Tuesday, June 20, 2017

They want women weakened

This afternoon I saw the movie The Zookeeper’s Wife. Antonina Zabinski, and her husband Jan run the zoo in Warsaw in the 1930s. It is obvious that Antonina loves animals and will do whatever is necessary to care for them.

Then the Nazis invade. Mr. Heck, the head of the Berlin Zoo (who seems to stick around Warsaw a lot) tells her the best animals in the zoo will be well cared for in Berlin. After those are hauled away the rest of the animals are shot.

Antonina tells Heck, I’ve got all these pens and workers, why don’t we raise pigs for the Nazi soldiers to eat? We can feed the pigs with the garbage from the Warsaw Ghetto. When Jan collects the garbage he also smuggles out Jews hiding beneath the garbage. They are hidden in the basement of the house. Antonina is a sweet and tender lady in the way she treats her traumatized guests. She also has an inner core of steel in facing down Heck.

The movie is a cat-and-mouse game of keeping their refugees safe from the nosy Heck. The movie is very much about resisting authoritarian regimes.

Of course, I thought a lot of the current American authoritarian regime. Would life in America get as bad as the Warsaw ghetto?

Sarah Kendzior has an academic background studying authoritarian regimes. So when she calls out the nasty guy and the entire GOP she knows what she is talking about. A lot of what she is saying lately is the nasty guy and the GOP really are that bad. They really are displaying a lot of the signs of authoritarianism. Take it seriously! The hidden Senate healthcare bill is one of those signs.

A tweet comments that the GOP being so cold hearted that they would pass a healthcare bill that takes away insurance from 23 million people doesn’t make sense. Kendzior replies in a tweet:
1) Profit 2) Weakened, sick population can’t fight back 3) Plan hurts women most; women lead opposition 4) Helps Russia + other adversaries
In another tweet she links to an article she wrote back in early May for the site Marie Claire that explains in more detail.
The healthcare law is not only a sadistic assault on the sick and vulnerable, but a gendered attack meant to render his most forceful opponents, American women, helpless. Autocracy and patriarchy often go hand in hand; the countries with the highest levels of political freedom in general tend to prioritize women's healthcare, education, and other basic rights.

And American women know it. Since Trump took power, protests against his administration have consisted overwhelmingly of women.

Women, in other words, are a huge problem for the Trump administration. Unable to silence our voices, they've turned to controlling our bodies—and repressing women, whether through biology or social structures, is a characteristic aspect of authoritarian rule. It's meant to frighten us into disillusionment and compliance. When survival becomes our primary objective—when anger about willful denial of climate change is overshadowed by the more urgent need to pay for a critical doctor's appointment—it's harder to organize, protest, run for office, or generally fight back. Instead, we have to live.

Republicans behave as if they do not expect the 2018 elections to be free and fair … When representatives flaunt their disregard for public will this blatantly, they insinuate that public will is irrelevant. It's a classic authoritarian tell: They see their political dominance as a lock.

Targeting women's health is part of this administration's broader autocratic strategy to shut the opposition down. They want women weakened, desperate, and politically irrelevant as public frustration grows.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Seventeen Solutions – enlist enlightened super-rich

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

16. Enlist the Enlightened Super-Rich

There are indeed some really rich people driving politics these days. At the top of the list are David and Charles Koch. They – the Kochs and many others of the 1% – funnel huge amounts of money into the political process, both at the national and state levels. And they are successful at bending Congress and state legislators to their will.

The current GOP healthcare plan is an example of this. It is hugely unpopular with ordinary citizens. So why is Congress so intent on passing it? Because the rich want it.

But not all rich people are like that. Some are actually progressives.

There is a long history of rich people supporting such causes as abolition, women’s right to vote, and breaking up monopolistic oil. And with the rise of the tech millionaires, that wealth should be tapped again.

An example where that worked: In 2005, William Gates, Sr. (father of Microsoft Bill) recruited a thousand rich people to oppose the repeal of the estate tax. He teamed with an economic expert to write a little book “about the responsibility to pay the estate tax as payback for all the help that rich people like them have received over their lifetimes.” They spent millions over three years on this campaign.

An example that failed: In 2003 George Soros spoke out against going to war in Iraq, joining the voices of many outspoken former military and diplomatic people. But Soros didn’t put his money on the table – $200 million out of a wealth of more than $2 billion would have done it. And America started a disastrous war.

Another failure: Warren Buffet called on Congress to change tax laws so that “billionaires like me pay more in taxes.” He did a lot of talking about fairness, both to Congress and fellow rich people. But he hasn’t put his wealth behind the effort. And Congress is itching to do the opposite of what Buffet campaigned for.

Yes, lots of rich people donate the money for libraries, new college buildings, and hospitals. But there is a difference between charity and justice. “Money to charity eases the problem; money to justice destroys the problem.” This is the reason: spend the money on justice and everyone, including the rich, live in a better world.

In 2009 the estimated wealth of the Forbes 400 richest people in America to be about $1200 billion. Most of half of that ($600 billion) is “dead money,” only accumulating interest or dividends. It could be live money, by funding justice, by creating a better society.
How much would it cost to get single-payer health insurance, prison and drug policy reform, a living wage, severe reductions in corporate crime and fraud, voluntary public funding of public campaigns, and organized consumer watchdog groups? How much would it cost to place our country on a sure path to replacing fossil fuels and nuclear power with renewable energies and massive energy efficiency technology? How much would it cost to implement electoral reforms, such as ending the practice of gerrymandering or removing ballot access obstructions to give voters a choice of many candidates of varied agendas? How much would it cost to enact a sales tax on Wall Street trading transactions, which would bring in hundreds of billions of dollars a year to salvage budgets and lighten up taxes on workers? How much would it take to enact the kind of carbon tax that’s been favored even by ExxonMobil? …

Unlike most major social changes – which rely on the kinds of behavioral change that’s almost impossible to mandate – these popular proposals need only to go through Congress and the president to take effect – and they already have solid intellectual, empirical, and public support. The only question is how much money it will take to organize a successful campaign to get them enacted.

As for who will provide these funds, the answer should be clear. The enlightened super-rich – those who are interested not just in money but in justice.

Without justice there can be no freedom and no liberty. “Philanthropy” means “love of mankind.” Collective love is at the core of justice. The wealthiest among us, those who have the broadest horizons to put forces in motion, should embrace that work as their own highest calling.

Seventeen Solutions – Congress with skin in the game

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

15. Get Congress to Have Skin in the Game

I started this series at the end of last August and it has been two months since I added a chapter. Life has been so interesting, prompting me to write about lots of other things – when I have time to write at all.

General citizens are annoyed with the gap between Congress and We the People – “the gap in wealth, power, privilege, and accountability.”

We can start closing that gap with these ideas that get rousing applause in Nader’s speeches:

* When military personnel are sent to another country, “all their able-bodied and qualified children and grandchildren will be drafted into the armed services. That should make them think twice about making war.”

* “The members of Congress can have no benefits unless the American people all share in those benefits universally. There would be no health insurance, no life insurance, no lush pensions, and no accessible gym facilities for the 535 members of Congress unless they saw fit to provide such benefits to all.”

Americans highly value fair play. Yet Congress has done a lot to exempt its members from the hardships the rest of us face. Two examples:

* Congressional pay is tied to the cost of living increases. Minimum wage is not.

* The recent healthcare bills in Congress show that not only are members exempt from the hardships the rest of us face, they are actively working to increase our hardships. The current bill is too new to be in Nader’s book, though Congress has long enjoyed a gold-plated health plan the rest of us can’t get.

Since Congress makes the rules about what Congress can and cannot do, how do we get them to enact these ideas that go against what they think of as their privileged status? How do we push, “If it’s good for you, it’s good for us?”

Nader says this solution is based on the previous one, the Congressional Watchdog Groups. The argument these groups use should be similar to this: Your pay should be the average of the workers in your district. If my child goes to war, yours does too.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

The remaining choice plays out

I’m home now, back from Pittsburgh. I spent several days visiting Mom so Tom and his wife had the time to arrange for caregivers so they could bring Mom to their house. Not all details are in place yet, though they hope to do so within a couple more days.

Mom’s meals have been a glass (maybe two!) of chocolate milk or fortified milkshake plus a few spoonfuls of applesauce or yogurt. Then she says she doesn’t want any more. I noticed she does much better without the straw. After drinking, if she’s been awake for more than a couple hours she is ready for a nap. If that meal is supper she will sleep from then to the middle of the next morning. She has lost a lot of weight.

For a while Tom had asked that Mom’s meals be pureed. But soon she wasn’t able to eat even that. So Tom canceled the pureed meals. And at the next meal they set a hamburger in front of her – which Tom ate. Since then they’ve been good at keeping the refrigerator in Mom’s residence wing stocked with milk, milkshakes, and applesauce.

If I’m there with someone else – a cousin came with his son from North Carolina for a couple days – we carry on a conversation and she’ll listen as we talk. If I’m the only one with Mom I read from a book – Mark Twain’s Roughing It. I read his description of a stagecoach ride from St. Joseph, MO westward in 1865.

Today, after Mom drank her lunch and began to get ready for a nap, I gave her a final hug.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The choices shrink

This morning I went with Mom and Tom to the radiation center in the hospital. The radiation tech said we'll do measurements for the mask today (as expected) and treatments start in 7-10 days. Tom said that would be too late. Even starting tomorrow (what Tom had thought) the radiation would have dubious help. The tech got the doctor, who said the earliest treatment could start would be Monday. The doc and Tom stepped into the hall so they wouldn't be talking in front of Mom. Tom came back and talked to Mom a bit. He turned to the tech and said thanks, but no thanks.

We returned Mom to the care home. When Tom and his wife and I got back to the house, she called hospice.

Tom had been mulling the question, if we go through the pain and hassles of radiation, then what? The tumor might be smaller, but not gone. He had already come to the conclusion that the benefits of radiation were small. If delayed the benefits would be near zero.

As we were walking out of the hospital I had two emotions:

* We had just signed Mom's death warrant. Of course, I must think intellectually that the cancer had already signed the death warrant. Even so, it is hard to think this is the end.

* There isn't much Mom left. Mom is worse than I saw her in December. She doesn't talk much. She doesn't walk much. Tom has to do fancy maneuvering to get her into and out of a car. There isn't much life remaining.

We met with hospice people in the afternoon to understand the process and sign forms.

Tom and I stayed with Mom through supper. Mom drank a milkshake (small by restaurant standards) and had a few spoons of applesauce. Since only the tip of the spoon would fit in her mouth there wasn't much on it. By 6:30 she was tired and was put to bed.

I am delighted to see the tenderness and patience Tom shows to Mom. He has been visiting her for a year now and recently has increased his hours with her. It is good to see how he cares for her.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Choices leading to the same end

My mother started showing signs of Alzheimer’s in 2003 at the age of 74. She was still a very competent housewife, though puzzled by such things as why she couldn’t remember what she had served for lunch.

By the time Dad died in 2015 my sister, who lived with Mom and Dad, had taken over the household chores. Mom made a mess of loading the dishwasher, or hung up clothes that were twisted all about. Or Mom put a few dishes in the dishwasher and wandered away.

After Dad died brother Tim took Mom into his own home, but that lasted about a half-year. She required professional care. For a year now, Mom has been living in an Alzheimer’s residence near brother Tom. He continues to visit nearly every day. He occasionally took her for outings and when he brought her back she would say why are you bringing me here? None of this looks familiar.

And we settled in for the long slow decline. A doctor officially declared her to be incompetent to handle her affairs (which we had known for a long time – I’ve been handling things since Dad went into the hospital two years ago). She still talks though many times she uses stock phrases. Mom is beginning to have trouble with stairs and Tom guesses she would be in a wheelchair within a year and likely death two years after that.

In mid April Tom noticed that Mom was nibbling her food, taking perhaps 20 minutes to eat a cookie. After a cursory checking of her dentures Tom took her to his dentist. Who made referrals. The reason why the dentures didn’t seem to fit and caused pain was because there was a tumor attached to the side of her tongue.

Towards the end of April surgery removed the tumor. The lab said it was cancerous and a type that is slow growing. It could have been there a long time and Mom wasn’t capable of noticing. She seemed to recover quickly and was back at the Alzheimer’s home in a week.

A short five weeks later and Mom was nibbling again. The tumor is back. The lab report was half right – the cancer was, in Mom’s case, actually growing rapidly.

Tom will take Mom to a surgeon tomorrow morning. The big question is whether another surgery is worthwhile. Did the first surgery and insufficient nutrition from pureed food weaken her too much for a second round? Will the tumor regrow in a few weeks, forcing us back to the same situation a third time? We already understand that chemo and radiation are not an option in Mom’s frail state and at her age. From the first surgery we know that Mom won’t handle a feeding tube well. All it would do is extend the known end.

If surgery is approved it happens Wednesday. If not approved, then the tumor grows until she can no longer swallow. Death is likely a couple days later.

I leave tomorrow to visit Mom either helping her get through the surgery or visiting with her while she can still talk. There won’t be any blog posts during this time.

In spite of its unpopularity

In Congress the House failed to pass a repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Then a few weeks later they did. This is the bill Senator Elizabeth Warren summarized as:
The CBO confirmed: Trumpcare is a $663 BILLION tax cut for the rich paid for by kicking 23 MILLION people off of insurance. End of story.

The bill was sent to the Senate and leading GOP senators said they would ignore the House bill and write their own. And it would take a while.

So they formed a committee (all men deciding women’s health) and started meeting in secret. And they intend to maintain that secrecy until a few days before the floor vote, which they intend to hold by the end of this month (meaning that bit about taking a while was a diversion). That secrecy means no public hearings, no testimony from those who will lose insurance (and might die because of it), no chances for debate in committee, no way to amend. Because of the way the Senate rigged the rules on this bill, there is also no chance to filibuster.

A new poll in Georgia’s 6th district (in a deeply red state) show only 25% are in favor of the House bill and a massive 62% see it as unfavorable. This is a district a Democrat may now win in a special election this month.

In spite of this huge unpopularity the GOP seems determined to pass it.

Make sure your senators know what you think. Though the Senate version of the bill is still a secret, here’s a hint: Since it is written by the GOP it will throw people off insurance and therefore is bad.

Two anniversaries

Fifty years ago today the Supremes ruled that states may not restrict who white people married. The various state miscegenation laws (only 15 left in 1967) were struck down. I learned something new today: these miscegenation laws weren’t just to prevent from white people from marrying black people. It was to require that white people could only marry white people, keeping the race pure.

The case was brought by Richard and Mildred Loving, so it was known as Loving v. Virginia. And in some communities June 12 is now delightfully known as Loving Day. So love your partner or spouse today, whoever they are. Then see the movie Loving.

The LGBTQ community is always thankful for this ruling. It formed the foundation of our own right to marry, achieved just two years ago.

The other anniversary isn’t joyous. A year ago today a terrorist killed 49 people and wounded more than 50 at the Pulse night club in Orlando. NPR host Ari Shapiro visited the site to talk to survivors, family of the victims, and medical staff who were on duty when the injured arrived at area hospitals.

We remember.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

I’d like you to meet my tax cut advisor

Back in 2012 Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback pushed through aggressive tax cuts to spur small business growth. Lots of people exploited a feature of the cuts and the state’s revenues plummeted. Of course, since Kansas is a GOP controlled state, funds for education got cut.

In March this year the state Supremes ruled that funding for schools is so low it is unconstitutional. Lawmakers were given a deadline to properly finance education to close the achievement gape between the white and affluent students and those who aren’t.

The legislature came up with a tax-hike plan and passed it with GOP help. They’re tired of the financial chaos too. Brownback vetoed it. And – finally – the legislature overrode his veto.

Alexia Campbell of Vox notes that Brownback got his tax advice from Arthur Laffer and Stephen Moore. Some of us remember when Laffer advised Prez. Reagan and how well that went (spoiler alert: huge jump in federal deficits). Laffer and Moore are now advising the nasty guy about tax cuts.

Perhaps Laffer and Moore should study what just happened in Kansas.

Leo Varadkar, a gay man, is on track to become the Prime Minister of Ireland! He will also be the youngest person to hold that office. Ireland joins Belgium, Iceland, and Luxemburg in having a gay or lesbian national leader.

Philadelphia has expanded the inclusion of the rainbow LGBTQ flag by adding black and brown stripes. The flag will be flown at city hall during the pride month of June. An anonymous source said:
The black and brown stripes are an inclusionary way to highlight Black and Brown LGBTQIA members within our community. With all of the Black and Brown activism that's worked to address racism in the Gayborhood over the past year, I think the new flag is a great step for the city to show the world that they're working toward fully supporting all members of our community.

Monday, June 5, 2017

More violent Christianity

A couple days ago my friend and debate partner sent me a couple articles from his humanist friends who try to understand their opposition. My email program declared his email to be junk and possibly harmful to my computer (it might be right), so I didn’t see it until now. Both articles closely contrast with what I wrote earlier today. I found them online, though my brief summary is probably enough for most of you.

Dave Daubenmire is described as a Religious Right activist “Coach” in an article by Kyle Mantyla of Right Wing Watch and Alternet. Daubenmire say America needs a “more violent Christianity.”
He cited President Trump and Greg Gianforte as examples of violent men who are properly “walking in authority.”

“The only thing that is going to save Western civilizaton is a more aggressive, a more violent Christianity,” he said.
Gianforte is the newly elected US representative from Momtana, who assaulted a reported the night before his election.

This “Christianity” is what William Barber soundly criticized as not being anywhere near what Jesus taught. What Daubenmire is praising is an overt display of ranking, and a violent display at that. He praises it because he wants it for himself.

In an earlier post I wrote that the presence of violence is a sign of seeking power over others. And people only seek power over others to enforce ranking.

The second article is by Travis Gettys for Raw Story. He wrote that white supremacists are turning to Norse mythology – a few big-budget movies in the last few years depicted the god Thor with his hammer. The reason they are doing so is because Jesus is a Jew and the teachings of Jesus are too passive and weak. They want to emulate Thor and his hammer.

Yup, white supremacy is all about enforced ranking – with them on top. And praise for the violence needed to put them there.

No copay for the leper

I listened to the New York Radio Hour on Michigan Radio yesterday evening on my way home from attending my niece’s high school graduation. Host David Remnick held a conversation with Rev. William Barber of Greenleaf Christian Church of Goldsboro, NC. William Barber had been the president of the NC chapter of the NAACP and the driving force behind the Moral Mondays demonstrations at the NC legislature. His people called attention to a wide variety of progressive causes.

The title of this episode is “Politics Needs Religion.” I think a more accurate title would be “Politics Needs Morality.” Barber wants to bring morality back to modern politics, though definitely not the Christian morality espoused by the right. He isn’t much impressed by modern Democrats, either. I transcribed some excerpts:

Differences between the white and black churches:
I’m an evangelical. The black church has been traditionally evangelical. The term was hijacked! Because in the Bible, theologically, there is no such thing as an evangelical that does not begin with a critique of systems of economic injustice. And when Jesus, the ultimate evangelical – that brown skinned Palestinian Jew that was born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth, the ghetto, the poor place – his first sermon said, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me to preach good news” – that’s “evangel,” that’s what that means – “to the poor.” If your attention is not on dealing with the issues that hurt the poor, the brokenhearted, the sick, the left out, the least of these, the stranger, and all of those made to feel unacceptable, you don’t have white, right-wing evangelical, you have heresy, theological malpractice. It doesn’t fit orthodox Christianity.

They came up with this weird theology. If you’re good, you go to heaven. If you’re bad, you go to hell. If you’re good, you’re wealthy. If you’re bad, you’re in poverty. [A prosperity gospel is] not consistent with orthodox theology, it’s not consistent with the theology of the Bible. … If your theology says whoever is good is wealthy then you would fawn over a wealthy businessman, because of his purse-strings, despite his moral behavior. Because maybe the religion you’re promoting isn’t about moral behavior. Maybe it’s about paid puppets of the empire. Because any time a religion seems to say the only moral issues are prayer in school, where you stand on abortion, being against a woman’s right to choose, private property, and making sure you can prove that Jesus was a founding member of the NRA, that is not Christianity.

Think about it. This is how you can see it: They’re so loud on things like abortion and prayer in the school and so wrong and so quiet on things like health care and living wages and acceptance of all people and treating the poor.

There are 3500 scriptures in the bible about love and justice and mercy and how you treat the stranger and how you help the least of these. And it’s not talking about private charity either, its talking about how we shape society, its talking about the nations. Jesus said what I will say to the nations when I’m hungry, not to the individual, to the nations. That’s governments.

There may be three scriptures about homosexuality. None of them trump the scripture that says you got to love your neighbor as yourself. So how do you claim to be a conservative if you dismiss 3500 texts but then build a whole theology around three scriptures that most of them you misinterpret. That’s not conservative. Conservative means to hold onto the essence of.
I see the white evangelicals taking the basic messages of the Bible and subverting them to support ranking (yes, a familiar theme with me). I agree with Barber that what they preach isn’t what Jesus taught. I’m pleased he says it so well and so forcefully.

Abortion and other social issues:
Let’s get the folk out of the room for a minute, we love them, but who want to come in here and talk about a woman’s right to choose and they claim they want the baby to be here, but then they don’t want to give the woman health care to get the baby here, or health care after the baby gets here, they don’t want to pay the parents a living wage so they can take care, so you really don’t have any credibility to talk about abortion because all your policies abort people’ possibilities, dreams and hopes. So you don’t need to be in this conversation.

I’m not pro abortion. It’s not pro or con. I can say I believe in life, I want persons to have children, but there are so many situations where that may not be possible. There are situations where people have to choose. And even if they choose to have an abortion I choose to love, I choose to care for them.

What I want is to get the conversation to higher ground. And the higher ground is how do we stop aborting the hopes of the poor. How do we stop destroying health care. You think about, just a few weeks ago, the hypocrisy of having clergy in the Rose Garden with the president clapping for him signing the executive order about so-called religious leaders and not chastising him on his position to deny millions of people health care – and they claim to be Christian clergy.

This is a simple country-boy analogy. If I’m not mistaken, the one thing Jesus did was set up free health clinics. Everywhere you look in the Bible Jesus is healing people. He never charged a leper a copay.

You going to applaud someone? Something else is going on underneath that that’s ugly, that’s cynical, that doesn’t make sense, that’s not good for the health of our culture, and is a denial of the basics of our faith. The word salvation means healing.
About cutting taxes
The tax cut was always about disabling the government from being able to make the playing field more level and fixing the problems the government created in the first place.
He’s been touring the country training people in moral articulation and moral analysis.
People able to say, wait a minute, some of these issues are not about left versus right, they’re about right versus wrong. Health care is about right versus wrong. Living wages is right versus wrong. Dealing with systemic racism is about right versus wrong. We need to stand up, not as partisans, but as people of conscience.
We need a poor people campaign. During the last election cycle…
We had 26 presidential debates, I think, maybe 27. Think about it. Not one debate, not one full debate on voting rights. … Not one full debate on the world economy. Not one full debate on public education. None. We were talking about text-messages, emails, innuendos, and the strange conversation that you will not hear anywhere else in the world. … That says to us we don’t have just a partisan problem. We have a deep moral malady. Something is wrong in the spirit of the country. And we knew we needed to have this poor people’s campaign.
About the Democratic Party
We have to challenge the Democrats, especially right now. I’m very concerned when I hear Democrats talking only about the middle class. They think that’s all that went wrong in this past election. One of the things we have to do is recover our moral foundation.

When some of these extremists say they want to read the Constitution I get happy. I say, Please! Let’s read the Constitution. Or when they say we want to talk about what’s in the Bible. Please! Please! Let’s have that conversation! Because if we have it, then it will expose the holes and the hypocrisy and may even cause you to repent. And come join us. In love.

I think progressives make a mistake when we don’t know and remember the power of moral underpinning.
This does not have to be a Christian movement. Morals transcend religions. Progress is more than working on the white middle class. It has to deal with the issue of race.
It’s when we come together. When we’re willing to put our minds to work and our bodies on the line. What if we didn’t focus on Trump. Because Trump is a symptom. What if we went up to McConnell’s office and Ryan’s office, and every state capitol, and what if we said this is not the end of a movement, but the launch of a movement. … We want you to know we’re all in this together and we stand on our deepest moral principles, and not just curse the darkness but point people to the light. What if we used something like that to shock the very heart of this nation. I want to see what would happen if we finished that leg of the poor people’s campaign. I want to see what would happen if we would come together.
Study what your opponent is doing:
If, however, in order to win they had to lie almost every other ten minutes; they had to find a way to put pornographic sums of money into the electoral pot; they had to spend years pushing voter suppression; they had to use fear against Muslims, against immigrants; they had to be helped by the media that played too long with Trump and gave him too much free press; and then they had to go all the way over to Russia and get help … If somebody cheats you, they don’t cheat you because you’re weak. People only cheat you when they can’t beat you in a fair fight. Then that says we are stronger than we realize

It’s our time to stand up and be the moral dissenters, the moral defibrillators, the moral dreamers and to make it through this moment, and use it to change the course of history, to change America, and in some ways if we work together, we’ll change the world.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Wresting the title of worst

After the nasty guy pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement I began to wonder if he might reach the distinction of worst president ever. I knew the one currently at the bottom of the ranking was James Buchanan the one just before Abraham Lincoln. My understanding was that Buchanan was either the most incompetent or the laziest. Perhaps the nasty guy would win on most destructive, the one that brought the world ecology to collapse? So I went surfing for bad presidents.

Brian Scot MacKenzie of the Indivisible Movement takes a look at a Buchanan and a few other bad presidents to give us a benchmark. First of all, the nasty guy hasn’t been in office long enough – two months when MacKenzie wrote his post, four months as I write mine.

Some reasons why bestowing the title of worst is premature: It evokes too much juvenile glee. The nasty guy won by declaring Obama to be the worst (which the GOP implied the day he took office). A claim of worst should not simply affirm our biases. False claims of worst assume the past has nothing to teach us. So let’s study that past.

MacKenzie lays out what made Buchanan (1857-1861) earn the spot at the bottom:

* At a time when the issue of slavery in the south shifted from an economic practicality to fanaticism, Buchanan lobbied the Supreme Court to finally settle the matter. That resulted in the Dred Scott decision that declared black people as subhuman noncitizens and opened northern territories to becoming slave states. This energized abolitionists in the North.

* The economy floundered and the Panic of 1857 wiped out hundreds of banks. Buchanan refused federal relief. That spooked investors, deepening the following depression. Buchanan’s party, the Democrats, had refused banking regulations.

* Buchanan’s appeasement of the South alienated Northern fellow Democrats. That divided his party and handed the House and Senate to the Republicans in 1858.

* When Democrats split into North and South in 1860, Buchanan didn’t stop them. Southern states started seceding. Buchanan essentially gave the South a four-month head start in preparing for the Civil War (at the time the Inauguration was in March).

MacKenzie’s benchmark:
In order to wrest the title of worst president from Buchanan, a contemporary commander in chief would need to wreck the economy, revoke all human rights from an entire race, violate the constitutional separation of powers, and plunge the country into a ruinous civil war that kills nearly 2% of the US population.
Are we there yet? The nasty guy hasn’t wrecked the economy, though today’s jobs numbers were low. As for human rights, he seems to gaining ground on revoking rights of Muslims. He’s working real hard to violate separation of powers (and commit other impeachable offenses), though not providing checks the Congress seems to be urging him on. As for the ruinous Civil War, perhaps we can substitute ruinous climate change? Perhaps as an extra bonus we can add disenfranchising voters and in other ways making hash of the constitution?

Some of the other bad presidents listed by MacKenzie:

Andrew Jackson (1829-37): defied the Supreme Court who required protection of Native American property rights. This resulted in the Trail of Tears, several tribes forced from their lands. He also killed the Second Bank, causing the Panic of 1837.

Andrew Johnson (1865-69): An avowed racist he vetoed every effort to protect the rights of former slaves. Congress overrode the vetoes, so Johnson tried to interfere with enforcing those laws. He was impeached, but not removed from office.

Warren Harding (1921-23) was incredibly corrupt. He signed laws that banned nonwhite immigration. Calvin Coolidge (1923-29), was Harding’s VP and with Harding’s help, invented modern economic conservatism: tax cuts for the rich and no regulation for workers or consumers. The 1920s were wonderful. The 1930s weren’t.

Herbert Hoover (1929-33) didn’t cause the Great Depression. But he did make it worse.

Richard Nixon (1969-74): Lyndon Johnson almost had a peace deal for Vietnam. The Nixon campaign convinced the South Vietnamese to hold out for a better deal once Nixon took office. But that deal, not reached until 1973, doomed South Vietnam. His incursions into Cambodia led to the bloody Khmer Rouge that killed off a quarter of the country. At home there was the Southern Strategy, War on Drugs, and Watergate.

George W. Bush (2001-09): He signed tax cuts skewed towards the wealthy, turning surpluses into deficits. He may have been justified in going into Afghanistan (we’re still there), but bungled it by needlessly going into Iraq, which destabilized the entire region, leading to the rise of ISIS. Deregulation led to the 2007 financial crisis, in which he insulated the rich from their bad behavior as the rest of us lost houses and jobs.

So the nasty guy isn’t the worst. Yet. But it is up to us to resist, to make sure he isn’t as bad as Buchanan because if he is many of our fellow Americans and humans will have suffered a great deal.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Not to listen, but to lecture

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville, as you might have guessed, is a vociferous critic of the nasty guy, the vice nasty guy, and the entire GOP. Her blog seems to be only that for about six months now (though she had the nasty guy pegged from the day he became a candidate). Even so she and many who resist the nasty guy are pressured to “reach out.”

So McEwan imagined she was invited to dinner with the vice nasty guy. She imagines what she would say to him. But on arriving at the VP home she realized he doesn’t want to listen, but to lecture.
No matter how much good faith I extend, it will be abused.

He will lie. He will tell me lie after lie, weaving in between each dishonest phrase reminders of his moral superiority, his mendacity and sanctimony twisting into a blanket that threatens to smother me. He will say things that are demonstrably false, and reject out of hand any attempt to acknowledge the truth.

There is no conversation to be had here, and not because I don't want one. Because he doesn't.

I tell him I cannot join him for dinner after all. … I tell him that I have already spent far too much of my time and energy with men who don't want to listen, and I haven't a moment more to spare.

The GOP ran a disinformation and destruction campaign against Hillary Clinton for more than 20 years. That meant during the last election many (well, enough) had a low enough opinion of her they couldn't bring themselves to vote for her, even given who her prominent opponent was. That destruction campaign worked.

So, McEwan reports, the GOP is already starting on a campaign of personal destruction against Elizabeth Warren, just in case she runs in 2020. They are no longer even pretending to challenge her on policy. This is only about reputation. Perhaps they can make things so bad she’ll decide not to run in 2020.

And why are they doing this? Because that’s all they’ve got.

Veneer of classless meritocracy

Richard Reeves wrote the book Dream Hoarders. He was interviewed by Steve Inskeep on NPR. Reeves says the ones hoarding dreams are the upper middle class, those making $100,000 a year and more, about 20% of the population. We’re used to hearing what the 1% is doing to the country. Reeves focuses a bit wider. Some of the things these people are doing to our society:

The tax system helps people buy houses. The more expensive the house the bigger the tax incentive (perhaps there is a cap somewhere?). Most of the benefit goes to the wealthy. The effect is those in the upper middle class and above can seal themselves off from everyone else. They don’t live in areas of mixed income.

Colleges have legacy preferences. A student is much more likely to be accepted at a college if their parent was a student there. This means enrollment isn’t based on merit and a lower income student doesn’t get in. This practice was abolished in Britain at least a half century ago and no other country uses it.

Internships, usually a boost in eventually getting a job, are awarded based on who one knows, not on merit. The rich have a much more useful network than the rest of us. The eventual job searches are done through the same network.

So the 20% have advantages in housing, education, and getting a job.

Reeves is from Britain, also very class oriented. But Reeves thinks America is worse:
I never thought I'd say this, but I sort of miss the class consciousness of my old country which I grew up hating. The reason I miss it is because at least we're aware of it. It seems to me that in the U.S., you have a class system that operates every bit as ruthlessly as the British class system but under the veneer of classless meritocracy. So there isn't even a self-awareness.
The roots of many of these advantages are in racism. Though now they affect all poor.

The consequences of these policies, says Reeves:
I have come to believe that the dangerous separation of the American upper middle class from the rest of society is a huge problem for politics because there's a sense of a bubble. There's a sense of people who are kind of making out pretty well from current trends and who are increasingly separate occupationally, residentially, educationally and economically from the rest of society.

They are also disproportionately powerful. And the fact that they are not only separate from the rest of society but unaware of the degree to which the system works in their favor strikes me as one of the most dangerous political facts of our time.
Reeves says support for the nasty guy came from anger at these preferences, which keep the rest of us out. Until the rich admit that the system is rigged in their favor the lower classes will continue to be angry. He adds:
I discovered that the idea that some people should be downwardly mobile in order to allow other people to be upwardly mobile is a deeply unpopular one around upper middle class dinner tables. Especially when you start sort of trying to identify which of your own children are being identified as the downwardly mobile ones. But, you know, these are very uncomfortable conversations in many ways. But I think that unless we're willing to tolerate a little bit of discomfort in our conversations, then really we're in really deep trouble.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Civil rights? What’s that?

Back in March when the outline of the nasty guy’s budget called for gutting most of the federal government I wrote a post that catalogs what the gov’t does. Here are a couple of paragraphs from that post:
Department of Labor. Except perhaps for the Bureau of Labor Statistics this entire department is about defending the worker against the abuse of the corporation. This is entirely about standing up to ranking.

Look again at my descriptions through the lens of ranking at the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Education, Interior, Agriculture, FEMA, and State. All, or a large portion, of these departments have the purpose of standing up to those obsessed with ranking. Will a president obsessed with ranking allow them to continue to exist?
We’re getting a partial answer to that question. From the Washington Post:
The Trump administration is planning to disband the Labor Department division that has policed discrimination among federal contractors for four decades, according to the White House’s newly proposed budget, part of wider efforts to rein in government programs that promote civil rights.

Without punishment or surveillance

Ash Whitaker is a transgender student in the Kenosha, Wisconsin school system. Today, the 7th Circuit Court ruled in his favor, saying both Title IX and the 14th Amendment cover transgender people and Ash must be allowed to use the boy’s bathroom without punishment or surveillance by school staff.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on gender, which is now expanded to include gender expression and identity. The 14th Amendment is the one about equal protection.

The court wrote that the school district did not provide evidence on how allowing Ash to use a boy’s bathroom would harm the staff, other students, or parents. But the harms to Ash were well documented.

This ruling covers all schools in the 7th Circuit, which covers Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin.

Newly fashionable tool

My friend and debate partner sent me a PDF of an article that friends had sent to him. He added, “I can't tell where it falls on the spectrum from conspiracy fiction to great reporting.”

I searched the title and got a match, which also matched the author and holder of the copyright. It was indeed published by The Guardian, a respected British newspaper. I would hope that swings it towards great reporting.

The article is The great British Brexit robbery: how our democracy was hijacked by Carole Cadwalladr. It tells how companies Cambridge Analytica of Britain and AggregateIQ of Canada came together to dig through online data and use it to persuade just enough voters to vote for Britain to leave the European Union.

The data was from Facebook and from various companies that track what people do on the web. All the data was obtained legally (though I get the impression that Facebook has since changed its rules on sharing such data). The companies used various Big Data techniques to find out which voters were “persuadable” and determine what kind of message would be most effective in securing a “leave” vote. These voters were then supplied with ads, peaking just before the vote. It worked.

I’ve heard of such things being done in American campaigns, especially that Obama’s team was getting pretty good at it, though GOP candidates used it as well.

This is where it gets troubling. The guy behind AggregateIQ is US billionaire Robert Mercer. He’s definitely a member of the 1% and definitely wants to influence elections. He doesn’t expect the company to make money. It was AggregateIQ that went to the various Leave campaigns and offered its services.

It appears that Mercer also offered some type of help to the nasty guy’s campaign through American companies. It appears they operated during our campaign the same way they did during the British Brexit vote. A US billionaire helped bring about the biggest constitutional change to Britain in a century.

Keep in mind my earlier comments about knowing we’re in an authoritarian state when elections are held but no longer have the capability of changing things. Then read Cadwalladr’s closing (emphasis added):
Martin Moore of King’s College, London, pointed out that elections were a newly fashionable tool for would-be authoritarian states. “Look at Erdo─čan in Turkey. What Theresa May is doing is quite antidemocratic in a way. It’s about enhancing her power very deliberately. It’s not about a battle of policy between two parties.”

This is Britain in 2017. A Britain that increasingly looks like a “managed” democracy. Paid for by a US billionaire. Using military-style technology. Delivered by Facebook. … It goes far beyond party politics. It’s about the first step into a brave, new, increasingly undemocratic world.

The con man and the mark

Con men frequently use an effective tactic: convince the mark they have the inside track of a con being played on someone else. See that guy over there? You can help me fleece him. Only later might the assistant realize he was the target.

Some people are now proposing that this scenario is playing out with Putin as the con man and the nasty guy as the mark.


Melissa McEwan of Shakesville notes that since the end of WWII – that’s seventy years – the Soviets and their Russian successors have had a top objective: Bust up the relationship between America and Germany. Only the two together, with their military might and democratic and cultural influence, could stand up to Russia. Throughout this time Russia has had aspirations of empire, especially after they lost their satellites in 1989-91. Russia wants to dominate again. They’ve annexed Crimea and have moved against Ukraine.

Within 130 days of taking office the nasty guy completed the objective. In a trip to Europe (as well as before and since) he repeatedly made belligerent statements against Germany. That prompted Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany and de facto leader of Europe, to say Europe must look out for itself (because it can no longer depend on America).

Within 130 days the nasty guy has accomplished a top, long-term Russian objective. Tell me again he isn’t compromised. Also tell me whether he has the slightest clue about the consequences of his actions.

Sure would be nice to have Hillary Clinton back as Secretary of State to clean up this mess.

Monday, May 29, 2017

Think you are a good person

Richard Dawkins is a scientist and an outspoken atheist. He’s been doing a lot of speaking lately for the Center for Inquiry. He spoke recently with Scott Simon of NPR about terrorism and religion.

Let’s get a couple ideas out of the way. (1) Most, perhaps close to all, people who are religious see terrorism as abhorrent and feel killing innocent people a violation of their religious principles. These people work hard to build community. (2) There are terrorists who are not religious.

Even so, those who engage in terrorism for religious reasons can be especially dangerous.
Religious faith really does motivate people to do terrible things. If you really, really believe that your god wants you to be a martyr and to blow people up, then you will do it. And you will think you're doing it for righteous reasons. You will think you are a good person.

Dawkins refutes the claim that only religious people selflessly take care of others. Yes, there currently is a great deal of infrastructure and money in place to make it easy for religious people to show their care. But atheists are beginning to build their own infrastructure and raise money. This includes groups such as Secular Rescue and his own Richard Dawkins Foundation.

Just one hospital

In Gary, Indiana, the St. Mary Medical Center (where Michael Jackson was born) closed in 1995. That left Methodist Hospital as the only one in town. But this sole survivor isn’t doing well, likely because Gary isn’t doing well after its steel mills closed and half the population left. A lot of Methodist’s patients are on Medicaid or don’t have insurance.

As a way out of financial difficulties the CEO of Methodist Hospitals (they run a second one in nearby Merrillville) proposed to merge with Franciscan Health. And, as the name implies, it is a Catholic organization that follows the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops directives on permissible care.

So, yeah, no abortions. Also no surgery for transgender people, no chance of a tubal ligation as part of a cesarean birth, perhaps no care while in the process of miscarrying, limited fertility treatments, and restricted choices for end-of-life care.

Marie Siroky is a former nun and is a part of the crusade to prevent the merger said:
It is substandard care, because you’re not giving people all of their choices. I respect religious polity and doctrines of the church. Those are yours, and I respect them. But when you force them on someone else, that is where, to me, where it becomes unjust and immoral.
This is a problem because it is 20 minutes by car to the nearest non-Catholic hospital – longer for the poor who rely on buses.

Catholic health systems have one in six acute-care hospital beds nationwide, one in four in Indiana. Nationwide 46 of these hospitals are “sole community hospitals,” meaning they are at least 35 miles away from another hospital.

Franciscan Health is the largest Catholic system in the Midwest with 14 hospitals. They are also leading the attack on the non-discrimination provisions of the Affordable Care Act. Attorneys for the lawsuit wrote:
Franciscan sincerely believes that providing insurance coverage for gender transition, sterilization, and abortion would constitute impermissible material cooperation with evil.
In December a federal judge ruled in favor of Franciscan Health. Now the nasty guy appears ready to gut the rules.

A person obsessed with ranking – the nasty guy – sees a kindred spirit in an organization obsessed with ranking. Perhaps obsessed is too strong a word? Catholic hospitals are imposing their views of acceptable health care – I get to decide on your care – on whole cities unlucky enough to not be able to support a second hospital. And their views result in deaths, using my tax dollars to do so.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Capable creators of mischief

Almost two weeks ago I wrote about the coming automation of almost everything, the difficulties on our way to a society where nobody has a job, and the possible paradise when we don’t have to work. My post was a summary of an article by Kevin Drum in Mother Jones.

My friend and debate partner replied, debating practically every major point. His reply came yesterday because he has been traveling. He says the trip went well. But now he's back to debating and being a friend.

This friend worked in mathematical modeling. He knows how to represent things in mathematical terms and strives to do so in ways that make sense. When he complains that math is misused I (usually) listen.

First complaint: The formula I used to create the graphs in my earlier post isn’t the formula I described in the text. Even so, the general shapes of the graphs are the same, as is the idea that it may look like nothing is happening for decades before a great deal happens in a short few years. So I won’t go into details.

Second complaint: Saying that since the number of computer operations in a tiny amount of time will soon match or exceed the number of neurons in a human brain does not imply we will soon have artificial intelligence. The human brain and the computer are two very different things.

These two complaints do not contradict a core idea of my summary or of the original article, that automation is increasing, that increased computer power will allow tech people to automate more complex jobs, and that we as a society are not talking about what to do when so many people no longer have a job.

Though that leads to…

Third complaint: This will not be “paradise.”

My friend offers three reasons. First, because of ranking, those already pushing for automation (so more money into their pockets and less into other’s pockets) won’t give up control. I and my friend might disagree on where that ultimately leads, but I think we can agree that those pushed out of a job will have little access to the necessities of life and their existence will be miserable.

Second, my friend claims that human psychology “includes includes a deep urge and need to work purposefully and contribute.” I reply that it is possible to do that outside a job. I currently don’t have a job, yet between my music and my volunteer work I contribute.

Third, even if necessities of life were covered, life would still not be paradise. I might see life without a job as a way to focus my creative and humanitarian energies (what I’m doing now) and other jobless people would also uncover and develop their creative energies. But my friend doesn’t agree. He sees that humans, even if well fed, “are immensely capable creators of mischief, conflict and rebellion of many kinds.” I, alas, see his point and add that satisfying basic needs does not remove our ingrained tendency towards ranking.

Today I received an email from my aunt titled “The Exponential Age?” The email does not mention the originator. It talks about the disruptions that have already happened or soon will: Uber, Airbnb, Watson used for legal advice and cancer diagnosis, autonomous cars, cheap and clean energy, desalination for enough drinking water, 3D printers, agricultural robots, and more.

A bit more on one of those ideas, the autonomous car. No need to own a car, no need for our kids (or us) to get a driver’s license, no need for large parking lots, significant reduction in deaths, and 90% fewer cars. Will surviving companies be the ones who put a computer in a car (Ford) or put wheels on a computer (Google)?

All of these technologies will significantly change who has a job and what kind of job they have.

And, back to a main point of the original article, we as a society are facing a massive disruption and we aren’t talking about it.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Stop deciding to be poor

Ben Popken of NBC News notes that in the nasty guy’s budget $2 trillion of extra federal revenue growth would be used for the “biggest tax cut in history.” That same $2 trillion is to be used to balance the federal budget.

That revenue growth is based on the economy growing by at least 3% a year, which most economists say is close to impossible to achieve, even though the nasty guy doesn’t like the current rate of growth (as if by saying it he could change it).

Budget Director Mick Mulvaney says the double accounting of that $2 trillion was “on purpose” because he says other assumptions in the budget were “overly conservative.”

Representative Karen Bass of California issued a statement blasting the nasty guy’s proposed budget. A couple excerpts:
The President’s “stop deciding to be poor” approach to the budget is a fundamental misstep that would permanently cripple the most vulnerable communities n the short run and erode our country’s international leadership in the long run.

No one chooses food stamps over a job. No one *wants* to be poor, but based on recent quotes from the budget director and the presentation of this budget, it seems like the President fundamentally believes otherwise.

Senator Elizabeth Warren took a look at the Congressional Budget Office report on Trumpcare and simplified it for everyone to understand:
The CBO confirmed: Trumpcare is a $663 BILLION tax cut for the rich paid for by kicking 23 MILLION people off of insurance. End of story.

Sarah Kendzior has this to say about those controlling Washington (which Hillary Clinton incorporated into a speech)
When wealth is passed off as merit, bad luck is seen as bad character. This is how ideologues justify punishing the sick and the poor. But poverty is neither a crime nor a character flaw. Stigmatise those who let people die, not those who struggle to live.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Taxpayers first

The nasty guy released his detailed budget for the fiscal year starting in October. It is disappointingly, but expectedly, nasty. Cuts to just about everything except Defense and Medicare and a good chunk of the gutted Education budget designated to go for school choice efforts (see why that is a bad thing here and here). Nasty through and through. I’ll let you read your favorite news source to see the depths of the nastiness.

Many hope Congress won’t be nearly so drastic. It depends on how much they feel they must respond to voters. So far this year that record isn’t good. Even if what Congress passes isn’t “drastic” it will cut the social safety net. But the nasty guy’s budget is what all GOP Congresscritters would like to enact if they thought they would survive the next election.

What really annoyed me was the language used to describe this budget.

Mick Mulvaney is the Director of the Office of Management and Budget. That means this nasty budget is something carries his name and blessing. In presenting it today he said this budget will be “putting taxpayers first.” He also said:
Taking money from someone without an intention to pay it back is not debt. It is theft. This budget makes it clear that we will reverse this larceny.

He has the audacity to say the poor and working poor are thieves? This is an amazing amount of chutzpah. The poor? Really? Let’s go back to something I wrote a year ago about who the thieves are.

I wish for words stronger than “audacity” and “chutzpah.” I even checked a thesaurus and didn’t find something strong enough. Brazen? Gall? Nerve? Arrogance? Though a phrase from my time in the auto industry comes to mind: “He could bowl with those balls.”

On to that odious phrase of “putting taxpayers first.”

Many of the people paying taxes are the working poor. I’ll come from another angle: 73% of of those on public assistance are the working poor. They have a job. They pay taxes. Yet their employer is so stingy they still can’t get by and need assistance for basics such as food and shelter. This budget does not put these taxpayers first. It actually makes their situation much more precarious. And Mulvaney accuses these people of theft when it is their bosses who are stealing wage and productivity gains the workers made possible. And the GOP in Congress are promoting that theft by refusing to raise the minimum wage to a living wage.

And then we get to those who don’t have jobs because their local schools were a mess because of underfunding, who can’t afford a car and don’t have public transportation, who can’t afford child care, who can’t work because they can’t afford healthcare, who can’t work because…

Because Mulvaney and the people whose bidding he does have stolen the future of person after person.

But what annoys me most is the implication that the government should value taxpayers higher than anyone else. Part of that is a ranking thing – that taxpayers as people are worth more and should be ranked higher than others. And part of it is the idea that taxpayers don’t have to share. They can separate themselves from the rest of us. The well-being of the country as a whole doesn’t depend on us working together.

This is a blow to building community, to the reality that we’re in this together. We need to take care of one another. We are one nation.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Tantamount to shutting down free speech

The new Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai has led his team into the first step in undoing net neutrality, the rules that say internet service providers must treat all traffic the same. They can’t slow down or block traffic from sites they compete against or disagree with. The first vote was 2-1 in favor of undoing the rules.

There will now be 90 days of comments. And the comment process is looking mighty suspicious.

Joan McCarter of DailyKos wrote:
Shutting down the open internet is tantamount to shutting down free speech and doing it for Trump makes it even more fraught with danger.

Carvell Wallace emphasizes that last point in a series of tweets:
If you’ve noticed that black and brown writers, media makers, activist, etc have a much bigger role in the conversation, if you’ve notices that writers like me have a platform now when we would not have 20 years ago, then you should know that it’s because the internet has to a significant extent removed traditional gatekeepers from media. Back in the 90’s you COULD NOT GET ON unless a white person gave you permission. And that could be revoked if you talked too crazy. Social media, and the initial (relative) even-handedness and openness of the net has changed that, has allowed us to talk openly, honestly. This is EXACTLY why whiteness is being so roundly question as a benign and neutral default. This is EXACTLY how patriarchy is coming to be publicly and widely examined for the fucking bullshit scourge that it is. NET NEUTRALITY is about all that. This is literally an attempt to return ALL media to paying corporations.

Calvary and white horses

Congress has abdicated its Constitutional checks and balances in investigating the nasty guy, including around the mess with Russia. This is not yet an issue for the various courts, the third branch of our government system. Which leaves… who?

The who is a special counsel working through the FBI (I think) and supported by the general intelligence community. Hooray! At least someone is doing it! Here comes the Calvary to save us!

But Melissa McEwan of Shakesville and others are growing alarmed. This Calvary may not be riding white horses. They don’t necessarily have the nation’s best interests in mind. Some of the reasons for their alarm:

* The intelligence community (IC) has been on the receiving end of the nasty guy’s ire. Which means the IC is trying to even the score by being all the more determined to pursue allegations against the nasty guy. This is coming out as dueling coups – the IC trying to bring down the nasty guy while he is trying to dismantle them (or at least their ability to investigate him) and replace them with loyalists. Which will happen first?

* Michael Glennon of Harpers notes that the Constitution says the Congress is to provide a check on the prez., not a bureaucracy devoted to security. Who controls this bureaucracy? Do we want to set that precedent? Security forces, with strengthened powers, don’t have a good track record: FBI blackmailing civil rights leaders, NSA watch lists, CIA waterboarding. Those good at repression would not keep us from repression. And security is the excuse for everything they do.

* Are we seeing an effort to oust the nasty guy, or are we seeing the IC only trying to keep the nasty guy from being hostile to them? Are they simply fighting for power and influence? If the nasty guy manages a truce might he then turn the security forces to his bidding, might they be turned against us?

Think of it another way: If the nasty guy is ousted and the vice nasty guy ascends he will be very good a cosying up to the IC with ways to use them against democracy.

Yeah, I’m glad someone is researching the nasty guy. But they may not be doing it for us.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Slight thawing

Last Monday the NPR program The 1A did an hour on the slight thawing of Evangelical Christian Churches towards LGBTQ people. There are now hints of openness, of pastors who changed their stance, of LGBT people urging their own congregation to change, of people willing to risk a little to talk about the issue. I listened, but didn’t hear any new thoughts or ideas to share with you. Even so, it is worth mentioning the thaw is taking place and that NPR thought it worth devoting some time to it.

Also at the link is the results of a survey showing differences in the way Millennial Evangelical Protestants think compared to their elders. There are big differences over some questions, but they’re still not very progressive. Only 45% of the Millennials are in favor of same-sex marriage, though that is far better than their elders, of whom only 23% are in favor. The country in general is in favor by about 65%.

From a week ago: In response to the nasty guy firing of FBI Director James Comey Democrats called for an independent prosecutor. Majority Leader McConnell said that would slow down the work being done in Senate and House committees and rejected the idea. So Dems are slowing down the whole Senate. There are numerous rules about Senate procedures. Many times senators will request unanimous consent so that procedures can be expedited. Dems are no longer giving that consent. Every last little procedure must now be followed, a slow process.

I haven’t heard if the appointment of a special prosecutor was enough for Dems to pick up the speed.

Never buy back your soul

I attended another wonderful Detroit Symphony Orchestra concert last night. The piece that got all the attention and drew the crowds (for 4 performances) was Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the groundbreaking piece that ends with the Ode to Joy, a monumental hymn to peace and brotherhood. It was a wonderful performance, stirring and heart-warming, and all that. The piece is worthy of its sterling reputation.

But the primary reason why I got a ticket was for the opening piece on the program. It was *Mr. Tambourine Man: Seven Poems of Bob Dylan* by John Corigliano. Yes, that Bob Dylan, the one who won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

I’ve enjoyed several pieces by Corigliano, including the music for the film Red Violin, from which he also created a concert piece for violin and orchestra. He is considered one of the top living American composers. I met Corigliano when he was a guest speaker at the Wayne State University composition seminar (though I think it was after I had graduated). So I was interested in something new by him.

Corigliano says he bought a book of Dylan’s lyrics – the text without the music. He was captivated by them and heartily agrees the Nobel Prize was appropriate. When Corigliano received a commission to write a song cycle he chose Dylan’s poems. He said he had not heard Dylan’s music prior to composing and refused to listen while this work was in progress.

The songs are for soprano and orchestra. Corigliano specifies the singer is to use a mic so she can use a cabaret style voice (rather than operatic) and still be heard. My one complaint was that her mic was not very loud, the orchestra frequently drowned out her words.

I grew up hearing (and, as part of youth groups, singing) Blowin’ in the Wind. It is easy for me (and likely many my age) to read the words, “How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man?” and automatically mentally hear Dylan’s music. This well known tune is folksy and with the words is posing a simple philosophical question. Corigliano’s version is much more ominous and dark. Hey world, this is an important question, not at all flippant. And when we get to the words, “Yes, and how many times must the cannonballs fly before they’re forever banned?” we see the composer really does want us to stop and take the question seriously. There are dire consequences if we don’t.

After that came Masters of War. I don’t think I’ve heard the Dylan music for this one (or for the others beyond Tambourine Man and Blowin’). The words of this one are aimed at those who wage war and who build things for waging war. This song includes these words:
Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
Do you think that it could
I think you will find
When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul
The song Chimes of Freedom featured a couple extra sets of orchestra chimes, those long thin bells seen in percussion sections. The extras were put alongside the hall behind the box seats. Some of its words:
Tolling for the rebel, tolling for the rake
Tolling for the luckless, the abandoned an’ forsaked
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing…
Tolling for the deaf an’ blind, tolling for the mute
Tolling for the mistreated, mateless mother, the mistitled prostitute…
After all the noise of these two the last song is Forever Young, an amazingly simple and serene moment.

At the start of the program director Leonard Slatkin pointed out the connections between the texts of the evening’s two pieces. One very much against war, the other promoting peace and unity.

In all, wonderful music by both Corigliano and Beethoven.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Is it a crisis yet?

The New York Times reported that the nasty guy asked then FBI Directory James Comey to end the investigation into the Michael Flynn/Russia mess. This is seen by many to be an obstruction of justice. Since this is one piece of the careful notes that Comey wrote, there is likely to be more.

Aphra Behn of Shakesville noted last Friday: If this had been done by Hillary Clinton articles of impeachment would have been filed within the hour. Yet, all we hear from GOP members in Congress is expressions of discomfort, saying the situation is “troubling.”

Melissa McEwan, also of Shakesville takes issue with the verbal combat of saying hypothetically “If Hillary had done …” as a way of showing how despicable the GOP is and how much of a double standard they have. But McEwan is adamant Hillary would not have done those things! It is possible to show how despicable the GOP is without trashing Hillary: (1) Just look at what they did to Obama. (2) Just look at what the nasty guy has messed up in less than 4 months (McEwan provides a helpful summary, in case you forgot).

Back to the GOP and their discomfort. Why? Why are they only saying it is troubling? Why not do more?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is getting rather brazen in his statements:
I think we could do with a little less drama from the White House on a lot of things so that we can focus on our agenda, which is deregulations, tax reform, repealing and replacing Obamacare.
That prompted this from Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo:
People have been saying for months that establishment Republicans had decided that they'd let Trump do almost literally *anything* as long as he agreed to sign a big tax cut and help repeal Obamacare. And now McConnell, faced with the ultimate consequence of this moral desertion, is happy to say it out loud.
McEwan adds:
McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, reductively refers to Trump's imperiling the nation as "drama from the White House," his primary concern about which is that it distracts from the Republican agenda.

There it is. There will be no checking and balancing.

I note the vice nasty guy would be just as gleeful in signing anything McConnell and Ryan produce.

Greg Sargent of the Washington Post speculates the GOP has a reason already ready – that they shouldn’t override the results of the election (one might get the impression they feel elections are sacred. Or something).

McEwan paired Sargent’s comments with those of Speaker Paul Ryan:
I don't worry about things that are outside of my control. I worry about things that are within our control—and that is whether or not we do what we are elected to do, which is to solve people's problems.
Yo, dude: Yes, the Constitution says writing articles of impeachment is something within your control. And, yes, the Constitution says your job is to protect the nation from a lawless president – that checks and balances thing. And, yes, you were elected to do that.

Which makes me conclude again: They want that. They want a president trampling all over the Constitution.

I’ve heard a lot of discussion over the last week on the difference between a general government crisis and a constitutional crisis. I even listened to an hour-long NPR program on the topic. At the time it was only the firing of FBI Director Comey. Some panelists said it isn’t a constitutional crisis because the nasty guy hadn’t done anything not permitted by law or the Constitution.

What about now with evidence of obstruction of justice? I would say no, because the Constitution lays out the remedy of impeachment.

So, take another step: What about a lawless president and a Congress refusing to step in with the Constitutional remedy?

In my opinion: Yes. Now the Constitution itself is in peril.

And many of the players at both ends of Pennsylvania Ave. don’t like democracy.

Between the time I wrote this and posted it (an evening at the Ruth Ellis Center was the between) came the news of the appointment of a special prosecutor. The appointment was made by the Deputy AG (because the AG has recused himself on this issue). This could be a good thing, or it could be a way of saying “See! Were doing something!” without actually doing anything. Though it looks like the guy selected is a good one.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Between here and paradise

There have been news articles about the retail industry dropping 90,000 jobs since October. Politicians have been ranting about lost jobs in manufacturing and mining but have said very little about these jobs, even though more people are involved. Part of the reason is who is losing those jobs.

And part of the reason is who is gaining by those job losses. Those that gain are tech giants and manufacturers who automate and thus achieve lower labor costs. The management of these manufacturing companies are big supporters of the GOP. These jobs are not coming back.

I’ve been reading another old magazine I found in Dad’s house, this one is Mother Jones from May/June 2013. On of its articles is Terminated, by Kevin Drum about how soon Artificial Intelligence will be so advanced robots will take over nearly everybody’s job. I noticed the online title is different.

Drum agrees that AI is not yet ready to take over creative and management jobs. But he says given Moore’s Law (computing speed and power doubles about every 18 months) we should start seeing huge improvements in AI, even though we’ve seen what seems like very little happening in 60 years of computers.

To explain that Drum has a delightful example about Moore’s Law and the power of doubling. My friend and debate partner, well versed in that, will enjoy this one:
Suppose it's 1940 and Lake Michigan has (somehow) been emptied. Your job is to fill it up using the following rule: To start off, you can add one fluid ounce of water to the lake bed. Eighteen months later, you can add two. In another 18 months, you can add four ounces. And so on. Obviously this is going to take a while.

By 1950, you have added around a gallon of water. But you keep soldiering on. By 1960, you have a bit more than 150 gallons. By 1970, you have 16,000 gallons, about as much as an average suburban swimming pool.
But compared to the size of Lake Michigan, this is nothing.
So let's skip all the way ahead to 2000. Still nothing. You have—maybe—a slight sheen on the lake floor. How about 2010? You have a few inches of water here and there. This is ridiculous. It's now been 70 years and you still don't have enough water to float a goldfish. Surely this task is futile?

But wait. Just as you're about to give up, things suddenly change. By 2020, you have about 40 feet of water. And by 2025 you're done. After 70 years you had nothing. Fifteen years later, the job was finished.
Drum explains that Lake Michigan was chosen because the number of ounces of water in the lake is similar to the number of neurons in a human brain.

That example prompted me to open a spreadsheet and create a couple charts.

I’m familiar with the standard parabolic shape that a doubling function produces.

But that image usually shows maybe six or seven doublings. What happens with a couple dozen? Then the scale becomes so large that the first three-quarters of the doublings will be flattened into a nearly straight line.

And that explains why it is still hard to see a lot of commercial use of AI though we’ll see a great deal in the next decade. I’m sure it also explains such phenomena as tipping points (another favorite subject of my friend).

Now on to the important stuff.

What this means is nearly all of us will be out of a job. And soon. Those at the top won’t have to pay for labor, which will concentrate wealth even more (though at some point they’ll run out of people who can afford their products). And the rest of us not at the top?
We'll need to let go of some familiar convictions. Left-leaning observers may continue to think that stagnating incomes can be improved with better education and equality of opportunity. Conservatives will continue to insist that people without jobs are lazy bums who shouldn't be coddled. They'll both be wrong.
What to do? We’ll have to fundamentally change the way we share economic growth (if those at the top will allow it). Drum lists a few ways to do this. We’ll also have to change such things as health insurance provided by the employer. If we don’t, fascism and extreme right governments will likely take hold as the people clamor for a strongman to come up with a solution.

But once we do solve the situation we could be aiming for a very happy time. All of us will have time to do what we want to do without having to worry about the pesky job. In my case it would be devoting time to writing music (an AI might be able to write music, but it won’t be able to write my music). Actually, since I’m essentially retired, that is what I am doing.

There are a couple problems along the way to this paradise. Very few people are thinking about how to get from here to there. And many have huge incentives (especially related to ranking) to make sure we don’t get there.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Curious incident

I was at the Fisher Theater in Detroit Friday evening for a performance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. This is based on a novel of the same title by Mark Haddon, which I very much enjoyed (and I recently discovered I still have). This play was written by Simon Stephens. In 2013 it was nominated for eight Laurence Olivier Awards (British equivalent to the Tony Awards) and won seven. In 2015 It was nominated for six Tony Awards and won five. It also won a slew of awards from the Outer Critics Circle, Drama League, and Drama Desk.

The story is about Christopher at age 15. The play doesn’t offer a diagnosis (the novel doesn’t either), though one might conclude the lad has high-functioning autism. The author says says he didn’t study autism before writing the book. Even so, doctors say he got it right. Christopher is great at math and wants to take an exam usually given at age 18. But people confuse him – he can’t figure out how facial expressions relate to emotions. He doesn’t like to be touched. He understands only the literal meaning of words, so he always tells the truth. He loves red and considers it brings good luck, but he hates yellow and brown.

The story opens with Christopher discovering a neighbor’s dog is dead. He enjoyed playing with the dog, so is distressed to see it gone. This isn’t giving anything away because the corpse is on stage as we walk into the theater.

Since the police won’t, Christopher decides to investigate who killed the dog. This is brave of him because he doesn’t deal well with strangers. The investigation leads him to exploring his own house and he finds uncomfortable things about his parents. Those discoveries drive the rest of the story.

The stage was high-tech. We saw three walls and floor in black with a white grid. There were LED lights at the corners of the grid which could be turned on in various patterns and colors. There were also projection systems to show various things on the walls and floors. Most of these showed the state of Christopher’s mind. Many of the grid squares also opened to show a well-lit compartment holding a prop for the scene, such as pieces for a model train set Christopher builds when he is agitated. There were a row of illuminated square tubes around the edge of the floor. This border was large enough that actors could sit on it while waiting to be a part of the scene. There were, of course, doors – one in each side wall and one in the back.

One actor portrayed Christopher’s teacher. She sometimes narrated the action as she read from the book that Christopher wrote describing what happens. Two more actors portrayed Christopher’s parents. The other eight actors played anywhere from two to six characters in addition to crowd scenes – such as when Christopher must navigate a train station while suffering from information overload.

During the show Christopher wants to explain one of his math problems to all of us. His teacher convinces him to do it after the story is told. So after the curtain calls the actor came back on stage and, while the projection system showed us, he explained and solved the problem, which is:
A triangle has sides of lengths: n-squared + 1, n-squared – 1, and 2n. For n greater than 1 prove that this triangle has a right angle.
For the solution think Pythagoras.

I very much enjoyed play. It had been a while since I read to book so there were only a few times when I knew what was coming. I had quite forgotten the ending.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Elections may mean nothing

Before the election the nasty guy pronounced that if he didn’t win it was because the voted was rigged. Afterward he was apparently was miffed that while he got the job he didn’t get the most votes. He talked more about a rigged election.

Also after the election the Michigan state legislature said two things:

* There is no need to have a recount of the nasty guy’s narrow win in the state or investigate the election day irregularities in Detroit. There is no voter fraud.

* The voter ID laws in Michigan need to be more stringent because of voter fraud. The proposed law was passed.

For many years the GOP has been pushing the idea of voter fraud as a reason for enacting voter suppression laws. Michigan is just one of many states where such laws were enacted. Some of them are severe enough that citizens on the wrong end of these laws don’t jump through the hoops to get a proper ID, but simply don’t try to vote. That surely made a difference in Michigan’s election outcome in 2016.

In January I read that the sign of a despot is that elections no longer matter. They are held, but the outcome cannot change the government. And recently the GOP members of Congress have been acting like that is already the case.

Also in the last few months, especially in the last couple weeks, I’ve heard from various sources that because of the way citizens are annoyed with the House health plan the 2018 election could decisively flip the House to the Democrats, in spite of the extensive gerrymandering.

So it isn’t surprising, though highly troubling, that the nasty guy is talking about voter fraud again. And this time he wields an Executive Order. It creates a “voter fraud commission.” We’re not at all surprised the co-chairs of the commission are vice nasty guy, who oversaw voter suppression laws in Indiana, and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the biggest promoter of the myth of voter fraud.

Some of the things on Kobach’s resume that endeared him to vice nasty guy:

* He has imposed strict voter ID laws, which courts have smacked down each time.

* He lobbied for and got a state law to give him a team of prosecutors independent of the AG to target voter fraud. The number of cases of fraud his crack team found: four.

* He created and promoted the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program to match voter names across state rolls – with the problem it matches only names and 85 of the top 100 most common last names are used by minorities. This purged over 7 million people, most low-income people of color who tend to vote Democratic.

Depending how successful Kobach is, don’t depend on the vote in 2018 save us. Resist now.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

To disclose or not disclose

FBI Director James Comey has, to put it mildly, been in the news a lot lately. Last week he was before a Senate hearing saying the idea that the release of his letter hinting at more Hillary Clinton email investigation affected the outcome of the election would make him feel mildly nauseous. Sen. Diane Feinstein was quick to point out that while he felt he had to disclose a tentative investigation on Clinton he was concealing the had an active investigation on Trump.

I wish that in addition to pointing that out she had asked him why the discrepancy.

Senator Richard Blumenthal caught and expressed an important point about that active investigation into Trump and Russia. No matter what Comey’s investigation uncovers he must get permission from the Attorney General (or his deputy) before sharing the results of that investigation with Congress. And both the AG and Deputy AG are nasty guy appointees.

Translation: Comey, perhaps accidentally, stated the reason for the need for an independent investigation.

A big issue about the nasty guy and Russia is whether he has been compromised. That’s a polite way of wondering whether Putin somehow has a way of blackmailing him. Does the nasty guy owe money to Russian banks that would be called in the moment he does something Putin doesn’t like? Did the Russians hack his email and now know a dirty secret? Does Putin have a chain he can yank?

This morning Melissa McEwan of Shakesville made an important point. We know Clinton’s emails were hacked and Russians were using what they found to discredit her and influence the election. It is likely that the nasty guy was hacked too, though harmful details weren’t divulged.

But looking at the GOP obfuscation when Sally Yates went before a Senate hearing makes McEwan wonder. How many senators have been hacked? How many of them are compromised? A couple of those senators, Lindsay Graham and Ted Cruz, were candidates for president. Were they hacked as Clinton was and are they now compromised?

Which means the leaders of the Senate investigation, the ones trying to find out if the nasty guy is compromised, may also be compromised.

FBI policy is that ongoing investigations are not to be disclosed. Comey should not have agonized whether to do so or not. So why did he?

Paul Waldman of The Washington Post discusses Comey’s letter to Congress just before the election that strongly swung the outcome in the nasty guy’s favor. Comey may not have acted out of malice against Clinton. He may have simply been a coward.
If he followed FBI policy, once they learned about it Republicans would accuse him of covering for Clinton. If she became president (which at the time everyone assumed would happen), they’d attack him in the media, they’d haul him before Congress, they’d curse his name. That’s the catastrophe he apparently feared.

Which brings us to this afternoon. Pardon me while I turn off the irony alarm. The nasty guy fired Comey. The “official” reason is because Comey mishandled the Clinton email mess. Or perhaps he mishandled his hearing before Congress where he talked about the Clinton email mess.

So Comey was afraid the GOP would skewer him if he didn’t disclose the latest twist in the Clinton email saga. And then his boss skewered him because he did disclose. Or something like that.

But there is a telling detail. The dismissal letter, signed by the nasty guy, contains the phrase:
While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation...
Which makes me – and the entire Democratic Party – think he protests too much. That the firing was not at all about Clinton’s emails. That the real reason is that Comey’s investigation was getting just a bit too close to the truth about the nasty guy and Russia.

Ever since Comey pulled that stunt back in October I’ve had no respect for the man. But until today his investigation into the nasty guy was the only one not mired in partisan gridlock (even if he wouldn’t have been able to reveal what he found).