Saturday, September 30, 2017

Taxes pay for important things

The GOP presented their tax “reform” plan. Several GOP leaders, including the nasty guy, proclaimed how wonderful it will be for the middle class, how it will spur the economy (thus pay for itself), and how fantastic life will be.

Since these are GOP politicians who are talking I can safely assume they are lying. No need to take my word for it. A multitude of reporters talking to a multitude of economists (though, granted, none conservative) can do it better than I can. I could summarize the major points, but there are so many of them I would end up with a long post.

Instead, I’ll just make a few points.
* The nasty guy claims he won’t benefit from the tax cuts. Liar. He’ll likely benefit to the tune of $1 billion. And he’s urging Congress to benefit him in this way as he obstructs aid to Puerto Rico.

* All the talk has been about what the tax bill will do for the middle class (even though what they are saying is lies). None of these talking heads say anything about what the tax reform will do for the poor.

* All of the talk has assumed that a need for a tax cut is obvious. This tax bill will put more money in your pocket! I disagree with that premise. There are better things to do with my taxes than to give the money back to me. I’ll repeat the argument I made just three weeks ago.
Taxes pay for things that benefit my life and are important to me. Taxes pay for things we as a society hold in common. Good schools so the next generation is well educated. Good roads and other infrastructure. An internet where all may speak. City, county, state, and national parks – areas set aside for natural beauty, recreation, or perhaps simply allowed to be wild. Emergency management. Regulations and enforcers to keep our water clean, air pure, food safe, and bankers from fleecing us. A health system for my old age (wish it was broader than that). A retirement system so I and others can retire and not be impoverished. Workers cared for when injured on the job. A basic social safety net (which, alas, has some pretty big holes right now). The list is long.

I don’t mind paying taxes. I get a lot of benefit from them. However, I do mind when I don’t receive benefit from my tax and the society as a whole doesn’t either. I mind when the tax system is rigged to draw money out of the poor to hand it to those already rich (which the upcoming Congressional “tax reform” is all about). I’m pretty sure that’s what annoys most taxpayers who take their annoyance out on taxes instead of misused taxes.

Friday, September 29, 2017

I pledge allegiance to humanity

When the Equifax data heist was announced I figured my data was stolen. I put a credit freeze on all three credit reporting services (doing it through Equifax was free). I signed up for a credit reporting service through my insurance company (not through Equifax). I tried to get my current credit reports but couldn’t because of the system overload.

But I didn’t think the mess would spread way beyond financial. Waldo Jaquith tweeted:
In some states, using only the information found in Equifax’s records, you can screw with people’s voter registrations.
Amadi responded in a tweet:
Ask yourself who might want the kind of info in the Equifax hack and for what purpose.

I’ve been quoting and linking to Melissa McEwan of Shakseville a lot over the last couple years. Over that time and quite a bit since January she has been highly critical of the nasty guy, documenting his travesties. She discusses both the well reported stuff and the important but obscure stuff. Then she explains it well.

Such as this bit: The nasty guy isn’t making life difficult for just illegal immigrants. He doesn’t like legal ones either. The Department of Homeland Security has issued plans to collect social media info on all immigrants. This includes permanent residents and naturalized citizens. And the net is to include all US citizens who communicate with them.

Citizen advocates are alarmed, saying it is “an invasion of privacy and deters freedom of speech.”

McEwan is especially frightened of this announcement because her husband is a naturalized citizen. This could prompt the gov’t to start surveillance of her highly critical blog. Will she soon no longer be safe here?

An example of McEwan’s insight and criticism of the nasty guy is this look at why he is so upset with the football players who take a knee or link arms during the national anthem. In sports people with highly different politics can root for the same team. White boys can have black and female role models. It costs nothing to be a fan, no one has to buy the souvenirs or even a ticket. It isn’t exclusive to the wealthy. It is a way of uniting people. And the nasty guy doesn’t want that.

Commenter xpctmr adds another angle. Professional sports is a distraction from daily troubles. White folks can admire black folks.
So for black players to say, "Hey, by the way, since you care so much about me, how about acknowledging that even I, in my relatively privileged position, suffer racist attacks and am at risk of being unjustly killed, and that people all over this country who look like me are, too, including my family and loved ones?" breaks the implicit understanding (by whites) that black folks should know (and stay in) their place, and not interrupt a ceremony white folks are using to escape their lives, nor pop their privilege bubbles.
White people don’t want to be reminded that in the same stadium black folks are experiencing racism while they try to enjoy the game.

Carina, a guest on Shakesville, explains why she stopped saying the Pledge of Allegiance many years ago. Her reasons are especially important when the pledge is for allegiance to a country now led by a tyrant. She offers a new pledge:
So, no, I do not pledge allegiance to a flag, a flag which is changeable, which can change hands from a true leader to a tyrant in a heartbeat. I pledge allegiance, instead, to the very best of what that flag has represented. I pledge allegiance to freedom, to liberty, and to justice. I pledge allegiance to humanity. I pledge allegiance to my sisters and siblings of the human race, the downtrodden, the forgotten, the marginalized. I pledge allegiance to this Earth we share. I pledge allegiance to Black lives. I pledge allegiance to every woman and person who desires bodily autonomy. I pledge allegiance to indigenous water protectors. I pledge allegiance to the undocumented, the detained, the banned, the deported.

I pledge allegiance to myself, to always remain true to what lives in my heart. I pledge allegiance to you and me. That is my pledge. And this pledge I will stand for.

Even as Houston is recovering from Hurricane Harvey the debate over Confederate monuments continue to rage. While waiting for monuments to be taken down TransGriot proposes what might take their place. TransGriot describes herself as a black trans woman. Her choices:

Barbara Jordan, first black woman elected to the Texas Senate and the first black elected to the Texas legislature since Reconstruction. She was also elected to the US House in 1972 and part of the Watergate impeachment hearings.

George Leland, a black man who succeeded Jordan in the US House and chair of the House Select Committee on Hunger.

Kathy Whitmire, first female mayor of Houston who broke the power of the “good old boys.”

I’ve heard others say you want to to honor history of the South? Let’s replace Confederate monuments with monuments to those who battled slavery, such as Harriet Tubman.

Monday, September 25, 2017

How you treat your countrymen

As I write this the latest despicable repeal of the Affordable Care Act has received its third no vote, which should kill it, but Graham-Cassidy hasn’t actually been pulled yet.

When GOP Congresscritters talk about the bill they say they are trying to fulfill a promise to voters. But it isn’t the voters that GOP lawmakers care anything about. It’s the donors. And the donors are closing their wallets until they see results.

As they look towards 2018 GOP Congressional Committees are feeling mighty desperate.

Sarah Kendzior, in an article for The Globe and Mail, talks about the nasty guy and his verbal duel with football players who take a knee during the national anthem. Wrote Kendzior:
Mr. Kaepernick has spent a year giving away one million dollars to help oppressed communities. While the President's life has been spent desperately accumulating status markers and elite approval, Mr. Kaepernick is, at age 29, seemingly unemployable due to his controversial political views.

The real measure of patriotism is not how you treat a flag but how you treat your countrymen.

Jason Kander adds in a tweet:
Patriotism isn’t about making everyone stand and salute the flag.

Patriotism is about making this a country where everyone wants to.

Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Inquirer discusses what the police have been doing in response to protests that are in response to the acquittal of a white officer of first degree murder of a black man. Bunch catalogs how the police treated bystanders, that the police chanted “Whose streets? Our streets!” (a chant usually used by protesters), and the acting police chief bragged “we owned the night.” Bunch concludes that what happened was a “police riot,” a law enforcement rampage, and pretty much fits the definition of a police state.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Uncle Daddy

My mother’s sister Ruth died today. She had been suffering from Parkinson’s for 15 years, though only the last two years was it so bad that she needed full time care. She was less than three weeks from 85. Her husband Earl says her death was a surprise. All indications suggested she was stable. There didn’t seem to be anything that would prompt her death now rather than many months from now.

When we were growing up we would visit Ruth and Earl and their four daughters every summer likely for at least a week. Ten kids in the house could get a bit loud, but we always had enjoyable visits. When together all the kids called both fathers “Uncle Daddy.” During a three week road trip to Yellowstone when I was 12 we added the two oldest daughters for ten people in a new van (towing a camper) that could seat twelve.

This is both families together, adding Mom’s father and step-mother, taken in 1971. Ruth is in the back, third from the left.

As I got a bit older and doing some traveling on my own the family joke was whenever visiting the city where Aunt Ruth lived, even if just changing planes, call her up and listen. There was no need to say anything, one could rarely get a word in. Back in the 1990s before airport restrictions I changed planes in her city. We had worked out she would meet me at my incoming gate, walk and talk with me for an hour, then leave me at my outgoing gate. It was an enjoyable way to stretch my legs between flights.

In this picture from 1976 Ruth is on the left, Mom is on the right, and their sister Carol in the middle.

According to my computer’s calendar, which goes back to 2007, it has been at least 10 years since I’ve seen her. Up until perhaps five years ago my parents still drove to visit Ruth and Earl every year, though they did the 10 hour drive in two days instead of one. A few times up to the early 2000s I went with them, though I took the plane instead of the car. But only one cousin still lived in the same city, a lot of time was spent visiting more distant relatives of my parent’s generation or older, and my schedule filled up.

If my schedule permits I plan to attend the memorial service, even if it is the sixth one in two years. I haven’t seen some of these cousins in 20 years. That’s much too long considering how close we were as kids.

Feeding the poor

John Carlisle, columnist for the Detroit Free Press, wrote a much needed 8 page article for last Sunday’s edition.

I have strong disagreements with the Salvation Army because of their work lobbying against LGBT people. Even so, they do important work. Carlisle highlighted one of their projects. Every day SA sends out a fleet of trucks across Detroit, bringing meals to poor people. They serve about 4,000 meals a day.

Carlisle wrote the article to sound like the story of one day in one of the trucks. In a separate article he explains that he rode with the truck for several weeks, talking to the people who came to the truck for food, then selecting a few to highlight their stories in more detail. That meant going to their homes for lengthy interviews and then fact-checking what they said. Carlisle wrote:
There’s no single lesson to be drawn here, no grand conclusion or policy prescription. The story's simply a look at some people's real lives, and real life is complicated. There’s something to confirm everyone’s biases in this story. For those who believe the poor are lazy or undeserving of help, some of the people interviewed will fuel those convictions with every word they say. And for those who think society doesn’t do enough to help those who need it, there are some characters who provide telling proof of just how hard it is for the desperately poor to improve their lives, no matter how hard they try.
An example of that last sentence is Michael:
He has no job, no car, no money, no phone, no prospects and no real employment history beyond part-time work. For someone like him, there are few options to make life better.
Michael says a big reason for no job is a mental problem. But he isn’t taking medication for that problem because he can’t afford it, because he doesn’t have a job.

And Felicia:
She has no job, no transportation to get to work if she finds a job, no family … and thus nobody to watch the kids and no money for child care. She’s caught in a loop of inertia with no clear way out.

Back to Salvation Army for a moment. I’m delighted they are doing this work. This food makes a big difference in perhaps 4000 people every day. Some would have no food without these trucks. I am pleased to hear the staff on the truck feeds everyone, regardless of why they come to the truck.

But Salvation Army is a highly ranked organization. The members of the church are awarded ranks similar to the military. They are also highly conservative (see note above about LGBT people). The strong belief in raking extends beyond their church. They are feeding the poor. But they are not advocating for the poor to help change policies that would help Michael and Felicia, policies that would perhaps allow Michael and Felicia to disrupt the ranking in society.

Alas, not very many churches (including my own), of any denomination, seem to do much advocating for the poor.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Two years

I should post this tomorrow, but I’ll be busy, then tired.

Tomorrow marks two years since Dad died.

The photo above is undated, though I think it was taken in the late 1940s when Dad was in college.

My busyness tomorrow will be going up to Dad’s house and getting the remaining stuff into boxes. I started that process two and a half years ago (about the time I took Dad to the hospital the first time). I’ve carted stacks of magazines to the recycle bin, had a junk truck come twice, hauled stuff to two church rummage sales, and helped a relative or two raid the house for furniture. My sister has moved out and taken her furniture. Even so there is still stuff to be boxed and dealt with.

A carpet cleaning crew came to the house last week. I plan to get enough stuff out that a general cleaning crew can come this week. And then I meet with the realtor. While prospective buyers look the place over I’ll get the last of the furniture out to a resale shop or to Goodwill.

I guess a post like this is supposed to give a sense of my emotional change in the last two years. I miss Dad. I also miss my brother, my sister-in-law, and Mom – all of whom died in these last two years. I’ve spent hundreds of hours and driven dozens of trips to get that house ready to sell, plus more time managing my parent’s affairs. So I guess the big emotion of the moment is relief – I’m almost done. The end is in sight. I can get back to taking care of my own house.

I’ve also been thinking that house enclosed my family for more than half a century. I and my siblings grew up in that house. We all made frequent trips back for various family gatherings – Christmas, Thanksgiving, Mother’s Day, and birthdays. Lots of joys and sorrows and simply life. When Dad got a job at Central Michigan University, 80 miles away, Mom said, “This is my house. I’m not moving.” Dad shared an apartment he used twice a week. There are many warm memories of events in this house.

A lot of family history stuff is now in my house. My den (a room I don’t use much) is full of it. I’ve gone through some of it and sorting through all of it will take years. I’ve been digitizing slides – Dad took lots of pictures – and that effort will also continue for a while. I’ve now seen family photos I’d never seen before – Dad’s graduation from college, Mom as president of women’s church groups, my grandparents when they were young, and many family gatherings. I’ve explored and updated the genealogy database my parents started. I’ve seen a part of my parents (and their parents) I hadn’t seen before.

I’ve also had to acknowledge my parents’ shortcomings, such as my Dad keeping stuff long after it was useful, a trait my mother shared and taught to me and my siblings. I’ve been hitting that one as I look at the stuff in my own house.

Even so… Dad, I miss you.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Redemption of whole societies

The nasty guy attended a meeting of white Evangelicals, where the leaders laid hands on hims and prayed for him. A photo of the moment prompted Rev. William Barber to say:
When you can P-R-A-Y for a president and others while they are P-R-E-Y preying on the most vulnerable, you're violating the sacred principles of religion. A text in Amos chapter 2: religious hypocrisy looks like when a nation of political leaders will buy and sell people to do anything to make money, sell the poor for a pair of shoes, grind the penniless into the dirt, and shove the luckless into the ditch. That's an actual text. A text that says when you do not care for sick you are violating the principles of God. We have this extremist Trump Republican agenda that takes health care, transfers wealth to the greedy. That's hypocrisy and sin.

Denise Oliver Velez, writing for Daily Kos noted Barber’s response, then went into a discussion of how the media consistently gets an important detail wrong. They say that a major part of the nasty guy’s base is Evangelicals. But that’s not true. Yes, 81% of white Evangelicals did vote for the nasty guy. But 67% of non-white Evangelicals voted for Clinton. Yeah, the media is saying only whites are visible.

Velez linked to Deborah Jian Lee of Religion Dispatches, who adds:
The fact that 81 percent of white evangelicals supported a candidate who channeled white nationalism is not lost on minority believers. Nor is the unending news of travel bans, appointments of white nationalists, mass deportations and racial hate crimes.

So while white evangelicals captured the election, they may have lost their fellow believers, the very people who could keep their churches, denominations and institutions from the attrition that has many Christian institutions and leaders genuinely worried for the future.
Lee notes that the Evangelical movement tried to engage in issues of racism for 40 years, though with not much success. But the last election prompted lots of black Evangelicals to disengage from discussions of racism, with a feeling all that effort was for nothing.

Velez also liked to Lisa Sharon Harper of Sojourners, who describes the difference between white and black Evangelicals:
Black evangelicals have a long history of interaction with oppressive systems and structures. When African Americans read the Bible, they see the more than 2,000 passages of Scripture about God’s hatred for poverty and oppression. They see God’s desire for systems and structures to be blessings to all of humanity — not a curse to some and a blessing for others.

And they see Jesus’ own declaration that he had come to preach good news to the poor, which, by the way, is decidedly not a reference to the “spiritually impoverished.” Jesus meant that he had come to preach good news (of liberation, freedom and new life) to people trapped in material poverty.

White evangelicals generally do not experience such systemic oppression. According to Emerson and Smith, most white evangelicals don’t prioritize or even see the thousands of references in the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament about structural and systemic injustice.

Accordingly, the Gospel — and by extension their evangelism — is about only one thing: Personal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, who died for their sins, and a *personal* relationship with him.

Black evangelicals also have personal faith that Jesus’ death paid for their sins, but their Gospel doesn’t end with personal (and individual) salvation. For Dr. King and Sojourner Truth and Fannie Lou Hamer and the Rev. John Perkins and Nelson Mandela and for hundreds of thousands of Black Christians around the world and for me, the good news of the Gospel is that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection were for the redemption of both individual souls and the redemption of whole societies.

Heroes and other news

I’ve really got to clean out some browser tabs. Some of these items will get only a brief mention. I encourage you to follow the links to the original articles for the full discussion.

Edie Windsor is the hero of the case against the Defense of Marriage act that went before the Supremes in 2013 and won. That paved the way for gaining same-sex marriage in 2015. Edie died on Tuesday. She was 88. She will remain an LGBT legend.

Sister Margaret Ann of Miami has become the chainsaw-wielding nun. This isn’t a horror movie. This is something good. In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma Sister Margaret Ann was spotted using a chainsaw to clear downed trees while wearing her habit.

Four bakers were trapped in the El Bolillo Bakery while Hurricane Harvey hit Houston. The trapped employees got restless, so turned to baking. They used perhaps 4,400 pounds of flour to make about 4,000 loaves of bread. It was all given to area shelters. The flood waters reached the door of the store, but did not enter.

A healthcare post on Daily Kos from Brainwrap is interesting for two reasons. The first is a chart showing what pays for healthcare across America. The broad categories are employer provided, Medicare, Medicaid/CHIP, Affordable Care Act’s Individual Market, and uninsured. There are lots of subcategories. The chart was created to demonstrate the current complexity and compare it with the simplicity of the single-payer system Bernie Sanders is now pushing.

The second bit of interest is the list of questions that need to be answered as this single-payer system is taken from broad principles to specifics. These questions include: Would the Hyde Amendment (banning the federal government from paying for abortions) be repealed? What provisions would be made for the 2-3 million people currently working in the healthcare insurance industry? What about those who invested in healthcare insurance stocks as part of their retirement portfolio? What about alternative medical services (such as the nutritionist I see)?

Brainwrap amended the post to list answers according to this bill after reading the 3-page summary.

The 35th Congressional District of Texas stretches along I-35 from San Antonio to Austin, more than 80 miles long and at times not much wider than the highway. That shape is a clear sign of gerrymandering. Four lower courts agree, saying the district was intentionally crafted to discriminate against black and Latino voters. New maps were about to be drawn when the case was taken to the Supremes. Alas, the high court now has 5 conservative members hostile to voting rights (for those not white males). Those 5 justices stayed the lower court rulings, meaning the discriminatory maps are still to be used until at least June. Even if the final ruling agrees with the lower courts there may not be time to redraw the maps before the 2018 election.

Susan Grigsby, in a post for Daily Kos, wrote that to eliminate racism we must tackle five false ideologies, one of which I had thought was accepted as debunked decades ago.

1. Racism occurred in the past, but has been resolved.

2. Reverse racism and political correctness are bigger problems today.

3. Races are inherently (even biologically) different.

4. White people are the norm, anyone else is other, exotic, ethnic, and/or inferior.

5. The U.S. is a meritocracy where anyone who works hard can achieve the American Dream.

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville linked to one of her posts from 2012 in which she presents and comments upon the results of a poll of the question:
How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statement? Irish, Italian, Jewish, and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors.
Two thirds – 66% – of whites agreed. Only 15% of blacks did.

Some of McEwan’s comments:
If there is one person born to poverty, one person with disabilities, one person who has survived profound abuse, who can be held up as an example of achievement, then everyone else is failing to thrive.

When you're a non-privileged person, you're as bad as the worst conceivable member of a shared demographic, and only as good as your own personal achievement.

That is the gross underbelly of American Individualism. Its story only really works for privileged people, among whose privileges include being seen as an individual, whether they fail or succeed.

Monday, September 11, 2017

What’s this about being paid too much?

I’ve got dozens of browser tabs with articles I want to share with you. I think I’m not going to get to very many of them. Today I’ll mention a few and let you read the original articles on your own.

Mark Anderson of Daily Kos tackles the GOP talking points against unions. They’re corrupt, they’re not needed, they have idiotic rules, members of public employee unions get paid too much.

You mean like…

* Idiotic rules such as consistently not paying employees for overtime? This is wage theft.

* A school board superintendent of a small district who manipulated the board to pay him $600K a year and also has been charged with a dozen counts of corruption? For every case of union corruption there are a dozen cases of business corruption.

* Dara Khosrowshahi, CEO of Expedia, who was paid $94.6 million?

Yeah, unions are needed.

The *New York Times* has an article about rich people who make sure their staff don’t know how much they spend on such things as bread (as in $6 a loaf). I didn’t read the article, but did read a series of tweets from Melissa McEwan of Shaeksville about the article. The reason why the grocery bill is hidden is the rich don’t believe the staff “deserve” a higher wage. Yet, they’re aware the staff is being underpaid – at least in comparison to the grocery bill.

Egberto Willies of Daily Kos, in the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, ponders political malpractice. A drunk driver who kills someone, an engineer whose bridge collapses, a doctor who makes a mistake and a patient dies – none did it on purpose.
Yet every single one of these events is prosecutable as some sort of negligence, and potentially manslaughter or even murder.

One could argue that political malpractice kills many more people. However, there is a difference: The politicians effecting political malpractice do so knowingly. If there are solutions that would have reasonably saved lives but said solutions were not implemented because of corruption or because of dubious rationales, they deserve prosecution—just like any citizen who unwittingly harmed someone.

The intent is not to criminalize politics: It is to ensure that politics aren't criminal.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Evacuation is expensive

Darlena Cunha, in an article for the Washington Post, explains why she isn’t evacuating from her north-central Florida home ahead of Hurricane Irma.

Cunha and her family could drive north to Georgia or Alabama. But Florida has only I-75 and I-95 and both have been parking lots for days. Flimsy house or stranded in a car that ran out of gas? As for that gas, good luck finding any. Bottled water? Store shelves have been empty for days. How about plywood to board up windows? None available. She wrote:
The last thing we need are demands that we leave. Mandatory evacuation could do more harm than Irma herself. [Governor] Scott has the best of intentions, but you can't tell millions upon millions of people to evacuate without giving them any real way to do so. Two major highways just won't cut it for that parade of refugees.

Meaningful evacuation would have meant public transport, safe shelters along the way, medical help and facilities throughout, and safe shelter, food, water and sanitary supplies on the other side of it all. For free. Because evacuating is expensive: You need gas and a reliable vehicle. You need good health to make a slow-moving, anxiety-inducing journey with thousands of other people surrounding you at every turn. You need money to buy supplies and emergency equipment, and to miss work. You simply need things we don't normally have. Being prepared is a luxury, and it's not always possible.
We need planes flying in and out of here, getting people to safety cheaply.

What Irma makes clear is this: It is not the residents' fault when a storm takes everything they have. It's the country's. We know these storms come, and private citizens only have so much spare cash and time to deal with it. We need comprehensive state and county evacuation plans. We need a preventive plan set into motion before a storm hits to save lives. Sending in the cleanup crew to count the bodies and save the traumatized survivors isn't enough.

545 people are responsible

My sister forwarded an email suggesting I might like to blog about it. It claims to be the final column Charley Reese wrote for the Orlando Sentinel.

The first part says such things as “Completely Neutral,” and “Great read,” and “Worth the time,” and “Be sure to read all the way to the end.” Those parts seem to be from someone forwarding the email who added breathless encouragement to get the receiver to read and act. These phrases make me wary.

So after reading it I went directly to Snopes, the site devoted to debunking stuff floating around the internet. I searched for Charley Reese and found and article about this email. It said:

Yes, the core of it was written by Charley Reese. Yes, he wrote for the Orlando Sentinel.

No, it was not his last column. The first version was written in the early 1980s. It was revised and run again in 1985 and 1995 and likely several other times. It was updated in 2008 for such things as the current Speaker of the House. There was a different last column in August 2008 when Reese retired. He died in 2013.

Yes, various people have attached additional material to the beginning and end. So, not all of the email I received was written by Reese.

Here are a few excerpts from the 1985 version (the one Snopes quotes):
Politicians are the only people in the world who create problems and then campaign against them.

Have you ever wondered why, if both the Democrats and Republicans are against deficits, we have deficits? Have you ever wondered why if all politicians are against inflation and high taxes, we have inflation and high taxes?

You and I don’t propose a federal budget. The president does. You and I don’t have Constitutional authority to vote on appropriations. The House of Representatives does. You and I don’t write the tax code. Congress does. You and I don’t set fiscal policy. Congress does. …

One hundred senators, 435 congressmen, one president and nine Supreme Court justices — 545 human beings out of 235 million — are directly, legally, morally and individually responsible for the domestic problems that plague this country.
The population of America was 235 million in 1985. It is 323 million now. There are still only 100 senators, 435 representatives, 9 justices, and one president.
Don’t you see the con game that is played on the people by the politicians? Those 545 human beings spend much of their energy convincing you that what they did is not their fault. They cooperate in this common con regardless of party.

Those 545 people and they alone are responsible. They and they alone should be held accountable by the people who are their bosses — provided they have the gumption to manage their own employees.

The last paragraph I quoted is, I’m pretty sure, the end of Reese’s article. It is good to be reminded that when GOP lawmakers (the ones controlling things at the moment) wail there is nothing they can do this is the game they are playing.

I suspect the rest of the email my sister sent is by other people, pushing their own agendas. There are two such agendas to mention.

The first is plea to throw the bums out, the whole lot of them! Yeah, there are a great number of Congresscritters I would want to get rid of. But I definitely want to keep a few, such as Senator Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, and Sen. Al Franken.

As for Michigan’s senators, Gary Peters and Debbie Stabenow, both Democrats, if I threw them out – voted against them – who would I get instead? There aren’t many Democrats wanting to run against such established figures. So, to throw out Stabenow I should vote for a Republican? Nope.

The second idea piggybacking on Reese’s writings is the idea that all taxes are bad. The email lists all the taxes that have been implemented in the last 100 years. There are, indeed, a lot of them.

But taxes pay for things that benefit my life and are important to me. Taxes pay for things we as a society hold in common. Good schools so the next generation is well educated. Good roads and other infrastructure. An internet where all may speak. City, county, state, and national parks – areas set aside for natural beauty, recreation, or perhaps simply allowed to be wild. Emergency management. Regulations and enforcers to keep our water clean, air pure, food safe, and bankers from fleecing us. A health system for my old age (wish it was broader than that). A retirement system so I and others can retire and not be impoverished. Workers cared for when injured on the job. A basic social safety net (which, alas, has some pretty big holes right now). The list is long.

I don’t mind paying taxes. I get a lot of benefit from them. However, I do mind when I don’t receive benefit from my tax and the society as a whole doesn’t either. I mind when the tax system is rigged to draw money out of the poor to hand it to those already rich (which the upcoming Congressional “tax reform” is all about). I’m pretty sure that’s what annoys most taxpayers who take their annoyance out on taxes instead of misused taxes.

Friday, September 8, 2017

On my calendar

Forgive me if I miss an appointment. Last Saturday the calendar program on my computer crashed.

Three years ago when I got this computer I was pulling stuff out of obsolete programs. I chose some programs based on whether there was a migration path from the old computer into these new programs. That resulted in one email program for email and another email program for the calendar. That second one is eM Client.

I had been hearing about the next solar eclipse, the one in 2024, and wondered what day of the week that would be. So in eM Client I used the search function to find that date. The search function came up empty because there was no event on that date. Well, OK. I turned to Google, who had my answer promptly.

But in eM Client when I left the search panel to go back to the calendar it crashed. I restarted. The program verified the database, the main display came up, and I clicked on the calendar and it crashed – “eM Client has stopped working.” I tried reinstalling. That didn’t help.

I went to the program’s Customer Support Forum and wrote up a description of the problem. Since it was Saturday of Labor Day weekend I didn’t expect any response until Tuesday. Surprisingly, I did get a response on Monday. Their solution: rename the folder with the eM Client data so that it opens a fresh database. I said that was unacceptable because it had none of my calendar appointments.

The next reply suggested before I go into the calendar I export all the events. That crashed.

I did a backup in May, so I copied out the calendar database. This time eM Client opened the calendar.

I posted to the forum again listing the deficiencies of the calendar feature, such as no handling of errors when a problem is encountered. I’d rather have 99.9% of my calendar than nothing. I also asked if they had an extra program I could use to extract events from the damaged database. No reply.

I opened the database in a text program. I could read the name of each event, but not the date. Even so, I have a pretty good list of the appointments and events that aren’t in the May backup file. I know I have a dentist appointment before the end of the year, but no idea of which day.

The lack of response on the forum prompted me to think it was time to choose another calendar program. So I exported from the May database. It crashed.

So, perhaps, eM Client is usable as long as I never export from it. I don’t like that option, especially for a program that now has a record of crashing. Time for another calendar program.

I found an export file from about 18 months ago. I don’t remember why I created it. I also have databases from other backups. I may not have to recreate too much. Even so, I’ll have to call the dentist.

Peering over the wall

NPR did an interview between their own Colin Dwyer and French street artist JR. The artist had a mental image that he wanted to make real. He traveled to an area of the border wall that separates Tecata, California from Tecata, Mexico. There he photographed a little boy, hugely enlarged the image, and erected in on the Mexican side of the wall. Seen from the American side it looks like the little boy is peering over the wall in the same manner he might peer over the railing of his crib. See the art here.

The photo and support structure took a bit of planning and happened to go up the same week the nasty guy canceled the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), affecting 800,000 immigrants that came here illegally as children (creating a mess he then demands Congress must fix). This public art represents many such little boys.

JR’s art is doing one thing he hoped it would do – it is generating discussion.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Unequivocally yes

Pastor Robert Lee IV, descendant of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, is the 24-year-old pastor of Bethany United Church of Christ of Winston-Salem NC. He spoke at the MTV Video Music Awards, saying, “as a pastor, it is my moral duty to speak out against racism — America’s original sin.” He called on those “in privilege and power to confront racism and white supremacy head on.” He praised the efforts of the Women’s March and Black Lives Matter.

His church decided to vote on continuing his tenure, so he resigned. He wanted to avoid a distraction from “the sacred work of confronting white supremacy.” He was asked was it worth losing everything? “Unequivocally yes.”

What are they thinking?

The Mindset List from Beloit College is out. This year’s list describes those students entering college this fall, meaning they were likely born in 1999 and graduate in 2021. The list is written to tell college professors a bit about the cultural references of incoming students. A few things from this year’s list (go ahead and feel old):

* They are the last class to be born in the 1900s, the last of the Millennials -- enter next year, on cue, Generation Z!

* They are the first generation for whom a “phone” has been primarily a video game, direction finder, electronic telegraph, and research library.

* *Peanuts* comic strips have always been repeats.

* By the time they entered school, laptops were outselling desktops.

* Men have always shared a romantic smooch on television.

* Bill Clinton has always been Hillary Clinton’s aging husband.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Essential to humanity

Dr. James O’Keefe gave a TEDx talk about homosexuality. For a while I debated whether to write a post about the talk because O’Keefe tends to generalize what gay people are like. So while he says things I like to hear I doubt they bring much weight to the discussion. Then again, science of homosexuality is still young and sometimes we must start with the generalizations.

O’Keefe starts with the story of his son coming out to him. He then ponders a paradox. Homosexuality doesn’t make sense in evolution. Gay people tend to not have many kids. The trait should have died out in a few generations. Yet, a small but persistent part of the population has been gay throughout history. What advantage is there of having a homosexual population?

It may not be about the survival of the fittest individual, but of the fittest family. From the genetic point of view it may be just as good for a gay man to help the family raise two children than to raise one himself.

Gays tend to score higher in intelligence, cooperation, and compassion, and lower in hostility. There is strength in diversity. Gay men tend to be a catalyst to emotionally connect people together.

A “male loving” gene in a female tends to mean lots of kids. That same gene in a male means a higher chance of being gay. This balances a large family with an extra adult who tends to promote togetherness and thus improve chances of survival for the whole family.

His son’s ability for emotional connection has been a big advantage for his family. They are stronger and happier because his son is gay.

We are essential to humanity.

Reducing hate as a measure of church health

Pastor Jeremy Smith of the blog Hacking Christianity asks whether a church should be engaged in challenging hate groups. Details in my brother blog.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Even the perpetrator has to heal

Irna Landrum, who is black, invited Susan Raffo, who is white, to share a couple essays on *Daily Kos* about whiteness. Raffo explores the question: Why do white people, even progressive white people, get uncomfortable when referred to as white? It seems they see the word as a slur instead of a discriptor.

The first essay is Sweet Lull of White Supremacy. Raffo reasons this way:

White people are taught from an early age how to treat people (the Golden Rule and all that). They are also taught that people of color are an exception to these rules. They are taught to ignore the contradiction – that the disparity is normal. They justify their comfort while others suffer.

A lot of culture is an agreement about the best way to survive. Whiteness also teaches that one’s own life, survival, and comfort come first, more important than any values we might hold. Feeling that contradiction is to feel unsettled – which leads to wisdom. But whiteness protects against feeling unsettled.

Whiteness says the white body is entitled to “safety, security, comfort, enough energy, a strong sense of purpose and connection.” If that white body isn’t getting what it has been told it is entitled to then it isn’t working hard enough or (as supremacists teach) it is someone else’s fault. They must be controlled or made to go away (eliminated) until comfort returns.

Living with the contradiction is possible only if it is never made visible. When the contradiction is given a name the body goes into survival mode. And we get:
Gaslighting. White fragility. Whitesplaining. Microaggressions. White consolidation of power. Nepotism amongst those with power. Bystander silence. Scapegoating and targeting. White supremacist action. White folks not seeing, not believing, not feeling the impact of racism, thinking that somehow those impacted by racism must be overstating it, making it up, creating it. These are all examples of white survival responses.

It takes a lot of energy to believe you are a deeply compassionate person while, at the same time, ignoring or not seeing or explaining away the hundreds of people hurting or angry right in front of you.

This is not something a single white person can do alone. If it were that easy, whiteness would have ended. Whiteness is elegant and smart. It has been figuring out how to survive much longer than the span of any individual life. It has systems embedded in U.S. history that can hold out longer than a single generation of white indignation.

The second essay is A Love Letter to White Kin. People who aren’t safe – who don’t feel safe – aren’t generous. Some people may be safe, but because of personal history don’t feel safe. Raffo realized this while talking to a white gay man who had “made it” but still felt unsafe. Before he can share he must heal.

There is also the person who has based his life on dominance and, in order to heal, must base his life on something else. We must find the original wounds.

Raffo identifies the original white wound. For Europeans it is
the violent disconnection of people from the land (which also means spirit, culture, community, history, medicine, music, food, and overall wonder of life). This wound re-entrenched itself when the idea of private property first showed up, at different times in different European regions, but slowly spreading like a plague. It matters deeply that for 500 years, Europeans fought against those who violently set up fences, taxed land use, and evicted supposed illegal homes. It matters deeply that even though the idea of private land ownership won, there are elements of this fight that never stopped.

This European wound transferred to the United States where it was rebranded as “whiteness.” This is about a cycle of violence. How those who were hurt became the perpetrators, doing unto others as was done to their great grandparents before. None of this could even be imagined without that first original disconnection, this movement toward private land ownership and food as profit, or the ability for some people to have more of a basic need while others around them are starving without enough. As an acquaintance of mine says, remember, everything Europeans did on this land they first did at home and to themselves.

Healing is not something an individual body can do only on their own. Healing is about reconnecting with all life, including the lives of those who you have deeply hurt. When connected to the fullness of life, it is not possible to feel good and relaxed when someone near you is still suffering. Being connected to all life is sometimes about feeling good but it’s also sometimes about feeling pain and then, because of that pain, taking action. Reconnection and reparations.

A comment by urban unicorn supplied some background into the “disconnection of people from the land.” This commenter referred to Enclosure in England, in which common lands that benefit the community are fenced (enclosed) for the primary use of one person, usually the lord of the manor. Most of this enclosing was done in the 1700s. Wikipedia has a full description, though I didn’t read it all. urban unicorn added that many people came to America because they couldn’t acquire land at home.

A bit of background: Europe was a place with a very strong hierarchy, a strong enforcement of ranking. As one traveled on a road one could identify whether a fellow traveler was owner or owned and who the owner was. That idea came from the book The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt. I reviewed it in 2012 (though didn’t mention this particular idea).

Yes, Europeans brought their strong sense of hierarchy with them. Yes, our Founding Fathers instituted a democracy so they wouldn’t have to bow down before a king, but ranking was still kept strong – especially men over women, Christian over non, landowner over non, and white over black.

Commenter J Ash Bowie adds caution to this idea of European ranking being imported to America as the white person’s wound. The caution is that ranking wasn’t unique to Europe. In some of my recent fiction reading I was reminded that the caste system of India is three thousand years old. It is so stringent in its ranking that the British, highly conscious of class, admired it. Bowie also cautions that the idea of private property was also not unique to Europe.

Back to Raffo’s posts: Life is hard. We feel pain (such as watching loved ones die). But whiteness protects white people from feeling these hard things. And it does it through a system of contradictions, such as being white, yet poor.

The carrot and stick of whiteness is exceptionalism – “deserving to have your life be supported and loved, even as those around you are not receiving the same thing.” US institutions have a preference for whiteness that supports this exceptionalism – such as having the benefit of the doubt when stopped by police.

Exceptionalism is always a lie. It’s the loud dance that covers up the fact that too many of us don’t live in communities where people truly know us, know where we come from, and believe what we say because there is no reason to not tell the truth. Exceptionalism is the cry of the lonely who say, it’s not my fault. I am not abandoned. I am just better than you.

This is a love letter because this isn’t just about ending white supremacy so that violence against indigenous people and people of color ends, although that is deeply important. This is a love letter because ending white supremacy is about choosing human-ness over whiteness, about dealing with the literal trauma of disconnection that allowed whiteness to emerge in the first place. And this is a love letter because within the cycle of violence, even the perpetrator has to heal.