Sunday, January 21, 2018

Troubleshooting guide

Susan Grigsby, writing for Daily Kos, laments out Constitution doesn’t have an appendix with a troubleshooting guide. Many instruction manuals have a place to look when things don’t work as intended. But we don’t have one for our democracy. What should we do when Congress refuses to do the checks and balances on the Executive? What steps to take when Congress refuses to do its job (that financial stuff, which this shutdown is all about, should have been handled by October 1st with an actual budget). What’s the remedy when extreme wealth creates historic levels of inequality and control of the media? What steps should we take when perjury charges should be brought against Cabinet secretaries and aren’t? What’s the plan when gerrymandering is so bad the vote can’t be the remedy? Sure wish we had that troubleshooting guide. Or a reset button.

Strong and virile and uninhibited

Mention the name Touko Laaksonen and you’ll get a lot of blank looks. Mention Tom of Finland and the eyes of gay men (of a certain age) will light up. My second movie of the weekend was a the bio-pic Tom of Finland.

I went to Cinema Detroit to see it. Normally, when I go for a matinee I walk directly to the box office and have a wide choice of seats. Not this time. There was a line at the box office. And most seats in the 90 seat theater were taken. All but a handful were gay men. And I didn’t see any youngsters learning about gay history.

The movie starts with Touko as a Lieutenant in the Finnish Army in WWII. He learns which other men in his outfit are also gay – and that includes his commanding officer. After the war, Touko still has a hard time because gays are frequently assaulted and that includes by the police. Touko has artistic talent and gets a job in and advertising company.

But it is the art he draws for himself and a small circle of friends that helps him get through daily life. This art is of gay men, strong and virile and uninhibited – gay and proud. Many are in leather or in uniform or in the clothes of masculine occupations.

Touko finds a lover, who urges him to get his pictures published. They do find a publisher – in Los Angeles. Touko becomes Tom of Finland.

In America the art is appreciated. Doug is able to meet Jack because Jack has one of Tom’s pictures in his gym locker and Doug is able to show he has one too. Doug becomes Tom’s American agent.

The year of any particular event isn’t identified. I kept wondering how much time had passed. Though the year was obvious when we got to the start of the AIDS epidemic.

Tom is indeed celebrated because his art showed it was OK to be gay.

I first encountered the art of Tom of Finland probably back in the 1980s. I paged through one of his books in a bookstore. At the time I didn’t feel comfortable enough being gay to actually buy the book and take it home. It was too risky and risque. To see some of his art for yourself just go to Amazon and search for Tom of Finland books. The covers will show enough.

I’m delighted that this movie is Finland’s entry to the 2018 Oscars in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Gays in Finland are treated a whole lot better today than they were after WWII.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Women’s marches, round 2

There was a big article in the Detroit Free Press last Sunday about another round of women’s marches on the anniversary of the Women’s March on Washington a year ago. The paper listed a couple marches in Michigan, but Lansing felt too far away (though I’m quite aware it isn’t really) and Marquette is too far away.

Yesterday, I saw a link to the national website and checked if locations had been added. Several had been. The closest was probably the march in Windsor, Ontario, but that carried a few too many complications. Next closest was Ann Arbor in the diag of the University of Michigan.

So I went. I got there plenty early and walked around a bit and watched people gather. The weather was sunny with temps in the upper 30s F. Though the event was set to start at 2:00 the podium stayed empty until about 2:10. First up were three Native American women with their songs of welcome and blessing. Alas, they showed a deficiency of the sound system, which picked up their drums quite well, but wasn’t as good as picking up their voices. Then came a three person band with guitars and protest songs. Their sound setup was much better.

The speakers started at about 3:00. I didn’t keep track of all who spoke. I’ll just mention a few.

The first was a Muslim woman from Sudan who is a student at U of M. She decried all those who wanted her to fit in their prescribed boxes. But she doesn’t fit – being a black Muslim defied expectations. She said she doesn’t want to and shouldn’t have to fit in defined boxes.

A couple politicians spoke, remarking on the resistance of the last year and the work still to be done. Don’t look at the crowd and think we’ve got this. The march – and your involvement – must continue until at least November.

A speaker told her story of being a survivor of domestic violence. After suffering a few years of abuse she left. Her ex-husband began stalking her. He’s now in jail and threatening to kill her and her children as soon as he gets out. She talked about domestic violence statistics and the work that needs to be done. She made an important point: We should be teaching our youth the red flags of abuse. She wished she had known them before she married this guy. He surely showed signs ahead of time that she didn’t know how to recognize.

An Asian woman talked about how she is seen as little more than a sex symbol. To many men Asian women are sexy, more so than white women, and that sexy part is all these men see.

The crowd size was pretty good, a nice turnout. Here’s an attempt at a wide-angle view of the crowd:

Close to 4:00 I decided I was getting too cold, even though there were only two more speakers.

Daily Kos has several posts (five so far – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) about events elsewhere across the country. These posts include photos. Estimates of crowd size say many exceeded last year’s events. A few that look to be quite large are New York, Asheville, NC, Washington, DC, Cincinnati, and Austin. The march in Missoula, MT was led by indigenous women. I rarely read Kos comments, though I did this time to see more pictures.

There was a table at the Ann Arbor event to allow people to make their own signs. I didn’t make one, though I enjoyed reading the signs around me, some of them quite clever. Here are a few I saw in person and online:

A certain person seems to exhibit all of the seven deadly sins.

“I’ve seen smarter cabinets at Ikea.”

“Does this ass [photo of the nasty guy] make my country look small?”

Held by a child: “I said ‘s**thole’ and lost privileges for a week!”

“Elect a clown, expect a circus.”

Friday, January 19, 2018

No need to be hasty

A federal court ruled that the Congressional districts in North Carolina were drawn for partisan advantage and must be redrawn. The state’s GOP appealed to the Supremes, who said, well you don’t need to do it now.

The lower court required an acceptable map be produced by the end of the month so that it could be used in electing representatives next November. With the hold from the Supremes, this year’s election will likely use the gerrymandered map.

As disappointing as that is to hear, the Supremes have a reason. They heard a gerrymandering case from Wisconsin and accepted one from Maryland. Wisconsin was told they didn’t have to redraw the maps until their case is decided (likely in June). If Wisconsin doesn’t have to draw their map until then, North Carolina doesn’t either.

The nasty guy’s administration is back to handing out licenses to discriminate. To make that easier a “division of conscience and religious freedom” has been created within the Office for Civil Rights in the US Health and Human Services Agency.

So the civil rights this office is to uphold are those of healthcare workers, not patients. And the standard for care is religious belief, not medicine. We know quite well who they intend to target.

A driving motivation is malice

The nasty guy was inaugurated a year ago tomorrow. That has prompted Melissa McEwan of Shakesville to express her thoughts of the first 365 days of the nasty guy’s reign. She begins by saying:
One of the driving motivations of Trump's presidency has been breaking the federal government.

Breaking it by choosing to lead federal departments people who don't believe in the objectives of those departments, like Betsy DeVos. Breaking it by choosing to lead federal departments people who have no qualifications to lead those departments, like Rick Perry. Breaking it by ensuring no career bureaucrats with experience and decency would want to work for it anymore. Breaking it by creating warfare with intelligence agencies. Breaking it by wanton deregulation. Breaking it with ineptitude and malignity and laziness and corruption. Breaking it by starving it of resources. Breaking it intentionally.

Another driving motivation is malice. He is breaking the government so that it can’t serve the people, only him.

But perhaps a silver lining? Nope. Lots of people are crediting the nasty guy with the huge number of women running for office, for people waking up to politics, or the resistance. McEwan answers:
I believe the nation's first female president would have inspired more women to run for office, too, without the debasement of women as a cost of that increased engagement. I have no gratitude to people only waking up to politics now, when the republic is dangling on the edge of a f***ing cliff. And everything good about the resistance existed long before Donald Trump.

I refuse to breathe life into any narrative that credits Trump for anything of value that existed long before his presidency or would have happened, anyway, with far less collateral damage.

As for his accomplices in Congress – written on the day that something better happen or the government will be shut down – McEwan answers a question posed by, and quotes from, Damian Paletta and Erica Werner of the Washington Post: Can the GOP govern?
No. That has been apparent for a very long time.

And of course a big part of the reason they can't govern is because they don't want to govern. Governance is fundamentally at odds with destruction, and the Republican Party has become very explicitly a party committed to destroying the government.
Congressional Republicans spent most of 2017 trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act and passing their disgusting tax bill, "spending little time focused on how to pay the government's bills this year." Senate Republicans aren't even "expected to vote on a budget resolution at all this year, a move that would have been unthinkable in recent years, as they said it was a cornerstone of good governing."

What do you mean by “facts”?

Fusion GPS did some research on the nasty guy and compiled a dossier (I don’t have a good summary at the moment). The leaders of the effort were Glenn Simpson a former journalist, and Christopher Steele, a (former?) British spy. The two were hauled before the Senate Intelligence Committee,, where the GOP members did all they could to obstruct. The House Intelligence Committee took a turn. This time Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) took charge and brought into the open lots of breadcrumb trails for investigators to follow.

A person with the Twitter handle The Hoarse Whisperer read through the transcript of the testimony (so we don’t have to) and created a Twitter thread of what he found. Here are a few items.

There was a bit of GOP nonsense as Trey Gowdy opened with the question: “What did you mean when you used the word ‘facts’?”

But onward. It seems Russian mobsters were laundering money through condos and golf courses owned by the nasty guy. This is quite important because those golf courses don’t actually make money.

It also seems the nasty guy isn’t rich. His basic source of income is a trust set up by his father. Not a surprise he didn’t release tax forms.

His business skill is so bad that by the mid 1990s no American finance company would lend to him. So he would get pre-sales, commitments to buy units in the new buildings. Many of these were from Russians with money to launder. With a good percentage of a building already sold, financing was easier to get. But once the financing was in hand many of those pre-sales disappeared. And the deal went into bankruptcy.

The motive isn’t profit

How independent is our news media? Sarah Kendzior studies authoritarian regimes, so is paying close attention to the nasty guy. Stories are now leaking out that some highly important news did not appear before the election. Kendzior tweeted:
During the presidential campaign:

* WSJ killed op-ed on Trump's mafia ties
* Multiple outlets, most notably NYT, lied about Trump's Kremlin ties and FBI investigation after being briefed on them
* Multiple outlets killed Trump porn star and hush money stories

Those are just the stories on Trump we *know* were killed. There are likely more.

In August 2016, I wrote a thread on the sycophantic Trump coverage, which worked *against* any financial incentive the media had. When that happens in a struggling industry, ask why.

In January 2017, I wrote a thread on NYT pro-Trump propaganda. This is only one example; NYT is still doing this. Ask why an outlet would work against both the truth *and* their bottom line.

What is the motive? It's not profit. Most voters didn't vote for Trump. Most people do not support KKK. Many cancel subscriptions in protest.

When media outlets write misleading headlines that alienate their audience and affect revenue -- as a bigoted autocrat rises -- take notice. It's bad enough when media promotes bigotry and authoritarianism for ratings. But lack of financial incentive implies worse factors in play.

Had the nasty guy worked out some combination of threats and bribes to get the campaign and administration coverage he wants? Was our news media compromised well before last year’s election?