Thursday, April 27, 2017

Itching for an excuse to be violent

There are two articles of interest from the May 1 edition of The Washington Spectator.

The first is Guns, Extremism, and the Threats of Escalation by Rick Perlstein. He talks about the recent Battle in Berkeley where those for the nasty guy clashed with those against. The demonstrations started peacefully, then turned violent. Some try to claim it was hard to tell who threw the first punch. Others say it was clearly someone in the Alt-Right movement.

Perlstein’s larger point is there are those in the Alt-Right (euphemism for militantly conservative) movement itching for an excuse to be violent, to take out those who oppose them their Dear Leader. As part of their excuse is the belief they are merely fighting back in self defense – though more accurately in defense of their rank in society. Along the way Perlstein wrote:
Students of fascism will recognize the fantastical confusion of tropes: the enemy as a terrifying horde, raising the stakes ruthlessly beyond all civil bounds; but also the enemy as pitiful (“glass jawed”) weaklings—sometimes both within the same utterance. Such language is how students of fascism know that they are in its presence.

The second article is Letter from Mexico by Belén Fernández (not online yet). She explains why the immigration policy is the way it is (at least prior to the nasty guy) and has been that way since the last reform 30 years ago. Her summary is short:
The point of a punitive immigration policy has never been to put a stop to undocumented immigration in the first place, but rather to perpetuate its lucrative exploitability.
It worked like this:

* NAFTA eliminated the livelihoods of millions of Mexican farmers when subsidized American farm products flooded the Mexican market. The workers fled north.

* Because they are seen as inferior humans they are paid less. They produce wealth for the employers but keep less of it for themselves. That wage difference is a subsidy for the employers.

* These employers take no responsibility, pay none of the social costs, for the communities the workers came from or live in.

* Branding the workers as “illegal” means they are always deportable. That keeps the workers from demanding too many rights or a decent wage. Americans in the area are also kept in submission by the presence of folks willing to work for less.

* The migrant worker provides a convenient scapegoat for gov’t misdeed and general societal discontent.

The nasty guy is trying to upend this logic, but doing so only through white supremacy, not business. That implies he probably won’t succeed, but those who aren’t deported are in a more precarious position and thus more exploitable.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Lesbian bishop challenged

The United Methodist Church is awaiting a decision from its Judicial Council on whether a lesbian bishop should be removed from office. I have a summary of the story on my brother blog.

Trumpty Dumpty promised a wall

The title to this post is a great phrase! I got it from Melissa McEwan of Shakesville. Other sites have also been using it.

All through the campaign we heard how the nasty guy was going to build a wall along the US-Mexico border, even getting his supporters to chant, “Build the wall!” To fulfill that promise on Monday morning the nasty guy demanded funding for at least part of the wall be put into the spending bill that must be passed by Friday to avoid a government shutdown. The threat seemed to be: fund my wall or I shut down the gov’t. I also heard of a threat that if the wall wasn’t funded then the various pieces of the Affordable Care Act would also not be funded.

But Democrats displayed fierce opposition and by Monday afternoon the nasty guy had caved, afraid of another legislative failure.

A couple GOP senators, perhaps acting as nasty guy surrogates, responded by saying that “tall beautiful wall” is only a metaphor for better border security.

Just as well. Mexico environmental officials are preparing to fight the wall because it would make flooding on the Rio Grande worse.

But don’t gloat too much. McEwan reminds us:
Powerful cowards are very dangerous. Especially powerful cowards who have only earned praise for dropping bombs.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Victims of patriarchal culture

The nasty guy held an interview with Associated Press in which he essentially admitted he knew very little about what the job of president entailed. Melissa McEwan of Shakesville notes three examples from the interview.

* He admitted he didn’t know much about NATO (and proved it). Does he know enough now?

* He said business is better off without heart (though your suppliers, employees, and customers might disagree) but he seemed surprised that everything government does involves heart, that it affects people.

* He said he didn’t understand how big the job is and how great the responsibility is – people could have been killed in the missile strike in Syria (dude, people did die). And he hasn’t yet grasped that many of his decisions could kill (such as withdrawing health care, weakening safety regulations, or neglecting infrastructure).

McEwan also notes the role of the media during the campaign – the depth of the nasty guy’s unpreparedness was masked and Hillary Clinton was criticized for being over-prepared. And here we are.

Don’t expect the media to apologize any time soon. They don’t want to talk about their irresponsible treatment of both candidates because they don’t want us to reject their judgment in the next election (too late for that!).

In another post McEwan discusses what happens to smart woman (Clinton is a beautiful example of this). The smarter they are the more they are oppressed. White men refuse to deal with them, refuse to feel inferior, insist their privilege must remain intact.

McEwan says that because Clinton was a smart woman she was punished for it – leaving us a profoundly stupid and ignorant man to run the country.

McEwan explains the situation well and provides a pretty good solution to ranking:
The men who resent that the bar has been raised, their unearned privilege undermined and replaced with an expectation to achieve to the same level as women who hadn't their head start, can now do naught but whine about victimhood. They haven't yet realized that they are not victims of women, who only want the equality that's been denied them, but victims of a patriarchal culture that has spoiled men with the promise of success without effort, and robbed them of the will to expect more of themselves.
See above for an example of a spoiled man who expects success without effort and has no will to expect more of himself. A dangerous victim of patriarchal culture.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Thank a scientist

Yesterday, there was a March for Science in 600 cities across the country and around the world, including Neumayer Station, Antarctica. They protested the general GOP attitude of science and, in particular, cuts to such gov’t agencies as the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Institutes of Health. I didn’t get to the one in Detroit. Leave it to scientists to come up with cool and nerdy chants and signs. If these don’t make sense, you need to brush up on your science.

I heard this chant on the radio this morning:
“What do we want?”
“Science based policy!”
“When do we want it?”
“After peer review!”

Some of the other posters I saw here, here, here, and here.

“Think like a proton and stay positive.”

“Mr. President, I know bacteria more cultured.”

Over a picture of the Capitol Dome using a line from the movie *The Martian*: “We need to Science the Sh* out of this.”

“Alternative facts = square root of -1.”

Schrödinger’s cat grabs back.”

Tungsten, Thorium, Fluorine – “W Th F, the element of outraged disbelief.”

Beside a drawing of the earth as seen from space: “I’m with her.”

“S.T.E.M. the lies!”

“In Peer Review We Trust.”

“Hey Trump – Think you can stifle science? Ask Galileo how that worked out!”

“Make earth cool again.”

“Alternative facts are not statistically significant.”

“Got plague? Yeah, me neither. Thank a scientist.”

A child in a stroller: “Remember polio? Neither do I. Thanks, Science.”

“So bad, even introverts are here.”

“I can’t believe I’m protesting for reality.”

Below an image of Einstein: “Science cuts make me relatively angry!”

“Grab ’em by the Data.”

And I’ll close with a wordy one:
First they came for the scientists and the National Park Service said, “lol, no” and went rogue and we were all like, “I was not expecting the park rangers to lead the resistance. None of the dystopian novels I’ve read prepared me for this.”

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Deafening silence

All through the campaign the nasty guy talked a lot about bringing manufacturing jobs back from overseas. He also talked about bringing back coal mining jobs.

Since October 89,000 retail workers have been laid off. Their jobs are disappearing from physical stores due to competition from internet stores. This 89,000 is more people than employed in the coal industry. Why didn’t the nasty guy campaign to save their jobs?

Jamelle Bouie, chief political correspondent for Slate, offers insight through a question: Who does retail work and who does manufacturing work?

Well, yeah, says Bouie, coal jobs are concentrated in particular places, which also happen to include swing states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan (we have coal? I didn’t think so. There used to many coal mines in Saginaw County, but the last closed in the 1950s). Retail jobs are spread out, though mostly in cities and suburbs and affected by gerrymandering.

On to the answer to Bouie’s question. White men tend to hold the manufacturing jobs. Women and women of color tend to hold the retail jobs. We’ve tied the worth of a job to who tends to do it. In the nasty guy’s world white men matter. Women of color don’t.

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville adds a bit more. As the statistic above shows, retail jobs are being lost to automation. And those jobs are not coming back.

McEwan uses the example of the humans that used to answer the corporate phone, listen to your reason for calling, and connect you to the proper person. That person has been replaced by the phone tree, the recorded message that guides you through its maze of options. Customers hate them, but the cost savings has kept corporations from rehiring humans.

“Beautiful trade deals” won’t save jobs that are automated. And what is the nasty guy and his GOP cronies going to do about it?

The silence is deafening.

There is another deafening silence, this one coming from the Democratic Party. The silence is in response to this question: Why isn’t the party trumpeting the successes of President Obama, especially in comparison to the nasty guy’s disaster in that same office?

Related questions: Why is Bernie Sanders touring the country with DNC chair Tom Perez? Bernie was a Democrat in name only during last year’s primaries and has recently proclaimed that he isn’t won’t be a party member. Why is Sanders on that tour and Obama isn’t? And Hillary Clinton isn’t?

McEwan has a few thoughts. She says it is because Clinton, in spite of her solid win over the nasty guy in the popular vote, is seen as radioactive. And Obama is inconvenient. It is well known that Clinton was going to continue Obama’s policies. So if they praise Obama while pushing Clinton aside they show that the problem wasn’t Clinton’s policies.
They're effectively disowning the nation's first Black president in order to conceal their misogyny toward the party's first woman nominee.
Why do some of us keep poking sticks into the coals of the last election? Because if we don’t honestly face what went wrong we won’t fix it and we’ll lose again. And some of us see the Democratic Party as unwilling unwilling to face it honestly.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Seventeen Solutions – organize congressional watchdog groups

I am discovering several ways to resist the mess coming out of Washington. One is to make sure my senators and representative know my positions. Another is to join protest marches (though I haven’t done much of that lately). I can make sure a (slightly) larger audience knows the nasty things the nasty guy is doing by writing about them in this blog. I can discuss the ideas that build community – the opposite of ideas promoted in Washington. I can also resist by continuing my overview of Ralph Nader's book, The Seventeen Solutions. Click here to get the rest of the series. Alas, it has been two months since I last featured a chapter.

14. Organize Congressional Watchdog Groups

About 1500 corporations – ExxonMobil, Goldman Sachs, Walmart, General Electric, and the rest – are able to get Congress to do their bidding.
But only we have the votes that send these 535 men and women to Congress.

So if we hold the reins, then, why is it that the corporations control the horses? Because they know what the horses like to eat. Because they are there day after day, plying the corridors of Capitol Hill. Because they fund, socialize, play, drink, and vacation with these lawmakers. Because they have nice, cushy, high-paying jobs waiting for these legislators (as well as their assistants and their relatives) when they retire from their seats. Because they can apply a lot of pressure when these carrots don’t work. Because if a legislator doesn’t serve their interests, they can run someone more accommodating against him or her. Because they can make these legislators look bad – or undeservedly good – through deceptive advertisements and other seedy slanders or puffery.

Still, they don’t have a single vote. And you do.

Only We the People have the vote.
But too often too many of us don’t vote or vote for the same party no matter the current conditions or are too disengaged to make a meaningful choice.

And both major political parties (though GOP far more than Dem) are good at exploiting the disengagement or otherwise twisting the vote. I’ve documented many through the years. These tactics include gerrymandering, strict voter ID laws, and laws that obstruct smaller parties from getting on the ballot.

Safe seats mean lawmakers pay less attention to voters. That makes the voters cynical and tends to make them withdraw from the process – why bother? Which is exactly what the corporations want.

But that cynicism is sparking a renewed discussion of fairness (the book was published in 2012 when the Occupy movement was in the news, though examples from this year abound). And that is prompting a resurgence.

One way that resurgence can channel its efforts is through Congressional WatchDog groups. A CWD would form in a congressional district with a thousand people signing a pledge to work for the people’s agenda (all those policies that are favored by 65% of the voters, but which Washington is working hard to ignore). These thousand would also raise or donate $200 and volunteer 200 hours a year. The money would be used to set up an office and pay for full-time advocates, whose main jobs would be to (1) lobby Congress, (2) coordinate with CWDs in other districts, and (3) make sure the citizens know what the advocates are doing and how to help. The volunteer time would be to be that help and to recruit more members. Most citizen efforts are amateurish. We need professionals, but ones responsible to us, not corporations.

Lawmakers and their corporate masters are good at the long game, good at sensing their opponents show signs of flagging interest. An important part of the work of a CWD lobbyist is to stress this is for the duration. Once the advocates begin to show their representatives are listening, more citizens will join the process. The agenda of a CWD needs to be concrete and specific to withstand corporate backlash.
In a presumed democratic republic like the United States, the ultimate governmental power is supposed to reside in the people. In the interest of practicality and expertise, the people delegate much of the daily exercise of this power to elected legislatures, which on the national level means Congress. But this delegation of authority shouldn’t mean disengagement from the responsibilities of citizenship. Our system can only work if our citizens are organized and vigilant in monitoring the ways of our 535 representatives, who each year speak for larger and larger populations, are using the power we grant them. Otherwise delegation will become abdication – first by the people, and then inevitably by Congress, until it falls conclusively into the hands of the corporate supremacists.

I like this idea. It seems sensible and practical. I could put some money behind it. I’d even volunteer. Many of the ideas in previous chapters, such as getting corporations off welfare, depend on Congress to implement. Under the current Congress, these ideas ain’t gonna happen. However, this chapter shows a way to make Congress listen (though it would still be a long slog, emphasis on being in it for the duration).

But Nader leaves out an important part. Who should get it going and how does the effort start?

Personally, I’m not one to go out and find a thousand people to pay for and volunteer for a CWD. So… who?

How about you Mr. Nader? With your position and influence have you worked to get a CWD going, perhaps proclaiming it as an example and template? Since you don’t mention it in this chapter I suspect you didn’t put any skin in the game. All talk and no action? How do you expect others to run with your idea?

Friday, April 14, 2017

Empathy is the highest form of critical thinking

I’ve probably mentioned that while cleaning out the old magazines from Dad’s house I took a few home with me. I’ve slowly been reading them in amongst the few magazines I get. One that I took from Dad’s house in the Smithsonian Magazine from December 2013.

The feature articles of this issue are about innovative people. The one that caught my attention is the article about Dave Eggars and Mimi Lok and their line of books.

One of the complaints about what we record as history is that so much of it is about the “Great Men.” These are the guys who controlled and directed events. They’re usually of high rank and many times what they do is to protect that ranking.

Eggars created the project Voices of Witness to tell the stories of those who lived through catastrophes (many caused by the Great Men). Lok is the organization’s executive director. A member of his team will go to a survivor and essentially just listen, allowing the survivor to tell his or her own story. These storytellers have found the process to be healing – someone cares enough to hear me. I can face the trauma with a friend beside me. I have a voice and can use it.

Some of the books of the series:

Underground America, stories of undocumented immigrants.

Voices from the Storm, the people of New Orleans on what happened to them during and after Hurricane Katrina.

Surviving Justice, the people wrongfully convicted and then exonerated. But the time between the two is usually traumatic.

Refugee Hotel, documenting the people who come to the United States as refugees.

High Rise Stories, stories from Chicago Public Housing (a fitting companion to the documentary about Jane Jacobs).

Invisible Hands, about the workers who are doing many of the jobs outsourced from America and are dealing with low wages, a devastated and toxic environment, and repressive governments.

Patriot Acts, about the Muslim people who faced injustices as part of the 9/11 backlash. This one is critical for today’s political climate.

There are also books on migrant agricultural workers in California, inmates at a women’s prison, residents of Palestine under Israeli control, residents of Haiti still struggling after the 2010 earthquake, people in Colombia who become migrants because of the violence there, survivors of Burma’s repressive military, and the abducted and displaced of Sudan.

The whole Voice of Witness program is more than the books. They offer training to become an effective interviewer, with lots of emphasis on listening. They offer study guides so their books can be used in class. They hold in-class workshops so students learn how to capture the oral history of those around them.

Students who read the books discover more than statistics about such things as incarceration rates. The storytellers aren’t ghosts of some far off place. They are people the students can identify with and root for and love.

Through the workshops and the gathering of stories the students learn empathy, to understand another person and the crisis they lived through. A mantra at the Voices of Witness office is: Empathy is the highest form of critical thinking.

I’m delighted these books are out there. Because of the trauma contained within I’m not sure I want to read them.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

From the courts

Highly conservative Neil Gorsuch now sits on the Supreme Court. There are over 100 vacant seats on federal courts because the GOP refused to consider Obama’s nominees. And we know whose nominees will be swiftly approved. For now, though, several courts are still with us.

A month ago I had reported that the city council in Jackson, MI had passed a non-discrimination ordinance to protect LGBT people. Our opponents took three weeks to collect double (now reported as nearly triple) the 342 needed signatures to block the ordinance, not telling the truth as they did so.

Jackson Together, the pro-LGBT group behind the ordinance, filed suit against the petitions. They cited two errors:

* After the petitions were submitted changes were made to 19 names. That act invalidates all petitions.

* The petitions did not include signed affidavits, though City Clerk Randy Wrozek says state law doesn’t require it.

There was another little skirmish – Wrozak tried to have a strongly anti-LGBT lawyer represent him in the proceedings. The judge denied it saying the clerk isn’t an independent agent, he’s to follow what the Council directs him to do.

That skirmish dealt with, the judge directed Wrozak to invalidate the petitions. Between the statements from the judge and the deadline for filing fresh petitions already passed, the challenge is over. The non-discrimination ordinance is in effect!

Here are the Michigan cities (prior to Jackson) with non-discrimination ordinances, necessary because the state legislature refuses to act on the issue. Alas, my city isn’t in the list.

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that anti-LGBT bias is unlawful. They used Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as their reasoning. This part of the law bans discrimination on the basis of sex. This ruling says that discrimination based on sex includes discrimination based on sexual orientation and based on gender identity. The ruling drew heavily from the 1967 Loving v. Virginia case that struck down bans on interracial marriage.

The suit was brought by Kimberly Hively against Ivy Tech Community College because she said she was denied full-time employment and promotions because she is a lesbian.

The 2nd Circuit and 11th Circuit Courts had previously rejected this interpretation of Title VII.

The 7th Circuit is Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. Both Illinois and Wisconsin have statewide LGBT protections. Indiana does not. So this ruling will have a big effect there.

Since different Circuit Courts have now reached different conclusions on whether Title VII protects LGBT people the issue is likely to go to the Supremes. But not through this particular case – Ivy Tech has declined to appeal.

The reasoning that discrimination based on sex include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity was part of another recent case, this time based on the ban on sex discrimination in the Fair Housing Act. Tonya and Rachel Smith say they were turned away from a rental property in Boulder County, Colorado because Rachel is transgender and they are a same-sex couple. US District Judge Raymond Moore ruled in their favor.

A Mars / Venus thing

Still convinced misogyny and general ranking had nothing to do with last November’s election? Think about these two statistics side by side.

Nearly 80% of the more than 27 million people who follow the nasty guy on Twitter are men.

Of those calling Congress to resist the nasty guy’s agenda 86% are women.

The first sentence is from Polly Mosendz of Bloomberg Businessweek who got the data from content-analysis software. In addition, she found of the 10 most-engaged Twitter followers five are confirmed and three appear to be bots, programs that automatically generate Twitter support for the nasty guy.

The second sentence: Laura Moser founded Daily Action, a system based on text-messaging to suggest a daily civic action, such as calling a legislator to state opposition to a nasty guy policy or nominee. The subscribers make an average of 10,000 calls a day. Lake Research Partners polled these subscribers to get that percentage.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

I am because we are

I just finished reading the book Sundowner Ubuntu by Anthony Bidulka, published in 2007. This is part of his series of books featuring private investigator Russell Quant of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. I tend not to read mysteries, mostly because the stories are usually about murder. But I started this series because Quant is gay and many of the people in the book, both his friends and the people he investigates, are also lesbian or gay. The plot frequently is about some aspect of the gay experience.

Thankfully, this story is not about a murder. Quant is hired by a mother looking for the son she hasn’t seen in 20 years since the lad was hauled off to reform school. The plot takes many twists and turns and I couldn’t even try to guess the ending. Like many mysteries there is a great deal of violence. This one also contains many tender scenes. I enjoyed the book.

As the title suggests Quant follows the trail of clues to South Africa and a couple safari resorts in Botswana. It is there he encounters ubuntu, an African term that directly translates as “humanity.” Quant, a friend who is into photography, and Joseph, their driver, venture into one of the townships for information. A case of camera lenses is stolen. Joseph disappears for a moment. When he comes back he announces they will go to dinner nearby. But what about the lenses? During the meal Joseph again disappears and moments later sets down the case of lenses. He explains that ubuntu brought the lenses back.
“For the same reason these people in the townships live so harmoniously together, for the same reason the children were not scared of us today, for the same reason everyone waved at you as we passed by,” Joseph told me. “They know that without the community, without the care and watchfulness and help of their neighbors, they are nothing. If a man takes a thing that is not his, such as the young foolish boy did today, he cannot get away with it. The community cannot let him get away with it. To let him keep it is to say it is okay for this boy to steal from others, and if you steal from others you can also steal from me and my brother and my cousin, because we are all the same.” He looked at me hard. “Even the two of you.”

“But we’re not part of this community,” I countered.

“But you are. You were there today. Do you realize what most visitors to our country never visit a township? They are afraid. They don’t understand. You will be surprised to learn that many city people, people who live right next to us as neighbors, many Afrikaners, have never come to our townships to see what it is to live here.” He downed some beer, then continued. “The people in the community know that if they see you with me, they know are paying me to bring you, and they know the money you pay me is returned to the township and the community.

“So today when that boy stole the case, many others saw this thing happen, there are always others who see, and there are always those who know who did this thing, so I simply told these men where we would be having dinner tonight and I knew if they could find this boy, and the thing he took, it would be returned to us, just as they would want us to do for them in return.” He smiled. “Ubuntu.”
The concept of ubuntu shows up several times during the story in a variety of ways.

Recently, I’ve been writing a lot about ranking, the widespread belief that some humans are supposed to be ranked higher than others. I had heard of an ancient society on the island of Crete without ranking, described in the book The Chalice and the Blade.

And ubuntu in South Africa is a modern example.

I’ve noticed that people who are obsessed with ranking are usually those at the top (or believe they are supposed be at the top). In contrast, many of those who are ranked lower, especially those at the bottom of the ranking systems, don’t worry about ranking. They highly value community instead. When they challenge those of higher rank it isn’t to invert the ranking so they come out on top. Instead, it is to banish ranking. Martin Luther King promoted the latter and was accused of the former.

The Wikipedia page on ubuntu includes a description of the concept. It is part of a ruling by South African Judge Colin Lamont in the hate speech trial of Julius Malema. Some of Lamont’s concepts:

* Ubuntu is to be contrasted with vengeance.

* It places a high premium on dignity, compassion, humaneness and respect for humanity of another.

* It demands a shift from confrontation to mediation and conciliation.

* It favors re-establishment of harmony, to restore the dignity of the plaintiff without ruining the defendant.

* It favors restorative rather than retributive justice.

* It favors reconciliation rather than estrangement, of changing conduct rather than merely punishing.

* It favors face-to-face encounters leading to resolution rather than conflict and victory.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu explained:
Ubuntu speaks particularly about the fact that you can't exist as a human being in isolation. It speaks about our interconnectedness. You can't be human all by yourself, and when you have this quality – Ubuntu – you are known for your generosity.
More from Tutu, Ubuntu is not…
I think therefore I am. Rather, I am a human because I belong. I participate. I share.
To sum it up: I am because we are.

In sharp contrast to what is going on in Washington these days where leaders obsess about ranking, back in 2009 under Secretary of State Clinton, Elizabeth Frawley Gagley was sworn in as the Special Representative for Global Partnerships. She spoke of the need for the United States to conduct Ubuntu Diplomacy.

Let’s do away with ranking. Let’s practice ubuntu. Dignity, compassion, respect, reconciliation, restoration, resolution, belonging, an emphasis on we.

Spreading kindness and love

Four funerals in 18 months. Three of them were for family members most would consider had died too young. We cry out this is enough. Yet, on the horizon I see funerals for Mom, Dad’s sister, brother, and sister-in-law, and Mom’s two sisters and two brothers-in-law. All are in their 80s. Mom has Alzheimer’s. Her sister has Parkinson’s. The rest seem to be holding their own, though showing decline. We’re not done with funerals yet, though hopefully not so many crammed into such a short time. And, hopefully, no more of those who die too young.

I drove to a little town in western Ohio on Friday and returned Saturday. Sara had died of a cancerous brain tumor. Time from first symptoms to death was four weeks. Sara was wife to Joe and he is a first cousin to Dad – their mothers were sisters. Joe was born when Dad was in high school and Joe’s younger sister is just a couple months older than my older brothers, so Joe and his sisters seem more like my cousins than Dad’s. Even so, I didn’t know Sara well.

I attended visiting time at the funeral home on Friday evening. There were lots of people from the community in addition to the relatives. The receiving line stayed long. I was able to talk to descendants of Joe’s mother, which included several second cousins, many of whom I hadn’t seen in several years. I also got to meet many of his mother’s great-grandchidren. There are now 13 in that generation. The oldest is 14 and the youngest is 5 months. I found it useful to review the definitions of the types of cousins.

The funeral was Saturday morning. A few more relatives were able to come, such as Dad’s brother and his wife and daughters. There was also a daughter of Grandma’s other sister. In the service Sara was described as spreading kindness and love through all she did. Her younger son gave a fine eulogy, stressing he had been taught to also spread kindness and love. Memorial money is going to an organization that works to repair families of troubled boys.

The pastor invited us to stay in the church as long as we wanted after the luncheon. But after everyone had eaten Joe invited us all over to his house. He wanted to get out of his church clothes. Though we had just eaten snack foods were laid out. By early afternoon roasters of meat had arrived. When I left at 5:00 to return to Michigan the party was still going strong. A house full of family and friends enjoying each other’s company with a well stocked kitchen. Sara’s kind of party.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The people know what’s best for the people

This weekend is the fourth Freep Film Festival. Freep is the local nickname for the Detroit Free Press – the paper uses it for its web domain. This festival is over five days and features two dozen feature length films and four programs of short films. All are documentaries, most having some sort of connection to Detroit or Michigan.

I saw two of the films and had hoped to see a third, though it had sold out. The one that sold out is about the 1967 riots in Detroit. We’re coming up on the 50th anniversary so there are lots of commemorations around the city in the next few months, many saying we have to understand our past to guide our future. Since this film sold out one of the local art theaters will likely pick it up.

First up: Last Men Standing was a project of the San Francisco Chronicle. It tells the stories of eight gay men who became HIV-positive in the 1980s before effective treatment was available and who did not die. What is life like when you are told for several years you’re going to die in a couple years – you even see your friends die – and now it is 30 years later? There is loneliness because partners and friends are gone. There are financial difficulties. One went on disability, which is now running out. One struggles to fill his days because the terms of his disability is that he not work. One lost his home of 30 years. What do old gay guys do in a culture that celebrates youth?

There are a few bright spots. One continues to march in the Pride Parade. Another is a part of a support group of similar men. Two of the men are surprised by love.

That film was shown in Cinema Detroit in the Midtown area of Detroit. After the film was a session with the filmmakers, alas over quickly. After that I had over three hours until the next film.

So I enjoyed the sunshine and walked around Midtown for a while. I started with the block of Canfield between Second and Third. It is a historical district with sixteen houses built between 1870 and 1890. I’ve driven down the street a few times, but in a car I’m going to fast to get a good look. On foot I could linger. They’re all made of brick and several have Victorian or similar decorations.

I walked up and down various other streets in the area. Most are lined with renovated apartment buildings from small to large. This is one of the hot areas of Detroit. Many of these residents attend Wayne State University a few blocks to the north. These buildings are likely from before 1930, so their architecture has character.

Supper was at the Traffic Jam and Snug on Canfield. The block it is on now has several upscale stores.

The second film was in the lecture hall of the Detroit Institute of Arts, a place that might hold 500 people (in contrast to the 1500 or more of the Film Theater auditorium). The film was Citizen Jane: Battle for the City. The Jane in the title is Jane Jacobs and she battled Robert Moses over redevelopment in New York City in the years after the Great Depression and WWII.

In the early part of the 20th Century and into the Great Depression the living conditions of most poor people in New York were pretty bad. The need to do something was real.

Robert Moses was a city planner (an unelected job) and was charge of public housing. Through this position he wielded a great deal of power. He and his team would designate an area of a few blocks to be blighted. The crews would tear everything down and build high-rise apartments in a park-like setting. Beautiful, yes?

No. They were a disaster, becoming profoundly unsafe and eyesores within a decade. The poor people who lived in them were ripped out of their community and isolated from other classes of people.

The buildings were inexpensive to build. And a lot of them were built, making a lot of money for the building companies, and they were good at making sure Moses stayed in his job.

Jane Jacobs, a writer and journalist, was a keen observer of life in a city. She began to take on Moses and hone her activist skills. In 1961 she published the book The Death and Life of Great American Cities, calling into question every premise that Moses espoused. I’ve seen a copy of this book at my friend and debate partner’s home. I didn’t borrow it to read it.

Moses had said the streets are unsafe, let’s replace them with a park. Jacobs responded the streets, though they are chaotic, are where life happens. And the more people on the street the safer they are.

Moses essentially said I know what is best for people. If they don’t use the buildings and parks the way I intended it’s because they are stupid. Jacobs responded, no, the people know what’s best for the people, they know what makes up their community, their interconnectedness, their values, the things that are important to them.

Moses said we must embrace the car and provide ways for it to get around quickly. He built the Cross Bronx Expressway, which ripped up neighborhoods and separated northern Bronx from southern Bronx. The Bronx still hasn’t recovered.

Jacobs responded there are things of higher priority than the car.

Tying this to my recent theme, Moses was very much into ranking. Though the reason for his efforts is sound – the plight of the poor really was wretched – it was his solution, not theirs. He had no regard for their community. His solution made their plight worse.

Jacobs was very much into resisting ranking. She recognized bad solutions but insisted the community, not herself, held the good solutions.

Moses and Jacobs tangled on three projects. Jacobs won all three.

The first was Washington Square Park. Moses pushed to have 5th Avenue continue through the park. One reason was so that a street south of the park could be named 5th Avenue, expanding the addresses for pricey homes and businesses.

Jacobs said that Washington Square Park was fully used by the neighborhood. It was an integral part of the community. Running a street through it would destroy its usefulness to the community. The community aspects should be much more important than the traffic up and down 5th Avenue.

A few years later several blocks in the area around Greenwich Village and West Village were designated as blighted and to be torn down and replaced. These few blocks included the building where Jacobs lived. The film did not say or imply that Moses chose those blocks because included her home. He decided they were blighted and he and his pals were ready to make money from them.

This time Jacobs knew what had happened to previous urban renewal projects. She would not let that happen to her own neighborhood. She organized and resisted.

The third project was the Lower Manhattan Expressway, something similar to the Cross Bronx Expressway, though this time it looked like the highway would be somewhat enclosed within buildings for residences and offices.

Jacobs attacked it based on how it would divide neighborhoods and disrupt community. She got citizens before city council and urban planning meetings. She showed how you can fight city hall.

After this battle Jacobs moved to Toronto – where she led a fight to halt a freeway.

Moses was not doing too well politically at this point. He tried a frequent tactic on newly elected Governor Nelson Rockefeller. Moses said if I don’t get what I want I’ll quit. Rockefeller called his bluff and said, go ahead and quit.

Many other cities in America and around the world tried the highrise in the park model for housing. There were the Brewster-Douglas projects in Detroit and Cabrini-Green in Chicago, among others in many cities. The idea didn’t fare any better across the country and world than it did in New York. The Brewster-Douglas complex was demolished between 2003 and 2014. The land remains vacant.

Cabrini-Green was demolished between 1995 and 2011. Wikipedia has a bit more about what happened to this one. A big reason for its decline was the city trying to save maintenance costs on cheaply made buildings. Instead of renovating an apartment after a fire it was boarded up. Lawns were paved over. Trash chutes became clogged and not cleared. Balconies were covered in mesh to keep residents from throwing trash from them. The residents felt like they were in prison.

So the Moses model of government housing lost out to the Jacobs vision of the city. Urban planners study her book, which has been translated into several languages. Except the battle still rages.

The film expanded its view to international concerns. It said about a million people a week move to cities around the world. That’s like a new Los Angeles metropolitan area every three months. If we’re going to get cities right, we have to do it now.

But… Beijing, with its authoritarian government, is following the Moses model of large highrise apartment buildings. India is also following that model in its big cities. Will these be the slums of this century?

After the film John Gallagher of the Free Press led a panel discussion of three neighborhood planners of the area. They took many questions from the audience and the whole discussion lasted 45 minutes. In Detroit city hall has incorporated many of the ideas of Jacobs – walkable and busy city streets being one I hear about. These ideas seem to be taking root in Downtown and Midtown.

But in the neighborhoods there is still a battle – do decisions come from city hall or from residents? These community planners are trying to make sure the discussions happen, though they say they’ve had limited and mixed results. Sometimes discussions with residents happen. Sometimes they don’t. Even so, there are hopeful signs: One audience member said she teaches architecture at Lawrence Tech University in the northern suburbs. Her big initiative is trying to teach her students how to meet, talk to, and listen to the people in the community.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

It’s not the common man

Yesterday the House approved a bill, already passed by the Senate, to rescind the rules saying an Internet Service Provider must get your permission before selling what they know about you, including such things as all the websites you visit. The nasty guy hasn’t signed it yet, but there is little doubt he will.

That has left me wondering whether I should be proud of the sites I visit that resist the nasty guy, even if that history might someday be used against me. That has also had me trying to figure out what a Virtual Private Network is, how it works, and if it keeps my ISP from snooping. I haven’t gotten very far in that quest (the Wikipedia entry on VPN is filled with tech jargon). A second quest might be to see if there are providers in my area who vow not to sell my data.

I’m aware there are millions of people who wouldn’t know how to deal with a VPN or don’t have an alternate company in their area.

T.C. Sottek of The Verge has a list of all 265 members of Congress who gave away our privacy. With each name is now much money internet providers have donated to them in the last year. I didn’t compute a grand total, but it looks like internet companies got what they wanted for a bargain. Buying Congress must be cheap these days.

Those active in social media know about trolls, those people who harass others with differing opinions (Melissa McEwan of Shakesville is well acquainted with trolls). These trolls depend on being able to attack anonymously. Internet privacy is highly important to them. Andy Cush of Spin reports they are extremely ticked-off that the nasty guy, someone they strongly supported, would consider damaging their privacy. Cush notes:
Incidentally, the episode is a useful cautionary tale for impressionable young Trump supporters about the Republican Party’s conflation of free-market corporatism and individual liberty in general. When you deregulate industries, it’s not the common man who enjoys new freedoms. It’s the people and organizations who already have lots of money and power–in this case, the ISPs. And when those people in power are given an opportunity to further exploit the common people who rely on them for essential services in exchange for a little more money, they’ll always take it.

A repeal that isn’t

The North Carolina HB2 “Bathroom Bill” is back in the news because it has been repealed. There is no exclamation point for that sentence because the replacement is still discriminatory.

This bill was enacted a couple years ago. It had several anti-LGBT provisions, the most notorious being that trans people could not use the bathroom that matched their gender identity. The law was enacted swiftly after Charlotte passed a city ordinance protecting LGBT people. The response was also swift. Many entertainment and sports events moved from NC and several businesses decided to not expand in the state.

The new bill, signed today by Democrat Governor Roy Cooper, is actually quite short:

* The old bill is repealed.

* No state institution or city can pass a law about multiple occupancy bathrooms, showers, or changing facilities. This means we’re back to the bathroom regulations before HB2 was passed – there weren’t laws banning transgender people from using the bathroom of choice, but now there can’t be laws protecting that choice.

* No local government may enact LGBT protections in employment or public accommodation until Dec. 1, 2020.

So the state legislature said we don’t care about bathroom use anymore (under HB2 nobody was checking anyway and there were no penalties in the bill). But they also said there will be no new protections for LGBT people (like Charlotte tried to provide) for another 3½ years.

Conservative groups are annoyed because bathrooms are, in their view, no longer safe from trans people – men in dresses. Progressives are annoyed because of the ban on passing LGBT protections. It is still legal to discriminate against us and will remain so.

A bathroom bill died in Arkansas after opposition from the governor and from tourist groups. Governor Asa Hutchinson is not a friend to progressives. He opposed it because it might hurt business. In some states we’ll take our wins any way we can.

An anti-marriage equality bill in Tennessee will be delayed for a year. It would have required the state attorney general to defend city clerks who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Some of us don’t get a choice

Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education, gave a talk at the Brookings Institution. As part of it she pushed school choice, her favorite topic. To make her point she talked about Uber, Lyft, and, gosh! taxis too! Melissa McEwan of Shakesville and her readers are ready with the takedown. First, McEwan…

* Uber, Lyft, etc. all provide the same service. Schools can’t because different students have different needs.

* Charter schools can turn away disabled, immigrant, and homeless students.

* When charters drain money from public schools, special needs students don’t have a choice.

* Dr. Joan Evelyn Duvall-Flynn of the NAACP notes expansion of charter schools mirrors predatory lending. “When the tax base is low, less money is going to the public… Charter schools were leading to the resegregation of the schools.”

* Charter schools lead to the closing of public schools. Marginalized students get no choice or get a choice between terrible private schools or terrible public schools.

* DeVos says government shouldn’t get in the way. Nope. Says McEwan, “The government has a responsibility to get in the way of that.”

* This entire argument of school choice is really a dog-whistle for white supremacists. Fix white supremacy and we can fix the schools.

And from readers:

Carovee: I’m sick of the GOP comparing things that are not at all alike.

Yazikus: I noticed DeVos didn’t mention public transportation in her metaphor. Also, there are many towns and rural areas without any ride-share service.

Happyhedonist: That ride-share business model engages in openly abusive labor practices.

Don’t deserve your job

Rep. Bill Pascrell, Democrat from New Jersey, sponsored a bill to force the Treasury Department to provide 10 years of the nasty guy’s tax returns. At a hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee several GOP members agreed with Pascrell’s idea. Yet all of them voted against the bill.

There is an article on *Slate* saying many, maybe most, of the Republicans in Congress don’t like the nasty guy and recognize he is both dangerous and incompetent. They are in various degrees of “shock, horror, and disgust” at what he is doing. Yet, “None of them want to be decapitated by a primary challenge. Nobody wants the social media fanaticism of the alt-right turned on them.”

I didn’t read the article. Instead, I read Melissa McEwan’s response on Shakesville. Which begins:
You f**** cowards.
Though McEwan didn’t bother with asterisks.
Your primary job is to protect this country. You don't *deserve* your jobs if you're unwilling to do that.
And would happen if you lost your job? Probably end up with a sweet gig as a CNN contributor. Not much of a risk.

As for being on the receiving end of social media fanaticism… McEwan has been pushing back against misogyny and its like for 13 years and has had a great deal of social media fanaticism thrown at her. She documents a long list of gruesome messages and acts. These attacks are a routine part of her work.
Get your heads out of your asses. There are millions upon millions of people in this country with a hell of a lot more to lose than you will ever have.

You are supposed to protect them. You're cowering in silence to keep a job you're not even willing to do.

Shame on you. Shame on you.

That prompted Fannie Wolf to respond in the comments:
First they came for my country, but I didn't say anything, because I didn't want to be harassed on Twitter, unlike the thousands of women and people of color who are harassed, bullied, and abused online every day, which I enable and do absolutely nothing to stop.

Resist, insist, persist, and enlist

Hillary Clinton spoke at a business women’s conference with a new mantra: Resist, insist, persist, and enlist. Resist actions that go against our values as Americans. Insist on putting people first, including making healthcare more affordable. Persist by continuing to show that passion of the last few months. Enlist by showing up and getting in the arena.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Obstructionist absolutists

Charles Blow, writing for the New York Times, discusses the GOP failure to pass a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and of the nasty guy’s role in the mess. As part of his discussion Blow wrote:
The loss is likely also the downside of Republican gerrymandering.

In the redrawing of districts following the 2010 census, Republicans created incredibly safe, ideologically pure districts with fewer dissenters. This protected more seats, but it also meant that the people who hold those seats have little to no incentive to ever compromise.

Republicans created hard-line districts that produced hard-line congressmen: obstructionist absolutists are gerrymandering’s political offspring.

These people weren’t elected to govern, but to impede governance. Their mandate isn’t to generate ideas and solve problems by the effective exercise of government. Their singular crusade is that government is ineffective and the solution is to forever see government itself as the problem. Ideas for them are anathema.
Blow notes that after the big defeat the nasty guy blamed Speaker Paul Ryan (the buck stops … somewhere else). The nasty guy tweeted an alert for his base to watch Jeanine Pirro’s show on Fox News in which Pirro savaged Ryan.
However, in the end, this may well be a disastrous move. You don’t throw under the bus one of the only people who would stand between you and members of your own party who may one day be asked to impeach you.

A wounded Ryan might well sit back and watch, as the world consumes Trump.

Independent judiciary

Stephen Henderson is the editorial page editor for the Detroit Free Press. In his editorial about Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, printed in yesterday’s edition, Henderson talks about Gorsuch’s insistence on judicial independence and what he can do to preserve it.
He spoke eloquently and forcefully during his hearing this week about his disgust over comments that politician make questioning the judiciary’s independence. He said he finds it “disheartening and demoralizing,” and even said he’d have walked out of his interview with President Donald Trump if Trump had asked him to overrule Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling on abortion.

There’s little substantive difference between the things Gorsuch said he detests and the nakedly partisan denial of a hearing for Merrick Garland by GOP senators who supported him in the past. They are both assaults on the independence judges cherish.
Henderson’s suggested that if Gorsuch means what he says he can do something about it: Withdraw his own nomination and demand Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland get the hearing he was denied.

Gorsuch was nominated precisely because of his partisan and conservative views. So…
Even if Gorsuch were to take his seat and be as nonpartisan a reader of the Constitution as possible, his ascension will still have appeased a dastardly injection of raw political whim and ambition into the judiciary.

If he really cares about the independence the judiciary depends upon for credibility and from which the republic draws critical stability, he’ll say he wants nothing to do with any of this.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Two million voters

The nasty guy has approved the Keystone Pipeline, a project his predecessor blocked. He said a lot of things to his base during the announcement. But we know how good he is at not telling the truth.

He trumpeted the pipeline will create 28,000 jobs. The Washington Post says that is more like 10,400 jobs – and they’re seasonal and around only long enough to actually build the pipeline. Permanent full time jobs: 35. And no, I didn’t forget some zeros.

It will, of course, be made with American steel! Um, no. Well, maybe 60% of the steel will be American. The other 40% will be … Russian.

But the pipeline promotes energy independence! It is safer than transporting all that oil by train! Safety and independence would be even better if we promoted energy sources other than fossil fuel. In addition, this is the dirtiest oil and pipelines leak three times more oil than train accidents.

Washington Post headline: “Only 3% of Trump Voters Regret Their Vote.”

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville digs a bit deeper. We can’t tell how that compares to previous presidents because the question hasn’t been asked before. She also says it is misleading. Only? Stating percentage to keep the number low? She did a bit of math: 3% of his voters is 1,889,389. So she has a replacement headline:
Almost Two Million Trump Voters Regret Their Vote Only 60 Days into His Presidency.
And my version of the headline:
The two million people who regret voting for Trump would have made a difference in who won the election.

I’ve been talking about ranking a lot lately. Ranking comes with privilege – those higher in rank get some benefit or privilege from their rank. That can be subtle, such as white men usually don’t have to worry about safety (or they significantly increase the oppression if they are ever made to feel unsafe). But women and people of color have to think about safety all the time – the source of that threat being white men.

McEwan explores another facet of that privilege. Politics works for white men – at least the white men who voted for the nasty guy think it should. The privileged don’t actually have to do anything. Well, maybe vote. Occasionally. Of course, when things don’t get handed to them right now, they get upset. And because of their privilege they believe they aren’t supposed to get upset.

The rest of us know differently. We know we have to show up. We know we have to understand the political process and have to make sacrifices of time, energy, and money. And we know it is going to be a long hard slog.

Last fall we had a candidate who understood the long hard slog. And one who still doesn’t. And because he wants things to happen fast his policies have been a disaster. Fast is in opposition to good policy and good governance.

Younger workers, such as Millennials, are used to the gig economy. Many don’t have full-time jobs with good pay and benefits. They scrounge for jobs, many of which are part-time or are of short duration. Jia Tolentino, writing for The New Yorker, notes that companies that push this part-time work now praise it to the point of praising working yourself to death.
At the root of this is the American obsession with self-reliance, which makes it more acceptable to applaud an individual for working himself to death than to argue that an individual working himself to death is evidence of a flawed economic system. The contrast between the gig economy’s rhetoric (everyone is always connecting, having fun, and killing it!) and the conditions that allow it to exist (a lack of dependable employment that pays a living wage) makes this kink in our thinking especially clear.
Tolentino mentions stories of dedicated workers who walk up to twelve miles to work. One such story splashed across the pages of the Detroit Free Press. But these stories don’t delve into the shameful situation that the worker is paid so poorly he can’t afford the commute or a residence near the suburban job.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Two facts

FBI Director James Comey testified before Congress, revealing the second of these two facts. The first we already knew. Both were important in the couple weeks before the election.

* Comey told the public about Hillary Clinton’s emails and implied she was under criminal investigation.

* Comey did not tell the public that Donald Trump actually was under criminal investigation.

My personal dictionary doesn’t have enough swear words.

With that reveal by Comey there is now a stronger push to delay Supreme nominee Neil Gorsuch. Merick Garland was not considered because he was nominated in the last year of Obama’s year in office. It is much more severe to be nominated while the nasty guy is under criminal investigation. The GOP is beginning to say it is urgent the seat be filled quickly. Sorry, guys, that phrase means nothing after you refused to fill the seat for 9 months. Contact your senators.

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville has no patience for the endless stories of white dudes who voted for the nasty guy and now have buyer’s remorse. She is especially annoyed with the dude who is so upset he stays away from the news.

So, dude, you failed in your civic responsibility because you did not take the time to understand who Clinton is and who the nasty guy is. Both of them displayed their intentions from the start. And for the guy who wants to bury his head in the sand, glad you have enough privilege to be able to do that while the marginalized people around you are being hurt.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Redistricting may be on the ballot

I went into Detroit this afternoon for a presentation by Voters Not Politicians. This is the group that is trying to get a proposal on the ballot in Michigan to have Congressional and state legislature districts drawn up by an independent commission. This would end gerrymandering in the state.

Before the program started I counted 80 people in the room. I looked around later and saw more heads. My rough guess is about 100 people showed up. Delightful news!

After introductions a local woman spoke for a few minutes. She concluded by saying gerrymandering is another form of oppression.

This effort in Michigan was started as the online group Count MI Vote. They discussed issues related to gerrymandering. It now has 2500 members. The official ballot committee grew out of that group and has the name Voters Not Politicians.

The main speaker was Kevin Cross (I think), who is a political science professor of WSU (his office is about a thousand feet from where we were sitting). He is very good at explaining gerrymandering. I’ll repeat some of his lessons, though I’ve written about it before.

Definition: A district is a geographical area marking which residents vote for one member of the House or a body of the state legislature. One district, one member.

Gerrymandering is quite old in America. It started about the first time districts were drawn. The earliest cases we heard about today were after the 1800 census. It is a natural political game. But extremely fine census data and computers allow the effects to be much more severe and no longer a game.

Do you think gerrymandering is good for Michigan? Does it keep your preferred policies in place? Then consider Maryland, severely gerrymandered by and for Democrats. Still think it is a good idea? If it is wrong in Maryland it is wrong in Michigan.

When the professor teaches gerrymandering in his classes he displays a grid of red and blue squares seemingly jumbled together. There are 49 squares, 24 blue and 25 red. The assignment is to draw seven districts, each with seven squares. He showed it was possible to draw one district entirely of red, then draw all the rest with four blue squares and three red. Blue wins 6 districts, red wins 1. He showed another division that gave red 6 and blue 1.

This example shows two concepts – yeah the ideas have been around long enough they have been named: Packing puts as many of your opponents as possible into a small number of districts. That’s the district of all red. Cracking is spreading the remainder of your opponents into as many districts as possible. Those are the other districts where each of the three red were matched by four blue. There is also kidnapping – a rising red politician able to appeal to blue voters has his residence shoved into a red district. And hijacking – two prominent politicians of one party are pushed into the same district.

We were handed another example:

He showed a few examples from the 2011 redistricting in Michigan – made out of Legos! He hasn’t made a couple of the examples out of Legos because they are so spidery they would be too fragile.

This is why all that is bad:
* It deeply affects which party is in power in Washington and in state capitols.
* But you like them in power? It is a fairness issue: If it is bad for Dems in Maryland it is bad for the GOP in Michigan.
* Demographics change. The Greatest Generation is dying out and Millennials are voting. Both parties are beginning to see it is better to have a truce now than be on the other side of vengeance later.
* Manageability and Community. In highly gerrymandered areas your neighbors might not be in your district. Those who are in your district may be a long way away. Your neighbors need to be in the same community of voters.
* Responsiveness. If a district is safe, who do the politicians listen to? Usually not the voters. If they do listen it is to the extreme voters who show up for primary elections. If a district is safe, no need for a candidate to say he is more moderate and able to attract voters from the other party.

What are possible solutions to the problem?

* Court battles. They are proceeding. The Wisconsin case based on partisan (not racial) gerrymandering may reach the Supremes this term on next. In this case the court might accept the mathematical formula now used to show gerrymandering.

In racial gerrymandering cases the courts have demanded maps be redrawn. Strangely, the new districts produce the same lopsided split. In addition, courts can’t prevent bad districts, they can only demand they be changed – usually after an election or two.

* Nicely asking our legislature to pass redistricting laws. That got a laugh in this crowd.

* Ballot resolution. Michigan allows it. But only a constitution amendment prevents the legislature from overriding or tinkering with what the voters say (there are many examples of that in the last decade). Yes, the process is arduous and expensive (as a change to the constitution should be).

The Voters Not Politicians group has filed their intention to start the process. They are an official ballot committee. They have not yet filed the chosen ballot language, which is then displayed on the forms to gather signatures. This group intends to be transparent every step of the way. That includes disclosing donors.

It also means turning to us to help craft the ballot language. There are several open questions.

* Does the proposal say a little or a lot? Long and confusing proposals tend to not get passed. Proposals that cover the minimum tend to get tweaked by the legislature in bad ways.

* Who should serve on the redistricting commission? Michigan does not require voters to list party affiliation, so there is no reliable way to get a balance between parties. Do we allow current or former lawmakers? How about those who have contributed $2,000 or more to a party or campaign in the last five years? Do we choose professors of political science or law? Do we ban lobbyists? How about appointing any registered voter, choosing them in a manner similar to jury duty? Do we balance different regions of Michigan, different races and ethnic groups, or different economic groups? Do we accept applicants and have them write an essay?

* What is the criteria for constructing districts? Compactness? Our professor showed a case where compact districts were still gerrymandered. Consider geographic features? Do we try to keep cities/townships/counties intact? Do we try to make districts competitive? That might require all Detroit districts to be half in the city and half in the suburbs.

Do we try to keep affinity groups together? Do we make sure eastern Dearborn, home to many Arabs, is entirely in one district? How do we define affinity – race, ethnicity, economic group, profession, or religion?

Because I attended I was given a survey to help answer those questions. I was told I shouldn’t share it because they want it filled out only by people who understand gerrymandering, which is available at their presentations. There are still many presentations, including Saginaw on the 21st, Ann Arbor on 23rd, Traverse City on the 24th, Fenton on the 29th, etc. Sometime soon they will do an online presentation.

There are other ways to help. You could donate. They figure $1.5 to $2 million to handle all the legal issues (such as a team to make sure the eventual text doesn’t have any legal holes). They estimate 3,000 volunteers collecting signatures – with that many people each person needs to collect only 10 per week. There are also various committees, such as the one to write the text.

Even if we win this ballot, it won’t quite be then end. The leaders know it will be challenged in court.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Need to strengthen it

I finally saw the movie Rogue One this afternoon. It’s a pretty good addition to the Star Wars saga. There are plenty of action scenes and lots of things get shot at and blown up. It is, at its core, a story about ranking, about the Empire imposing its will on everyone else and backing it up with violence, including violence against whole planets (just don’t get me started on the impossibility of that – why ruin a story?).

I’ve got a few items related to ranking that are an addition to what I wrote yesterday in my long post about how the federal government has entire Cabinet level departments devoted to resisting ranking:

One item slated for the nasty guy’s chopping block is the Community Development Block Grants. Part of that money goes to Meals on Wheels, which delivers meals to homebound seniors. Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget at the White House, said he wants to get rid of programs that don’t work. Meals on Wheels is one that doesn’t work.

Kali Thomas fired back. She is a researcher who did a top quality study in 2015 on Meals on Wheels. She found a statistically significant and better difference in the seniors who had personal contact with someone delivering meals. The program allows seniors to stay in their houses, costing the government far less than housing these seniors in care facilities.

Thomas is one of many people and organizations resisting the nasty guy’s nasty budget.

Brian Kline is a cancer survivor and says Medicaid and its expansion saved his life. He pleaded don’t kick me off. Tom Price, the new Secretary for HHS, said glad to hear Medicaid worked for you, but it is having extreme difficulty meeting everyone’s needs. We need to strengthen the program.

So kicking Kline off Medicaid will “strengthen” it.

My friend and debate partner’s phrase is appropriate here: President Pants-on-Fire.

To with that Medicaid lie, Melissa McEwan of Shakesville asked her readers what healthcare lies are the most annoying.

Her choice: “patient-centered healthcare,” a meaningless phrase, certainly as long as there is a for-profit company in the mix.

Another of her choices: Comparisons of health insurance to things that aren’t health insurance. Do they not know what insurance is?

Themadkansan: None of these guys ever had to choose between gas in the car and getting those stomach pains to a doctor.

Speedbudget: If I just didn’t buy a cell phone I could afford insurance.

Aeryl: They say they don’t want to get between you and your doctor, while legislating all the things a doctor can’t do.

Moseyalong: the ACA is imploding.

RachelB offers a couple: (1) More choices = better choices. (2) Anyone who can’t pay for healthcare probably doesn’t want it very much.

Calinaponisle7: It’s a good plan because it will reduce the deficit.

Rana: If we all did the right thing and were responsible, we’d never need help.

Aqf: Buying insurance across state lines is a good thing. How will a Georgia policy help me if I’m in Connecticut and need surgery?

Tamara Keith of NPR did a piece for All Things Considered pointing out that presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton tried to eliminate Cabinet departments and didn’t succeed. Each department has developed its own constituencies. When their department is threatened they are very good at letting their Congresscritters know exactly what is at stake in their state. That means we should resist the nasty guy’s efforts all the more strongly.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Preserve the federal government

I start with a civics lesson on the federal government. This may be dry reading but there is a reason for the review. We learn in high school that our government is made up of the Congress who makes laws, the Executive who carries out the laws, and the Judiciary who interprets the laws when there is a dispute. I’ll bypass all the checks and balances and focus only on the Executive branch.

That Executive branch is led by the President, currently Mr. Trump (he may hold the title, but he’ll never be my president). He has various people around him to carry out his immediate duties. He has a Cabinet made up of all the department heads who have the title of secretary. The fifteen departments are:

Department of State. It was created in 1789. In 2009 (the year of the data in the above Wikipedia page) it had a budget of $16 billion with nearly 19 thousand employees. The Secretary of State is the president’s principle foreign policy advisor. He and the department advance US objectives and interests around the world through diplomatic means. It negotiates treaties and other kinds of agreements with foreign governments. It coordinates foreign affairs with departments of Defense, Commerce, Homeland Security, and such agencies as the CIA. It protects and assists US citizens living or traveling abroad. It assists US businesses in the international market. It maintains diplomatic offices around the world.

Department of Treasury. Also created in 1789 and had a budget of nearly $20 billion with 166 thousand employees. The department produces all the currency, through its printing office, and coins through the US Mint. It collects taxes and duties, manages the gov’t finances, pays all government bills, and manages the gov’t debt. It supervises the banks and enforces finance and tax laws. The largest department within this department is the Internal Revenue Service.

Department of Defense. Created in 1789 as the Department of War and merged with the Department of Navy in 1947. It had a budget of $651 billion and 3 million employees. This is everything related to the Armed Forces and national security. It is the largest employer in the world.

Department of the Interior, created in 1849. It had a budget of $90 billion with $71 thousand employees. This department manages all federal land, including the National Park Service. It also manages programs related to Native Americans.

Department of Justice was created in 1870. It had a budget of $46 billion with 113 thousand employees. It is responsible for enforcement of law and administration of justice. It runs the Marshall Service; the FBI; the Bureau of Prisons; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF); and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Divisions include Antitrust, Civil Rights, Criminal, Environment and Natural Resources, and Tax.

Department of Agriculture was made part of the Cabinet in 1889. It had a budget of $134 billion with 110 thousand employees. Its areas of responsibility are agriculture, forestry, and food. For agriculture there are programs to help farmers and rural areas. For forestry there is the Natural Resources Conservation Service and US Forest Service. For food there are the Food Safety and Inspection Service, the Center for Nutrition Policy, and the Food and Nutrition Service. The largest budget item under the USDA and FNS is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps).

Department of Commerce, created in 1903. It had a budget of $16 billion and 44 thousand employees. The department is charged with promoting economic growth, technological competitiveness, and sustainable development. Its agencies include the Census, International Trade Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration which includes the Weather Service, the Patent and Trademark Office, the Minority Business Development Agency, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Department of Labor was split off from Commerce in 1913. It had a budget of $138 billion and 17 thousand employees. Its purpose is to foster, promote and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees; improve working conditions; and assure work-related benefits and rights. It enforces laws and regulations covering places of work for 10 million employers and 125 million workers. Agencies include Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employees’ Compensation Appeals Board, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Office of Federal Contract Compliance, Wage and Hour Division, Women’s Bureau, and Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

Department of Health and Human Services, created in 1953. It had a budget of $879 billion and 67 thousand employees. Its goal is to protect health and provide essential human services. The agencies within it include Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, National Institute of Health, Medicare, Medicaid, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and Indian Health Service. Some of the programs within those departments include financial assistance to low-income families, Head Start, preventing child abuse and domestic violence, substance abuse and treatment, and home-delivered meals for seniors. This department has the largest budget and about 90% goes to Medicare and Medicaid.

Department of Housing and Urban Development, created in 1965. It had a budget of $40 billion and 11 thousand employees. The mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all, free from discrimination. Some of the departments are the office of Equal Employment Opportunity, Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control, and Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities. The programs include Community Development Block Grants, Section 8 housing, and Federal Housing Administration which regulates mortgage guarantee agencies Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac.

Department of Transportation. Created in 1966 and had a budget of $73 billion with 59 thousand employees. It, of course, deals with the transportation system. Within it are the Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Highway Administration, Federal Railroad Administration, Maritime Administration, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Department of Energy, created in 1977. It had a budget of $24 billion with 109 thousand employees. Its primary responsibility is the safe handling of nuclear material, so it covers the nation’s nuclear weapons and nuclear power generators as well as radioactive waste disposal. It also promotes energy conservation, energy research, and energy production. It runs a system of national laboratories to conduct research into physical sciences. Surprising to me the DOE originated the Human Genome Project.

Department of Education was split off from HHS in 1979. It had a budget of $45 billion with 4 thousand employees. Unlike other countries the DoEd doesn’t actually educate students, doesn’t set curriculum or standards (with No Child Left Behind as a recent exception), doesn’t even do school accreditation. What it does is set guidelines, search for and promote good ideas, keep watch over the education system, and administer Pell Grants, Direct Student Loans, Title I Grants, and money for Special Education programs.

Department of Veterans Affairs, created in 1989. It had a budget of $98 billion with 235 thousand employees. The major components are the Veterans Health Administration which runs the VA hospitals and clinics; the Veterans Benefits Administration which handles Home Loan Guarantee, Insurance, Vocational Rehab and Employment, Education (GI Bill), and compensation and pension; and the National Cemetery Administration.

Department of Homeland Security, created in 2003. It had a budget of $40 billion with 240 thousand employees. It handles antiterrorism, border security, immigration and customs, cybersecurity, and disaster management. It includes the Secret Service, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Coast Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

There are other government functions not a part of any cabinet, such as the Social Security Administration and NASA. Other functions have an administrator who is considered to have “cabinet rank.” They attend Cabinet meetings, but are not official members (I don’t know what the distinction means). These positions include Trade Representative, National Intelligence, Ambassador to the United Nations, Director of Management and Budget, Director of the CIA, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Administrator of the Small Business Administration.

Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1970. Its budget in 2016 was $8 billion with 15 thousand employees. It is not a department with a secretary in the Cabinet, though its administer is usually given cabinet rank. It conducts research and issues regulations to make our shared resources of air, water, and land are as uncontaminated as possible. It also issues regulations over endangered species.

Other entities funded by Congress include the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The president can propose how much it to be spent on them, but doesn’t run them.

Here is a chart of the relative sizes of the Cabinet budgets (based on 2009 data). Yes, the two biggest are Defense and HHS, much bigger than the others.

Yeah, dry reading. Keep in mind the guy who currently oversees all of this is a darling of white supremacists and is a confessed sexual abuser. He is obsessed with ranking.

Ranking is the belief that some people are inherently better and more important than others. Ranking shows up as misogyny, the belief that men are more important than women, and racism, the belief that white people are more important than people of color. Ranking is what drives all forms of bigotry, including straight over gay, Christians over other faiths, skinny over fat, abled over disabled, rich over poor, corporate bosses over workers, and many more.

Ranking is a strong force in both American society and societies around the world. It is so strong we are willing to commit violence and to kill to maintain our rank. We are willing to impoverish ourselves to maintain our rank. This is something effectively done when poor whites support leaders who keep them poor but rationalize that support saying at least they are still better than blacks.

Ranking has thoroughly infused our society. It is taught to our young through all cultural voices. These voices tell some that they are supposed to be on top. The voices tell others they are supposed to be oppressed. Ranking is reinforced through violence – I would even claim that violence is always a sign of the presence of ranking. I’ve written before about ranking and its manifestation of seeking power and how strong it is and why it results in bad behavior. I’ve also discussed ranking through history as documented in the book Chalice and Blade. This book makes two important points. First, there have been thriving societies that were not based on ranking, which means ranking is taught and not necessarily a part of the human experience. Second, if humanity continues to organize around ranking it will likely end in environmental destruction through overpopulation because men still insist women are only for birthing babies.

Trump is obsessed with ranking. Nearly everything I’ve seen him do since he came on the political scene less than two years ago is to enhance his position and the position of his fellow straight, white, Christian males (even if he doesn’t seem to profess Christian beliefs).

With that in mind let’s take another look at some of these government departments.

Department of State. The purpose of the department is peace, or at least the absence of armed conflict. One who is invested in ranking isn’t interested in peace, because that promotes the idea that the adversary is on equal footing. Many have observed that the current State Department doesn’t appear to be fully staffed and running. That has Bruce Bartlett concluding that Trump doesn’t want functioning State Department because he wants to be unable to have a diplomatic solution and must resort to military solutions. As I said, violence is a clear sign of ranking.

Department of the Interior. The purpose of this department, especially the National Park Service, is shared assets, what we as a country declare are spaces to be enjoyed by all, without regard to status. We all own, we all enjoy, we set these spaces aside to preserve their history, beauty, or wildness. We may argue that too much land is in federal hands (87% of Nevada is federally owned) and that is a debate worth having. But many other spaces – Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Zion, and other national parks – need and deserve strong protection. The idea of a shared resource, available to all, is abhorrent to someone obsessed by ranking.

Department of Justice. The name says someone is seeking to right the wrongs of an oppressor – someone who believes in ranking and is asserting rank over them. Consider now the various divisions: Antitrust is about breaking up corporate control when a corporation is asserting its rank over us. Civil Rights, along with voting rights, is about an oppressed group seeking to stop oppression, to stop ranking. But there is also the ATF and Bureau of Prisons. Both have been and easily could be used to enforce ranking.

Department of Agriculture. I don’t know how much their agriculture work is geared towards the small family farm and how much is geared towards big agribusiness. Many of the latter companies drive the smaller farmer out. In that way they support ranking. The forestry work is again managing a common resource. The food work done by the DoA is about keeping the citizen safe from careless food companies. In this case careless means both inattention to problems and not caring about the health of the consumer. The latter, and perhaps both, are a result of ranking. The SNAP program is to give help to the poor, the victims of ranking.

Department of Commerce. A corporate leader probably works closely with the International Trade Administration and the Patent and Trademark Office (though that might be to try to extend their patents and invalidate other company’s patents). As for the Census and Weather Service these are shared resources. We all get weather reports. We can get access to Census data.

Department of Labor. Except perhaps for the Bureau of Labor Statistics this entire department is about defending the worker against the abuse of the corporation. This is entirely about standing up to ranking.

Department of Health and Human Services. Again, most, perhaps all, of this department is about supporting those who are victims of ranking, those least well off.

Department Housing and Urban Development. The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity is definitely all about combating the effects of ranking. Refusing to rent or sell property to someone because of who they are or what they believe is part of the definition of ranking. The rest of the department is again supporting victims of ranking.

Department of Education. Though it does very little directly, its guidance and tone can influence schools across the country. Obama issues a guidance on how schools should treat LGBT students and schools pay attention (granted, some more than others). Trump rescinds it and schools pay attention and bullying against LGBT people increases. This department can be used to challenge ranking and also enforce it.

FEMA, part of Homeland Security, supports everyone after a disaster, such as a hurricane, flood, or exploding chemical factory.

I’m not going to assess how ranking fits into the Treasury, Transportation, Energy, and Veterans Affairs Departments. It isn’t clear to me how they support or stand up to ranking.

That leaves the Departments of Defense and most of Homeland Security. Enforcement of ranking is the purpose of Defense, as is much of Homeland Security. The last time Defense wasn’t about ranking was maybe the Gulf War (liberation of Kuwait) and before that probably WWII. All other wars and military actions had a strong component of a dominance display. That is ranking. These issues would have been much better resolved with diplomacy – without a component of American dominance – well before the shooting started. I’m sure I’ll hear about how we need to defend ourselves. But most of the people we feel the need to defend against had been on the receiving end of an American dominance display.

Yes, there is a reason for me to review the entire US cabinet and to comment about how departments fit into ranking.

On Monday, March 13 Trump issued an executive order to “improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of the executive branch.” Within 180 days he is to receive a proposed plan that “shall include as appropriate, recommendations to eliminate unnecessary agencies, components of agencies, and agency programs, and to merge functions.” The plan is to include whether the program “would be better left to State or local governments or to the private sector through free enterprise.” It shall also include “whether the costs of continuing to operate an agency, a component, or a program are justified by the public benefits it provides.” Emphasis mine.

After that 180 days comes a public comment period (probably of standard length), then 180 days to create a final plan, including a list of needed legislation.

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville guides me through all that. She notes:
* The primary objective is elimination.

* If it can’t be eliminated, privatize it.

* There are no metrics to assess public benefit.

Who gets to decide whether “public benefit” justifies the cost? Cabinet secretaries who, McEwan reminds us, were chosen “based on their contempt for the agencies they are asked to lead.” They decide.

Look again at my descriptions through the lens of ranking at the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Education, Interior, Agriculture, FEMA, and State. All, or a large portion, of these departments have the purpose of standing up to those obsessed with ranking. Will a president obsessed with ranking allow them to continue to exist?

As for the Census and Weather service, a corporate leader would likely want to see them privatized – so some company could make a profit from them. This is an aspect of ranking because it takes a common resource out of the common arena, denying its availability to those of lower rank. Would Census data become a corporate asset not to be disclosed except for a price? Would people have to pay for the weather report? If you couldn’t pay would you be told about approaching hurricanes?

Your company is forcing you to work in conditions that might be deadly? Too bad. This new drug is more harmful then helpful? Oh, well. You are shut out of home sales because of who you love? Sorry to hear that. Your city’s police are so racist they would rather shoot than talk to you? Move along, nothing to see. Your school isn’t educating your kids and your state won’t enact reforms? Cry me a river. A name change means your favorite vacation spot is now at “Goldman Sachs Yosemite National Park” and they boosted entrance fees to beyond what you can afford? Try the spa in the Mud Flats. Can’t afford food for your child? Sorry, the SNAP program is gone. You ate tainted spinach? Go away. North Korea is blustering again? We don’t negotiate with enemies.

Here’s a preview: The West Virginia Senate has introduced a bill completely gutting mine safety laws. They say it is good enough to rely on federal safety standards. This is the state where 29 miners died in the Upper Big Branch Mine seven years ago.

And another preview: Trump has submitted his budget to Congress for fiscal year 2018. Congress may adopt it, tweak it, or ignore it (which they did to Obama’s budgets) so a lot may change between now and when the budget is finalized in the fall. Even so, this budget is an indication of what Trump is thinking.

Such as: no funding for National Endowment for the Arts, for the Humanities, Corporation for Public Broadcasting and many other agencies, a 29% cut in State, 31% cut to the EPA, and a 5-20% cut to most departments. All to give a 9% increase to Defense. The increase to Defense looks so small while the cuts look so big because Defense is already much larger than nearly all the others. And – pardon me while I turn off the irony alarm – one agency to be cut entirely for this boost to Defense is the Institute for Peace.

But at least we’ll be saving billions out of the federal budget and our taxes will be lower. Well, not *your* taxes. And maybe not even the rich get a cut for this one. Gotta pay for that wall somehow. And we gotta pour more money into our “depleted” military (never mind it is larger than perhaps the next ten countries combined). Those who obsess over ranking love a big military they can use to settle scores.

So we wait until 2018, or maybe 2020, and elect people to undo the damage? McEwan says that won’t work. Rebuilding agencies will mean tax increases and those are never a popular election strategy. Oh, you mean reset the balance between Defense and the rest? Remember that Defense is the darling of those invested in ranking. They aren’t going to give up easily.

McEwan concludes: “This will be devastating, and its effects will reverberate for a very long time.”

There is a legitimate question here: Why should the federal government be the one to look after the little guy? Because nobody else can – state governments don’t cover the nation and charities can’t meet the need (they can’t do it now). Because volunteer policing is permission to not police. Because the Constitution says, “We the People.”

This post is written by The Crow as a post to the blog A Gay Crows Nest. You have permission and encouragement to forward this to anyone who would appreciate it as a way of resisting the destruction to the federal government. Please always include the links to the sources and the blog where it originated.