Friday, September 30, 2016

Another flight

In most years I have maybe one trip by plane. This year it will be five. Alas, not all of them have been pleasant. This is one that won't be. I fly to Seattle tomorrow to attend the memorial service for my sister-in-law Karen. I'll spend most of next week visiting with him and his family. I am not staying at a hotel -- longtime friends of Karen have volunteered to house me -- and my access to the internet is unknown.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Normalized abuse

Elana Sztokman of Everyday Feminism writes about emotional abuse. Women frequently have to deal with this when they deal with the toxic masculinity. One good way of dealing with such abuse is to identify and understand the tactics. Here are ten tactics abusers use, though the list is not complete. Sztokman discusses all this because Donald Trump has been exhibiting all ten of these tactics.

1. Lying. PolitiFact found that Trump has more statements in their “pants on fire” category than all 21 other 2016 prez. candidates combined.

2. Denial. When caught in a lie, Trump denies he said it, even though his original words are easily verified. Both denial and lying change the rules of fair discourse and it is difficult to hold the abuser accountable.

3. Blame shifting. An example is Trump finally saying Obama was indeed born in America, but Hillary Clinton started it.

4. Move the goal posts. That means redefine the topic of conversation. Trump redirected a discussion of creating jobs into one of Clinton’s experience in politics.

5. Bait and Switch. It is similar to the previous one. Trump said, “I will release my tax returns when Hillary releases her deleted emails.” Clinton identified the tactic.

6. Projecting. The abuser accuses the victim of what he is being accused of. When Trump is accused of being dishonest, he accuses Hillary of being more dishonest.

7. Generalizing and exaggerating. Trump frequently says, “Everyone tells me.” That’s difficult to fact-check. He also describes every subject at hand as, “It’s a disaster,” or, “It’s the greatest.”

8. Yelling and shouting over. During the debate (which I avoided watching) Trump interrupted Hillary 50 times. His voice is his weapon of violence.

9. Fear-Mongering. Almost all of Trump’s platform positions incite fear. It is hard to fight back in an atmosphere of terror.

10. Body shaming. He did it during the debate by calling the Miss America contestant “Miss Piggy.”

Sztokman concludes:
These are some of the toxic tactics of emotional and verbal abuse that are becoming normalized in the 2016 elections – which only goes to show how acceptable we, as a society, allow toxic masculinity to be.

Progress ... some

I got my computer back late afternoon yesterday. It now has Windows 7 installed. I began rebuilding it last night. I can do basic things, but I'm not back to full use yet.

One issue is Firefox. The tech guy saved the AppData folders (twice!) but the folder for Firefox is way too small. I can't find browser tabs and bookmarks. I haven't used many of the bookmarks in perhaps two years, so I might be able to get them off the previous computer. But browser tabs are probably lost. This is where I tended to keep stuff I didn't yet have time to read or I eventually wanted to blog about. I suppose if I haven't yet losing them doesn't make a difference.

The big issue is email. I haven't yet gotten my email program, Windows Live Mail, to load in my contacts or to load in my saved email from this computer and the one before it. Part of the problem is WLM expects to import things from specific places (which remain a mystery) and it doesn't offer the option to indicate files in some other place.

I haven't yet tried to install my music program. This one could be a problem. After that come audio editors, image editors, and the genealogy database program.

Regular cultural commentary will resume ... eventually.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Not bettter than Ben Franklin

Another of those newsletters my Dad subscribed to (some of which are still coming to the house) is The Hightower Lowdown, written by Jim Hightower. I know he used to be in government, though I don't remember under which president and in what capacity. He now writes this populist movement newsletter.

The September issue, which isn't on the website yet, is about the huge influence that cash from billionaires Charles and David Koch have on our elections. As I read through it I wondered, since I've known about this for years, why is Hightower getting into it now? There are two recent developments.

* A few months ago the Koch brothers made news because they refused to back Donald Trump and thus were not going to spend any money on the prez. election. However, they still have a great deal of money to spend at the state level. How many more state legislatures do they want to buy? And that is related to …

* Article V of the Constitution says that the states can call a convention to revise that document. There has not been such a convention since the Constitution was written in the 1780s, though it has been amended 27 times. But at a convention the whole document is open. To call a convention 34 states must approve such resolutions. Those have already quietly passed in 28 states (including Michigan) and efforts are underway in 10 more. And six of those have the GOP in control of the Senate, House, and Governor.

Of course, the Koch brothers and their minions have particular revisions to the Constitution in mind. Such as:

* Require the federal budget be balanced. And we know who would be harmed by those cuts – and it won't be the Kochs.

* Prevent gov't actions that would restrain corporate abuse of workers and consumers.

* Prevent the gov't from meeting public needs such as health care, voter rights, and infrastructure.

This alarmed even the late Phyllis Schlafly, darling of the right.
Alas, I don't see any George Washingtons, James Madisons, Ben Franklins, or Alexander Hamiltons around who could do as good a job as the Founding Fathers, and I'm worried about the men who think they can.
Donald Trump is scary. These guys are scarier.

Computer in for repairs

For those of you who haven't yet updated to Windows 10 I have one word:


I took my desktop computer in for repair today. As soon as the service guy heard I had installed Windows 10 he grimaced and said that's the problem. It will cost me $125 to go back to Windows 7.

Backing up a bit...

I upgraded to Windows 10 in July (just before vacation), close to the end of the year when it was offered for free. Things went pretty well, though my camera no longer talked to my computer to allow copying photos. Not a big deal. I figured if I had a bigger problem in 30 days I could revert to Windows 7.

The problems began 60 days after the upgrade.

First, the playback cursor on my music program (that's Finale) disappeared. It became awkward for me to listen to the music I wrote. The cursor has since come back without me doing anything.

Last week as I turned off the computer for the night it updated new Windows 10 files. The next morning it took 20 minutes to configure those files before giving up and spending another 10 minutes undoing what it had done.

Yesterday as I was using the computer it shut itself off. It then tried to reboot. It failed after 3 seconds and tried again. And again. And again. I had to turn off the surge protector to get it to stop.

Some of you with computer smarts would say I should check the BIOS. But it didn't get far enough into the boot process to allow that.

After the surge protector was off for a couple hours I tried again. The computer stayed up for the rest of the evening. But after using it for perhaps an hour this morning it shut off and began its rebooting cycle again. Each time I let it rest for a while. After being up for a while it would quit, sometimes saying, “Your computer has a problem and needs to reboot.”

After it was down for the first time this morning, each time it was up I did a bit of backup, copying to my external drive. But it did only 7% of the third set of folders before the copy froze.

I talked to the repair guy for a while, making sure he knew where my email and calendar stuff was. He's pretty sure he can set aside and restore all the rest of my files, though not the programs. I'll probably spend the week rebuilding the system (like I didn't have anything else to do this week).

The repair guy also told me a bit about Windows 10. He says its primary purpose was to go through my system and report what it found back to headquarters. I'm not on Facebook because it routinely violates privacy. Then I find I installed an operating system that is designed to violate privacy.

In addition, said the guy, Windows 10 is quite buggy and Microsoft is being slow in resolving the bugs. I had waited the year in hopes all these bugs would be resolved. They were able to wait even longer.

As for the half-hearted promise that I could go back to Windows 7 within 30 days, well, Microsoft almost always found a reason to delete the files that made that possible well before the 30 days were up, meaning if you didn't like 10 you had to buy 7 again.

So I'm annoyed with Microsoft for: 1) violating my privacy, 2) releasing a buggy system on me, 3) causing me to spend $125 to undo the damage, and 4) spending a week to recover.

I'm writing this on my netbook computer, still running Windows 7.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Doing just fine

A big triumph of the progressive movement is the adoption of Social Security expansion. Democrats from Obama on down have signed on to the idea. Joan McCarter of Daily Kos posed five questions to Nancy Altman, founding co-director of Social Security Works. This is some of what was said.

In spite of those on the right convincing the Millenials that SS system is so broken it won't be around for them, SS is doing just fine. The right has been pushing that idea since about the time SS was signed by Franklin Roosevelt and it hasn't come true yet.

SS benefits are quite modest – we can afford it. And it is well run with administration costing less than 1%. So it won't take any more admin costs to expand the SS system. The expansion issues are:

* Help with the looming retirement income crisis.

* Add paid sick leave, paid family leave, caregiver credits, children's allowances.

* Lower the age to qualify for Medicare, the medical part of the SS idea, until it becomes Medicare for all.

Expanding Social Security can cultivate allies among the young. The SS system works better when the workforce is better educated and has well-paying jobs. So supporters of SS should also support debt-free college. They should also support workers rights, collective bargaining, and raising the minimum wage.

Blocked budget

The Senate has to do its part to pass a government spending bill by Friday of next week or the gov't will shut down. They're expected to manage only enough spending to last until December – so we'll do this again after the election. The GOP is ready to fund aid to Baton Rouge to help after their floods. Funding to help with Zika without also dinging Planned Parenthood has been resolved. So what's the hold-up?


Democrats are insisting that the bill include money to help Flint with its water crisis. Republicans? Not so much. Gosh, it wouldn't be because of the kinds of people who live in Flint, would it? Or maybe it is because of how Flint tends to vote compared to how Baton Rouge tends to vote?

The GOP keeps proposing versions of the bill they know will annoy the Dems. And one of those annoyances is the Flint money is financed by cutting the budget elsewhere while the Baton Rouge money will be added to the national debt – an idea usually forbidden by the GOP.


Guernsey, part of Britain, has voted 33-5 to approve same-sex marriage. Over 90% of respondents declared support for legal recognition of committed couples. The legislation now goes for the Royal Assent and marriages can begin in 2017. Northern Ireland is now the only part of Britain without same-sex marriage.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

You play by my rules

Karen Waver, mayor of Flint, MI is so fed up with the state for its role in the cause of Flint's water fiasco and its ongoing unwillingness to help fix the problem that she started the process to sue the state.

The state quickly changed the rules to prohibit Flint from suing the state.

Because Flint went through economic problems and had an emergency manager up to April 2015 the city still has a Receivership Transition Advisory Board. This board declared Flint can't sue Michigan without its approval. So, yeah, the state gets to approve whether the state can be sued. Are we surprised the board is GOP appointed and controlled?

I've got mine

Many pundits have said that with such high unfavorable ratings of both major candidates this is a good year for the alternatives, such as the Libertarian and Green party candidates. I'm pleased that Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party seems stuck at under 9%, though it would be good if he pulled a few more votes from Trump.

The editors of Shareblue take a look at four parts of the Libertarian platform, though it can be summed up rather easily: I've got mine. Too bad you don't have yours.

Taxes: Johnson is saying we should eliminate all income, property, and business taxes and fund the government with a consumption (sales) tax. But the consumption tax is the most regressive tax – the poor have to spend (and be taxed) on a much higher percent of their income than the rich for daily living. For a poor person, about 100% of their income would be taxed. For a rich person that might be 1% of their income.

Minimum wage: Johnson doesn't support it. Want more money? Switch jobs or become an entrepreneur! But some people don't have the education to switch jobs (see below) and there aren't enough higher paying jobs for everyone who wants one. As for being your own boss, because of racism and classism many people can't get a business loan.

Education: Johnson says college should not be free (something Sanders pushed, and Clinton has taken up). As for public schools, Johnson wants to abolish the federal Dept. of Education. Too bad if you're in a state that routinely underfunds its schools and refuses to teach sound science (such as evolution) or demands teaching abstinence-only sex ed.

Healthcare: Johnson has said there is no way a government can have a system that manages health care. He must not have tangled with an insurance company denying coverage. Johnson insists a, "market-based approach should be the foundation of any solution." But it is easy to show that proper health care is incompatible with the profit motive. (Several other things incompatible with the profit motive are here).

The Libertarian Party platform doesn't work for marginalized people – and not even for the young of the well-to-do who are just starting out on their own.

The Libertarians say they are fiscally conservative and socially liberal. I'm sure they mean they approve (or at least don't disapprove) of same-sex marriage. But socially liberal means more than that. Just one example: it means everyone gets a good K-12 education and doesn't have huge college debts weighing them down. So fiscally conservative and socially liberal can't mix.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Seventeen Solutions – corporate charters

Continuing my overview of Ralph Nader's book, The Seventeen Solutions. Click here to get the rest of the series.

7. Create National Charters for Corporations

Who creates corporations? Most would say "investors." But they only finance a corporation. The creators are the states, who grant corporate charters. These charters, like a corporate constitution, stipulate the rights, powers, and duties of the board, officers, and shareholders. The state makes this agreement on behalf of the whole society.

However, lately the state's side of the bargain has been thin. Don't like what the corporation is doing? Sell your stock. Even though that leaves the rascals in charge.

Didn't used to be that way. The early American corporations were granted charters by specific acts of legislatures (today one simply files papers with a Secretary of State). The charters were granted for a specific mission which must be a worthy public purpose. And charters could be (and were) revoked if a corporation strayed from its purpose.

The corporate response is one we've seen reenacted in the modern day. Armies of corporate lawyers visited state capitols and lobbied to give corporations more privileges and more immunities. States were played against each other – if you don't give us what we want we'll set up our business in a friendlier state. It was a race to the bottom. Delaware won and about 60% of Fortune 500 corporations are chartered there.

That race to the bottom has meant states have abdicated their role as corporate overseer (and corporations still complain about too much regulation). Previous posts in this series have already discussed what corporations do without an overseer.

Since the state system of charters has failed it is time for a federal chartering of corporations. That idea was proposed by James Madison in 1787. He wanted Congress to have the ability to grant charters in case "the authority of a single state may be incompetent." No vote was taken. Around 1910 the idea was again in favor, but strong antitrust and regulatory laws were seen as sufficient substitutes. Another push in the 1930s was interrupted by WWII and the corporate fortunes made by the war allowed them to squelch the idea.

Since WWII the focus has been on regulation, litigation, tort law, and antitrust enforcement. But these have shown to have little effect on the corporate hold on Congress and the rest of society.
Our current system, in short, has returned us to a kind of medieval feudal society – one in which citizens are expected to live in obedient resignation under the thumb of the corporate society – in an uneasy détente between the rules and the ruled.

The ultimate yardstick by which to judge these corporate wealth producers is whether they have delivered for the people – for the families, workers, consumers, savers, and retirees, and for the generations to come – and whether they have been good stewards of our planet. By just one measure – worker productivity – these companies have failed to share.

CorpWatch issued a report of Halliburton's actions during the Iraq war and the legal investigations the company now faces.
Now consider how a federal incorporation could have prevented such a rapacious company from sailing through such investigations unscathed. A responsible federal charter system would have required full public disclosure of all of Halliburton's contracts with the government (redacted only for strict national security considerations). It would have required full disclosure of the company's federal, state, and local tax returns, including foreign tax returns. It would have required full disclosure of all official investigation and audits of Halliburton's activities, and similar disclosure of all filings against the company by government workers, subcontractors, suppliers, and customers. Such disclosure is an early alert tool for internal whistle-blowers, conscientious staff, outside law and accounting firms, journalists, congressional committees, and inspector generals. As the great newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer once wrote, "There is not a crime, there is not a dodge, there is not a swindle, and there is not a vice which does not live by secrecy." Federal chartering would put an end to the secrecy under which many corporations conduct their shadiest business.
Federal charters would also require corporations to honor union rights and empower shareholders to discipline or replace top management and board members after wrongdoing.
A democratic society cannot long withstand the kinds of massive inequalities in power, privilege, and immunity that exist today between large corporations and individual citizens. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once observed, "We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
A charter should contain:

* A ban on corporate lobbying and on donations to electoral campaigns.

* A ban on advertising deadly products, such as tobacco.

* A ban on obstructing a regulator.

* A clause that a corporation may make money for shareholders, "but not at the expense of the environment, human rights, the public health or safety, the communities in which the corporation operates or the dignity of its employees."

* An end to shareholder primacy.

* An end to corporate personhood.

The goals of federal chartering have wide support of citizens, perhaps up to 95%.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

One year

I've debated a bit whether I should say something or not. I decided it is important and that I should.

My father died a year ago today.

I thought about that several times today though I went about my regular tasks without tears.

Perhaps I should say a few things about the last year. Though I've made a great deal of progress I am still cleaning out Dad's house. The latest is trying to find all documents that should be shredded so that my sister can take them to a free shred day at her credit union sometime next month. I've completed a few projects at the house – electrical work and air conditioner – with several more to go. The current project is to redo the front walk where several slabs have been lifted by tree roots.

Mom is in a facility for Alzheimer's patients near my brother outside of Pittsburgh. He is able to visit her most days. When he appears she thinks he is her husband ready to take her home. She is annoyed again when he leaves without her.

The estate finances are in order. Bills, especially for Mom's care, are paid. Some of the money is invested conservatively at a very small interest rate. It looks like it will last for several years. I have control of all but one of the investments and that one is quite small. Closing one particular bank account was a six-month effort (I sent them a letter listing their eight customer service errors).

The nearby family is much smaller. Thanksgiving and Christmas last year were small, quiet days (my Texas brother said, "We had 40 people over for Thanksgiving and had two turkeys." I replied, "There were three of us and one drumstick was plenty."). I don't see much difference in that this year.

Every year my church holds a Longest Night service. Other churches call it a Blue Christmas service, one for those facing loss. I went last year and already have it on my calendar for this year.

Make sure government can't work

One topic getting some notice during this campaign is a push by Dems to expand Social Security. In contrast, we've long heard from the GOP that they want to do away with Social Security. There have been numerous attempts to kill or privatize it. Since those direct efforts have (thankfully) failed, the GOP in Congress is working on indirect efforts.

Though the Social Security system has lots of money (much of it's surplus "loaned" to the federal general budget) Congress still has the power to set how much of that money goes to the Social Security Administration's operating budget. That mostly pays for salaries. The GOP is working real hard (with some success) to cut that budget. That means SSA offices in five states have lost at least 15% of their staff. The result is a record-high backlog with a million disability applications in progress and a wait of over two years for a decision.

Says Joan McCarter of Daily Kos:
The result is an agency hampered in administering the most popular public program in the nation's history, and the goal is to make that program run less efficiently, be more bureaucratic, and to erode its popularity. If Republicans can't directly and quickly kill Social Security, they'll take the long road of undermining it.
As I've heard others describe the GOP: Don't want big government and believe that government shouldn't work? Then make sure government can't work.

I hate that people hate

From our point of view Mexico has a strange legal system. A same-sex couple must petition the court to be allowed to marry. If a court in a state grants five such petitions then such marriages are legal in the state. The federal court has ruled in favor of same-sex marriage, but that doesn't make them legal, it only means when lower courts are petitioned they must grant the same-sex couple the request to marry.

Which means Mexico will get there – when five brave couples in each state take the time and money to force the issue.

President Peña Nieto began talking about speeding up the process by legalizing same-sex marriage across the country. The National Front for the Family called for protests. There are reports that in the city of Celaya around 11,000 joined the march through the city.

One 12-year-old boy decided he needed to do something. He said, "I have an uncle who is gay. And I hate that people hate." And then he tried to stop the march.

He didn't succeed. But he won hearts around the world.

The next day the pro-LGBT forces held their marches.

Friday, September 16, 2016

We demand to know

Melissa McEwen of Shakesville and Shareblue has been saying for months the national media are garbage. She backs up her words by looking at the media's coverage of Hillary Clinton's recent bout with pneumonia. McEwen asks a few questions:

1. Is the story newsworthy?

2. If so, do we do a straightforward report of facts? Or do we put those facts in a frame?

3. What additional context should be provided for balance?

4. How much coverage do we give it?
Here, the answers appear to have been: Yes; use existing false frame of “transparency”; provide very little to no balance by way of comparison with her opponents’ lack of transparency on medical records; and A LOT.

Those are not the only possible answers to those questions, though the media frequently pretend that they are.

There was no requirement—by any standard—that the media were obliged to cover this story in the way that they did nor as intensely as they did.

That was a choice. And it is a choice that gets made, over and over, in order to create the news and shape it in a very particular way.
McEwen comments on how the media works:
The corporate media create a narrative about Hillary Clinton; they repeat that narrative ad infinitum; they do a poll about that narrative; they report on the poll finding that the narrative has penetrated the public consciousness. Then they step away and summarily erase their role in creating the original narrative, retroactively justifying their creation of a false frame under the auspices of “this is what the public thinks,” as though “the public” came to that conclusion in a vacuum.
No surprise then that trust in media has dropped to a new low.

Brian Beutler of the New Republic also looks at the way news media frames stories. Why doesn't the media have dozens of stories about how Trump lies brazenly? Why so silent on Trump's racism? Why is Clinton's comment about Trump supporters being "deplorable" (or see above about her health) getting so much more attention?

Is it because the media wants to avoid value judgments? Perhaps they're skittish about partisanship? Or the problem is a misguided attempt to maintain balance – by helping out Trump the underdog? Beutler has another explanation:
The press is not a pro-democracy trade, it is a pro-media trade. By and large, it doesn’t act as a guardian of civic norms and liberal institutions—except when press freedoms and access itself are at stake. Much like an advocacy group or lobbying firm will reserve value judgments for issues that directly touch upon the things they’re invested in, reporters and media organizations are far more concerned with things like transparency, the treatment of reporters, and first-in-line access to information of public interest, than they are with other forms of democratic accountability.
Here are examples of how that plays out:

* Clinton is dinged on transparency when the issue is her private email server and when she didn't immediately disclose the pneumonia. The media demands it be allowed to know.

* Trump is dinged when his campaign manager allegedly batters a reporter.

* Trump is dinged when he feuded with the Khan family (whose son died in battle). But it wasn't because they are a Gold Star family, but because Trump may have offended people who would now choose to vote against him.

* Trump is given a pass when he talks about his wall on the Mexican border because there are no press freedom issues in the debate. Same thing when the issue is Trump shredding others constitutional rights.

Politics and bureaucracy are winning

Daniel Howes of the Detroit News has an essay at Michigan Radio on the many reasons why Flint and its water problems appear to be no closer to being resolved in the year since the issue became public.

* Michael McDaniel was hired by the Flint mayor last February to head the Flint Action and Stability Team. His job is to "get the lead out." He has yet to receive a paycheck.

* Nearly $130 million in philanthropic support is flowing slowly as the job to replace lead service lines (the source of the lead) requires competitive bidding and multiple levels of approval under the threat of legal action if not done right.

* Gov. Rick Snyder and AG Bill Schuette are feuding whether the state Health and Human Service dept. can work on Legionnaire's disease (another new case in Flint right now). The feud is because Scheutte thinks that work will disrupt his investigations.

* The mayor struggles to assemble her administration because the city is so cash-strapped. There is no public works director. The city engineer has been on the job for a month. The city administrator and financial officer abruptly quit. And the city needs another plumbing inspector.

* Schuette has said nobody, not even the governor, is excluded from his investigation. That means workers are careful to protect themselves, which takes precedence over actually getting work done.

* Schuette is being obvious about his desire to be the GOP nominee for governor in two years.

Politics and bureaucracy are winning. The people of Flint still suffer.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Speaking for black people

Back in 2011 the movie The Help did quite well and got an Oscar for Viola Davis. The general plot: In Mississippi of the 1960s we see scenes of various black women who work as domestics in white homes and taking care of white children. Skeeter, a white woman just returning from college, befriends several of these maids, who tell her their life stories. She publishes a book of these stories, which sends the town into a turmoil.

I saw the movie in a theater and thought it a good one. My original comments are here, though now they seem a bit off. One scene explained a bit about how power maintains its hold. Skeeter's mother used to employ the maid Constantine. Skeeter wonders what happened to her. At a gathering hosted by Skeeter's mom, Constantine is a bit too forward with the other guests. By this time Constantine is old enough that her daughter is also a maid in the household. One of the guests, a prominent woman in town is offended that Constantine doesn't know her place. This guest demands that Constantine be fired immediately. Skeeter's mom is faced with a choice: stay in the good graces of this prominent woman or protect Constantine, who is almost one of the family since she has worked for them so long. The mom fires the maid, and later tells Skeeter how much she regrets the decision. By that time Constantine had moved away from town.

To summarize the mom's choice, to stay in the good graces of the powerful in town she must perpetrate their oppression.

I've written about power structures and I took note of how a secondary player is pulled in and forced to also be an oppressor (I even used the example above). I could go on at length in how I see power and oppression being played out everywhere from presidential politics to corporations purchasing Congress to do their bidding. A great deal of what I write is about power.

However, today I'll get back to the movie. While white people (at least those who saw the movie) were introduced to an aspect of racism most hadn't considered, or likely never seen. But from the black perspective, the movie may make a good introduction to an aspect of racism, but for accurately depicting their lives – not even close. It perpetrates too many stereotypes.

As many of my posts over the last year have shown, I've learned a lot about how things look from the viewpoint of the oppressed from Melissa McEwen and her blog Shakesville. Last Thursday McEwen posted a Question of the Day asking her readers for their favorite posts from the blog. McEwen started the discussion by listing her own favorites – I'll have a lot to read because many are from before I became a regular reader. One of McEwen's favorites was written back in 2011 by a black woman who uses the screen name of elle. She describes herself as the granddaughter of the help. In it, she explains why she won't waste her time and money on the movie The Help. Here is my summary of elle's major points.

* The movie is more about Skeeter than the maids. Skeeter, a white woman, is the center of the movie. This means the movie will have several things wrong with it.

* With a white woman at the center the black experiences are filtered through the white woman, who wants to maintain she is one of those white people who are "good" to black people.

* With Skeeter at the center, she becomes the heroic white woman who rescues blacks women.

* The movie resurrects the "mammy" – the black domestic who is portrayed as an asexual, loyal, and contented caretaker of white children. She is safe to care for the white kids and because these whites are "good" the maid will remain loyal and thankful for the opportunity. But these women knew their oppression and their oppressors and knew the relationship was not between equals.

* When the white children grow up they remember the maids who cared for them and loved them. But that love was quite different from the love these maids had for their own children.

* The job of a maid was poorly paid. White employers would frequently find a reason to underpay even those meager wages or to demand longer hours.

* There were no benefits. The gov't purposely left domestic labor out of the Social Security system. When they could no longer work, their only option was welfare, contributing to the stereotype of the black woman in search of a handout.

* The movie does feature one family building a bathroom for the maid because the wife of the family doesn't want the maid tainting the family's bathroom (though the maid cleans it). Beyond that (which is essentially played for laughs) the movie spends little time with the emotional abuse the maids had to put up with from their female employers.

* And from their male employers there was frequently sexual abuse. This movie puts the white men in the background. We don't even see the Klansman's robes. Racism has been reduced from societal terrorism to individual acts of petty meanness.

* This use of the mammy stereotype reveals a nostalgia for a time when black women cleaned the White House, not live in it. Successful, self-confident, and happy Michelle Obama is too much for some people.

* The mood of the movie is way too persistently sunny. While it matches the persistently sunny mood of the country and its message of a post-racial society it doesn't fit the dark tone of the lives these maids lived.

* The movie perpetuates racism because it implies it is right that white people speak for black people, that white people get credit for "saving" black people. But compare the risks Rosa Parks took compared to the risks Skeeter's mom took (well, should have taken, but didn't) in trying to keep her maid employed (and oppressed).

McEwen,, in a post of her own, answers the question of why The Help got made. With such a sunny mood, someone is supposed to walk away from the movie feeling better. But who? McEwen replies:
And that's who—the people who tell these stories. The pop novelists, the publishers, the screenwriters, the producers, the directors. They're the ones who want to read/see/hear stories that reassure them that they're good people, artists, not exploitative garbage capitalists who don't recognize the humanity of anyone who makes less than they do.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Seventeen Solutions – corporate crime

Continuing my overview of Ralph Nader's book, The Seventeen Solutions. Click here to get the rest of the series.

6. Crack Down on Corporate Crime

How many people have gone to jail as a result of causing the 2008-9 Great Recession by selling bogus mortgages, looting savings and pension funds, and otherwise crashing the economy and sending millions out of work and out of their homes, and then rigging a bailout that left us taxpayers with the bill?


In 2007 homeless Roy Brown went into a bank and asked for money. Though the clerk put lots of bills in front of him, Brown took only $100. He later voluntarily surrendered to the police and plead guilty. His sentence:

Fifteen years, costing taxpayers at least a half million.
Crime in the suites has always been punished much more lightly than crime in the streets. Yet corporate crime extracts a far greater toll. While politicians cry out about cracking down on street crime, they collect campaign money from politically powerful corporate crooks who are eager to see that enforcement budgets, prosecutorial will, and even data collection about their fraud, violence, and systemic abuse are to minimum. These corporate supremacists have achieved such control over the system that they're able to ensure what criminal laws are drafted to exclude their kind of crimes or to divert responsibility away from corporate bosses towards underlings or hollow company subsidiaries. They have managed to drive federal and state cops off the corporate crime beat to protect business as usual.
To consider only one category, medical billing fraud and abuse costs patients and taxpayers at least $250 billion a year. In the early 1990s the Savings and Loan mess cost taxpayers at least $300 billion.
We think of street crime as more dangerous than corporate crime – because street crime involves immediate physical danger, often takes place at nighttime, and is viscerally upsetting. But each year far more people die, become injured or sick, and lose their money, homes, and other property because of corporate crime than they do because of street crime. The scale of devastation is not even close. Year in and year out, roughly 60,000 Americans die from workplace-related disasters and trauma, 70,000 from air pollution, 100,000 from hospital negligence, and another 100,000 from hospital-induced infection. … And the list of preventable, silent violence goes on. If one of your kin or close friends was a victim of such corporate violence, would it be any consolidation to hear that at least the loss of your loved one didn't occur at the hands of terrorists or a crazed killer on the street?

Here are reasons why corporate crimes go undetected:

* Corporate power has made sure there is no database on corporate crime.

* There is no public outcry against corporate crime because news media doesn't report it (and much of media is corporate).

* There is little scholarship or training in corporate crime. Lawyers are unprepared to prosecute it.

* Corporate crime is usually invisible. Such crimes as pollution don't sicken or kill quickly.

* Taxpayers are affected indirectly. When military contractors, for example, defrauds the gov't a bill isn't sent to taxpayers. They only see it in future taxes or in the gov't debt, which is meaningless to them.

* Criminal penalties have been scrubbed from the law.

* Corporations are in business with their watchdogs – through advertising dollars given to media, through donations to candidates, through dismantling laws that allow victims to sue (called "tort reform").

* Crimes can take years and decades to wreak their damage.

An example: Back in 1949 General Motors, Phillips Petroleum, Standard Oil of California, and Firestone Tire violated anti-trust laws through a conspiracy to buy up and dismantle 100 electric trolley systems across America, forcing us to use cars (sold by GM) and buses, which created today's daily traffic jams, which wastes the time of millions of people and causes huge amounts of pollution. Recreating what was ripped out would cost maybe $300 billion. The companies were convicted. GM's fine: $5000.
When business theorists insist that corporations exist to make profits, and that so-called social responsibility is not their business, they tend to ignore the fact that obeying the law – and not corrupting its enforcers – should also be corporate business.
Russell Mokhiber, editor of the Corporate Crime Reporter, said:
Corporate criminals are the only criminal class in the United States that have the power to define the laws under which they live.
We have an advantage, though it is little used. Though corporations have money (lots of it), they can't vote. We can. In every Congressional district there are people damaged by corporate rampages. Start with a small core and allies will join. Confront your representative with the need for an overhaul of federal corporate criminal laws. Force a few highly visible hearings. Make sure the laws include jail time. Ban convicted corporations from receiving gov't contracts.
One way to understand the extent of the corporate crime problem in America is to imagine it as a raging street crime epidemic in New York City – with only one hundred police on duty to enforce the law and with all the police superiors taking contributions from the gangs.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Seventeen Solutions – corporate welfare

Continuing my overview of Ralph Nader's book, The Seventeen Solutions. Click here to get the rest of the series.

5. Eliminate Corporate Welfare

In 1996 the GOP, with the approval of Pres. Bill Clinton, enacted welfare reform. That eliminated aid to those pesky single moms who wanted to turn a handout into a hammock.

But nothing was done then, or since, about reforming handouts to corporations. A big reason is welfare moms don't contribute to political campaigns.
For decades, I've been calling on Americans to recognize the phenomenon of corporate welfare as the poster boy for both the exploitation of taxpayers and the hypocrisy of free-market anti-big government ideologues.
Money is given to corporations through credits, exemptions, grants, subsidies, loan guarantees, and such things as an agreement with the Federal Reserve to buy stock in and guaranteeing shaky credit of a huge teetering bank. There is also leasing of radio spectrum, oil, mineral, and land rights for a pittance – allowing exclusive use and profit making from what belongs to all of us. There is free licensing of research done at public universities. There are inflated contracts with the military and NASA. There are deals where the profits go to the corporation and the risk is covered by the gov't. The list goes on.
Uncle Sam's sugar daddy largesse is so rampant that no one has managed to compile a comprehensive survey of even a single department's or agency's giveaways.
Such giveaways are usually sold to taxpayers (when they're visible at all) as job-creation measures. But these giveaways lead to unfair competition. Who will create more – and better – jobs, a series of small businesses that can't afford to make political donations or Walmart, which receives all kinds of tax abatements and is known for underpaying workers?

Nader gives details for a long list of gov't giveaways to corporations. It happens at the federal, state, and local levels. Frequently, once enacted there is no annual review. Such things as tax abatements don't appear in the state or city budget.

Why does all this matter? Because every dollar given to corporations (or not collected from them in taxes) is a dollar not spent on education, infrastructure, and the social safety net. All of which are in pretty bad shape these days. Corporate welfare allows management to take larger risks because they know if something goes bad the gov't will bail them out. And the things that go bad are more than money, they include environmental damage, injury and death to humans, and the trauma of social upheaval. Corporate welfare leads to greater income inequality, leaving even the middle class to struggle. It also undermines democracy.

There are stories of citizen groups that fight back. An example is the rejection of tax money for a new stadium for the New England Patriots. Alas, such examples are rare because the economic forces are too well organized, too powerful, and often too well hidden. In addition, courts remain hostile to reforms. When particular cases come before the courts, they are frequently thrown out with the ruling that citizens don't have standing to sue – which doesn't make sense because it is our money.

What to do?

Yes, gov't needs corporations to fulfill some of its goals. The market can't always meet those needs. But the relationship doesn't have to be reckless or at taxpayer expense. The relationship should be open, publicly deliberated, nonexclusive to the recipients, include repayment of gov't investment, and include ways to benefit the citizens and workers. The taxpayer should benefit as much as the corporation. And the handout must have a review, perhaps every three years.

We need new processes to allow citizens to call for change. One idea is to host town meetings to discuss specific issues. We may not get gov't to fund these, but private foundations can.

Other ideas: Require each corporation to list these handouts in its annual reports. The SEC could require this. If corporate leaders have been convicted of wrongdoing that corporation no longer gets subsidies. Give citizens the standing to bring lawsuits against these handouts and reward citizens who bring a successful suit by giving them a percentage of the money saved.

Finally, Nader puts out a call for a national coalition of taxpayers, workers, and small business owners to act against the corporate state. The sentinels of democracy – lawmakers, regulators, and judges – have failed to stop this raid on the Treasury. We must act.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Seventeen Solutions – family values

Continuing my overview of Ralph Nader's book, The Seventeen Solutions. Click here to get the rest of the series.

4. Protecting the Family Unit

I've posted many times about "family values." Usually in this blog it is about how LGBT are pulling the family apart or how LGBT people are corrupting children. Through it all there is lots of hand-wringing over the child's lost innocence and how we must protect children (who aren't as fragile as claimed). Childhood, even when we're not the threat, prompts lots of compassionate words from politicians (as they cut funding from schools again).

But all this political desire to protect disappears when up against the relentless onslaught of corporate advertising aimed at children. This isn't just through the TV. It also comes through phones, video games, and computer screens. It is to the point where children spend more time with these ads than with their parents. And trust their computer more than they trust Mom and Dad.
For the first time in human history, most children are born into homes where most of the stories do not come from their parents, schools, churches, communities, and in many places even from their native countries, but from a handful of conglomerates who have something to sell.
Parents are losing this war over their children
because the corporations have overwhelming resources at their disposal and because the perverse logic of the marketplace dictates that they put those resource to the most exploitative possible uses.
Though parents hold the dollars marketers have a three-step strategy to counter parents' control of child spending.
First, they entice children to nag their parents. Second, they take advantage of the absence of parents who travel or work long hours outside the home. Third they undermine the authority, dignity, and judgment of parents in the eyes of their children, thereby inducing kids to purchase or demand items regardless of their parents' opinions.
Marlboro Man taps into "teenagers' yearning for independence and freedom". The McDonald's McWorld campaign portrays adults as "lame, stupid pains-in-the-butt." PlayStation ads "explicitly degrade and devalue parents." The overall message is, "We understand you better than your parents."

The citizen organization Commercial Alert (Nader is one of the founders) promotes a Parents' Bill of Rights. This includes the Leave Children Alone Act, which bans TV advertising to children under 12; the Commercial-Free Schools Act; the Product Placement Disclosure Act, to prevent sneaking ads into media that parents assume to be ad-free; the Child Harm Disclosure Act, requiring the disclosure of information that a product could substantially harm a child's health; and the Children's Advertising Subsidy Revocation Act, to eliminate various federal subsidies for ads aimed at children under 12. Of course, corporations will fight tenaciously to maintain their profits.

What to do? Join citizen action organizations. "Put the TV in the closet, the cell phones in the drawer, and eat their family meals together." Search local papers, community organizations, and libraries for family activities. Participate in community institutions, such as food coops, energy production, health clinics, public works departments, city council meetings, local courts, artisan shops, farms, firehouses, hospitals, and newspaper.

Children should be "raised not by corporations, but by caring, thoughtful, engaged families."

Closing in on a single payer system

There have been several news stories recently about the EpiPen and the huge increase in price (and huge increase in CEO pay) over the last few years. Egberto Willies of Daily Kos sees this as one of the signs that single payer health care will come.

This EpiPen mess. A company withdrawing from the health care marketplace because its merger was denied. A report that shows high drug prices are not necessary for the development of new meds. Increasing deductibles make standard policies seem like plans that handle only catastrophes. Many people would rather pay the Affordable Care Act penalty than actually get insurance. All these things are signs of serious flaws in the ACA and could bring about its end, even though the ACA was a great start in eliminating the immoral parts of our health care system.

Here are signs that Willies says mean single payer health care will come:

Each health insurance company has its own overhead – advertising, buildings, staff, expensive CEO, and shareholders looking for profit. From the view of the patient and taxpayer that is all duplication. It means 33% of every insurance premium goes to overhead (and profit) and not actual care. Yet, we're told this is cheaper than Medicare for All.

Americans pay substantially more for health care, getting outcomes no better, and in many cases worse, than citizens in other countries.

Health insurance companies, to maximize profit, work to attract the healthy (the young) while they work to fend off the sick (the old, infirm, and unfit). Our bizarre system works to avoid sick people.

These insurance companies are consolidating. We're already closing in on a single payer system, but one that demands a profit.

Health care (which I've said before) should not be subject to the whims of the market. It is incompatible with profit. Willies expands that idea. Normal market rules of supply and demand don't work. Since health care is required to keep living the patient is always at a disadvantage, health care for profit is extortion by definition.

Health care for profit or a government run system. We'll need to choose soon. And we need to be ready because those who get rich off the current system will lie and spread confusion to be able to continue their extortion.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

A need to heal

With Donald Trump stirring up racism and the white supremacist crowd admiring the candidate Terrence Heath takes a look at the important issue of healing racial trauma.

Heath starts with the story of Legend Preston, age 10, of Newark. He followed his basketball into the street and looked up to see several police running at him with guns drawn. How the police confused Legend with a 20-year-old suspect is a puzzle. But the boy was traumatized. One stray motion, such as a hand near his waistband and the police would have opened fire.

Though not yet officially recognized, Race Based Traumatic Stress Injury is now being discussed and promoted by psychology professors. Many of the symptoms are similar to the well known PTSD. The damage doesn't have to be direct. It could be caused by being a witness or hearing that it happened to people like them.

Those symptoms include: increased vigilance and suspicion, increased sensitivity to threat, increased alcohol and drug use, increased aggression. And these symptoms increase the chances of encounters with police, especially when a whole community is affected. A loop that reinforces itself.

It is vitally important to end discriminatory police practices that traumatize communities. It is also vitally important to help traumatized citizens to heal. Perhaps several cities need something like truth and reconciliation commissions, which are usually used to help countries to heal after civil war or dictators.

Street art

Today I went into Detroit to see the Heidelberg Project. This is street art on a block of Heidelberg Street. It was started and is maintained by Tyree Guyton. Though it has now been around for 30 years this is the first time I've been to see it, even though it has been mentioned many times in the local paper. I went now because Guyton said it is time to slowly dismantle this exhibit and move on to other things.

This neighborhood started its long decline after the 1967 riots in Detroit. Many lots on this street (and many surrounding streets) are now vacant. Guyton has expanded into these lots. There are perhaps 3-4 occupied houses on this block that aren't involved in the Project. And a few other houses that are.

This is one of those houses:

I got the impression that the art keeps changing. Guyton will replace one installation with another or respond to something that happens on the street. Here are some of the current installations. A few will get an explanation

I didn't realize right away that the roof of this house is skewed to the walls.

An installation like this makes Guyton's critics claim what he does isn't art, it is junk. This kind of stuff brought lots of objections from neighbors. That prompted two different Detroit mayors to order demolition of a few of the houses, which were carried out. The two piles of bricks had likely been the corner supports for the porch of a house.

In 2013 and 2014 there were many fires and seven of the houses in the Project burned. Investigators determined it was arson. Guyton vowed to continue on. This house was one of those hit. The main part of this house was clearly burned, leaving the foundation. Stuffed toys are attached to the foundation. Inside on the basement floor are scattered blue shoes.

A big theme on the street at the moment are paintings of clock faces. Here are several. There are many more up and down the block. I'm sure part of the meaning is Guyton saying it is time to end the Project. I heard Guyton say "What do you want to do with your life?" … "I can say I've done it. It is time to move on."

This installation appears more artistic and more permanent. It is a sundial. One stands in the circle and the shadow indicates time. I was there at about 2:00 and my shadow did indeed stretch towards the little circle with the two stones, one white and one black, at the right in this image.

Guyton spends many days on the street greeting visitors. I talked to him briefly. He asked if I had any questions. I suppose as a lament I said I had one he probably couldn't answer. Why hadn't I come to visit his street in all the time it has been here. He replied, "I do have an answer. Your time is now." He made me realize I was doing something I had long ago determined was a useless exercise – lamenting the past and wondering what things would be like if I had done things differently.

And that reminded me of an incident from last summer. I was in Dad's hospital room with my oldest brother. Dad was asleep. I'm sure brother was feeling frustrated at Dad's condition and that the cancer wasn't caught sooner. I'm sure he was also annoyed that one of us wasn't constantly at Dad's bedside, which he had come to do. He asked me, "Given what you know now, if you could do it over what would you do differently?" With the benefit of hindsight I'm sure he wanted me to say that I would have gone with Dad to his doctor appointment and argued him into the proper tests or taken Dad to the ER, where they did get the diagnosis right. But I didn't. I reviewed the previous six months and came up blank. Later that day I realized what I should have said is, "I'm sorry, I don't play those kinds of 'what if' games. They're useless."

One more photo. In the same block is the home (or maybe studio) of artist Tim Burke. He has his own work in front of his house and in his yard. Several places on his brightly painted house are the words, "This is not part of the Heidelberg Project." The style of art is quite different

Here's the link to the Project webpage and another to the Wikipedia page.

Saturday, September 3, 2016


Today I listened to another episode of the More Perfect series about the Supremes put out by Radiolab. I've mentioned a couple others in the series and there is one more for me to listen to. This episode is 36 minutes.

The question posed in this episode is how did the Supremes become so powerful? They can strike down laws, overturn executive actions, declare same-sex marriage is legal, elect a president, and what they say goes.

To answer that we go back to 1800. The Constitution says there shall be a Supreme Court, but says almost nothing beyond that. As now, the political parties then are quite polarized. John Adams, in his final days (take that, Mitch McConnell!) nominates John Marshall as Chief Justice and also nominates a slew of federal judges. The last of these orders don't actually get out the door when Thomas Jefferson, of the opposite party, takes office. Jefferson is annoyed all these new appointees are of the other party and sits on them. One of these appointees sues and, using a recently passed law, takes the case straight to the Supremes. Marshall is trying to develop some dignity and power for his court. He and the other justices hear the dispute. Marshall realizes if says Jefferson can ignore what the previous president did there would be no end to the political mess. If he says Jefferson can't ignore his predecessor, Marshall has no way to enforce his decision. So Marshall flips the whole thing around. The Court rules that the law that allowed the thwarted judge to go directly to the Supremes is unconstitutional and the Court should not have heard the case.

This was the first time the Supremes declared they have the power to rule laws to be unconstitutional.

Marshall did find limits to his power. About 30 years later Andrew Jackson wanted to do some nasty things to Native Americans, such as the Trail of Tears. Marshall and the Court said Jackson's move was unconstitutional. Jackson essentially replied who is going to stop me? You and what army?

That question hung in the background until the 1950s and Brown v. Board of Education. To enforce the decision President Eisenhower called in the troops. That army. In this case the Supremes had power because the president said the Court did. Even so, there is still lots of defiance of the Supremes in issues of race. And if another branch of the gov't doesn't have their back, the Supremes don't have a way to enforce what they say.

Back in 2013 the North Carolina legislature, heavily GOP, created new restrictions on voting – photo ID requirements, a reduction in early voting days, elimination of same-day registration, and of out-of-precinct voting. The appeals court ruled the provisions "target African Americans with almost surgical precision" and thus a violation of the equal protection clause. It went to the Supremes. The Court was evenly divided on whether to lift the stay, so the law is overturned.

NC Republican Carter Wrenn recently talked about the bill's passage:
“Of course it’s political. Why else would you do it?” he said, explaining that Republicans, like any political party, want to protect their majority. While GOP lawmakers might have passed the law to suppress some voters, Wrenn said, that does not mean it was racist.

“Look, if African Americans voted overwhelmingly Republican, they would have kept early voting right where it was,” Wrenn said. “It wasn’t about discriminating against African Americans. They just ended up in the middle of it because they vote Democrat.”

"Boldly go" isn't so bold

A couple days ago I saw the movie Star Trek Beyond. I've seen a few episodes of the Original Series (premiered 50 years ago!) and of Next Generation. I was a pretty regular viewer of the series Deep Space Nine, Voyager, and Enterprise. I've seen many, though perhaps not all, of the 13 movies featuring the Original, Next Gen, and reboot casts. So, yeah, I saw the latest movie, though only after it came to a second-run theater.

I enjoyed it, though the violence was a bit too relentless (and some commenters have declared the emphasis of action over ideas and characters to be the reason why this one hasn't made a profit yet, which means it is possibly the last movie). I was quite captivated by the scale, complexity, and beauty of Starbase Yorktown. Quite impressive. It was a delight to see the repartee between Bones, Spock, and Kirk, and to see the other main characters – Uhura, Sulu, Scotty, and Chekov – have strong meaty roles.

Afterward I looked up the movie in the International Movie Database (IMDb), as I usually do, to read the quotes, goofs, crazy credits, and trivia. I was surprised when the trivia page talked about making Sulu gay. This was done in honor of George Takei, who played Sulu in the Original Series and has since become a gay-rights champion. Takei disagreed with the choice saying that was not Roddenberry's intention for the character (and in the late 1960s it could not have been). John Cho, who played Sulu, campaigned to make sure Sulu's husband was also Asian, even though an Asian man willing to play gay in Dubai, where they were filming, was difficult to come by.

I read that and thought: Wha? How did I miss that? A scene showing Sulu with his husband should have leapt off the screen at me. I thought through the movie wondering when I saw Sulu other than in his role as pilot and navigator or as a leader of part of the crew. It was in the middle of the night when I realized I had seen it, or might have seen it. There is a brief scene early in the movie where the Enterprise crew has made a stop at Yorktown and several crew members are shown in joyful reunion with family, which they hadn't seen in close to three years. Even so, I don't remember Sulu embracing another man.

And maybe my memory isn't faulty. I searched the web for "Sulu's husband" and got an image of a crowd that included an Asian man holding an Asian child, but no images of an actual embrace. And another site features John Cho saying the welcome home kiss was cut. How is one to tell that Asian man is Sulu's husband when we don't actually see them together? Bold new direction for the series? Hardly.