Monday, April 25, 2016

Leaving on a jet plane

In the morning I fly to Washington DC. I'll stay with my cousin who lives close to the last stop on the silver metro line. I plan to visit both Air and Space museums, borrow a bicycle to ride along the Potomac, attend a gay-friendly United Methodist Church service, and take in a few sights. I'm taking my little netbook computer along. If it cooperates I may share my travels. I'll return home Sunday evening.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Not a single issue candidate

Bernie Sanders seems to be running a single issue campaign. Close to the only thing he talks about is reforming Wall Street and getting corporate money out of politics.

I heartily approve of both of those goals.

However, as Aphra Behn of Shakesville says, she doesn't have the privilege or luxury of a single issue revolution.

She lives in a red state intent on closing down Planned Parenthood.

She lives in a red state in which the GOP demonizes its opponents as being corrupt (code for "run by black people").

She lives in a red state in which big business is working to protect her from the excesses of the GOP intent on dehumanizing LGBT people and on making guns ever present. (Big business is sometimes my ally? Hmm. In some cases I'll take them where I can get them).

Behn concludes:
My house is burning, the Fire Department has arrived, and your guy [Sanders] is telling me that turning on the water is a distraction from reforming the Mayor's Office.

Screw. That. Noise.

I need a candidate who can do many things at once, who thinks in complex ways, and who gives a shit about people facing intersectional axes of oppression. In Hillary Clinton, I have one.

I'm under no illusion that she is perfect, but she clearly understands that my house is on fire. She's not lecturing me that I'm "distracted" from the real issues.

She's picking up the hose, and fighting the goddamned fire.

Libraries are community

Plainfield, IL is booming, with a big jump in population over the last 25 years. It needs a new library to serve this larger number of citizens. So they put a bond proposal on the ballot. For residents with a comfortable income the size of the millage would have been no big deal, especially since recent polling shows 65 % of people say closing a library would have a major impact on their community, even if it seems only 32% of those polled actually use the library a lot.

Then the Koch brothers and their Americans for Prosperity got involved. Robocalls made false claims. The millage was defeated. Ouch!

But why would the minions of the Koch brothers want to get involved in quashing the library in a small, prosperous town? Alas, it hasn't been a single small town. Libraries are underfunded in lots of other places.

This is why rich people don't like libraries – and the rest of us do. I'm following ideas presented by Susan Grigsby of Daily Kos.

Th library is an essential community center. It's a cool place on a hot day. Storytellers will entertain children. Students do research among the books and online. The library offers meeting spaces for community organizations. It offers classes on how to use modern tech. It helps people find jobs.

Community activists are more likely to use libraries than non activists. They use the meeting rooms and do research.

Libraries are publicly funded. They are a common resource, available to all. The lower one's income is the more likely one is to use a library. If a library was privatized the poor would be hurt the most.

Libraries are all about community, all of us caring for each other. The rich don't like that idea because they don't make a profit from it and because it pulls attention away from their corporate goods.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Democracy needs a marketing plan

A week ago Monday there was a sit-in on the Capitol steps in Washington. Participants call their movement Democracy Spring and their aim is to get Congress to listen to them instead of big corporations. Their specific demands are limiting undisclosed money, restoring the Voter Rights Act, and ending gerrymandering. 400 people were arrested.

Did you hear much about it in the news? Me neither.

The protest has prompted comments from David Akadjian of Daily Kos. He says the protest is important because because it highlights a breakdown in democracy that actually got a bit of news exposure. It is important because so many issues in the news relate to important aspects of democracy or because democracy is breaking down. The problem, according to Akadjian is most of these issues are not presented as a breakdown of democracy but the normal way America does business.

Some examples:

Democracy in the news
* Changes in the Chicago police department to counter racism.

Breakdown of democracy
* The release of the Panama Papers.

* Donald Trump criticizing the rules of the Republican Convention.

* Turbo Tax blocking reforms that would simplify filing taxes.

Akadjian turns to how political messages do their selling. First a quote from Simon Sinek:
People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.
The GOP is good at starting with why and moving to the how and what. They start with ideas and move to policy.
We want you to be more free. To do this, we need to shrink government. The way to do this is to cut taxes and subsequently government programs.
Yeah, there are several leaps and outright disconnects in logic. But the average voter (alas) doesn't catch that.

Democrats have a tough sell because they leave off the why, even if the rest of their message has impeccable logic behind great policy.

Back to democracy. Akadjian says currently in America the power flows from corporations to government to people. It is a flow that people recognize – at least they recognize the system doesn't work for them. Then there is democracy where the power flows from people to gov't to corporations. This is the why. Corporations and gov't are to benefit the people.

In this context a politician can easily define the why of getting money out of politics, of voter rights, of eliminating gerrymandering, of public education, of corporate regulations. This context also shows the absurdity of reducing government. A smaller gov't doesn't change the flow of power from corporations, it only hinders it less. The size of gov't has nothing to do with how well it serves the people.

Though democracy has been around for a long while, perhaps modern democracy needs a marketing plan. Corporations have put a lot of marketing dollars into the idea of small government and their definition of freedom (meaning: for me, not you). Their small gov't idea makes possible privatization, cheap labor, cutting benefits, tax handouts for the wealthy, and money in politics.

But if progressives began by building a marketing plan around democracy, we could build policy around that idea, things like property and services for community benefit, labor earning a living wage, health care for all, tax handouts for those who need it, and politics for the people.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Quarterly capitalism

A while back Bernie Sanders was interviewed by the New York Daily News. He was given a lot of grief because he has been talking a lot about breaking up big banks yet could provide no details of how he would do that or what the fallout on the rest of the economy might be.

Earlier this week it was Hillary Clinton's turn. She said a lot of good things, one of which caught my attention. She commented on a survey of leaders of America's top corporations. The survey asked
If you could make an investment today in plant and equipment, in research, in training and education for your workforce and you could be guaranteed it would pay off in five to 10 years in your bottom line, but it would knock a penny off your share price, would you do it?
The answer was 100% no. That was puzzling to Clinton (puzzling to me too, that type of investment sounds like good sense – not that I have an MBA). So she called up a person who had participated in the survey and asked (which doesn't sound like anything Bernie would do). The response:
You have no idea. The activist shareholders, the market would destroy me. I can't make those kinds of long-term investments.
So we now have "quarterly capitalism" (Clinton's term) in which shareholders are in it for the profit now not better profits later. It is good that Clinton recognizes this.


The Constitutional Court in Colombia has approved same-sex marriage! A nice map of the current state of things is here.

The latest development in the GOP refusing to consider Obama's nominee for the Supremes, in two parts. (1) If the GOP prevails in November they want to get rid of the Senate filibuster to prevent the Dems from rejecting one of their nominees. (2) If the GOP doesn't prevail in November they want to hold an indefinite filibuster and leave a vacant seat (perhaps more than one) on the high court. Some have even suggested that they, not the president, should choose the nominee. Contradiction? Double standard? I don't understand.

A commenter reminds us the Constitution says the president appoints judges to the Supreme Court with the advice and consent of the Senate. If the Senate refuses to give that advice and consent the prez. can still appoint.

About a year ago Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal asked the state legislature for a religious freedom (license to discriminate) law. Legislators refused. So Jindal turned it into an executive order. The new governor, John Bel Edwards, has rescinded Jindal's order. It provides protections for LGBT employees in companies doing business with the state.

Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant signed the state's draconian religious freedom law. The Washington Blade, a gay newspaper, reports that it is an "open secret" the governor's son, Patrick Bryant, is gay and had been a target of an anti-gay attack. With the dad's encouragement the son moved to Austin, Texas to avoid a political embarrassment. Such family values.

In the face of fierce corporate opposition the religious freedom law in Missouri has stalled. Alas, it isn't dead yet.

Soraya Chemaly:
One day last year, I was thinking about the erasure of aging women in our culture and searched for the term 'venerable women.' I was curious about what images of wise and respected women the world produces. Google's seemingly baffled autocorrect responded, tellingly: 'Do you mean venerable men or vulnerable women?'

During the War on Drugs and the get tough on crime campaigns America built lots of prisons. It was also during this time that many prisons were privatized. That was a big way to make money – for the prison corporations, the communities that welcomed the prisons for the jobs produced (and taxes collected), and the state gov'ts too.

But sentencing and drug policy reforms are being taken up by many states and by Congress. This idea even has support among the GOP (that smaller gov't thing). That means there will likely be fewer people being incarcerated.

And that has local and state officials in at least Mississippi beginning to talk about how harmful it will be to lock up fewer people. Harmful to certain wallets too.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Math and gerrymandering

When gerrymandering has gone before the Supremes in the past the issue that has prevented them from banning it has been how do you measure it? How do you tell this is gerrymandering and that isn't? Solely because the Congressional delegation is 70% GOP and the state voted for Obama? Because of this the Supremes, and Justice Kennedy in particular, have not required states to redraw maps.

A lawsuit coming out of Wisconsin may change that. The case relies on the "efficiency gap." This is a measure of wasted votes, those votes that don't contribute to victory. The votes for a losing candidate are all wasted. All votes for a winning candidate over 50% are wasted. The goal in gerrymandering is to maximize the other party's wasted votes while minimizing your own. If the GOP candidates routinely win with margins of 55% and Dems routinely win with margins of 85% this is evidence of gerrymandering. This math can be applied without bias.

Will Kennedy see a formula he can love? Will a fifth liberal justice break the tie? This is a lawsuit to watch.

For the wonky among us Nicholas Stephanopoulos, writing for the New Republic in 2014, fills in the details of how to compute an efficiency gap:
Suppose, for example, that a state has five districts with 100 voters each, and two parties, Party A and Party B. Suppose also that Party A wins four of the seats 53 to 47, and Party B wins one of them 85 to 15. Then in each of the four seats that Party A wins, it has 2 surplus votes (53 minus the 51 needed to win), and Party B has 47 lost votes. And in the lone district that Party A loses, it has 15 lost votes, and Party B has 34 surplus votes (85 minus the 51 needed to win). In sum, Party A wastes 23 votes and Party B wastes 222 votes. Subtracting one figure from the other and dividing by the 500 votes cast produces an efficiency gap of 40 percent in Party A’s favor.

A few years ago I created some gerrymandering examples to make sure I understood the concepts. Perhaps now is a time to share them.

Consider a region with 5000 people, to be divided into five districts. Each district is to get 1000 people. There is a central city (the circle) of 2000 people and surrounding suburbs of 3000. To make the math easy, the city is entirely Democratic and the suburbs are entirely GOP.

In case 1 the city is divided into 3 districts that also include adjacent suburbs. The 666 city residents in each district would overwhelm the 334 suburb residents. Wasted votes are 165 Democratic and 334 Republican for the city-suburb districts and 499 for the two entirely suburban districts.

165 * 3 = 495, 334 * 3 = 1002, 499 * 2 = 998. Dems waste 495 votes, GOP waste 2000.
2000 – 495 = 1505, 1505 / 5000 = 30%. This method of drawing districts is 30% in favor of the Democrats.

In case 2 the city is divided into 5 districts that also include the adjacent suburbs. The 600 suburban residents in each district would overwhelm the 400 city residents. The wasted votes are 400 Democratic and 99 GOP.

400 * 5 = 2000, 99 * 5 = 495. Dems waste 2000 votes, GOP waste 495 (hmm.).
This method is 30% in favor of the GOP.

In case 3 the city and its adjacent suburbs are divided into 4 districts. One district is entirely GOP. In this case we'll consider each party won two districts by the narrowest of margins, 501 to 499.

For both parties there are 2 * 499 wasted votes, plus 499 for the entirely suburban district. The Dems have 998 wasted votes, the GOP have 1497 wasted votes.

1497 – 998 = 499, 499 / 5000 = 10% in favor of the Dems.

Stephanopoulos again:
Second, as an arithmetical matter, the efficiency gap represents a party’s undeserved seat share: the extra fraction of seats a party wins relative to a neutral plan. Above, for instance, if Party A and Party B had each wasted the same number of votes, Party A would have won two seats and Party B three. Instead, Party A won four seats, or 40 percent (two out of five) more than it should have. This is precisely what the efficiency gap reveals.

In my examples, each seat is 20% of the total. In my first two cases the score shows one party got one more seat than they should have. In my final example the score is less than one seat, so the district map is good.

Another way to look at it: In cases 1 and 2 the candidates are essentially chosen in the primaries, so the more extreme candidates win. But in my 3rd case the extreme candidates won't fare well in the general election. The four moderate candidates would withstand the possibly extreme candidate from the entirely suburban district.

Stephanopoulos also shows how the formula was applied in elections since 1972. And yes, the most gerrymandered election since then was 2012 (his article came out before the 2014 election).

This formula now gives numbers that can be taken to the Supremes. The Court has said districts can deviate by no more than 10% in population. This could correspond to an efficiency gap above 2 seats in a state with 8 or more seats. Will the Supremes go for it? Maybe not soon. But if enough Circuit courts do it may not matter.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Not all it's cracked up to be

I mentioned yesterday I had cracked a tooth just before heading off to the airport last week. I called my dentist yesterday and he fit me in this morning. The technician looked it over, she took an x-ray, and the dentist came for a look.

Then he said he needed to talk to the office administrator. Huh?

I soon figured out the reason for her inclusion – she's the one who talks to insurance companies. I hadn't cracked a tooth, I had cracked the porcelain part of a previously installed crown. And because it was less than five years insurance wouldn't pay for it again. And these things aren't cheap.

I, of course, suggested the original crown was faulty to last only 3 years. The dentist said the crown was fine. But my teeth are slightly misaligned (as is true in many people) and a lower tooth continuously struck this crown in a place it wasn't designed to be struck. Whatever the cause the work has to be done. So he drilled away the old crown, too a variety of impressions, installed a temporary, and set a date for a month from now to have the new crown installed. There went the morning.

So a pain in the wallet in addition to a pain in the mouth.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Fired for wearing pants

I'm back from Texas. Mom has deteriorated since I saw her almost six months ago, as expected. I saw what a toll this is taking on my sister-in-law, the primary caregiver, even with help coming to the house five days a week. A care facility for Mom is likely.

Ten minutes before I needed to get in the car and drive to the airport last Thursday I was eating a seedless orange and cracked a tooth. Fortunately, it didn't hurt and I was able to get through my stay in Texas without an emergency trip to the dentist. I'll see my own tomorrow morning. I'm pretty sure the tooth that cracked is a molar with a huge filling from decades ago and there just isn't enough tooth left. By the time this is handled I'm sure I'll have another crown.

Another problem I encountered last Thursday is a leak in my water heater. It isn't severe – I still have hot water. But there is a small trickle of water between the heater and the floor drain. Time for another. This one lasted almost 19 years.

On to recent news.

Last week I reported on the backlash against marriage equality that has resulted in many license to discriminate laws. I mentioned the one just passed in Mississippi is likely the worst of the bunch. Now I have details.

What makes it bad is it doesn't try to be nice, cloaking its bigotry in glowing terms of religious freedom. It comes right out and says it. A sincerely held religious belief may include man-woman marriages only, sex after marriage, and gender is immutable. In addition the permitted ways of discrimination are listed: decline to perform any services related to a wedding, fire or refuse to hire anyone who violates the organization's religious beliefs, decline to help gay couples adopt, establish sex-specific standards for dress and grooming, and state employees can express beliefs without consequences.

Yes, the law is so broad a woman can be fired for wearing pants.

Gov. Phil Bryant has signed the bill into law.

So far the GOP in the Senate is holding firm on refusing to consider Merrick Garland for the Supremes. As I've mentioned before, conservative groups, especially the Judicial Crisis Network, are spending heavily in this fight and are ready to pounce on any senator who breaks rank. Cross them and they will heavily fund a primary challenger.

Of course, the Judicial Crisis Network isn't stopping with the Supremes. They intend to control the state judiciaries, wherever possible. For example, in Kansas the State Supremes blocked an anti-abortion law. The legislature threatened to suspend funding for the courts and the GOP controlled Senate passed a bill allowing impeachment of justices.

Speaking of Merrick Garland... Lambda Legal, an LGBT organization that provides lawyers to get LGBT cases through the courts, has researched all of Garland's rulings. They find he doesn't have enough of a record to determine if he has any LGBT bias. Therefore Lambda Legal is adding its voice to pressure the Senate to do its job to actually confirm or reject Garland.