Thursday, July 27, 2017

We don’t like this bill

The shenanigans in the Senate over healthcare continue to grow more bizarre. The plan as of this morning was to create a “skinny” repeal (include a repeal of the mandate to buy insurance and, oh yeah, defund Planned Parenthood) over lunch and vote on it this evening. Today’s session will include offering amendments – and the Dems have maybe a hundred to force GOP senators to go on record of opposing some pretty basic things.

Along the way several GOP senators are saying we don’t like this bill, but we hope we get something out of the conference with the House that we like better, so we’ll vote for it. So, Mr. McConnell, you are going to force a conference? Aren’t you?

Not surprisingly, several in the House are saying we’ll approve whatever the Senate sends us so we can be done with this.

It is strange that a simple idea isn’t getting through – if you don’t like the bill, don’t vote for it!

A burden

The nasty guy issued a ban on transgender people serving in the military. As usual, he announced the ban on Twitter. His reasons (all of them, of course, bogus) include that medical care for transgender people (hormone therapy, perhaps reassignment surgery) would be a burden.

Marine General Joseph Dunford, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says no change of policy – at least not until the Sec’y of Defense is officially notified and issues implementation guidance.

The ban will be contested in court. Some courts say transgender people are included in laws that ban discrimination based on sex. Some courts don’t. Supremes haven’t said yet.

There were big protests in Times Square, San Francisco, and elsewhere.

Nasty guy claims transgender care is too much of a burden for the military. Such care might be as much as $8 million. Defense health care is about $49 billion – so trans care is a rounding error. The military spends about $84 million on Viagra – keeping men happy is 10 times the burden of caring for transgender people. Every time the nasty guy visits Mar-A-Lago it costs the gov’t about $2 million – so trans care is about 4 trips.

Huffpost calls it all a distraction – from the Senate healthcare games, from Russia, from… whatever.

Even some Republicans are sticking up for trans soldiers. A White House official said the announcement was to divide the opposition by forcing Democrats to own the issue. That quickly backfired.

The reaction from many Western countries was: That’s a weird thing to do. A Canadian military band played at a pride parade. British military leaders said their armed forces are better with diversity. A Scottish Member of Parliament wants to introduce the nasty guy to their fine service members who happen to be trans. A former general in the Israeli says the military shouldn’t meddle in soldier’s personal lives.

Michelangelo Signorile expands on the distraction idea:

The background is the nasty guy and his Attorney General Jeff Sessions. It seems the nasty guy assumed the AG is to protect the president, not the country. The nasty guy is now feeling the heat and his AG isn’t doing anything about it.

It doesn’t help that Sessions is doing exactly what conservatives want in dismantling all the little things Obama put in place to lessen oppression on those who aren’t white males. With this base backing him Sessions can declare he isn’t going anywhere.

So what’s a bully to do? Pick on a group he knows he can pick on.

The Defense Department’s policy on trans soldiers is only a year old. Since the vice nasty guy took office he’s been looking for ways to overturn that policy. He tried amending various military bills, which failed and made the base furious.

The boss’s need for someone to pick on meshed with the vice’s need to accomplish by executive order what he couldn't accomplish through Congress.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

More important than the message

I’ve been thinking for a long time, occasionally mentioning it to other people, that the GOP has very clearly demonstrated they are my enemy. But Democrats haven’t clearly demonstrated they are my friends.

For example, the Dems made a big newsworthy splash announcing the message they intend to use for the 2018 campaign. There were lots of words about economic opportunity for everybody. All very important.

But several people noticed a conspicuous silence – no mention of the social issues that are the backbone of the party, such as immigration, abortion, and LGBT rights. One might think the Dems don’t want to upset the bigoted white voters who now have the undeserved reputation of controlling politics.

I note a silence on the critical issue of voter suppression and other anti-democracy moves by the GOP. Voter suppression will be more important to the outcome of the election than any messaging plan the Dems might put forward.

Chutzpah doesn’t begin to cover it

Some thoughts from Melissa McEwan of Shakesville on today’s Senate vote to begin debate on a healthcare bill (any healthcare bill):
This is a humongous fraud being perpetrated on the American public, and virtually the entire Republican Party is going along with it, all for the vile objective of taking away people's health insurance.

The malice of it is breathtaking.

I watched, with tears streaming down my face, the Republicans cast their votes, eager to make their constituents' lives worse and willing to consign to the dustbin of history even the *illusion* that we will restore anytime soon something proximate to functional democracy.

I watched one of the two major parties in this country — the majority party; the governing party — toss aside democratic processes and *the most basic responsibility of lawmakers* to know what constitutes a law before voting to advance it.

In the meantime, the nasty guy visited the Boy Scout’s National Jamboree. Yeah, presidents have been invited to the Jamboree over the last 80 years and, yeah, the prez. is the honorary head of the BSA. But all the previous presidents have given strictly non-partisan speeches. This time it seemed like the nasty guy was giving a speech to Trump Youth. McEwan says he did it by “attempting to co-opt a boys' youth organization and conflate their values with his own.”

One way to keep ranking alive is to teach the very young it is supposed to be that way.

Fascism? Nah

Sarah Kendzior was a guest on the Rob Burgess Show (with which I’m not familiar). Since she is an expert on terms such as authoritarian she was asked for definitions. I took notes while listening. My summary isn’t as elaborate as what she said.

Authoritarian: Power is concentrated in a dictator. There is a spectrum of how much power the dictator wields.

Kleptocracy: The dictator abuses power to make money.

Fascism: The state holds all power.

Kendzior noted that the nasty guy isn’t moving towards fascism. He doesn’t want the state to be supreme, he wants to destroy the state. That’s because only the state can interfere with his (usually corrupt) plans to make money.

There are many in the GOP, especially ultra religious conservatives (such as vice nasty guy), who do want fascism, they want their apparatus to hold all power.

Kendzior went on to compare the nasty guy and his vice. When the nasty guy lies, it is usually obvious. He is usually loud and obnoxious about it. When the vice lies he usually does it with such sincerity that people want to believe him. He is subtle and charming. After the veep debate the vice nasty guy was declared the winner (by some pundits) because he looked so sincere and “presidential” (a word Kendzior now detests) even though everything he said was a lie.

I can’t recommend listening to the Rob Burgess Show. The sound wasn’t all that good and the program did a lot of meandering over its hour.

More on Clergy Covenant

Earlier this month I had posted a brief teaser and a link to an article on Clergy Covenant in the United Methodist Church that I had written for my brother blog, in which I discuss United Methodist issues. I’m puzzled and amused that the tiny teaser has gotten 274 pageviews (way above average for my posts) yet the post itself has gotten only 19 pageviews.

I now have a second post in my brother blog expanding on Clergy Covenant and how to strengthen it. This might be an integral part of whether the denomination survives beyond the Way Forward Conference in 2019. Go ahead. Follow the links.

Monday, July 24, 2017

It costs how much?

With the repeal of the Affordable Care Act in so much trouble (but don’t consider it dead) in the Senate there is growing discussion of universal or single-payer healthcare, perhaps best described as Medicare for all. The GOP is ready with its talking-points. A big one – Over a 10 year period universal healthcare would cost $32 trillion. Yes, a gigantic amount of money.

But what the GOP doesn’t say is that this is a savings of $17 trillion over that same 10 years compared to what we have now. It also means everyone is covered, not like what we have now and certainly not what the GOP bills propose.

David Akadjian of DailyKos runs through the numbers and adds that there are certain industries with very powerful lobbies trying to make sure that $17 trillion goes to them.

The idea is being attacked from another side – universal care would greatly increase the federal budget. Of course it will, because we would be paying for insurance through (hopefully progressive) taxes rather than directly out of our own pockets. And we’d still save $17 trillion.

Egberto Willies, also of DailyKos, thinks universal care might happen soon. And that it would be championed by the nasty guy, which, as the savior of healthcare, would guarantee him a second term. Willies’ reasoning: Many, including many in the GOP, are concluding that market-based insurance is untenable. If the GOP version fails the nasty guy will weigh his options and this idea would scoop the Democrats. Therefore the Dems should start trumpeting the idea, to make sure they get some credit.

Will the nasty guy go for it? I don’t know. However, I look at the lobbyists trying to make sure $17 trillion benefits their corporations and I have my doubts.

You’ll like my numbers better

Over the last few months we’ve heard a lot about the Congressional Budget Office and their scores of the GOP replacements (or not) of the Affordable Care Act. The CBO says a particular version will throw 22 million of healthcare and the public notices. Aw, man, this really messes with the GOP’s agenda! Yeah, the CBO is being criticized.

The Heritage Foundation is super conservative. Some of us already heard from them last January. They were the ones who “suggested” Neil Gorsuch for the Supremes. The nasty guy could claim, “We didn’t talk about abortion,” because the Heritage Foundation had already assured the vice nasty guy that Gorsuch’s views were sufficiently anti-abortion.

Now it looks like the Heritage Foundation is introducing an amendment to an upcoming spending (?) bill to cut the CBO budget and lay off 89 people. The scoring (economic analysis of pending bills) would be outsourced to think-tanks – such as the Heritage Foundation. On Twitter Topher Spiro said, “This is a *massive* breach of democratic norms.”

Friday, July 21, 2017

See the world!

If you want to go to North Korea, better hurry. The nasty guy’s team is close to announcing a ban on travel to NK. The NK dictator Kim Jong Un is probably delighted Americans won’t be snooping around anymore.

It is for our safety, right? NK is a dangerous place. An American tourist, Otto Warmbier, was arrested and jailed. He was sent back to America because he was in a coma. He died soon after. Sure. But why not just issue a travel caution? Why invalidate passports of those who go?

That really worries Melissa McEwan of Shakesville. Is this the first instance of disallowing travel for average citizens? Is that Mexican border wall for keeping people out or is it for keeping people in?
This strikes me as the exploitation of a tragic situation in order to have an excuse to set a precedent for banning U.S. citizens' travel to other places.

I have long suspected that the Trump administration would eventually disallow foreign travel for average citizens. That is, that we simply won't be allowed to leave.

This brings to mind such things as the Berlin Wall and Iron Curtain. Why do authoritarian regimes block the exits? First, too many people would just leave. Second, those that came back would know life can be better when not under a dictator.

Commenter rtavi responds to McEwan, wondering if it is only alarmism:
Do you really think that is the end game?
McEwan replies in another comment:
I do. I wouldn't say it if I didn't believe it, and I wouldn't believe it without reason. I've been paying very close attention to Trump and the people with whom he surrounds himself and the precise language that he and they use for two years. Yes, I believe that this is the end game.

I'm not in the habit of alarming my readership, about whom I care very much, unless I genuinely believe there is something to be alarmed about.

I think the difference between what I fear will happen in the U.S. and the Iron Curtain is that travel restrictions in the U.S. may be enforced only on certain parts of the population, with exemptions for the wealthy, without the requirement of clear loyalty to the government/regime, thus offering some illusion of continued normalcy.

You're absolutely right about the United States' fixation on "freedom," and I will note that conservative Americans (and not a few liberals) have been consistently willing to trade their actual freedoms in exchange for promises of protecting their "freedom." See, for example, the PATRIOT Act.

That's why this is so scary: It's being billed as an act of protection of American citizens. Which almost certainly means it is categorically not.

First round of the battle

I’ve been to early meetings of Voters, Not Politicians, a group in Michigan working to put a proposal on the 2018 ballot to put redistricting into the hands of an independent commission. Michigan is one of the more highly gerrymandered states. I plan to be more involved as petitions are circulated (I don’t plan to be a circulator, though I might come for your signature).

Last week the campaign had a big reveal on Facebook (so I didn’t see it) on the birthday of Elbridge Gerry, the guy whose signature as Governor of Massachusetts prompted the creation of the word gerrymander. Gerry then served as Vice President under James Madison. The big reveal was to start their petition circulation efforts.

But they’ve hit a snag. The state Bureau of Elections and its Board of Canvassers needs to approve the wording of the petitions. Most of the time that approval comes in 1-2 days, which is what the campaign was told when they checked with the Bureau of Elections several months ago.

It has now been 23 days.

And the Bureau of Elections is now saying it could be weeks or months.

This is important. The campaign, all volunteer, was counting on summer weekends to collect some 350,000 signatures, which must be done within 180 days. Without these summer weekends the campaign will have to raise money for the much more expensive route of paying for canvassers.

We knew the people who control Lansing would fight against a proposal to lessen their grip. This appears to be the first round in that battle.

Pardon me

A couple tweets from Minnesota Senator Al Franken:
Without Net Neutrality, what will happen to Americans using internet as a place to fight against injustices? We can’t afford to find out.

The internet is a place where ppl can tell their own stories & come together to work toward justice, equality for all bc of Net Neutrality.

The nasty guy and his team are working hard to figure out how to stop the investigation into his affairs with Russia. Special counsel Robert Mueller is apparently getting too close. The nasty guy and his team are also discussing the presidential authority to grant pardons. Does that include his children? Or himself?

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Happy you don’t believe it exists

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville keeps making the point that the GOP is profoundly anti-democracy. A couple of her recent examples:

I’ve been saying the GOP acts like it won’t be accountable to voters in 2018. Part of that effort is badly misnamed Commission on Election Integrity led by Kris Kobach. Many states are now introducing legislation to demand stringent requirements on proof of citizenship. At the national level Kobach wants to change the National Voter Registration Act, which pushed states to make registration easier. Kobach’s desired change is to say that proof of citizenship requirements are permitted. He requested this change – the day after the nasty guy was elected.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a corporate-funded group to draft models of extremely conservative bills and urge state legislators to pass them. Coming up on their agenda: whether to support a proposal to overturn the 17th Amendment to the Constitution. This is the one that says voters elect federal senators. What ALEC is proposing is that state legislatures elect senators. Their reason is the current system “disenfranchises the States” – at the expense of voters in those states.

If this proposal got anywhere Michigan would be affected. The state legislature is firmly in GOP hands due to gerrymandering. But the senators are voted by everyone in the state and have been reliably Democrats. There are 32 state legislators controlled by the GOP. With the 17th overturned the balance n the Senate would be at least 64-36 in favor of the GOP and could reach 67 GOP seats, enough to power through more Constitutional amendments (such as demanding a balanced budget – and we know what programs get chopped). Having legislatures appoint senators also means the end of any moderates.

In response to this McEwan issued a Twitter storm. Don’t believe how anti-democracy the GOP is? She reviews the evidence, then tweets:
It has been a very long and very sinister campaign. And trust that they’re happy to hear that you don’t believe it even exists.

Take from the moochers

From Reuters (I’d share the link but when I went to the page it crashed my browser):
About one in eight people who voted for Trump said they are not sure they would do so again after witnessing Trump's tumultuous first six months in office, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll of 2016 voters.
I was able to read enough to see “are not sure” means some know they would not vote for the nasty guy again, others are disappointed in the nasty guy but don’t know what they would do.

One in eight is 12%. These are people who have at least some doubts of the shenanigans in the White House. By my math that’s about 7.5 million voters. That is much larger than his margin of victory.

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville responds:
There is nothing that Trump has done so far that wasn't entirely predictable, no behavior he's demonstrated that wasn't on full display during the campaign, no repulsive attribute or lack of qualification and competency that he had not revealed before Election Day.

So what's changed?

He was just supposed to get rid of all the bad swarthy folks, not the "good ones" they know — the exceptions. He was just supposed to take away the healthcare from the moochers on Obamacare, not the upstanding citizens on the Affordable Care Act.

They're mad that their bigot king isn't making exceptions for them.

The people who cast their votes for a conman who made them feel special are now feeling betrayed at the discovery that they're not special to him at all. Not even a little.

Josh Barro is a white dude who wrote another thinkpiece (something popular with white dudes since November) trying to explain to Democrats enough of this about women and people of color, what are you going to do for white dudes?

Sarah Lerner of Dame Magazine responded.
In these men’s minds, the most significant barrier to future Democratic victories is marginalized groups refusing to back down from their full-throated demands for equal consideration.
Lerner looked through voter analysis to see what was the big driver towards the nasty guy. I’ll let you wade through the numbers. She concludes her review:
In other words, Trump’s dog whistles (which, let’s be real, were really more like wolf howls) had a significant impact on voters’ decisions …
Summary: it was the bigotry.

McEwan adds:
What is actually effective in eradicating bigotry is making it f***ing unpopular. It's amazing how much more likely people are to abandon beliefs which are simply given no harbor. Yes, there will always be hold-outs, but it forces them to navigate being ostracized as extremists as the cost of their bigotry. Which is at it should be. The only thing that happens when you tolerate bigotry in order not to alienate bigots is that more people feel comfortable embracing and espousing bigotry.


Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has called a special legislative session for the purpose of approving several anti-transgender laws. The session begins Tuesday.

When Abbott announced his re-election campaign last Friday Ashley Smith was able to have a photo taken with Abbott. Both have big smiles.

Later, Smith, who is transgender, posted it on Facebook with the tagline, “How will the Potty Police know I’m transgender if the Governor doesn’t?”

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Warm welcome

I attended another memorial service today. Thankfully, this was not family. I got to know Doris through the Dedicated Reconciling United Methodists group holding services once a month specifically inclusive to LGBTQ people. Her daughter Karen was a regular and part of the leadership. Doris came too. Her son Jeff is gay and mother and sister wanted a church where he would be comfortable.

My first glimpse into Doris’s character came with a story she told at (or perhaps after) one of these services. Many years ago Jeff was a part of a gay chorus. Doris attended a concert and afterward told her son how much she enjoyed it. Other men in the chorus crowded around. A parent had come to the concert! And liked it! So many other parents had rejected their gay sons. That thought broke Doris’s heart.

During the service Jeff told part of his story. As was true for many gay men born before 1970 (and, alas, still sometimes true today) Jeff married a woman. The part he shared today was telling his mother he is gay. She began to cry. Jeff said the tears were because she recognized the pain he had been going through and the pain he was about to undergo. Jeff divorced Nancy, his wife. A few years later Jeff met the man who would become his husband. Doris warmly welcomed him to the family.

Nancy also told her story. After the divorce Doris continued to treat her as part of the family. When Nancy fell in love with another man Doris and her family attended the wedding and gave their blessings. When Nancy had children Doris treated them as her own grandchildren, even though there was no biological link. Karen said that Nancy has been a sister.

Through the service Doris was described as loving, elegant, quick to see the essence of a situation and of a person’s need, ready to welcome everyone, and would not put up with nonsense that some people didn’t belong.

Goodbye, friend.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Economic wishful thinking

Mick Mulvaney, budget director for the nasty guy, has unveiled his boss’s strategy for the economy, dubbed MAGAnomics. For those not up on the latest acronyms, MAGA is Make America Great Again, the campaign slogan the nasty guy had embroidered onto his red cap. This economic strategy will be used to justify such things as tax “reform,” the nasty guy’s infrastructure projects, and the nasty guy’s future budgets.

Danielle Kurtzleben of NPR invited several experts to comment on various pieces of what Mulvaney had to say.

* The whole thing is based on a sustained 3% economic growth rate. Joel Naroff of Naroff Economic Advisors doesn’t see how that is achievable, “the possibility of that happening is between slim and none.” The Congressional Budget Office agrees, saying this plan will create an economic growth of 1.9% – in an economy already growing at 1.8%.

* The growth of the labor force is a big factor in economic growth. But the boomer generation is retiring and the birth rate is down. So what is the source of labor force growth? Immigrants. Which the nasty guy is determined to make sure we have fewer of.

But wait! Mulvaney says we’ll build up the labor force by “encouraging people back into the labor market via welfare reform.” But that “encouragement” is, from a GOP Congress, all about slashing the social safety net and not providing the help these people would need to actually get a job. In addition, there wouldn’t be enough people leaving welfare to overcome the boomer retirements and get to a 3% growth.

Kurtzleben doesn’t go into the problem of disappearing jobs because of automation.

* Gains in productivity could help. But those gains are pretty low right now and policies that might help productivity might also increase federal debt, which would slow the economy.

Here’s that automation thing again – the usual route in gains in productivity is to automate and get rid of human workers. And it seems (though the Kurtzleben doesn’t say so) that for a 3% growth to happen a very large segment of the population must be involved, not just the 1% who benefit from automation.

* Another route to economic growth is trade. Yet the nasty guy seems intent on blowing up trade deals.

So, no, MAGAnomics is not something to build gov’t policy around.

Wayward and indifferent

Two thoughts expressed on Twitter:
From Jeff Yabro:
The Constitution anticipates a President like this. It does not anticipate a Congress so indifferent to a President like this.
TBashII adds:
This is central to the whole thing. It protects against a wayward president, or some key players. Not two wayward branches of gov’t.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Voters? Pah!

I’ve been writing a lot lately about the GOP acting like they won’t have to account for the atrocious healthcare bill because they won’t really have to face voters. Ari Berman, in a series of tweets, explains how that might happen.

* Hacking, maybe by Russia, of voter machines. There are still way too many places that use machines that don’t have a paper trail. Most states are now using vote counting machines more than 10 years old.

* Hacking of voter registration rolls. In 2016 there was an Illinois incident where voter records were stolen. Considering how close that election was it wouldn't take much effort to change enough records to change the election.

* The Election Assistance Commission guides states and communities to record all votes on paper, perform routine audit of ballots, and conduct threat assessments. But the House GOP voted to defund the EAC. The Russians will hack again, but nobody in Congress is talking about election protection. Likely because many GOP in Congress benefited from the hacking done in 2016.

* And, the old standby – 99 new voting restrictions introduced in 31 states. More states have restricted voting in 2017 than in 2015 and 2016 combined.

* 16 million people had problems voting in 2016. That’s 12% of electorate. The nasty guy won by 80,000 in 3 states.

Control of the White House

We’ve been hearing a lot lately, with ever increasing detail, about nasty guy junior and his meetings with Russians. Sen. Mark Warner, top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee now worries that nasty guy will pardon anyone involved in the expanding investigation. He may see his family threatened and move to protect them.

It’s pretty clear now that Vladimir Putin did – something – to get the nasty guy elected. That implies Putin has a wish list of things he wants the nasty guy to do. One of them appears to be to put a crack in the longtime alliance of Germany and America. That seems to be accomplished. Another is to return the diplomatic houses Obama took from the Russians. That item on the list isn’t going so smoothly. A likely third item (and there are surely many more items) is to remove the sanctions imposed on various rich Russians a few years ago.

So what happens if the nasty guy doesn’t move as quickly as Putin wants?

We might be seeing some of that, according to Melissa McEwan of Shakesville. All that stuff about nasty guy junior is likely because Putin is orchestrating the release of damaging information.

Which means Putin is already dictating what the US president does. It also means if Putin decides the nasty guy isn’t doing what Putin wants him to do, Putin can dictate whether the nasty guy stays in office.

McEwan says Americans do not have control of the White House. The only way to get it back is by removing the nasty guy.


The little country of Malta (off the coast of Sicily) has approved same-sex marriage. The vote in Parliament was 66-1. Even though the island is heavily Catholic new Prime Minister Joseph Muscat fulfilled the promise that this would be the first vote of his new term. Back in December this Parliament voted unanimously to ban ex-gay torture.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

In secret

I’ve just finished the book A Man Called Intrepid by William Stevenson, published in 1976. I found the book at Dad’s house and decided it looked interesting enough to read. This is the real story of the British secret intelligence services during World War II. The central character is William Stephenson (yes, spelled differently from the author).

After WWI Europe, including Britain, wanted nothing to do with any aspect of war. That included intelligence services, which were mostly disbanded. One upper-crust British man didn’t think war should include people slinking around in the background – “A gentleman does not read another gentleman’s mail.” It took a while to realize Hitler wasn’t a gentleman.

Even so, the Government Code and Cipher School didn’t disband. To keep its true nature hidden it was sometimes referred to as the Golf, Cheese, and Chess Society. And soon Stephenson was involved.

One of Stepehenson’s early tasks was to get President Roosevelt and American resources involved in the war on the British side. To do this Stephenson got an office in Rockefeller Center, New York. That remained his headquarters for the rest of the war.

Roosevelt had early on sized up Hitler and understood what Hitler was about to do. But America was also tired of war and if there was any hint of cooperation with Britain Roosevelt faced impeachment, or at least would have lost the 1940 election. A good chunk of the first half of the book is how Roosevelt and America were involved in the war without officially being involved.

I won’t recount all the incidents in the war affected by secret intelligence that are included in the book (it is over 500 pages!). I will mention a few that caught my attention.

An authoritarian regime is desperate about loyalty. This was definitely the case in Stalin’s Soviet Union. In the 1930s Hitler took advantage of that need for loyalty. He instructed his agents to start whispering campaigns against all the top Soviet military officers. That, of course, prompted Stalin to execute them all – which means when Hitler invaded a few years later the Soviet military didn’t have any seasoned leadership.

To place agents in Europe every detail of the clothing had to be accurate. A wrong detail would proclaim the wearer was not from here. Each region of Europe attached buttons in a particular way, so fashion experts were consulted for the particular way to attach buttons. The fashions also had to be right. Agents watched passengers disembark from ships in New York harbor. When someone appeared to be fashion conscious they were followed to see what train they got on to get out of the city. On that train ride the luggage might be “stolen” so the fashions may be copied or a garment altered for use by an agent heading into Europe. When the passenger got off the train and discovered no luggage the train crew was effusive with apologies and generous with compensation.

Much of the mail flown to and from America went through Bermuda. This was also a refueling stop. As the pilot and crew were offered a chance to stretch legs, local agents went through the mail, steaming open envelopes, checking contents, and resealing them. If this took longer than expected the flight crew was offered a nice lunch, with apologies for the delay.

Secret intelligence during WWII in Britain of course included Bletchley Park. We know it today because of the movie The Imitation Game and the story it tells of Alan Turing creating a computer to crack Germany’s Enigma code machine (interesting to read the accuracy section of the movie’s Wikipedia page). While the book frequently mentions Bletchley Park, it doesn’t mention Turing and his computer. It makes me wonder if the omission was because Turing was gay and discredited after the war.

The last couple chapters of the book tell the story of the race to build the first atomic bomb and the secret intelligence that influenced the Nazi efforts. I hadn’t known that Germany was working on the bomb (though it makes sense that they were) and, of course, didn’t know how close they got. Much of this story centers on Niels Bohr, the Danish scientist who was researching what makes up an atom. The Danish King was still on the throne, but Nazis essentially controlled the country. Bohr was a pacifist and believed the results of research should be shared worldwide. It was only after Bohr was smuggled to England (in a flight that almost killed him) did he understand how bad the Nazis were and what they intended to do with his research. Even so, he didn’t want Americans to use his research for destruction, either.

I occasionally heard my grandmother mention an Admiral Greenslade in the family. In the last year I found photos of him in Grandma’s album (he looks a lot like my dad). And only now did I check the family genealogy database to place him as my grandmother’s first cousin. Admiral John W. Greenslade served in the Navy and was in his 60s during WWII. He died in 1950 five days short of his 70th birthday. I mention all this because Admiral Greenslade is mentioned (very briefly) in this book! That prompted me to search online for him. I now know one relative with a Wikipedia page.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The first female

This morning I listened to a podcast from Radiolab. This particular story is about Alex Hai, a transgender man working as a gondolier in Venice. But things are complicated.

To be a licensed gondolier one must pass certain exams. Alex failed on his first attempt, but saw sons of gondoliers passed with what looked like lower scores. Alex filed a complaint.

When the press grabbed the story it ignored the transgender aspects (appropriate for the time) and focused on him being the first female gondolier in the 900 year history of the job. Feminists latched on to the story, much to his dismay, wanting him to be their role model. His potential colleagues were annoyed because the uproar made them appear sexist.

Alex examined the laws and found he didn’t have to be licensed if hired by hotels rather than the city. So that’s what he did. But to get work he advertised himself as the first female gondolier. The novelty of it was good for business.

Things settled into a workable pattern – until menopause hit. That came with an increased desire for the body to match the gender of the mind. And being the first female gondolier was no longer a suitable marketing gimmick.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

And can afford

A few items to share with you as I get back to resisting the national mess.

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville reports and comments on a disturbing incident. Rachel Maddow received a document supposedly top secret. Maddow did what a good reporter is supposed to do and concluded the document was fake. The fraud appears to be designed to trick Maddow and other news outlets into reporting something false, to give a bit of truth to the nasty guy’s claim of fake news. The scam would have discredited Maddow, MSNBC, mainstream media generally, and investigations into the nasty guy. All news outlets should verify what they receive because somebody is trying to discredit them. And for us news consumers, scrutinize everything. Our nation is facing new threats.

Of course, GOP Congresscritters are lying about the healthcare bill. We knew that all along. The latest is the talking point that 22 million people aren’t “losing” health insurance, they’re “choosing” to go without. Senator John Cornyn explained, “People will buy what they value.”

He left off an important phrase of that sentence: “… and can afford.”

McEwan adds:
Never mind that Cornyn and his reprehensible cronies are responsible for undercutting labor laws, empowering corporate greed, busting unions, and ignoring the cost to workers of automation for decades, which has made jobs with livable wages ever more scarce.

I’ve been reporting that the Commission on Election Integrity asked each Secretary of State to send in their voter rolls. Sources said that 41 (now 44) states refused that request. McEwan reports:
There are plenty of states, especially Republican-led states, who are making lots of grunty noises and outraged gestures about this request, but are, as [Commission leader Kris] Kobach says, complying with him as much as their laws allow.

If states legitimately refuse to comply, the commission will seek to procure the information in some other way. That means if you live in a Democratically-led state whose elected officials are protecting your privacy as you elected them to do, the federal government will try to do an end-run around them.

Commenter speedbudget adds:
Even Kansas said they won't do it. And Kobach is still Secretary of State here.

The nasty guy apparently had a productive meeting with his puppetmaster. So productive that Russian (!) Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced that Moscow and Washington will set up a joint working group on cybersecurity.

Sarah Kendzior (who studies authoritarian regimes) tweeted:
This is the cybersecurity version of the voter fraud commission. It will commit the act it pretends to prevent.

The “working group” will merely formalize what has been happening all along -- the passing of US intel to the Kremlin through Trump team

Is any foreign gov’t going to share intelligence with us ever again?

Sad occasion and a wonderful time

The memorial service for Mom was Friday late morning. It was a beautiful way to remember Mom.

As part of it brother Tom told about visiting Mom daily during the last year of her life. He said in the Wizard of Oz the scarecrow wanted a brain, the tin man wanted a heart, and the lion wanted courage. As Mom’s Alzheimer’s progressed she lost more and more of her brain, but never lost her heart. She faced her decline with courage. At meals Mom would greet caretakers and fellow residents by offering her name and saying, “Pleased to meet you.” It didn’t matter that Mom had said the same thing every day for weeks and months.

Both pastors of the church also related what they knew of Mom (and stories I had shared earlier in the week). When Mom was still attending services there every week she would greet the pastors after the service by giving her name and saying, “I’m a PK,” a preacher’s kid. Her father had been a pastor. Both pastors understood Mom saying, “I understand what you are going through as a pastor and I offer my support.”

I had found and displayed lots of pictures of Mom from the heaps of photos and slides I inherited. The oldest was of when she was 3 months old. The most recent were from last Christmas. Several pictures showed her holding grandchildren or great-grandchildren.

As is usual for an event like this, family gathered. Her living children were there with spouses as was Tim’s wife. Twelve of fourteen grandchildren made the trip and four of them came with spouses. Of the 32 great-grandchildren, 11 of them were there, the oldest being 8 years old and five of them under the age of 2. One grandson and his family turned the trip into a 10 day holiday, exploring scenic parts of Michigan.

Tim’s wife flew in from Texas. Alas, a connecting flight was canceled. She had the choice of arriving in Detroit after midnight or at the nearby airport mid-morning (and too late for the service). She chose Detroit. Three of her sons drove from Texas together. They were in Indiana with an expected arrival about 9 pm. When they heard of their mother’s plight they agreed to pick her up. That gave them extra time – just enough to see the new Spider Man movie in Fort Wayne.

Alas, Mom’s sisters and Dad’s brother and sister were not strong enough to come.

There are two same-sex couples in all those relatives. From what I heard they were treated with love and respect, including from the more conservative parts of the family.

After the luncheon at the church we sat and talked for a while. Then, because the kids needed to let off steam, we went to a nearby park with a playscape. The older grandchildren grew up in this little town and realized they lost the reason for ever coming back. So the oldest one arranged a tour – he narrated into his phone with the other cars connected by conference call.

We all went back to the hotel were many of us were staying and filled their breakfast room and adjacent meeting room where we ate luncheon leftovers as well as picnic type food purchased that afternoon. And that’s where we all hung out for the rest of the evening. Mom and Dad would have loved being surrounded by so much family.

On Saturday morning those who were still around gathered at a park near Dad’s house. The weather was delightful. While the kids played the adults talked until some had to leave and the rest of us wanted lunch. After lunch I took a niece and family to a hotel near the Detroit airport for an early morning flight. They grumbled they are old enough to rent an apartment and support an infant, but not old enough to rent a car.

Though it was a sad occasion that brought us all together we had a wonderful time. I usually visit one brother at a time, so I rarely saw their children interact. I got to know a couple nephews-in-law a bit better (one of them can be quite the ham). Perhaps we should gather at a wedding. Anyone getting married?

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Clergy Covenant

I’ve been reading posts by Jeremy in his blog Hacking Christianity. He says some important things about the United Methodist Church and the Clergy Covenant. I discuss it in my brother blog.

320 million Americans fighting by your side

The nasty guy and other GOP lawmakers are saying when it comes to healthcare Democrats have no message and are only obstructionists.

You mean like what the GOP did for the entire eight years of the Obama presidency? Project much?

Rep. Joe Kennedy III, in his weekly message, laid out the Democrat message on healthcare. Here’s a wonderful piece of it. Before this section he talked about his wife’s medical scare.
Most critically, our health coverage gave us the support we needed to focus on the one thing that mattered most: her recovery. For any family, that’s what health care is about. Not buzzwords like ‘CBO scores,’ or ‘growth rates,’ or ‘high-risk pools’ — but the simple ability to keep the people you love safe and healthy and whole, a commitment that we make to care for each other, because we know that some day, we will need the care, too.

Trumpcare shatters that proudly American commitment. It fundamentally restructures our country’s health care into two systems: One for the powerful and the privileged, the healthy and the wealthy, and another, lesser system for everyone else. It threatens to trap the vast majority of working Americans into a series of excruciating impossible choices: Mortgage or medication, child care or doctor’s visits, being by your loved one’s hospital bed, or keeping your job.

Speaker Ryan calls this ‘freedom.’ I call it agony. President Trump calls it ‘great.’ I call it gutless.

That’s what this bill does. But here’s what this bill means: It means that the biggest, strongest, boldest nation in the world doesn’t think that its people can summon the strength to shoulder a neighbor’s burden. It means that, in your moment of deepest need, your government will tell you that you’re better of on your own than with 320 million Americans fighting by your side.

But this country knows better. This country is better. We take care of each other, we pull for each other. We accept the responsibility that comes from citizenship with pride and with gratitude. Because it doesn’t matter how big or tough or rich or brave you are — you cannot be invincible. Our health is our great equalizer. That stubborn reminder that even the mighty need mercy, that any one of us can fall, and every one of us will. And in those moments, it’s not your bank account or your job or your title, your skin color, your zip code, your religion, your sexuality, or your gender that matters. It’s your humanity. It is your hurt and your fear. It is the fact that you are on the ground, and you deserve a country that will pick you up, not leave you to fight alone.

Dream for hacker and spy

I had written before about the request from the vice nasty guy and his Commission on Election Integrity. They had asked each state for full voter rolls, including bits of personal information, such as the last four digits of the SSN. I had previously reported that 22 states said no.

That count is now up to 41 states refusing the request. Only three states have “responded positively.” Others are still deciding or are not commenting.

I’ve heard that the Michigan Secretary of State will honor the request by providing only the data that is already publicly available. I guess that counts as one of the 41.

Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes(D) put it this way, “There’s not enough bourbon in Kentucky to make sense of Trump Admin. request for voter information.”

Laura Clawson of DailyKos notes that if the Commission on Election Integrity does get all that voter info it will be a huge database that would be a dream for hacker and spy. The hacker to steal identity and the spy to collect data for blackmail.

Commenters to Clawson’s post note that with a name, residence, and the last 4 of the SSN the rest of the SSN can usually be figured out, making identity theft pretty easy. The first three digits of the SSN indicate the office that issued the number. For many people that is near where they currently live. Perhaps I’m safe because I don’t live in the state where I was born?

A couple other commenters note that the GOP would love a voter database and they would hate a gun owner database. Hmm.

A new poll looks at voters in three states – Colorado, Iowa, and North Carolina. All three have GOP senators who were elected in 2014 for seats previously held by Democrats. All three have voters who disapprove of the GOP “health” bill by a 2-1 margin and overwhelmingly said they were less likely to support senators who voted to repeal the ACA. All three face powerful vocal resistance movements. For example, the one in NC is led by Rev. William Barber, who leads Moral Monday protests.

The Senate currently has 52 GOP members.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Business values are not health values

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and lots of other GOP senators have been saying we campaigned on repealing the Affordable Care Act, it is what got us in control of both the House and Senate. We must follow through.

Well, yeah, but what you proposed has only a 17% approval rating. Doesn’t that tell you something?

This morning on NPR’s *Weekend Edition Sunday* host Lulu Garcia-Navarro talked to Elisabeth Rosenthal, editor-in-chief of Kaiser Health News. The conversation is about the high cost of healthcare in America and the GOP favorite claim that all our health costs would be just fine if we allowed for more market force competition.

* What needs to happen to maximize profits is quite different from what needs to happen to maximize health. The healthcare system is now driven by business values and not health values. The best way to increase revenue is to see eight patients an hour and order a lot of tests. The best way to increase health is to sit and talk to the patient and understand the illness and any issues that might get in the way of healing.

* Drug companies, now run by business people instead of doctors, jack up prices on drugs to see if they make more money. They do this because Medicaid and Medicare are prevented from negotiating prices. That’s something done by all other countries with a national health system.

* The price of a test or operation is completely hidden until the patient gets the bill. The quality of a provider is also rarely available. Labs don’t advertise prices, though what they charge could vary by a large amount. One lab might charge $7 for a test, another might charge $700. This matters as deductibles and copays increase. A patient can’t make a market based decision without at least price.

Sher Watts Spooner, writing for DailyKos, says there is a slight chance the GOP will reach out to Dems and start talking about “repair” instead of “replace.” Yes, there is lots on the ACA to repair. And lots of lists of things on what should be repaired. These things might include (depending on which list you read):

* Changing the payment system away from fee-for-service and towards accountable care organizations.

* Public reporting of quality and price data.

* Increased subsidies.

In the list is, of course, a single payer system. Though the current GOP won’t touch it, Warren Buffet now calls the current Senate bill, “Relief for the Rich Act,” and he now supports the single-payer system (though we’ll see if he backs that support with any cash to sway lawmaker opinion).

One reason to go for the single payer system is so that employers no longer have to deal with it. Employers, especially smaller ones, don’t like the ACA because of the burden placed on them. A single payer system would also provide healthcare to those who don’t have jobs – which, for reasons of ranking, is why the GOP won’t touch it. In their opinion if you don’t have a job you’re not good enough for them to spend money on you to keep you well.

Spooner notes that if Dems help improve the ACA the GOP will get all the credit. The Dems are willing to not get the win if their constituents are better off. The GOP insists on the win even if their constituents are worse off.

Jon Perr, also of DailyKos, takes a look at the source of the GOP antagonism to the ACA. Part of it is that the GOP doesn’t want gov’t to be big, to help people solve problems, to have people be dependent on gov’t. All of these reasons are based in ranking – I don’t want you educated enough and healthy enough for you to challenge my position in society.

Another part goes back to when Prez. Bill Clinton tried to pass a healthcare program. The GOP wasn’t fearful of a healthcare system that failed, but one that succeeded. America already had Social Security and Medicare. Both were brought into being by Democrats. A gov’t takeover of healthcare would make Americans so grateful they “could provide Democrats with an enduring majority for years to come.”

The battle to prevent comprehensive healthcare killed the Clinton proposal. That battle was renewed when Obama took office. It didn’t kill the bill, but severely tarnished it, enough that the GOP took over the gov’t this year. Might their attempts to repeal bring the Dems back into power in such a way they have that enduring majority for years to come? One can hope.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Seventeen Solutions – Get back on the field

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

17. Get Back on the Field – Literally

Yes, sports is one of Nader’s solutions. But not the professional sports of today which are all about two things, victory (at all costs) and profit (as much as possible). Professional sports distorts the lives of aspiring athletes, subjecting them to abusive coaches and parents with an anything-to-win attitude that reaches to ever younger athletes.

What Nader envisions is more community-based, perhaps a National Sports Commission. The NSC would make recommendations for a physically fit general citizenry, not just athletes. Here are some of the things Americans want changed in our sports culture.

* Instead of tax funded professional stadiums, there should be tax funded community sports centers. There are numerous health benefits to regular exercise. There are a lot of psychological benefits when sport is done for fun and social bonding rather than for the drive to win. These centers should have activities all ages, genders, and abilities. Get children used to doing, not spectating.

* Physical education reinstated in schools, but designed broadly enough that it fits the needs of all children.

This reminds me of my time in high school gym class (a few decades ago). We were supposed to learn how to play each of the major sports (thankfully, no hockey rink). A person like me who had no skill or interest in these sports didn’t fare well in class and didn’t get a lot of exercise. I’m glad gym didn’t count for my grade point average. It was bad enough that I didn’t want to exercise after high school.

Since then I’ve found swimming (though I don’t have a nearby pool), walking, and riding my bicycle. What if my gym class had been focused on enabling me to exercise in a way suitable for me rather than trying to indoctrinate me into the sports culture?

* More attention should be paid to the safety and health of the players.

* Sports for all Americans. Women’s sports still lag behind men’s sports. There should be plenty of opportunity for sports for people with disabilities.

* Get rid of the anything-to-win attitude so that college sports can get back to the primarily goal of education. That means getting rid of athletic performance targets in scholarships. It also means treating athletes ethically, safely, and humanely – no more bully coaches, no matter what their win-loss record is.

Long pink chain

GOP Gov. Kim Reynolds of Iowa and the GOP controlled legislature slashed funding for Planned Parenthood – not abortion funding (which it didn’t provide), but all funding. Planned Parenthood had to close four clinics, leaving 14,600 Iowans without compassionate health services. Another aspect of the story is familiar – 77% of Iowans opposed the cuts.

In protest activists created a pink paper chain with 14,600 links in it. Then they delivered this seemingly endless chain to the governor’s office and piled it up. Governor, you may be acting out of ideology (and ranking), but each link in this chain represents a person being harmed.

Cutting health services for women is misogyny, and thus a form of ranking – even when enacted by a woman governor.


Germany’s Parliament has approved same-sex marriage by a wide margin. The new law will take effect after the President signs it, perhaps in a week.

There are a couple things that brought about the vote. First, there is a parliamentary election in September. Three junior parties said they would join a government coalition only if same-sex marriage was or would be approved.

Second, Prime Minister Angela Merkel has been struggling with the idea of same-sex marriage. She had gotten to the point of realizing same-sex couple needed to be able to adopt children. She mentioned this to a lesbian. That lesbian invited Merkel to visit her home to meet her partner and their eight foster children. Merkel saw the kids were doing just fine.

Though Merkel still voted against the marriage bill, she did tell members of her party they were not required to vote the party position, but instead could vote their conscience. After that passage was pretty quick.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Only legitimize the false and already debunked claims

I wrote yesterday that the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity asked each state to send full voter rolls. Today I found they want that data within the next two weeks.

I also found wide resistance. California Secretary of State said:
I will not provide sensitive voter information to a commission that has already inaccurately passed judgment that millions of Californians voted illegally. … California’s participation would only serve to legitimize the false and already debunked claims of massive voter fraud made by the president, vice president, and [commission member Kris] Kobach.
Election officials in Virginia, Kentucky, and Connecticut also said no, as have in many other states, bringing the total to 22. Alas, Michigan isn’t one of them. So tell you elected officials to tell the Secy. of State that this commission should not have our private information

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Can’t debate someone into caring

Kayla Chadwick, writing for Huffington Post, had been trying to reach out to nasty guy supporters and have those “difficult conversations.” But she has run into a problem.
I don’t know how to explain to someone why they should care about other people.
Chadwick would be happy to pay another 17 cents for a Big Mac if it means the burger flipper will be able to feed her family. A little extra in taxes so that everyone has good health care? Great! Taxes to pay for public schools? Yes, all children deserve a quality, free education.
There are all kinds of practical, self-serving reasons to raise the minimum wage (fairly compensated workers typically do better work), fund public schools (everyone’s safer when the general public can read and use critical thinking), and make sure every American can access health care (outbreaks of preventable diseases being generally undesirable).

But if making sure your fellow citizens can afford to eat, get an education, and go to the doctor isn’t enough of a reason to fund those things, I have nothing left to say to you.

I can’t debate someone into caring about what happens to their fellow human beings.

To bring this back to one of my top themes: Ranking is stronger – much stronger – than empathy. People are quite willing to let another (lots of others) die to maintain their rank in society.

Incompatible with democracy

The bottom feeding National Rifle Association has hit a new low in a short video. It clearly divides the country into us and them and concludes:
The only way we save our country and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with the clenched fist of truth.
And since NRA members are the ones with the guns, this sounds a lot like a call for a civil war.

Why did the NRA create this video? Since the nasty guy took office gun sales have dropped. Only a threat of a civil war will ratchet up paranoia on the right enough to get their sales numbers up.

Last week Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas) responded to the shooting of a GOP rep. at baseball practice by introducing a bill to allow Members of Congress to carry a concealed handgun practically anywhere they wanted to.

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville says this is incompatible with democracy. GOP Congresscritters have already assaulted reporters over questions they didn’t like. Some look pretty annoyed with voters who ask inconvenient questions. What if the Congresscritter, in his anger, didn’t bother with fists and went for the gun?

Why not instead introduce bills to avert gun attacks? One idea that would likely be highly effective would be to prevent gun sales to someone with a history of domestic violence.

Such a little bribe

Mark Sumner of DailyKos reports that the Congressional Budget Office, in the same report that said 22 million would lose healthcare under the Senate bill, also said the bill would save $188 billion more than originally anticipated and designated for tax cuts for the rich. Which means, says Sumner, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has plenty of money to bribe holdout senators into supporting the bill.

Hey, senator, got a special project in your state that is being overlooked? Would $10 billion help?

McConnell won’t make that offer to either Michigan senators because both are Democrats. But I could imagine him going to someone like Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and closing a deal. Hey, Rick, baby, I hear roads in Michigan are pretty rotten…

One thing the money is not going to be used for is improving Medicaid just a smidge so that it throws off only 21 million people instead of 22 million.

So do not think that because McConnell delayed the vote that this monstrosity is dead. Especially since the vice nasty guy has been put in charge of guiding it to the finish line.

Even so, a few GOP senators, such as Mike Rounds of South Dakota, have noticed that the bill is being portrayed as throwing people off Medicaid (and causing many to die) to give a tax cut to the rich. The idea of blood money bothers them. In a media environment concerned with optics over substance, this is a case where the optics are helpful to the cause. Thanks, Senator Warren!

And if this nasty bill goes through and you lose your health insurance and die because you don’t get the care? Laura Vitto wrote a post for Mashable when the House passed its bill. In it she says there is a new website that offers a new service. You can fill out the appropriate paperwork so that after you die your ashes will be sent to your GOP Congressman.

I wouldn't want to see what kind of trophy wall they might build with all those urns.

Senators and citizens kibitzing

Kris Kobach is on the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. He was appointed by the vice nasty guy for his sterling work in voter suppression in Kansas. Now Kobach and this commission have made a move. They sent a letter to every state requesting full voter rolls, including all names with party affiliations, voting history, and even last four of the SSN.

This is partial answer to the question: How can the GOP insist on passing such a deeply unpopular “healtcare” bill, one that has only 17% approval rating and could mean death to many citizens? That answer is: They don’t intend for the 2018 election to be fair. All this data could be used to show where voter suppression is helpful to the GOP cause. And suppression can be as simple as reducing the number of voting machines in minority precincts to drive long lines and people saying I can’t wait that long.

A magical event happened a few days ago. Ben Wikler, Washington Director for Move On, captured a few photos of it as he became a part of it. NJ Senator Cory Booker and civil rights hero Rep. John Lewis sat down on the Capitol steps, opened a Facebook Live stream and started talking about Trumpcare. Pretty soon Senators Jeff Merkley, Chris Murphy, Kristin Gillibrand, Brian Schatz, Bob Casey, and perhaps a few more joined them, as did a growing crowd of regular citizens, perhaps hundreds. The crowd shared stories about health care. Wikler says it felt like a picnic. This is what democracy looks like – “senators and citizens kibitzing about issues.” It became a rally and the start of the People’s Filibuster.

A quote being passed around Twitter:
Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought.
To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears.
To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool.
To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasurers to be stolen.
To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies.
To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.
– Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Talents (Earthseed, #2)

Sunday, June 25, 2017

The family killer

Mom’s death this past week was the fifth death in the family in 21 months. And four of the five were because of cancer.

Dad died of cancer of the white blood cells. Time from first symptoms was about 8 months.

Brother Tim died of a blood clot that hit his heart.

Sister-in-law Karen died of brain cancer. Time from first symptoms was about 4½ months. Karen had an earlier bout of brain cancer, though that instance was as a tumor that could be removed. The killer round was more diffuse, defeating treatment.

Dad’s cousin Sara also died of brain cancer. Time from first symptoms was about a month.

Mom’s cancer wasn’t exactly diagnosed, though perhaps a variation of a skin cancer in her mouth. Time from first symptoms was about 3 months. Mom also had two earlier bouts of skin cancer, 38 and 32 years ago. She also had breast cancer, though I don’t know how long ago.

In Mom’s case I’ll ask, which is worse – cancer or Alzheimer’s?

Cancer may be cruel – it took Karen far too young – but it is quick. Mom had been dealing with Alzheimer’s for 14 years and, before cancer intervened, it looked like it could go for a few more. During the last couple years professional care was expensive. In addition, it was stealing Mom a bit at a time. It was heartbreaking to hear her say, I don’t know where I am, I don’t know these people, I don’t know where my husband is, please don’t lose me.

I admire brother Tom for putting up with that for a year and visiting her nearly every day.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Bye, Mom

I last posted on Tuesday. One thing that has happened since then I that I caught a cold – an extra deep voice on Thursday, adding a drippy nose on Friday. You know the story. The other thing that happened…

Mom died.

I had spent Wednesday evening at the Ruth Ellis Center and, once home, saw an email from brother Tom. The subject was “Mom” and the contents, “Call me.” It was easy to guess what the phone call would be about.

When I saw Mom a week ago I could see she wouldn’t last long. Tom proceeded to prepare a place for her in his house for her final days. On Wednesday a hospital bed was delivered and set up. As the workmen finished their work Tom got the call saying Mom had passed. He told them to take it away.

Mom had worsening Alzheimer’s since 2003, eventually requiring professional care at a residence near Tom. But it was cancer that took her life. The most obvious sign was the tumor in her mouth, but it also grew in lymph nodes and probably invaded other parts of her body. She wasn’t eating much and likely the food she did eat fed the cancer.

So while I sniffle from the cold I’ve also been working on the consequences of death – beginning to notify investment companies, emailing with relatives to choose a date for the memorial service, writing an obituary (which always seem so sparse), sending forms to the funeral home near Tom, and notifying the church (the one Mom and Dad attended for more than a half century). And my big project is to assemble photos of Mom to display during visitation.

As I’ve been cleaning out Mom and Dad’s house over the last two years I’ve found lots of photos, in particular an estimated 3000 slides. I’ve digitized perhaps half of them and know the treasures. Now I shifted to simply looking through the rest of the slides for images on Mom. Between the slides and digitized photos I have a folder of more than 70 images. I’ll get the slides professionally printed to display during visitation. Alas, my collection doesn’t include images from 1992 to 2015, after Dad got a digital camera. Dad certainly didn’t stop taking pictures. But I don’t have them.

An obituary seems sparse. A full life condensed to one short newspaper column. So this post is an attempt to be a bit less sparse. Even so, one can’t summarize a long life in a blog post.

Mom was born in July of 1929 in St. Louis. She missed her 88th birthday by less than a month. She and her sisters were preacher’s kids. At her birth her father was already working as a preacher at a new church in New Orleans. Her birth was in St. Louis so her mother could be with family.

At five years old and with two younger sisters the family moved back to St. Louis where her father took over a large church in south St. Louis. He served there for 25 years and this is where Mom grew up.

This photo is of the three girls in 1937. Mom is on the right. They are about to be flower girls for their aunt’s wedding.

During the Depression and the War the family did pretty well. Because he was a pastor her father got extra gasoline ration cards to make sure he could visit his congregation in their homes. If he managed to save up a few the family visited relatives in farms outside the city.

Mom went to Heidelberg College in northern Ohio. The reason for a school so far from home is it was associated with her father’s denomination, Evangelica Reformed. This is where she met Dad. He attended (for two years before switching to Ohio State) because it was less than 25 miles from the farm. This is them in 1949.

Dad told the story: On a cold Sunday morning Mom took the bus from college to a tiny village a couple miles from the farm. Something delayed milking that morning so Dad was late picking her up. In addition, he still wore his stinky barn clothes. When they got to the house they could tell a skunk had done its thing under the back porch. All those odors did not kill the budding romance. Dad says Mom passed the smell test.

Mom majored in Christian Education, something suitable for a woman of the era. Mom may have worked at a church for a while after marriage, but that ended when kids started arriving. Though Mom didn’t earn a paycheck she did put her education to work in the church’s Sunday School and Vacation Bible School programs.

Mom graduated on Saturday, June 2, 1951 (I just found her diploma, which is dated Monday, June 4). Dad graduated on Saturday, June 9. They were married Saturday, June 16 in St. Louis. Mom’s father walked her down the aisle, then turned around and officiated for the ceremony. The couple spent their honeymoon in St. Louis. Amazingly, her father allowed them the use of his car for the weekend. From photos I’ve seen it looks like the following weekend, back in Ohio, Mom and Dad had a weekend at Lake Erie – with Dad’s brother and sister tagging along.

The couple moved to Champaign, Illinois where Dad got his Master of Dairy Science at the University of Illinois. This is where my twin brothers were born. On graduating Dad applied to work at bull farms from Oregon to Connecticut. The only one with an opening was in Springfield, Missouri. This is where my third brother was born.

But the boss was one of these characters who knew everything. After 18 months, Dad had enough and quit. Mom was not pleased – she was caring for 3 active boys and I was on the way. The family moved to the farm, where Mom became the primary caretaker of the farmhouse – quite a change for the city girl. This is where I and my first sister were born.

She did this for 2½ years, until Dad got a job at IBM (at the dawn of the computer age and quite a switch from Dairy Science) and could save enough money to buy a house in Cleveland. This is where the second sister was born. We lived there until Dad was transferred to Flint in 1963 to work on the General Motors accounts. We moved in January of 1964. What sold the house was Mom standing in the living room and looking at the snow-covered pine trees in the back yard.

From 1966 to 1972 there were annual road trips. The first one was a four week journey to Los Angeles, where Dad’s sister was living. For the first one we has a station wagon towing a pop-up camper. We also added a cousin, so there were 9 of us in that little car before air conditioning was standard. And around Palm Springs it got up to 118F.

In 1967 we went to New York City (where Dad had to work for two weeks and we camped outside the city) then on to Montreal for the World’s Fair. There was a memorable (for Mom) day near Kingston, NY where Dad again had to work and Mom was stuck in the camper trying to keep six kids entertained while it rained all day.

In 1968 we had a van, which made travel more comfortable, so we could add two cousins for a trip to Yellowstone. The last big trip was to Boston in 1972. The twins did not want to go because they were already in college and had girlfriends. But they did.

And, yes, Mom did most of the same household chores, though at a propane stove in the woods. She got as much help as she did at home – my brothers, who were in Explorer Scouts, could make a bonfire and cook over it. At home we all learned to cook.

Here is a picture of the camper, the front of the van, and the twins during that trip to Boston.

Both Mom and Dad were active in the local church. Mom served on practically every committee. She was active in the women’s group, also serving as president. Four sons played in the bell choir, so after I graduated from high school Mom joined and played for 28 years. There were many Christmas Eves where I played bells at my church, then jumped in the car to hear Mom’s group play at the late service.

Once all of us were out of the house Mom joined the Flint chapter of Church Women United. She served as president of that group too. Mom grew up Evangelical Reformed. She married a Methodist with an Episcopal mother-in-law. One son became Catholic. Naturally, she became a part of a group that reached across denominations and advocated for women.

Outside the church Mom was a Cub Scout Den Mother and helped when my sisters were in the early stages of Girl Scouts. She also was pretty good with a sewing machine, making clothes for herself and us (though mostly daughters). She supported us in all we did, attending concerts and shows that we were a part of.

Of course, there were grandchildren, eventually 14, some living nearby, some requiring travel to visit, which Mom and Dad did frequently. The current count of great-grandchildren is 32. They visited family in St. Louis and Ohio and helped organize family reunions. They came to stay with me for five weeks when I lived in Cologne, Germany. They visited a brother when he lived in London and they all went to Russia for a week on a river boat. There were also trips to China, Israel, Hawaii, and Alaska.

Mom had bouts of skin cancer at age 50 and 55. Spots were removed from her cheek. There was also breast cancer in there somewhere, though I don’t remember when. Even so, Mom and Dad remained vital and active parts of the church and community. For Mom that faded as the Alzheimer’s increased beginning at age 74. For Dad that continued until his final illness at age 86.

Goodbye, Mom. And thank you.

At her 87th birthday

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.