Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The backlash is cranking up

I'm leaving tomorrow to my mother who is living with my brother in Texas. It will be a long weekend. I will return on Monday. I booked the trip several weeks ago. Since then it looks like one of the topics of discussion is how to handle Mom's care. And a memory facility is part of the discussion.

I've had Dad's cell phone since last summer. When it came time for renewal in December I paid for January, then never used it. I knew it would be useful, at least to call my brother from the airport, so I went to the renewal website. The site told me his phone is only 2G, which they're phasing out. I could get a free phone from them, but not before tomorrow. To verify if I am eligible for the free phone the site wanted the phone number and the end of the serial number. It then told me they don't match. So no phone this trip.

Beside, is it worth $10 to make a call I should be able to make from a pay phone for $1 (yeah, if I can find a pay phone)?

I pulled out my netbook computer, the one I use to check email while traveling. Apparently, I hadn't used it since August. I let it sit and update virus protection and such. After a while it sat at 100% cpu and 87% memory. I didn't have time to call the virus company to see what is wrong. So maybe I won't check email until I get back.

Lots of legislative activity:

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed that state's Religious Freedom (license to discriminate) bill.

Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed that state's Religios Freedom bill. State Senator Mike Crane called for an override.

The North Carolina law to ban laws to protect LGB people and to ban trans people from bathrooms of their choice was signed last week. LGBT rights groups threatened a lawsuit and have now followed through by filing one. The suit says the law violates both the Constitution and Title IX. And Roy Cooper, the state Attorney General, has announced he will not defend the law in court.

The NBA awarded the 2017 All Star game to Charlotte and the NBA is now annoyed that North Carolina has passed that nasty law. Atlanta says we vetoed our law, so give the All Star game to us.

The Mississippi Senate approved a sweeping religious freedom law, likely the worst of the bunch. The vote was 31-17, along party lines. It goes back to the House for a procedural vote (the Senate had made it nastier by granting the state immunity from lawsuits), then on to the gov. We aren't holding our breath for a veto.

Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina tried damage control over his signature of the state's new anti-gay law. He says it isn't like the Indiana bill. Well, actually it is. He says criticism of the law is just "political theater." Nope. When you look like a woman but the law says you must use the mens room it is an invitation to be beaten. That isn't theater. That's our lives. He says NC hasn't lost any business. Well, not yet. But companies are talking. He says he's the victim of a "calculated smear campaign." Our reply: sorry, fresh out of tears.

And in Michigan a lawmaker is responding to the suggestions by the Department of Education by saying we need one of those license to discriminate bills too.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Center of attention

I last wrote about Aaron Jackson when he bought a house next door to the nasty Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, then repainted the house in rainbow colors. He's back in the news because, during recent trip to Antarctica, he unfurled a rainbow flag and declared it was "the first LGBT-friendly continent."

All that gave the New Times of Broward and Palm Beach a chance to feature Jackson, the head of Planting Peace, and some of the other things he has done. This includes feeding the hungry in Haiti and running orphanages there and in India. It also has an update on that rainbow house. The Planting Peace board of trustees thought the rainbow house would be news for about three months. Then they could sell it and get their money back. Instead, the house has become famous, getting 150 visitors a day. It also is great for raising money. In 2013 it pulled in about 3 times the cost of the house.

Democrats are contemplating taking over the Senate in November. Several GOP senators are vulnerable. Some of those may be voted out because they are following the party line of refusing to act on Obama's nominee to the Supremes. Others are vulnerable because Trump may be at the top of the ticket.

There's one problem that is dampening Dem spirits. Money. Especially since the Koch political network intends to spend $0.9 billion by November. The Koch PACs are considering abandoning Trump (not that he'd notice) and focusing their money on House and Senate candidates.

I understand more each day about the power behind the need that many people have to feel superior to others. We call it by such things as white privilege, misogyny, racism, and homophobia. I'm learning this need is amazingly strong. It drives every power grab and act of violence.

Today's example isn't a severe one, but it does show the strength of the need.

Trump's main message is all about the white male. That's clear from the slanderous way he talks about women. Clinton's message is about inclusion. To get that point across she spends a great deal of time in minority communities. Helping those on the bottom rungs helps everyone. In contrast, helping those at the top helps only those at the top.

But lots of white men don't like Clinton. She certainly doesn't disparage them, like Trump does of women. But because Clinton doesn't focus on them they feel excluded. Hey, guys, there is a difference between being attacked by a candidate and not being a candidate's center of attention.

Protecting health, safety, and learning

The Michigan Department of Education has issued a memo (PDF) recommending (not requiring) how schools in the state treat LGBTQ students. Their goal is to reduce the impact of high-risk factors and provide equitable resources to meet the needs of all students. And all students should be treated equally, fairly, and be protected from discrimination. LGBTQ kids still face challenges that threaten their health, safety, and learning opportunities.

The memo documents the extent of bullying done to LGBTQ kids and the consequences of it. So, yeah, the MDE recognizes guidelines like this are needed. The recommendations:

* Adopt and enforce anti-bullying policies.

* Train all school staff who come in contact with students about issues affecting LGBTQ students.

* Support extracurricular clubs, such as the Gay-Straight Alliance.

* Engage the family in supporting their LGBTQ children.

* Encourage respect for the rights of all people, including those who are LGBTQ, across the curriculum.

* Provide age-appropriate LGBTQ materials in school libraries and faculty resource centers.

* Collect and review data to see how things are going.

* Designate a staff person in the building to be the trusted and safe one for students to go to.

And for gender non-conforming kids:

* Use names and pronouns preferred by the student.

* Use those names and gender markers in unofficial student records (class rosters, yearbooks, etc.).

* Don't out the student to parents.

* Allow students to use the restroom that matches their gender identity and provide alternate and non-stigmatizing locker rooms.

* Allow students to participate in phys-ed classes, intramural, and interscholastic sports according to their gender identity.

* Students should be allowed to express their gender in their clothing within the parameters of the school's dress code.

* Evaluate all gender-based programs and practices and keep only those with a sound educational purpose.

All this is great stuff. I'm delighted to see the Michigan gov't issue such guidelines.

Surprising nobody, the Michigan GOP is having a fit.

House Speaker Kevin Cotter called the memo, "poorly written and poorly thought out proposal that takes away the rights of parents and upsets the privacy and safety of Michigan’s children."

In case you can't read between the lines, he is upset that parents aren't told of their child's orientation or identity unless the child approves. He is also hinting at the idea that transgender kids in bathrooms are predatory (in schools these kids are the victims).

State Senator Patrick Colbeck said, "Over 50% of our third-graders can't read. Math proficiencies for some schools hover in the teens. Now we have these new guidelines that are going to further divert our educators from their core mission — that of teaching out kids." He called on colleagues to take a stand "against this social engineering."

Nope, these guidelines will create an environment where LGBTQ kids can be taught. They're an integral part of the core mission.

The budget subcommittee responsible for the MDE voted to strip out $24,500 for travel and per diem expenses for the state board.

The memo is now in the public comment period, and the time for that has been extended to May 11. Many of the over 4,300 comments there so far are the dreck we expect from conservatives. A big theme is that these policies infringe on the rights of straight people. Please consider adding your own voice as a counterweight. I did. You might also contact your state representative and senator. I'm sure all of them have online contact pages.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

They brought this on themselves

About a month ago Charlotte, North Carolina passed a pretty nice anti-discrimination law to protect LGBTQ people in all kinds of ways. Almost immediately the NC Legislature, dominated by the GOP, started saying we can't let this stand. One little problem at the time. The NC Legislature wasn't in session.

I suppose leadership waited until after the bill was written before calling in the troops. Last Wednesday, at the cost of $42,000, a special session was called. It took only five hours for the House to pass the bill 84-24 (a more than 3-1 margin). The vote was mostly along party lines.

In less than another five hours the Senate completed its turn. This time the 18 Democrats walked out, wanting no part of this nasty thing. The Senate has enough GOP members to keep a quorum and passed it with a vote of 31-0.

Shortly before 10 pm. Gov. Pat McCrory signed it. Though the threat hung out there for a month, the actual legislative process was done in a day, allowing no time for people to object.

McCrory used the old bathroom issue – that transgender people in particular would use Charlotte's ordinance to become predators in public bathrooms. We've heard this reason a lot recently, especially in the Houston ordinance. He also used the handful of Dem votes in the House to trumpet that the bill was bipartisan. Never mind the Dem senators refused to vote on it.

Yes, this bill is a nasty one. It rescinds LGBTQ rights in 10 cities across the state (Charlotte was the 10th). It kept the usual cases of race, religion, color, national origin, and age, then changed "sex" to "biological sex" to exclude sexual orientation and gender identity.

McCrory, in hopes of doing some damage control, issued a list of Myths and Facts. Of course, it blows smoke. Yes, cities can have ordinances that protect more of their employees from discrimination. But Charlotte's ordinance was about protecting the public. And private employers can have their own non-discrimination policies. But Charlotte's ordinance said corporate policies had to match that of the city. And so forth.

There is one more nasty thing in the bill which will catch more than LGBTQ people. It bans victims from challenging the law in state court. Victims would have to go through the federal system. No problem, right? Well, going through the state system had a three year statute of limitation. The federal system allows 180 days to file a claim with the EEOC and, if the EEOC approves the complaint, only 90 more days to file a lawsuit. So while a woman may still be protected under the NC law it is now much harder for her to fight for her rights.

The ACLU, Lambda Legal, and Equality North Carolina are already working to file legal challenges.

Protestors swarmed around the governor's mansion Thursday evening, a day after the bill was signed. Five were arrested for blocking traffic. Major employers, the biggest being IBM, denounce the new law, but so far haven't threatened to leave the state. Protestors are demanding these companies walk the talk.

To show how nasty he is, Senator Tom Abodaca is working out how to send that $42,00 cost of the special session to Charlotte. "Charlotte brought this on themselves."

Transman James Sheffield destroyed the reasoning McCrory used to justify the new law. Sheffield's tweet includs a picture of himself, complete with a beard. His comment directed at McCrory is, "It's now the law for me to share a restroom with your wife." Backlash from other areas, such as sports teams, is building.

Steve Bullock, governor of Montana, sent out a tweet: "Dear North Carolina, We're open for business... for everyone."

Meanwhile, the Georgia legislature has passed a religious liberty bill (yeah, a license to discriminate bill). Gov. Nathan Deal isn't as speedy as McCrory and hasn't signed it yet. Because of generous tax breaks for movie studios Georgia has a big movie industry. And all of these companies are telling Deal if you don't veto we pack up and leave.

Kerry Eleveld of Daily Kos notes that we were feeling pretty good last summer when the Supremes granted marriage equality. This backlash in North Carolina passed only 9 months later. Eleveld says we can't rely on the national organizations, such as the Human Rights Campaign, to protect us. They aren't capable of that. We all must mobilize.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The lines go up and down together

A few years ago my friend and debate partner rightly scolded me for confusing correlation and causation. Since then I've been very careful to distinguish the two and have pointed out cases where others have committed the same confusion. So this is a post about correlation and causation.

For those who aren't math experts, a definition or two. When scientists study something they take measurements. What they measure is, of course, dependent on what they study. These measurements are usually plotted on a graph. Many times several types of measurements are done and scientists want a way to compare two (or more) sets of measurements.

One way to do that is to use a math equation called correlation. Do the graphs of the two things move up and down together? Does one move up when the other moves down (and the opposite)? Do the up and down movements on the graph not match at all? Scientists put their numbers into the equation and come up with a number somewhere from -1 to 1. If the two sets of data move up and down together the number will be positive, and the more closely they move together the closer the number will be to 1. If the one set moves up while the other moves down the number will be negative and the more closely they move in opposite directions the closer the value will be to -1. If the ups and downs don't match at all the number will be zero or close to it.

Now we get to the confusion. If the correlation between thing A and thing B is close to 1, did A cause B? Does more of A make more of B happen? If the number is close to -1 does more of A make less of B happen? The correct answer is that we can't tell from just the correlation number. It is possible there is a thing C that makes both A and B happen. Or perhaps C makes B happen and A just happens to match.

First example, thing A might be level of obesity, thing B might be instance of high blood pressure – the fatter you are the more likely you will have high blood pressure. These apparently have a correlation near 1. Does obesity cause high blood pressure? Or does the stress of being obese in a thin-obsessed culture cause the high blood pressure? Insufficient data.

The second example is one that I discussed back in December. I wrote about inaccuracies in temperature readings, which puts holes in the case for global warming (I'm very aware I'm writing this after the warmest winter and warmest February and shortly after 2015 was declared the warmest year). In this example thing A is level of carbon in the atmosphere and thing B is average global temperature. Again, the correlation number appears to be close to 1. Does the level of carbon cause the higher temps or is something else going on, such as the natural cyclical output of energy from the sun? I'll repeat what I said before: I can't tell and I believe we should reduce carbon in the atmosphere either way.

And now for a third example. I've been reading an edition of the Mother Jones magazine that I found in Dad's basement, this one from February 2013. One article caught my attention and seems relevant in light of the lead contaminated water in Flint. The article by Kevin Drum discusses the cause of the high crime rates in the 1990s and the steady drop since then. What made that happen?

Every person studying crime has an answer. It was New York's push to crack down on petty crimes to warn criminals they better not attempt the big crimes. It was the push to build more prisons, getting criminals off the streets. It was tougher sentencing on drug offenses. It was because there was a general switch from heroin to marijuana. It was because legalized abortion led to fewer unwanted babies. So which is it?

This is where that correlation number is useful. If the correlation number between thing A and thing B (in this case perhaps heroin use and level of crime) is close to zero then it is pretty clear that A did not cause B. Yes, high correlation cannot prove A caused B, but correlation near zero is a pretty good indicator that A did not cause B.

In all the standard explanations for what caused the drop in crime the data, for one reason or another, didn't fit. The drop in crime began a few years before New York got tough on petty crimes.

So what did match the rise and fall of crime?

Rick Nevin was a consultant with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development. A suggestion by someone at HUD got Nevin to explore the issue. He found a very high correlation between the use of lead (tetraethyl lead) in gasoline, if the data is offset by 23 years. Lead was added to gasoline in 1937, its use peaked in the late 1960s, and was gone in 1986. Violent crime began to rise in 1960, peaked around 1990, and was down significantly by 2009.

Correlation? Yes. Causation? Needs more work.

Nevin found much more correlation. He found the same match in other countries around the world (all countries he examined). He found the same match in various cities around the country, he found the same match in various neighborhoods. Nevin even found data that matched lead levels in children with arrest rates when those children grew into adults. That's a very high level of correlation.

So, we're done? A wise scientist would look for more.

And we do have – some – more.

We have lots of evidence of lead's effect on the brain. It lowers IQ and it also messes with the part of the brain that does aggression control, attention, and verbal reasoning. The effect is more pronounced in boys. Those who have been poisoned by lead may have just enough drop in reasoning and aggression control to push them into a life of crime.

Is that enough to say that lead is the cause of the level of crime? Nevin thinks it is. One reason I wrote this post is his reliance on correlation isn't supposed to be proof. From this conclusion Nevin has a few things that concern him. Old houses still have lead paint. All that lead in gasoline that was released into the atmosphere is now settled into soil and kids play in the dirt (which is why the crime rate in 2009 is higher than the crime rate in 1960, even though the level of lead in gasoline 2009 is the same as in 1937).

Alas, various people that work in criminology haven't bought Nevin's idea. That would mean giving up on their own pet projects. Prison officers are still likely to push more prisons as the answer. Conservatives still want to blame lefty soft-on-crime policies.

Getting rid of lead in houses and in soil is possible, at the cost of perhaps $20 billion a year for 10 years. But the return – in higher IQ, in lower medical costs, in lower crime rates – would be about $200 billion a year, a hefty 10-1 return rate. We could also save on the cost of building prisons. Alas, the GOP brand of mathematics doesn't work like that.

If lead in the environment and in people is a big contributor to the crime rate then look for a big spike in the crime rate in Flint around 2037.

This ends today's lesson in correlation. I'm sure my friend and debate partner will grade my descriptions of correlation and its use in science. I'll let you know if I flunked.

You can't have that

The Kansas legislature has passed a bill, which Gov. Brownback signed, that puts a huge number of restrictions on what poor people can do with their gov't assistance money. They are prevented from spending the money on such things as any type of entertainment event, liquor, tobacco, nail salon, lingerie, or in any establishment where those under 18 are not permitted.

One thing conspicuously absent from the list: guns.

I don't see how the poor spend the money given to them is the government's business. Isn't the gov't trying to instill a sense of responsibility? This comes across as being invasive and mean. It's essentially punishment for being poor.

Mark Anderson of Daily Kos reminds us punishing the poor does not end poverty. It may be done to encourage people to get back to work, but does nothing to solve the problems of poverty. That includes wages that aren't sufficient for standard expenses, untreated medical conditions, substandard housing, and insufficient child care so parents can work.

You aren't allowed to have fun in Kansas. But you can buy a gun.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Don't have to wonder anymore

Back in 2009-2012 I wrote a lot about the fascist tendencies of the GOP. After that My next post about the GOP and fascism was last December when I wondered if we should call Donald Trump and his supporters fascists. Mark Sumner of Daily Kos says we don't have to wonder anymore.

Between Trumps promises and actions about building walls, restraining journalists, beating protesters, banning alternate religions, revoking women's rights, bombing opponents, and removing all corporate regulations, he has clearly shown his intention to rule as a fascist. Yes, it is something the GOP has been intending for many years, though they didn't want to be so obvious and boorish about it.

Sumner reviews the definition of fascism using Italy's Mussolini as an example. He then dates the GOP turn towards fascism from 1994.
… but it wasn't until the time of the Gingrich that Republicans realized they could simultaneously weaken the government, complain about the failure of programs they had just sabotaged, and create a perpetual-motion machine of government destruction.

Gleefully surpassing [suppressing?] the votes of minorities. Burying the idea of free speech under a mountain of paid speech. Destroying programs that support the poor, even when those programs are nothing more than food for poor children … Republicans have done everything possible to rat the lines of our shaky social safety net, then scream about the unraveling as a reason for cutting away what remains.

They’ve eaten away at the effectiveness of the government every day in every way, and then stood up to point the finger at government ineffectiveness. And it’s worked. It’s all worked. Over and over again.

Why? Because hate.

Anyway … here’s the point. If you’re willing to go to bed with anyone in order to find voters for your squeeze-the-poor economic policies, eventually you’re going to wake up with a Mussolini. Though his name might be Donald.

And really, it doesn’t matter if Trump is the nominee. The party is still going to be the party that’s openly working to suppress the votes of black Americans, keep gay and lesbian Americans from getting married, force trans Americans to embarrass themselves daily, march immigrants out of the country, de-patriate children born in this country, keep refugees in danger, destroy the environment, cripple the educational system, abolish unapproved religions, support police violence, keep poor kids from being fed, bomb every country that ever looked at us cross-eyed, and pull the rug out from under the elderly.

Advice and consent of ...

Yup, he said it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel:
I can't imagine that a Republican majority in the United States Senate would want to confirm in a lame duck session a nominee opposed by the National Rifle Association, the National Federation of Independent Business that represents small businesses that have never taken a position on the Supreme Court appointment before. They're opposed to this guy.
I know the Constitution says nominees are appointed to the Supremes on the advice and consent of the Senate. I missed the part where the appointment is made on the advice and consent of the NRA.

As I said a couple days ago, Citizens United made it possible for corporations to have so much control of our national government that they will not allow anyone onto the high court who might undo it. Good to hear McConnell actually say that.

Hmm, another way to gerrymander. The inmates of a prison in Jefferson County, Florida cannot vote. When the district lines were drawn in the county the inmates were counted as being part of District 3, making up 43% of the voting age population, even though the inmates are officially residents elsewhere in the state, sometimes hundreds of miles away. That means fewer votes are needed to get someone elected in District 3 as compared to other districts.

The ACLU sued. Voters in other districts say their votes are worth less, violating the constitutional provision of "one person, one vote." Judge Mark Waller of the Federal District Court in the Northern District of Florida agreed. If there is no appeal maps will need to be redrawn before the June primary for county commission and school boards.

Not addressed in this ruling is constitutionality of denying inmates the right to vote.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Eclipsed substance

Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan faced the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking Democrat on the committee, went after Snyder for the Gov's handling of the water crisis in Flint. Some of Cummings' points:
* If he was CEO rather than governor there would be criminal charges.
* Either Snyder's staff told him and he did nothing, or the staff was silent, showing Snyder is an inept governor.
* Snyder wasn't in a year-long coma.
* That line about "failures at all levels" doesn't excuse the guy at the top.
* Those kids will still be suffering long after Snyder is dead and gone.
* "People who put dollars over the fundamental safety of people do not belong in government, and you need to resign, too, Mr. Governor."

We in Michigan have been listening to stories of lead in Flint's drinking for several months now. The big story recently has been lead in the water of Jackson, Mississippi to go along with their breaks in water mains. Reports of lead have also been popping up in Cleveland, New Orleans, DC, and Newark (where water fountains have been closed). USA Today now reports up to 2000 water systems in all 50 states have unsafe levels of lead. Disturbingly, USA Today came up with that number by using data from the EPA.

And the House budget process is stuck. Even if it wasn't we shouldn't look for help for lead contaminated water systems.

A cartoon by Brian McFadden of Daily Kos shows the fascination with the Trump campaign has eclipsed issues of substance in the news.

A couple of Tweets about the Supreme nominee confirmation process from people I think are regular citizens:

"Obama to GOP: Accept my moderate, 63-year-old pick or get Hillary's 40-year-old liberal instead."
– Justin Miller

"The Republican plan to let Clinton choose the next Supreme Court Justice with a Democratic Senate is going better than they ever hoped."
– Nate Cohn

Tony Perkins is the president of the Family Research Council, an organization that spouts fierce anti-gay lies. The FRC is so bad the Southern Poverty Law Center has declared them to be an extremist group. He has been elected again to the Platform Committee of the Republican National Convention. In that position in 2012 he played a key role in writing the official GOP position on marriage, a summary of which is: Marriage is for us, not you. Yeah, the 2016 GOP platform will have more of this garbage.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Checking predictions

The news around Supreme nominee Merrick Garland still bubbles. One GOP reaction to his nomination is: Him? Well, he's not too bad. Maybe we can squeeze his hearings and confirmation vote after the November election – if the Dems win the Senate. That way we can get this centrist on the court so that Hillary or Bernie can't nominate a liberal). That has GOP senators quite confused about how they should respond to questions from the press. Minority Leader Harry Reid blasted that idea. Do it now or don't bother.

Andrew Martin of the University of Michigan and Kevin Quinn of UC Berkeley School of Law have developed a judicial ideological rating. They searched through rulings of the sitting justices (I've seen it before with Scalia included) to come up with a score for each. Thomas is at 0.6 conservative, Alito above 0.4, Roberts above 0.3 and Kennedy around 0.15. The four progressives, Breyer, Kagan, Ginsberg, and Sotomayor, are clustered around 0.35 liberal.

Much to my surprise (and that of many progressives) Garland has been given a score right in the middle of the progressives. From the sources I read I was expecting a score somewhere around 0 or 0.1 liberal. But a score of 0.35 liberal means we would definitely have a progressive court.

On the way home from working at Dad's house yesterday I was listening to an NPR program talking about Garland and the unprecedented refusal by the GOP to even hold hearings. I won't link to the show because it's content wasn't of interest, but what it made be think about is.

Back in 2010 the Citizens United decision by the Supremes opened the floodgates of corporate spending in political campaigns. When that happened Keith Olbermann of MSNBC gave an impassioned editorial saying the only way to reverse that decision is a constitutional amendment (and good luck with that). Corporations would be in control of gov't and would not give it up. I had summarized Olbermann's main predictions back in 2010 and rephrase a few of them here:

* Legislators at all levels will be bought. Some will resist, but corporations don't have to buy all of them.

* Laws will be enacted to bust unions, the only other potential big source of campaign money (even though union dollars are no match for corporate dollars).

* Racial and religious tensions will be inflamed because somebody needs to be the scapegoat for the loss of the safety net and civil liberties and deflect the agitators away from corporations.

Sound familiar? One more:

* A future Supreme Court won't be able to overturn Citizens United because by the time enough appointments could make a difference those who could make or confirm the appointment will have been bought.

I'm fairly sure Obama is acting independent of corporations (though he is facing political reality). I'm quite sure that Senators McConnell, Grassley, and many others in the GOP have been bought. Their masters don't want an Obama appointment so they will do their part to make sure it doesn't happen.

Here's an interesting development. Bernie Sanders has said that if he wins the November election and if Garland isn't confirmed by then, he will ask Obama to withdraw Garland as the nominee so that Sanders can nominate someone else. Garland would be a fine justice and all that, but Bernie has one requirement for his nominees that Garland apparently doesn't fill: if approved for the high court will he or she overturn Citizens United?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

That Supreme nominee

Obama has announced his nominee for the Supremes, Merrick Garland.

* He is very well qualified.

* Seven current GOP senators voted for him to the DC Circuit Court back in 1997 and many others have praised him.

* Refusing to meet this nominee means the GOP obstructionists are doing it for only political reasons.

* He's got the top job in the second highest court, so if the GOP treats him "like a piñata" his career won't be touched.

* He is a moderate, not a progressive. Yes, better than Scalia, but not as good as we want out of a progressive president.

* He adds no gender on ethnic diversity. He's a white male.

* He's 63, meaning his career might be only 15-20 years. Maybe that's an advantage.

* His position on LGBT rights is unknown (though LGBT rights groups remain hopeful and call on the Senate to do its job).

* Progressives could vote for three people this fall: Prez. Veep, and (indirectly) the Supreme nominee snubbed by Congress. Would Garland rally the progressive voters as a symbol of what American could be, what the GOP is working to deny?

If the GOP refuses to do anything with Garland there is a good chance that the next prez. will nominate someone younger and more progressive than this nominee. No good options for GOP leadership (a good thing!).

In the Senate when GOP leadership isn't tearing up the Constitution they're whining that Democrats are being mean to them.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

After Donald

Leonard Pitts, Jr., columnist for the Miami Herald thinks we should be thinking about what we do after Donald Trump. If Trump wins in November then head north until you see moose.

If Trump loses, don't just sigh in relief over the dodged bullet. The forces he is riding won't disappear after his defeat. They didn't disappear after Sarah Palin. We don't want to see what kind of monster those forces unleash in four years. Time to tackle them.

1. Confront economic insecurity. These people are struggling. The trickle down economics seems to evaporate before getting very far.

2. Confront ignorance.
The less you know, the more fearsome and confounding the world can seem, and the more susceptible you are to the authoritarian figure who promises to make everything all right again. Education must be rescued from the anti-science, anti-history, anti-logic, anti-intellect agendas of conservative school boards around the country.
3. Confront bigotry. It doesn't go away if you ignore it.

4. Confront fear. We're in
an era wherein the majority feels itself, its position and prerogatives, under siege by the ascendance of various minorities — racial, religious and sexual. So it becomes ever more important to find strategies that help us to locate in one another our shared humanity.
3. Confront apathy. Vote.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Upholding the Constitution

A week ago I wrote about the Senate Judiciary Committee vowing they will beat up a Supreme candidate so thoroughly they will "bear some resemblance to a piñata." That threat may not be carried out by senators.

Ian Millhiser of Think Progress reports that the Judicial Crisis Network has hired an opposition research team to dig up dirt on any candidate and unleash a string of attack ads. Joan McCarter of Daily Kos reports other conservative groups are also involved and the Republican National Committee will coordinate the effort. Judge Jane Kelly is rumored to be on the short list of nominees and an attack ad on her has already been aired.

According to the definitions of JCN dirt will be very easy to find. Here's what they found on Kelly: as part of her previous job of Public Defender she defended Casey Frederiksen in a federal child pornography trial. He had a stash of over 1000 images. At a later time Frederiksen was convicted of killing a 5 year old girl (Kelly did not represent him in this case).
Mr. Frederiksen committed horrible offenses. But in this country, our Constitution does not permit the state’s awesome power to lock someone away in prison to be brought to bear upon anyone until they have received an adequate defense. Before becoming a judge, Kelly spent her career helping ensure that this oft-ignored right means something.
We can tell this right is "oft-ignored" because public defenders offices are usually underfunded and in New Orleans the public defenders office now has to turn away clients.

Judge Kelly's crime in the eyes of JCN: upholding the Constitution.
When groups like JCN make villains out of people who [serve as public defenders], it discourages others from following in Kelly’s footsteps. And our constitutional rights will suffer as a result.
Judge Kelly sounds like a terrific person, one I'd be delighted in replacing Scalia. JCN sounds like scum.

A Daily Kos commenter reminds us that nominees are probably already a federal judge with lifetime tenure. So what if the GOP treats them like a piñata? They still have a job to go back to, a job writing progressive rulings that won't be overturned by a 4-4 Supremes. And while in the public spotlight they have a chance of highlighting GOP idiocy. Why not go for it?

Friday, March 11, 2016


This afternoon I went out to see the movie Spotlight. It was in one area theater for a while and the run ended perhaps a month ago. After winning the Oscar for best picture this theater brought it back for another run.

For those who don't follow movie news, this is the story of the Spotlight team at the Boston Globe newspaper. They (not their bosses) pick a story and investigate it in detail. A new boss encourages them to write about a Catholic priest and allegations of him sexually molesting kids. They accept the idea. The team encounters such things as no public records because cases were settled through mediation instead of the courts. They listen to victims telling their stories. They pore through published books of what priests are assigned to which parishes when they realize what an assignment of "sick leave" means. As the list of priests lengthens they shift their focus to what the cardinal knew and when. They shift again to document a problem in the whole Catholic system. And they come to terms with how many times the story was given to the Globe over the years which produced a short article and nothing more (the movie takes place in 2001 and the first incident was in 1972). They also learn some on the team were a part of that earlier apathy, which allowed for more victims. A well made, fast paced movie, that I think deserves its award.

I can't exactly say this is a spoiler alert because we've been hearing about the priest pedophile story for 15 years now. I mention the possible spoiler alert because there were two bits at the very end that touched me. The big article is published on a Sunday morning. A couple of the Spotlight team goes to the paper's offices even though it is their day off. The phone crew near the main entrance say they've had no calls, but had to send a few colleagues down to the Spotlight offices. The two rush into the room to hear constant phone ringing. One says most of the calls are from more victims.

The second bit was just before the credits. We get the usual notes of what happened because of the article, the number of predatory priests identified, the estimate of the number of victims, that the cardinal was removed from Boston and ensconced in a comfy job in Rome. Then came the list of cities across the country and around the world where the scandal uncovered more predatory priests. There were too many cities to be able to read them all. I think I saw three screens and three columns per screen, for a total of about 160 cities caught up in the scandal.

Just so we don't forget, this is the scandal: A priest psychiatrist said about six percent of Catholic priests molest children. When an abused child came forward the church hierarchy did all it could to smother the story, then reassigned the priest to another church, where the abuse continued with fresh victims. The requirement that a priest must be celibate is mentioned as a possible contributing factor.

A wee Irish song

This afternoon I heard a radio interview with Irish singer Kathy Ryan, who is performing with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra this weekend (I'm not going). At the end of the interview the host played a song from one of her recordings. In the song a man tells his grown daughter she can't marry any of the young men of the village because he is the father of all of them, so they are all kin. She goes to her mother, who tells her, marry any man you like. The one who told you this is not your father.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Political bravery

It was a heroic effort while it lasted. Sigh. I had reported the Democrats of the Missouri Senate were filibustering an amendment to the state constitution to protect religious freedom (also known as a license to discriminate). After 39 hours the GOP pulled a parliamentary maneuver to end the filibuster. They then voted for the bill 21-11.

This is reported as preliminary approval. I'm not sure what that means other than the Senate will have to vote again sometime. And then the House. Since it is a constitutional amendment the governor (who is on our side) has no say.

Last year the GOP use the same maneuver to shut down an 8 hour filibuster. The Dems responded by shutting down debate on everything else. They'll likely do the same thing in the 8 weeks left in this session.

Chris Reeves of Daily Kos has praise for the political bravery of these Democrats.

Meanwhile the Missouri House voted to strip nearly $380,000 for Planned Parenthood from the 2018 state budget. Rep. Ross, who pushed the measure doesn't want state dollars going towards abortions, but that amount of money cuts a significant amount of general women's health care.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Someone cares about me

Beautiful sunny day today. High temp of 64F. I pumped up the tires on my bicycle and took it out for a ride (and quite wore myself out). Along the way I stopped and voted. And saw more voters than I usually do in a non-presidential election.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas, one of Mitch McConnell's deputies and member of the Judiciary Committee, has a few words of warning for anyone Obama might name to the Supremes:
What I don't understand is how someone who actually wants to be confirmed to the Supreme Court would actually allow themselves to be used by the administration in a political fight that's going to last from now until the end of the year.
Translation: We're going to beat you up so bad – you'll "bear some resemblance to a piñata" – that it's going to ruin your career (I thought they were just going to ignore the nominee). Senators are beginning to sound like gangsters? – nice legal career you have there, be a shame if something happened to it.

Minority leader Harry Reid jumped all over Cornyn's remarks. Cornyn doubled down – whatever harm would be Obama's fault for actually nominating them.

The GOP controlled Missouri Senate is trying to pass a "religious freedom" bill, otherwise known as a license to discriminate bill. This bill is slightly different – it is an amendment to the state constitution. The eight Democrats in the Senate have started a filibuster. They're going without sleep and rotating time on the floor to stop it. The filibuster has passed 30 hours, making it the longest filibuster in Missouri history. They intend to go through a second night. It is so good to see Democrats put out such an effort to protect us! It wasn't all that long ago when Dems ignored us. We know quite well the GOP will use this against these valiant Dems. Chris Reeves of Daily Kos has been doing a live-blog, giving updates on what is happening on the floor. LGBT people (and, no doubt, other minorities and the poor) have been bullied by the Missouri legislature. Reeves got choked up when someone sent him an email "It's good to know someone in Jeff City cares about me."

Melissa McEwen of Shakesville is delighted with an article by Paul Krugman in the New York Times. He discusses Trump not being an outlier in GOP policies, but firmly centered in those policies. Trump is a con man, yes, but so are the other GOP prez. candidates as well as the leaders of the GOP. What they don't like is that Trump is disrupting their con. And their con? McEwen says it is convincing people who aren't obscenely wealthy to vote for a platform designed to exploit them. More on that con here.

Why is McEwen so delighted with Krugman's article? She's been saying the same thing for 8 months. Now with an Important White Dude saying it perhaps the media will take notice.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

You better change my grade

Ooh, this one is scary. Way too close to home. A new Texas law will allow licensed gun owners to carry concealed handguns on public university campuses. It goes into effect August 1. Private schools may ban guns from their campuses, but not public. The Texas attorney general has already issued an opinion that no limits may be placed on students carrying guns into classrooms and dormitories.

Jonathan Snow, president of the faculty senate at University of Houston, told the regents, "Academics know the intrusion of gun culture into campus inevitably harms academic culture." Faculty were told to "avoid sensitive topics" and "provocative statements."

Provocative? Such as teaching evolution? Discussing climate change and what the research says about human causes? Criticizing a student's work after they've spent the semester on a project? Giving a student a grade that is lower then they think they deserve?

Perhaps discussing gay composers? In my first year of teaching a student used the phrase, "that's so gay." The next class period I started with music by Samuel Barber, then mentioned Aaron Copland and Peter Tchaikovsky. These are my favorite composers, I said. They and many others were gay. Saying something is "so gay" and I'll assume you are giving a complement. I was in a Catholic college (though progressive) at the time. What if an ardently Catholic student didn't like even the mention of gay people? And had a gun?

If that happened I would likely promptly resign. Which is what Frederick Steiner, dean of the University of Texas architecture program, has done. He will soon have a position at the University of Pennsylvania. An economics professor left UT Austin for Australia.

The presentation to the University of Houston faculty included such suggestions as: Drop certain topics from the curriculum. Switch to appointment only office hours. Meet those students in controlled situations.

Last Sunday the Detroit Free Press did a feature on Jordan Klepper of The Daily Show. The article described one of the features Klepper did for the show. It was "Good Guy with a Gun" and aired last December. Does having more civilians carrying guns mean more protection against bad guys? Klepper had gun training then took part in a simulated active shooter situation. He said,
I was shot over 20 times by two different bad guys with guns. And then the police mistook me for a bad guy and shot me a bunch too. Also I may have shot an unarmed teen twice in the chest. Being a good guy with a gun was starting to feel way more complicated than movies and video games and politicians make it seem.

Does anyone think that a student has the maturity, sense, and firearms with situation training to be the good guys in an active shooting situation? Or is something else going on?

Like intimidation.

Terrence Heath, writing for Campaign for America's Future, wrote:
Injecting guns into our political discourse not only pits the First Amendment against the Second Amendment, but also transforms the nature of protest. The courage of one’s convictions is no longer enough. “The physical bravery to face down men with guns,” while armed with nothing more that your ideas, is now also necessary. This is how the right shoots down political discourse.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Today's date is...

Yesterday I wrote about the bug in my calendar program and the fix that was offered the next day. My friend and debate partner sent this reply:
Well, my cell phone and computer know about Feb. 29, 2016, but my recently purchased cheap ($25) Casio Alarm Chrono digital-display wristwatch doesn't. When it showed March 1 on Monday, I decided to ignore the issue. But it incremented to March 2 yesterday and March 3 today. Then I got annoyed and pushed a lot of small buttons to recalibrate the date. No software fix... the same experience awaits me in 2020.

Maybe I should spend a little more on a watch.
As I chuckled over that I glanced at my watch. Then at my computer's date display. And back to my watch. Yup, my watch showed "Wed 3" and, yup, this was the first I noticed it wasn't correct.

While wrapping up food at the Ruth Ellis Center this evening I was carefully dating it all 3/3 and wondering why food dated by someone else showed 3/2.

For the record, I was very much aware of the date on leap day.

Looks like I need to push some of my own really small buttons lots of times.

My internet modem has been acting flaky the last few days. All status lights are go until I open the email program. So I called Comcast. They reset something and said the modem was showing its age. They would send a new modem. I found that if I let the email program sit it would eventually ask for mail and the modem wouldn't go bonkers. It was annoying in the morning, but not too bad through the day.

That new modem arrived today. I thought the box looked rather large. How big was this new beast? Would I have room for it and my feet under my desk? I opened the box. There were two modems. Huh? I called. The guy I talked to said yeah, they apparently routinely send out two modems in case one doesn't work. So you're getting modems from a supplier and they have dubious quality control? What am I supposed to do with the extra? And what am I to do with the old one? He said to call UPS or take them to an area Comcast store. Having your customer do all this doesn't sound like good customer service.

While on the phone the guy encouraged me to install the new modem Right Now so he could walk me through it. It didn't look hard, but I let him guide me. Rather glad I did because I would have had to call in a couple of the ID numbers on the back for proper authorization. In addition, once it was connected up it didn't initialize properly. While working our way through that he asked me to visit a couple of my usual webpages. On the second page I tried it redirected to a Comcast authorization page. The first authorization failed. A second try eventually succeeded. I went back to my usual webpage, but it redirected again. But no need to go through the authorization now. I tried my favorite site a few more times. Each time redirected. I may have to call them tomorrow (and suffer through the phone tree that doesn't really want me to talk to an agent) and ask how to take off the redirect. Doesn't sound like good customer service.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016


Yesterday I concluded that my calendar program had a bug in it. It was leap day and it wouldn't open, declaring a date out of range. Today when I started it up it told me an update was ready to download. And, yes, the first item in the change list was about a leap day bug. So four years from now, if I'm using the same computer and calendar, I should have no troubles.

Cost in dollars

Another snowstorm snarled the evening commute. My rehearsal was canceled, so I didn't have to be out in it. Our previous snowstorm was just Wednesday-Thursday of last week. But Sunday got up to 55F (12C) and it all melted.

Two years ago we had a record amount of snow. This year we've had about a third of that.

A federal jury trial ruled against Dow Chemical Company in a class-action lawsuit (I heard the award was over $1 billion, but don't have a source). Dow appealed to the Supremes, figuring with five conservative justices they would fare pretty well.

Then Justice Scalia died. And the GOP is vowing to block a replacement.

Suddenly taking the case to the Supremes didn't look like such a good idea. A 4-4 split would mean the lower court's ruling stands. So Dow settled for $835 million. Paying out that huge amount looks like the safer bet.

Other corporations are likely to make similar calculations.

I've reported on the sordid tale of Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, two representatives to the Michigan legislature who were kicked out after having an affair and attempting to use a strange scenario with gay elements to cover it up. The two now face charges of perjury and lying under oath. Each could face at least 5 years in prison.

The South Dakota Legislature passed a bathroom bill – transgender students were to be banned from using the restroom of their gender identity. The House passed it 58-10. Thankfully, Gov. Dennis Daugaard vetoed it. The House could easily override the veto. Thankfully, in the Senate not so much.

The latest in the Flint water crisis is newly released emails show Gov. Rick Snyder knew about the contamination long before he said he did and long before anyone started doing something about it. That prompted Melissa McEwen of Shakesville to write:
Naturally, despite the dire warnings and urgent recommendations, nothing was done. Because it was deemed too costly.

In dollars. The cost of lives didn't seem to be part of the considerations.

Once again, I will note that this is what class warfare actually looks like. It isn't asking wealthy people to pay more taxes. It's sacrificing the health, and sometimes the very lives, of poor people so that wealthy people don't have to pay more taxes.