Friday, April 20, 2018

We don’t do coups

Lately when I’ve written about the latest nasty thing our government is doing I’ve been trying to carefully say “the GOP and its backers” or something similar. I try to get across that these financial backers are a large part of what is driving the meanness in the GOP.

The March-April issue of The Hightower Lowdown by Jim Hightower fills in the details, or at least as many details as he can in five pages. I’m not linking directly to the article because a subscription to the print edition of the Lowdown doesn’t also let me see the online articles.

This issue is a continuation of what he wrote about in February (and I discussed here) about how the Koch brothers are diligent in their dismantling of democracy. Some of the response Hightower got from that issue is, “This is America. We don’t do coups.”

So Hightower relates the tale of a coup attempt against FDR. Wall Street Bankers were upset that in 1933 Roosevelt raised taxes on them to pay for programs to assist the poor. They hired a general to lead an army of disaffected veterans from WWI to march on Washington. But instead of rallying the troops the general took his evidence to Congress, and they investigated. Though Congress issued a report confirming what the general claimed, bankers denounced him and the whole thing was omitted from history books.

But, Hightower says, the coup (way past an attempt) by the Koch brothers is much different. They have been patient – they’ve been working on this for 40 years. A lot of their early moves were quiet with a variety of names behind them. This effort is vast. And they didn’t fire a shot – instead they bought the GOP. That wasn’t a stretch for them. The combined wealth of David and Charles Koch is $122 billion.

Their goal is simple. Property – both existing wealth and the means to get it – is sacrosanct and cannot be restricted by a majority. Put in terms of ranking, their property is more important than you. That means We the People can neither tax the rich nor set rules they must follow, rules such as how to treat workers, consumers, the environment, and society as a whole. This goal is definitely an attack on democracy.

Alas, their arrogance has been amazingly and frighteningly successful.

Towards the big goal the Koch brothers and their rich allies have interim goals: eliminate limits on political spending, suppress voting rights, kill off labor unions, eliminate the right to sue corporations, rip up the social safety net, eliminate regulations, use state laws to prevent undesirable local laws, gerrymander, and pack courts. Which is pretty much everything we’ve been seeing the GOP do over the last few decades.

The Koch brothers have been accomplishing this with a wide array of foundations, think tanks, PACs, and various other ways to funnel cash and misdirect us from the source. They fund the Tea Party and similar groups. They have been donating to higher education with strings attached to push teachings of corporate conservatism. They’ve prompted high school classes, such as “Ethics, Economy, and Entrepreneurship” now being taught in Arizona (one guess to what their ethics are like). The National Federation of Independent Businesses, supposedly to help the little guys, has been subverted to help the big ones. They fund the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that creates model bills to be passed by controlled state legislatures. They get their names on museums to convince us they aren’t the bad guys. They fund advocacy groups such as the NRA and climate deniers. They became top sponsors of the PBS science show *Nova*. They fund and push court challenges to inconvenient laws. Their reach is vast. Hightower calls it the Kochtopus.

I’ve heard some laments if only Hillary Clinton were president! I’m now convinced that her presidency would have been stymied at least as Obama’s was and the GOP would have taken up its push to end democracy after her four or eight years. She could have only delayed what the Koch brothers are doing.

Legislation by ambush

I spent the middle of my day today in training for being a presenter for the Voters Not Politicians campaign to end gerrymandering in Michigan. I was a presenter while signatures were gathered last fall. Now we’re gearing up for the election so the emphasis is a bit different, some slides in the presentation improved, others discarded. I need to come up with a brief non-partisan introduction of myself, saying why I volunteered. So, the presenter team is ready to go. If you’re in Michigan, please invite us to one of your events or meetings.

In other gerrymandering news…

I’ve written about the case in Pennsylvania where the state Supreme Court declared the maps to be unconstitutional. Since the GOP refused to redraw the maps the Court hired a consultant to do it. These maps will be used for the elections in 2018 and 2020.

But the GOP isn’t done in PA.

A bill had been introduced to amend the state constitution to create an independent redistricting commission, similar to what we are working towards in Michigan. There was a bipartisan majority in the state House that supported it, but (as we would expect) the GOP leadership blocked it from getting a vote.

The next move was legislation by ambush. That bill was pulled apart and replaced with one that allows the majority party to name a majority of the commission’s members. In addition, the governor would not be allowed to veto the maps (the current governor is Dem). It was voted on without debate. This punctured the reform effort.

To actually become part of the constitution this bill will have to be approved by the legislature again after the 2018 election, then go before voters.

On to North Carolina. The US Supreme Court affirmed a lower court ruling saying that 28 of the state’s 170 legislative districts had violated the Constitution by diminishing the power of black votes. This is one problem with hoping for the courts to fix bad maps – these were maps drawn in 2011 and the maps are only being redrawn now.

And another problem with the court solution is that the GOP got to redraw the maps. And while they fixed the racial problems they used the chance (otherwise not available until after 2020) to strengthen the GOP advantage in other districts. The Democrats filed a challenge. The state court judges said we agree with you, but the next election is already underway.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Torment forever or mercy forever?

There’s a new movie, Come Sunday, on Netflix about Evangelical bishop Carlton Pearson. I haven’t seen it and don’t have a subscription to Netflix. But Pearson was on Sunday’s All Things Considered and the movie’s creators were on The 1A, both on NPR. A few things caught my interest.

Pearson is a fourth-generation preacher. He led a church in Tulsa, OK with attendance near 5,000. A Big Deal. But he got stuck on a central piece of the Evangelical message: the reason for believing was to avoid damnation and hell. He thought this message was wrong. Hadn’t Jesus already died for the sins of the world? Isn’t it better to invite people into to church by saying they’re already safe with God? Invite them in with love instead of fear.

That change in direction is the subject of the movie. It includes the reactions of the associate pastors, Pearson’s mentor, the choir director, and the congregation. Later, Pearson is declared a heretic.

Henry, one of the associates, asks Pearson what if you’re wrong? What if there really is a hell and we are responsible for sending people there?

In the All Things Considered interview Pearson answers that question.
We are dealing with at least 2,000 years of entrenched indoctrination - at least 2,000 with Christianity, 6,000 if you include Judaism. The concept, though, of a God who has terrible anger-management problems - freaks out with these tantrums, and throws earthquakes, and volcanoes, and tsunamis, and cancer and AIDS on people is a very frightening presupposition.

It worried me for years - not the love of God, not the cross of calvary, but that eternal torment, not just punishment that you eternally, while mercy endures forever - we love to quote that scripture. His mercy endures forever. How can mercy endure forever and torment endure forever? One would cancel out the other. And I believe that I'm actually trying to correct the thinking of my people - God's people, the Christian church, Judeo-Christian ethics - change our belief about a God who is angry and who we need Jesus to protect us from. Now, that's radical. It's revolutionary, and it's evolutionary.

In the 1A discussion (I don’t have a transcript to quote) we hear about Reggie the choir director who is gay. Those discussing the movie appreciate that Pearson struggles against the teaching that because Reggie is gay he is going to hell. This is another place where Pearson’s understanding conflicts with the denomination’s leadership.

I’ll add just a bit more. All that teaching about hell and inviting members through fear is a sign of ranking. The leadership tells the members do what I say to avoid eternal punishment. It is spiritual violence – we control your access to heaven. It is that constant threat that keeps the members attempting to be obedient. What Pearson offered broke that fear, broke the hierarchy, and a life without ranking.

A tax cut I neither need nor want

Those browser tabs have accumulated again.

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville points to an important finding of a recent Washington Post poll about voter opinions. Among white voters their preference for the GOP over the Dems has gone up five points since January. The margin is now 14%. Wrote McEwan: “White people are eating up Republicans' white supremacy.”

McEwan has an observation about all that data Cambridge Analytica and similar companies have scooped up. It’s a trove of information on people’s vulnerabilities that can be used to extort of turn them.
Anyone who's ever used Facebook messenger to have an affair. Anyone who's got a secret Facebook page to flirt. Anyone who gossips with work colleagues about the boss. Anyone who disclosed anything on Facebook, to what they thought was a closed audience, that could be used against them with their employer, including sexuality, beliefs, illnesses. Anyone who uses Facebook to catfish, or has been embarrassingly catfished, or who has used messenger to talk to a dealer, or arrange any kind of nefarious or criminal activity.

Personal shameful (or stigmatized) behavior has always been used to cultivate or turn assets, and now the record of many people's personal shameful (or stigmatized) behavior is in the hands of any bad actor who pays for it.

I had to look up that bit of internet slang. Being catfished means being lured into a relationship through a fictional online persona.

Love those activist Florida kids. This batch appear to be from Gainesville rather than Parkland. Eight students, ages 10-19 sued the State of Florida over failing to keep them safe from the impacts of global warming. The students are teaming up with Our Children’s Trust out of Oregon.

Billionaire Seth Klarman gave more than $7 million to the GOP during the Obama years. But now Klarman says:
The Republicans in Congress have failed to hold the president accountable and have abandoned their historic beliefs and values. For the good of the country, the Democrats must take back one or both houses of Congress. … I received a tax cut I neither need nor want. I’m choosing to invest it to fight the administration’s flawed policies and to elect Democrats to the Senate and House of Representatives

McEwan included in a post a brief video showing the reach of the damage of a nuclear bomb going off over the White House. And who tweeted the video? Russian state propaganda outlet Sputnik. This is not normal.

I had written recently about the fondness the Evangelical church has for the nasty guy. There’s a flip side to that story. Those of Millennial age and younger are leaving the Evangelical church in droves. Part of it is the support for the nasty guy. The rest is that the youth don’t like the positions their elders have taken on same-sex marriage, treatment of women, abortion, climate change, evolution, and more. There are also the sex scandals the leaders seem to routinely get into. There are now online movements #exvangelicals and #emptythepews to help those people who leave the denomination.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Best friends forever

When I began to work out my understanding of ranking I concluded that many conservative churches were preaching hierarchy (with their men on top) rather than preaching love. My opinion was based on their awful treatment of women and LGBT people (who subvert the hierarchy). They are great supporters of the patriarchy.

I had also come to understand they support the nasty guy because he also is a strong supporter of the patriarchy. This seems backwards because the nasty guy, with his multiple marriages while constantly cheating of his wives, appears to flout the morality and family values the church people claim to prize.

Daily Kos member Dartagnan quotes and comments on an op-ed in the Cleveland Plain Dealer by Rodney Hessinger, history professor, and Kristen Tobey, professor of religion and social science at John Carroll University. They all agree with me.

The professors note that Southern antebellum families were big on authoritarianism, which showed in their slave ownership. So to win over these men evangelicals emphasized the patriarchy in their message. They became a predominant religion in America.

Dartagnan notes the evangelicals push the perception they are “‘outcasts’ standing bravely against the evil forces of the world.” It creates “a group persecution complex that solidifies their community.”

In the nasty guy they see common cause – he is also an “outcast” and his abusive attitudes towards women match the patriarchy of the church.

Chronic illness is better for business

I had reported that the nasty guy and the GOP were working out ways to undo the Democratic gains in the last federal spending bill. One route is to ask Congress to vote on a list of freezes. Even though only a simple majority is needed, two senators, Collins of Maine and Murkowski of Alaska, said no. They and the rest of the GOP struggled to get a deal and don’t want to go back on votes that benefit their constituents. They also know if they blow up Dem projects they’ll get no help on the budget deal due in October. And for that one they can’t squeeze by on a simple majority. Or want a shutdown fight just before the election.

Even so, Budget Director Mick Mulvaney is proceeding with creating a list of budget items to be rolled back. He’ll have it ready for Congress by the end of the month.

Perhaps he’s preparing for the alternate option – just don’t spend the money.

The people working in gene therapy are looking for “one shot cures” that will get patients back to health. But Salveen Richter of Goldman Sachs wrote to gene therapy companies:
The potential to deliver ‘one shot cures’ is one of the most attractive aspects of gene therapy, genetically-engineered cell therapy and gene editing. However, such treatments offer a very different outlook with regard to recurring revenue versus chronic therapies. While this proposition carries tremendous value for patients and society, it could represent a challenge for genome medicine developers looking for sustained cash flow.
Translation: Controlling a chronic illness is better for business than a cure.

An example of that is HIV. It can now be controlled with medication, but can’t be cured. Will a cure be suppressed because it kills off a long-term revenue stream?

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville took a look at the nasty guy’s bragging tweets in the leadup to bombings in Syria. He had said:
Get ready Russia, because they will be coming, nice and new and “smart!”

Some will see this as standing up to Putin. Finally! McEwan and others see it differently, as in: here’s a “friendly” warning so that you have time to get your assets out of the way. Always looking out for the interests of Russia.

Then McEwan looks at that pardon of Scooter Libby. He’s the only guy in the Bush II administration that was actually held accountable. A nice gift from one prez with contempt for the law to another. It is also a signal to those under investigation by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller. Fall on your swords to protect me and I’ll pardon you. Yeah, that’s obstruction of justice, but done in a way hard to prove.

What does freedom have to do with democracy?

Yesterday I saw two more films in the Freep Film Festival of documentaries. One in the afternoon in Royal Oak, the other in Midtown Detroit in the evening.

The first was Freedom for the Wolf. Early in the film they finish off the phrase: Freedom for the wolf means death for the sheep. It is actually an old phrase – as in Ancient Rome old. The film looks at five countries around the world with illiberal democracy, where there is only the appearance of democracy. They have elections, but…

We first visit Hong Kong. Britain returned Hong Kong to China in 1999. At the time Hong Kong was promised free and fair elections. But Beijing screened the slate of candidates. The locals said that’s not democracy. In 2014 the protests became the Umbrella Movement. The name came from the umbrellas used to shield protesters from police pepper spray and became a symbol of the movement. The protesters soon occupied the downtown area, living in tents.

In the film we see some of the encampments and scuffles with police. We also hear some voices from those who support the Chinese government and from the protesters. The government was able to turn public opinion against the protesters by recruiting workers who couldn’t get to their jobs because the downtown area was barricaded. Also recruited were taxi drivers who lost income when they couldn’t take riders to downtown. Faced with counter protests (some with people brought in from the mainland) the movement crumbled.

Some government arguments are familiar to me: We must maintain order. To me that is a government saying we must maintain order – with us remaining in control. That order, that ranking, is paramount. Another government argument is new to me: Why would you want to jeopardize your economy, your income, your wealth, your way of life? You have all these things! Why does it matter who is in power? You are still well-off. Don’t screw it up.

In contrast to Soviet Communism, modern authoritarian regimes, such as China, have pretty good economic wealth along with their tyrannical rule.

An online search brought up a couple websites that can provide some background. Here’s a news article that includes a timeline and the Wikipedia entry.

On to Tunisia. The Arab Spring spark was lit here in 2011. Protesters toppled the dictator. But it hasn’t gone smoothly since. Yes, there are elections. But Muslim conservatives seem to have outsize control of who is on the ballot – we can’t have him, he blasphemed Allah! This influence also prompts the government to temper their reforms.

The film explained the dilemma. Though the dictator was gone, the laws and security apparatus were still in place. It takes time to dismantle the bad things and create and nurture democratic institutions. Democracy is messy, uncertain, and slow. After a while citizens want a solution and certainty now. Add into that societal elements who like and gain from the previous laws. Because of all this uncertainty Tunisia is the source of the most recruits to ISIS.

The third stop on this world tour is India. The BJP, the Hindu nationalist party, took control of the government in 1998 and held it until 2004. They’ve led it again since 2014.

One might think with Hindus at 80% of the population they wouldn’t need to pull rank on other groups, in particular Muslims and Christians. But pulling rank – insisting that India is for Hindus and their religion is superior to all others – is what the BJP is all about. Whenever anyone does that some pretty absurd claims come out. We heard one speaker say that the Hindu religion is older than Christianity and Islam (likely true), so that the religion in pre-Christian Rome was Hindu! Um, Zeus (or maybe Jupiter) may have something to say about that.

Non-Hindus are pushed into the slums in the major cities where the government services, such as law enforcement and assistance for the poor, tend to disappear. The locals tend to develop their own governments, which frequently are made up of Godfather type characters.

One of the BJP supporters really annoyed me after a while. His soundbites were usually such things as we can’t be racist. See, the non-Hindus have freedom, they can do what they want. I wanted to stuff a sock in his mouth. I’ve heard a constant stream of this nonsense out of a lot of conservatives, how they don’t acknowledge the policies they enact make it very difficult for minorities to escape the slum.

The film showed how the BJP provoked the minorities to riot. They would do this a few months before an election. The police would crack down and the party would have a great campaign issue for that upcoming election.

Then to Japan. I’m already aware that Japan has a strict hierarchy and values conformity. This film repeated the phrase, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” However, this particular story was the weakest of the bunch. Japan has had a longstanding law against dancing. It was originally passed because dancing led to other inappropriate behaviors. A night club (likely one of several) promoted dancing anyway. The cops raided the place and intimidated the clientele. The situation ended with some official stating the police had acted inappropriately.

Finally to America. At the start of the film I (and probably lots of others) wondered if our own country would be included. It was.

The story started in Baltimore with the Freddy Gray incident and the general police violence against black men. Then we went to Ferguson. The story continued in Dearborn, which has a large Muslim population, as the country prepared for the nasty guy’s inauguration and the protests around it.

The main point of this section was about the definition of freedom. In recent polling (which I guess was about 18 months ago) people were asked what the word “freedom” means to them. Rarely did people connect it to democracy. For a lot of people it means to have and to experience what I want. As long as I’m satisfied I’m not particularly worried what happens to anyone else. This circles around to the Hong Kong story – as long as you have economic wealth and stability, why worry about who is in control? Never mind that so many of my fellow citizens are frozen out of that economic wealth.

The results of the poll did not get into the idea that for many people freedom means being free to act on their bigotries. I suspect that would not be something people would admit to.

This segment on Tunisia got me thinking about America and what comes after the nasty guy. How quickly will we be able to recover? Will we be able to have a process to hold his loyalists accountable or remove them from power? Will we be able to go through laws and perhaps also the Constitution and cleanse them all of the forces that brought the nasty guy to power (similar to what happened in Germany after WWII)? Will we be able to retire all the conservative judges he appointed?

The second film of the day was Last Days of Chinatown. The title will need a bit of explanation because the film is about the history of the Cass Corridor in Detroit. I saw it, appropriately, at Wayne State University, which is at the north end of the Corridor.

Woodward Ave. is the main street of Detroit. It runs from the riverfront north-northwest to Pontiac. To the west is Cass Ave. Then Second, Third, and sometimes Fourth before getting to the Lodge Freeway. These streets, from downtown to the WSU Campus is the Cass Corridor. It is less than two miles long and maybe a half-mile wide.

I moved to the Detroit area in 1978 and to the western suburbs in 1979. I started attending a church there in 1980s. Over the next couple decades on two or three Saturdays a year this church would take lunch to the Cass Community United Methodist Church in the middle of the Corridor. We might serve as many as 200 meals. Yeah, at that time this was the roughest area of Detroit. Yet, the sanctuary of the Cass church showed the area had a rich past – the stained glass windows were by Tiffany.

We stopped serving lunches at the church only because Cass Community Social Services opened a big facility a few miles north and we served lunches there. CCSS does marvelous work, and worth supporting.

In the 1950s this was a white neighborhood. A nearby Skid Row was demolished as a way to clean it up. At the same time a Chinatown was also demolished. The Chinese were told money was coming so they would relocate, but that money never actually appeared. So the people of both Skid Row and Chinatown moved into the Cass Corridor. For a while this was the most diverse neighborhood in the city. White flight turned the neighborhood (and the whole city) black. The crack cocaine epidemic pretty much emptied it out. The buildings became blighted. Cass Corridor was a symbol of the worst of Detroit.

The revival began when Dan Gilbert, head of Quicken Loans, moved his company downtown. His young employees wanted to live nearby (and I think I heard he subsidized their housing when they did). Gilbert owns a great deal of downtown and his businesses have made him worth at least a billion. Then Mike Illitch, also a billionaire, started buying property at the south end of the Corridor. He has now built Little Caesar’s Arena there (with a hefty chunk of city and state money).

For a while some residents thought all this development would be a good thing. Then they realized what was happening. The LCA is a playground for the rich. The poor need not apply. The Illich family has big plans for the Corridor. New neighborhood designations. Luxury lofts. Upscale businesses. Walkable streets. We’ll even rebrand it as “Midtown” and erase the Cass Corridor name to avoid its association with poverty, but also erase its rich history.

And the poor? Those who have lived in the Corridor for years, call it home, and can’t afford to move? Those who are elderly? Those who are homeless and live in shelters? Hmph. Well, you’re not going to live here.

The film shows us a few of the evicted people. They were given an apartment – it looked like it didn’t come with furniture. They were a long way from what they knew and no way to get around, even in their new neighborhood or to a job they might have. Uprooted and cast aside.

Yes, the Cass Corridor was full of poverty. Yes, the buildings were dilapidated and the whole area desperately needed help and renewal. But this was home to many people. And they weren’t consulted about their home or their future. Just pushed out.