Sunday, November 19, 2017

I don’t see wages going up

Some bits of news…

A little bit of the hideous GOP tax “cut” bill: Graduate students are frequently given free tuition and a living stipend, which is never generous. In exchange, these students teach undergrad courses and conduct (or assist in) research. The stipend has been counted as taxable income. The tax bill wants the tuition to be taxable income as well. That could quadruple the tax bill and leave a lot less money for things such as … food.

That means a lot fewer students could afford to get graduate degrees. Only the rich kids could afford them. Which is another way of saying this is another way to prevent us lowly people from challenging the rich in their position of top dog.

At a Senate Finance Committee meeting Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio talked about the tax “cut” bill.
I just think it would be nice, just tonight, before we go home, to just acknowledge, well, this tax cut really is not for the middle class; it's for the rich. And that whole thing about higher wages, well, it's a good selling point, but we know companies don't just give away higher wages. They don't just give away higher wages, just 'cause they have more money. Corporations are sitting on a lot of money now; they're sitting on a lot of profits now. I don't see wages going up. So, just spare us, spare us the bank shots, spare us the sarcasm and the satire—
Which brought hot sputtering denials from Senator Orrin Hatch.

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville thinks Brown struck a nerve – and Hatch hates the truth.

Catherine Rampell is an opinion writer for The Washington Post. She asks an important question of the GOP tax bill:
Nearly every claim Republicans are using to market their tax plan is at best a distortion, at worst a deliberate falsehood.

Which raises the question: If their plan is really so great, why not sell it on the merits?
Presumably because Trump and Republican lawmakers know they’re offering a plan the public doesn’t want. Ergo, they need to promise things the tax plan doesn’t do.
Rampell debunks the GOP talking points (see her article for details):
* The bill is so pro-growth it will reduce the federal debt.
* The plan primarily helps the middle class. Nope, it primarily helps the rich. And hurts the poor.
* The plan will hurt the nasty guy.
* This will be the biggest tax cut in history. Not even the biggest in the last five years.
* The economy desperately needs a tax cut.

Rupert Neate, writing for The Guardian reports that the dollar millionaires (0.7% of all adults, about 36 million) now own half the world’s wealth, or about $140 trillion dollars. 3.5 billion (more than half) of the world’s poorest adults individually have assets less than $10,000 and together have just 2.7% of the global wealth.

Talking Points Memo has a longform piece discussing how Millennials are leaving religion. I didn’t read it because most of it is behind a subscriber button. However, what caught my attention is a couple of the comments showing on that intro page. This is from marty110:
Several months back, Christians were frantic over the thought that their wives and daughters would be groped in a bathroom by a trans or gay person - now they overwhelmingly voted for a man who brags about groping women? I fear we are in the minority in the church who saw what was in front of our faces on TV during the campaign and were repulsed. A sweet, kind, and sensitive woman in my church (almost in tears) said to me after election - "Didn't they see? Didn't they hear what he said"?

Commenter drtv noted they supported Trump for one reason: the seat on the Supremes.

The purpose of her art

I was off to an orchestra concert last night – two works by Richard Strauss and a symphony by Johannes Brahms. That’s music by two German composers played by a French pianist led by a French conductor. A fine evening.

Friday night I went to a performance by a very good community theater group in Detroit, the Park Players from the North Rosedale Park neighborhood. A friend and colleague from my days in the auto industry got involved with this group a few years ago and is now serving as the board president. This show was presented in the neighborhood community house. Their website shows their new home in a nearby restored theater (complete with pipe organ!). The Detroit News wrote about the move.

The play was To Be Young, Gifted, and Black; A Portrait of Lorraine Hansberry in Her Own Words. I wouldn’t have been able to tell you who she was, though many years ago I saw her one famous play, A Raisin in the Sun.

The show I saw on Saturday told a bit about Hansberry’s life. In the first act we see scenes of that life between selected scenes from Raisin. That famous play is about a black family moving to a white suburb. This is a story that Hansberry lived. It was her father who challenged racial residency laws in a case that went to the Supremes. The play went to Broadway, making Hansberry the first black woman playwright on Broadway.

The second act was about the rest of Hansberry’s life, some of it about struggling how to follow such a success and to what purpose her art should serve. That story is interspersed with scenes from her much less famous play, The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window. One major scene is about a Park Avenue woman annoyed that her sister married a Jew and trying to prevent her second sister from marrying even worse.

My friend said the play was written (assembled?) by Hansberry’s husband after she died much too young from cancer. The original play specified eight actors playing all the characters. This troupe divided the characters amongst 28 actors, including several playing Hansberry at different times in her life. Friday usually isn’t a slow night for this theater, but the night I went the audience barely outnumbered the cast.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Ten candles

Happy Birthday dear blog!

Amazingly, I’ve now been writing this blog for 10 years!

In that time I’ve written 3,571 posts (this one is 3,572) on a wide variety of subjects – I’ve used 674 different topic tags, of which 241, the most relevant for now, are displayed on the left side of the main blog page. The most used tags are: On the enjoyable side are Gay Marriage-Marriage Equality (678 posts) and personal stories (361 posts). On the resistance side are the GOP (559 posts) and fundamentalism (278 posts).

Those personal stories in the last 3 years included the death of my father, brother, sister-in-law, mother, and aunt.

In the last couple years readership hit a low of about 40 views per post in June 2016. There has been a definite trend upward since then. In February views per post spiked to a high of 185. Last month there were 124 views per post. In the last month the countries with the most pageviews have been Italy with twice as many reads as second place United States. Third place is France.

I think I’ve told this origin story every years. Back in November of 2003 I started writing and sending emails to family and friends about LGBT news stories. The big event that prompted me was the ruling that the Massachusetts Supreme Court required marriage equality in the state within six months. A few years later my niece suggested I write a blog and be a bit more public in what I have to say. And here we are 10 years later.

It is this blog that helped me develop my understanding of ranking, in which some people declare they are better than others. I have come to see how pervasive ranking is to American and world politics and culture. The current moment of women speaking up to identify men who harassed and assaulted them resulted from men thinking they ranked above women, which entitled them to act as they pleased. The actions of the nasty guy are also because he constantly must prove that he ranks above everyone else.

I still find interesting and important things to write about. Sometimes it is to celebrate community, sometimes it is to resist those who try to enforce ranking and tear community apart. Lately I’ve moved away from LGBT issues, because the broader culture is accepting us. I’ve been focusing on politics because those threats are, at the moment, so much more dire.

I’ll keep writing.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

3% own half

I’ve heard the statistic that there are enough guns in America for everyone to have one. Lois Beckett, writing for The Guardian delves into that a bit more. Here’s a bit of what she reported.

American civilians own at least 265 million guns. Ownership is so private that estimates have gone as high as 400 million – more than 100 million between estimates. For a population of about 315 million, 265 million is indeed close to one each (and might be one each for every adult), in other terms this is at least 85 guns per 100 people. This is the highest rate of gun ownership in the world. Second is Yemen at 55 guns per 100 people.

I don’t have a gun and most people I know don’t pack heat. That leads to the second observation: The number of adults who actually own a gun is somewhere between 22% and 31% (see above on difficulty of estimating). Ownership is concentrated.

Out of the gun owners, nearly half own just one or two guns. And most of the rest average 3 guns (yeah, that stat seems especially vague – how did they decide what gets included in the average?).
But America’s gun super-owners have amassed huge collections. Just 3% of American adults own a collective 133m firearms – half of America’s total gun stock. These owners have collections that range from eight to 140 guns, the 2015 study found. Their average collection: 17 guns each.
That’s about 7.7 million super-owners. Wow!

Which leads to a quandary for law enforcement. The Last Vegas shooter had 42 guns in the hotel and at home. But personal arsenals of 40 guns are rather common. How to tell the difference between a potential terrorist and an enthusiastic collector?

Super-owners tend to be less diverse – more likely to be male and white – than gun owners overall.

Some gun violence statistics:

* 36,000 Americans were killed with guns in 2015. That is broken down to:
22,000 suicides
13,000 homicides (about 750 were related to domestic violence, the vast majority of victims are women)
1,000 shot to death by police

* More than 60,000 are shot each year and survive.

* A quarter of gun homicides are in neighborhoods with only 1.5% of the population. Homicide rates here are 400 times higher than in other high-income countries. Even in those neighborhoods the violence is concentrated. In Oakland, CA about 0.3% of the population was involved in 60% of the city’s murders.

As many have noted before 36,000 deaths in a year and the resulting public outcry would get Congress scurrying for a solution. Even automobile deaths prompt investigation and safety features. Yeah, there are exceptions, such as the AIDS epidemic.

I wonder why these white guys feel the need for so many guns? That question is important because to me guns are for violence and violence is for enforcing ranking. Which means these white guys have guns to protect their privilege and your life is a whole lot less important to them than maintaining that privilege.

So what might be the reason why these guys switch from admiring their arsenals to using them? What might make them feel their white male privilege is threatened?

We now have a guy in the White House and one prominent campaign theme that got him there is an assertion of white male privilege. His words and actions loudly proclaimed that it is good to be bigoted. So might all these white dude super-owners feel threatened if their champion is ousted?


Members of Parliament in Australia tried weaseling their way out of approving same-sex marriage by throwing the question to the public in a mail-in survey. The results are now in: With almost 80% participation, 62% yes, 38% no! This 24 point spread is being called a landslide.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has vowed to get a marriage bill through Parliament by Christmas. He is also denouncing conservative plans to load up the bill with “religious liberty” amendments. Such amendments, he says, are “non-starters.”

Friday, November 10, 2017

Not a decision taken lightly

This evening I went to see the documentary Human Flow, directed by Ai Weiwei. He’s a famous Chinese dissident artist, though I think the word “dissident” is way too mild. Let’s add humanitarian, truth teller, and resistance leader. I saw the movie mostly because of Ai Weiwei’s reputation (and I saw some of his art in Grand Rapids a few months ago). The subject of the movie is the movement of refugees. They are escaping war, famine, and other nasty and deadly conditions, or perhaps simply seeking a better life.

The story starts with Syrians crossing to Greece. We watch the boats arrive and government officials begin to process the passengers. We see them start to walk to other countries in Europe, then get stopped at the Macedonia border. The EU makes an agreement with Turkey to take back the refugees and they settle into camps in Turkey. But the movie doesn’t stop there. Jordan also houses Syrians. The Rohinga of Myanmar tell their story. Afghanis who have spent 30-40 years in camps in Pakistan are invited home to help rebuild – though their original village can’t take them back and they end up in city slums. There are windy camps in Kenya with refugees from South Sudan and Eritrea. The oldest camps are in the West Bank. The biggest camp is Gaza. There are rather nice camps (even indoors) in Tempelhof Airport in Berlin. In Calais thousands try to catch a ride to Britain and the French destroy their camp. There may not be camps, but there are refugees along the US-Mexico border.

The refugees tell their stories, such as the man who shows us the 17 identity cards he has for members of his family, then tearfully tells us five didn’t make it. A few tell their stories with their back to the camera. Sometimes all we need is the expression on faces.

People from various refugee agencies describe what they are doing and what the refugees are facing. One says that as long as there is inequality there will be refugees, and the wider the inequality becomes the more refugees there will be.

In most camps in most countries things are set up so that the refugees cannot better themselves, cannot escape the horrors of camp life. The intent is the refugees will eventually go home, though the average stay in a camp is 26 years.

Along the way we are told refugees are serious in their trek. Leaving one’s home is not a decision taken lightly. Even so, 34,000 people a day make that choice to flee persecution.

The closing credits lists 15 camps seen in the film. I could only count them as the credits scrolled. The credits lists the names of everyone featured in the film – and the list is long. I saw this list (and the movie as a whole) as a very humanizing thing for the director to do.

Flush with money already

I’ve been wanting to write about the tax reform bill (more accurately known as a tax cut for the rich bill) that the GOP in Congress is pushing. Yeah, the Senate bill is different than the House bill, but they are in agreement on general intent – a windfall for the already rich.

So, I won’t get to all those sources I’ve been saving up. Instead, I’ll quote from an interview I heard yesterday.
We're better off if this tax bill fails. And the reason is simple, twofold. One, two of the greatest problems we face in this country - one is income distribution or maldistribution. This bill exacerbates it. If you're very wealthy, you do a lot better than if you're middle class or poorer. It also gives tax breaks, huge tax breaks, to the wealthiest of corporations. These corporations are flush with money already. They're not creating jobs. More money isn't going to have them create. But the other thing it does, as somebody who cares about a government functioning, and as we move into the 21st century and technological forces push the average person around so much, they need government to help them. And this will sort of really hurt the government because the deficit is going to be so deep for so long.
I’m pleased to note these are the words of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. He did an interview with Robert Siegel of NPR’s *All Things Considered*.

Freedom means…

While doing my weekly cleaning this morning I listened to two episodes of Radiolab’s series More Perfect. This is from the second season of the series of stories of important Supreme Court cases.

The first case, described in a 21 minute episode, is one currently before the Supremes. The title is “Who’s Gerry and Why Is He So Bad at Drawing Maps?” Yes, the subject is gerrymandering, something I’m quite involved with at the moment with the campaign to end the practice in Michigan. The particular case before the Supremes is Gill v. Whitford and is about gerrymandering in Wisconsin.

In a previous case Vieth v. Jubelirer in 2004 the justices said gerrymandering is really bad, but we have no way to measure whether it actually happens. Yeah, that was Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote. The current case now comes with a mathematical formula called the efficiency gap. I describe it here.

The episode also mentions another measuring tool that will please my mathematical friend and debate partner. Computers, using Big Data, construct a huge number of possible maps. The maps are rated across a bell curve continuum. The map being reviewed by the courts is also placed on this continuum to see if it is near the center (and thus represents the overall population) or towards the edges (and thus discriminatory). In a 20 minute program they don’t get into how the maps are constructed or rated. One of the related links may have more details.

Along the way they discuss the “earmuff” district in Illinois. Two separate Latino neighborhoods near (maybe in) Chicago are joined into one district. This allows them to have a strong influence on one representative which they wouldn’t have if the two neighborhoods were in two districts. This is a good use of weird shaped districts.

On to the second episode, “The Gun Show.” For about 130 years the Second Amendment was rarely mentioned in any federal court documents. Cases related to gun ownership simply didn’t happen. Now it is one of the most talked about amendments, one that divides the nation, and one that some people say makes all the others possible. The 72 minute episode tells the story in 3 chapters.

In chapter 1 we hear about Bobby Seale who helped found the Black Panthers in 1966. They were fed up with police violence in Oakland, CA. Their solution was to obviously arm themselves and observe the police. Seale recounts one incident where police stopped a black person and the Panthers lined up on the other side of the street and watched. This freaked out the police who wanted to confiscate their guns – black men aren’t supposed to have guns. Another scene was at the California Capitol and featured Ronald Reagan, then Governor. Laws were quickly passed to disarm the populace. Yes, this is very much about racism.

Chapter 2: But that upset white gun owners. And we hear about the National Rifle Association, who for a hundred years (started in the 1870s) were very much non-political. Their mission was gun safety and helping young men be comfortable around guns so they knew how to use them when the next war came around. We hear about the NRA meeting in the mid 1970s where one faction, who very much wanted to be political, overthrew the existing leadership, creating the NRA we know today.

The third chapter is about the 2008 Supreme Court case, District of Columbia v. Heller, the case that proclaimed that gun ownership is an individual right, though there are cases where it is appropriate for a society to refuse to let certain people (such as convicted criminals) own guns. The NRA trumpets the first half of the ruling and ignores the second.

The program lets plaintiff Dick Heller speak. I was reminded of a couple things I hear a lot from him and his brethren.

* Freedom means the government cannot restrict what Heller can do, very much including his right to discriminate against other people. Freedom means the ability to enforce his ranking over others.

* Freedom is not for these people wishing to live without discrimination and oppression.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

He went low. She went to the Capitol.

A few important highlights from yesterday’s election, one year into the nasty guy’s regime, as listed by Melissa McEwan of Shakesville.


* The governor’s office stayed in Democrat hands.

* The Lieutenant Governor went to Justin Fairfax, a black man.

* Danica Roem, a transgender woman, was elected to the House of Delegates. She beat out long-time incumbent GOP Bob Marshall. He introduced Virginia’s anti-trans “bathroom bill” so it is fitting he lost to a trans person. Marshall is an overall vile person. Roem is full of grace and composure. McEwan tweeted: “Danica Roem defeated a dude who is profoundly transphobic and was personally abusive to her. He went low. She is going to the Capitol.”

* Two Latinas were elected to the House of Delegates, beating GOP incumbents to do so.

* At least 14 seats in the House of Delegates flipped red to blue. A few races are too close to call, so there might be enough to flip the whole chamber to Dem control.


* Transwoman Andrea Jenkins was elected to the Minneapolis City Council.

* Transman Tyler Titus won a seat on the Erie, PA school board.

* Jenny Durkan was elected as Seattle’s mayor. She is the first female mayor since 1928 and the first out lesbian.

* Wilmot Collins is the first black mayor of Helena, MT. Collins was a refuge from Liberia.

* Melvin Carter is the first black mayor of St. Paul.

The huge Dem victory in Virginia is in part a response to the violence in Charlottesville, about 3 months ago.

McEwan wants to make clear: The GOP definitely noticed. And will work hard to make sure it can’t happen again. That badly misnamed Commission on Election Integrity is still working hard on voter suppression and the nasty guy is busy filling court vacancies (held open for him by Mitch McConnel) with judges who think voter suppression is just fine.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Twists and turns

The nasty guy is touring Asia. Air Force 1 stopped in Hawaii along the way. A protester held a sign, “Aloha POTUS! Welcome to Kenya.”

I’ve written many times about gerrymandering and I’m active in a campaign in Michigan to end it (I’m doing a presentation on it tomorrow). But how to draw attention to the issue without eyes glazing over? Jeremy Loeb of Blue Ridge Public Radio in a report for NPR reported on one idea.

North Carolina is highly gerrymandered. The state is nominally a swing state, but the GOP got 10 of 13 congressional seats. One way they did it is to carve up the Democratic stronghold of Asheville so both pieces are overwhelmed by the GOP leaning voters around it.

The local League of Women Voters organized the Gerrymander 5K, a run (or walk) through the city on the line that divides the two districts. One of the runners said afterward, “I’ve never gone on a race with so many twists and turns.”

Misogyny is a national vulnerability

Fannie Wolfe of Shakesville reviews the misogyny that brought the nasty guy to office. She also discusses the mainstream media’s complicity in the win, including granting the nasty guy continuous benefit of the doubt while slamming Hillary Clinton repeatedly (only one example is the 600 days she was kicked for her emails). Fannie wrote:
Misogyny is a national vulnerability and it was leveraged against our nation to our detriment. Donald Trump and Mike Pence have continued to lead a racist, misogynistic backlash to progress that proves to be profoundly stupid in that it will harm not only women/people of color, but many of the people who support these men.

Going forward, a good thing to keep in mind is that those with the loudest and largest media platforms to cover these current events continue to be white men, many of whom are entertained by or actively complicit in the oppression of women.

More than any time in my recent memory it has become apparent that a fundamental way rape culture has saturated our culture so thoroughly, and yet sometimes so imperceptibly, is because so many national narratives in the news, politics, and Hollywood are told by misogynists who tip the scales for other misogynists, the massive effect of which has been to normalize the widespread hatred and subordination of women.

I listen to NPR news usually 1 to 1½ hours a day. During last year’s campaign and since then I’ve felt NPR political commentaries have been rather bland at best and tilted towards the GOP at worst. The most recent annoying example has been Mara Liasson, political commentator, nattering on about how badly the GOP needs the to pass their proposed tax bill – with nothing said about how disastrous that bill will be for everyone but the rich. There may be a reason for it…

For a couple years Michael Oreskes has been senior vice president for news at NPR. Last week he resigned over a rising number of complaints of sexual harassment.

That pulls the sarcasm out of Melissa McEwan, also of Shakesville:
If you, like me, are wondering whether the head of NPR's news division being a misogynist predator with zero respect for women might have influenced their coverage of the first woman ever nominated for the United States presidency by a major party, well, that's just another mystery lost to the sands of time.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Refuse to allow the fear to become too great

Yesterday I saw the play A Bright Room Called Day by Tony Kushner. It was put on by The Theatre Company in the intimate theater inside the downtown YMCA. The Theatre Company is run by the theatre department of University of Detroit Mercy. Their way of working is to cast a show with a combination of students and area professional actors, so the students get a feel for working in a professional atmosphere.

I got a delightful surprise when I went to the box office and said I wanted one ticket for the evening performance. The guy behind the counter said a patron just returned a ticket, which I could have for free!

Tony Kushner is the guy who wrote Angels in America, which I saw in the mid 1990s – yes, all seven hours. It looks at gay life during the AIDS epidemic. It was fascinating, strange, and bloated.

This play was not bloated, though on occasion still strange. The story takes place in Berlin during 1932-33. Yes, this is when the Nazis came to power. The story revolved around Agnes, her lover Husz who is Hungarian, lesbian Annabella, movie actress Paulinka, and gay Baz. Most of them are part of the German Communist Party or other labor movements. They try to make sense of the Nazi rise to power. Can it be stopped? Surely the workers will rise up! They then struggle over how to respond: Join the Nazis to be able to keep working? Resist? Flee? Muddle through? Surely this will last only a few months (it lasted 13 years and destroyed Germany).

Every so often there is a scene set in 1990, when Germany reunified. Zillah, an American, travels Germany for some excitement in her life – the Reagan era was way too boring. She hooks up with Emil, who doesn’t speak a word of English (the actor speaks German and I could understand bits of it) and she doesn’t speak German. Both in 1933 and in 1990 there is a discussion of evil. Zillah says that Hitler has defined the top end of the scale of evil, but he is so far out there the scale has become meaningless. How many deaths do you need to be responsible for before you can be placed on the scale? Millions? One?

Both the playwright and the director draw parallels to today. In a note in the program Kushner wrote:
I think democracy is always in peril. It is always dependent on the various groups that comprise the progressive community making common cause with one another. … People need to focus on what leads up to the Holocaust, what brings us to the point of genocide, to monstrous crimes against humanity.
Director Jamie Warrow wrote:
Thus, for me, A Bright Room Called Day is clearly a warning against political complacency within everyday existence – a mandate to act – to refuse to allow the fear to become too great.
The play will be presented two more weekends.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Not ready for schadenfreude

The big news this week is that Robert Mueller charged Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, and George Papadopoulos with crimes, including conspiracy against the United States. Some people are giddy that Mueller now seems a step closer to the nasty guy. Perhaps he is. Several headlines want to make sure we know the nasty guy is angry because of this news.

Which prompted Melissa McEwan of Shakesville to ask: What does that mean for us?
Trump doesn't sit well with any kind of discomfort, and he is, by his own admission, a vengeful guy. He likes to hurt people whom he believes done him wrong. And he's already learned, thanks to the press' slavering admiration of any president who drops a bomb on people, that hurting other people can be both a distraction and a way of earning praise.

I see a lot of people celebrating that Trump is squirming with discomfort and seething with rage. That doesn't make me happy. It makes me scared. Scared for what he may do, and the people he may harm. He is still the president, after all. He retains enormous power that he can flex in frightening ways.
And what is the GOP doing? Trying to figure out how to minimize the damage to their steamroller.

Roger Stone, a long-time master of political dirty tricks and a great believer in conspiracies gave a hint why the GOP has resurrected the thoroughly debunked Uranium One story from Bill Clinton’s presidency (Correction:it happened in 2010 and Bill Clinton was not involved). One reason is to continue to smear Hillary. The other is that Robert Mueller was a part of that story. Stone claims that Mueller is guilty of obstruction and cover up. Stone claims that Mueller can’t be a special prosecutor if he is the subject of an investigation. A twofer!

Falsely accused

I avoid Halloween. Even when Halloween falls on a bell rehearsal night the rehearsal gets canceled because so many mothers need to be home for the festivities. So Halloween for me is movie night. I caught a 5:00 show (7 people in the audience) then went to a restaurant for supper (5 tables in use). I got home a bit after 8:30. A neighbor still had is bonfire going so I stopped by. He said there aren’t many kids in the neighborhood these days – perhaps 7 stopped by.

The movie I saw was Marshall, about one of the pivotal cases litigated by Thurgood Marshall, the guy who became the first African-American on the Supreme Court. At the time of the story Marshall is the only lawyer for the NAACP. He goes around the country representing black people who have been falsely accused of crimes. The one at the center of this movie takes place in Bridgeport, CT in the 1940s. A white woman has accused the family’s chauffeur, a black man, of rape. Marshall isn’t a local, so is barred from speaking in court, though he is allowed to sit at the defense table and guide the local lawyer. That guy doesn’t want to be there because his specialty is civil disputes, not criminal trials. However, he is Jewish and knows a bit about discrimination. Marshall teaches him the rest.

I thought it was very well done and quite the intricate plot. I recommend it. I enjoyed the many bits of Marshall reversing the black/white roles – such as telling the white lawyer to handle his luggage. There was a sweet touch at the end, though I learned how sweet when I looked up the movie on IMDB. In the last scene Marshall is off to another case, a young man wrongly accused. Marshall is met at the train station by the parents of the accused, played by Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton. I didn’t recognize those names, though I do recognize this one: in real life they are the parents of Trayvon Martin.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Separate isn’t equal

The Senate Judiciary Committee has been investigating the ties between the nasty guy’s campaign and Russia. This past week the bipartisan leaders of the committee, Grassley of Iowa and Feinstein of California declared they have hit a wall and now will conduct separate Dem and GOP investigations. Melissa McEwan of Shakesville notes a big problem with this split – the Dems don’t have subpoena power.

Need proof

I’ve written a few times now on Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach and the badly misnamed Commission on Election Integrity he was appointed to. A federal court has ordered the disclosure of testimony by Kobach. The ACLU has obtained copies of the testimony and explains it all to us.

Back in 2013 Kobach implemented a law in Kansas saying to be able to vote people had to give proof of citizenship – a passport of birth certificate. By December 2015 more than 35,000, about 14%, of registered voters in the state had been disenfranchised. This disproportionately affected minorities (which was Kobach’s intent).

A year ago the ACLU took the case to the 10th Circuit Court. The National Voter Registration Act says that before enacting such sweeping restrictions there needed to be proof that significant numbers of noncitizens were registered to vote. Kobach, of course, had none.

So Kobach drafted a revision to the NVRA to removed the requirement that a state had to show proof. The draft bill and the claim that the nasty guy would have won the popular vote if all those (3 million) noncitizens were prevented from voting was Kobach’s calling card to the freshly elected administration. That got him his new gig and a new bestie in Rep. Steve King of Iowa to introduce the revision sometime in the future.

People were noticing that the title of the Commission on Election Integrity didn’t match Kobach’s reputation. So those people asked Kobach to explain his intentions. In reply Kobach lied.

Which is why the issue went before a court and the ACLU now has the testimony.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Zero tolerance policy on misogyny

Many times when I write it is to go through my browser tabs, tell you what I’ve been saving, and clean them out. And by the next time I write I’ve saved more articles in the tabs. And sometimes I don’t get previous tabs cleaned out.

Rep. Maxine Waters has been a highly vocal critic of the nasty guy. She reports that she is the target of pro-Russian operatives:
I have often notices that every time I tweeted about Trump and Russia, dozens of strange accounts would immediately tweet various lies and falsehoods that fringe alt-right websites would subsequently use as a basis to write fake news stories. Since much of the public discussion of Russia’s interference on our democratic process thus far has focused on Russia’s influence in the presidential election, I think it is important for the American people and my colleagues in Congress to understand that Members of Congress and their efforts to communicate with their constituents may also be vulnerable to this type of foreign disruption.

Women continue to step forward to relate stories of sexual harassment. One of the latest targets of their ire was Mark Halpern, a powerful journalist with ABC News. In a series of tweets, Melissa McEwan of Shakesville reminds us every organization must have a zero tolerance policy on misogyny. Tolerating any misogyny, even simple banter, tacitly signals that harming women is okay. Abusive men use every such incident to justify thinking that all men behave the same way. One guy might separate “locker room talk” from actual harm to women, but an abuser doesn’t. So, a zero tolerance policy on misogyny.

A lawsuit was filed by election reform advocates in Georgia. Their hope is to require the state to upgrade its antiquated election technology. Part of the reason for the suit is a computer server that is a statewide staging area for key election related data. A security expert disclosed gaping security holes on this system that were not fixed six months later.

Just after the suit was filed that computer’s data was wiped.

McEwan notes:
Marilyn Marks, executive director of the Coalition for Good Governance, which is one of the plaintiffs in the suit, says she believes the data was erased from the server to hide its security flaws. (Take a moment to appreciate the irony there.) She said: "I don't think you could find a voting systems expert who would think the deletion of the server data was anything less than insidious and highly suspicious."

Another aspect of what McEwan is calling Russia Reversal: She comments on a Wall Street Journal article that describes the connection between Russia and Hillary Clinton is “a bombshell.” She notes:
That's about as blunt as it gets, in terms of laying out the strategy: To create the narrative that it's the Democratic Party who has a "dalliance" with Russia that can't be ignored.

The entire premise of the piece, however, is a lie.
Then McEwan quotes David Corn of Mother Jones who discusses the Steele dossier that is at the center of this misguided storm.
So you see what's happening? Republicans are asserting the Steele memos should be dismissed because they are a dastardly Democratic oppo concoction and saying this somehow undermines the whole Trump-Russia scandal. Yet at the same time, they are demanding an investigation of the fake Clinton-uranium scandal that was based on a debunked story subsidized and promoted by a big-money conservative donor and Trump backer.

Display the flag proudly

I want to share three articles from the latest edition of Between the Lines, the LGBT newspaper for Michigan.

The cover story is an interview with Gretchen Whitmer, the Democratic candidate for Governor in next year’s election. Most of the interview is her steadfast support of Michigan’s LGBT citizens and our rights. Also note this Democratic candidate did an interview with an LGBT newspaper.

The next story is about Debbie Stabenow and her recent tour of the Ruth Ellis Center. Stabenow is one of the two Democratic senators from Michigan and is up for reelection next year. She says the GOP has a bullseye on her back. The Ruth Ellis Center provides a platter of health and social services for LGBT youth in southeast Michigan. I help serve supper on Wednesdays and occasionally watch the youth dance, but there is much more to the center than that, so much more that the Center is known nationally for its work. I am delighted Stabenow visited and asked thoughtful questions during her visit. She showed support no GOP candidate would have. This action alone is enough to show me her character and prompt my endorsement (and this is beyond simply voting against whoever is the GOP candidate). Alas, the visit happened at a time I wasn’t there and I suspect when the youth weren’t either.

The third story is about the Ferndale City Council chamber. Ferndale is a suburb along Detroit’s northern border and has become very LGBT friendly. For a few years Motor City Pride was held in Ferndale and the LGBT Affirmations Community Center is on a major street in downtown.

In the City Council chamber behind the council members are flags of the United States, state of Michigan, Oakland County, City of Ferndale, and POW-MIA. Recently they added one more – the LGBT rainbow flag.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

If you don’t speak, they have changed you

Bits of news

Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona is not going to run again. He made a big speech saying he doesn’t like what the GOP and the nasty guy are doing (but did/will he vote against any of it and will he lead any kind of resistance once out of the Senate?). The GOP, said Flake, needs to stand up to the nasty guy.

Senator Lindsay Graham was asked about that: “I’ll stand up when I need to but I’m trying to get taxes cut...”

David Nir of Daily Kos translates:
Sure, there’s a narcissistic sociopath who undermines democracy daily sitting in the White House, but hey, I’ve got to reduce the tax burden on rich people.
What is scary is that Graham said that in public. Nir continues:
Really, though, please take your time, Republicans, and enjoy shredding the social safety net to enrich the plutocrats. I’m sure there will be plenty of democracy left to defend after Trump has his way with things.

Patrick Tomlinson wrote a series of tweets explaining what he says when talking to “forced birthers” (a term that better describes the pro-life crowd). I’ll summarize:

You’re in a fertility clinic (why isn’t important). The fire alarm goes off. As you run for the exit you hear a child scream. You see the child and a container labeled “1000 Viable Human Embryos.” You have time to save the child or the container. If you try for both you’ll succumb to smoke inhalation and save neither. What do you do?

Says Tomlinson, the people answering this question always try to fudge it, trying to save both. They refuse to admit they know a human child is worth more than a thousand embryos. That refusal means their arguments are really about controlling women.

Steven Andrew of Daily Kos notes that abortion rates are down. Why isn’t the “forced birther” crowd celebrating? Why are they restricting birth control? First, fewer unplanned pregnancies means less slut shaming. Second, …
less abortions means fewer pissed of religious-right fundamentalists who are essential in enabling tax cuts and deregulation. So you know what that means to the usual suspects: kill birth control!

See, the more abortions there are, the better it is politically for the right. It makes it easier to rile up rank-and-file evangelicals and cast those of us who defend reproductive choice as murderous, sex-crazed monsters. So file this under “to hell with the embryos, we can’t let a good wedge issue die” in the Very Big Book of conservative duplicity. Hypocritical!

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville is discussing what she is calling the Russia Reversal. All that stuff about the nasty guy colluding with the Russians … the GOP is now blaming it on Democrats and Hillary Clinton. Their tiny thread of evidence is some oppo research Hillary’s campaign funded that revealed the connection. Never mind there is a lot more evidence than is in this little dossier. The GOP is also reviving an investigation into the uranium incident (was that the one involving Valerie Plame?) under President Bill Clinton (because, of course, Bengazi never went anywhere). McEwan fears this will end in a show trial and the fulfillment of all those “Lock her up!” chants.

In another post McEwan wrote:
Hillary Clinton warned us what would happen if Donald Trump were elected. She was right. And today, the political press is chasing bullshit stories about...Hillary Clinton.

I keep coming back to the thing my dear friend Maud [Mary Quinn] once wrote: “There are times when you must speak, not because you are going to change the other person, but because if you don't speak, they have changed you.”

After all that I need a bit of fun: McEwan occasionally asks for favorite photos that readers have taken. I had a good laugh at the fifth one in this post. It is an eclipse doll, a moon face with a fuzzy corona. Alas, I couldn’t find one online because every mention of “eclipse doll” brought up the characters of the Twilight movies.

Animated Van Gogh paintings

I saw Loving Vincent this afternoon, a fascinating film. The fascination isn’t so much with the story, rather with how the movie was made.

The guy in the title is Vincent Van Gogh. The events take place a year after Vincent’s death. Since Vincent wrote lots of letters he became friends with postman Joseph Roulin. The postman has one last letter to Vincent’s brother Theo, but it came back undeliverable. So he sends his son Armand to deliver it in person, or find out why. Armand ends up in the town Auver-sur-Oise, where Vincent had been both a good friend and a patient of Dr. Gachet and where Vincent had died of a gun wound. While waiting for the doctor to return from Paris Armand has a few days to talk to the locals to try to find what happened. They tell their stories in flashbacks.

At the end of the movie we are told that Vincent created 800 paintings in his eight years as an artist. He managed to sell … one. His art supplies were provided by Theo. He is now considered the father of modern art.

On to how the movie was made. It is essentially Vincent’s paintings come to life. All of the characters are ones that he had painted and the movie recreates those paintings and animates them. The 90 minutes of film mean 65,000 frames. All of them were hand painted. The scenes of Armand were painted to imitate Vincent’s originals and are quite colorful. The flashback scenes are in black and white and are of a different style of painting that almost looks photographic. The credits list 131 painters.

The live actors performed before sets that looked like Vincent’s paintings or before the standard Green Screens. The live action frames then became a guide for the animated frames.

The official movie website says there were 898 different shots in the film. This resulted in 898 paintings. As the scene proceeds the shot is painted over for each successive frame. That way the background doesn’t pulsate because the brushstrokes of one frame don’t match with the next (unless it is depicting rippling water or windblown wheat). However we do get that pulsating on the characters as they move.

Watching Van Gogh paintings come to life is a wonderful way to spend 90 minutes.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Three bears

I rarely mention advertisements, though I do when there’s a good reason. The product this time is Rouse Honey, sold in Britain. A good way to sell honey is the story of the three bears. In this case “bear” is slang for large hairy gay men. No need for Goldilocks. The guys live in a cabin and discuss how to make porridge with fruit and – of course – honey. Alas, these guys don’t get any more intimate than roommates – one wouldn’t know they’re gay.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Be an ally of women

Hey, guys – feeling overwhelmed by the sheer number of women posting stories on Facebook and Twitter under the hashtag #metoo (in which women describe incidents of sexual abuse and assault – the number of tweets has been in the millions, though I don’t know how to get Twitter to give me stats)? Guys, do you feel you’d like to do something, but have no idea what? Women’s lives can be so mysterious to us dudes.

Don’t worry, guys, help is on the way. Helen Rosner, in a post on Medium, lists 20 ways a guy can support women. This, of course, assumes we’re way past stop abusing women. I’ll list only a few:

* Be pro-choice and be vocal in support of reproductive rights. Understand that the opposite of reproductive rights is forced childbearing.

* Support nontaxed menstrual products. Get over any embarrassment you may have about menstruation.

* Whenever you are in a group composed of only men (whether it’s social, work, church, or whatever) ask yourself why there are no women present. Then ask out loud why. Force an honest answer.

* Ask yourself what things you don’t do, for whatever reason, that you also think of as something women tend to do. (Sew? Send birthday cards? Care about skincare?) Try doing it for a while, just to see what it’s like to be a person who does the thing.

* Deprogram your beliefs about thinness being an optimal state of feminine beauty. Deprogram your beliefs that your desire matters in determining a woman’s worth.

Free speech and its cost

My most recent post last Friday about free speech did indeed prompt a response from my friend and debate partner. He adds a bit to the discussion.

I wrote:
[Panelist Angus] Johnston responded saying there is a difference between fighting the bad guys and debating the bad guys, which is what Johnson is really talking about. Debating the bad guys doesn’t work. If you disrupt the public presence of fascists, some of their supporters do fade away. This isn’t a 1st Amendment way, but it is an effective way of fighting the bad guys.
My debate partner responds:
We must face down bullies to render them powerless.
Which is what the protesters were doing. But that leads to the question (and a major part of the discussion of the previous post) of what is the best way to do that?
The audience for [white supremacist Richard] Spencer's speech isn't the people he is talking to, nor does the person he might debate with reasonably think of Spencer as his/her audience. No one is going to change Spencer's mind. The wider society is the audience addressed by both sides. Refuting racist and hate speech helps the public choose the appropriate side in the discussion – an important public good.
I see his point and expand on that a bit. The audience in this debate is the general public. Part of their interpretation of what they hear is how the speakers act. They see Spencer being a bully. They see his opponents as being … what? Bullies as much as Spencer? How does that affect their perception to the watching audience?

I wrote:
[The students are] also disappointed because UF [University of Florida] charged Spencer $10,000, yet it (and the taxpayers) will have to pay a half million for extra security.
My debate partner responds:
We are not powerless in the free speech arena: Free speech rights are not absolute. Extensive case law over more than 200 years has established one major exception: When free speech disrupts public safety, public officials / government may block it.
Actually, I think other major exceptions are slander and libel, part of my point in my previous post.
Also, free speech isn't free. We pay for the paper and printing we use to put out flyers, for the venue we speak in, etc.

Spencer's events plainly threaten public safety and require security arrangements. It seems fair that those who create a threat to public safety should pay the cost of the security they need to exercise their free speech rights. Spencer creates that threat; the protesters who respond to him do not. Without Spencer's initiative to speak, there is no threat.

I think UF (and other public institutions) should institute a policy that parties who wish to rent UF facilities must put in escrow as a condition of rental the amount of money that UF believes must be spent for security arrangements, including setup for the event and cleanup after it. The amount should vary depending on the event; I imagine that, in some cases, a court would have to rule on the "reasonable" amount UF could charge. If event-related costs turn out to be less than predicted, funds not spent from the escrow account return to the renter.

That might or might not dissuade Spencer from renting UF space and speaking. But it would lift the burden and grievance that comes with a $10,000 rental fee vs. a half million in security costs.
On to another area of free speech I didn’t mention in the previous post.

Spencer is gaming – “weaponizing” – free speech, as I put it before. My friend summarizes Spencer's goals using a phrase straight out of ranking, which I discuss frequently: “I deserve free speech rights but you don't.”

This is only a step away from what a large number of GOP Congresscritters and the nasty guy’s administration are doing – trying to eliminate free speech protections. We see it in the nasty guy describing all news that doesn’t glorify him as “fake.” We see it in his threat to pull the license on NBC (which doesn’t need a license, though each of its affiliate stations do). We see it in the latest gold star family controversy when an administration aide said essentially, how dare you question a four star general! These are only a few of the recent incidents.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Hate speech and slander

While driving up to Dad’s house on Thursday I listened to the NPR program The 1A, hosted by Joshua Johnson. The topic was free speech, appropriate for a program named after the 1st Amendment to the Constitution. The topic was also timely, coming the morning before white supremacist Richard Spencer spoke at the University of Florida. I thought the program was well done and covered several aspects of the issue, so I’m sharing a summary with you. I wish I was able to take notes while I was listening, but … I was driving. So I listened to it again. The whole thing is 47 minutes.

In the studio with Johnson were Sanford Ungar, Director of the Free Speech Project at Georgetown University, and Angus Johnston, professor and historian of American student activism and student life at City University of New York. Yes, this discussion features a Johnson and a Johnston. Throughout the show Johnson added comments from listeners. I’ve included some of them.

Johnson said the issue is appropriate because students are now shouting down speakers (usually conservative) they don’t like. In response some of these speakers have threatened violence (or worse, see Charlottesville) and there is now a public safety aspect to these events.

Johnson talked to Mitch Emerson over the phone. He is the co-organizer behind “No Nazis in UF.” His group planned a non-violent protest. He noted that when the protesters outnumbered the supremacists, everyone remained safe at the event and went home. When supremacists outnumbered protesters (such as at Charlottesville), there was violence. Ignoring them, letting them speak to empty rooms, isn’t working. Also, the student body at UF will be present, on campus, if not in the room, and is diverse. Some of the students will feel threatened by what Spencer says.

A commenter from Gainesville (where UF is located) noted Spencer’s followers intend to spread terror through the community. Their method of operation appears to be to incite violence then whine when the community responds.

Ungar noted that Spencer wasn’t invited by a student group. No one can say students invited him, let him speak. He invited himself. He is playing the system. The university saw no way of stopping him without opening a big can of legal issues.

Johnston noted that UF has a policy that anyone can rent college facilities. If UF didn’t have that policy they could deny Spencer as other universities have done. Johnston sees Spencer’s actions as a weaponization of the First Amendment, use the openness of the university to harm it. Universities will have to be careful of their policies.

Emerson said that lots of students are quite disappointed in UF arranging related events doing what my friend and debate partner says is countering bad free speech with more free speech. They’re also disappointed because UF charged Spencer $10,000, yet it (and the taxpayers) will have to pay a half million for extra security.

The show interleaved comments of two callers who had called earlier at the host’s request. One noted that when a speaker asserts dominance over others (such as people of color or LGBT), these people feel less safe and the ability to learn has been compromised. The other said the point of a college education is to equip students with the ability to refute ideas they disagree with. I note that Emerson said that UF was not doing this around Spencer’s visit.

Johnson talked to Danya Abdelhameid over the phone. She is a senior at the College of William and Mary and an activist with Black Lives Matter. She was part of a protest that shouted down a speaker from the ACLU. Their protest was because they felt the ACLU protects white supremacy. Their issue is that free speech protects hate speech. She is annoyed with liberals and their view that free speech is absolute, that everyone be allowed to speak. But doing so means supremacists have a platform. These supremacist views promote violence and deny the humanity of certain people. You are complicit if by supporting free speech you don’t consider the humanity of those targeted by supremacists.

Ungar responded that it is extremely difficult to determine which speech should be protected. Shouting down speakers only undermines free speech.

Danya said the issue isn’t debating ideas. She returned to her main point of speakers who have the intent of denying the humanity of marginalized people. Dialog isn’t worth having when it is about questioning the humanity of someone. She added that in the incident with the ACLU speaker the College of William and Mary did not use it as an opportunity to present opposing viewpoints. Also, when Black Lives Matter issues are presented to the college administration, they are dismissed.

A listener tweeted his opposition to the heckler’s veto. Instead, one should use reason or silence. Base your debate on facts, not feelings.

Johnston said that one problem of free speech is that the students feel they are not heard and the supremacists are. The 1st Amendment isn’t being applied equally. It is tilted towards the far right. He also said there are times when it is absolutely appropriate to disrupt speakers. That is also a core part of the 1st Amendment.

Johnson posed a question. Refusing to engage with the opponent, as is done when shouting down a speaker, seems like forfeiting a match. It isn’t a win. So how does disruption advance the cause?

Johnston noted that the ACLU shoutdown didn’t advance the debate at William and Mary but it did get Danya on this show with a national platform and it did prompt the ACLU to discuss within its leadership whether to take on free speech cases that have a violent component.

Ungar responded by saying the voice that shouts the loudest seems to prevail. That’s not a good way to resolve great issues. We don’t get dialog and we don’t get communal agreement.

A commenter noted there are better speakers to present ideas about racism and supremacy other than the ones who bring an element of violence. Universities should be liable for that violence.

Unger noted that if someone disagrees with Spencer, even with some pretty good arguments, Spencer isn’t going to change his views, neither are his followers. They just go underground. It is better to hear Spencer’s views and responding to them.

Johnson sees a troubling issue ahead. Universities don’t appear to be equipping students to take on the bad guys, to “stay in the ring” in a debate, rather than to shut down the power to the arena.

Johnston responded saying there is a difference between fighting the bad guys and debating the bad guys, which is what Johnson is really talking about. Debating the bad guys doesn’t work. If you disrupt the public presence of fascists, some of their supporters do fade away. This isn’t a 1st Amendment way, but it is an effective way of fighting the bad guys.

Johnson talked by phone to Naweed Tahmas, a senior at UC Berkeley, VP of Berkeley College Republicans. He has invited several prominent (and combative) conservative speakers to campus.

Tahmas started by saying it has been socially acceptable for conservative students on the Berkeley campus to be harassed by more liberal students. Tahmas has seen posters of himself described as a fascist. He decries that universities have backed away from hearing all viewpoints and have become a liberal echo chamber. He says he invites speakers because of their relevance and not their combativeness. He decries liberal groups for refusing to work with him. He offered to let them pose the first question to the speaker, but they wanted to protest instead.

Johnston noted there is a difference between free speech issues and policy issues. Ungar adds that with the well known conservative speakers it seems almost like a shadow play, in which nobody, including the speaker, expects to actually say anything. Better to invite some of the lesser-known speakers.

Johnson asked perhaps Spencer should broadcast his speech from a remote location. Johnston replied that Spencer wants the notoriety and the university’s seal of approval. He is rich enough he has a huge number of ways to get his message out other than exploiting campus policies.

Now for my thoughts and reactions.

I’ve heard my friend and debate partner say several times that the proper response to annoying speech is more free speech. It is disconcerting to see some universities are not embracing that concept. They aren’t teaching what free speech means, how to debate, how to hone an argument. They aren’t presenting other viewpoints. They aren’t helping students refute toxic messages.

I heard reports on NPR of what happened at Spencer’s appearance at UF. It was loud and he was combative, pulling many of the conservative tricks, such as telling the audience you don’t like free speech and opposing me proves it. I’ll let you do your own search for those stories.

So, yes, people like Spencer are weaponizing free speech. They aren’t after discourse. They are after exploitation. They are bullies. But don’t bullies deserve free speech too?

As Danya said, in a lot of speech that comes from conservatives these days, the goal isn’t about declaring ideas. The goal is to dehumanize the other person. When that is the case I believe that it falls into a category similar to libel and slander, which are not protected forms of speech. I looked them up: Libel is written or printed words (not spoken) that defame or maliciously or damagingly misrepresent. Slander is the same meaning for the spoken word rather than the written. Perhaps hate speech, which has the intent to dehumanize, should be classified as slander. It defames another person by claiming they are not human.

Bad joke

My sister, the one with a wife, is quite upset with the comment from the vice nasty guy saying he “wants to hang” all gay people.

The vice nasty guy does have a long history of opposing our rights – voting for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, voting against equal protection and hate crimes, voting against repeal of the ban of gays in the military, and promoting the dangerous and ineffective ex-gay conversion therapy. But the comment wasn’t from him. He’s enough of a politician to know not to say such a thing in public. It was from his boss the nasty guy joking that his veep wanted to kill us. This is funny?

That “joke” came close to the same time as a flier appeared around Cleveland State University at the time of the opening of its new LGBT community center. The flier shows a man with a noose around his neck, quotes suicide rates of LGBT people, and says “Follow your fellow faggots” – yes, urging us to kill ourselves.

The nasty guy by his comments and the vice nasty guy by his actions are encouraging these attacks on us. We do not see this as a joke.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Sick, dead, or destitute

Some big GOP donors, such as the Koch brothers, are going to be really annoyed if the GOP dominated Congress can’t pass a tax cut (for the rich).

I’m not sure if this means these super-rich dudes are going to close their wallets or will spend their hundreds of millions to back more conservative primary challengers (to the delight of Steve Bannon).

If it is the first case it might help Democrats (except for the 20 ways the GOP is stealing the vote). In the second it means Congress will likely end up with more extremists. Either way many of the existing GOP Congresscritters will be gone. The upheaval will mean both Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan will be out of the leadership.

Commenter Snud responded first:
So if they don’t make the majority of Americans sick, dead, or destitute… they won’t be re-elected.

I doubt I need to spell it out, but I’ll do so anyway. The Koch brothers and their 1% or 0.1% colleagues are desperate for that tax cut so that the gov’t doesn’t have enough money to maintain the social safety net. This is all about ranking with those at the top saying we got ours and we’re going to make quite sure there is no way you can get yours.

Outed gay hero

The program Radiolab, heard on NPR, did an hour-long story on Oliver Sipple. Back in 1975 as President Ford left a hotel in San Francisco a woman shot at him. Sipple was able to grab a gun before she got off a second shot. He was declared a hero.

Over the next few days this hero was outed as gay. It destroyed his life. He had moved to San Francisco so that he could live as gay without his family back in Detroit finding out about it. Once this detail was in the news his parents were hounded by the press for comments. His mother hung up on him.

Sipple was outed so that the press could have a story about a heroic gay man in hopes of destroying the narrative that all gay men are perverts and predators. So in addition to telling Sipple’s story there is a discussion of privacy, freedom of the press, and when a trait, such as a gay orientation, is appropriate for a news story.

A lot less backlash

Yesterday I included a link to a cartoon of Jeff Sessions tossing out rolls of paper with the words “license to discriminate.” That cartoon is actually more appropriate today.

Back in February the nasty guy proposed a sweeping executive order that would “Respect Religious Freedom.” The backlash from progressives, LGBTQ and women’s rights leaders was swift and strong. The nasty guy backed away. Progressives breathed a sigh of relief.

But in the last couple months most of those items in the sweeping order have been included in individual orders. They include:

* Telling employers discrimination based on religious principles is just fine.

* Banning transgender people from the military (still under “study” by the military).

* Declaring transgender people are not protected by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

* Filing briefs in federal cases allowing for discrimination for LGBTQ people in employment and public accommodations.

* Reversing the birth control mandate in the Affordable Care Act.

And all this happened with a lot less backlash. And just in time for the nasty guy to crow about it at the Values Voter Summit.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Our society clearly prefers order to justice

Notes from the past week…

An appropriate cartoon from the LGBT newspaper Between the Lines.

In a series of tweets Julius Ghost has a few things to say about the abusive movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and the various bits of commentary swirling around the story.
What the last week of reactions to the Weinstein story have demonstrated is just how reflexive our societal victim-blaming instinct is. Victims coming forward are very disruptive if the existing order is abusive. And our society clearly prefers order to justice. … The key thing I’m trying to notice through the noise is, who are the people orientated toward recognizing and solving an obvious problem and who are the people oriented toward damage control. … But some of these attacks feel to me more like a firewall, like an attempt to make this a Harvey problem rather than a deep systemic one. … Listen to our arguments. The arguments will tell you. Reflexively we aim at the victims. The one group that should bear no responsibility. … The question that keeps coming up is, where will it all end? It will end with justice. The real question behind the question is, “but what will this cost me?” A perceptive question. It will probably cost something. But to decline the invitation costs something too. That price will be a society where women continue to be abused. That price is too high.

Facebook has said that 10 million people had read ads that Russia bought as part of their disinformation campaign. Social media analyst Jonathan Albright researched the issue and came up with data that suggested the audience was at least double that, perhaps much higher. Albright was not pleased to discover once his research was published, Facebook scrubbed the thousands of Facebook posts and related data that had made his work possible.

Josh Meyer of Politico reports on what is surely not a coincidence…
Twitter has deleted tweets and other user data of potentially irreplaceable value to investigators probing Russia's suspected manipulation of the social media platform during the 2016 election, according to current and former government cybersecurity officials.

Whose side are they on?

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville reports on some strange scenarios:

What if the nasty guy lunged for the nuclear football? Would General Kelly (Chief of Staff) and Secretary of Defense Mattis tackle him?

The person spinning this fantasy is a “very senior Republican.” McEwan says the purpose of this fantasy is to get everyone talking about it rather than demanding the GOP actually use the checks and balances the constitution says they have. She reminds us:

* It is not the job of Kelly and Mattis to overrule the president.

* The fantasy is a suggestion that the president be overruled by former military generals.

* Even though the nasty guy is terrible it is an abandonment of democratic principles to root for him to be thwarted.

* The GOP could draw up impeachment papers at any time. This fantasy of a military coup is a way for them to avoid actually doing anything.

Another scenario is described by David Frum. Various national security and military agencies are working to circumvent the nasty guy’s role as commander-in-chief. An example is reassuring potential adversaries that the nasty guy didn’t really mean that threat.

As much as I like this particular president to be thwarted and “contained” … Frum says, “Regencies and palace coups are not constitutional.” If you think the president is unfit, the 25th Amendment defines a removal process.

McEwan adds this is incompatible with a healthy democracy. Nobody voted for Kelly and Mattis.

We need strong libraries

I attended two documentary films last weekend. Yes, my week was so busy I couldn’t post before today.

The first was Ex Libris: New York Public Library. The goal of the film was to document the wide variety of things the NYPL system (and by extension, libraries across the country) do for their patrons. We see programs of various kinds – author lectures, discussions, concerts, dinners, book clubs, and such. We see library staff engaging kids after school. We see job training and job fairs. We’re in on staff meetings and board meetings for discussions on finance and staffing. We visit the branches, ones in poor neighborhoods, the one in Chinatown, the one devoted to braille and talking books (we even sit in on a session as a talking book is recorded). We meet the staff member who signs for deaf patrons. We see some of the special collections, such as for images and for race relations. The NYPL is a large system, covering Manhattan, Bronx, and Staten Island (Brooklyn and Queens have independent systems), so we go into the facility that brings in materials from the branches, sorts them, and sends them out to the proper branch.

As fascinating, informative, and wonderful as this was, I do have a few complaints about it.

First of all, it was long. It ran for 3:15.

Second, there was no narration or text to explain anything. When we saw speakers they were not identified unless they or their hosts did or said something. And a few of them didn’t. The speakers in staff meetings were not identified nor were we told what kind of staff meeting it was.

Third, when the film sat in on a program, lecture, or meeting, it did so for lengthy chunks. I didn’t actually time them, but would guess many were over five minutes. Each individual speaker was fascinating (and I noticed none spouted a conservative viewpoint), but after two hours I wondered could we just hear an excerpt?

The film demonstrates that a library and a library system provides a huge range of services vital to their patrons and vital to a democracy. We need strong libraries.

The second was Score: A Film Music Documentary. Through discussions with a long list of famous film composers (John Williams of Star Wars fame among them) we understand why film music is important – it tells us how to feel. The original King Kong movie was cheesy until the music was added. We get a bit on how the music gets composed, though each composer works in a different way. We see how composers interact with directors (sometimes over some now iconic tunes). We get a historical tour of great moments in film music. This includes jazz introduced with the James Bond movies, the central role of the guitar in Morricone’s spaghetti westerns, the resurgent of the big orchestra in Star Wars, and a few more.

What was most fascinating for me was the visits to the recording studios where the notes on the page are turned into sound. I’m used to watching a symphony orchestra conductor who has eye contact with the players. But film music conductors (when not the composer) have their heads down and eyes on the score. The difference is that when conducting a symphony the conductor gets the score well ahead of time and studies it in detail. The performers do too. But the film score conductor and all the session musicians get the music that morning. The prized skill, a big reason why they were hired, is the ability to sight-read.

On to a pair of books I finished recently. Both are set in the West of more than a century ago.

I most recently finished The Wistling Season by Ivan Doig. I had read another book by Doig and enjoyed it enough to look for another. The story is set in rural Montana in 1909. The narrator is Paul Milliron, then 13, his brothers Damon, 12, and Toby, 7. Their mother died the year before and they are being cared for by Father. He spots an advertisement of a recently widowed woman seeking a housekeeping position in Montana, though she is clear she does not cook. The family accepts her offer, though the boys are disappointed in that one stipulation – Father is not a good cook.

A major part of the story is the one-room schoolhouse where at least 35 kids in eight grades gather. Paul is glad he is in 7th grade because many in the current 8th grade seem to have gotten stuck there. The teacher is good at keeping all the kids busy, though there wasn’t much portrayal of the younger kids asking the older ones for help while the teacher was busy with another grade. I hadn’t realized that in a place like Montana most, perhaps all, of the students arrived on horseback. All three boys have their own horse and the author calls them the “Milliron calvary.”

I enjoyed the book for the interesting story, the insights to the situation the author inserts, and the author’s rich writing style.

The other book is Roughing It by Mark Twain. This has been on my book shelf perhaps a couple decades. In 1860 Twain’s brother is appointed to be secretary to the governor of the Nevada Territory and he goes too. He describes the three week stagecoach ride from St. Joseph, Missouri to Carson City. Once there he has a variety of adventures. Those include trying to mine silver and gold (he tells us how it is supposed to be done). He serves as a journalist in Virginia City and in San Francisco. He also grabs an opportunity to spend a year in the Sandwich Islands (now known as Hawaii). Along the way he tells us about every eccentric character he meets and does it in the dry wit we expect from Twain.

One story Twain tells (alas, I can’t retype the whole thing) is during the stagecoach trip. A man named Bemis is on a horse and is chased by a bison bull. The saddle slips off and as it slides over the horse’s tail it give a mighty kick, sending Bemis sprawling and the saddle sailing. Bemis dashes for a tree and climbs it. The saddle lands in the same tree. The bull starts climbing the tree and he is able to use the saddle’s lariat to snare the bull’s tail, then he shoots the bull and leaves it hanging in the tree. Back with his comrades we get this exchange:
“Bemis, is all that true, just as you have stated it?”

“I wish I may rot in my tracks and die the death of a dog if it isn’t.”

“Well, we can refuse to believe it, and we don’t. But if there were some proofs–”

“Proofs! Did I bring back my lariat?”


“Did I bring back my horse?”


“Did you ever see the bull again?”


“Well then, what more do you want? I never saw anybody as particular as you are about a little thing like that.”

I made up my mind that if this man was not a liar he only missed it by the skin of his teeth.

Monday, October 9, 2017

It’s not about the profit

On Saturday evening Michel Martin, host of All Things Considered discussed America’s gun violence problem with Adam Winkler of UCLA School of Law and Priscilla Imboden of Switzerland Radio. Some highlights:

Winkler noted a big difference between Europe and America. Starting before WWII there was a big push to disarm the civilian population. Since WWII America has armed up.

Looking at the political climate Winkler notes people who support gun availability are highly mobilized and make sure lawmakers hear from them. People who support gun control are not organized and thus aren’t politically influential.

I see that Imboden was invited to the discussion because Switzerland has a similar rate of gun ownership compared to America. But in Switzerland all young men are required to do military or civilian service. Half the guns belong to active military people. There is also an active culture of recreational shooting.

And their last mass shooting was 2001.

Some reasons for that:

* Those who have guns are well trained in their use.

* Mentally unstable people are barred from the military and do not get guns.

* Nobody in Switzerland buys guns to defend themselves, including as a defense against the state.

I add another reason. America has a high level of ranking, a strong belief that some people (straight, white, Christian men) are important and others (LGBT, people of color, non-Christians, women) are not. This ranking has been around since the founding of the country and is quite strong. Guns are a way to enforce that ranking.

I would guess that Switzerland, a much more homogeneous country, has a much lower belief in ranking.

On the NPR program The 1A today the first hour topic was whether letting citizens carry guns actually makes us safer. Host Joshua Johnson had a good mix of people on the show, which meant I wanted to growl at half of them. I didn’t take notes while listening and don’t want to listen to it again, so I’ll relate only one story.

Suzanna Hupp witnessed a mass shooting in which a man entered a diner and opened fire, killing 26 people, including her parents. She wished she had access to her gun (it was in the car) to be able to take him out. This incident sparked her personal campaign to make sure citizens are armed.

Yes, a horrific story.

Kris Brown, Co-president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence responded. In this situation an armed citizenry would have helped. But at what cost to society? The prevalence of guns means children find them and accidentally shoot themselves. A gun in a domestic squabble is much more likely to be deadly. Even in mass shootings a citizen with a gun is more likely to make the situation worse. She had a few more examples.

I’ll add one more. When citizens are allowed to carry guns they are more likely to be used to intimidate, to either enforce ranking or try to flip ranking.

And something not mentioned during the show – what would have happened if the shooter in the diner wasn’t able to get a gun?

I’ve changed my thinking a bit as a result of the current political climate and the Las Vegas massacre. The previous view (shared by many) is that the NRA and gun makers were in it for the profit and that profit was so important to them they were insensitive to the deaths that resulted from their product.

My current view is that while the profits are sweet, the NRA and gun makers really want the resulting deaths. The killings are the point. I’ve talked a lot about ranking – misogyny, racism, homophobia, and supremacy of all kinds. I’ve frequently quoted Melissa McEwan of Shakesville who says elimination is a big part of supremacy. A supremacist is uncomfortable with those people and the contrast between what he has and they do not. A supremacist isn’t supposed to feel uncomfortable, so tries to eliminate the source of his discomfort. The NRA and gun makers are taking this eliminationist thinking to its deadly conclusion. No big deal if bullets hit people other than those people.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Extending grace and compassion to everyone

Rev. Jeremy Smith ponders a proposal for the future of the United Methodist Church. Full inclusion of LGBTQ people? Full Exclusion? Or let each local region decide? Details in my brother blog.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The GOP would not be in power

Every so often the Democratic news and discussion site Daily Kos will crow about a GOP seat that flipped to Democrat in this or that state legislature. These announcements promote the feeling that Democrats will take back the Senate on 2018 to stop the GOP agenda of hurting people, and perhaps even flip the House and push sensible legislation at the nasty guy. Progressives feel pretty good! We can do this!

Then comes this article from Jeff Reifman posted on Politics of Possibility about “20 Ways The 2018 Election Will Be Stolen.” And the good feeling deflates. Some of these I knew about, some I didn’t. Here’s the list:

1. Electoral College. In 2016 14 states got 99% of the campaign spending and 95% of the campaign stops.

2. Gerrymandering. I’m personally working against this one with Michigan’s Voters Not Politicians campaign. If it makes it to the ballot we expect tons of money to hit us. A Wisconsin case was heard by the Supremes today. It could determine the fate of democracy in America. And Putin, known for his poisons, may have fresh targets on Ginsburg, Kennedy, and Breyer (who are pretty old anyway).

3. Sabotaging the 2020 Census, which determines Congressional seat allocation.

4. Hacking Voting Machines.

5. Attacking the Legal Basis for Voting. This is the consequence of the 2013 ruling by the Supremes that gutted a key part of the Voting Rights Act.

6. Attacking Voter Registration. Purposely running a registration drive and discarding or invalidating the collected forms.

7. Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program. Supposedly to identify a person registered to vote in more than one state it is intentionally faulty enough to match a lot of minority names.

8. Election Integrity Commission. It has already requested voter data from the states. Even if it didn’t use it to justify fresh voter suppression laws, think about all this data in the hands of a group such as the Russians who ran very targeted Facebook ads.

9. Attacking Voter Rolls. We’ve seen purges by GOP operatives. Likely there will be hacks and purges by Russian operatives.

10. Voter ID Laws. It is always harder (because it is designed to be) for minorities and working poor to get an acceptable ID

11. Attacking Voter Access. Why is the Secretary of State in most states a partisan position? Voter access is such things as not enough voting machines causing long lines, avoidable registration errors, and ballots invalidated by faulty voting machines. In 2004 these things made the difference in Ohio, which made the difference in Kerry losing the presidency. Even holding elections on Tuesday prevents low income people from voting.

12. Block Felons from Voting. Even long after they’ve served their sentence. In our justice system a high percentage of felons are minority.

13. Hacking the Democratic Party. In 2016 the stolen data allowed Russia to influence the vote.

14. Blocking Recounts. This happened in Michigan after the close 2016 presidential election.

15. Election Dirty Tricks. Robo calls or flyers that mislead voters, “poll watchers” who casually carry guns.

16. Propaganda. Russia has been very good at this.

17. Citizens United. The 2010 case that opened the floodgates to campaign cash.

18. Packing the Federal District Courts. The GOP made sure there were 130 vacant seats when Obama left office. The nasty guy is letting the conservative Federalist Society vet judges for him.

19. Packing the Supreme Court. The blockade of Merrick Garland.

20. Amending the Constitution. 34 states can call a Constitutional Convention. The GOP has control of 32 state legislatures. On the agenda would be a balanced budget amendment (forcing the gov’t to drop the social safety net and practically every service except the military) and voter limitations.

Conclusion: The GOP would not be in power without these tactics. They are working towards a one-party state.

Likely most of these tactics are based in racism, implemented to keep minority people from voting.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Power based on love

When I was a college instructor at the end of the semester I would hand out a page that listed the semester’s topics and tell the student you can write whatever you want on this page and you may refer to it during the final exam.

Professor Reb Beatty of Ann Arundel Community College in Maryland teaches accounting. He told his students they could bring exam notes on a “3x5 notecard.”

Student Elijah Bowen showed up for the exam with a notecard measuring 3x5 feet. Beatty quickly checked the syllabus and related handouts and saw he had never specified units of measure. So he allowed Bowen to use the gigantic card – and awarded Bowen extra credit for ingenuity and creativity – and for actually filling up the card.

Germany approved same-sex marriage at the end of June. On Sunday, the first same-sex weddings were held. Registry offices opened for the day to allow the couples to marry on the first day possible. The first couple to wed were Karl Kreile and Bodo Mende, who have been together for 38 years.

Tracey Samuelson of the Marketplace program on NPR reports on a problem with the GOP tax plan. Lawmakers are shouting that the economy is in the pits and must be saved by this massive tax cut. But the Federal Reserve says the economy is doing well – steady growth, low unemployment, people rejoining the workforce. The big concern of the Fed would be that inflation takes off. And a tax cut would prompt more spending, which would raise inflation. Which the Fed would have to choke off.

Translation: The economy doesn’t need a tax cut and would do better without it.

I add: The federal deficit would also do better without this tax cut. But GOP lawmakers are only concerned about deficits when a Democrat is President.

Today is the 148th birthday of Mohandas Gandhi. A couple quotes from him:
Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent then the one derived from fear of punishment.

Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man.

The ACLU, with a huge increase in donations since last November, is launching a “Let People Vote” campaign, tackling various state laws that suppress voting. Their first effort will be in Lawrence, Kansas. That’s where Kris Kobach is Secretary of State and doing all he can to suppress the vote. Kobach has also been appointed to the misnamed national Election Integrity Commission.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

No profit on the moon

I’ve written before that there are some things that should not be privatized; they should be done by government. A post in 2013 includes such a list. A post in 2015 discusses issues around privatization.

David Akadjian of Daily Kos saw the question, “Name a single thing the government touched the free market didn’t do better?” He took that as a challenge and came up with a list that I hadn’t thought about. The challenge is appropriate because the GOP keeps saying let the market or market forces deal with the problem. We don’t need government to do it. Here is Akadjian’s list:

* Justice. “In a justice system run by capitalists you could pay to be above the law.” A principle of deciding whether markets can take the issue: “Do you want service that is the same for everyone?” If so, the market solution isn’t good.

* Checks and balances on power. “How would you break up a monopoly if there were no government?”

* Education. A second principle: “Is there a conflict of interest between the goal of the organization and profit? In education, the way to make the most money is to deliver the least education.”

* Military. “One: what happens if someone else wants to pay them more? And two: what happens if the military decides they can make more money by getting rid of that pesky democratic government?”

* Police and fire departments. Do these for profit and what could go wrong? Extortion. Payment to look the other way. Traffic cameras as a way to raise money.

* Public parks. “If we sell off public parks, quite simply we wouldn’t have public parks.”

* Protecting the environment. If a resource is available for profit it will get used up. An example is overfishing resulting in ocean dead zones.

* Health care. Again, that conflict of interest. “The way to make the most money is to deliver the least health care. In a for-profit system, this means you have to heavily regulate it against abuse. Or you have abuse. Either way, it’s harder to achieve better outcomes for less.”

* Putting a man on the moon. “There’s no profit on the moon. Only cost.” In the 1960s no single business could invest that amount of money without expecting returns.

* Infrastructure. “Infrastructure is a service that everyone uses. If it’s built for profit, only those who can afford it will use it.”

* Social safety net. “Social Security does great at what it was designed to do: Be a minimum safety net for everyone.” If it were investment accounts the poor don’t have anything to invest.

* Pure research. “Pure research tends to be seen by the bean counters as nothing but cost.” In addition, established industries protect their profits, which can be a problem for us all if the established industry is coal and the infant industry is solar.

* Standards. Some companies thrive on incompatibilities. Others thrive on shoddy products.

Akadjian says his list isn’t complete. Another he mentions, but doesn’t describe, is dealing with poverty. He ends by saying:
What I like to tell people is that every successful economy in the world is a blend of capitalism and socialism (typically under a democratic government). A blend of public sector and private sector. Every. One.

We create markets and we can create them any way we want. Anyone who tells you, “We need to let markets work,” doesn’t want you participating.

Commenters add more examples of things that should not be privatized:

* Postal service.

* Prisons. Again, a conflict of interest – the way to the most profit is to imprison the most people.

* Elections.

* Utilities.

* Libraries.

* Tax collection.

* Disaster relief.

* Border patrol and immigration.

* Public transit.

* Weather prediction.

* Human rights.

Commenter learn adds:
There are many problems with “free market” thinking (and false assumptions) — the worst is that “markets” function based on price — which means any discussion will be forced into monetizing concepts David cited in this article… enlightenment, aesthetics, loyalty, discovery… those things have their own intrinsic value — but if you let other people frame the discussion based on price, you’ve already fallen into the wrong mindset

For example, the whole focus on education now is about “what kind of job (salary) you can get”… not what can motivate a student to want to learn

Markets are useful mechanisms for allocating things for profit — but not for allocating what society is made of.

I’ll conclude with a list of consequences of privatization from one of my posts in 2013.
* Worker pay is cut to the point they are underpaid or are in poverty. Workers are insufficiently trained to properly handle the job.

* Corners are cut so that quality of product or service is compromised or safety to worker, client, society, environment, or economy suffers.

* The contractor accepts only the least cost clients.

* The contractor concentrates on extracting money out of the contract to maximize profits, not to provide better service.

* The contractor no longer worries about competition, competence, or going out of business and acts accordingly.