Saturday, September 16, 2017

32.7 - Outrage(s) of the Week

Outrage(s) of the Week

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

I had two possibilities this week, one of which is overall potentially much more significant that the other but that other one is just so cheap, so low, that I found it hard to choose.

So I'll lay them both out. You can decide.

The cheap, low one is from last month.

In November 2016, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services adopted a rule that prohibited nursing homes that accept Medicare or Medicaid funds from including forced arbitration language in their resident contracts.

Forced arbitration - I have talked about this before - is where in order to use a product or service you have to forswear your rights to go to court even as a member of a class action suit and agree to let any dispute be settled by a supposedly neutral arbiter chosen by the corporation whose income depends on being contracted by corporations to handle such arbitrations - which is a good part of the reason why corporations win 93% of the time.

More specifically, it means, in this instance, that in order to get admitted to the nursing home, prospective residents and their families would have to sign away their rights to take the corporation to court and agree that any dispute, even up to allegations of abuse, neglect, or sexual assault, would be settled by such a "neutral" arbiter. Don't agree? You don't get in. Take it or leave it; if you don't, there are others who will so we don't give a damn.

So as of last November, the rule became that nursing homes couldn't do that. Now, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services want to undo that rule and again leave the elderly and their caretakers, at a time when they are under great emotional stress, to the tender mercies of the nursing home industry, which of course has been lobbying and suing over the rule ever since it went into effect.

There is just no other word for this but "low." It is so unfeelingly despicable, so morally outrageous, so ... low, that I don't know what else to say about it.

So let's move on the other other case.

First, you may know this but just to be sure: An amicus brief - properly, amicus curiae, literally "friend of the court" - is a legal brief filed by someone who wants to address some aspect of a case but who is not a party to it. Usually they are filed as support for one side or the other.

The ACLU reports that the TheRump administration has filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court arguing - follow me here - that businesses have a constitutional right to discriminate against LGBTQ people, that a business could properly and rightly put out a sign saying "We Don't Sell To Gays" even if a state or Congress says such discrimination is illegal.

The case revolves around a baker who ran afoul of Colorado's anti-discrimination laws when he refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple and who now wants SCOTUS to free him from any consequences of that. And now the White House has weighed in on his side because they insist it is his constitutional right to be a bigot, not just personally, but in his business dealings.

What makes this especially outrageous - and dangerous - is that the baker and the White House are not even "just" making the hackneyed claim that it's a freedom of religion issue: The baker insists - with White House backing - that creating a wedding cake is an act of creative expression to the point where it makes him a participant in the event, in the celebration, and anyone attending would assume that the cake meant he approved of the union.*

Therefore, the argument goes, denying him the "freedom" to be a bigot, denying him the "freedom" to refuse to serve a same-sex couple, becomes "compelled speech," he is "compelled" to say he supports same-sex marriage, and compelled speech violates the First Amendment.

In other words, they are claiming that not only his freedom of religion is at stake, but his freedom of speech as well.

But where does this logic end? If it's a violation of First Amendment rights to say that you cannot discriminate against others, that you can't be a bigot in your dealings with the public, where does it end? How can it be unconstitutional to say you can't discriminate against LGBTQ people but constitutional to say you can't do it in the case of blacks? or women? or Jews? or Muslims? or anyone else you happen to dislike or disapprove of?

The White House brief tries to thread that needle, claiming that this exemption for bigotry would not apply to discrimination based on race by arguing, in effect, that discrimination based on race is really, really bad - but discrimination based on being LGBTQ? Eh, not so much.

Which just proves that they are as bigoted and un-American as the baker - and every bit as much an outrage.

*Because after all, whenever you see a wedding cake, don't you immediately think about the baker's opinion of the marriage? Yeah, me neither.

32.6 - Good News: Martin Shkreli in jail

Good News: Martin Shkreli in jail

Oh, one other bit of Good News, although I might more describe this as "satisfying news."

smirking prig Martin Shkreli
Smirking prig Martin Shkreli, who became famous for buying the rights to a life-saving medication then jacking up the price 5000%, had been free on bail while awaiting sentencing on a charge of securities fraud.

On Twitter, he offered $5000 for a sample of Hillary Clinton's hair, supposedly to "match sequences" related to a claim that the Clinton Foundation is "willing to kill to protect its secrets."

US District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto was unamused by this supposed "satire" and revoked Shkreli's bail. He's in prison now.

And yeah, that is at least satisfying news.

32.5 - Good News: Medicare for All bill introduced

Good News: Medicare for All bill introduced

The other Good News is that Bernie Sanders and 15 other Senators have - I'm very tempted to say finally - rolled out a Medicare For All bill.

The reason this is Good News - despite the bill's at best faint chances of passing - is that it shows that the idea of single-payer health insurance is becoming, has become, mainstream. It has had significant support among the public for some time - most polls put the percentage supporting it somewhere in the high 50s to the mid 60s - but getting it addressed seriously in the mass media has been problematic and the institutional Democratic Party has been downright dismissive: Remember when Hillary Clinton said it was "never" going to happen?

Now it's become a serious enough issue that that we are seeing party stalwarts snipe that the proposal isn't "serious" because it doesn't present a finely detailed plan with exact financing of how to structure the program or how exactly to institute it or to nitpick at the very idea of single-payer, or, on the other hand and most significantly, issuing blah-blah statements about how they really do support single-payer "in concept" but it's just "the wrong time" - without ever indicating what the "right" time would be except for an unspecified future someday because first "we have to elect more Democrats" - all of which means they are feeling the heat.

Now personally, I don't think Medicare For All goes nearly far enough, not only because there is much Medicare doesn't cover - although admittedly Sanders' proposal is considerably more extensive in what it covers - but also because for all its merits, single-payer is still health insurance, not health care, and I want to get away from that model. What I want is a National Health Service, based on neighborhood health centers and building up through community and regional hospitals to a few national hospitals dealing with the rarest and most complicated treatments.

There's obviously much more to the idea than that and maybe I'll get into some more details at some time, but the point here is that Medicare for All is not a final answer - but it damn well is a big improvement and damn well is a step in the right direction. So even though we know it won't pass, the very fact that there is such noise about it damn well is Good News.

32.4 - Good News: Senate committee overturns abortion gag rule

Good News: Senate committee overturns abortion gag rule

Okay, we have got a few bits of Good News or at least potentially Good News to tell you about.

In what has to be regarded as something of a surprise, the Senate Appropriations Committee moved to reinstate funding for the United Nations Population Fund and to overturn the global gag rule, a longstanding provision that bars US support for international health organizations that offer or even discuss abortion services or merely advocate for the liberalization of abortion laws, even if they were to use their own, non-US money to do so.

It's possible that one reason for this development is that TheRump expanded this so-called Mexico City Policy to include not only abortion, but a wide variety of health services, including family planning, nutrition, child health, HIV/AIDS, prevention and treatment of tuberculosis, malaria, infectious diseases, neglected tropical diseases, and even to water, sanitation, and hygiene programs. Instead of $575 million in family planning funds, it would cover $8.8 billion in global health aid, so the difference is substantial and proved a bridge too far for even a couple of GOPpers on the committee.

The vote was narrow, 16-15, and it still has to get through the whole Senate which is a whole other battle, but for the moment, savor an unexpected victory, especially as this comes at a time when Texas is applying for a Medicaid waiver to allow it to deny Medicaid reimbursement to Planned Parenthood, another GOPper attempt to financially cripple the organization and block women's access to birth control as The Handmaid's Tale creeps closer to reality.

32.3 - News on voter suppression

News on voter suppression

Next up, some news on voter suppression and voter rights.

First up is Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach-where-you-came-from, author of the nation's most notorious anti-immigrant law and long a champion of preventing people from voting, who latched onto a report by New Hampshire GOPpers to claim that "thousands" of illegal voters voted in New Hampshire in the fall of 2016.

The claim was based on the fact that a New Hampshire Secretary of State report said that 6540 people in New Hampshire took advantage of same-day registration there, using an out-of-state driver's license as proof of identity - but only 1014 of those people had obtained a New Hampshire driver's license as of August 30. This was enough for Kobach-where-you-came-from to claim that as many as 5500 people voted illegally.

It took Dave Weigal of the Washington Post just one hour to debunk the claim by showing that these "illegal voters" were in fact college students voting where they go to school while using as registration ID a driver's license from the state from which they came - which is entirely legal in New Hampshire.

But that didn't keep the thoroughly bogus claim of "voter fraud" from quickly echoing through the right-wing media world, from the Washington Times to Fox to Breitbart to Drudge to the National Review and more.

Kobach-where-you-came-from, it needs to be said, is a member, indeed he's vice-chair, of TheRump's also-thoroughly-bogus commission on "elections integrity." Another member is J. Christian Adams, who also backed the claim, as did Vice-President and Commission chair Mike NotWorthaFarthing.

Kris Kobach-where-you-came-from
And the commission appears ready to double-down on this concocted lie.

Meanwhile, it was revealed on September 12 that back in February a member of the right-wing Heritage Foundation had lobbied Attorney General Jeff "Not a racist! Really!" Sessions to exclude Democrats, "mainstream Republicans," and academics from the Commission.

When Heritage Fellow Hans von Spakovsky was asked point blank if he was author, he said no, only to have the Heritage Foundation, just two hours later, say "um, actually, yes, he was."

So Spakovsky is a liar who thinks only right-wingers should be on a commission about voting rights - and is also, you guessed it, on that very commission.

This Commission is worse than bogus, worse than an utter farce. It is outright danger to democracy and must be treated as one.

As if that wasn't enough bad news on this front, on September 12 the Supreme Court ruled by the unsurprising margin of 5-4, with the usual breakdown, to block two lower court rulings that had ordered Texas to redraw some congressional and legislative districts that were found to be racially discriminatory. This is while the Court "considers Texas' appeal."

The result is that Texas almost certainly will hold elections next year in racist districts. Just the way the right-wing likes it.

32.2 - Clown Award: Nigel and Sally Rowe

Clown Award: Nigel and Sally Rowe

So it seems appropriate that this brings us to our next item, the Clown Award, given as always for meritorious stupidity.

Appropriate because one of our nominees this week is right-wing talk radio host Mark Levin, who recently came out with what may be the stupidest denial argument ever.

On his August 30 show, he listed several scientists: Aristotle, Archimedes, Galileo, Tesla, Faraday, Newton, Pasteur, Einstein, and Edison, mispronouncing Archimedes as "Archie-medes," then asked "What do they all have in common?"

His answer was that none of them ever wrote about human-caused climate change, which, he said, proves that climate change is not about science but about importing "a foreign ideology."

Then we have Kimberley Paige Barnette, a candidate for mayor in Charlotte, NC, who had a big "Vote for Me!" post on her Facebook page which listed among her qualifications "Republican," "smart," "traditional," and "white."

She was running far behind the other candidates. Happily, she stayed there, finishing last.

Next, we have Rand Paul, auditioning for the next remake of Stephen King's "It," proposing that we pay for relief for victims of Harvey and Irma by making equivalent cuts in foreign aid, because after all why shouldn't we let those damn foreigners suffer.

Notably, we have Hillary Clinton, proving yet again that she still doesn't get it. In her new book, she again blames pretty much everybody except herself for losing to the most unpopular presidential candidate ever. Not only the expected targets like sexism and Bernie Sanders - I mean, apparently just that he ran in primaries against her was in and of itself just such a mean, horrible, destructive thing to do - but pretty much everyone and everything within reach.

In fact, she even blames what she calls her biggest gaffe - the bit about "putting coal mines out of business" - on Barack Obama, who she also blames for getting her to "go easy" on Sanders - as if the accusations and innuendos of racism and sexism were "going easy."

She even blamed the energized anti-Trump women-lead marches and demonstrations, asking why weren't they there for her, sniffle.

Nigel Rowe
The only reason she isn't the Clown - well, two reasons, because yes there was someone worse, but this is one - is that the institutional Democratic Party seems at long last to have had enough of her, with even people like Chuck Schumer, Elizabeth Warren, and Joe Biden criticizing her and there appears to be a general feeling, including among donors, that she should just go away. Here's hoping she will take the hint.

Which leaves this week's winners of the Big Red Nose and they are Nigel and Sally Rowe (I only have a picture of Nigel), the Bible-thumping Christian parents of a six-year-old boy attending an unnamed Church of England primary school near Portsmouth, England who are threatening to sue the school because it allowed a boy in their son's class to wear a dress.

They intend to argue that the school has acted without due regard to pupils and not respected their rights to bring up their children according to their biblical beliefs.

In other words, they are saying the school was obligated to insure that every other parent made sure that their own children acted in that school according to the Rowes' beliefs, and those parents' own religious (or lack of religious) beliefs be damned. Only the Rowes' beliefs mattered. And it's hard to imagine anything more transparently clownish than that.

And yet there is more. To top it off, they said it was "simply not the case" that they were demonstrating prejudice against transgender people - even as Nigel Rowe went on BBC to insist that boys are boys and girls are girls and the "way we are" is "within our DNA" and all this transgender nonsense is "a political agenda."

Nigel and Sally Rowe. Yeah. Clowns.

32.1 - Harvey, Irma, and global warming

Harvey, Irma, and global warming

The big news of late, at least in the US, has been the twin hits of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The economic cost of the devastation is estimated to exceed $200 billion. Some 106 were killed in the US plus at least 44 more dead in Caribbean, which was devastated particularly by Irma.

There are multiple ways to assist the victims, both in the US and the Caribbean and I urge you to explore them.

But I also have to mention the gorilla in room, which actually did get mentioned sometimes in the coverage of the storms, but which needs to be slammed home: anthropogenic global warming - or climate change, call it what you will, they mean the same thing.

Now, this does need to be noted at the top: You can't say that Harvey or Irma were caused by global warming in the sense that they would not have happened in the absence of global warming. We can't say that. Hurricanes are caused by weather conditions.

Hurricane Harvey
But here's the point: Hurricanes draw their strength from warm waters. So as the climate warms, as the oceans warm, there is more energy for storms to draw on.

So what we can say is that climate change makes storms like Harvey and Irma more likely. That is, we can't say that there will be more hurricanes - that actually is regarded as one of the weaker predictions of climate change - but we can say that the hurricanes we see are more likely to be stronger and more destructive: Remember that  Irma was the strongest hurricane ever recorded in the open Atlantic (that is, outside the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico).

Which leads directly to the next point: Despite the claims of the nanny-nanny naysayers to the contrary, we can say it is possible to attribute some extreme weather events to climate change.

Not necessarily individual storms, but extreme weather patterns - such as drought, heat waves, and floods - can in at least some cases can be attributed directly to climate change.

That's one of several significant findings in a climate change report by the staff of 13 federal agencies, which found that average temperatures in the United States have risen rapidly and drastically since 1980, that recent decades have been the warmest of the past 1500 years, and Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now.

The authors note that thousands of studies, conducted by tens of thousands of scientists, have documented climate changes on land and in the air that have been confirmed by many lines of evidence which together demonstrate that human activities are the primarily cause.

And people know it. Not just around the world, where we've come to expect that people are aware of the dangers and the need for action, but even in the US.

According to the latest survey from Morning Consult/Politico, two-thirds of registered voters are concerned about climate change, with 41 percent "very concerned" and another 26 percent "somewhat concerned."

But this is one really got me and shows how far perceptions have changed. A few months ago, the New York Times reported a survey finding that 69 percent of Americans support limiting global-warming-creating carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired power plants. But more than that, more than that, a majority of adults in every single congressional district in the country agreed. Even in deep coal country in places like Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Kentucky, a majority said yes, limit the emissions.

But still the nanny-nanny naysayers and their corporate backers drive Congress and the White House. That report from those 13 agencies was for the next National Climate Assessment, due in 2018. The draft was to be submitted on August 18. On August 20, TheRump disbanded the federal advisory panel overseeing the report.

This supposedly will not affect the current assessment, the one due next year, but it does mean that absent future action, it will be the last one as the determination of the nanny-nanny naysayers in and out of government to ignore reality grows even more determined and strident.

And our time is running out.

Link for the Pope Francis quote:

What's Left #32

What's Left
for the week of September 15-21, 2017

This week:

Harvey, Irma, and global warming

Clown Award: Nigel and Sally Rowe

News on voter suppression

Good News: Senate committee overturns abortion gag rule

Good News: Medicare for All bill introduced

Good News: Martin Shkreli in jail

Outrages of the Week

Saturday, August 12, 2017

31.3 - Noting August 6 and 9: the start of the nuclear weapons age

Noting August 6 and 9: the start of the nuclear weapons age

I'm going to spend the rest of the show on something I do every couple of years around this time, in fact it is largely based on something I did two years ago. This time out it carries extra resonance and we daily have the spectacle of two egomaniacal, sociopathic, man-babies spluttering threats at each other across the Pacific Ocean like it was a 4th grade schoolyard. It is the anniversary - the 72nd anniversary, to be exact - of the bombings of Hiroshima on August 6 and Nagasaki on August 9 and the birth of the age of nuclear weapons.

Leo Szilard
Albert Einstein
Most people date the start of the American nuclear arms effort to a famous 1939 letter composed by physicist Dr. Leo Szilard but sent to President Roosevelt over the signature of Albert Einstein because it was thought his name would be more impressive to Roosevelt and his advisors).

The letter noted the possibility of developing an atomic bomb. By the time of Pearl Harbor, the US already had a small nuclear bomb project going that had made real progress.

The political argument given for building the atomic bomb, for investing the enormous amounts of time, money, resources, and scientific talent in what became known at the Manhattan Project, was that some intelligence reports said that Nazi Germany may have been working on one. If so, we had to have one and we had to have it first. Although it must in fairness be noted that it may not have been known at the time, the fact is that although the Germans were indeed doing some experiments in that direction, they were going about it in an extremely inefficient way and it would've taken them decades to develop a bomb - if it was possible at all.

Some of late have tried to resuscitate that threat of "the Nazi bomb" by claiming the Germans were "closer than we knew." The argument, however, is based on their progress in enriching uranium and relies on the supposition that in the 1940s the German scientists working on the project could have suddenly changed gears and adopted a sharply different approach to fashioning a bomb - that is, do exactly what they had decided against doing years before. (Which would also entail admitting to their superiors that they had wasted a whole lot of time and money on a dead end.) At least one writer added the argument of a commando raid that destroyed an enrichment facility in occupied Norway, claiming that set back the German's bomb project significantly. That undoubtedly slowed production, but it didn't affect the problems with the design process itself. That is, the "closer than we knew" assertion in based on a series of "what ifs," which makes for interesting speculation but not a persuasive argument.

But no matter what you think on that point, what's important here is that it was the claimed threat from Germany that supposedly provided the logic, the argument, the purpose of the Manhattan Project. And yet....

By late 1944 US intelligence knew that the German nuclear experiments had failed. The Manhattan Project didn't even slow down.

Trinity test
In fact, Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945 - 10 weeks before the first successful test explosion of an atomic bomb. (Code-named Trinity, it took place at Alamogordo Testing Range, 230 miles south of Los Alamos, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945.) With the surrender of Germany, the entire founding logic of the Manhattan Project evaporated, vanished, dissolved. But the project by then had too much momentum - it had become its own purpose, its own logic. So instead of stopping or even slowing down, the project accelerated, in part because some on the staff were afraid the war would end before they got the bomb built. We simply switched myths: from the myth of Nazi atomic bombs to the myth of the fanatical Japanese. The weapon that was supposedly designed for defense against Germany now "had" to be used on Japan.

And here is what's probably the most important myth of all, because it provided the logical (if you can call it that) underpinnings for actually carrying out the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, for actually vaporizing tens of thousands of human beings in the flash of an instant and opening the door of the atomic age, a myth that gets replayed, reproduced, re-pronounced, re-proclaimed every time Hiroshima and Nagasaki are mentioned, a myth that people continue to believe today, as polls show that a clear majority of Americans approve of the bombings: the myth that the Japanese were so fanatical that the only possible alternative to the devastation of those cities was a bloody land invasion of Japan.

It's just not true. It's more than a myth, worse than a myth, it's a damned lie. A damned lie that is now more than 70 years old.

To begin with, the yearly claims, sure to be heard again this week, that such an invasion would've cost 250,000 or 500,000 or 1,000,000 American lives (the numbers vary unpredictably) is utter nonsense. Even President Truman originally cited an estimate of 250,000 casualties (not deaths) - although in later years he doubled it, then doubled it again, each time for no discernible reason other than self-justification. More to the point, the War Planning Committee of the Joint Chiefs of Staff never expected more than 40,000 American deaths, and thought they might've been as low as 20,000 because they thought it a fair likelihood that Japan would surrender during the first part of such a campaign.

Now, 20,000 is a lot of people - then again, it's about 1/7 to 1/10 of the death which we inflicted on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Which in turn raises the more important question of whether such an invasion was necessary at all.

It wasn't.

By the spring of 1945 Japan was already a defeated nation. It no longer had any navy to speak of, its air force had been decimated, its army driven back to its own shores. It was incapable of mounting any offensive action or even of defending itself against US air raids. Critical materials and even food were in short supply.

The situation was so bad that even attempts to justify the bombings wind up confirming Japan's desperate condition: Several years ago I had an email debate with a man who tried to project the classic image of a well-defended Japan bristling with military forces. At one point, trying to show the determination of the Japanese to defend the homeland no matter what the cost, he said "Japan pulled some 500 loaded ships out of China and not one of them made it back to Japan," because of attacks by high-altitude bombers. In response, I noted that he had thereby agreed, if unintentionally, that Japan's air force was so thoroughly destroyed that it couldn't even provide air cover to get its own retreating troops back safely.

In fact, the situation was so bad that before - before - the bombing of Hiroshima, Japan had already made secret overtures to the United States through Sweden and the Soviet Union stating that it was ready to surrender. All of this was known to the US military, all of this was known to Truman, who rejected the offer because it wasn't unconditional: Hirohito would've kept his throne as Emperor.

What was also known to Truman was the USSR's intent to declare war on Japan and its likely impact: In his journal about his meetings with Stalin at the Potsdam conference, Truman wrote on July 17, 1945, "He'll be in Japan War on August 15. Fini Japs when that comes about." (Sidebar: Truman stalled at the beginning of the conference because he wanted to know that the Trinity test, which occurred the day before he wrote that, had been a success before he dealt with Stalin.)

The atomic bombings were simply unnecessary. But we refused to accept the idea, refused even to accept surrender - because by then peace was not enough, even victory was not enough: It had to be utter, smashing, devastating, total victory.

So it was that early on the morning of August 6th, 1945, the B-29 Superfortress bomber nicknamed "Enola Gay" took off from Tinian Island in the Pacific, headed for Hiroshima, a city in Japan of about 250,000 people. It carried a single bomb, code-named "Little Boy." At 8:15 AM local time, Little Boy was dropped.

I want to pause for a moment to give you a sense of the kind of power we're talking about here. The bomb contained 64 kilograms - about 141 pounds - of highly-enriched, fissionable uranium. Of that amount, only about .7 kilogram, or about 1.5 pounds, actually fissioned - that is, the atoms split - and only about 600 milligrams was actually converted into energy. That 600 milligrams equals six-tenths of a gram, or a little more than 1/50 ounce.

"Little Boy"
The energy released by that 1/50 of an ounce had the explosive force of 14,000 tons of dynamite. It was enough to devastate Hiroshima. Around 70,000 people died instantly; some of them were literally vaporized. Another 20,000 died shortly thereafter, some thousands more by 1950, due to injuries, radiation poisoning, and cancer.

Just three days later, another nuclear bomb, code-named "Fat Man," did the same to Nagasaki, with tens of thousands more dead, thousands more condemned to die of injuries, radiation poisoning, and cancer, and another city destroyed.

So we destroyed Hiroshima and then we destroyed Nagasaki when Japan didn't surrender fast enough.

"Fat Man"
We destroyed them even though many US officials and top military officers, including such as Joint Chiefs of Staff Chair Adm. William Leahy as well as Gens. Dwight Eisenhower, "Hap" Arnold, and Douglas MacArthur, declared it unnecessary. That judgment was proved correct by US analysts sent to Japan in 1946 who concluded that nation would've surrendered before November 1, 1945 "even if atomic bombs hadn't been dropped, Russia hadn't entered the war, and no invasion was planned."

Bombing Hiroshima was unnecessary and the US government and military knew it was unnecessary. It was a crime, a war crime, one that we compounded, more than doubled, by bombing Nagasaki before the impact of the first bomb had time to settle in. The Nagasaki bomb was made ready in a day-and-night effort and the city wasn't even the primary target. Kokura was. In fact, Nagasaki was not on the original list of the top three targets for the second bomb and wound up being devastated only because Kokura had too much cloud cover that day for a clean bomb run.

The second bombing was originally scheduled for August 20 but was moved up to August 11 when the fissionable material became available sooner than expected. It was then pushed forward to August 9 by a day-and-night effort in order to get the next attack in ahead of some days of bad weather predicted for Japan. General Leslie Groves, director of the Manhattan Project, claimed that speed was the only consideration:
Admiral Purnell and I had often discussed the importance of having the second blow follow the first one quickly so that the Japanese would not have time to recover their balance.
The statement is oddly forced: If a quick second blow was the intent, why not hold off on the first  one until you had a second one in hand? But take Groves at his word. It is then legitimate to ask if the purpose was to stun the Japanese into instant surrender - or to get the second bombing in before it had a chance to.

There is good reason to think the latter. Truman's note about the impact of the expected entry of the Soviet Union into the war against Japan was not enthusiasm; it was a reflection of concern about Soviet influence in the post-war world and how we could try to prevent that.

James Byrnes (and Truman)
Before the bombings, some officials urged that we stage a "demonstration" blast on a deserted island or in an uninhabited area of Japan to show the Japanese the power of the weapon we had and to give them a chance to surrender before we actually used it. (Among those pushing such an idea was Leo Szilard, who, perhaps having second thoughts about his role in all this, pleaded with Secretary of State James Byrnes not to use the bomb on people and circulated a petition to Truman to rule out its use because it would open the "door to an era of devastation of an unimaginable scale.")

The idea of a "demonstration" blast was supposedly shelved. But, in fact, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were demonstration blasts. They were intended to show the awesome power we held in our arsenal - only the target of the demonstration wasn't Japan. It was the Soviet Union.

Bernard Baruch
US officials, including Byrnes, presidential advisor Bernard Baruch, and some top military leaders had urged the use of atomic weapons on Japan as a means of warning the Soviet Union not to challenge American plans for a postwar world dominated by US interests, to, in Byrnes' words, allow the US "to dictate our own terms [with the USSR] at the end of the war" and "make Russia more manageable in Europe" by showing both our power and our willingness to use it.

Which means, ultimately, that hundreds of thousands of Japanese were destroyed, disintegrated, as sacrificial lambs at the start of a decades-long campaign to "contain" the Soviets if not to bully them into submission. From Nazi bomb scientists through wild-eyed Japanese fanatics to intractable Soviet deceivers, the mythmakers had constructed an image of the United States as appointed to protect and shape the world, with the atomic bomb, as Truman put it, the weapon given us by God that we were to use "for His purposes and His ends." The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were not the last shots of World War II, they were the first shots of the Cold War, and the Japanese the first of its many victims.

On another note, some, notably Ward Wilson of Rethinking Nuclear Weapons, have claimed that the atomic bombings had nothing to do with Japan's surrender, that in fact it was, as one writer put it, Stalin, not Truman, who ended the war. The argument is largely based on a time frame: Despite the dire situation, the Japanese High Command had never considered unconditional surrender until the morning of August 9, before Nagasaki was struck and nearly three full days since Hiroshima but just hours after the Soviets declared war by attacking Manchukuo, a Japanese puppet state on the mainland of Asia.

Certainly Russia's entry into the war had a large impact; even if it had taken no direct military action at all it would still undermine Japan's attempts at a negotiated settlement because the Soviets were no longer a go-between. However, the argument that the nuclear attacks were inconsequential in Japan's surrender is belied by several facts: At that very August 9 meeting being cited, the Soviet declaration and the bombing of Hiroshima were presented by the "peace" faction in the government as twin reasons why the war could not continue; a few hours later it was clear that the claim by the "war" faction that nuclear weapons are so complicated that the US could not have more than one was wrong; and perhaps most importantly, when Japan did surrender on August 15, in his address to the nation Hirohito specifically referenced the use of "a new and most cruel bomb" as a cause for surrender.

It is obviously historically wrong to say the Soviet declaration of war was a sideshow of little importance in ending the war, but to say that it was what made all the difference is to replace one myth with another. At the same time, it's worth noting that to the extent the argument has weight, to that same extent the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki become even greater crimes.

One final bitter note:The ultimate terms of surrender for Japan were strikingly similar those offered by Japan before the bombing of Hiroshima, including allowing Hirohito to keep his position role as Emperor - marking the last several weeks of World War II were a complete and utter waste of time, energy, resources, and most importantly, life.

That, too, is part of the world the Manhattan Project created.

Friday, August 11, 2017

31.2 - Outrage of the Week: threats to the rights of assembly and free press

Outrage of the Week: threats to the rights of assembly and free press

The Good News, unhappily, leads directly to the Outrage of the Week.

Our First Amendment rights, our rights to protest, are under attack. As protests increased and continued, so too did the efforts to shut them down entirely or at least scare people off from taking part.

This spring's state legislative sessions have seen at least 30 bills introduced across 20 states either to limit the right of public protest, to increase punishments for civil disobedience, or both, doing so by measures such as, for example, banning wearing of masks, by declaring some areas "critical infrastructure" forever off-limits to protest, or by changing a charge of blocking a highway from a misdemeanor to a felony. Bills in two states - South Dakota and Tennessee - even proposed to protect drivers who run over protesters blocking streets.

A particular danger lies in use of mass arrests and charges without probable cause.

Back on October 1, 2011, during the Occupy protests, 700 people were peacefully marching across the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. Police had closed the bridge to vehicular traffic and began walking in the roadway. Protesters, reasonably assuming the police were trying to have the march get over the bridge as quickly and efficiently as possible, followed them into the street - only to have the police stop the march, trap the group from behind, and arrest all 700.

Police claim they told the marchers to stay out of the roadway but there is no way anyone other than those at the very front of the crowd could even have heard them; even assuming police did make such an announcement, those further back could not possibly have known about it. No matter - mass arrest, all guilty of "blocking traffic" - even though there was, again, no traffic to block.

A suit arose, Garcia v. Bloomberg. The Supreme Court recently refused to hear the protestors' appeal of their loss at the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. By doing so, the courts have legitimized mass arrests without proper warning and without giving people an opportunity to disperse.

It gets worse:

On January 20, Inauguration Day, police in Washington, DC followed, by their own account, a group of about a couple hundred protesters for about one-half hour. During that time, there were a few people in the group who broke windows. Instead of going in and arresting the people they had probable cause to arrest (because they had observed those people committing a crime), the police waited and then trapped 200 people with police netting, sweeping up demonstrators, journalists covering the event, and even some passers-by, anyone who happened to be there at that moment. Again, a mass arrest without warning, without an opportunity to disperse, and without probable cause to believe most of those arrested had committed any crime.

But those people - all 214 of them - were charged with a crime: felony rioting, which carries a penalty of up to 10 years in prison. In April, additional charges of property destruction, inciting or urging to riot, and conspiracy to riot, with penalties of up to 75 years in prison, were added.

While some of those arrested have cut plea bargains, many of the cases are still pending, including against at least one of the journalists - who, remember were there doing their job as reporters.

But here is the point: To indict and try someone, it takes, or at least is supposed to take, probable cause directed to that individual, not some unnamed someone. If these arrests are allowed to stand, if this is accepted by the courts, it means that if you are are at a demonstration, no matter how peaceful and legal, and someone in that group commits some illegal act - breaks a window, say - you and everyone else there could be charged with that crime or, even more likely, conspiracy to commit that crime with no need on the part of police or prosecutors to be able to say you did anything wrongful at all. Guilt - criminal guilt - by association in the purest form, a tool to suppress public protest at its most blatant..

The potential chilling effect on the right to protest is hard to overstate. The potential chilling effect on the right of a free press to cover such protests, when journalists may be held to be participants simply by being present, may be less immediately obvious but just as serious.

Because there is more: On July 25, a group of about 95 disabled people disrupted the vote in the Senate on the motion to proceed to debate about a health insurance bill - the debate that came to nothing - by shouting "Kill the Bill, Don't kill us" and "Shame!"

Capitol police dragged them from the gallery into the hall - the Senate chambers being a First-Amendment-free zone - and then blocked the media from covering the arrests, demanding there be no photographs and no videos and in fact ordering reporters present to delete those they had taken. Why? Because, get this now, "It's a crime scene." And if that makes you go "So what." it should.

In the eyes of the Capitol police, they have the power to say "You will not cover this protest. You will make no record of the protesters. You will make no record of their arrest." Which bluntly is one short step away from being able to say "This event did not happen."

Meanwhile, Jeff "I'm not a racist, really, really!" Sessions darkly intones about press subpoenas and how press freedom "is not unlimited."

No one ever said it was, of course, although it is also true that Thomas Jefferson said - and this is a real quote, not one of those fake ones that keep circulating - "were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."

The truth is, we are much more threatened by the power of the government to restrict and conceal than we are by the power of protesters and the press to resist and reveal. And as those threats to our rights increase, so does the outrage.

31.1 - Good News: protest and resistance continue

Good News: protest and resistance continue

There was a lot of concern in the wake of the enormous protests related to the Women's March in January, which brought by conservative estimate 4 million people into the streets, that the resistance would sort of peter out. I even recall counseling folks that it was unwise and in fact unrealistic to expect that level of intensity to continue unabated, that what we should aim for instead is a constant undercurrent of opposition, the sort of resistance that doesn't seek to flood the streets on a weekly basis but still is constantly flowing - the sort, that is, that is geared to on-going, long-term resistance.

Apparently we needn't have worried. According to an on-going series in the Washington Post based on data from the Crowd Counting Consortium, there have been protests every single month in numerous places around the country, with totals of tens of thousands to well over 100,000 turning out in public protests in each of those months.

And June was the biggest yet. The Post counted 818 protests, demonstrations, strikes, marches, sit-ins, and rallies in the US in June, with at least one in every state and the District of Columbia, involving somewhere between 950,000 and 1.2 million people.

And as the Post notes and as I can verify from personal experience, mainstream media often neglect to report nonviolent actions, especially small ones, so it's quite probable the list of actions isn't complete. Add the fact that in some cases no one reports the size of the crowd, and the figure of about a million protesting is clearly an undercount.

Now, it's true that the level of protest has to a fair extent been driven by the abnormally outrageous destructive policies of the administration of Donald TheRump, but he is merely a focus - or, to put it another way, he is the spark, but he is not the fire. As has been well-noted by one writer,
resistance isn't something invented November 9. America's history bristles with resistance. Every great reform was begun by resisters to the established order. Resistance has been a bit more prevalent recently than during some other periods. Occupy, Black Lives Matter, the fight for LGBTQ equality and dignity, the reproductive rights struggle, climate hawks, and the rising up of indigenous people in Canada, the US, and Mexico against the relentless plunder of their land all have resisters at work who didn't start yesterday.
Again, there is no good reason to expect that level of protest seen in June to be maintained indefinitely - but that constant undercurrent, that constant flow of tens of thousands engaging in local actions every month, that can be maintained and it has been maintained.

And that is most definitely Good News.

What's Left #31

What's Left
for the week of August 11 - 17, 2017

This week:

Good News: protest and resistance continue

Outrage of the Week: threats to the rights of assembly and free press

Noting August 6 and 9: the start of the nuclear weapons age
(See that post for a full list of sources)

Saturday, August 05, 2017

30.12 - Footnote: not enough immigrants

Footnote: not enough immigrants

After all that, a footnote.

On July 17 the Department for the Protection of the Fatherland announced that it will allow for a one-time increase of up to 15,000 H-2B nonimmigrant visas through the end of the 2017 fiscal year.

The reason is that after consulting with the Secretary of Labor, DHS Secretary John Kelly determined that there were "not enough U.S. workers who are willing, qualified, and able" to fill temporary and low-wage, non-agricultural jobs, including in landscaping, construction, and hospitality "to satisfy the needs of some American businesses."

In other words, it turns out that we don't have enough of the very sort of immigrants willing to do the jobs we won't that the dreamers of white sheets want to get rid of.

And irony scores another victory.

30.11 - Outrage of the Week: "Back to 1900"

Outrage of the Week: "Back to 1900"

This is our other regular feature and it is the Outrage of the Week.

Back in 1995, George Will, who isn't an intellectual but plays one on TV on behalf of the mouth-breathers of the right wing, wrote in his syndicated column that, quoting,
"'Back to 1900' is a serviceable summation of the conservatives' goal."
It appears that the the White House of Donald TheRump is taking that almost literally with its increasingly-obvious intent to roll back the social progress of decades. on a variety of fronts, trying to recreate a time that exists only in their fantasies.

There was, for one obvious example, the occasion the morning of July 26 when His High Orangeness tweeted that
After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.
Okay, to start off with, the part about consultation is a blatant lie. Top military brass were blindsided by the announcement. They had no idea this was coming.

In fact, they are sufficiently against it or at least resistant to it that Gen. Joseph Dunford, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, issued a note Thursday to all service chiefs, commanders, and enlisted military leaders saying that US policy on transgender individuals in the military "has not - and will not - change" until Secretary of War Mattis receives TheRump's policy direction and Mattis determines how to implement it.

And "disruption that transgender in the military would entail?" Is he really that disconnected from the real world, is he really that much wrapped up in his own fantasies that he doesn't even know that there are already transgender members of the military?

The number is unknown but a RAND study suggested there could be over 6000 and a study at UCLA estimated there are nearly 9000 on active duty with 6000 more in the guard and reserve.

The issue supposedly arose in the House a few weeks ago. An amendment was introduced to a defense authorization bill would ban funding for gender reassignment surgeries and treatments for transgender active-duty personnel. The GOPper leadership was shocked when a group of 24 mostly moderate Republicans teamed up with 190 Democrats to kill the effort.

So they turned to Trump for help getting this bill through. He didn't hesitate, in fact, he went further than they were looking for.

But claim the issue was about "cost" is belied first by the reality that the cost involved is estimated to be about $1.2 million per year, an amount the government could save if His High Orangeness skipped just one golf weekend.

And belied, more importantly, by comments on issue. GOPper Trent Franks, for one, said
It's not so much the transgender surgery issue as much as we continue to let the defense bill be the mule for all of these social experiments that the left wants to try to [foist] on government
It seems to me that if someone wants to come to the military, potentially risk their life to save the country, that they should probably decide whether they're a man or woman before they do that.
It's not about money or "social experiments." It's about fear and hatred of transgender folks.

But of course it's not only transgender folks on who the clock is to be turned back. The same day as the infamous tweet, the Department of Injustice submitted a brief in a federal lawsuit claiming that a major piece of civil rights legislation banning discrimination in employment based on sex doesn't protect homosexuals from workplace discrimination.

The law is Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and besides sex, it bans discrimination based on race, color, national origin, or religion. The case is that of Zarda v. Altitude Express. The case started in 2010 when Donald Zarda sued his former employer, claiming he had been fired for being gay.

When the case got to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, the court invited outside parties to weigh in. Note well because it's important, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the largely autonomous federal agency that is charged with enforcing anti-discrimination laws, had already filed a brief in support of Zarda and has held that position for several years, arguing that anti-gay discrimination is based on sex stereotyping, and therefore is discrimination on the basis of sex.

The DOJ of Jeff "I'm not a bigot, really I'm not" sessions didn't care. Despite not being a party to the case, despite the fact that the EEOC had already spoken, and despite the fact that the department doesn't normally weigh in on a case between private parties as this one is, they came storming in to say never mind what the EEOC says, they don't represent the government (even though that's their job). No, listen to us! And we say that Title VII only applies to cases where men and women are treated differently - which is the narrowest possible reading of the law - so it does not cover sexual orientation so Donald Zarda and every other gay or lesbian worker in the whole country is just screwed.

Because like George Will said, 1900.

The DOJ argued that the issue that Title VII does not cover sexual orientation has been "settled for decades" and there is an "overwhelming judicial consensus" apparently based on two cases from the 2000s and some others that were from before Lawrence v. Texas (which struck down state laws against sodomy in 2003) and Obergefell v. Hodges (which legalized same-sex marriage in 2015). In other words, cases from the good old days. It also ignored the fact that in April, the 7th Circuit ruled in favor of a lesbian who made the same claim of protection under Title VII.

Omar Gonzalez-Pagan, a staff attorney at Lambda Legal, said "There is no role for the DOJ to play" in the Zarda case and the Injustice Department was "going out of its way to harm LGBT people."

But LGBTQ people, of course are not the only ones standing between the hate-mongers and their dream of a purified white nation. There are also all those icky brown people, all those "illegal" human beings, those people whose existence is against the law.

I noted just two or three weeks ago that ICE agents, according to a directive from the head of its enforcement unit, are told to take action against any undocumented immigrant they encounter while on duty. Not that they "may" take action, which still allows for at least some degree of discretion, but that they "will" do so.

ICE is taking that to heart to the point where, as Splinter News put it, "ICE is just arresting everyone," a practice that prompted one ICE agent turned whistleblower to say "The plan is to take them back into custody, and then figure it out. We’re doing it because we can."

Here's an example: ICE recently announced that its officers arrested 650 people, including 38 minors, in a four-day operation in late July. But it turned out that over 450 of the people arrested - over 70% - weren't even the ones ICE was looking for in the first place. They just happened to be in the vicinity when the ICE-y cops showed up.

The goal here is simple: Label all undocumented immigrants as "animals," as "violent," as "criminals" (even though they commit crimes at a lower rate than native-born citizens), claim they all "go on welfare" (for which they are not eligible and never have been), and otherwise dehumanize them in any way you can and then you don't have to care who you deport as long as you can eject "foreigners," eject "them," eject "the other," eject the "not us," eject the "not white."

But then it develops that "the other" has an even wider application.

Right now, the US grants about 1 million green cards per year; a green card marks a grant of permanent legal residence in the United States. The number of green cards issued in a year is the measure of legal immigration. Over the past half century US immigration laws have permitted a growing number of immigrants to come to the country to work or join relatives already living here legally.

One August 2, TheRump endorsed a new Senate bill intended to cut that legal immigration in half.

Not only that, the bill also proposes to completely end a visa diversity lottery that has awarded 50,000 green cards a year - out of 14 million applications - which go mostly to areas in the world that traditionally do not have as many immigrants to the United States, such as, I would say significantly, Africa. And the bill caps refugee admissions at the heartless level of 50,000 per year.

Under the bill, a new immigration system would award points to green card applicants based on such factors as English ability, education levels, and job skills. Note that while a rudimentary command of English is needed to become a citizen, it has never been a requirement for a green card and this "new system" would favor English speakers over others, trying to create a de facto version of what the US has never had: an official language.

It also favors more educated applicants and those with specialized skills, leading to the ultimate point as noted by Kevin Appleby, the senior director of international migration policy for the Center for Migration Studies. He called the bill "part of a broader strategy by this administration to rid the country of low-skilled immigrants they don't favor in favor of immigrants in their image."

And what is that image? Here's a way you can tell:

- The anti-immigrant hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform said "it looks like the perfect bill."
- White nationalist William Johnson called it "a viable first step."
- Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer, president of the white nationalist National Policy Institute, said the bill "sounds awesome."

Know them by the company they keep.

Because when Sen. Tom Cotton, one of the bill's sponsors, said that while immigrant rights groups might view the current system as a "symbol of America's virtue and generosity," he sees it "as a symbol we're not committed to working-class Americans," I for one am damn sure that the "working-class American" he was envisioning was not named Jesus or Laticia.

Transgender people, gays and lesbians, undocumented immigrants, documented immigrants, all on the political chopping block for being "other," for being "not us," for being insufficiently - using the word here in a social rather than a literal sense - for being insufficiently white.

If rights must be denied, if families must be ripped apart, if dreams must be crushed, then in the minds of those harshly, cruelly, pursuing a nostalgia for a whiteness that never truly was and a national sense of commonality that existed only because of the oppression of other voices, so be it and you, back into the closet; you, back where you came from or at least back into the shadows; and you, you keep out.

It is a denial of who we are, a denial of who we have become, a denial of what we can be, a denial of what could in the best possible sense of the term be considered American. It is small, it is bigoted, it is a project of timorous, fearful people trembling in the face of the future, it is a project not bounded, not defined, by these examples but is illustrated by them and were it not driven by powerful people who fear the loss of their privilege, it would be an occasion for sorrow and pity.

But as it is driven by powerful people with positions and privileges to protect, it is a source not of pity but of outrage.

30.10 - Clown Award: Lucien Wintrich

Clown Award: Lucien Wintrich

Now for one of our regular features, this is the Clown Award, given as always for meritorious stupidity.

This week, we had someone who would have been a shoo-in except for coming up against one of my rules for the award.

So our runner-up and I think soon to be retired as unfair competition to other aspirants, our runner up is Donald TheRump.

In talking about the issue of pre-existing conditions and health insurance during an interview with the New York Times, he said, quoting,
You’re 21 years old, you start working and you’re paying $12 a year for insurance.
Yep, $12 a year. That's what the man said.

Now, in fairness, in another interview, this one with the Economist, he set the figure at the princely sum of $15 a month, or $180 a year. And ultimately, it turns out that this is all because TheRump doesn't know the difference between health insurance and life insurance. Which really isn't any better.

But I have a rule: You can't be a clown two weeks in a row. So we have to move on.

Fortunately, we have a worthy candidate. So this week the winner of the Big Red Nose is Lucian Wintrich, White House correspondent for the right-wing conspiracy blog The Gateway Pundit.

Lucien Wintrich
He took offense at a picture of three people giving the finger to Mt. Rushmore, fuming that
"They break into our country, steal resources, and then do this. And libs wonder why we are pushing for immigration controls."
Wintrich was apparently too blinded by the sight of brown skin to notice that the three are Native Americans, who, we can safely assume, did not need to "break in" to the US and just might have some legitimate complaints to be directed at the monument.

But what really secured the award was when he responded to a Wonkette headline "Stupidest White House Correspondent On Internet Tells Native Americans To Go Back To Mexico" by saying - and I swear this is a quote - "And they should."

That is a level of stupid that is painful to witness.

Lucian Wintrich, just 29 and already more accomplished at many older than he at being a clown.

30.9 - For the Record: federal support for fossil fuels

For the Record: federal support for fossil fuels

For the Record: A new report released July 5, the result of a cooperative research effort by Oil Change International, Friends of the Earth, the Sierra Club, and the World Wildlife Fund's European Policy Office, shows that the US government provided about $6 billion annually in financial support to the oil, gas, and coal industries between 2013 and 2015 - during the term, let it be noted, of the Amazing Mr. O.

That's over four times the amount that went to clean energy, which received just $1.3 billion.

30.8 - For the Record: biased media

For the Record: biased media

For the Record: a perfect example of how bad our media really is and how we are uninformed, malinformed, and misinformed.

On January 24, US News + World Report ran an article about the mass arrest of protesters at TheRumps' inauguration. The headline was, quoting,
"Inauguration Mass Arrest of Protesters, Journalists a Throwback With a Familiar Face, Attorneys Say"
with the subhead of
"The city’s interim police chief was found responsible in the past for violating protesters' rights, costing the city millions."
Even though the article was about the potential illegality of mass arrests without probable cause, it was illustrated with a picture of someone dressed in black throwing a trashcan through the window of a Starbucks. What that had to do with the story other than to prejudice readers against the arrested protesters was unclear.

On June 21, US News + World Report ran an article about a suit alleging serious police misconduct in dealing with those same wrongfully-arrested protesters. It was headlined
"Lawsuit: Police Laughed While Rectally Probing Inauguration Mass-Arrest Group, Didn't Change Gloves."
And it was illustrated with that same image of a trash can through a window. Again, how that was connected to the substance of the story went unexplained.
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