some mentioned certain targets in vague terms such as "landmarks" or "airports" or sometimes narrower but still vague terms, like "New York and Baltimore subways" or "a Mississippi River bridge." Some had vague geographic locations, such as "the US/Mexico border" or "parts of California." Some mentioned a non-specific means of attack, such as "chemical or radiological weapons" or "dirty bomb." And some mentioned a - you guessed it - vague time frame, like "around the 4th of July," "around Thanksgiving," or "around the anniversary of 9/11."

The two things all these warnings had in common beyond their vagueness were one, they were released with breathless invocations of threatening foreigners and urgings to "be vigilant."

And two, none of them happened. Not one of these predictions was borne out. More than 40 times over the past not-yet 14 years, we have been told to "be afraid, be very afraid" because "the boogeyman - er, the terrorists - are gonna getcha!" And more than 40 times it has proven bogus, a record that should get FBI and DHS sent back to the minors but of course won't.

What brought this up now is that CNN was challenged on its hyperventilating warning about a "heightened terror alert" on "ISIS-inspired attacks" "leading up to the July 4th weekend," attacks which of course did not happen.

In response, the lead reporter sniped on Twitter
Question is, would you prefer no warnings? Warnings only when attacks imminent?
Now, the "no warnings" part of that, suggesting that the only alternative to repeated stoking of fears is no warning of any sort is pure bull; it's old-fashioned arguing by extremes, which in fact is no argument at all.

But the second part, warnings "only when attacks imminent?" Yeah, that is what I'd prefer. Warn me, warn all of us, when there is actually something to warn us against.

Now, some folks say that all these terror alerts are a way to keep us in line, to keep us constantly afraid, because a frightened populace is a docile populace, or that they are used to distract from news that might be politically damaging to the White House. And there certainly is more than enough reason in our history and in the shorter history of terror alerts to regard that as, at minimum, a reasonable proposition.

But even if, as is also plausible, the FBI and DHS are just being bureaucratic hacks trying to cover their butts because they are less afraid of a terrorist attack than they are of the effect on their careers and departmental budgets of one happening which they didn't predict, the result is the same: We are a nation being conditioned to be always afraid.

And even if there is no other impact, that constant fear of terrorism, which psychologists call "terror salience," is corrosive to society. It makes us harsher, colder, quicker to be suspicious of anything or anyone "different," quicker to punish, slower to understand or forgive. A people can't live in constant fear and expect to retain a sense of decency.

And I think it safe to say is that a sense of decency is what we have been losing. Not because of terrorism, but because of the irrational and promoted fear of it. The next time you hear about a "terror alert," remember: zero for forty.

Sources cited in links:

214.3 - Footnote: LGBT and LGBTQ

Footnote: LGBT and LGBTQ

The other quick Footnote is that you may have noticed that I have sometimes been referring to "LGBTQ" folks, which some people prefer to LGBT.

You may know that "LGBT" stands for "lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender." The "Q" stands for "queer" or "questioning," depending on who you ask and their own personal focus.

"Queer" is more of a political term, adopted by those who reject the whole idea of categorizing people by their sexuality or who just want to reclaim the word "queer" from an insult to a happy affirmation, in much the same way that folks in the '60s did with "freak."

"Questioning," on the other hand, refers to people, usually young, who are questioning their sexuality, who are questioning what they feel about themselves and others, who aren't yet sure of where they fit in the spectrum of definitions and categories, of desires and convictions. It's a process that is often emotionally stressful and even disorienting. It can be a troubling time and people who are "questioning" often need moral support and reassurance.

Anyway, the point here is that just as I do with "global warming" and "climate change," I'll probably be randomly flipping back and forth between LGBT and LGBTQ. So I want to make clear what the latter term, less common, term meant in case you were unfamiliar with it.

214.2 - Footnote: The struggle for LGBTQ acceptance goes on

Footnote: The struggle for LGBTQ acceptance goes on

There are two Footnotes to that post, the first being that when I said this decision was not the end of the road, I surely meant it.

In response to the BSA decision, Rick "Oops" Perry repeated his previous statement that “openly active gays” would be a “problem” for the BSA because they would “distract from the mission of Scouting” with “sex education," adding that "Scouting would be better off if they didn’t have openly gay Scoutmasters."

That was foul enough, with enough plain old dumb ("Sex education?") mixed in to identify it as typical Rick Perry. But if you want to go to real slime, we have to turn to Wisconsin Gov. Scott WalkAllOverYou.

He said on July 28 that the Boy Scouts of America should have kept its blanket ban on openly gay leaders because that policy "protected children and advanced Scout values." This is truly vile. Because no matter how hard his campaign, hours later, tried to slice and dice it, no matter how they tried to massage it and spin it, the flat, plain, clear, meaning of it remains: He believes that gay men are a threat to children. There is no other rational interpretation of his statement.

The Human Rights Campaign responded to WalkAllOverYou with a statement calling his revealing comment "offensive, outrageous, and absolutely unacceptable." They were way too kind. He is a true bigoted scumbag.

Sources cited in links:

214.1 - Good News: Boy Scouts officially life blanket ban on gay scout leaders

Good News: Boy Scouts officially lift blanket ban on gay scout leaders

We start this week with some Good News, this one coming in the form of an update.

A couple of weeks ago, I reported that the executive committee of the Boy Scouts of America had voted to lift the group's long-standing blanket ban on gay scout leaders and employees, saying that individual scout troops could make their own policies on the matter. I said then that the policy would become final if it was approved by the organization's national executive board at its meeting on July 27.

Well, come July 27, the national board did just that, with seventy-nine percent of those present and voting approving the executive committee's decision to life the blanket ban. The new policy takes effect immediately.

As I said in the wake of the executive committee vote, the move is far from perfect because by its nature it allows individual scout units to continue to ban gay scout leaders, that is, to continue to be bigots. But it was undoubtedly done to ease the hurt feelings of such as the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention, which sponsor large numbers of Scout units.

However, it appears it may not be enough to mollify the Mormon Church, which sponsors more Scout units than any other organization. The Church issued a statement saying it is "deeply troubled" by the decision, which they claimed is "inconsistent with the doctrines of the Church," which is pretty odd since the Mormon Church's own policy allows for men who experience what the group calls "same-gender attraction" (because it won't say "gay men") to be priests and serve in leadership roles provided they remain celibate.

On the other hand, other folks were not so forgiving of the "leave it up to the units" compromise. The Human Rights Campaign said the Boy Scouts should not allow any unit to continue excluding gays, saying in a statement "Discrimination should have no place in the Boy Scouts, period."

For my part, while I agree with the HRC, I'm prepared to cut the BSA a little slack - for now. I'm sure the national board felt itself between a rock and a hard place, the rock being the reality of a changing world which they could not (and, in fairness, perhaps did not want) to ignore; the hard place being the fact that 70% of local scout units are church-supported - and in the face of the fact that participation in scouting is and has declining for some years now, the potential loss of the church support was no doubt a daunting prospect.

Bottom line here is that this is progress - more accurately, it reflects progress in our society on the issue of LGBTQ rights. It's not the end, but it is a clear if single step on the way. And that, no matter how you look at it, is good news.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #214

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of July 30 - August 5, 2015

This week:

Good News: Boy Scouts officially lift blanket ban on gay scout leaders

Footnote: The struggle for LGBTQ acceptance goes on

Footnote: LGBT and LGBTQ

FBI and DHS batting .000 on "terror alerts"

Update: Despite lies of opponents, public still supports Planned Parenthood

Update: State Dept. upgrades Malaysia's ranking on human trafficking

Why "All lives matter" is no answer to "Black lives matter"

Saturday, July 25, 2015

213.8 - Clown Award: Planned Parenthood idiotically apologizes for "tone" of official in sting video

Clown Award: Planned Parenthood idiotically apologizes for "tone" of official in sting video

Okay, it's time for our other regular feature, the Clown Award, given as always for an act of meritorious stupidity.

You know, of course, about The Video, the one made secretly and possibly illegally, showing Dr. Deborah Nucatola, senior director of medical services for Planned Parenthood, discussing the transfer of tissues from aborted fetuses for use in medical research, supposedly with representatives of a human biologics company but who actually were anti-choice activists with the Center for Medical Progress, a bogus outfit headed by serial offender David Daleiden, who has been trying to bring down Planned Parenthood for years. He was previously associated with the infamous Operation Rescue, which opposed abortion rights with what were politely called "aggressive tactics" but actually involved harrassing, threatening, and often enough spitting on and assaulting women trying to enter clinics. After that, he was with Live Action, which also used undercover videos to accuse Planned Parenthood clinics of everything from racism and manipulative counseling to sex-selective abortion and infanticide.

Two things about the new video became clear almost immediately. One, release of the video was part of a coordinated effort: Two members of the grossly misnamed House Pro-Life Caucus, Reps. Tim Murphy and Trent Franks, admitted they had seen the video weeks earlier but had kept silent about it until now. When he was asked by Congressional Quarterly why he did that, Murphy struggled for an answer and then abruptly ended the interview, saying "This interview didn't happen."

The other thing that became clear is that the cut-down version of the video initially released was deceitfully edited in a lying attempt to make it look like Planned Parenthood is making profits off the illegal sale of body parts, deceit that became patently obvious in the full video. The same just as quickly proved to be true on July 21 when the same collection of anti-choice wackos released their second secret video of a Planned Parenthood executive.

Simply put, there was nothing illegal, nothing unethical, in those videos and the right-wing anti-choice, anti-women's rights, bozos are trying to use an "ick" factor about medical procedures to twist legal, ethical, tissue donation into some evil scheme by Planned Parenthood to get rich. They are serially-lying scum.

So this week, the Clown Award goes to: Planned Parenthood!

Why? Because during the group's official response to the first video, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards apologized for the "tone" of Dr. Nucatola's comments. Specifically, she said:
Our top priority is the compassionate care that we provide. In the video, one of our staff members speaks in a way that does not reflect that compassion. This is unacceptable, and I personally apologize for the staff member's tone and statements.
No, no, no! You don't apologize when you have done nothing wrong! That is idiotic and only serves as a basis for legitimizing false accusations as well as having the entirely predictable result that half or more of the headlines would not be "Planned Parenthood rejects phony charges in phony video" but would be - and were - "Planned Parenthood apologizes!"

Dr. Nucatola was not "compassionate?" She was not dealing with a client, for pity's sake! She was - so she thought - dealing with bio-medical professionals who would be used to the type of somewhat detached language and attitudes most medical professionals adopt in order to do their jobs with unclouded judgment. (There is a reason surgeons are advised not to operate on members of their own families.) In that context, there was nothing wrong with her tone, just like there was nothing illegal or unethical in her words.

Apologizing was a stupid and lame move. Unlike in boxing, there is no "rope-a-dope" strategy in politics and "duck and cover" just means you are losing on points. What's required is full-throated counter-attack. Planned Parenthood's enemies are serial liars with roots in violent attempts to deny women health care through everything from blockades to bombings, from mob pressure to murder, and the failure of Planned Parenthood to label them as such and denounce them as such is foolish and self-defeating.

Planned Parenthood of America: You are an honorable organization doing valuable work and I stand with you. But this week, you are clowns.

Sources cited in links:

213.7 - Footnote: Since 9/11, right-wingers have killed far more Americans than American jihadists have

Footnote: Since 9/11, right-wingers have killed far more Americans than American jihadists have

We have a Footnote to the outrage, a footnote that by providing some perspective demonstrates just how outrageous and how ignorant Clark's proposal is.

According to one recent set of statistics, in the years since 9/11, right-wing extremists have killed nearly twice as many people on American soil as domestic jihadists have.

Over that time, 48 people died during "deadly right-wing attacks" while 26 people died during "deadly jihadist attacks," according to a report by the New America Foundation.

And the difference may be considerably more extreme: According to the New York Times, since 9/11 there has been an average of six terrorist plots a year perpetrated by American Muslims, which resulted in 50 deaths. Meanwhile, according to the Combating Terrorism Center, a privately funded think tank housed at West Point, between 2001 and 2012 attacks by right-wing extremists averaged about 30 a year, a total of 337, resulting in the deaths of 254 people, more than five times as many as radical Islamists did.

Different organizations come up with different numbers, largely due to differences in the definition of the terms "right wing," and "jihadist" (or "Islamic radical") and what constitutes a "terrorist" attack. But what they find over and over again is that the right wing is deadlier and a greater threat than homegrown jihadists, and in fact a recent survey of 382 law enforcement agencies found that they were far more concerned with right-wing violence than radical Islamic violence.

Wesley Clark is not only an outrage, he's an ignorant buffoon.

Sources cited in links:

213.6 - Outrage of the Week: Wesley Clark proposes internment for "disloyal" Americans

Outrage of the Week: Wesley Clark proposes internment for "disloyal" Americans

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

Since the tragic mass shooting in Chattanooga, there has been much talk about "homegrown terrorism," virtually all of which, of course, has focused on radical Islamist violence, as Dylann Roof gets flushed down the memory hole.

That focus has been focus maintained even though the Chattanooga murders haven't been definitively labeled as terrorism, at least not yet, not that the government, with the cooperation of the media, hasn't been trying to push the idea that it was, complete with an Islamist connection.

Because in our imagination, all terrorists, of course, even domestic ones, are foreign-looking with foreign-sounding names who are part of a global conspiracy out to destroy us, while right-wing mass killers are isolated wackos and deeply troubled people.

Timothy McVeigh
Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez
So the person on the left, who is Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, the Chattanooga shooter, fits our notion of what a "terrorist" looks like. The person on the right does not. Even though the person on the right is Timothy McVeigh.

Oklahoma City. You remember.

But I'm getting off my point. The pundit class is all a-flutter with the big question: What will we do, what can we do, about these homegrown (of course) Islamic terrorists who are doubtless in our midst even if we can't tell who they are?

Well, Gen. Wesley Clark, the one-time golden boy of good liberal Democrats who for a time thought he would make a great president, has an answer.

Lock 'em up and throw away the key before they have the chance to do anything. Oh, and not only us: "Our allied nations like Britain, Germany and France" should do the same.

That's what he said on MSNBC on July 17 during a discussion about the Chattanooga shooting. Not in just those words, of course, he is more refined than that, more elegant in speech. But that is in essence what he said. And just to be clear, he's not talking about people who have committed some sort of crime, some act of terrorism. You don't have to actually do anything to wind up shut away in Clarkland.

No, you just have to be considered "disloyal." You just have to be "radicalized," you just have to not "support the United States." We did it in World War II, he said, when "if someone supported Nazi Germany at the expense of the United States, we didn’t say that was freedom of speech, we put him in a camp, they were prisoners of war."

Of course, the World War II internment of Japanese-Americans and, to a lesser extent, German-Americans and Italian-Americans, is now considered to be one of the most shameful chapters in US history. But that doesn't matter to Clark, who not only wants to intern - that is, imprison - "radicalized, disloyal" Americans (remembering, again, that right-wing terrorists need not concern themselves), not only does he want to imprison "radicalized, disloyal" Americans, he wants to "identify the people who are most likely to be radicalized. We’ve got to cut this off at the beginning."

Wesley Clark
In other words, not only does he want to imprison people not for what they do but for what they say or even for what they think, he may even include imprisoning people for what the government thinks they may think in the future.

The fact that radicalization  is a complex and amorphous process we really don't understand but which can serve political needs well, presents no issue for him. In fact, that very political malliability can easily serve to push the idea along.

Indeed, to show the depth of his grasp of the concept, Clark suggested that American Muslims could come to embrace radical Islam after "losing a girlfriend" or if "their family doesn’t feel happy here."

So yeah, it's sweep 'em  up and lock 'em up. As for the throw away the key part, he said that the imprisonment should last for "the duration of the conflict." Since we've already been told that the "war on terrorism" could be a "generations long effort," the key would not only be thrown away, it would be landfilled. A life sentence in an internment camp for thinking "disloyal" thoughts.

Utterly nauseating.

Later, Clark tried, rather lamely, to walk back some of what he said without actually taking any of it back, largely by the now-stale trick of "I never said that particular word."

For example, he tweeted that
Never said "muslim", "internment" or called for new camps.
Well, that's true, you never said the words "internment" or "new camps." (Maybe the old ones are good enough?) But you did say, quoting, "it’s our right and obligation to segregate them from the normal community." And your press representative did say, oddly by way of defense of you, that "there is a role for government to step in to prevent a dissenter from becoming an active shooter, or worse." Yeah, call in the precogs.

The worst thing about all of this is from the political principle known to some as "Nixon goes to China." The idea was that because Nixon was a foreign-policy hawk, he could make an opening to China in the way a foreign-policy dove or moderate could not get away with politically. In the same way, Bill Clinton was able to push through his disastrous welfare "reform" in a way a conservative president could not have.

Now we have the image of "Hey, even the 'liberal' Wesley Clark thinks we should start locking up anyone we're suspicious about."

If this had been said by one of the typical right-wing bozos, there would be some huffing and puffing but it wouldn't be taken seriously as a current policy proposal. Maybe something they hoped for in the future, but not to be taken seriously now.

But because this comes from Wesley Clark, because this comes from someone so thoroughly establishment, because this comes from someone placed on the left half of the American political spectrum, the half expected to be more resistant to such a plan, because of all that, Clark has given the idea of camps for think-crimes a legitimacy that a Sean Hannity never could.

And that is such an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

213.5 - Happy Birthday to "The Nation"

Happy Birthday to "The Nation"

I have to say Happy Birthday to "The Nation," our country's oldest news magazine, which this year is celebrating it's 150th anniversary. It's first issue came out in July 1865.

The Nation was founded by abolitionists who were concerned for the welfare of newly-freed slaves. But in a lot of ways it was also right wing in those early years: nativist, anti-labor, and pro-corporate.

Now, however, and for some time now, it's editorial position could be described as around the left end of the Democratic Party - which, I will note, also means it's somewhat to the right of me.

No matter. The Nation has not always been the same politically, but it has done what so many other political journals and periodicals have not: It has persevered. And for that, if nothing else, it's anniversary deserves note.

Sources cited in links:

213.4 - Too little, too late: Cleveland admits it should not have hired cop who killed Tamir Rice

Too little, too late: Cleveland admits it should not have hired cop who killed Tamir Rice
Here's a bit of news to be filed under the heading better late than never - except wait, no it isn't

The Cleveland Police Department has in effect admitted that it never should have hired Timothy Loehmann, the failed cop who shot down 12-year-old Tamir Rice quite literally less than two seconds after pulling up to him in a squad car, then failed to offer any sort of aid as the child lay on the ground bleeding to death.

The two supervisors who hired Loehmann have been disciplined, found guilty of having "failed to adequately supervise and review an applicant's background investigation" and of administrative charges including neglect of duty.

Which I'm sure brings complete closure to Tamir Rice's family.

Loehmann was hired in 2014, after he resigned from the Independence Police Department on his first day. The police academy supervisor there wrote that Loehmann's performance during handgun training was "dismal," and that Loehmann had trouble following orders. He was then rejected by at least five different area police agencies before landing a job in the Cleveland PD by supervisors who never checked with Independence.

Loehmann shot Tamir Rice on November 22 - November 22, that is seven months ago, and still Loehmann has his job and the "investigation " (there supposedly is one) drags on.

In that time we have learned that the Cleveland Police flat out told multiple lies about what happened, for one, claiming Loehmann told Tamir three times to put up his hands, when the video (which the police did not know existed at the time they made that statement) shows there was no time for anyone to have said anything three times.

We also learned that investigators couldn't find any hard evidence that Loehmann said any such thing.

We also have learned that a Cleveland Municipal Court judge found probable cause that Loehmann should face murder and other charges.

And yet the case drags on, with prosecutor Timothy McGinty said that he expects to present the case to a grand jury "within months." That is, more months on top of the seven months this has already dragged out. While Tamir Rice's family waits for justice.

Sources cited in links:

213.3 - RIP, Theodore Bikel

RIP, Theodore Bikel

We have an RIP this week, just a very brief note here, to note the passing of Theodore Bikel.

He died of natural causes at UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles on July 21. He was 91.

Bikel was probably most famous for defining the role of Tevye the Milkman in "Fiddler on the Roof," a role he played for over 2200 performances. But his acting skill and his versatility with accents saw this native of Vienna, Austria play, among others, a Dutch doctor, German army officers, a French general, Russian military men, and a Hungarian phonetics expert - and it was his role as a Southern sheriff in "The Defiant Ones" that got him an Oscar nomination.

He appeared in movies, on Broadway, and on hundreds of TV shows. He was also an accomplished folksinger. He recorded 37 albums, including ones that contained songs in multiple languages, including Ukrainian and Zulu. And in something a little special to me, in 1959 he helped found the Newport Folk Festival.

So RIP, Theodore Bikel.

Sources cited in links:

213.2 - The fight for LGBT rights goes on

The fight for LGBT rights goes on

When the Supreme Court, or at least a majority of it, recognized that the fundamental right to marry should not be limited by the gender of the person you love any more than it should be limited by their race, I celebrated it - but added that this did not mean the fight for equal rights for LGBT, of it you prefer, LGBTQ, people. So a few notes on various fronts on that.

For one, the bigots are still searching out ways they can continue to discriminate and - well, be bigots - and it  turns out that the US Senate - or, to be accurate, a sufficient number of the members of the US Senate - have got their backs.

Just over a week ago, the Senate voted down the Student Nondiscrimination Act, intended to provide LGBTQ some protections against bullying and unfair treatment.

The legislation, actually got a majority of votes including some from the GOPpers - but the vote was 52-45, meaning it fell short of the supermajority of 60 votes that every damn thing needs now because filibusters have become quite literally a routine part of Senate business.

The would have established a mandate that public schools must refrain from and actively combat, anti-LGBT discrimination in those schools. The bill also would have empowered LGBT students to seek help through the courts if they felt they had been discriminated against. And of course we couldn't have that.

Senator Al Franken, who has championed the measure for several years, noted that the bill would simply take the protections against discrimination or harassment which already exist for factors such as gender, race, national origin, and disability and extend them to cover LGBT students. Quoting Franken on the need for the bill:
More than 30 percent of LGBT kids report missing a day of school in the previous month because they felt unsafe. Nearly 75 percent of LGBT students say they’ve been verbally harassed at school. And more than 35 percent of LGBT kids report being physically attacked.
His words were given added weight by a recent report from the New York Civil Liberties Union, the state branch of the ACLU, which found that transgender students in that supposedly liberal state are facing high levels of discrimination and illegal treatment, including exclusion, segregation, and unconstitutional bias - and it’s likely that this is commonplace in many parts of the United States.

However, opponents of Franken's bill dismissed it as "well-intentioned" but would lead to "costly lawsuits." Which is kind of odd since states - such as New York - which have adopted state-level protections of LGBT students have not seen a big rise in lawsuits. Others said LGBT students are already covered under Title IX, even though Title IX makes no mention of LGBT students and besides, if they are already covered, what is the problem with saying so specifically? Finally, it was argued that this is a local-level, education issue, not a federal-level one, an argument I will take as a sincere one when and only when those same people start moving to strip away protections based on gender, race, national origin, and the rest and openly propose leaving all such protections to those same jurisdictions which haven't acted on them before.

Meanwhile on another front, speaking of the local level, there are, of course, still the country clerks who refuse to provide marriage licenses to same-sex couples, sometimes trying to cover themselves by refusing to give out any marriage licenses at all but who even then will cop to religious bigotry as the reason for their actions.

Now, the rational response is to say "if you refuse to do your job, if you claim your religion prevents you from doing your job, then quit." But that, again, is the rational response, which doesn't apply here because like most right wingers, they want to stand up for what they believe in - without ever facing any consequences. So they want to be able to refuse to do their jobs yet still keep them.

But for the right wingers in Congress, that's small stuff. They're thinking big. In fact, they want to help every anti-LGBT bigot ignore laws and violate the human rights of LGBT folk at no cost to themselves.

Right wingers in both houses of Congress are pushing a bill that would ban any federal-level "discriminatory action"
against a person, wholly or partially on the basis that such person believes or acts in accordance with a religious belief or moral conviction that marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.
In the bill, "person" is defined in a way that would include even for-profit corporations and "discriminatory" means any change in pretty much anything related to tax status, federal contracts, benefits, employment, and more. Put another way, some corporation decides that "God hates fags" and fires an employee for marrying a same-sex partner, or some "Christian" organization turns away gay people from federally-funded homeless shelters and drug programs, and the feds pretty much have to act as if that is just fine.

The bill already has 130 cosponsors in the House and it is thought it will pass if it comes to a vote. The prospects in the Senate are dimmer but that doesn't mean they won't push it as part of working to legitimizing this whole idea of theocracy.

Finally for now, there's another reason to bring this bill up: note the phrase "or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage." This bill would essentially empower any business anywhere in the country to fire anyone, any time, for any sex of any kind outside of heterosexual marriage without fear of any consequences from the feds. Some folk have been saying it allows for discrimination against unwed mothers - and yes, women do get fired for getting pregnant outside of marriage - but in fact it clearly goes well beyond that.

And this is not just a case of poor wording or not thinking it through. Sen. Mike Lee, who introduced the Senate version of the bill, was asked about a hypothetical university firing an unmarried woman for having sex out of wedlock. He said, "There are colleges and universities that have a religious belief that sexual relations are to be reserved for marriage" and they "ought to be protected in their religious freedom." In other words, they know exactly what they are saying.

Just last week, in discussing a suit about insurance coverage of birth control, I said "we told you years ago they would not stop at abortion." You can't say you weren't warned this sort of thing was coming.

Sources cited in links:

213.1 - Good News: US and Cuba resume diplomatic relations

Good News: US and Cuba resume diplomatic relations

Well, I managed to find one bit of good news this week.

On July 20, the Cuban flag was hoisted in front of a building in Washington, DC, symbolically marking that site's shift from the limited role of "interest section" to that of full-fledged embassy.

Just hours before, at the stroke of midnight, the US and Cuba resumed full diplomatic relations for the first time in over 50 years and each nation's interest section almost immediately changed their identification to "Embassy." Fittingly for the times, the Cubans made the switch on Twitter and the US on its Twitter and Facebook accounts.

The United States and Cuba severed diplomatic relations in January 1961, so it has been 54 years since there were normal diplomatic contacts between the two nations, but the two have been inching toward renewed relations for the past six years.

This is intended to be the start of a new,  post-Cold War era in relations between the two nations, even as serious differences and sources of conflict remain, although, happily, at least some of them are technical and legalistic rather than ideological - with conflicts in the latter category presenting the biggest obstacle to further improvements in relations.

The bottom line here is that US policy toward Cuba has been stupid and pointless and it was long past time to get beyond the rigid mental straightjackets of the past decades. So this reestablishing of embassies, yes, that is good news.

Damn, I have to say congratulations to Barack Obama two weeks in a row. The stars truly must be in some odd alignment.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #213

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of July 23-29, 2015

This week:

Good News: US and Cuba resume diplomatic relations

The fight for LGBT rights goes on

RIP, Theodore Bikel

Too little, too late: Cleveland admits it should not have hired cop who killed Tamir Rice

Happy Birthday to "The Nation"

Outrage of the Week: Wesley Clark proposes internment for "disloyal" Americans

Footnote: Since 9/11, right-wingers have killed far more Americans than American jihadists have

Clown Award: Planned Parenthood idiotically apologizes for "tone" of official in sting video

Sunday, July 19, 2015

212.8 - Iran: comments on "the deal"

Iran: comments on "the deal"

Finally for this week, the deal with Iran.

I have to say that I'm in an odd position to comment on the deal with Iran because the whole business was and is premised on the claim that Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons, that in fact it's on the verge of doing so and only constant pressure has prevented that.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been peddling that line since 1993, when he claimed Iran would have nukes in three to five years - which would make them 18 to 20 years over due now. He has repeated that claim over and over in the years since, varying only in the always-frighteningly-short time frame - and has done it even when his own intelligence agencies were telling him it wasn't true.

In fact, the Christian Science Monitor came up with warnings about an Iranian bomb dating all the way back to the late 1970s - when the Shah was still in power.

This has been so consistent over so long that I said a while back that the old riddle "What is always coming but never arrives?" now has two answers: "tomorrow" and "Iranian nuclear weapons."

So I'm in a funny position to comment because I was never convinced that the central conceit driving the whole sanctions-negotiations regime - the imminent Iranian bomb - was true.

So to me the negotiations appeared to amount to a group of mostly Western nations bullying Iran over its nuclear program without even any hard evidence that "nuclear" was an adjective for "weapons" rather than "energy," bullying which if it were directed against us, political leaders would denounce as the grossest affront to our national interests and rights and sovereignty and would provoke daily calls for war.

But in a way that doesn't matter now because we are sort of between the proverbial rock and hard place in that the failure of negotiations would have significantly increased the risk of a military attack on Iran, which is what a number of the agreement's opponents - and Israel - want the US to do.

So the success of the negotiations was clearly the better or more precisely less bad option available and so I have to be glad for what has been achieved and to say - I don't say it much, so cherish it - congratulations to Barack Obama.

The right wing, of course, is frothing with fury and full of predictions of catastrophe for the US or Israel or the whole world in some order or combination - none of which will come true unless they succeed in blocking the agreement, which would be likely to make Iranian leaders think hey, damn, we'd better get nukes for our own protection, these people be crazy, which would really ratchet up the prospects of bloody war of the sort the right wing has long wanted.

Asked his reaction to the new deal, House Majority leader John Boehner, Sir John of Orange, said "no deal is better than a bad deal."

In this case at least, no, it isn't. Even if this was a bad deal, which it actually is as it amounts to imperialist bullying, but even if it was a bad deal in the sense our leaders and our pundit class mean, still it is better than no deal. Let's hope enough people in Congress realize that.

Sources cited in links:

212.7 - Greece: what the "bailouts" mean

Greece: what the "bailouts" mean

I was thinking of doing a big bit on the whole "Greece fiscal crisis" business but I decided to put if off because, frankly, to do is full justice, with context and background, would take up the entire show.

For the moment, though, I will say this: It should come as no surprise to anyone that the coverage of this by the American mass media has been just dreadful. It is presented with essentially no context or background, has focused almost entirely on a combination of personalities - in particular, Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras, who is presented as either a fire-breathing leftist radical or a incompetent loose cannon and often both - and on a version of the horse-race coverage American media loves so much because it gives the impression of being informative without actually having to do much work, in this case going on and on about who has the upper hand in negotiations.

Here's one example of how bad it is: You know, I'm sure, that the overall issue is economic support for Greece, which was hit harder than most of the rest of Europe when the world economy cratered in 2008. Well, on July 6, in the wake of Greece's referendum on austerity, the Washington Post reported that
[Prime Minister] Tsipras also is expected to present new proposals to a tough audience: seeking to persuade European partners that Greece can be trusted to trim its spending.
Trim its spending?

Alexis Tsipras
As a condition for previous aid, Greece has been forced into a program of severe austerity imposed by the European Union and the IMF, the International Monetary Fund. Over five years, between 2010 and 2015, Greece cut government spending by 23 percent. In addition to cutting government spending, it cut salaries, slashed pensions, privatized public assets, deregulated businesses, and raised taxes, all based on the demands of the EU and IMF, with the entirely predictable result that the economy sank into an even deeper hole. Unemployment has been stuck above 25 percent since the end of 2012, 40 percent of children now live in poverty, infant mortality is sky-rocketing, and youth unemployment is close to 50 percent.

And when austerity fails, as it always does, as it has in the case of Greece, when it only leaves the victim in a downward-sucking whirlpool of increasing debt, the answer for struggling nations is always the same, and it is the answer now given to Greece: more austerity.

And now we have this new deal, announced on July 13, one described by Reuters as
Euro zone leaders ma[king] Greece surrender much of its sovereignty to outside supervision in return or agreeing to talks on an 86 billion euro bailout.
Note well: not even a bailout, but talks about a bailout. Greece is on its knees and instead of helping it up, the EU - particularly German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who appears to be the most extreme hardliner on this - is beating it with a club. Every provision, every sentence, every line, ever word, every punctuation mark of this so called deal, this economic terrorism, has one single, overriding purpose: See to it that at the end of it all, no matter what, no matter how, the banks get paid.

That's what matters in the long run and it's the only thing that matters in the long run. Whatever suffering actual people have to go through to secure that,well, that's just not important.

In fact, the conditions the EU is putting on Greece now are so onerous that even the IMF is saying they are too harsh and that any new deal should include significant debt relief for Greece, that is, some of that indebtedness should just be written off and that unless that is part of a new deal, the IMF won't take part.

That's what's happened, that's what has been going on, that is what is being done to Greece: a depression the likes of which have not been seen in Europe since the early 1930s.

But what does one of the leading American newspapers wonder? If Greece can "trim" its spending.

What a waste our major media is. No wonder Americans have so little awareness or understanding of the wider world around them.

Sources cited in links:

212.6 - Outrage of the Week: State Dept. to upgrade Malaysia's ranking on human trafficking so it can stay in the TPP

Outrage of the Week: State Dept. to upgrade Malaysia's ranking on human trafficking so it can stay in the TPP

Five weeks ago, I noted that the in the version of fast-track authority on the Trans-Pacific Partnership which the Senate passed, there was a provision that would bar bar any country engaging in human trafficking, that is, the slave trade, from getting the benefits of the trade deal.

Human Rights Watch said it was "incomprehensible" that anyone would oppose that amendment, but someone did: the Obama administration.

Why? Because one of the 12 countries involved in the still-secret negotiations over the TPP is Malaysia - which our own State Department considers to be among the worst offenders, home to some of the worse abuses, in slavery. The White House said that blocking Malaysia from the deal could bring the whole thing down, so Obama wanted the provision out.

As I said at the time,
that means the O gang is so intent on scoring this deal for the transnational corporations and trade banks that would be the primary beneficiaries of it that it is fully prepared, to even in effect argue for, allowing Malaysia to continue active involvement in the international slave trade.
It appeared to me to be moral bankruptcy in its purest form.

Until now.

You see, the version of fast-track authority that ultimately passed Congress watered down the provision about human trafficking somewhat, but it was still there, still saying that any nation listed by the State Department as "Tier 3," that is, as in the worst category of slavery-involved nations, could not get trade benefits. Malaysia is in Tier 3.

But according to multiple sources, the State Department's new report on human trafficking, due out this week, will upgrade Malaysia to Tier 2.

Malaysia was just dropped to Tier 3 last year because of, among other things, an extensive sex slave industry, widespread forced labor in the country's electronics and palm oil industries, and official corruption involving profiting from human trafficking.

Human rights advocates had expected it to remain at Tier 3, given how it's dragging its feet on convictions in human-trafficking cases and the continued, pervasive, forced labor - in other words, because little had changed.

Indeed, as recently as April, the US ambassador to Malaysia called on the country to take prosecution of human traffickers more seriously. And in May, just as the Amazing Mr. O was cranking up his efforts to get fast-track through the Senate, Malaysian police announced the discovery of 139 graves in jungle camps used by suspected smugglers and traffickers near the border with Burma.

Despite all that, the State Department is expected to move Malysia up to Tier 2, which means - Guess what! Hooray hooray, Malaysia can be part of the TPP and the deal remains on track!

As Phil Ochs used to say, "Thank God for coincidence!"

Representatives of human rights groups and at least some in Congress. say that, in the words of Human Right Watch, moving Malaysia to Tier 2 would be "a decision as so extraordinarily unwarranted that political interference can be presumed."

The depth of moral corruption to which this administration will sink in order to do the bidding of the banks is almost incomprehensible. It is an utter, utter, outrage.

Sources cited in links:

212.5 - Footnote: Why do we keep arguing about guns on the NRA's terms?

Footnote: Why do we keep arguing about guns on the NRA's terms?

There is, however, a Footnote to that, because something in that article about Whataburger continuing to ban guns raises an important question.

The article quotes Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, as saying this:
"Just like many members of Moms Demand Action, Whataburger’s president and CEO is a gun owner who supports and promotes responsible gun ownership - and he knows that support for the Second Amendment can go hand-in-hand with good business practices."
I am getting thoroughly sick and tired of, thoroughly disgusted with, every expression in favor of even the most absurdly moderate, the most ridiculously feeble, forms of gun control being prefaced with some version of "I'm a gun owner! I support the Second Amendment! I love guns, I really really do!"

It's as if - no, it is - that you have to adopt the gun nuts' terms, adopt the gun nuts' attitudes, that you have to be a "gun lover" before you can speak, that you have to declare yourself almost totally on the side of the gun nuts before you can say "but I do have this one tiny little difference...."

When are we going to learn that you can't fight an opponent by adopting the opponent's terms of how the fight is fought? Why do we keep acting like we have to endorse, embrace, the worldview of the Nutzoid Rabbit-brains of America - the NRA - when recent studies by both the biennial General Social Survey (conducted by the AP-NORC Center at the University of Chicago) and the Gallup poll clearly show that gun ownership is a minority position in this country? Less than half of US households have a gun - and that number is declining. So why do we keep acting like we are the minority, even the small minority, which has to prove it has a "legitimate" position?

We all know why: political cowardice. Which is why - the only reason way - moves to end the carnage never get anywhere.

Sources cited in links:
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