Thursday, February 28, 2013

Cut federal spending in Texas

I had reported the House GOP had stripped lesbian (and other) protections out of the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act. Those protections are back in -- and the House passed it. Now on to Obama's desk.

The Washington Post reports that women now earn 80.9% of what men do. They also broke it down by type of job. In blue collar jobs, the pay tends to be comparable. That is in contrast to professional jobs where women do much worse. For example, women cafeteria workers are paid 97.9% as well as their male counterparts but women surgeons are only paid 67.6% of their male colleagues.

Newsweek has a report on an article by Daniele Fanelli in Nature about the lack of accuracy in scientific research. Why is so much research so wrong? The source of the mess is such things as sloppy research, misunderstood statistical methods, ignoring outlying data, a system that rewards statistical flukes and not findings that can be replicated, and journals that only want to publish positive results.

The solution is to expand academic misconduct from fabrication, falsification, and plagiarism to include "distorted reporting" -- failure to report all information that would allow someone else to reproduce the findings.

Peter Beinart, also in Newsweek pokes at the question: How much power should a president have? Depends on who you ask and the party affiliation of the guy in office. When Bush II was in power Democrats decried the "Imperial Presidency." Now that Obama is in office, Democrats like a strong president.

Paul Begala's turn in Newsweek. He lists why the budget cuts slated for tomorrow are entirely the fault of the GOP. Then he takes it one step further. Want to shut down the government, as Ted Cruz of Texas is willing to do? Let's start by shutting down federal spending in Texas, which is 32% of the state's budget. Why not move gigantic Fort Hood to a state that would appreciate it, such as Harry Reid's Nevada? Perhaps we should move the huge FAA center from Oklahoma to, say, San Francisco?

How about we enforce the budget cuts only for those states that refuse to support the taxes that pay for the spending they want in their own state?

We have lots of friends at the court

More than 60 companies have signed on to a brief asking the Supremes to strike down the Calif. gay marriage ban. They don't like being compelled to endorse the idea that gay and lesbian employees and customers are second-class citizens. And over 300 companies, law firms, civic and professional groups, cities and counties, and the Conference of Mayors have signed a brief to ask the Supremes to invalidate the part of the Defense of Marriage Act that prevents the federal gov't from recognizing gay marriages. They also don't like treating gays differently, and they don't like the cost of figuring out how to administer benefits when some couples get federal recognition and some don’t. That includes explaining the differences to the employees and helping them make appropriate choices. And there is one more cost: When gay couples see their benefits are different, who do they take it out on? The employer, who is seen as inquisitor and discriminator.

A couple professional football players, Brendan Ayanbadejo and Chris Kluwe, have made a name as gay allies. They also filed a brief in the Calif. gay marriage case. Thanks, guys.

The pro-gay side of the Calif. gay marriage case is reporting dozens of briefs filed on their behalf. It is quite a list.

And, finally and at the last moment, Obama (through his Justice Dept.) has filed a brief. Some people are annoyed because, though the brief says all the right things, it also has something about the "eight-state solution." If a state has civil unions that are the same as marriage except for the name the ruling could say those civil unions must become marriages. This is seen as a way of sidestepping the ruling that gay marriage bans are unconstitutional. I haven't read the 40 page brief (and I don't play a lawyer in this blog) so I don't know the details. Those 8 states are: California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, and Rhode Island.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Strong management and unified vision

Mike Duggan is the current head of the Detroit Medical Center and today announced his candidacy for mayor of Detroit. Two days before in Sunday's Free Press he wrote an editorial with his reasons why an Emergency Manager is the wrong solution for the city. He lists his credentials has having brought three organizations back from the brink of bankruptcy -- Wayne County, the SMART (suburban) bus system, and the DMC. His reasoning:

A successful turnaround (and he points to the Big Three auto companies) needs a "strong management team unified around a long-term vision of success." An EM, there only for the duration, would not leave such a team behind. And that team would have little incentive to support the EM's vision.

The record of EMs isn't good. Elsewhere in the paper were stories of how well EMs have done across the state. Some have alienated the city gov't that must take over after the EM as well as alienating the residents.

The example Duggan uses, however, is the Detroit School Board, which has been under an EM for five years now and the district is in a worse position than before. Why would we expect an EM for the city to fare any better?

The state doesn't have to take over the city. Instead, it can provide the city with an array of consultants to audit and improve every aspect of city gov't.

Or the governor can say the Detroit voters can't be trusted. Let's try democracy.

No longer justified

I'd normally be at bell rehearsal on a Tuesday evening, but the weather outside is frightful. Rain began as I was finishing teaching this afternoon. By the time I got to my car it was mixed with sleet. As I was turning in to my neighborhood the sleet had turned to snow. We could get 2-6 inches by noon tomorrow. The college has already cancelled morning classes and my department has cancelled the faculty meeting scheduled for noon.

So on to stories of the day.

The Morning Edition show on NPR did a segment on the words that are used to frame a debate. I had commented earlier on the switch from "gun control" to "gun violence prevention." The NRA has already found that "gun rights" polls well among their constituents.

This isn't a new phenomena. The choice of words pulls in all kinds of secondary relationships with shared values. That's why "estate tax" became a "death tax," "oil drilling" became "energy exploration," Democrats shifted from "liberal" to "progressive" and are shifting back again, "pro-choice" isn't being used so much by those who favor abortion rights, and the word "reform" is being tacked on to everything even if the change isn't positive.

Keith O'Brien, Cardinal of Scotland, was accused by four priests of inappropriate behavior. This wasn't pedophilia because all the accusers were adult. So it implies O'Brien is gay. But I won't go anymore into that. O'Brien resigned and the Pope quickly accepted his resignation. That means two things: (1) The upcoming Conclave will have no Cardinals from Britain. (2) There are now no credible voices in Britain speaking against gay marriage as that bill works its way through Parliament.

The GOP got raked over the coals for not renewing the Violence Against Women Act because it included protections for gays and immigrants. So the House created a version of the act without those extra protections. Their challenge to the Dems is "Your choice: protection for women or no protections for anyone." Or, "Women or gays, take your pick." Didn't they learn anything from the last election?

In sharp contrast. more than 75 current and former GOP elected officials have signed a brief urging the Supreme Court to overturn the Calif. gay marriage ban. This is huge. It allows the conservative Supremes to say there is conservative backing for gay marriage.

Ari Ezra Waldman notes a difference between the briefs written by the team actually challenging the gay marriage ban and the one offered by the GOP. The good guys say that such a ban could never be justified. A right to marriage is fundamental, has been there all along, and should have always included gays. The GOP version says a ban is no longer justified. That implies it had been justified and now that we have better social science the ban is "outmoded." Waldman likes their conclusion, but not their reasoning.

The GOP had its Michigan state convention over the weekend. The proposal to redistribute Michigan's Electoral College votes according to the vote within each congressional district was discussed. By a vote of 1370-132 the members thought it was a dandy idea. Gov. Snyder repeated his opinion that now isn't the right time. Which translates to, "But if a bill happens to land on my desk I'll sign it."

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Congress reflecting America

Some newsy items from the last week.

Last Sunday the Free Press had articles about leaders of Michigan and Detroit who have died, but would be wonderful leaders in the current situation. One of them was Frank Murphy. He caught my attention because the Freep suggested he might have been gay. So I looked him up (yeah, Wikipedia has its problems, but it is so easy). Murphy, who lived 1890-1949, served as Mayor of Detroit at the start of the Great Depression, Governor General of the Philippines, Governor of Michigan, Attorney General, and Justice of the Supreme Court. Quite a resume. Then on to his personal life. Murphy was a "lifelong bachelor" and "for more than 40 years, Edward G. Kemp was Frank Murphy's devoted, trusted companion." But Murphy's biographer wouldn't "stick his neck out" and declare Murphy to be gay. Perhaps we've had a gay Supreme, but in the 1940s that was probably grounds for impeachment.

A Rasmussen survey found that only "11% of Adults believe Congress is a good reflection of the views of the American people."

Oakland County has some of the high-price suburbs of Detroit, including Birmingham and Bloomfield Hills. Even though it also contains poverty-stricken Pontiac, the county government is mostly Republican. So this is a bit of good news.

Jayne and April Rowse, a lesbian couple living in Oakland County, have filed suit to allow both of them to adopt the three children they are raising. GOP Gov. Snyder, GOP Attorney General Schute, and GOP Oakland County Clerk Bullard filed motions to dismiss the case. But Bullard was defeated in November and replaced with Democrat Lisa Brown. She has withdrawn the county from the motion to dismiss, which means the county wants the case to go to trial. Rather courageous for Oakland County.

The deadline for filing briefs in the Calif. gay marriage case before the Supremes is fast approaching. The justices will hear oral arguments at the end of next month. So a couple days ago, Olson and Boies, the primary attorneys on our side filed their brief. The introduction is (as expected) wonderful. One of its major points is that our opponents see marriage as something the state has an interest in regulating for the benefit of children that might result. But that definition completely ignores such things as love, commitment, and intimacy.

Much to the delight of lots of gays and gay organizations, Obama has filed a brief (written by the Justice Dept.) in the case against the Defense of Marriage Act saying that preventing the federal gov't from recognizing same-sex marriages is unconstitutional. It appears he is following through on a promise made in his Inaugural Address. Thank you, sir.

Applying public pressure works

A six-member team was put together late last year to study the financial situation in Detroit. Their report is now out. The basic finding is that the situation is dire and not sustainable, Detroit is about to run out of money, and the Mayor and City Council have no plan to restore solvency even though they were put on notice many months (years?) ago. Here is a radio feature on the report, though I haven't listened to it.

Gov. Rick Snyder is now pondering what to do. The city's deficit is $327 million and its debt is $14 billion. His options include appointing an Emergency Manager (under the law quickly passed after the previous EM law was tossed out by voters last Nov.), guide the city into bankruptcy, or both (with the EM doing the guiding), or neither (not sure what options are then available -- let the City Council continue?).

Yesterday Snyder told reporters he blames the situation on six decades of population loss in Detroit. Well, yeah, true enough. So, says Snyder, the way to rebuild Detroit is to rebuild the population.

John Gallagher, in his book Reimagining Detroit, strongly disagrees. Most suburbanites are simply not going to move to the city, certainly not a million of them. Gallagher then outlines how Detroit can be a successful city with a small population.

I try not to do any name calling in this blog, but this is one of those times when I feel it is quite appropriate. My response to Snyder: Idiot. Not many are going to move to Detroit until it gets its finances under control and has a responsible city government. Basing a financial recovery plan on people moving to the city, when they're not going to move to the city until that plan is successful, is idiotic.

On occasion I've take part in protests by Moratorium Now! and Detroit Eviction Defense. The Detroit "alternative" newspaper Metro Times has an article about the group and their efforts. Much of it is such things as guiding homeowners with mortgage troubles, blocking eviction dumpsters, showing up at court for eviction hearings, protesting banks, providing alternative nonprofit financing, and rallying neighborhoods. They want to spread the word that "Applying public pressure works."

The group's current efforts are in two parts. The first is to publicize "Hurricane Fannie" named after Fannie Mae, the government chartered corporation that guarantees mortgages with taxpayer money. There may not be as much flooding as Hurricane Sandy, but there is as much devastation. A bit reason why Fannie Mae is so quick with foreclosure is if the owners are booted, the bank gets 100% of the loan. That doesn't happen when the property is sold or the mortgage is reset. And that money comes out of taxpayer pockets. Yup, the purpose of Fannie Mae is to protect bank profits.

The other current effort is to use Freedom of Information Act queries to expose the terms of loans and bond sales that have kept the city of Detroit afloat. There are strong suspicions that those transactions were built on fraud. That's right, the banks were not satisfied with sucking the value out of housing in Detroit, they allegedly turned to the city gov't to suck the value out of that.

I'm now rooting for bankruptcy which will end those deals.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

I need kids?

Newsweek as a feature article by Joel Kotkin and Harry Siegel about the slump in the American birth rate and how that isn't good for the country. More Americans, especially since the start of the Great Recession, have decided to not have kids. Many have also decided to not have life partners, preferring the life of "singlism."

Yes, that includes me, though I'm quite a bit older than the 20- and 30-somethings who are in their prime child-bearing age and not bearing children. Without a life partner (and I'm content not to have one) I thought it unfair to any kid I might adopt. In addition, I've long said (at least to myself) with seven billion people in the world, I need kids?

The big reason the authors give for why a falling birthrate is bad is that as the birth rate drops and the population ages the harder it is to sustain the retirement benefits that have been promised. There is also the belief that as the population becomes more doddering the less robust the economy will be.

There is a bit of a debate about the effect of a declining birthrate will have on politics. Those that remain single (or at least childless) tend to become more liberal. The single women's vote was a big part of Obama's win last fall. However, conservatives will tend to keep having children. Will childless singletons shift the country more liberal or will the comparative lack of liberal babies make the country more conservative?

To solve the problem of too few babies the authors suggest ways to tweak tax code and other laws to make having babies less expensive. A commenter replies: Like they did in Germany, which has had no effect? Another notes we can't fix a problem by throwing babies at it.

I found the article frustrating for a very big reason. Nowhere was there a discussion about how the world is already overpopulated, that overpopulation is a big reason why we haven't fix the climate change problem, and that in a global view a declining American birthrate is a good thing. That discussion didn't occur in the first page of comments either.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Youth energy and marriage equality

It seems the cold night in my house did have an affect on me. I have a mild case of a drippy nose. It started Saturday morning (about 22 hours after the heat was back on). It is dripping a bit less than it did. That didn't stop me from attending an excellent brass concert this afternoon . Much to the delight of the performers none of the pieces were transcriptions. The instruments were either not specified (as was the case of the music of Gabrieli, written around 1600) or specifically written for brass.

Between the Lines, Michigan's gay newspaper, reports that two groups are gearing up to put a repeal of the state's constitutional marriage ban on the 2014 ballot. Let's hear it for the kids!

The first group is MiLove in Ann Arbor. Their first task will be to collect signatures on a petition and their efforts will be focused on college campuses. The other group is Marriage Michigan and is co-founded by a student at Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids (which means he was several years away from being able to vote when the ban was approved in 2004). Their petition is slightly different in that they want to also legalize gay marriage, not just get rid of the ban.

The big gay rights organization in the state, Equality Michigan, doesn't think the 2014 date is practical, that 2016 is much better. Jay Kaplan of Michigan ACLU is concerned that two different petitions will confuse voters and that if someone signs both it could be challenged as a double signature and removed from both. Equality Michigan also thinks tackling gay marriage should come after including gays in the state hate crimes law and employment non-discrimination.

Equality Michigan will soon be meeting with both ballot groups to get everyone working towards a single goal. The established organizations certainly don't want to squash the youthful enthusiasm.

Michelle Brown was a leader against the constitutional amendment in 2004. She says we shouldn't view our defense as a "failure" because a lot of good came out of it. We had to work together, combining the efforts of several gay organizations. We learned how to run a campaign. We as a community became more visible. We learned to join other progressive causes. We learned to respond to attacks with grace and humanity. And the youth driving the effort today should take a moment to listen to the lessons we learned.

If you want to get involved you can be part of the early discussions. The end of the article has a link to the contact person.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

What we've accomplished … and what still needs to be done

I didn't write yesterday because I attended part of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra's Beethoven Festival. This week was symphonies 2 and 7. Last week I heard symphonies 3 and 8 (which is my favorite, Beethoven at his most witty). Next weekend is the mighty 9th. I'm wondering how the chorus and soloists are going to survive singing that monster four days in a row. Good to see they're responding to audience demand, but I'm glad I'll be listening to the second performance.

So, on to stuff that's been sitting in my browser's tabs for the last week.

Pam Spaulding of Pam's House Blend decries the prevalence of women who are fired from their jobs because they become pregnant. An example of the reason given is, "The guys don't want to look at a pregnant waitress." This is one reason why women don't have pay equity with men. Alas, the "family values" crowd is silent.

Obama recently handed out the Presidential Citizens Medal. It is the nation's second-highest civilian honor and is given for a commitment to public service, who have helped their community through extraordinary acts, who have made efforts to combat a persistent problem, or whose service has a sustained impact on the community and provided inspiration to others. I mention the awards because it included Jeanne Manford, the founder of PFLAG, who died last month.

With marriage equality in nine states and a mention of our progress and lives in Obama's Inaugural Address, NPR's All Things Considered asks the question, is the gay right's movement nearing its end? Yeah, depends on who you ask. Look at the progress we've made and full gay rights are in sight. Look at what still needs to be done and we have a long way to go.

Friday, February 15, 2013


A few days ago my furnace was reluctant to start in the morning after being turned down overnight. A quick off-on got it going. It happened again a couple days later. Yesterday morning it wouldn't start up, no matter what I did.

I called the guy who renovated my bath and basement and he referred me to a heating company. Sorry, the trucks are already out this morning. But I had to teach in the afternoon. Tomorrow? Possible. Call early for the scheduled time.

The house was already down to 59 degrees, so I packed clothes and such and went to the college Wellness Center (I would have called it a fitness center). I tried their exercise bike but couldn't stay on the seat, so walked their exercise track for a half hour. Then on to my primary purpose -- a warm shower in a warm room.

After classes I didn't particularly want or need to go to a cold house, so went to Royal Oak for dinner and movie. Dinner was at an adequate Thai restaurant, but not worth repeating.

The movie was Beasts of the Southern Wild. It is about a six-year-old girl named Hushpuppy in the bayous of Louisiana and told from her point of view -- we don't know what ails her father because he isn't able to explain it to her. At one point she is in a shelter/medical center and concludes that when people are sick they get plugged into the wall.

Much of the story is about the way her community deals with a hurricane and its flooding (which got me wondering how they filmed the flooded countryside). The film makes lots of connections between the storm and calving glaciers associated with climate change. Some of those hunks of glacier contain frozen aurochs, which return to life and do some rampaging. Here, I have a complaint with the movie. I thought aurochs were an extinct breed of cattle (and Wikipedia backs me up) while the creatures in the movie clearly had snouts of swine. This is the only fantasy element in the movie.

I went to see it because the young actress playing Hushpuppy was described as doing an outstanding job for someone her age. Now having seen it I definitely agree. I missed the movie when it first came into theaters. It is back now because it has been nominated for Oscars for Best Actress (Hushpuppy, now the youngest so nominated), Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay.

On home, where the temp had dropped to 53. I was comfortable under my duvet (though I got my sleeping bag out of the basement just in case). This morning it was 51 -- the house must have good insulation. The furnace guy arrived at 8:30. After a while he said "the board" was bad. When I asked what the board did, he gave me one of those "how dense are you?" looks before saying, "It controls the furnace." Not so good at public relations. He went back to the shop and brought a new one. Soon things began to warm up. I'm no longer sitting here wrapped in my sleeping bag, but I still have the parka on and am wearing gloves. I'll probably start unwrapping soon.The temp is now at 67. Cost: $90 for the visit, $180 for the board.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Pondering security

Perhaps a month ago, on an evening I wasn't there, one of the youth at the Ruth Ellis Center became aggressive and could not be calmed by the staff. I think police were called, though I don't know the whole story. That youth was banned from the Center for a year. No weapons were involved.

The next time I volunteered there I was told about new security measures. The person at the main desk now has four security cameras visible from a laptop. I no longer buzz the kids in, a staff member does it, because they are better at identifying the youth. That means there is always a staff person in the kitchen with me now. I was also told what to do if an altercation erupted (remove things from the serving window so they can't be used as weapons, lock kitchen doors, etc.).

The attendance at the center was light today. I got the pots washed by 8:00 and there was no reason to stick around. But the banned youth was skulking around outside the Center. He probably considers it his home and he misses the place. That meant the staff guy in the kitchen with me also had a laptop open with the camera displays as he sat under the display of the original camera. And when I left they called to another staff person to be outside when I went to my car.

Even with all that I don't see a big threat to my security.

This morning I got up early to be at the district court for a foreclosure defense action. The woman was given a mortgage (before the bust) that was designed to fail -- her income was exaggerated, which meant her payment was bigger than what she could afford. Economic difficulties made the situation worse. She took the eviction case to court, and it got bumped to a higher court. While it was pending there the bank went back to the district court to try to force the eviction. Some significant mustache twirling going on here. Fortunately, the bank heard the defense team was going to pack the courtroom and backed out of the lower court case. Alas, I didn't check email before heading out this morning. So I went through security and sat in the courtroom for a while, until it was obvious there were no protesters there.

But going through security, and reading the long list of items banned from the courtroom (I took my baggie of crackers back to the car), got me thinking about what it meant. The judge wanted to make sure he could not be threatened by anyone who disagreed with the judge's decision. Quite appropriate. However, there was no armed guard (this judge handed civil cases) and I'm pretty sure the judge and three assistants were not packing heat. So one way to prevent violence, especially gun violence, is to make sure *nobody* has weapons.

Doonesbury, from ten days ago, compares the national reaction to the 9/11 attacks where 3,000 people died and the 270,000 killed by gun violence over nine years.

Today's Doonesbury Mudline has a quote from Jim Carey. I can't quote it exactly (because I don't have a way to stop it and copy it) but this is close, "Anyone who would run out to buy an assault rifle after the Newtown massacre has very little left of their body or soul worth protecting."

Saturday, February 9, 2013

New definition of treating people right

Megan Phelps-Roper has escaped from the Phelps clan that is the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka. They're the ones famous for the "God Hates Fags" protests. Phelps-Roper, granddaughter of Fred Phelps and in her late 20s, had been a key part of the organization, scheduling the protests around the country. She was quite sure of her place in life, fully believing in the family cause. Even if that cause is based on the belief that "continually protesting the lives, deaths, and daily activities of The World is the only genuine statement of compassion that a God-loving human can sincerely make." My head doesn't wrap around that one.

Several months ago Phelps-Roper began discussions of religion with David Abitbol, an Israeli web developer. She began to realize that demanding the death of gay people prevented them the opportunity to repent and that her church didn't demand the death of other groups that Leviticus calls an abomination. After a while, she could no longer accept that conflict and left. Her sister Grace decided to leave with her. The family has essentially cut them off.

Once away from the family's influence she began to read books on philosophy and religion. She discovered that the issue of right and wrong had been studied for as long as people could write. That only Westboro had the correct answers became crazy and impossible. "I don't believe anymore that WBC has a monopoly on truth."

Phelps-Roper is now examining all the beliefs fed to her throughout her life and working out what to keep and what to reject. She doesn't know what she believes now. She is quite aware her actions in the past caused pain to others and that her departure has caused pain at home. Her goal now is to treat people right, though what that means has changed.

Welcome to the real world.

A successful smaller city

I've finished the book Reimagining Detroit by John Gallagher. The author is a journalist for the Detroit Free Press, though the book is independent of the paper. Gallagher writes about how Detroit might be a successful city of about a half million rather than dismal place yearning to be a city of nearly two million, which was the population in the 1950s.

Success, or quality of life, is not dependent on size. It is possible to be a small successful city. Youngstown is working on it. Turin, Italy is coming out pretty good. But, at the moment, Detroit is impoverished and has huge vacant areas. And, compared to Youngstown and other big cities, Detroit's government is dysfunctional.

On reason why Detroit is a mess is because it is, "a pauper confirmed in the ways of a millionaire." The auto industry made Detroit fabulously rich. That included the union workers for both car companies and city, creating a solid middle class. The wealth also changed how city officials thought. Alas, many people think the region is entitled to wealth that isn't there anymore.

Another big issue in the city is the ineffective city government. To fill the void, lots of community foundations and neighborhood associations have sprung up. Alas, there is lots of bickering between the city and foundations, sometimes more than one, over who has authority over a situation.

On to solutions.

Urban Agriculture allows a community to supplement its food and frequently provides a way of building up the community. It also boosts locally available food, cutting down transportation costs. Work is already underway and many urban gardens are quite successful. Alas, there are issues. Farms are in legal limbo right now -- not exactly legal, but with so much vacant land, the city probably won't bother farmers. There needs to be city ordinances to confirm the practice. Other issues are soil contamination (perhaps asbestos, or worse, from the demolished house), workers willing to do the labor, and a suspicion of corporation size farms. The final issue is that the vastness of the vacant land means urban farming can't be the whole solution.

Detroit's major avenues could go on a Road Diet. Detroit is designed with big roads -- Michigan, Grand River, Woodward, Gratiot -- as "spokes of a wheel" radiating out from downtown. After WWII Detroit widened all of them to 9 lanes, 3 in each direction, one for turning and two for parking. These grand avenues proved to be great for one thing -- allowing residents to flee to the suburbs. These roads aren't used as much anymore and can be quite intimidating for pedestrians wanting to get from one side to the other (even without much traffic). That huge width can be divided up for bike lanes, landscaped medians, and trolley lines. In addition, traffic roundabouts improve safety with a lot less cost for signals.

Detroit has numerous streams that were channeled and covered over (some of this work started in the early 1800s). Buried streams, which were used as sewers, didn't stink so much. But buried streams contribute to high ground water levels and lots of wet basements. Soggy basements contribute to a shorter lifespan for the buildings above them. Many of these streams should be Daylighted and turned into a natural feature, an asset to the community. Lots of homeowners prize waterfront property. It would also help to heal the environment. Alas, the process is highly complicated, requiring a long list of experts in soil, water, plants, engineering, and urban planning.

Though agriculture can't fill all the vacant land, Gallagher offers many other ideas to use it. These include making a vacant lot look nice (keep the grass mown, add a fence), turning lots into pocket parks, linking lots into greenways and bike trails, install geothermal wells for the surrounding buildings, adding art, and building up the urban forest. What's good for wildlife is good for us.

We don't have to (and we can't) wait for the big corporations to revive the economy. Ford won't be employing the thousands it did in the 1950s and Google, in spite of its size, won't be coming to the rescue. However, there are ways to boost job growth. Much of that centers on convincing locals to create their own jobs. High Tech Incubators offer a way for entrepreneurs to get off the ground without a lot of expense and Tech Town is doing a good job of that. Employee owned businesses make decisions quite differently than corporations that sell stock. They benefit the employees and the community instead of the shareholders. These employee owned companies can also band together into cooperatives for improved economic power. Social Enterprises are nonprofit ventures that sell a product to fund some type of community outreach. An example is a Ben & Jerry's ice cream shop downtown that gives at-risk teens their first training in holding a job.

Flint and Genesee County, a poor city not all that far from Detroit, has created a County Land Bank. It owns land throughout the county that has been foreclosed due to unpaid taxes. Instead of selling parcels at auction the suburban parcels are sold through normal real estate agents at market rates. That money is used to improve the city parcels to make them more attractive to buyers. This has been quite successful for Genesee County. Alas, it hasn't transferred to Detroit. One of the few powers the City Council had was to approve the sale of city-owned land and, by golly, they were going to wield that power, discussing every last parcel, no matter how small it was or how long it took. After much convincing, they did create a land bank, but refused to allow it to be linked to a county-wide system. Alas, there are few high value properties within the city that can fund the improvement of the vast numbers of poor properties that, in their current state, nobody wants.

Lots to do. Let's get busy.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

"Separate but equal" is a fraud

The British House of Commons has approved a second reading of a marriage equality bill by a vote of 400-175! It's not law yet -- there is more deliberation and a third reading and vote before going to the House of Lords and getting the Queen's assent -- but it is looking pretty strong. The law (when approved) will apply only to England and Wales. Scotland is working on their own version.

There was a five hour debate prior to the vote. Jon Stewart has some fun pointing out how civilized the debate was compared to American conservatives.

Individual speeches from that debate are showing up. The one by MP David Lammy (a black guy) was quite wonderful. As part of his speech he takes on the issue where some have said the British civil unions are the same as marriage except for the name. His passionate rebuttal makes me wonder how well American Jim Crow laws resonate in England.
“Separate but equal” is a fraud. “Separate but equal” is the language that tried to push Rosa Parks to the back of the bus. Separate but equal” is the motif that determined that black and white could not possibly drink from the same water fountain, eat at the same table or use the same toilets. “Separate but equal” are the words that justified sending black children to different schools from their white peers – schools that would fail them and condemn them to a life of poverty.

It is an excerpt from the phrasebook of the segregationists and the racists. It is the same statement, the same ideas and the same delusion that we borrowed in this country to say that women could vote – but not until they were 30. It is the same naivety that gave made my dad a citizen in 1956 but refused to condemn the landlords that proclaimed “no blacks, no Irish, no dogs”. It entrenched who we were, who our friends could be and what our lives could become.

This was not “Separate but equal” but “Separate AND discriminated”,

“Separate AND oppressed”.

“Separate AND browbeaten”.

“Separate AND subjugated”.

Separate is NOT equal, so let us be rid of it.

Can't please everyone

Essayist Terrence Heath is back with another look at the GOP. Eric Cantor is claiming the conservative message is getting "lost," that minorities aren't hearing it. Oh, they're hearing it just fine, says Heath, and they're rejecting it.

Heath describes the dilemma the GOP faces. They won't be able to please their base, their donors, their conservative beliefs, and Americans demanding economic solutions. Somebody will be disappointed. Now the GOP might try to make their message more appealing to minorities (anyone who isn't old, straight, white, and male), but people figure out pretty quickly whether the walk matches the talk.

In a fourth part of a series (I commented on the other three parts here), Heath looks at the big problem conservatives have with Obama. He's a black man who doesn't "know his place." And, yes, that is very much a coded racist message. The four-year hope was that Obama would be booted, restoring the primacy of white guys, and Obama's time in office would be historic and an anomaly. Heath shows many of the racist slogans that appeared when Obama started running for the presidency and became more numerous when he won it.

But, much to the dismay of the GOP, Obama won that second term. And the GOP is still reality challenged.

We're just a complication

The Detroit Symphony Orchestra has started a Beethoven Festival. They'll do all 9 symphonies over the rest of the month. I'll attend Symphonies 3 and 8 tomorrow. The festival got underway today with a marathon of all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas. They started at 8:00 this morning and are scheduled to end at 10:00 tonight. Students from area universities with substantial music programs are the performers, with each student tackling one sonata. I was at my own school this afternoon (quiz time in Theory), but headed to the concert venue afterward and got there just before 5:00. By the time I left at 6:45 (dinner break) I heard sonatas 22-27. The guy who played the "Appassionata" sonata did a good job, though a couple wrong notes. A piano student sitting near my said, "I guess I'll never be playing that one." Most of the rest came off rather bland and one even choked for a moment. So two hours of mediocre Beethoven was enough.

We've been hearing for a week that the Boy Scouts were about to end the national ban on gay youth and leaders, allowing individual troops (and their sponsors) decide for themselves. Alas, they punted. The Executive Committee decided to leave it all up to the National Council (all 1400 of them) when it meets in May. Lots of theories about the political calculus of that move were offered, but I won't speculate.

Prez. Obama, backed up by a host of gay organizations are calling for the inclusion of bi-national gay couples when the immigration reform package is put together. Senator Marco Rubio's GOP response is the least offensive: the issue is already complicated and adding gay issues will just make it harder.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The people who matter

Essayist Terrence Heath has a three-part look at Obama's Inaugural speech. The first part reviews the GOP reaction to the speech. And that is they were quite miffed that Obama didn't extend an olive branch, saying I know we'll have to work together over the next four years. Obama had tried that in his first term. It didn't work. Why do that again? This time the speech was confrontational.

In part 2, Heath reviews a bit of Obama's record. The prez. managed quite a list of accomplishments even with an obstructionist GOP that vowed to make him a one-term president. And in spite of a sluggish economy, Obama put together a diverse coalition -- even 40% of whites voted for him (and a different kind of stat: 80% of Romney voters were white) -- and beat Romney. So in the Inaugural address, Obama spoke to his coalition. The GOP hasn't yet figured out how not to be the party of old straight white guys.

The third part looks at something Heath noticed about Washington (he lives in the suburbs). There are people who matter and people who don't. The GOP was annoyed because Obama addressed the people who matter -- and it wasn't them.

Not even relevant

A friend sent me this link from Electablog. It contains a quote from Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder.
Over 90 percent of the jobs that you’re looking at aren’t going to be in a situation where right to work is even relevant.
Yup, all that noise about making Michigan a Right-to-Work state because it would improve the economy was indeed only noise. And Snyder is admitting it. Which means it was all about blunting the political power of unions. Since that vote, Snyder has been saying a lot about, "Well, it is done. Let's be nice to each other." Translation: We screwed you. Get over it.

What are we defending ourselves against?

I wrote about how I disagreed with David Mamet's opinion in Newsweek. I also mentioned Michael Tomasky's rebuttal. Now that I'm into the next issue I can pass along a letter also in rebuttal to Mamet. I doubt I can link, so won't.
David Mamet's cover opinion piece, particularly the statement "The individual is not only best qualified to provide his own personal defense, he is the only one qualified to do so" is absurd. Why not substitute "medical care" or "food production"? I can agree the individual is the last resort in his own defense, but even as a combat veteran who fought in Vietnam, there are others better capable of defending me, not to mention my 90-year-old mother-in-law. And I have yet to figure out what a civilized nation feels it is defending itself against on a daily basis, particularly in a way that requires assault weapons.
Dan Russell, via email

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Qualified to provide for my own defense

I may have told you when Newsweek went entirely digital at the beginning of January that when I signed in it wouldn't tell me if my name and password were wrong but would still display the "sign in" button. Since I was able to view all the subscriber content I must have been signed in. Early this past week the reader suddenly asked me for name and password. I didn't remember what I had originally used and whatever I entered it said, "An error has occurred. Please try again later." I tried a couple days later and got the same message. This time I called customer service.

Yes, the error message was wrong. It should have said, "Name or password are incorrect." And, instead of "user name" it should have said "email address." That got sorted out and I was able to sign in. While I had a live voice on the line I asked about the earlier "sign in" situation. The voice said for most of January the sign in feature had been turned off. No matter what was entered, it permitted subscriber content and still requested the reader sign in.

That's a long way of saying that some of the links I posted to articles within the reader may not work for you anymore. I'll have to go dig articles out of the public website.

Director David Mamet has an article about gun violence. He starts out with the famous quote of Karl Marx on Communism, "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs." Mamet makes clear what is implicit: "The State will take from each according to his ability, the State will give to each according to his needs." Now who really believes the State understands my abilities and accurately determines my needs? A person interacts with the State through bureaucrats, who are only good at following orders and putting people into broad categories.

Mamet sees a bit of that in Obama's campaign speeches when the candidate challenged the 1% by saying you have more than you need.

Mamet believes government is necessary, but is inherently corrupt, and that citizens are easily swayed by the politician-huckster. The citizens must carefully watch over the politicians and replace them at the first sign of corruption. The Constitution is not to create a government (which claims to know better than the citizens), but to protect the citizens from such a government.

After making those points Mamet repeats many of the same things Larry Correia said -- criminals will have guns no matter the laws, so lets make sure good citizens have guns and are able to stand up to the criminals. Mamet concludes by saying,
The individual in not only best qualified to provide his own personal defense, he is the only one qualified to do so: and his right to do so is guaranteed by the Constitution.
I disagree. I am not at all qualified to provide for my own defense. I don't want to know how a gun works. I don't want to have to know how the mind of a criminal works. I doubt I am strong enough for self-defense fighting and don't intend to learn. I don't want to take down a criminal and have to live with the guilt for the rest of my life (and there will be guilt, no matter the strength of the self-defense argument). I don't want to need a bodyguard, able to supply the defense I don't know how to provide for myself. I don't want to pay for personal defense, I'd rather consider the defense of the society as a whole. Furthermore, I don't want to live in a society where my defense falls on me or even where my defense is required. I want to build up others and build up community, not engage in practices that might destroy it.

I went to the Newsweek website to search for the Mamet article and, strangely, couldn't find it in the search results. What I did find was a rebuttal by Michael Tomasky (published in an edition I haven't read yet). I won't go into it because he doesn't address the point I found important. But you go right ahead. I'll note that Tomasky's article got 3220 comments and Mamets got nearly 5900. I found the link to Mamet's piece in Tomasky's.

When I read Newsweek articles in the reader for subscribers yet need to link to them through the website there is the possible problem of not finding them on the website. That's the case of this one. So here's the link to the article in the reader.

Paul Begala comments on Obama's mention of gay rights in the Inaugural Address. Fine words, but will Obama actually put his power behind them? Begala says Obama can do three things immediately:

* Join the Supreme Court case on the side of getting rid of the gay marriage ban in Calif.

* Issue an executive order saying defense contractor companies can't discriminate against gay people. FDR did the same thing for race, creed, color and national origin back in 1941.

* Make sure spouses of gay service members have the same rights and privileges as straight spouses.

Jack Kennedy had promised to end racial discrimination in federal housing "with the stroke of a pen." It wasn't until two years later -- after the White House mail room received thousands of pens -- that Kennedy issued that executive order. Perhaps it is time to fill Obama's mailroom with small stones to help him remember his words about Stonewall.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Culture wars over? Not even close

I didn't blog yesterday because I went to the Detroit Film Theater to see the Oscar nominated Short Films, both animated and live. The live film titled Henry hit rather close to home. It tells of an elderly man whose dementia is advanced enough he can't figure out why he is in an institution and what happened to his wife (she died the year before). All the others were, of course, very well done and worth the evening. They'll be showing at the DFT for another two weekends. The animated films are rather short (combined about 45 minutes), but the live films take the whole event over 3 hours.

Last time I wrote I included this little tidbit:
David Kochel, former Romney advisor, admits, "The culture wars are over. And the Republicans, largely, lost."

I relish the thought, though my friend and debate partner would caution doing the happy dance too soon.
My friend and debate partner responded, vigorously asserting the culture wars are not over. Not even close. The GOP is still waging a strong battle. Though perhaps not all of these issues are "cultural" my friend lists these battlegrounds: abortion, community (as practiced through government), public schools and prohibitive cost of college, minority Americans, confidence in the safety net, climate change, and gun violence.

My friend is correct. The GOP in Michigan just resurrected a few bills that didn't pass in their high-volume lame-duck session. One bill is about restrictions to abortion. If state law says an abortion must wait until after so many (perhaps 19?) weeks and Roe v. Wade says it should happen before so many weeks (check me if I'm wrong) is there any time between the two limits? Of course, the reason for a delay is so there is a fetus in the required ultrasound. Another bill is to "guarantee the religious rights of the provider" (translation: if the doctor doesn't like your sorry gay ass, he can refuse to treat you).

Which leads to a question. Why did Kochel make that claim? What would the GOP gain by floating the idea the GOP is about to lay down their arms? Any ideas out there?

I've been writing about the plan to switch the Electoral College votes in Michigan and other states to be by congressional district. A few days ago the Detroit Free Press had both an editorial and news article about that.

In the news article Gov. Rick Snyder seems skeptical, but then says a better time to do it is just before the 2020 census. Which means if a bill was plopped on his desk he would probably sign it.

Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville says the bill is not on the Senate's agenda and he thinks the current system makes the state relevant in presidential elections. Why fix a system that isn't broken?

Even so, Rep. Pete Lund plans to introduce the bill soon so it can be discussed at the state party convention later this month.

State Democratic Party Chair Mark Brewer is glad Snyder and Richardville are stepping back from the plan, though he notes both said similar things about the Right-to-Work bill before passing and signing that one in a flurry of activity.

In the editorial, the paper notes that back in 2004 Kerry took the state with 51% of the vote, but under this proposed scheme Bush would have taken 10 of 17 Electoral College votes. In 2008 this scheme would have given Obama 14 of 17 EC votes, magnifying his win (but still giving McCain 3 votes).

The editorial calls the proposed scheme unfair. Should the state reward Electoral College votes proportionally? Perhaps, especially if lots of other states do it. But don't do it by congressional districts until a non-partisan commission draws the boundaries.

The Freep included large maps of how this scheme would have affected the last 3 prez. elections. In the 2012 map the swirl of the 14th district can be seen.

The last word on this issue goes to Mike Thompson, the Freep's cartoonist.