Sunday, September 25, 2016

A quick and important footnote to the previous post

Just to make sure this is clear: The one-month break referred to in the previous post is to doing my weekly public access TV and YouTube video, which goes (for now) by the name of Left Side of the Aisle.

While this blog, Lotus - Surviving a Dark Time, has come to be based largely on the show, they are not identical. In fact, this blog predates Left Side by over seven years.

The point here is that while there will be no new episodes of Left Side of the Aisle (or its new name, What's Left) before the last days of October, that does not mean there will be no posts here for that time. There may not be a lot of them, but there will be some.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

261.4 - A few minutes on the future of Left Side of the Aisle

A few minutes on the future of Left Side of the Aisle

Last for this week, I want to take a few minutes to talk about the future of Left Side of the Aisle.

Right at the top, Left Side is taking a break.

This is show #261. So last week, of course, was #260. (Duh.) Some months ago, I set myself a goal of doing 260 shows. It was a sort of, I guess, signpost.

It may seem like an odd number to choose. (Why not 250, say, or 300, some "rounder" number?) The idea was that Left Side is a weekly show and for the first year and a-half or so there were no breaks: The first 70 or 80 shows were done in the same 70 or 80 weeks. So I thought that if I did the show with no breaks, 52 weeks a year, for five years, that would be 260 shows. So 260 became if you will emblematic of five full years of shows. (It actually took me just under five and a-half years to get there.)

So with those five years behind me, I think it's time for a change. So, again, Left Side is taking a break.

Just to be clear: We are not going away forever, we are not disappearing, we are not ending the show, none of that. But we are taking an extended break of one month. The next show will be for the week of October 27 to November 2, coming back just in time to face up to the election.

In fact, I've had more than one person ask how I could take this break now, with the election coming up, but you have likely noticed that I have barely mentioned it in the weeks to this point. In fact, I figured I could probably count on one hand the number of times I discussed it.

(It turns out I was wrong: I looked back and, leaving aside posts that were about topics like voting rights but only counting those about the candidates or the campaigns, I found a total of seven posts related to the elections, all but one of them about the primaries.)

I just make it a practice not to spend any significant time talking about what everyone else is talking about. So I really don't feel it's any failing on my part to take time off right now, because if what you want is news about Clinton or TheRump, you can get that anywhere.

There's also the fact that one of those seven campaign stories was in June, just a week before the very last primaries. At that time, I listed nine issues that had come up in the primaries on the Dem side that I predicted would not be discussed in the fall campaign between Clinton and TheRump. Those nine were single-payer health care, the TPP, income inequality, a $15/hr minimum wage, poverty and homelessness, student debt, tuition free college, "too big to fail," and campaign finance reform.

I'll let you decide how I did in predicting those issues would be ignored; I think I did pretty good and frankly that's another part of the reason I feel no guilt for taking a break.

But yes, we will be back. In the intervening month, one big thing I hope to accomplish is having new graphics designed for the show. After five years, I figure I deserve it.

We are also going to try something new: Every week there will be a five-minute guest commentary. I hope to have a regular group of people who will have something on about once a month. This will not only broaden Left Side's voice because I expect these folks will address topics I have addressed inadequately or perhaps not at all, but also it will lighten the load on me a little bit, helping to keep things going for the foreseeable future.

I also want to do more in-depth stories, with a major part of the show or even the entire show taken up with one topic. I have done that occasionally, of course, but I want to make it more a conscious editorial choice that a case of "that's the way it worked out." I want to break away both from getting overly focused on the day-to-day and week-to-week news cycle and an overly US-centric view.

Related to that, I have called myself, in some form or another, a democratic socialist green peacenik and I wanted to get more into that, more into about what that entails for how our society should relate to itself and our economy should be structured.

This may sound like it adds up to major conceptual brain surgery, but really it doesn't. There will be perhaps some shifts in tone and emphasis, but it will still be Left Side of the Aisle and will still be reconizeable as such.

Oh, wait, except it won't be Left Side of the Aisle because of one last thing: We are also changing the name of the show. I had been thinking of keeping it as a surprise, but then I realized that if you don't know what the name of the show is, you could have trouble finding it if you wanted to. So: The new name for the show is What's Left.

What's Left. Look for it the end of October. We will "see" you then. In the meantime, have the best month you possibly can and I wish you peace.

261.3 - Extended Footnote: Why do we keep seeing stories like that of Terrence Crutcher?

Extended Footnote: Why do we keep seeing stories like that of Terrence Crutcher?

When we face the issue of police violence, when we face the issue of police killing unarmed people, we instinctively look for reasons. There has to be a reason why.

So you want some reasons why we keep covering the same ground about police, why the stories keep arising? I'll give you some and here I'm not even going to be talking about the racism that runs through so many of these accounts, where being black is to be menacing, where just by being black you "look like a bad dude." Instead, here I'm going to be talking about what could well be described as institutional reasons.

Here's one such reason: After Terrence Crutcher was shot, someone on the police radio can be heard saying, "Shots fired. We have one suspect down."

Suspect? What was he suspected of? For what crime was he being investigated? The answer, of course, is that he wasn't suspected of anything - except, of course, being "a bad dude."

Yet simply by having an encounter with police, he becomes a "suspect." Because we are all "suspects" in the eyes of police, for who there are cops and there are "suspects." And "suspects," of course, are by definition dangerous to some degree or another.

I have said it before: We are teaching cops to be afraid. We are teaching, and I mean actively teaching, cops to be in constant fear of instant death, to be prepared to shoot first and ask questions later, to feel it's not only their right but their duty to avoid to the extent possible any degree of risk even when that means just shifting the risk onto non-cops.

There is, for example, something taught in police academies called the "21 foot rule," which holds that someone with a bladed weapon who is less than 21 feet away can rush a cop and injure or kill them before the cop could get their gun out and fire. Not only has this rule been questioned, it has been twisted and distorted to mean that if you are carrying a blade within 21 feet of a cop, they are justified in shooting you on the grounds that they felt they were at immediate risk of death; no actual aggressive move on your part is required.

That has got to change. It has to or the body count will only continue to rise. So far in 2016, 40 cops nationwide have died in the line of duty by being shot. At the same time, 706 people have been shot and killed by cops, 41 of them unarmed. Cops have killed more unarmed people than the total number of cops killed by others.

That training to be afraid, to think of everyone as a potentially dangerous "suspect," is one reason why we keep seeing these sorts of stories. Here's another. In covering the Crutcher family's contention that the window to Terrance Crutcher's SUV was closed, the Washington Post reported that, quoting,
If confirmed by police, the admission would eliminate one of the chief justifications for police using deadly force against Crutcher.*
Actually, it would eliminate the only justification, but "if confirmed by police?" What does that mean? That when it involves police we have to wait for the judgment of the accused? That when it comes to people shot in the street by someone in a uniform we have to have the accused decide what is and isn't true, what is and isn't fact?

That attitude among the media that "it's not true unless an official says it is," which positively encourages evasion, subject-changing, and outright lying by police when faced with uncomfortable truths, is another reason why Terrence Crutcher is just one of many.

But there's an even bigger one. And the most important one.

I've said several times in discussing cop violence that most cops are good cops, most cops are trying to do the best, the most professional, job they can for their communities. And I will add that in my own personal encounters with cops, apart from the one some years ago where a cop hassled, rousted, and unlawfully searched me and two friends before telling us to get out of town - all because we were "hippies" -  have for the most part been professional and courteous.

But for that very reason, that most cops are good cops, trying to do the best, most professional, job they can, it is vital that those good cops stop shielding the bad ones and beyond that it is vital that city administrations stop agreeing to police union contracts with ethically outrageous provisions that actively shield police from the immediate questions and investigations that any of the rest of us would face when a crime is suspected and provide for an internal appeals process that almost guarantees that any discipline a cop faces will be reduced or tossed out entirely.

Because why should we expect any change in cop behavior when there are no consequences for doing the wrong thing? When your contract protects you, your union shields you, and your colleagues, the ones who know what you did, stand silent?

One of the things that some police departments look to in looking for red flags of misconduct is how many "resisting arrest" charges get added to other charges on which someone is arrested, especially if those other charges are later dropped or dismissed, because "resisting arrest" is frequently used as a cover for police brutality. "I wasn't using excessive force, he was resisting me."

The New York police is among the departments that tracks resisting arrest data this way. About two years ago, one researcher crunched NYPD arrest stats since 2012 and found that just 5 percent of cops accounted for 40 percent of all resisting arrest charges. In fact, a majority of New York officers filed no resisting arrest charges at all in that time, which means that this sort of red flag was concentrated among a very small cohort of cops.

That is, it is very likely that examples of excessive force, that is, of police brutality, are likewise concentrated around that 5 percent - and it is vital that the 95 percent stop protecting that 5 percent.

Frank Serpico
Those cops who want to do the right thing, who want to have good relations with the community, those cops who are not going to reach for the club or the mace or the taser or the gun at the first provocation, those cops who do not want to divide the world into cops and suspects, they have got to stop shielding those who do. They have got to step up and speak up.

Is that professionally risky? It most certainly is. Is it even personally risky? Frank Serpico, who said that after he became a whistle-blower his calls for back-up would be answered slowly if at all, would surely say yes.

Then again, we are always being told how dangerous police work is - so maybe they should just think of this as another part of the job, another part of their commitment to "protect and serve."

The issue, the problem, the disease, of police brutality and excessive violence extends beyond the minority community - although they clearly bear the greatest brunt of it, with black Americans being 2.5 times more likely to be killed by a cop than white Americans and unarmed black Americans five times more likely. But it does extend beyond and the single most important reason this scourge continues to fester is the reluctance of the vast majority of good cops to stand up to, to speak out against, the bad ones. Until that changes, I fear little else will.

*The statement is no longer found in updated versions of the story on the Post website.

Sources cited in links:

261.2 - Another name on the list: Terrence Crutcher killed by police

Another name on the list: Terrence Crutcher killed by police

Okay, we have to go through this again. When is it finally too much? When is it finally too many times? When is it finally too often? When do the lies - the lies we tell ourselves - finally stop?

Terrence Crutcher
The latest too much too many too often comes out of Tulsa, Oklahoma. On September 16, Terrence Crutcher, 40 years old, became the latest addition to the ever-lengthening list of names of unarmed black men who have been shot and killed by police. He was, in fact, according to a Washington Post database, at least the 15th unarmed black man to have been killed by police so far in 2016.

And, as we have found all too often in past cases, the shape-shifting police accounts were more about looking for a justification for the killing than about investigating it.

About the only thing all the accounts agree on is that Crutcher's vehicle was stopped in the road. They can't even agree on if the car was running or not. The initial police story said it was stalled but Scott Wood, the lawyer for the cop who pulled the trigger, who is named Betty Shelby, said she found it with the engine running and the doors open.

That same initial cop story had it that two officers were walking toward the SUV when Crutcher approached them from the side of the road. But, again according to her lawyer, Shelby arrived on the scene first and alone and had already spoken to Crutcher and - this is important, so remember it - she had already checked the driver's side of the car when Crutcher approached her.

That initial cop tale went on to claim that Crutcher "refused to follow commands" and when "they got closer to the vehicle, he reached inside the vehicle and at that time there was a Taser deployment, and a short time later there was one shot fired."

Wait - "short time later?" He was tasered and then they still shot him? Oh, that won't do at all. So it became, in the lawyer's words, the taser and the gun were fired simultaneously. No gap. Because he reached into the car. Remember that.

Most of this got blown away when the videos were released, which clearly shows Crutcher walking slowly towards his car - away from the cops, not approaching them - with his hands raised, followed closely by one cop, then two, then four, at least three of who have weapons - guns or Tasers - drawn. Crutcher can be seen leaning against his car before he suddenly falls to the ground with a woman's voice going "shots fired."

He lies on the ground bleeding to death as three cops, in a moment that is bitterly amusing, back away from him as if they are afraid he will rise from the grave to attack them. Crutcher lies there about two minutes before anyone even bothers to check on him. No attempt to render any sort of aid is made, even though it turns out that Shelby has some EMT training and had a trauma bag in her trunk.

Shelby claimed she thought Crutcher was behaving like someone possibly under the influence of PCP and the cops made a big point the next day of announcing that some PCP had conveniently been found in Crutcher's car, although they wouldn't (or couldn't) say where in the car.

Screen capture
But the idea of killing someone because they looked like they were high, even on angel dust, obviously wouldn't fly, so we're left with the claim that Crutcher, with four cops gathered around him and a police helicopter circling overhead, reached into his car for some unknown, totally irrational, but we are supposed to assume nefarious reason, justifying his immediate execution.

But the next day, attorneys for the Crutcher family showed an enhanced screen capture from the police video taken from the helicopter which appeared to show that the window was closed with a streak of blood running all the way down the window and across the side of the car. Appeared to show, that is, that there was no way Crutcher could have reached inside the car. That it was a flat out lie.

Now the image that was shown obviously is not going to be crisp and sharp, being an enhanced still taken from a video. So it has its limitations. But I am going to offer my own take on it.

Screen capture with my reference points
It appears to me that the driver's side window does seem to be a little reflective, which would mean that there is glass there, which would mean it was closed. Compare it to the windshield, where we know there was glass.

On the other hand and in all fairness - which is more than was given to Terrence Crutcher - I suspect that the line from the top right corner of the window frame, indentified as blood by the family, is actually a shoulder strap of a seat belt. However, at the very bottom of the window frame, immediately above the door panel, is a blotch that appears to closely match in color what is undeniably blood streaked down the side of the car.

My conclusion? The window was closed. The cops were lying.

But here's where something becomes important, something I told you to remember. Remember that according to her lawyer, Shelby had already checked the driver's side of the car - recalling, too, that she said the door was open - before she had any interaction with Crutcher.

So even if I'm wrong and the family is wrong and the window was down, and even if Crutcher for whatever unfathomable reason did reach in through that window, Betty Shelby still, based on her own account, would have had no reason to shoot Terrence Crutcher because she would have already checked out that area and would have known there was no weapon there.

Every version of the story offered by police breaks down. And the meaning of the arguments made is even more chilling than the deceptions.

According to Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan, Shelby told a dispatcher "that she [was] not having cooperation" from Crutcher. She then aimed and took fire. So what, you don't "cooperate" and so we kill you?

Shelby thought Crutcher was on PCP. So what, we think you're high and so we kill you?

A man in the helicopter can be heard saying "time for a Taser." He then says: "That looks like a bad dude, too." So, what, we think you "look like a bad dude" and so we kill you?

You reach through a window to where we know there is no weapon. So, what, so we kill you?

I don't know exactly what motivated Betty Shelby to pull the trigger that Friday evening. But I do know this: When Benjamin Crump, attorney for the family, called it "clearly a case of excessive force," he was wrong.

What this was, was murder.

Sources cited in links:

261.1 - Outrage of the Week: Washington Post wants its own source in prison

Outrage of the Week: Washington Post wants its own source in prison

There has been a move developing to call for President Obama to use his pardon power before he leaves office and pardon Edward Snowden.

Personally, I have three reactions. But before that, let's get the legal jargon out of the way. Technically, Snowden can't be pardoned because that is legal forgiveness for something of which you already have been convicted. What he can get is a type of executive amnesty, which would have the same result of freeing him from prosecution. In any case, the word "pardon" serves as a convenient shorthand.

Okay with that aside, my reactions: One, I'd love to see such a pardon happen; two, I can't imagine it will as Obama has neither the inclination nor the guts to do any such thing; and three, the person I'd really like to see pardoned is Chelsea Manning.

But what I want to get to here is that there were four main media outlets that received from Edward Snowden secret NSA documents about massive government spying on Americans, documents which those media outlets made their own editorial judgments about what parts to publish.

Those four are The Guardian in the UK, the New York Times and the Washington Post in the US, and the online magazine The Intercept. Three of those outlets - the Guardian, the Times, and the Intercept - have called for such a pardon.

But on September 18, the Washington Post published an editorial which not only rejected the idea of a pardon, it explicitly demanded that Snowden stand trial on charges of espionage.

In doing so, notes Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept, the Washington Post has achieved an ignominious feat in US media history: It has become the first-ever paper to explicitly call for for the criminal prosecution of its own source - a source on whose back the paper won and eagerly accepted a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

The editorial was particularly critical of the revelations about the PRISM program, the one that allows the NSA to suck up as much internet traffic as it can get its hands on, hyperbolically claiming the revelation put lives and national security at risk.

But as Greenwald pointedly notes, it was not Edward Snowden who sent that information out into the world, it was the news editors of the Washington Post, who chose to print in on the front page. Snowden was totally uninvolved in that decision as well as all the other editorial decisions made in any of the outlets, because he specifically stated in providing the information that he did not trust himself to make the editorial decisions as to what should be printed and what should be withheld.

But it is Snowden and only Snowden who the editors of the Post would have pay a price.

In fairness and for complete accuracy, I have to note that the news and editorial departments of the Washington Post are separate and those on the news side of the paper remain proud of their work on the NSA documents.

But that makes the editorial - the institutional voice of the paper - no less a disgrace, no less a betrayal of its own source and its own staff, no less an assault on investigative reporting, no less a repudiation of whistle-blowers, no less offensive, no less an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #261

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of September 22-28, 2016

This Week:

Outrage of the Week: Washington Post wants its own source in prison

Another name on the list: Terrence Crutcher killed by police

Extended Footnote: Why do we keep seeing stories like that of Terrence Crutcher?

On the future of Left Side of the Aisle

NOTE WELL: Left Side of the Aisle is taking an extended break of one month.

It will be back with episode 262, for the week of October 27 - November 2.

We are making a few changes, getting some new graphics (after five years I figure I deserve a change), adding a new feature - and coming back with a new name.

When it comes back, Left Side of the Aisle will be known by its new name of "What's Left."

Saturday, September 17, 2016

260.6 - The legacy of 9/11

The legacy of 9/11

Yeah, so it's been 15 years. We remember 9/11, oh yes we do and there are a good number of pundits and officials to make sure we do just in case we don't.

And amid the pundits and officials symbolically patting the nation on the back for how supposedly brave and resilient we are even as we have been by those same voices conditioned, like one of Pavlov's dogs, to twitch with fear at the word "Islamic" comes the news that over the Labor Day weekend, one of the legacies of 9/11 was on display: Over those three days, the US military bombed six different countries spanning Asia, Africa, and the Middle East.

It included 45 bombing raids in Iraq and Syria and 20 targets in the Libyan city of Sirte, plus attacks in Yemen, Somalia, and Afghanistan. All they needed was to hit someplace in Pakistan to have run the entire list of nations we have been bombing in recent years.

What George Bush pronounced an "extended campaign against terrorism" has become what it had to become, what it could not fail to become: an "extended campaign" of unending war, a campaign now spread to multiple nations. It is one of our legacies of 9/11.

Oh, but this spreading war is, officials insist, all necessary due to the endurance and geographic spread of al-Qaeda and its various mutations, including Daesh, that is, ISIS.

Countries we have bombed in recent years
Paul Scharre, a former Army Ranger and Pentagon official now at the Center for a New American Security, claims that the Obama administration "really wanted to end these wars," but instead has "combat operations on multiple fronts." He than added, in the most unintentionally telling remark you will hear anywhere this week, "That's just the unfortunate reality of the terrorism threat today."

Just the unfortunate reality. Indeed, that's what we're supposed to accept: That's just the way it is. Our wars are an "unfortunate reality."

It's all passive voice. The wars, or rather their causes, their roots, really have nothing to do with us. Nothing to do with anything we did or didn't do. Nothing to do with the invasions of Afghanistan or Iraq. Nothing to do with the drone attacks on Pakistan. We are merely helpless victims, passive observers almost, just doing what is necessary, never initiating anything, just responding always to others with actions that have no repercussions themselves. Because our actions provoke no response. Have no blowback. No unintended consequences. It's all just an "unfortunate reality."

Just a couple of weeks after 9/11, I wrote something about that event that began this way:
If the history of the Middle East over the last 30 years proves nothing else [remembering this is the 30 years preceding 2001], it proves beyond question that neither terrorism nor "counter"-terrorism, neither retaliation nor counter-retaliation nor counter-counter-retaliation will stop the circle of death - particularly not so long as those on each side insist on seeing themselves at the wronged innocents only defending themselves against unreasoning violence or oppression or exploitation (or all three) while viewing their adversaries as evil brutes fully aware of their own brutality. Another cycle of mayhem is simply not an answer.
And yet more cycles of mayhem, more counter-counter-counter-counter-retaliation is exactly what we've seen. And there is no sign of it ending. In fact, Scharre said the US bombing campaigns are an appropriate response because they can be sustained over time in the same way that the US has committed to long-term military presences in places such as Germany and South Korea. That is, he's saying, decades of bombing cities and towns is the same as troop presence by mutually-agreed treaty in places not at war.

That piece I wrote shortly after 9/11 ended this way:
Our best targets for "attack" in this "extended campaign" are not the actual terrorists (who likely number no more than a few thousand) but the tens of thousands, the millions, among who they recruit and from who they draw their strength. Our best weapons are bread and butter, not bombs; our best tactic reconstruction, not retaliation; our best strategy justice, not jingoism. The best way to minimize terrorism is to ensure that the dispossessed have a genuine stake in the world and don't see us as grasping bullies - and the best way not to be seen as a grasping bully is not to be one.
I'll let you decide how well what I wrote 15 years ago has stood up to time and events. But the truth remains that unending war is one of our legacies of 9/11, a legacy that has in point of fact made the world less safe than it was 15 years ago.

Jeh Johnson
One legacy, but not the only. Because we also celebrated the anniversary of 9/11 by seeing Jeh Johnson, secretary of the department for the protection of the fatherland, going around the national media circuit, pushing the latest version of "be afraid, be very afraid," this version being the dark, looming specter of "self-radicalized actors" in the US, a specter requiring what one outlet called "a modern-day version of Cold Ear-era ideological screenings."

(Apparently, the chant of "ISIS is coming! ISIS is coming!" no longer has quite the impact it once did and so some sort of re-boot was required.)

Just how much far Johnson go in spinning his around-the-campfire tales of dark and evil doings? He asserted that "in the current environment, where we have to deal with the prospect of a lone wolf actor or a self-radicalized actor, just saying there's no specific credible threat doesn't tell the whole story." So even though there is no evidence of a threat, we have to act as if there is evidence of a threat.

This is the attitude we have adopted since 9/1l, this is what the official notion of defending our rights - that is, the notion of what officialdom has adopted as to what constitutes defending our rights - has come to: deliberately promoted constant fear, even in the absence of evidence of a threat.

So much so, in fact, that under earlier this year, the FBI told high schools across the country to report to the government students who criticize government policies or "western corruption" or who say they are anarchists on the grounds that they are potential future terrorists. Schools also had it suggested to them that young people who are poor, who are immigrants, or who travel to "suspicious" countries are more likely to become terrorists. In fact, the feds claimed that that young people "possess inherent risk factors" that make them more likely to become terrorists, risk factors so broadly and vaguely defined that almost any high school student could be deemed worthy of government surveillance.

That is another legacy of 9/11.

And then there are the laws that are enabled by that reign of fear and suspicion, the first and best-known being the so-called Patriot Act, or as I call it, the Traitor Act for its impact on civil liberties and privacy, for its dramatic expansion of the ability of the spooks to poke, prod, pry, and probe into every aspect of our lives.

In the wake of its passage, I noted that no one had been able to come up with a single argument as to how if the law's provisions had been in place it would have prevented 9/11. Because there weren't any such arguments and in fact the failure over 9/11 was not in the lack of authority but in not using the authority that already existed. So I wrote that
[a]dding more such powers, more authority to invade our privacy, restrict our freedoms, track our movements, more ability to substitute suspicion for proof - all while reducing judicial oversight - only creates more opportunities for official abuse.
Diagram of data from Prism
And abuse of course followed. It's been out of the news of late, so I do have to ask: Have we forgotten what Edward Snowden revealed? Have we forgotten about the collection of phone metadata of every call within, into, or out of the US? Have we forgotten the PRISM program, under which essentially all internet traffic that passed through the US was passed through the NSA? Have we forgotten about the agency's programs to have the ability to hack into any computer system it wanted to, individual, corporate, or government, friend or foe, anywhere in the world, no matter how well protected or encoded?

Oh, yeah, right, supposedly the so-called USA Freedom Act fixed all that last year, so why worry - except it didn't: About the only thing it did was to end the bulk collection of phone metadata by the NSA under Section 215 of the Traitor Act while requiring that phone companies keep the data so the spooks could get a court order to see it. About the only thing that changed was who held the records.

Meanwhile, it did nothing about Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which is what the spooks use to justify sweeping up as much of the Internet as they can get their hands on.

And it wasn't even relevant to Executive Order 12333, or "1-2-triple-3" as I understand it is known. It's a presidential directive dating from 1981 that defines US spy operations. It allows the NSA to capture and retain essentially any data it can find, including the actual content of email, phone calls, whatever, so long as the information is gathered outside the US.

But in a technologically-interconnected world unlike anything that existed when the order was first issued, a world where an e-mail from New York to New Jersey is likely to wind up on a server in, perhaps, Brazil or Japan or Britain, the restriction to "outside the US" is utterly meaningless, utterly without effect, because our personal data can very easily - is even very likely to be - stored somewhere outside the US.

The only requirement left is the open door that the information be gathered in the course of "a lawful foreign intelligence investigation." And even if that information is "incidental," having no connection to the person or group that is the supposed actual target of the investigation, EO 12333 specifically allows for the NSA to keep it. No warrant is required, no court approval is neede, no such collection need be reported to Congress, nor do the people whose personal information is "incidentally" swept up have to be told.

All of which means that the spooks' slogan has effectively become "all your data are belonging to us."

And that, too, is a legacy of 9/11.

James Clapper
And finally, let's not forget that even as the government has claimed authority to strip away all of our privacy, all of our secrets, in pursuit of the chimera of "national security," that despite a few victories, the government's own secrets are held more tightly than ever, to the point where in April, Congress was still trying to find out from James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, just how many US citizens had had their personal info "incidentally" swept into the government's databanks.

The fact is, during the Obama administration, there have been eight prosecutions of whistleblowers under the 1917 Espionage Act - more than double the number under all previous presidents combined. And know - and remember this any time someone says anything about how Edward Snowden should return because of, as Hillary Clinton put it, "all the protections we have for whistleblowers" - know that if you are charged under the Espionage Act, as Snowden surely would be, you are legally barred from arguing in your defense that the classified material you leaked was improperly classified. You can't argue it never should have been classified. You can't argue that the "secrets" were classified solely because they were embarrassing to officials and had no impact on national security. You can't argue that release of the materials was actually of benefit to the public. You can't even testify as to why you did it. So you tell me what "protections" would be available for Edward Snowden.

So what is our legacy of 9/11?

We as a people let one terrible tragedy, one serious attack, one bloody assault, stampede us into a war in Afghanistan which has killed over 100,000 people and nearly 15 years later continues seemingly without end, and a war in Iraq which has killed hundreds of thousands, opened a door to al-Qaeda and its demon spawn ISIS, and has morphed into the war in Iraq and Syria with hundreds of thousands more dead, stampede us into actually, seriously, arguing whether or not torture and other war crimes are legitimate if we do them, stampede us into living with a constant undercurrent of promoted fear sufficient to stampede us in turn into surrendering our privacy, our civil liberties, and our ability to know what is being done supposedly on our behalf by a government that increasingly is the tool of the intelligence community rather than the other way around, stampede us into passively allowing the government to decide what we know, how much of it we know, and when we know it, stampede us into heading down a slippery slope at the bottom of which is the complete loss of what it means to be a free people.

That is our legacy of 9/11. It is a legacy we need to reject - strongly and clearly.

Sources cited in links:

260.5 - Outrage of the Week: cop fired for failing to kill man

Outrage of the Week: cop fired for failing to kill man

Now for one of our frequent features. This is the Outrage of the Week.

The Outrage this week is about a case where a cop was fired after a deadly encounter with someone with a gun.

The thing is, the cop - Stephen Mader of the Weirton, West Virginia, police force - was not fired for shooting someone. He was not even fired for shooting someone who was unarmed. He was fired, stay with me here, for not shooting someone.

Mader had responded to a domestic incident call and found himself confronting a man with a gun. Mader said his training to look at "the whole person" kicked in.

He noted that the man - Ronald Williams by name - had the gun in his right hand, but his arm was hanging at his side and the gun was pointed at the ground. When Mader tried to encourage - not demand but encourage - Williams to put the gun down, Williams responded with "Just shoot me."

This is "suicide by cop," Mader realized, and he assured Williams he would not fire. Williams started flicking his wrist, trying to provoke Mader to shoot him. But Mader was sure he could deescalate the situation.

Stephen Mader
Unfortunately, at that moment two other cops arrived and Williams started waving the gun toward them. They opened fire and killed him. Williams' gun, not surprisingly, proved to be unloaded.

Neither an investigation nor Mader faulted the other cops: They saw a man waving a gun and they had neither seen nor heard what Mader had.

But while Mader did not fault the cops, that did not mean that the department could not fault him. He was fired for having "failed to remove a threat" and putting the other two cops in danger. Remember that this was after it had been determined that Williams was not armed.

This is insane. Mader acted the way we want cops to act: He sized up the situation, he stayed calm, he tried to deescalate things, he did not reach for his gun when he was not in danger, and he didn't kill somebody as his first line of defense.

And the result is, he was fired and is now studying to get a commercial truck driver's license. Meanwhile, across the country cops who do get fired for behavior so bad it can't be dismissed or ignored all too often quickly just become a cop somewhere else.

And then we wonder why people don't trust police.

It's an outrage.

Sources cited in links:

260.4 - RIP: Vin Scully sets retirement date

RIP: Vin Scully sets retirement date

Just a very quick RIP that isn't actually an RIP because no one died - but is the end of an era.

Vin Scully has announced that the very last baseball game he will announce will the Dodgers playing the Giants in San Francisco on October 2.

It was known he was going to retire this year, but with just a couple of weeks left in the regular season, the Dodgers have a 4-game lead in the NL West so people had been wondering if he might do playoff games since the Dodgers are obviously going to make the playoffs.

Vin Scully
He decided no. October 2 is it.

And so ends - or will end - a 67-year career as a baseball announcer. He's been a sports announcer just about as long as I've been alive.

And I wanted to note the end of that career because, y'see, I remember Vin - who then went by Vince - Scully doing radio play-by-play for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the mid-1950s. I can still hear in my memory his voice calling out names like Snider, Hodges, Furillo, and Campanella. I can hear him calling homes runs with "She's a'way out there - she's gone!" I can recall how how loved cases like two on, two out, and a count of two and two because it gave him an excuse to say "deuces are wild."

Vin Scully was a part of my childhood any my adulthood. So I just wanted to say hey, Vin: Thanks for the memories.

Sources cited in links:

260.3 - Comments on the election: Clinton spoke the truth

Comments on the election: Clinton spoke the truth

I have three things to say about election. Cherish them; they are some of the only observations I will make about the whole mess.

Bernie Sanders
One is that if the Dems - including here voters in the primaries - had done what they should have done and nominated Bernie Sanders, this presidential election would be a runaway for them. It would be a rout. The only reason it is even anywhere near close is because of the baggage that Hillary Clinton carries with her, baggage that makes people genuinely distrust her. And I would say that in my judgment, while the degree of mistrust is not justified, the fact of it is.

The second thing is that ever since it became undeniable that Sanders was mounting a strong challenge to Hillary Clinton, the Dem party has wanted to turn him into Jesse Jackson: someone who made a commotion, caused a stir, received a bunch of votes, got their moment in the sun with a major speech at the convention - and then faded away.

Unhappily, so far they seem to be succeeding as not only has he largely disappeared except for the occasional "Hooray for Hillary" appearance, but his "political revolution" - and this is more on him than the party - is looking more and more like merely another incarnation of "the goal is elect more better Democrats," the same incantation we've hearing at least since 1968 with all it has gotten us.

But it is the third thing that I wanted to spend a couple of minutes on.

At a fundraiser in New York City on September 9, Clinton expanded somewhat on her charge that many supporters of Donald TheRump fall into what she calls "a basket of deplorables." In fact, she said, half of his supporters fit the description of, quoting "racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic - you name it."

She got a lot of flak for that, specifically for the reference to "half." Apparently, if you just say his supporters include racists and sexists and so on, that's okay but if you put a percentage on it, that's over the line.

She backed off quickly, saying she regretted the word "half."

But here's the thing: As someone pointed out, according to the polls, about 40% of Americans support TheRump. Which would mean, per Clinton, that 20% of the US electorate is racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and/or Islamaphobic.

And you know what? I have no problem with that figure. I have no problem accepting the notion that 20% of the American population fits in at least one of those categories.

Consider just one term: racism. By almost any standard you care to use - life expectancy, school discipline, mortgage rejection, wealth, income, unemployment, police use of force, access to health care or housing or education, whatever - outcomes for white Americans are better, often far better, than outcomes for black Americans.

Hillary Clinton
And yet according to a recent study, white Americans believe that racism against whites has been increasing since the 1960s and sharply since the 1980s to the point where now bigotry against whites is a bigger problem than bigotry against people of color.

The facts be damned, white Americans are saying, we are the real victims! It is the same cry, with the same roots, as the Tea Party screeching about how "we" - that is, white people - will "take back" "our" country.

So yes, when we have a criminal injustice system so rife with racial bias than even UN observers are moved to make reports on it; when we have a man who tried to set a Muslim woman's clothing on fire on New York's 5th Avenue on September 12, just two days after a woman physically attacked two Muslim women in Brooklyn who were walking their babies in strollers; when we have the repeated stories of judges and police departments that refuse to take rape seriously while right-wingers strive to destroy Planned Parenthood and 56% of American men believe that sexism is a thing of the past; when nearly half of Americans agree with the idea of banning all Muslims from entering the US; then yes, absolutely, I have no problem accepting the notion that 20% of Americans are racist or sexist or homophobic or xenophobic or Islamaphobic or all five.

She backed off it and it's a shame she did, because Hillary Clinton spoke the truth.

Sources cited in links:

260.2 - Good News: high schoolers join Anthem protest

Good News: high schoolers join Anthem protest

Speaking of Good News and sports, I'm sure you know of the quiet protest undertaken by San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who refuses to stand for the pre-game playing of the national anthem. At first, he sat on the bench, now he kneels on one knee. He has said it is protest "a country that oppresses black people and people of color."

You also know, I expect, that the protest has spread, with some other professional athletes joining the protest, while some other people foolishly objected or even condemned.

What you may not have heard about is the wave of similar protests that took place on high school football fields across the country on September 10. In some cases, it was just a couple of players who knelt during the playing of the anthem; in other cases it was most of the team; in at least one case, it was the whole team and the coach.

Schools in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Illinois, Nebraska, and I'm sure others I didn't hear about saw students protesting against police brutality and against racism by the quiet act of kneeling.

And all I can say is, y'know what? The kids are gonna be okay.

Sources cited in links:

260.1 - Good News: more reactions to HB2

Good News: more reactions to HB2

The law that arose from North Carolina's bill HB2, the one that made it a crime for transgender people to use public facilities that do not accord with the physical gender on their birth certificate and banned local governments from passing laws to protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, continues to produce reactions.

There already had been harsh reactions, including come companies abandoning plans to expand their facilities in the state and the decision by the NBA to pull the 2017 all-star game out of North Carolina.

And now, on September 12, the NCAA declared that HB2 makes it hard to "promote an inclusive atmosphere for all college athletes, coaches, administrators and fans" and so announced that it is pulling seven championship games from North Carolina, a decision quickly followed by the ACC, which says it is pulling next season's neutral site tournament games from the state.

I said before on this topic that I feel badly for the workers who will lose income because of the moves by the NBA, the NCAA, and the various companies that have acted, but the fact is that bigotry must be made to pay a price if it is to be turned back.

This is part of the price that must be paid.

So yes, the decision by the NCAA, increasing pressure on the troglodytes of the North Carolina legislature to revoke HB2, is definitely Good News.

North Carolina Republican Party spokesperson Kami Mueller said in response that the NCAA does not want to have separate lockers rooms for men and women and that it would have "cheerleaders and football players share bathrooms, showers and hotel rooms."

There is one good thing to come out of that tangle of hyperbolic transgenderphobic blather: It shows that the right wing knows it is losing. Which makes the Good News even better.

Sources cited in links:

Left Side of the Aisle #260

Left Side of the Aisle
for the week of September 15 to 21, 2016

Good News: more reactions to HB2

Good News: high schoolers join Anthem protest

Comments on the election: Clinton spoke the truth

RIP: Vin Scully sets retirement date

Outrage of the Week: cop fired for failing to kill man

The legacy of 9/11

Sunday, September 11, 2016

259.5 - And Another Thing: dogs understand language

And Another Thing: dogs understand language

Finally for this week, a very quick instance of one of our occasional features called And Another Thing, where we step away from political stuff and step into some cool science stuff.

This time, it's the news that according to a new study, yes, your dog really does understand you. Not only can dogs understand the intonation used to say words, they can also understand the meaning of the words themselves. Not only that, but brain scans done in the study reveal that dogs process language using the same regions of the brain as people do.

Now, I have to say this comes as no surprise to me and, I suspect, a good number of dog owners.

In my case, I did my own little experiment. I had a dog named Penny. She was the smartest dog I have ever personally dealt with. I'm not claiming she was the smartest dog ever or the smartest in the world or whatever, but I do say she was the smartest with which I had personal experience - including both the dogs of friends and neighbors and the 10 dogs which I have owned over the years.

Penny always seemed to be able to learn the meaning of words and, importantly, to do it without any special training or sometimes, even without any intention on our part for her to do so.

For one prime example, she loved being outside. I used to call her a mudder because she didn't seem to care what the weather was or how nasty it was. She loved it so much that it got to the point where we couldn't even use the word "outside" in the middle of a sentence without hearing her bark, followed by the sound of a slide and a bang as she slid down the back hall and into the door leading to the yard, waiting to be let out.

So I decided to do a direct test. The word we used for dog treats was "goodie." We would offer the dogs - we had three at the time - treats by saying something like "Do you want a goodie?" but it would be in that sort of higher-than-normal-pitch tone of excitement that people often adopt for such occasions.

So I called Penny and said in that sort of voice "Do you want, do you want" - Penny is getting excited now, starting to come up on her back legs - "a schmidlap?" The excitement deflates. Penny looks confused. (I can't say that I actually said "schmidlap" as opposed to some other irrelevant word, even though it always has been one of my favorite nonsense words.)

"Do you want, do you want" - more excitement - "a reebzap?" Deflation. Confusion. (Ditto comment about "schmidlap.")

"What about," said in as flat a tone as I could manage and lacking the upturn at the end that indicates a question, "a goodie."

Bark bark bark bark!

Yeah, she knew the word.

And oh yeah, by the way, eventually, it got to the point where my wife and I could not even spell the word "outside" to ask each other if the dogs had been out recently without initiating a Pennygasm.

So I knew that dogs can know words, not just tone of voice, a long time ago. Still, it's always nice to have confirmation and the fact that dogs use the same parts of their brain to process language that we do is new information and pretty cool.

Sources cited in links:

259.4 - More media failure

More media failure

I have on a number of occasions described the US public as being uninformed, malinformed, and misinformed by our major news media.

Part of that malformation is the choices as to what drives coverage. Some years back a cousin of mine said that it didn't matter what the media said because she thought what she thought, not what she was told to think. I responded that yes, it is true that the media cannot easily control what you think but it does have a significant degree of control over what you think about, what is and isn't important, what does and doesn't merit attention. That sort of control of the agenda often can control the outcome.

It is with that in mind that I bring up this next story.

A 24-year-old anti-government 9/11 truther named Bryce Cuellar has been arrested and charged with making terrorist threats in a video that was posted on YouTube.

In the 15-minute clip, Cuellar showed off two rifles - AR-15-style gun and a sniper rifle - and was wearing a military flak vest and night vision goggles.

Bryce Cuellar
In the video, he says that he is tired of the government trying to take away his First and Second Amendment rights, that he cannot wait to use his guns "as the Founding Fathers intended," that he wants to kill "gays, faggots, lesbians, and satanists," and claims to be a "Christian warrior." Cuellar also says that he is tired of America and would begin killing soon.

Okay, so here is the question: Outside of the Las Vegas area, that being where Cuellar lived before he was arrested, the only major news outlet coverage I could find on this after using two different news aggregators was at the NY Daily News and the Daily Mail, which is a published in the UK.

What do you think the coverage would have been if - with everything else, every word, exactly the same, but instead of being Bryce Cuellar he was, I don't know, Ahmed Muhammed and instead of calling himself a Christian warrior he called himself a warrior for Allah? What do you think would have been the coverage then? Do you think this would have just gone right down the memory hole? Do you think it would have been ignored coast to coast?

But oh, no, we aren't supposed to be afraid of right-wing terrorists, we aren't supposed to be afraid of domestic fascist terrorists, we aren't supposed to be afraid of the people who live their lives in fantasies of the moon landing being a hoax staged by the Illuminati and no I am not kidding and dream of using their AR-15s and AK-47s "as the founding fathers intended," we aren't supposed to be afraid of those for who Orlando was cause for celebration.

Oh no, we're supposed to spend all our time and energy being afraid of anything that can be labeled "radical Islam" even if it isn't, because that is the agenda being pushed by the state, that is the agenda that most serves the interests of the powerful, so that is the agenda that gets advanced by our mass media, which has long since chosen the role of stenographer to power over the far nobler one of, in a slight misquote from Mr. Dooley, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.

But after all, why should we be concerned with one lone wacko, which is what they always are they are of the right wing? Well, how about because Bryce Cuellar's YouTube page has over 162,000 subscribers?

A wacko he is; lone, he is not. Instead, he is part of, he is emblematic of, what has become known as the "alt.right," a term which has come to greater prominence now that Hillary Clinton has accused Donald TheRump of enabling it.

By the way, a detour here. I was just wondering about people who act or write like the expression or reference "alt.right" is something new or original. Is our institutional memory that short or is all our political commentary now done by millennials?

So just a brief history lesson for those in need of one for whatever reason:

History lesson from the old guy
Back in the stone age of the internet, around say, the early '90s, when you still routinely would go to an ftp site to download a file, Gopher accessed one of the biggest parts of the internet, and Mosaic was hot stuff, there were these things called Newsgroups, which were a cross between the even older BBSes (bulletin board systems) and discussion groups. Actually, there still are Newsgroups, but back in the day, they were enormously popular to the point of being ubiquitous. At one point, there were over 110,000 of them.

Newsgroups were - are - organized into hierarchies, where topics were layered from the most general to the most specific and you went down in that hierarchy until you got to the level where you thought it most appropriate to post your comment.

(Sidebar: Did you know that Yahoo! supposedly stood for "Yet Another Hierarchically Organized Oracle?")

One of those hierarchies was the "alt." hierarchy, with "alt" being short for "alternative" and was originally for topics that the administrators of the Newsgroup system would not allow. But once it was established it quickly wound up being for whatever sorts of topics wouldn't comfortably fit anywhere else. I don't specifically remember if there was an "alt.right" newsgroup somewhere down in the alt. hierarchy, but I know for sure that there were "alt.left" ones because I was in some of them.

But, getting back to the subject at hand, alt.right, as the term is used today, does not refer to a newsgroup but rather to I will be sufficiently polite to call it a philosophy - even though mental derangement would be far more accurate - that celebrates what is basest, most destructive, most hating, in our natures and wears its putrid, brain-dead bigotry, racism, xenophobia, and misogyny as a badge of honor. And yet at the same time these same people, who think they are so daring and cutting edge, are so hopelessly lame that they can't even come up with a new expression to describe themselves. Now, that is sad.

But what is even sadder - "sad" here being used in the sense of "deeply distressing" - is the utter failure of our media to take such as terrorist Bryce Cuellar and his cohorts seriously or to consider the danger they represent or even to discuss them - except, you will note, when the subject is raised by someone among our powerful, such as Hillary Clinton.

Because unless it is raised by someone among the powerful, it is not on the agenda. And if it is not on the agenda, it doesn't get attention from the mass media - leaving us uninformed, malinformed, and misinformed. And that is a disgrace and a threat to our democracy.

Sources cited in links:
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