Saturday, January 28, 2017

Keeping the wealth

Daily Kos contributer NBBooks takes a look at the mess that always results when the GOP gives tax cuts to the wealthy. Evidence A: The tax cut by Calvin Coolidge in 1926 was followed by a stock crash in 1929. More tax cuts by Herbert Hoover made the Great Depression worse.

Evidence B: The Reagan tax cuts in 1981, supposedly to revive American industry, resulted in America losing its leadership in steel, auto, printing equipment, construction equipment, farm equipment, and power generating equipment. The apparel and footwear industry was reduced to one tenth its former size. We started importing more consumer and industrial electronics than we exported. And there was a stock crash in 1987.

Evidence C: The Bush tax cuts of 2001 and 2003 were followed by the Great Recession in 2007. The boom from 2002-2006 wasn’t growth, but speculation.

That’s not what the GOP has been telling us. They say to get growth we have to cut taxes. But there is a strong correlation between high taxes on the rich and economic growth.

Business leaders want to keep the bulk of wealth created by a business. When taxes are high the only way to do that is use profits to invest in the business – in its factories, equipment, staff, research and development, new products, and more.

When taxes are low there is incentive for profit-taking, for pulling the money out of the business and putting it in the pockets of the shareholders. If your company has already made you rich what do you care if it goes belly-up and the jobs go to China? Business planning is reduced to what can make the most profit in the next quarter or year.

And former employees also become former customers. And business slows.

Now we have all these businessmen with lots of money that must be “put to work.” So it is invested in all the things Wall Street has to offer. All that money chasing those monetary instruments causes a bubble. Which pops.

Part of the conservative mantra is based on this idea: We made lots of money. Therefore we know how to invest money, especially better than what gov’t can do by planning. Evidence (see above) doesn’t support that claim. Neither does this: Investing in credit default swaps (a major component of the 2007 disaster) is smarter than investing in sustainable energy startups that could lessen the damage of climate change?

America has (or used to have) a social contract. Investment in infrastructure and a public commons enabled businesses to prosper, which paid all its employees good wages, the tax on which was invested in infrastructure, and the cycle continued. Society prospered.

The Reagan Revolution broke that contract. Investment in infrastructure and a public commons enabled businesses to prosper, which paid its shareholders good profits, the tax on which was diverted to the wealthy few, and the cycle crashed. Only the already rich prospered.

The nasty guy is proposing lots of infrastructure investment. This is all about giving construction companies money to build stuff. Right? Umm. From what we know of the plan the idea is to give tax credits to construction companies. Will they build with it? Or will the go into financial speculation? And if they do build stuff there are hints they want what they built to be privatized – such as turning highways into toll roads or charging for use of the library. The result is minimal national economic gain.

Can the Dems interrupt all this? Yes, from the left, by pushing single payer healthcare, taxes on Wall Street speculation, improved social safety net, and a massive worldwide push for new energy, transportation, and industrial systems that don’t use fossil fuels. That Wall Street tax will either push the Street into the nasty guy’s arms and annoying the Tea Party crowd or have the nasty guy and the Street at each others throats.

But to do this the Dems have to annoy their donors and go with what is best for the majority of Americans. Gosh, what a concept!

Policy? What policy?

Melissa McEwen warns us again about Mike Pence. She says his fingerprints are all over the reinstating the Global Gag Rule – agencies doing overseas work and accepting gov’t money may not mention the possibly of abortion. This is a policy reinstated or rescinded every time the White House switches parties.

McEwen discusses a bit of why Pence is wielding so much power:
To be clear: I am not suggesting that Trump is stupid. I am observing, based on Trump's own comments, that he doesn't care about policy; that he is willfully ignorant about an enormous amount of policy because to be well-versed in it serves no purpose to him, as it does not cater to his grandiose ego and would steal time from the things that do.
Personally saving jobs (or taking credit for doing so) at an Indiana factory feeds the nasty guy’s ego – “I saved your job!” Details of abortion policy, not so much. Which is why Pence was given so much power. And Pence is delighted to wield all this power under the cover of the nasty guy’s bluster.

A question, then: Dan Savage is already calling for impeachment, something he didn’t do until the second year of the second term of Bush II. If we impeach the nasty guy will Pence have the same despotic tendencies? Or will he be content to implement extreme right policies without destroying democracy? Is there is difference?

Birds, boars, bears, bison, bobcats, and beetles

I had an enjoyable day yesterday. First, a performance by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. I rarely go to their Friday morning concerts but I had an evening program I really wanted to attend – then that evening program was canceled and I didn’t want to change tickets again. The concert was a part of the DSO Mozart Festival. This is the only concert of the festival I will attend. Each individual Mozart piece is lovely, but a whole concert is wearying for me and six concerts with nothing but Mozart would be seriously annoying. This particular concert included the Clarinet Concerto, which is why I chose this one, and the Concertone, which I doubt I’ve heard before. This piece features two violin soloists and a prominent part for the principal oboe – so prominent the two oboe players were seated immediately behind the soloists, displacing the concertmaster.

From there I went up Woodward Ave. to the Detroit Institute of Arts. I had lunch in the café, then I saw the current special exhibit about Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate. It is nice, but not fascinating or relevatory. I did enjoy the small samples of chocolate drinks made from 17th Century recipes, one from the Americas (spicy) and one from Europe (with pepper).

The print gallery showed lots of etchings of royal festivals that featured big feasts. The peasants liked these because they got the leftovers. The photography gallery showed images of Detroit after dark, about a third of them featuring musical acts at various nightclubs.

After supper (also at the DIA) I went saw the early evening offering at the Detroit Film Theater, the movie Seasons. I thought I would miss out on this one, but quickly put it into my schedule when that other evening event was canceled.

I wanted to see Seasons when I read it is by the same team that created Winged Migration, Jacques Perrin and Jacques Cluzaud, back in 1997. The earlier film had stunning images of birds in flight and we all wondered what they did to get them. One technique was to make up drones to look like birds and insert them into a migrating flock.

Seasons imagines what the European continent was like 12,000 years ago when human influence was minimal and a forest covered the whole thing – a golden age of forest. We see the wildlife do its thing: the birth of a deer fawn, a herd of horses where a mare was fending off the amorous advances of a stallion, battling elk, wolves chasing down their prey, owls searching for mice, hedgehogs doing what hedgehogs do, and lots of birds, boars, bears, bison (the European version), bobcats, even beetles. It is all beautifully captured and shown.

One thought frequently went through my mind – how did they capture those images? Some of the images, such as birds peeking out of holes in trees, is a matter of setting up cameras and waiting. I suspect a scene featuring a beetle flying through the forest was done through CGI effects (I think I saw a CGI company in the credits, but I’m not sure because they are in French). Was it a case the crew kept recording what they saw and distilled several years of watching into a 90 minute film? How did they keep up with the boars being chased by wolves through thick forest? Did they stage scenes like that and others? What does that do to the claim that no animals were harmed (a few of the scenes of predator in hot pursuit of prey were successful, though the death was not on camera)?

Through most of the movie humans are only occasionally in the background. But the last chunk of the movie is about how humans switched from hunting to farming and brought the end of the golden age of forest. Trees were felled for building (it took 3000 oaks for one British sailing ship; the forest couldn’t keep up) and for creating fields. The large animals, especially the ones dangerous to humans, moved to more remote regions or were killed off. Human things, such as roads, war, and crop protection killed off more. Forests, especially those owned by the rich, had trails created through them to make hunting easier.

The final message: If we are smart enough to build cities that look to last forever, why aren’t we able to create wild areas for the animals to live?

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Seventeen Solutions – reduce the military

Continuing my overview of Ralph Nader's book, The Seventeen Solutions. Click here to get the rest of the series. I’m aware that I left off this series just over two months ago. Since it is part of how we deal with the nasty guy I need to finish it off. I won’t promise I’ll do it quickly.

11. Reduce Our Bloated Military Budget

In 2012, the year this book was written, the federal budget allocated $806 billion for the military. That paid for general military readiness as well as wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It did not cover the military parts of the National Security Agency or the CIA. It also didn’t cover disability payments to veterans. Overall the military gets 56% of the federal discretionary spending (which excludes Medicare and Medicaid).

We start with President Dwight Eisenhower, not with his famous railing against the military industrial complex in his farewell address, but with a speech before the American Society of Newspaper Editors on April 16, 1953 at a time Sen. McCarthy was whipping up anti-communist frenzy (which meant Eisenhower was ignored).
Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, and the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities… This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

Congress is able to maintain this bloated military spending in a particular way. Because the military budget is so large the military is the nation’s largest jobs program both directly through the military and through its many contractors. And Congress has made sure some of those jobs are in every one of the 435 House districts. Talk of cutting military spending means cutting jobs – and every single House member is going to hear about it. That has effectively defeated any cuts.

Nader says that in the 1950s the concentration of effort in the military meant consumer products of the time were shoddy. And that gave the Japanese and Germans the opening to dominate our auto markets for a couple decades.

Our emphasis on military spending of course means we turn to the military for solutions, rather than looking for “preventive, diplomatic, and assistance missions.” Andrew Bacevich, professor and retired Army Colonel, wrote:
Americans in our own time have fallen prey to militarism, manifesting itself in a romanticized view of soldiers, a tendency to see military power as the truest measure of national greatness, and outsized expectations regarding the efficacy of force. To a degree without precedent in United States history, Americans have come to define the nation’s strength and well-being in terms of military preparedness, military action, and the fostering of (or nostalgia for) military ideals.

We may not want to conquer territory, but we do want to occupy and control it. That only works when there is an absence of dissent by those occupied and controlled. To get that absence out troops engage in brutality.

Some (like the nasty guy) will say that we need all that military power and more to keep us safe. Nader compares the lopsided capabilities of the US military to that of the Taliban. Which makes me think that the solution to the longest war in US history isn’t the military.

Another problem is the Department of Defense budget is, according to the Government Accountability Office, un-auditable and has been for years.
An un-audtiable budget is, by definition, a budget no one can control for waste, redundancy, corruption, cost overruns, complex billing frauds, or poor quality control.

Two things leap out about this one report of Pentagon expenditure, exposed by a GAO that produces reams of reports about waste across the spectrum of the military budget. One is that no matter how many investigations the GAO does, the results fall on deaf ears among both the Pentagon leaders and their patron – Congress. The other is that almost no one ever gets fired or otherwise punished for such irresponsibility or dereliction of duty.
Which means Congress wants a DoD budget that can’t be audited. Want your hand in the gov’t pocket? Do it through the military. Congress is inviting your sticky fingers. And they’ve covered our eyes.

The DoD and its corporate masters love high-tech solutions. An example is the infamous F-22 plane that the military doesn’t need, yet has suppliers in every Congressional district. The thing is dangerous to pilots and the unit cost has soared to $410 million. Back in 1980 Pentagon analyst Chuck Spinney reported:
Our strategy of pursuing ever-increasing technical complexity and sophistication has made high-technology solutions and combat readiness mutually exclusive.
To which Nader adds:
He did not mention the corollary – that the real beneficiaries of such complexity are not the American people but the weapons manufacturers, which are only too happy to rise to each profitable new challenge.
As I write this the nasty guy has called for both bombing the heck out of ISIS and a massive increase and modernization of the military. Which makes the average citizen wonder what can be done to stop all this reckless spending for something that will make humanity’s situation worse.

Thousands of people – citizens, retired officials from the military, diplomatic, and national security service, taxpayer groups, labor leaders, scientists, technologists, current and former politicians – including mayors, humanitarian assistance leaders, business people for sensible priorities, religious leaders, professors, war veterans, peace advocates, philanthropists, neighborhood organizers, documentary filmmakers, and specialists in foreign culture – have spoken out against the ravenous military. And they’ve gotten little media coverage. What they haven’t done, says Nader, is to make their case as a unified whole.

Nader proposes a series of workshops to create this unified whole. These are:

* Itemize the lists of proposed Pentagon reforms that haven’t happened to put some spine in the GAO report.

* Make a list of projects to cut, going weapon-by-weapon and service-by-service. This is to force justification of each according to its military usefulness, not according to the jobs it creates.

* Study and report on the big picture of the overall security budget and the balance between military forces, homeland security, and prevention through nonmilitary international engagement.

* Seek new ways for America to become a humanitarian superpower, to help alleviate the conditions of poverty, destitution, and hopelessness. Humanitarian efforts cost much less than military deployment. The military already knows how to do rescues during natural catastrophes. This could harness the idealism of American youth.

* Figure out how to mobilize the rest of us to call for reform.

* Use veterans, including the high-ranking ones, to state their opposition to any use of the military, to remind us of the human cost of war, and to advocate for proper veteran services.

* Use mayors to list the ways to use the money redirected from the military. This could fund our infrastructure needs and various jobs programs – the jobs the current system protects.

All of these workshops sound like fine ideas. Nader says there are philanthropists ready to step in and fund the effort. Let’s go for it!

But I have a question for Nader. Actually, a complaint. Yes, Nader has written this helpful book. But if the voices are out there and the money is available and the big thing we need is a unity of voice, why hasn’t Nader used his influence to make it happen?

Friday, January 20, 2017

Look for the money

Ronald Reagan perfected the use of the “welfare queen” – a black woman on welfare who manages to drive around in a Caddy while decked in furs and going home for a steak supper while the rest of us are working our butts off. Variations of this story were used in the 1990s as reasons for ending welfare and forcing people back to work.

Conservatives like a related story, one the nasty guy uses a lot: You don’t have a job because all those illegal immigrants took it away from you.

David Akadjian has an answer to these stories. When a bank is robbed look for the guy with the money.

Hint: It isn’t the welfare queen (I suspect that person never existed). It also isn’t the undocumented immigrant who is probably struggling more than we are.

Akadjian goes into the usual inequality talking points: The productivity gains over the last 40 years going to the 1% or .1% and not to the workers who made those gains happen. Tax cuts for the wealthy don’t create jobs and only help Wall Street.

He closes with an important point. Want a more equitable country? Want to fix infrastructure? Want new public transit? Want good schools? Then we need to get the story straight about where the money is going – and who is doing the robbing.

Calling out hate speech

When last I posted I wrote about free speech, including that Jason Michael is done with dialog and will make sure hate speech has economic consequences. During that post I referred to my friend and debate partner’s usual line: the response to offensive free speech is more free speech. As expected my friend responded and did so rather quickly. I’m the source of the delay in sharing it with you.
Oh, no apology needed. I have no objection to the use of power to move us forward. Disinviting Burrell from the show was an exhibition of power -- the program staff's right to edit the show and its direction. "consequences to hate speech" That action is a statement -- is free speech from the show's point of view.

I also have no objections to anyone calling out speech as hate speech on a rational basis explained for all to understand. That is free speech provided in the interests of community. I see no responsibility to broadcast or distribute hate speech.

But I also bring a caution: We see efforts today to exclude speech that may create discomfort (even pain) for some listeners, especially in places (such as college classrooms) with a "captive" audience. Listeners may benefit from speech that makes us uncomfortable... and should evaluate incoming speech to see whether the challenges presented are worthwhile or growthful.

Hate speech? Throw that away!

Ideas for bridging our divides with people whom we see as enemies? That's the road to peace making and progress.

Swiped jobs

There was a big event today. I carefully ignored it, even turning off hourly Canadian news reports (a perk of living in Detroit is we can get the national Canadian radio system). This afternoon I went off to a movie – Moana, quite enjoyable. The only news of the event that I heard was at 6:30 this evening during the beginning of NPR’ s economic news program Marketplace. And that was plenty.

In the bit I heard the nasty guy talked about how all the jobs have fled overseas and he was going to bring them back. That made it sound like China came here and swiped jobs. While China’s labor costs were indeed a factor, it was American corporate leaders – such as the fat cats in the nasty guy’s cabinet – who actually terminated jobs here and created them there. And they did it for their own pockets.

Another little segment on the show was a small business owner saying the cost of health insurance has recently been larger than his profits. He’s looking for relief from the Affordable Care Act. To me this sounds like a great reason to question why health insurance is coupled to employment. It is time for universal health insurance, otherwise known as Medicare for all.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

A progressive exchange

For more than a couple decades we’ve had to deal with the success of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, which writes model legislation to implement hard conservative ideas, then sends them out to GOP controlled state legislatures for enacting. An example (that I’m thinking about because I just read about it in one of Dad’s old issues of Mother Jones) is the Stand Your Ground laws that shield citizen shooters if there is even the slightest hint of firing in self-defense. Many anti-LGBT bills have also come out of ALEC, such as the various Religious Freedom Restoration Acts that are essentially a license to discriminate. Both corporations and legislators buy membership in ALEC, though the recent round of RFRAs prompted several corporations to withdraw.

And on the progressive side? Similar organizations to ALEC have sprung up, but usually fail to gain traction. Maybe not as many corporate members?

Many progressives have hopes for SIX, the State Innovation Exchange. It is now a couple years old. Though it doesn’t write model legislation it did inherit from a predecessor group a library of 2000 progressive bills enacted in various states. SIX has developed a blueprint, what it calls a 100-day project. It calls for: clean energy, equal pay for women, raising state minimum wages, crack down on wage theft, make tax systems more progressive, and more.

Cling to guns, religion, and tribe

Since the election I have withdrawn from reading most news (including gay news) blogs. I do listen to NPR, but I’m quick to turn it off when they let a Republican talk. A great deal of that withdrawal is because so much of the political news is so discouraging. A part of me wants to say you voted for him, you reap the consequences. Perhaps next time you’ll listen to what the Dems have to offer, even if it is a woman.

Blogger Dallas Taylor wants to knock that idea out of my head. In a post written just before the election (you should know by now that some things can stick in my browser tabs for a long time) he wrote (and I didn’t edit for purple language):
The problem, aside from the damage done and the many, many steps backward that will entail, is that human nature doesn’t work that way. A progressive society is contingent on prosperity. When people ain’t got shit, they start looking out for them and theirs, and fuck everybody else. They cling to their guns and their religion and their tribe harder than ever, because if there ain’t enough to go around then they’ll make damn sure they and theirs get what they need first, and the rest can go hang.

You know why shit’s so dysfunctional? Because the goddamned Republicans put party before country, and have sabotaged and vandalized and obstructed every fucking thing that might make things better. They have to, because their whole thing is that government can’t work and is never the solution and if you elect them they’ll prove it to you, as they fucking have for decades now.

More free speech

My friend and debate partner has said many times that the answer to free speech that is offensive is more free speech, presumably by offering arguments and stories from the opposing (community building) view. An example of this idea is to keep Confederate memorials and add to them counter-memorials that tell the stories of those hurt by the racism of the Confederacy.

More than a year ago I wrote a post commenting on what Melissa McEwen of Shakesville said. Because she is promoting progressive views (and is a woman) messages attacking her are pervasive. A legitimate response is to refuse to engage. She says by extension it is legitimate to ask an institution to refuse to host a speaker known to be offensive. Her reasoning is something like this: I know I’ll be attacked. I know people I care about will be attacked and will be hurt. I know whatever I say will not stop the attacks, will not change the mind of the speaker. More free speech won’t do any good. I refuse to put myself and those I love through the pain.

My debate partner replied with the expected defense of “more free speech.” I didn’t post his reply because at the time I was preparing for my father’s memorial service.

Recently, Kim Burrell did a homophobic rant. Jason Michael, writing a viewpoint article for Between the Lines, described how he was instrumental in getting Burrell uninvited from the Ellen DeGeneres Show.

There was the usual commentary about the “missed opportunity to talk” to do the more free speech thing. DeGeneres could have offered a safe space for that discussion. Michael replies:
But I see things differently. I believe the time for talking is done. You simply cannot have a meaningful conversation with someone who calls gays and lesbians "perverted." Those are not the words of someone wishing to have a positive exchange on the topic and possibly be enlightened. Those words amount to only one thing: hate speech. And it should not be tolerated. Not on Ellen's show. Not on any television program. Not anywhere in the country.

The time for that kind of talking is over. If you cannot speak to me respectfully then you cannot speak to me at all. You don't get that privilege. If you're going to call me names, you'd be better off keeping that nonsense to yourself.
Michael concludes:
If you attack us, we will attack back. If you dare denounce our moral turpitude, we will come after your livelihood. We will no longer be your patsies. Preaching our demise will no longer fill your collection plates. There are too many of us now. Too many who've come too far to turn back.

This is 2017, and we will no longer debate our equality. Instead we will demand you recognize it. That,to me, is the message Ellen sent by disinviting Burrell to her show.
Sorry, friend, I’m with Michael on this one. Does Kim Burrell have the right to say what she thinks? Yes. Does she have a right to say it on Ellen’s show? No. There are consequences to hate speech.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Looks like life

I’m against the practice that developed in the last decade or so of TVs in restaurants. The constantly moving image is distracting, pulling my eye away from the person I’m with (when I’m by myself I’m pretty good at keeping my eyes on my book). I was in one of those restaurants yesterday with my friend and debate partner and there was a TV directly behind his head – and I’m now convinced the camera work of whatever show was on was designed to attract the eye with its flashing change of scene.

I’m done with that rant. It was just a way of introducing another topic…

The nasty guy’s first press conference since July was on a TV in that restaurant on a screen off to the side. In that position we were both able to ignore it. Conversation with my friend was *much* more interesting.

Melissa McEwen, editor-in-chief of Shareblue watched it, so I didn’t have to. But what she saw was alarming. The nasty guy at first seemed rattled about being in front of all these reporters. But when a reporter looked like he was about to ask a question the nasty guy didn’t want to answer he insulted the reporter and the company he represents. And the nasty guy realized he could be his usual belligerent and bullying self.
Trump’s entire press conference was a brazen statement of rejection of ethical recommendations, combined with evasion of concerns regarding his disloyalty and a continued campaign of hostility and intimidation toward the press.

Those are not features of the leader of a free democracy. They are the behaviors of despots.

Trump’s changing demeanor during the press conference, from nervous to belligerent, is very concerning. As he managed to bully through questions and exhibited stunningly troubling behavior without consequence, his back stiffened with empowerment.

This was a turning point. A very alarming one.

Fannie Wolfe of Shakesville wonders if we would recognize the onset of authoritarianism. By “we” she means those who are not already oppressed and subject to violence in our society. In other words, the white men who were core voters for the nasty guy. Wolfe notes that the rest of us are told we need to empathize and understand these white men. But the white men are not being pressured to understand and empathize with us – women, LGBT people, immigrants, people of color, etc.

But back to the question. Tom Pepinsky, professor of Government at Cornell University, answered that question for Wolfe. Many of us have watched too many movies of events leading up to WWII. We think of authoritarianism and imagine jackbooted thugs. But life under authoritarian rule looks a lot like … life.
Everyday life in the modern authoritarian regime is, in this sense, boring and tolerable. It is not outrageous. Most critics, even vocal ones, are not going to be murdered like Anna Politkovskaya, they are going to be frustrated. Most not-very-vocal critics will live their lives completely unmolested by the security forces. They will enjoy it when the trains run on time, blame the government when they do not, gripe at their taxes, and save for vacation. Elections, when they happen, will serve the “anesthetic function” ... Life under authoritarian rule in such situations looks a lot like life in a democracy.
But will people accept authoritarian rule?
The premise upon which this question is based is that authoritarianism is intolerable generally.
Most of the time we’re thinking about daily life and if most things happen as they should – trains run on time, highways are patched, water is drinkable – we’re good.

If authoritarian life looks so much like life in a democracy how do we tell? We usually learn we’re not in a democracy
not because The Government Is Taking Away Your Rights, or passing laws that you oppose, or because there is a coup or a quisling. You know that you are no longer living in a democracy because the elections in which you are participating no longer can yield political change.

It is more likely that democracy ends, with a whimper, when the case for supporting it—the case, that is, for everyday democracy—is no longer compelling."
Democracy is no longer compelling? I wrote about that back in August 2009 as the Tea Party was gaining steam.

Commenters of Pepinsky’s post provide more insight.

Democracy may not be compelling if under authoritarian rule you have a job, plenty to eat, and a comfortable social life (see Singapore) while under democracy those things were kept from you.

There are those of us who haven’t enjoyed democracy. Been to Brightmoor in Detroit? Heard of the war on drugs (and understand who that has been a war against)? What about Stop and Frisk? Notice who was not prosecuted for causing the Great Recession? Did you lose your house?

If you’re white and not poor you don’t have to notice those things. It won’t look like an authoritarian state if you’re not the one being stepped on.

As for elections no longer yielding political change… Many corporations donate to Democrats as much as they do to Republicans. Would some of our big issues, such as poverty and a lack of opportunity in rural areas decimated by WalMart and factories gone to China, be much different under Democrats?

As for what the current GOP is doing (usually in the middle of the night) in working to get rid of of the Affordable Care Act, Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security – yes I think people will notice that. And for many life will be much harder. Which brings us back to whether the next election will bring politcal change.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

My religion over your rights

Several states used Texas to file a suit against the sex nondiscrimination requirement of the Affordable Care Act. The rule that came with this requirement “forbids discrimination on the basis of ‘gender identity’ and ‘termination of pregnancy.’” The states chose Texas because federal courts in Texas are more conservative. And they got what they wanted. A District Court judge ruled that a doctor’s religious freedom and independent medical judgment was more important than our need for protection against discrimination. The ruling stated it overturned the rule not just in the district covered by the court, but nationwide.

Michelangelo Signorile, writing for Huffington Post, explains the consequences. This ruling was based on the Hobby Lobby decision made by the Supremes in 2014, which expanded the use of religious freedoms. I wrote about the Hobby Lobby decision here and its implications here. This district judge has now set the precedent that religious freedoms can indeed be used to block nondiscrimination laws across the country – and our opponents will certainly bring lawsuits against our protections.

The 5th Circuit Court will not overturn this decision. They’re also quite conservative. That leaves the Supremes, which by the time this case gets there will have at least one new conservative justice. Couple that with the nasty guy’s pledge to sign a First Amendment Defense Act – a national Religious Freedom protection law. Their goal is to make it legal to discriminate against LGBT people based on religious beliefs.

Make enough noise

There was a lot of news earlier this week about a secret GOP meeting to fold the independent Office of Congressional Ethics under the House Ethics Committee. The secret vote put the OCE change into the usual establishment of rules at the start of a new Congressional session. This change would have restricted the authority of the OCE, meaning ethics were whatever House members wanted them to be.

Also in the news was that there was such an outcry the OCE change was deleted from the overall establishment of rules. And this means, says Melissa McEwen of Shakesville, the GOP has confirmed that if we make enough noise they will back down.

Inherently deceptive

In the week following the election I wrote about various people sifting through the tea leaves to declare What It Means. In that post I presented an answer by Aphra Behn of Shakesville that can be summarized as: If your analysis doesn’t feature racism and misogyny it is wrong.

Fannie Wolfe, also of Shakesville takes up the call. Yes, it was misogyny. And that produces rape culture. Wolfe includes a definition of rape culture from Melissa McEwen, the primary writer of Shakesville:
Rape culture is the myriad ways in which rape is tacitly and overtly abetted and encouraged having saturated every corner of our culture so thoroughly that people can't easily wrap their heads around what the rape culture actually is.
One aspect of rape culture is the portrayal of male sexuality as “inherently predatory” and women are given the task of taming male violence. And if she fails and is assaulted it is her fault. Then if she complains she is being deceptive.

The nasty guy fits in very well with rape culture. He admitted to groping women – the better word is “assault” – and that didn’t matter to over sixty million voters. Consider the reverse scenario: A woman candidate admitting to groping men, accused by men of sexual misconduct, and leering as men paraded before her in a male beauty contest. And that woman winning over a more competent man. Right.

A large part of rape culture is that women are inherently deceptive. Bernie and his supporters suggested, perhaps even claimed, that the only way a woman could win is if she dishonestly rigged the system. All through the campaign was the issue of Clinton’s emails, with far more coverage than any other issue, with the refrain there just has to be something deceptive in there. While the habitual liar was given a free pass. On to the emails hacked by Russia. One reason why these gained so much traction is it supposedly allowed the media to get to the “real story” beyond the supposedly constant Clinton deception.

Before Christmas I wrote about how the media chose to portray Clinton in a negative light and never challenging the nasty guy’s nastiness. Included in my conclusion:
Media companies chose to turn Clinton’s transparency against her. … Media companies chose to portray Clinton as a liar worse than the nasty guy.
That’s because rape culture claims that women are inherently deceptive.

Yes, this election had a large component of misogyny.

Discrediting campaign

Yesterday I said I was intentionally ignoring a lot of news, especially the blogs I had been reading. Even so, I still have several articles in browser tabs to share with you.

The nasty guy had his big meeting with the intelligence agencies to explain to him that Russia was behind the hacks on the Democratic National Committee and used what it found to defeat Hillary Clinton. I understand the nasty guy finally said, well perhaps Russia was behind the hacks, but that has absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election. Perhaps his ego won’t allow him to admit the win wasn’t because of his own fabulousness.

Melissa McEwen of Shareblue sees something more in the whole episode. Senior advisor Kellyanne Conway said in an aside about the intelligence community:
He absolutely respects the intelligence community. He’s made very clear he’s going to put his own people in there as well.
McEwen responds:
Trump’s plan is simply to replace the intelligence community with yes-men. That is fundamentally incompatible with the role the intelligence community is meant to play.
So if the nasty guy can’t overturn the intelligence community – he wants to because it’s politicized, don’tcha know – he will discredit it by refusing to believe what they tell him, recounting old failures, claiming they are unprofessional, or putting deeper trust in people like Julian Assange.

And why would he want to do that? McEwen wrote:
It is one play in a long game that ends with Trump turning the intelligence community into an extension of the White House — which itself is part of a comprehensive strategy to erode public trust in every institution, to wholly eradicate checks and balances on his power.

He has waged similar discrediting campaigns against military leadership, against career bureaucrats, against the press, and against the integrity of our elections. The objective is clear: The decimation of public trust.

That is a strategy of authoritarian leaders throughout history, who then proffer themselves as saviors from the very chaos they created.

And why is Congress putting up with that? Some members aren’t. There is pushback. My answer: Many, especially the leadership, are ignoring these dangerous antics because they want one thing from the nasty guy: his signature on every extremely conservative bill they can come up with. To get that they’ll put up with a lot. Of course, they don’t consider how the nasty guy is sacrificing the integrity of the country because they are also sacrificing the integrity of the country.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Breeding grounds for insane politicians

The Stateside program on Michigan Radio recently did an 11 minute segment on gerrymandering in Michigan. It talked to Tom Perkins of Metro Times who reviewed the basics, including Democrats received 18,000 more votes than Republicans for state senate seats, yet the GOP has 57% of those seats. Perkins brought up two more important points:

* Gerrymandering creates “breeding grounds for insane politicians.” He mentions Dave Agema, who has quite a reputation in Michigan for being a vocal racist, and who has gone on to a job in the national GOP.

* Politicians from gerrymandered districts can push through unpopular legislation and it won’t affect their chances of being re-elected. An example is the disastrous emergency manager law for financially struggling cities. Voters repealed it and legislators recreated it in that same lame-duck session.

Perkins says gerrymandering is a “legal form of election theft.”

I had reported that the GOP in North Carolina had severely restricted the powers of the new Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. One new law restricted the governor’s control over the election board. A judge in the state has stayed the law, pending a more thorough review. The judge said the law was unconstitutional because there is a risk to free and fair elections.

Those power-stripping laws bothered Andrew Reynolds, a political science professor at University of North Carolina at chapel Hill. Reynolds had designed a democracy rating system as part of his work in helping 25 countries with issues of democratic design. He applied that rating system to his home state – and it failed. North Carolina is no longer a democracy.

There’s a simple reason why I haven’t been posting as much lately. The political news has been so discouraging I haven’t wanted to read it, much less write about it. So I’ve stopped reading a couple news blogs. And evenings when I would normally write I’ve found other things to do. I will still write about broad ideas, though probably less about daily news.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Progressive nation

Before the last election Roger Smith wrote a special report for the January 2017 edition of The Washington Spectator (this article online eventually). Smith tackles the “big lie” peddled by conservatives that a solid majority of the country holds conservative views. He does this by looking at the poll results of respected polling organizations on a wide range of issues and over a decade or two. He then sometimes contrasts the type of legislation Democrats have passed (or been thwarted from passing) with the type the GOP has passed. He doesn’t look at election polling, but at issues polling – not who people vote for but what they believe. Smith’s conclusion: we are not a conservative nation.

The obvious question: If we aren’t a conservative nation why are conservatives in control of the federal government and the governments of 2/3 of the states? Why do our beliefs not match our votes? Alas, Smith leaves these questions for others. In addition, what he did write is 6½ pages of an 8-page newsletter. Another article for another time. Here’s a summary of what he did write about:

* Lower the cost of student loans: 82% in favor.

* Increased spending on infrastructure: 75% in favor.

* Raise the minimum wage to $12: 66% in favor. Even 60% of small business owners are in favor of increasing the minimum wage. In 2014 four solidly red states passed increases to their minimum wage rates.

* Raise Social Security retirement age to 69: 66% against.

Yet, in 2014, when the party that opposed all of the above ideas swept into Congress 53% of those polled said they were “happy” with the result.

* Limit campaign spending by Super PACs: 78% in favor.

* Limit campaign spending by individuals: 77% in favor.

* Support of same-sex marriage: this year 61% in favor, a massive swing in 20 years from 27% in favor in 1996.

* Belief that immigrants “strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents”: 59% in favor.

* There should be a way for undocumented non-criminal immigrants to stay in the country legally: 74% in favor.

* “Build a Wall”: 62% opposed with opposition growing the more Trump talked about it.

* Legalization of marijuana: 58% in favor.

* The Affordable Care Act: The GOP likes to trumpet that polls show that 58% said they oppose it. The GOP, of course, leaves out a crucial piece: 43% oppose it because it is “too liberal” while 15% oppose it for not being liberal enough. This last group is looking for Medicare for all. Smith criticizes Dems for failing to explain the ACA, allowing the GOP to define it.

* When asked about Medicare for all, meaning a government-funded single-payer health care system, 58% of those polled are in favor. Thanks Bernie!

* Equal pay for women: 84% in favor, including 77% of Republicans. This is another issue Democrats have failed to seize and adequately explain.

* Tax supported universal child care: 59% in favor. The GOP wants to do this through tax deductions, meaning it is available only those who itemize deductions – which is rarely the working class most in need of it.

* Economy – “Are you making more than five years ago?”: 68% said yes. So maybe this past election wasn’t about the economy?

* Taxation fairness: 64% say they are “bothered a lot” that corporations “don’t pay their fare share” of taxes. 61% say that wealthy people don’t pay their fair share.

* Global warming: In 2014 59% said they felt strongly enough about climate change to support limiting carbon emissions. This year 64% said they worry about climate change “a great deal.” Dems haven’t countered the false GOP claim that we can battle climate change or we can have a healthy economy, but not both.

* Is free trade good or bad? 37% said it is good, 39% said it is bad.

* Defense spending: Those saying to cut back rose from 30% to 35% in five years. Those saying to increase rose from 13% to 35%. Even so, we’re tired of war.

* Who do you trust to handle foreign policy? In 2008 (after Bush II) Dems were favored at 48%. This year the GOP is favored by 40%.

* Abortion: 56% say abortion should be legal either “always” or “in most cases.” 59% say abortion should be legal in the case of rape or incest.

* Gun control: 85% are in favor of background checks at gun shows or for online sales. 79% are in favor of banning guns to the mentally ill. 70% are in favor of a federal database of gun sales. 50% say it is more important to control gun ownership than protect the right to own a gun. 47% say the reverse.

* Capital punishment: 49% in favor, down from 80% in favor in 1995.

A conservative country? Doesn’t look that way. Yet conservatives push that idea. And the people most receptive to that idea? Democratic politicians, led by Bill Clinton and his move towards the center in 1995.

Democrats do not have to accommodate the right. They should embrace – and adequately explain – progressive issues.