Thursday, March 30, 2017

It’s not the common man

Yesterday the House approved a bill, already passed by the Senate, to rescind the rules saying an Internet Service Provider must get your permission before selling what they know about you, including such things as all the websites you visit. The nasty guy hasn’t signed it yet, but there is little doubt he will.

That has left me wondering whether I should be proud of the sites I visit that resist the nasty guy, even if that history might someday be used against me. That has also had me trying to figure out what a Virtual Private Network is, how it works, and if it keeps my ISP from snooping. I haven’t gotten very far in that quest (the Wikipedia entry on VPN is filled with tech jargon). A second quest might be to see if there are providers in my area who vow not to sell my data.

I’m aware there are millions of people who wouldn’t know how to deal with a VPN or don’t have an alternate company in their area.

T.C. Sottek of The Verge has a list of all 265 members of Congress who gave away our privacy. With each name is now much money internet providers have donated to them in the last year. I didn’t compute a grand total, but it looks like internet companies got what they wanted for a bargain. Buying Congress must be cheap these days.

Those active in social media know about trolls, those people who harass others with differing opinions (Melissa McEwan of Shakesville is well acquainted with trolls). These trolls depend on being able to attack anonymously. Internet privacy is highly important to them. Andy Cush of Spin reports they are extremely ticked-off that the nasty guy, someone they strongly supported, would consider damaging their privacy. Cush notes:
Incidentally, the episode is a useful cautionary tale for impressionable young Trump supporters about the Republican Party’s conflation of free-market corporatism and individual liberty in general. When you deregulate industries, it’s not the common man who enjoys new freedoms. It’s the people and organizations who already have lots of money and power–in this case, the ISPs. And when those people in power are given an opportunity to further exploit the common people who rely on them for essential services in exchange for a little more money, they’ll always take it.

A repeal that isn’t

The North Carolina HB2 “Bathroom Bill” is back in the news because it has been repealed. There is no exclamation point for that sentence because the replacement is still discriminatory.

This bill was enacted a couple years ago. It had several anti-LGBT provisions, the most notorious being that trans people could not use the bathroom that matched their gender identity. The law was enacted swiftly after Charlotte passed a city ordinance protecting LGBT people. The response was also swift. Many entertainment and sports events moved from NC and several businesses decided to not expand in the state.

The new bill, signed today by Democrat Governor Roy Cooper, is actually quite short:

* The old bill is repealed.

* No state institution or city can pass a law about multiple occupancy bathrooms, showers, or changing facilities. This means we’re back to the bathroom regulations before HB2 was passed – there weren’t laws banning transgender people from using the bathroom of choice, but now there can’t be laws protecting that choice.

* No local government may enact LGBT protections in employment or public accommodation until Dec. 1, 2020.

So the state legislature said we don’t care about bathroom use anymore (under HB2 nobody was checking anyway and there were no penalties in the bill). But they also said there will be no new protections for LGBT people (like Charlotte tried to provide) for another 3½ years.

Conservative groups are annoyed because bathrooms are, in their view, no longer safe from trans people – men in dresses. Progressives are annoyed because of the ban on passing LGBT protections. It is still legal to discriminate against us and will remain so.

A bathroom bill died in Arkansas after opposition from the governor and from tourist groups. Governor Asa Hutchinson is not a friend to progressives. He opposed it because it might hurt business. In some states we’ll take our wins any way we can.

An anti-marriage equality bill in Tennessee will be delayed for a year. It would have required the state attorney general to defend city clerks who refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Some of us don’t get a choice

Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education, gave a talk at the Brookings Institution. As part of it she pushed school choice, her favorite topic. To make her point she talked about Uber, Lyft, and, gosh! taxis too! Melissa McEwan of Shakesville and her readers are ready with the takedown. First, McEwan…

* Uber, Lyft, etc. all provide the same service. Schools can’t because different students have different needs.

* Charter schools can turn away disabled, immigrant, and homeless students.

* When charters drain money from public schools, special needs students don’t have a choice.

* Dr. Joan Evelyn Duvall-Flynn of the NAACP notes expansion of charter schools mirrors predatory lending. “When the tax base is low, less money is going to the public… Charter schools were leading to the resegregation of the schools.”

* Charter schools lead to the closing of public schools. Marginalized students get no choice or get a choice between terrible private schools or terrible public schools.

* DeVos says government shouldn’t get in the way. Nope. Says McEwan, “The government has a responsibility to get in the way of that.”

* This entire argument of school choice is really a dog-whistle for white supremacists. Fix white supremacy and we can fix the schools.

And from readers:

Carovee: I’m sick of the GOP comparing things that are not at all alike.

Yazikus: I noticed DeVos didn’t mention public transportation in her metaphor. Also, there are many towns and rural areas without any ride-share service.

Happyhedonist: That ride-share business model engages in openly abusive labor practices.

Don’t deserve your job

Rep. Bill Pascrell, Democrat from New Jersey, sponsored a bill to force the Treasury Department to provide 10 years of the nasty guy’s tax returns. At a hearing in the House Ways and Means Committee several GOP members agreed with Pascrell’s idea. Yet all of them voted against the bill.

There is an article on *Slate* saying many, maybe most, of the Republicans in Congress don’t like the nasty guy and recognize he is both dangerous and incompetent. They are in various degrees of “shock, horror, and disgust” at what he is doing. Yet, “None of them want to be decapitated by a primary challenge. Nobody wants the social media fanaticism of the alt-right turned on them.”

I didn’t read the article. Instead, I read Melissa McEwan’s response on Shakesville. Which begins:
You f**** cowards.
Though McEwan didn’t bother with asterisks.
Your primary job is to protect this country. You don't *deserve* your jobs if you're unwilling to do that.
And would happen if you lost your job? Probably end up with a sweet gig as a CNN contributor. Not much of a risk.

As for being on the receiving end of social media fanaticism… McEwan has been pushing back against misogyny and its like for 13 years and has had a great deal of social media fanaticism thrown at her. She documents a long list of gruesome messages and acts. These attacks are a routine part of her work.
Get your heads out of your asses. There are millions upon millions of people in this country with a hell of a lot more to lose than you will ever have.

You are supposed to protect them. You're cowering in silence to keep a job you're not even willing to do.

Shame on you. Shame on you.

That prompted Fannie Wolf to respond in the comments:
First they came for my country, but I didn't say anything, because I didn't want to be harassed on Twitter, unlike the thousands of women and people of color who are harassed, bullied, and abused online every day, which I enable and do absolutely nothing to stop.

Resist, insist, persist, and enlist

Hillary Clinton spoke at a business women’s conference with a new mantra: Resist, insist, persist, and enlist. Resist actions that go against our values as Americans. Insist on putting people first, including making healthcare more affordable. Persist by continuing to show that passion of the last few months. Enlist by showing up and getting in the arena.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Obstructionist absolutists

Charles Blow, writing for the New York Times, discusses the GOP failure to pass a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and of the nasty guy’s role in the mess. As part of his discussion Blow wrote:
The loss is likely also the downside of Republican gerrymandering.

In the redrawing of districts following the 2010 census, Republicans created incredibly safe, ideologically pure districts with fewer dissenters. This protected more seats, but it also meant that the people who hold those seats have little to no incentive to ever compromise.

Republicans created hard-line districts that produced hard-line congressmen: obstructionist absolutists are gerrymandering’s political offspring.

These people weren’t elected to govern, but to impede governance. Their mandate isn’t to generate ideas and solve problems by the effective exercise of government. Their singular crusade is that government is ineffective and the solution is to forever see government itself as the problem. Ideas for them are anathema.
Blow notes that after the big defeat the nasty guy blamed Speaker Paul Ryan (the buck stops … somewhere else). The nasty guy tweeted an alert for his base to watch Jeanine Pirro’s show on Fox News in which Pirro savaged Ryan.
However, in the end, this may well be a disastrous move. You don’t throw under the bus one of the only people who would stand between you and members of your own party who may one day be asked to impeach you.

A wounded Ryan might well sit back and watch, as the world consumes Trump.

Independent judiciary

Stephen Henderson is the editorial page editor for the Detroit Free Press. In his editorial about Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch, printed in yesterday’s edition, Henderson talks about Gorsuch’s insistence on judicial independence and what he can do to preserve it.
He spoke eloquently and forcefully during his hearing this week about his disgust over comments that politician make questioning the judiciary’s independence. He said he finds it “disheartening and demoralizing,” and even said he’d have walked out of his interview with President Donald Trump if Trump had asked him to overrule Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling on abortion.

There’s little substantive difference between the things Gorsuch said he detests and the nakedly partisan denial of a hearing for Merrick Garland by GOP senators who supported him in the past. They are both assaults on the independence judges cherish.
Henderson’s suggested that if Gorsuch means what he says he can do something about it: Withdraw his own nomination and demand Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland get the hearing he was denied.

Gorsuch was nominated precisely because of his partisan and conservative views. So…
Even if Gorsuch were to take his seat and be as nonpartisan a reader of the Constitution as possible, his ascension will still have appeased a dastardly injection of raw political whim and ambition into the judiciary.

If he really cares about the independence the judiciary depends upon for credibility and from which the republic draws critical stability, he’ll say he wants nothing to do with any of this.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Two million voters

The nasty guy has approved the Keystone Pipeline, a project his predecessor blocked. He said a lot of things to his base during the announcement. But we know how good he is at not telling the truth.

He trumpeted the pipeline will create 28,000 jobs. The Washington Post says that is more like 10,400 jobs – and they’re seasonal and around only long enough to actually build the pipeline. Permanent full time jobs: 35. And no, I didn’t forget some zeros.

It will, of course, be made with American steel! Um, no. Well, maybe 60% of the steel will be American. The other 40% will be … Russian.

But the pipeline promotes energy independence! It is safer than transporting all that oil by train! Safety and independence would be even better if we promoted energy sources other than fossil fuel. In addition, this is the dirtiest oil and pipelines leak three times more oil than train accidents.

Washington Post headline: “Only 3% of Trump Voters Regret Their Vote.”

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville digs a bit deeper. We can’t tell how that compares to previous presidents because the question hasn’t been asked before. She also says it is misleading. Only? Stating percentage to keep the number low? She did a bit of math: 3% of his voters is 1,889,389. So she has a replacement headline:
Almost Two Million Trump Voters Regret Their Vote Only 60 Days into His Presidency.
And my version of the headline:
The two million people who regret voting for Trump would have made a difference in who won the election.

I’ve been talking about ranking a lot lately. Ranking comes with privilege – those higher in rank get some benefit or privilege from their rank. That can be subtle, such as white men usually don’t have to worry about safety (or they significantly increase the oppression if they are ever made to feel unsafe). But women and people of color have to think about safety all the time – the source of that threat being white men.

McEwan explores another facet of that privilege. Politics works for white men – at least the white men who voted for the nasty guy think it should. The privileged don’t actually have to do anything. Well, maybe vote. Occasionally. Of course, when things don’t get handed to them right now, they get upset. And because of their privilege they believe they aren’t supposed to get upset.

The rest of us know differently. We know we have to show up. We know we have to understand the political process and have to make sacrifices of time, energy, and money. And we know it is going to be a long hard slog.

Last fall we had a candidate who understood the long hard slog. And one who still doesn’t. And because he wants things to happen fast his policies have been a disaster. Fast is in opposition to good policy and good governance.

Younger workers, such as Millennials, are used to the gig economy. Many don’t have full-time jobs with good pay and benefits. They scrounge for jobs, many of which are part-time or are of short duration. Jia Tolentino, writing for The New Yorker, notes that companies that push this part-time work now praise it to the point of praising working yourself to death.
At the root of this is the American obsession with self-reliance, which makes it more acceptable to applaud an individual for working himself to death than to argue that an individual working himself to death is evidence of a flawed economic system. The contrast between the gig economy’s rhetoric (everyone is always connecting, having fun, and killing it!) and the conditions that allow it to exist (a lack of dependable employment that pays a living wage) makes this kink in our thinking especially clear.
Tolentino mentions stories of dedicated workers who walk up to twelve miles to work. One such story splashed across the pages of the Detroit Free Press. But these stories don’t delve into the shameful situation that the worker is paid so poorly he can’t afford the commute or a residence near the suburban job.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Two facts

FBI Director James Comey testified before Congress, revealing the second of these two facts. The first we already knew. Both were important in the couple weeks before the election.

* Comey told the public about Hillary Clinton’s emails and implied she was under criminal investigation.

* Comey did not tell the public that Donald Trump actually was under criminal investigation.

My personal dictionary doesn’t have enough swear words.

With that reveal by Comey there is now a stronger push to delay Supreme nominee Neil Gorsuch. Merick Garland was not considered because he was nominated in the last year of Obama’s year in office. It is much more severe to be nominated while the nasty guy is under criminal investigation. The GOP is beginning to say it is urgent the seat be filled quickly. Sorry, guys, that phrase means nothing after you refused to fill the seat for 9 months. Contact your senators.

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville has no patience for the endless stories of white dudes who voted for the nasty guy and now have buyer’s remorse. She is especially annoyed with the dude who is so upset he stays away from the news.

So, dude, you failed in your civic responsibility because you did not take the time to understand who Clinton is and who the nasty guy is. Both of them displayed their intentions from the start. And for the guy who wants to bury his head in the sand, glad you have enough privilege to be able to do that while the marginalized people around you are being hurt.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Redistricting may be on the ballot

I went into Detroit this afternoon for a presentation by Voters Not Politicians. This is the group that is trying to get a proposal on the ballot in Michigan to have Congressional and state legislature districts drawn up by an independent commission. This would end gerrymandering in the state.

Before the program started I counted 80 people in the room. I looked around later and saw more heads. My rough guess is about 100 people showed up. Delightful news!

After introductions a local woman spoke for a few minutes. She concluded by saying gerrymandering is another form of oppression.

This effort in Michigan was started as the online group Count MI Vote. They discussed issues related to gerrymandering. It now has 2500 members. The official ballot committee grew out of that group and has the name Voters Not Politicians.

The main speaker was Kevin Cross (I think), who is a political science professor of WSU (his office is about a thousand feet from where we were sitting). He is very good at explaining gerrymandering. I’ll repeat some of his lessons, though I’ve written about it before.

Definition: A district is a geographical area marking which residents vote for one member of the House or a body of the state legislature. One district, one member.

Gerrymandering is quite old in America. It started about the first time districts were drawn. The earliest cases we heard about today were after the 1800 census. It is a natural political game. But extremely fine census data and computers allow the effects to be much more severe and no longer a game.

Do you think gerrymandering is good for Michigan? Does it keep your preferred policies in place? Then consider Maryland, severely gerrymandered by and for Democrats. Still think it is a good idea? If it is wrong in Maryland it is wrong in Michigan.

When the professor teaches gerrymandering in his classes he displays a grid of red and blue squares seemingly jumbled together. There are 49 squares, 24 blue and 25 red. The assignment is to draw seven districts, each with seven squares. He showed it was possible to draw one district entirely of red, then draw all the rest with four blue squares and three red. Blue wins 6 districts, red wins 1. He showed another division that gave red 6 and blue 1.

This example shows two concepts – yeah the ideas have been around long enough they have been named: Packing puts as many of your opponents as possible into a small number of districts. That’s the district of all red. Cracking is spreading the remainder of your opponents into as many districts as possible. Those are the other districts where each of the three red were matched by four blue. There is also kidnapping – a rising red politician able to appeal to blue voters has his residence shoved into a red district. And hijacking – two prominent politicians of one party are pushed into the same district.

We were handed another example:

He showed a few examples from the 2011 redistricting in Michigan – made out of Legos! He hasn’t made a couple of the examples out of Legos because they are so spidery they would be too fragile.

This is why all that is bad:
* It deeply affects which party is in power in Washington and in state capitols.
* But you like them in power? It is a fairness issue: If it is bad for Dems in Maryland it is bad for the GOP in Michigan.
* Demographics change. The Greatest Generation is dying out and Millennials are voting. Both parties are beginning to see it is better to have a truce now than be on the other side of vengeance later.
* Manageability and Community. In highly gerrymandered areas your neighbors might not be in your district. Those who are in your district may be a long way away. Your neighbors need to be in the same community of voters.
* Responsiveness. If a district is safe, who do the politicians listen to? Usually not the voters. If they do listen it is to the extreme voters who show up for primary elections. If a district is safe, no need for a candidate to say he is more moderate and able to attract voters from the other party.

What are possible solutions to the problem?

* Court battles. They are proceeding. The Wisconsin case based on partisan (not racial) gerrymandering may reach the Supremes this term on next. In this case the court might accept the mathematical formula now used to show gerrymandering.

In racial gerrymandering cases the courts have demanded maps be redrawn. Strangely, the new districts produce the same lopsided split. In addition, courts can’t prevent bad districts, they can only demand they be changed – usually after an election or two.

* Nicely asking our legislature to pass redistricting laws. That got a laugh in this crowd.

* Ballot resolution. Michigan allows it. But only a constitution amendment prevents the legislature from overriding or tinkering with what the voters say (there are many examples of that in the last decade). Yes, the process is arduous and expensive (as a change to the constitution should be).

The Voters Not Politicians group has filed their intention to start the process. They are an official ballot committee. They have not yet filed the chosen ballot language, which is then displayed on the forms to gather signatures. This group intends to be transparent every step of the way. That includes disclosing donors.

It also means turning to us to help craft the ballot language. There are several open questions.

* Does the proposal say a little or a lot? Long and confusing proposals tend to not get passed. Proposals that cover the minimum tend to get tweaked by the legislature in bad ways.

* Who should serve on the redistricting commission? Michigan does not require voters to list party affiliation, so there is no reliable way to get a balance between parties. Do we allow current or former lawmakers? How about those who have contributed $2,000 or more to a party or campaign in the last five years? Do we choose professors of political science or law? Do we ban lobbyists? How about appointing any registered voter, choosing them in a manner similar to jury duty? Do we balance different regions of Michigan, different races and ethnic groups, or different economic groups? Do we accept applicants and have them write an essay?

* What is the criteria for constructing districts? Compactness? Our professor showed a case where compact districts were still gerrymandered. Consider geographic features? Do we try to keep cities/townships/counties intact? Do we try to make districts competitive? That might require all Detroit districts to be half in the city and half in the suburbs.

Do we try to keep affinity groups together? Do we make sure eastern Dearborn, home to many Arabs, is entirely in one district? How do we define affinity – race, ethnicity, economic group, profession, or religion?

Because I attended I was given a survey to help answer those questions. I was told I shouldn’t share it because they want it filled out only by people who understand gerrymandering, which is available at their presentations. There are still many presentations, including Saginaw on the 21st, Ann Arbor on 23rd, Traverse City on the 24th, Fenton on the 29th, etc. Sometime soon they will do an online presentation.

There are other ways to help. You could donate. They figure $1.5 to $2 million to handle all the legal issues (such as a team to make sure the eventual text doesn’t have any legal holes). They estimate 3,000 volunteers collecting signatures – with that many people each person needs to collect only 10 per week. There are also various committees, such as the one to write the text.

Even if we win this ballot, it won’t quite be then end. The leaders know it will be challenged in court.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Need to strengthen it

I finally saw the movie Rogue One this afternoon. It’s a pretty good addition to the Star Wars saga. There are plenty of action scenes and lots of things get shot at and blown up. It is, at its core, a story about ranking, about the Empire imposing its will on everyone else and backing it up with violence, including violence against whole planets (just don’t get me started on the impossibility of that – why ruin a story?).

I’ve got a few items related to ranking that are an addition to what I wrote yesterday in my long post about how the federal government has entire Cabinet level departments devoted to resisting ranking:

One item slated for the nasty guy’s chopping block is the Community Development Block Grants. Part of that money goes to Meals on Wheels, which delivers meals to homebound seniors. Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget at the White House, said he wants to get rid of programs that don’t work. Meals on Wheels is one that doesn’t work.

Kali Thomas fired back. She is a researcher who did a top quality study in 2015 on Meals on Wheels. She found a statistically significant and better difference in the seniors who had personal contact with someone delivering meals. The program allows seniors to stay in their houses, costing the government far less than housing these seniors in care facilities.

Thomas is one of many people and organizations resisting the nasty guy’s nasty budget.

Brian Kline is a cancer survivor and says Medicaid and its expansion saved his life. He pleaded don’t kick me off. Tom Price, the new Secretary for HHS, said glad to hear Medicaid worked for you, but it is having extreme difficulty meeting everyone’s needs. We need to strengthen the program.

So kicking Kline off Medicaid will “strengthen” it.

My friend and debate partner’s phrase is appropriate here: President Pants-on-Fire.

To with that Medicaid lie, Melissa McEwan of Shakesville asked her readers what healthcare lies are the most annoying.

Her choice: “patient-centered healthcare,” a meaningless phrase, certainly as long as there is a for-profit company in the mix.

Another of her choices: Comparisons of health insurance to things that aren’t health insurance. Do they not know what insurance is?

Themadkansan: None of these guys ever had to choose between gas in the car and getting those stomach pains to a doctor.

Speedbudget: If I just didn’t buy a cell phone I could afford insurance.

Aeryl: They say they don’t want to get between you and your doctor, while legislating all the things a doctor can’t do.

Moseyalong: the ACA is imploding.

RachelB offers a couple: (1) More choices = better choices. (2) Anyone who can’t pay for healthcare probably doesn’t want it very much.

Calinaponisle7: It’s a good plan because it will reduce the deficit.

Rana: If we all did the right thing and were responsible, we’d never need help.

Aqf: Buying insurance across state lines is a good thing. How will a Georgia policy help me if I’m in Connecticut and need surgery?

Tamara Keith of NPR did a piece for All Things Considered pointing out that presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton tried to eliminate Cabinet departments and didn’t succeed. Each department has developed its own constituencies. When their department is threatened they are very good at letting their Congresscritters know exactly what is at stake in their state. That means we should resist the nasty guy’s efforts all the more strongly.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Preserve the federal government

I start with a civics lesson on the federal government. This may be dry reading but there is a reason for the review. We learn in high school that our government is made up of the Congress who makes laws, the Executive who carries out the laws, and the Judiciary who interprets the laws when there is a dispute. I’ll bypass all the checks and balances and focus only on the Executive branch.

That Executive branch is led by the President, currently Mr. Trump (he may hold the title, but he’ll never be my president). He has various people around him to carry out his immediate duties. He has a Cabinet made up of all the department heads who have the title of secretary. The fifteen departments are:

Department of State. It was created in 1789. In 2009 (the year of the data in the above Wikipedia page) it had a budget of $16 billion with nearly 19 thousand employees. The Secretary of State is the president’s principle foreign policy advisor. He and the department advance US objectives and interests around the world through diplomatic means. It negotiates treaties and other kinds of agreements with foreign governments. It coordinates foreign affairs with departments of Defense, Commerce, Homeland Security, and such agencies as the CIA. It protects and assists US citizens living or traveling abroad. It assists US businesses in the international market. It maintains diplomatic offices around the world.

Department of Treasury. Also created in 1789 and had a budget of nearly $20 billion with 166 thousand employees. The department produces all the currency, through its printing office, and coins through the US Mint. It collects taxes and duties, manages the gov’t finances, pays all government bills, and manages the gov’t debt. It supervises the banks and enforces finance and tax laws. The largest department within this department is the Internal Revenue Service.

Department of Defense. Created in 1789 as the Department of War and merged with the Department of Navy in 1947. It had a budget of $651 billion and 3 million employees. This is everything related to the Armed Forces and national security. It is the largest employer in the world.

Department of the Interior, created in 1849. It had a budget of $90 billion with $71 thousand employees. This department manages all federal land, including the National Park Service. It also manages programs related to Native Americans.

Department of Justice was created in 1870. It had a budget of $46 billion with 113 thousand employees. It is responsible for enforcement of law and administration of justice. It runs the Marshall Service; the FBI; the Bureau of Prisons; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF); and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Divisions include Antitrust, Civil Rights, Criminal, Environment and Natural Resources, and Tax.

Department of Agriculture was made part of the Cabinet in 1889. It had a budget of $134 billion with 110 thousand employees. Its areas of responsibility are agriculture, forestry, and food. For agriculture there are programs to help farmers and rural areas. For forestry there is the Natural Resources Conservation Service and US Forest Service. For food there are the Food Safety and Inspection Service, the Center for Nutrition Policy, and the Food and Nutrition Service. The largest budget item under the USDA and FNS is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps).

Department of Commerce, created in 1903. It had a budget of $16 billion and 44 thousand employees. The department is charged with promoting economic growth, technological competitiveness, and sustainable development. Its agencies include the Census, International Trade Administration, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration which includes the Weather Service, the Patent and Trademark Office, the Minority Business Development Agency, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Department of Labor was split off from Commerce in 1913. It had a budget of $138 billion and 17 thousand employees. Its purpose is to foster, promote and develop the welfare of the wage earners, job seekers, and retirees; improve working conditions; and assure work-related benefits and rights. It enforces laws and regulations covering places of work for 10 million employers and 125 million workers. Agencies include Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employees’ Compensation Appeals Board, Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Office of Federal Contract Compliance, Wage and Hour Division, Women’s Bureau, and Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

Department of Health and Human Services, created in 1953. It had a budget of $879 billion and 67 thousand employees. Its goal is to protect health and provide essential human services. The agencies within it include Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, National Institute of Health, Medicare, Medicaid, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, and Indian Health Service. Some of the programs within those departments include financial assistance to low-income families, Head Start, preventing child abuse and domestic violence, substance abuse and treatment, and home-delivered meals for seniors. This department has the largest budget and about 90% goes to Medicare and Medicaid.

Department of Housing and Urban Development, created in 1965. It had a budget of $40 billion and 11 thousand employees. The mission is to create strong, sustainable, inclusive communities and quality affordable homes for all, free from discrimination. Some of the departments are the office of Equal Employment Opportunity, Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, Office of Healthy Homes and Lead Hazard Control, and Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities. The programs include Community Development Block Grants, Section 8 housing, and Federal Housing Administration which regulates mortgage guarantee agencies Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac.

Department of Transportation. Created in 1966 and had a budget of $73 billion with 59 thousand employees. It, of course, deals with the transportation system. Within it are the Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Highway Administration, Federal Railroad Administration, Maritime Administration, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Department of Energy, created in 1977. It had a budget of $24 billion with 109 thousand employees. Its primary responsibility is the safe handling of nuclear material, so it covers the nation’s nuclear weapons and nuclear power generators as well as radioactive waste disposal. It also promotes energy conservation, energy research, and energy production. It runs a system of national laboratories to conduct research into physical sciences. Surprising to me the DOE originated the Human Genome Project.

Department of Education was split off from HHS in 1979. It had a budget of $45 billion with 4 thousand employees. Unlike other countries the DoEd doesn’t actually educate students, doesn’t set curriculum or standards (with No Child Left Behind as a recent exception), doesn’t even do school accreditation. What it does is set guidelines, search for and promote good ideas, keep watch over the education system, and administer Pell Grants, Direct Student Loans, Title I Grants, and money for Special Education programs.

Department of Veterans Affairs, created in 1989. It had a budget of $98 billion with 235 thousand employees. The major components are the Veterans Health Administration which runs the VA hospitals and clinics; the Veterans Benefits Administration which handles Home Loan Guarantee, Insurance, Vocational Rehab and Employment, Education (GI Bill), and compensation and pension; and the National Cemetery Administration.

Department of Homeland Security, created in 2003. It had a budget of $40 billion with 240 thousand employees. It handles antiterrorism, border security, immigration and customs, cybersecurity, and disaster management. It includes the Secret Service, Customs and Border Protection, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Coast Guard, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

There are other government functions not a part of any cabinet, such as the Social Security Administration and NASA. Other functions have an administrator who is considered to have “cabinet rank.” They attend Cabinet meetings, but are not official members (I don’t know what the distinction means). These positions include Trade Representative, National Intelligence, Ambassador to the United Nations, Director of Management and Budget, Director of the CIA, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, and Administrator of the Small Business Administration.

Environmental Protection Agency was created in 1970. Its budget in 2016 was $8 billion with 15 thousand employees. It is not a department with a secretary in the Cabinet, though its administer is usually given cabinet rank. It conducts research and issues regulations to make our shared resources of air, water, and land are as uncontaminated as possible. It also issues regulations over endangered species.

Other entities funded by Congress include the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The president can propose how much it to be spent on them, but doesn’t run them.

Here is a chart of the relative sizes of the Cabinet budgets (based on 2009 data). Yes, the two biggest are Defense and HHS, much bigger than the others.

Yeah, dry reading. Keep in mind the guy who currently oversees all of this is a darling of white supremacists and is a confessed sexual abuser. He is obsessed with ranking.

Ranking is the belief that some people are inherently better and more important than others. Ranking shows up as misogyny, the belief that men are more important than women, and racism, the belief that white people are more important than people of color. Ranking is what drives all forms of bigotry, including straight over gay, Christians over other faiths, skinny over fat, abled over disabled, rich over poor, corporate bosses over workers, and many more.

Ranking is a strong force in both American society and societies around the world. It is so strong we are willing to commit violence and to kill to maintain our rank. We are willing to impoverish ourselves to maintain our rank. This is something effectively done when poor whites support leaders who keep them poor but rationalize that support saying at least they are still better than blacks.

Ranking has thoroughly infused our society. It is taught to our young through all cultural voices. These voices tell some that they are supposed to be on top. The voices tell others they are supposed to be oppressed. Ranking is reinforced through violence – I would even claim that violence is always a sign of the presence of ranking. I’ve written before about ranking and its manifestation of seeking power and how strong it is and why it results in bad behavior. I’ve also discussed ranking through history as documented in the book Chalice and Blade. This book makes two important points. First, there have been thriving societies that were not based on ranking, which means ranking is taught and not necessarily a part of the human experience. Second, if humanity continues to organize around ranking it will likely end in environmental destruction through overpopulation because men still insist women are only for birthing babies.

Trump is obsessed with ranking. Nearly everything I’ve seen him do since he came on the political scene less than two years ago is to enhance his position and the position of his fellow straight, white, Christian males (even if he doesn’t seem to profess Christian beliefs).

With that in mind let’s take another look at some of these government departments.

Department of State. The purpose of the department is peace, or at least the absence of armed conflict. One who is invested in ranking isn’t interested in peace, because that promotes the idea that the adversary is on equal footing. Many have observed that the current State Department doesn’t appear to be fully staffed and running. That has Bruce Bartlett concluding that Trump doesn’t want functioning State Department because he wants to be unable to have a diplomatic solution and must resort to military solutions. As I said, violence is a clear sign of ranking.

Department of the Interior. The purpose of this department, especially the National Park Service, is shared assets, what we as a country declare are spaces to be enjoyed by all, without regard to status. We all own, we all enjoy, we set these spaces aside to preserve their history, beauty, or wildness. We may argue that too much land is in federal hands (87% of Nevada is federally owned) and that is a debate worth having. But many other spaces – Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Zion, and other national parks – need and deserve strong protection. The idea of a shared resource, available to all, is abhorrent to someone obsessed by ranking.

Department of Justice. The name says someone is seeking to right the wrongs of an oppressor – someone who believes in ranking and is asserting rank over them. Consider now the various divisions: Antitrust is about breaking up corporate control when a corporation is asserting its rank over us. Civil Rights, along with voting rights, is about an oppressed group seeking to stop oppression, to stop ranking. But there is also the ATF and Bureau of Prisons. Both have been and easily could be used to enforce ranking.

Department of Agriculture. I don’t know how much their agriculture work is geared towards the small family farm and how much is geared towards big agribusiness. Many of the latter companies drive the smaller farmer out. In that way they support ranking. The forestry work is again managing a common resource. The food work done by the DoA is about keeping the citizen safe from careless food companies. In this case careless means both inattention to problems and not caring about the health of the consumer. The latter, and perhaps both, are a result of ranking. The SNAP program is to give help to the poor, the victims of ranking.

Department of Commerce. A corporate leader probably works closely with the International Trade Administration and the Patent and Trademark Office (though that might be to try to extend their patents and invalidate other company’s patents). As for the Census and Weather Service these are shared resources. We all get weather reports. We can get access to Census data.

Department of Labor. Except perhaps for the Bureau of Labor Statistics this entire department is about defending the worker against the abuse of the corporation. This is entirely about standing up to ranking.

Department of Health and Human Services. Again, most, perhaps all, of this department is about supporting those who are victims of ranking, those least well off.

Department Housing and Urban Development. The Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity is definitely all about combating the effects of ranking. Refusing to rent or sell property to someone because of who they are or what they believe is part of the definition of ranking. The rest of the department is again supporting victims of ranking.

Department of Education. Though it does very little directly, its guidance and tone can influence schools across the country. Obama issues a guidance on how schools should treat LGBT students and schools pay attention (granted, some more than others). Trump rescinds it and schools pay attention and bullying against LGBT people increases. This department can be used to challenge ranking and also enforce it.

FEMA, part of Homeland Security, supports everyone after a disaster, such as a hurricane, flood, or exploding chemical factory.

I’m not going to assess how ranking fits into the Treasury, Transportation, Energy, and Veterans Affairs Departments. It isn’t clear to me how they support or stand up to ranking.

That leaves the Departments of Defense and most of Homeland Security. Enforcement of ranking is the purpose of Defense, as is much of Homeland Security. The last time Defense wasn’t about ranking was maybe the Gulf War (liberation of Kuwait) and before that probably WWII. All other wars and military actions had a strong component of a dominance display. That is ranking. These issues would have been much better resolved with diplomacy – without a component of American dominance – well before the shooting started. I’m sure I’ll hear about how we need to defend ourselves. But most of the people we feel the need to defend against had been on the receiving end of an American dominance display.

Yes, there is a reason for me to review the entire US cabinet and to comment about how departments fit into ranking.

On Monday, March 13 Trump issued an executive order to “improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of the executive branch.” Within 180 days he is to receive a proposed plan that “shall include as appropriate, recommendations to eliminate unnecessary agencies, components of agencies, and agency programs, and to merge functions.” The plan is to include whether the program “would be better left to State or local governments or to the private sector through free enterprise.” It shall also include “whether the costs of continuing to operate an agency, a component, or a program are justified by the public benefits it provides.” Emphasis mine.

After that 180 days comes a public comment period (probably of standard length), then 180 days to create a final plan, including a list of needed legislation.

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville guides me through all that. She notes:
* The primary objective is elimination.

* If it can’t be eliminated, privatize it.

* There are no metrics to assess public benefit.

Who gets to decide whether “public benefit” justifies the cost? Cabinet secretaries who, McEwan reminds us, were chosen “based on their contempt for the agencies they are asked to lead.” They decide.

Look again at my descriptions through the lens of ranking at the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, Education, Interior, Agriculture, FEMA, and State. All, or a large portion, of these departments have the purpose of standing up to those obsessed with ranking. Will a president obsessed with ranking allow them to continue to exist?

As for the Census and Weather service, a corporate leader would likely want to see them privatized – so some company could make a profit from them. This is an aspect of ranking because it takes a common resource out of the common arena, denying its availability to those of lower rank. Would Census data become a corporate asset not to be disclosed except for a price? Would people have to pay for the weather report? If you couldn’t pay would you be told about approaching hurricanes?

Your company is forcing you to work in conditions that might be deadly? Too bad. This new drug is more harmful then helpful? Oh, well. You are shut out of home sales because of who you love? Sorry to hear that. Your city’s police are so racist they would rather shoot than talk to you? Move along, nothing to see. Your school isn’t educating your kids and your state won’t enact reforms? Cry me a river. A name change means your favorite vacation spot is now at “Goldman Sachs Yosemite National Park” and they boosted entrance fees to beyond what you can afford? Try the spa in the Mud Flats. Can’t afford food for your child? Sorry, the SNAP program is gone. You ate tainted spinach? Go away. North Korea is blustering again? We don’t negotiate with enemies.

Here’s a preview: The West Virginia Senate has introduced a bill completely gutting mine safety laws. They say it is good enough to rely on federal safety standards. This is the state where 29 miners died in the Upper Big Branch Mine seven years ago.

And another preview: Trump has submitted his budget to Congress for fiscal year 2018. Congress may adopt it, tweak it, or ignore it (which they did to Obama’s budgets) so a lot may change between now and when the budget is finalized in the fall. Even so, this budget is an indication of what Trump is thinking.

Such as: no funding for National Endowment for the Arts, for the Humanities, Corporation for Public Broadcasting and many other agencies, a 29% cut in State, 31% cut to the EPA, and a 5-20% cut to most departments. All to give a 9% increase to Defense. The increase to Defense looks so small while the cuts look so big because Defense is already much larger than nearly all the others. And – pardon me while I turn off the irony alarm – one agency to be cut entirely for this boost to Defense is the Institute for Peace.

But at least we’ll be saving billions out of the federal budget and our taxes will be lower. Well, not *your* taxes. And maybe not even the rich get a cut for this one. Gotta pay for that wall somehow. And we gotta pour more money into our “depleted” military (never mind it is larger than perhaps the next ten countries combined). Those who obsess over ranking love a big military they can use to settle scores.

So we wait until 2018, or maybe 2020, and elect people to undo the damage? McEwan says that won’t work. Rebuilding agencies will mean tax increases and those are never a popular election strategy. Oh, you mean reset the balance between Defense and the rest? Remember that Defense is the darling of those invested in ranking. They aren’t going to give up easily.

McEwan concludes: “This will be devastating, and its effects will reverberate for a very long time.”

There is a legitimate question here: Why should the federal government be the one to look after the little guy? Because nobody else can – state governments don’t cover the nation and charities can’t meet the need (they can’t do it now). Because volunteer policing is permission to not police. Because the Constitution says, “We the People.”

This post is written by The Crow as a post to the blog A Gay Crows Nest. You have permission and encouragement to forward this to anyone who would appreciate it as a way of resisting the destruction to the federal government. Please always include the links to the sources and the blog where it originated.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Following the leader

Corinne Low, assistant professor at Wharton, has been studying gender differences in communication styles, how men and women negotiate. She did a lot of the data collecting last October and November. She noticed a big change after the election.
On the whole, negotiating partners were more adversarial in their chat-based communication threads. In particular, men were more aggressive when they negotiated with counterparts they knew they were female, using hardball tactics more often.

"Not only was the communication more aggressive, it was also less effective," she said.

How are educators educated?

Lori Duron has a gender creative son. The lad is much more into girl things than boy things. That includes sparkly clothing. In her blog Duron told the story of how her son was bullied in an elementary school bathroom because his male classmates wanted to verify whether he had boy parts or girl parts.

With all the talk about Title IX and its protections for gender expression that led to Obama’s guidance, Duron surveyed educators and administrators in schools across the country asking such questions as: Does your state have laws in place protecting LGBT students? Half didn’t know. What guidance are your administrators providing for treating gender variant students (at least to make sure the school isn’t sued)? 61% said they are given nothing. Does your school make a distinction between general bullying and bullying of LGBT kids? 11% said there is no distinction, even though there are laws that say the two types of incidents should be treated differently. While earning your teaching degree did you learn about state and federal laws that protect LGBT students? Only 12% said yes.

A question for society as a whole: How should our educators be educated about how to treat our kids?

This is why gender non-conforming students feel unsafe in school. This is why some will drop out and others will commit suicide.

They want that

Last week I wrote about ranking, in particular about how the powerful people in America are crafting and executing policies to make sure their position at the top cannot be challenged. Part of the reason for those policies is because around 2042 America is likely to no longer be white majority. For those who rank white people over all others this must be prevented.

One way this is playing out is through the nasty guy’s travel ban and increased efforts to deport illegal (non-white) immigrants. I’ve heard there is also a push in Congress to restrict legal immigrants, likely the most restrictions for immigrants from non-white countries. All part of the same plan.

Another facet of this was a tweet from GOP Rep. Steve King of Iowa, which said in part: “We can’t restore our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” Notice who is meant by our civilization and somebody else’s babies. Though many GOP lawmakers dismissed the comment with, “Oh, that’s just Steve being Steve,” I recognize their dismissal as agreement. King was challenged by others and doubled down, “I’d like to see an America that’s so homogenous that we all look the same.” Many a dystopian novel has this plot.

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville digs into those vile comments to explain how ranking – in this case white supremacy – influences other policies.

The white birth rate in America has been falling. Educated white people tend to understand that overpopulation is a global menace or they sense a general scorn of big families, so limit their numbers. Poor white people understand they can afford only so many kids.

So how to raise the birth rate?

* Restrict abortion. Make sure those white women produce more white babies.

* Praise large families, such as the Quiverfull movement (God is pleased by lots of kids) and the huge white broods, such as the Duggars, shown on conservative TV.

Well, yeah, restricting abortion also restricts abortion for black and brown women too. The GOP hasn’t yet figured out how to make restrictions on only white women palatable to voters. So this is where other GOP policies play out.

People of color are more likely to live near factories and other sources of pollution, which affects their health and longevity. And the nasty guy is compounding the problem by slashing funding for the EPA and its environmental protections, including environmental justice programs like removing lead from water systems – has the lead removal program in Flint been properly funded yet?

Men of color are have a much higher incarceration rate. This is both a way of asserting raking over them and a way of keeping them from producing babies of color.

I concluded long ago – and I’ll say it plainly now – when the GOP and other supporters of white supremacy and ranking in general fail to meet a desperate need, they *want* that outcome.

Detroit schools a mess? They want that.

Flint unable to replace lead water lines? They want that.

The Congressional Budget Office has issued its assessment of the GOP health insurance plan: 24 million will lose insurance over the next decade and 52 million without insurance by 2056. Substantial premium hikes for older people, significant slashes to Medicaid (which allows them to trumpet that they will be decreasing the federal deficits by $337 billion over ten years).

Zoe Clark and Rick Pluta of Michigan Radio note that the new GOP representative from northern Michigan is in a bind. This region went strongly for the nasty guy but it has the highest per-capita enrollment on Michigan’s Medicaid expansion. Fulfill your promise and your supporters lose insurance. Somebody is going to be angry no matter what he does.

Crafting a health insurance plan that dumps a lot of poor and likely a lot of elderly and causing a lot of pain and death? They want that.

Insufficiently funded social safety net? They want that.

Making higher education unaffordable to all but the wealthy and white middle class? They want that.

A financial system that preys on the poor? They want that.

Refusing to provide child care so a woman can’t work? They want that.

Refusing to provide adequate public transportation so the poor can get to jobs? They want that.

Refusing to keep infrastructure in good repair? They want that.

Trashing the EPA so we aren’t protected from substances that harm us? They may say the want to remove regulation to boost job creation. Don’t believe them. They want that.

An overburdened jail system filled primarily with people of color? They want that.

Blocking policy to lessen climate change? They want that.

Another way to say all this: The GOP is so bound to ranking they are willing to poison people, including themselves; allow people to die of preventable diseases; impoverish other people; let people languish in jail; and even damage the climate, which also affects themselves as well as the world. Ranking is that strong.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Solving the Electoral College

After last November’s election there was a lot of talk about the inequalities of the Electoral College, how the less populous states carry more weight because they have more representation per citizen in the EC. Back in November I wrote:
The more uneven our population is distributed, the more the EC favors lower population states. Every state gets two senators and at least one representative. Thus all states have at least 3 EC votes. Wyoming is one of those with 3 EC votes. At the other end of the spectrum, California has 55 EC votes. If Wyoming’s ratio of population to EC vote were to match the same ratio in California, then Cali should have perhaps 198 EC votes (by my calculation based on 2010 census data). The EC favors rural states.

Neil Freeman inverted the problem by creating a map that redraws the state boundaries so that all of them have the same size population and thus the same EC votes. In this case, based on 2010 census data, each state would have 6.1 million people. The states for Los Angeles, the Bay area, Chicago, and other big cities don’t cover much territory, and there isn’t enough detail to tell if New York City is divided between states.

This image is posted on Mental Floss, where you can study a big version.

The situation at the other end of population density stands out. The region from eastern Washington to the Dakota-Minnesota border, from the Sierra Nevada mountains to the middle of Oklahoma, from the middle of Arizona north to the Canadian border – an area that covers all of eight states and good chunks of eight more – would be only three states in this new map.

Yeah, Texas would be divided into four states, with parts in three others. But California would be divided into six.

Soon after we moved into the family home fifty years ago a USA map and a world map were displayed on the wall in the dining area. For about 15 years we drew the routes of family vacations on the USA map. It is still in the house (something I’ll have to attend to soon), though not on the wall. Dad or Sister put up new maps when Niece was young. The advantage of the current maps is one can draw on them and wipe them off. For a while Sis had drawn alternate state boundaries (Cape Cod really should be a part of Rhode Island), but then wiped them off because they looked too weird. Even so, I’ve thought of drawing another set of alternate borders – pay no attention to the mighty rivers, straighten up the stacking of the western states, draw a straight line up the spine of the Appalachian Mountains, and get rid of the meandering pieces of West Virginia and Maryland.

So I study Freeman’s map and want to tweak borders. Why have one state down the east coast of Florida and another down the west? Why not spread them across the peninsula, making them more compact? Why make the state of Gary wrap entirely around the state of Chicago, including both Elkhart and Milwaukee? Are there borders that could be made straighter, especially north of Phoenix? What criteria did Freeman use to put boundaries where he did? I’d enjoy an afternoon (or a week) playing with such a map program.

Steadfast perseverance

I finally saw the movie Hidden Figures this afternoon. That’s the one following the careers of three black women, Mary Jackson, Katherine Goble Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughan, at NASA in the early 1960s as America prepared to launch men into space. The basic plot is simple: These women, through steadfast perseverance, overcome discrimination. There is little doubt where this will end. Even so, it is a joy to watch them do it. I highly recommend the film.

I’ll mention one such scene. The women of the colored computer department are one group that did hand calculations for every mathematical need. A new computer machine is installed – an early IBM – and it is Dorothy who figures out how to make it work (Dad might have known this model and scoffed at the way it portrays IBM customer support as incompetent). Dorothy teaches herself a programming language by borrowing (though probably without proper check-out procedures) a book from the white section of the library. The colored section, of course, didn’t have such books. Dorothy shows enough skill she is named supervisor of the new department and turns all her human computers into programmers. She leads a grand parade from their old offices to the new computer room.

After watching a movie I usually visit International Movie Database to read about a movie’s trivia, goofs, and quotes. This one, alas, had many goofs and I caught one of them. Many of the goofs are cars from the wrong year (1964 and later for a movie set in 1961 and ‘62). Others are the computer printer making 1970s noises, the new computer delivered wrapped in stretch wrap, business men without the buzz cuts of the era, and no tobacco in the offices (though I’m glad of this one).

The one I caught was a part of John Glenn’s flight at the end of the movie. There is lots of discussion about a go/no-go decision point and Katherine is instrumental in the computations around it, even coming up with the math to make it happen. Glenn’s flight is apparently held up until Katherine confirms which set of numbers from the computer is correct (that verification happened weeks before the flight, not when Glenn is about to climb into the capsule). This is the one I caught: The movie portrays the go/no-go moment as just before splashdown. It doesn’t make sense there. A go/no-go decision means someone can abort something and there is nothing to abort then. The real go/no-go decision is when Glenn must decide to fire the rockets for re-entry on this orbit or wait until the next.

Through the movie there are confrontations between Dorothy and her white supervisor Vivian. The big issue is that Dorothy is doing the work of a supervisor and not getting the recognition and pay of a supervisor. Towards the end of the movie Vivian says, “Despite what you may think, I have nothing against y’all.” Dorothy responds, “I know, I know you probably believe that.” I understood Dorothy. If Vivian meant that she would have fought for Dorothy and her team. Instead, by her inaction Vivian supported the institutional racism.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Left the question unanswered

Gavin Grimm is a transgender boy who sued his Virginia high school for access to the boy’s bathroom. The case has already been through the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. That court looked at the Obama guidance on the treatment of transgender students and sided with Grimm. The school appealed to the Supremes with a primary question before the court: Does Title IX and its prohibitions on discrimination on the basis of sex apply to transgender students?

Rulings related to Title IX appear to indicate that it does apply to transgender students. These rulings include such things as protecting women who don’t look “feminine enough.” The Obama guidance pulled all this together to present to schools, partly as a way to help them avoid Title IX lawsuits.

The Supremes accepted the case and scheduled oral arguments for March 28. LGBT rights organizations, including Equality Michigan, scheduled rallies for that date. The EQMI rally will be at the Capitol.

But on Monday the Supremes changed their minds. They canceled their hearings and sent the case back to the Fourth Circuit along with the instruction that while their reasoning was based on the Obama guidance the nasty guy has since rescinded that guidance. Do it over.

This is a quick consequence of the nasty guy’s actions.

The question about whether Title IX protects transgender students remains unanswered, at least for now. There is another such case coming to the Supremes soon. But transgender activists are concerned whether a window might be closing as the nasty guy nominates justices to the Supremes and other courts.

Within three days of the nasty guy’s rescinding of the Obama guidance a Title IX panel discussion was held at the Affirmations LGBT Center in Ferndale. They reviewed the Obama guidance and the legal cases that inform it. All this is a reminder that Title IX is still in effect – the nasty guy can’t rescind that. Of course, there still needs to be an ultimate ruling on whether Title IX applies to transgender people, on which the Supremes just punted. At least until then schools can be sued for violating Title IX.

The Michigan State Board of Education issued its own guidance last September, a bit before Obama did. This isn’t affected by what the nasty guy did and, for now, can’t be rescinded. The state Board of Education has four Dems and four GOP and needs five votes to do anything. Things can’t get worse, but can’t get better.

The rally at the Capitol on March 28 is still a go. Want to join me?

Jackson, MI

The city council of Jackson, Michigan passed a local non-discrimination ordinance protecting LGBT people on Feb. 7. It is one of perhaps 40 cities and townships in the state to pass such an ordinance. East Lansing, home of Michigan State University was the first and did so way back in the mid 1970s! These local ordinances are because the GOP controlled state legislature has refused to expand the state civil rights laws to include LGBT people. I’m pleased to hear this happened in Jackson, which is much more conservative than East Lansing.

It took our opponents only about three weeks to gather 700 signatures to block the ordinance. And, of course, to get those signatures they were not truthful. Only 342 signatures were needed, about 1% of the population. The city council must now decide whether to put the ordinance on the August ballot or drop it entirely.

Our allies are hopeful, citing these events:

* 676 people showed up at the city council meeting to support the ordinance when it was passed. They gave testimony for five hours.

* Over 125 showed up at a rally last Sunday to recruit campaign volunteers and supporters. The rally ended with a walk around downtown as a thank you to the city for its support for the ordinance.

Vindictive instead of compassionate

Health care is supposed to be about compassion. The GOP proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act sounds vindictive and not compassionate. The GOP men (of course) keep opening their mouths to prove that point. Melissa McEwan of Shakesville kindly gathered all this nonsense together in one place.

Over the past few days Republican men have shown how clueless they are about healthcare policy. Please use their words against them in defeating the currently proposed bill (and all attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act)

Rep. Jason Chaffetz of Utah compared buying health insurance to buying a new iPhone, suggesting some people should give up the iPhone for the health insurance. Some people don't have the money for either.

Rep. Mark Meadows of North Carolina said everyone can get healthcare at the emergency room, but that doesn't cover chronic illness or preventative care, doesn’t help with terminal illness or disability, and is a good way to bankrupt hospitals.

Press Secretary Sean Spicer refused to say how many people would lose insurance.

Speaker Paul Ryan gave an elaborate power point presentation on the plan, but doesn't know or doesn't care how insurance works, that the premiums of the healthy pay for the treatment of the sick.

Rep. John Shimkus of Illinois was upset that men would have to pay for prenatal care. He doesn’t think his wife should be healthy while pregnant with his kids?

Rep. Roger Marshall of Kansas insulted poor people by insisting they don't want health care and won't care for themselves.

The GOP should not be in charge of healthcare. Of course, some of us believe the GOP should not be in charge of anything.


Yesterday I went to The Ringwald, a theater in Ferndale. That also gave me a chance to visit the book exchange at Affirmations LGBT Center, where I returned a couple books, donated several more, and took three to read. Ferndale is a pleasant town to walk around except yesterday was quite cold (very much a concern for those who still don’t have power from last Wednesday’s wind storm).

At The Ringwald I saw the play Hand to God. Margery recently lost her husband and is leading a puppet class for teens at the church. Her son Jason is in the class and is becoming quite good at operating his puppet, named Tyrone. Tyrone seems to be defying Jason, taking on a life of his own. And Tyrone isn’t a pleasant person. Is Tyrone a part of Jason’s way of working through grief and negotiating his way into manhood? Or is Tyrone demonically possessed? The latter seems quite possible.

Joshua Daniel Palmer is the young actor playing Jason/Tyrone. Palmer speaks the lines of both characters and does not attempt to be a ventriloquist, though he does change his voice. He is also quite good at manipulating the arms of the puppet to gesture the same way a person would. He did an excellent job. Rounding out the characters are Timothy and Jessica, two other teens in the class, and Pastor Greg, who is puzzled why Margery doesn’t jump into his bed.

The show plays at The Ringwald through Monday. Yes, another time when I’m seeing a show in its last weekend.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Ranking is a strong force

I recently wrote a lot about ranking, both in my report on the book “Chalice and Blade” and in my discussion of my values. Ranking is the belief that some people are more important than others – men over women, whites over blacks, rich over poor, Christian over Muslims, straight over gay and trans, skinny over fat. That list of how we rank each other is quite long.

As I look at what is going on in Washington I see practically everything (at least everything the GOP is doing) is being done to impose or maintain a system of ranking. That leads to the question: Why does maintaining rank spur so much passionate effort?

We are taught ranking from a young age, starting with designating some toys for boys and some for girls. Woe to the child who wants to play with the other kind of toys! Nearly all of our society (in America and across the world) reinforces and maintains ranking. I see this leading to bad behavior in four ways.

* A person (usually a young white man) is promised the privileges of ranking and discovers those benefits forever outside his grasp. This includes the teen that is told women should be falling at his feet yet sees the young women around him scorn his advances. It also includes the white working class men who, we are told, were instrumental in electing the nasty guy. When this difference between promise and reality becomes glaringly obvious the person will seek to maintain ranking and may strike out in violence.

* The 1%, even the 0.1%, the people at the top of society who have more money than they know what to do with. But they see their position of top dog as being threatened. Their country is being overrun with people of color so perhaps in a mere 25 years whites will no longer be in the majority. Their Christian religion (at least their version of it) is no longer the de facto religion of the nation. So they influence government and engineer policies so that other people, especially other types of people, are never able to challenge their top dog status. An example of this is the Koch brothers. They are among the richest men in the country (and likely world), yet they back the worst of the efforts to pull money from the poor and into the hands of the already rich.

* Those who have long been oppressed and seek to flip the ranking and become the oppressors, to seek vengeance on those who oppressed them. The Islamic State is an example of this. I note that most people who are oppressed don’t want to become the oppressors. They don’t want to flip the ranking, they want to end ranking. Martin Luther King and his non-violence movement is an example. Those who want to maintain ranking frequently accuse those who want to end ranking of actually wanting to become oppressors. Those on top feel attacked when they aren’t allowed to enforce their ranking.

* Those who want to maintain their position in the ranking by supporting and carrying out the ranking declared by leaders. This includes everything from the politician carrying out the desires of the 1% to the person in the grocery store putting up with oppression of farm workers so that their food prices stay low. This part of maintaining ranking may not draw the passions of the others, but it is much more pervasive. It is so pervasive that unless you are poor you have a financial interest in maintaining oppression of the poor.

Systems of ranking are particularly strong in America because, I think, the colonizers were steeped in ranking. The Puritans were fleeing religious ranking, yet when they settled here they imposed their own religious ranking. Many English and other European middle class were served by those ranked beneath them, so felt they were supposed to be served once they set up life in America – and instituted slavery.

I see that ranking is a strong force in the human species. We are willing to commit violence and even kill to maintain our rank – violence is an indication that ranking – power – is what is going on. The latest GOP plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act will push millions off insurance, resulting in the deaths of many. That’s OK to the GOP leadership because this is about ranking. As I said, a great deal of what the GOP is doing is about ranking.

The antidote to ranking is simple in concept, but hard to do in practice: build an inclusive community, one that includes the oppressor.

School choice for a black man

From a week ago, at the end of Black History Month: The nasty guy met with presidents of Historically Black Colleges and Universities. From what I’ve heard of the visit the schedule was fudged so that the nasty guy got a photo op out of it (see who is supporting me!) and no actual discussion happened.

The visit prompted Betsy DeVos to make a statement about how these colleges represent her dream of school choice.

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville puts that into perspective:
When black Mississippian James Meredith chose the “option” of enrolling at the University of Mississippi in 1962, a massive white mob formed on the campus; two people were shot to death and hundreds injured in the ensuing battle/riot, during which federal marshals came under heavy gunfire, requiring the ultimate intervention of 20,000 U.S. soldiers and thousands more National Guardsmen.
School choice? Not for Meredith.

McEwan quotes Carlton Waterhouse, law professor at Indiana University:
Busing, magnet schools, theme schools, home schooling and now vouchers and charter schools have largely been embraced because so many white parents find educational environments with too many African-American and Latino students unsuitable for their children. This unspoken belief that African-American and Latino children threaten the moral and intellectual development of other children has a strong emotional power that drives public education in America.
DeVos is “praising” the HCBUs as she is pushing policies to further segregate our schools, so that white parents have the choice of not educating their children with black children. And the choices of black parents?

McEwan links to an article by Jeremy Herb and Bryan Bender of Politico saying the nasty guy will fund his efforts of hiring lots more ICE agents to deport all those illegal immigrants by making deep cuts to the Coast Guard and airport and rail security. This defies logic when the nasty guy speaks of safety in every other breath. McEwan notes: “That's because the objective isn't actually safety. It's white supremacy.”

Online and electricity

Southeast Michigan was hit by a windstorm yesterday, supposedly winds hit hurricane strength. The local electric companies said something like 900,000 were without power due to downed power lines and poles. They are saying this is the worst power outage on record.

As one who lived through the massive outage in August 2003 I disagree.

Perhaps the power companies mean it is the most complicated? The 2003 event was a small number of very important things that went wrong and a small number of things that needed to be fixed. This time a very large number of things need to be fixed.

The outage included my house. I had lunch with my friend and debate partner. When I returned home after 3:00 the electricity was out. Not a big deal, other than not being able to spend time on my computer. I left at 4:30 for my evening at the Ruth Ellis Center (they didn’t lose electricity). I was back home after 9:30 to a couple hours in the dark. I pulled out my stash of candles and read by candlelight. I was in bed a bit early and did not read as I usually do.

I awoke at 2:30 to my bedside clock flashing. I fiddled with it enough to make it stop flashing. At 6:30 my phone rang. I let it go to the answering machine (nobody has a reason to call that early). It was the electric company calling with an update, saying if I had been given an estimated time for restored power it would probably be delayed. Another update call came at 4:30 this afternoon, saying repairs would go on into the weekend. News reports this evening say it may be Monday before the last home has power.

I fared pretty well.

I wanted to call the electric company to report the outage, not because I thought they didn’t know (my whole street was out), but so that I might get an estimated restoration time and could plan accordingly. But I didn’t have the phone number. The phone book now delivered to my door listed a couple suburban offices for the electric company, neither of which answered the phone. I get online bills so couldn’t look at one for a phone number. I had to wait for the power to come on before finding the phone number, which I wrote down for some future time.

Having access to everything online means one must have electricity to access everything.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Integrity over strategy

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville says she hears a lot about how Democrats need to do more to reach out to those who voted for the nasty guy. She’s not buying it.
The last two Republican presidents (Bush and Trump) only won because of extraordinary circumstances. If Republicans can't win without a hanging chad or a meddling Vlad, I fail to see why I should be more concerned with *strategy* than I am with *election integrity*.

I am very concerned indeed with the integrity of our elections.

That includes, but is not limited to: Voting rights, voting accessibility, voter purges, felony restrictions on voting, prisoner disenfranchisement, machine tampering, gerrymandering, foreign meddling, and responsible journalism that centers policy.

The best strategy in the world, no matter one's opinion on what that may be, isn't going to win elections if they're corrupt.

A recent report on Michigan Radio was about gerrymandering. A new group has formed in Michigan, Voters Not Politicians, with the aim of getting a proposal on the ballot in 2018 to amend the state constitution to put redistricting into the hands of a nonpartisan commission.

In another Michigan Radio segment their senior political analyst, Jack Lessenberry, explains what is wrong with the redistricting process and why a constitutional amendment is the only possible solution. In a third segment, Kate Wells explains the daunting task in getting such an amendment passed. The group needs to gather more than 315,000 signatures within a six month block of time. The group also needs millions of dollars to get the signatures and to campaign for passage.

Back in October of 2015 I wrote about attending a League of Women Voters information session about gerrymandering. At the time the LWV said they do not have the manpower or financial backing to run the petition drive and campaign. Sometime after that I heard there was another issue – the huge amount of voter education necessary for such a drive to succeed. Such an education effort would need to tell voters what gerrymandering is, why it matters, and why their signature and vote are important. Gerrymandering is not something the typical voter experiences. Citizens understand bad roads and bad schools, but it takes a bit of meandering logic to explain bad roads and bad schools are caused by gerrymandering.

I went to the Voters Not Politicians website. This page is pretty good at explaining what is involved. At the bottom is a calendar listing their upcoming information sessions around the state. The closest suburban sessions are on dates I can’t attend, though I put the session to be held at the Detroit Public Library on my calendar.

I also looked at the volunteer page. I’m not sure I want to gather signatures, though I will at least get the signatures of many of you. There are other ways I could serve. I think this is a way (likely one of many) I can resist the nasty guy’s agenda. We may not succeed. Even if we don’t I’m sure by the time we’re done the citizens of the state will know more about gerrymandering and its harms

Diplomatic solution

Leah McElrath of Shareblue notes there are 118 positions in the State Department that require Senate confirmation. The nasty guy has nominated someone for only 7 of those positions.

McElrath also notes the nasty guy has asked for an additional $54 billion for the Defense Department.

Nahal Toosi of Politico reports that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson appears to be missing. He is doing very little of the public tasks that a Sec. State normally does. Toosi also notes that the boost for the Defense budget will mean a 37% cut to the combined budget of State and US Agency for International Development.

Julia Ioffe of The Atlantic offers a look into the State Department. There is supposed to be a daily briefing so that other gov’t departments and ambassadors around the world know diplomatic priorities. These aren’t happening and diplomats are getting very little guidance. Career staffers, the ones not politically appointed, usually spend their days coordinating with other federal departments. They used to think leaving by 10 pm was a good day. Now they leave by 5:30 pm after doing very little all day. Want a meeting? How about now?

One reason is it seems the nasty guy is relying on his son-in-law Jared Kushner for all international dealings. A State employee remarks that it looks like several developing countries where the ruling family knows everything and the official equivalent of the State Department knows nothing.

Ioffe also notes Tillerson isn’t sharing much administration news with those under him. They wonder if he has been cut off from the White House. Tillerson doesn’t appear to be eager to hear from those under him. Too much paperwork?

McElrath points to this conclusion from Bruce Bartlett: The nasty guy is doing this so that when an international incident arises he is unable to have a diplomatic solution and must use the military.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Our history

I finished watching When We Rise, Dustin Lance Black’s eight-hour recreation of the LGBT civil rights struggles. I previous gave a summary of the Monday night episode here.

Wednesday night’s episode began in 1977.

I’ve heard of this kind of thing, but didn’t know gay men had adopted it. A gay man runs past, blowing loudly on a whistle. As he is cornered by men wanting to bash him many other gay men show up, including Cleve Jones. They threaten the attackers and bash their car. When police show up Cleve says something like, “We’d like you to give these men a ride in your car, like you used to do to us, though we actually have a reason.”

In 1977 Roma works to get the Women’s Building (no men’s room there) up and running. Cleve works to get Harvey Milk elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

At the same time Anita Bryant is a major force in overturning an LGBT protections law in Miami, prompting the overturn of similar laws in a couple other cities. That fight comes to California in the form of the Briggs Amendment, which said anyone doing any kind of advocacy for homosexuality could be fired from a teaching job. This included straight people advocating for LGBT people. Cleve and Roma unite their teams to campaign against and defeat Briggs, the first time that kind of law had been blocked.

Diane becomes pregnant with donated sperm and wants to raise the baby with Roma. It takes Roma a while to accept the idea.

The next chapter is 1981 and the start of the AIDS epidemic. This takes up much of the Wednesday and Thursday episodes. Ken loses his partner Richard. Because the home is in Richard’s name Ken becomes homeless and starts using drugs. He goes to the VA center for treatment. He has a hard time in his group therapy sessions because the leader pushes them to be honest, but doesn’t want the HIV-positive veterans to talk about being gay.

Cleve and his partner Ricardo find out they are both HIV-positive. Because Cleve is important to the community he gets early access to the drugs, though most of the early ones don’t work. Ricardo goes home to visit family. While there he decided he doesn’t want to face end-stage AIDS and commits suicide – at about the time Cleve gets medication that does work.

The AIDS Quilt is displayed in Washington and the Clintons take a lunch break to see part of it. Cleve challenges them to offer more help to the LGBT community to undo the harm of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and Defense of Marriage.

Annie is the daughter of Diane and Roma. In high school she struggles with having two moms. Diane and Roma put her in a Catholic school. The nuns don’t have a problem with lesbian moms – or that Annie’s father is a gay man – but they do want conformity from Annie, who learns to navigate giving the nuns what they want while keeping her own unique spirit.

The Friday episode begins in 2008 with the election of Obama – and the passage of Prop 8, in which the voters of California ban gay marriage. Cleve advocates for more inclusive civil rights laws, though is eventually won over by Chad Griffin and his effort to take same-sex marriage to the Supreme Court. Most of this episode is about that case, including a reenactment of the District Court case and the poor showing from the anti-gay side.

Roma is now a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. She helps bring about universal health care in the city. After Annie has a baby and decides to marry her boyfriend, in spite of her mothers’ insistence that the institution of marriage should be abolished, Diane and Roma become engaged.

After leaving treatment at the VA Ken gets involved in a church, one that insists in order to be rebaptized he must renounce his prior life. His allegiance shifts to another congregation that meets in the same building that is much more welcoming. By the end Ken becomes a pastor in that church, able to perform wedding ceremonies for same-sex couples as soon as the Supreme Court permits it.

I have one complaint about this last episode. It implies the Supreme Court cases to overturn Defense of Marriage and to permit same-sex marriage were argued and announced almost simultaneously. They were actually a year apart and the text of the ruling that overturned Defense of Marriage was used in a string of state cases that permitted same-sex marriage, which made the outcome of the Supreme Court case much more likely.