Sunday, May 29, 2016

A shock

I got a call from my brother Tom early evening yesterday. He lives near Pittsburgh. He said he had gotten a phone call from Texas. I understood this to be a call from someone in Tim's family in Austin. Tom and Tim are twins. Tim had taken in Mom after Dad's memorial service last October and about six weeks ago he took Mom to live in a care facility. So, of course, I thought a situation with Mom had come up.

Tom went on. Tim had been mowing grass. He had a heart attack. He died.

The phone call from Texas had been from his wife Kathy, who was barely holding together, asking Tom to notify the rest of the family. Kathy hadn't yet told many of her own children because they were at Saturday evening Mass.

Yes, this was a shock. I couldn't get much further than saying, "Wow."

Tim has had a few episodes with heart troubles, some requiring hospitalization. But there had been nothing recently. I'm pretty sure those troubles were not heart attacks. When I saw him less than two months ago he didn't show signs of illness or weakness. When I talked to him last Wednesday there was no talk of not feeling well.

The rest of this post will be about Tim, his family, and my relationship to them. It wasn't a warm and smooth relationship, so this isn't really a tribute.

Tom and Tim were born in 1953, about 19 months after Mom and Dad were married. They are the oldest of us siblings. At the time of their birth Dad was in the midst of earning his Master of Dairy Science at the University of Illinois.

The six of us were born within 7 1/2 years. There are stories of five of us coming down with chicken pox at the same time. When we were still young Tim was usually our babysitter when Mom and Dad went out for the evening.

In 1964 we moved to Michigan when Dad's job with IBM transferred him. Yes, quite a switch from dairy science. In high school Tim was a member of the concert choir and of the select singers who tended to perform more popular tunes. Both Tom and Tom graduated in the top ten of their class of about 400 students.

In high school Tim fell in love with Kathy. There was one minor problem – Kathy is from a Catholic family and we're not. Before the wedding in 1974 Tim officially converted to Catholicism. Kathy joined Tim at Michigan State University and the first of their 10 children was born before Tim graduated.

Tim got a job in the auto industry doing computer work (several of us followed Dad's path) and the growing family settled into the town where we grew up.

Though we aunts and uncles enjoyed being around the kids there was friction. Kathy is very strong in her beliefs and could go into a rant if she disagreed with something we said. The rest of us quickly figured out that there were certain topics one didn't discuss in her presence. The top of the list was politics. We're progressive, she's conservative.

In the early 1980s, when Tim had four children, I figured out that I am gay. Yeah, it took a while. I was afraid to tell anyone in the family because I was sure the news would get to Kathy and she would ban me from seeing her children, even though a gay man is rarely a pedophile.

By 2000 a couple if his children had now grown and found jobs in and around Austin. Kathy's parents, brother, and sister had also moved to the area. So that year Tim and family moved. By that time Kathy was pregnant with the last one. The youngest son is now 15, the oldest is 40. That 25 year span means Tim has two grandsons older than his youngest son. Kathy and a daughter-in-law were pregnant at the same time. There are currently 29 grandchildren, with another announced for next November.

With Tim and Kathy out of state I felt much more free. Over the next few years I came out to Dad (who told Mom) and my sisters and other brothers. I never told Tim. He never asked. Along the way I found my sister Laney had a girlfriend, not just a roommate. Laney and Anners were finally married last September.

Laney and Tim did not get along. He wanted to rescue her from her "sin." She did not want to be rescued. All invitations to family weddings were addressed only to Laney. She refused to go. Later she told me that Tim had invited her to live among them in Texas where she would be surrounded with loving family. Anners, of course, wasn't invited. Laney had a few choice words to say to that.

After 2000, and especially in 2004, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church and the politics of the time were decidedly ant-gay (see the Michigan Marriage Protection Amendment passed that year). I was feeling attacked. The general societal anti-gay pronouncements were also getting loud. I was and continue to be a member of the United Methodist Church (though after General Conference this month I'm more inclined to say I'm a member of a particular congregation and the denomination can go …). But I'm not a member of the Catholic Church and decided I would only set foot in one for a wedding, a funeral (which I didn't expect to do for 20 years), or if I was performing a concert. I suppose Tim was resigned to me refusing to attend a service with them. I would seek out a progressive UMC church instead. In spite of that decision I did attend a service when I was in Austin two months ago to gauge how Mom felt in that setting – she was more interested in family around her than the flavor of the service.

Tim and Kathy are the reason why I haven't associated my name with this blog. In the 7 1/2 years of writing I have remained anonymous. I didn't want Tim's family to do a search on my name and come across this blog with a definitely gay point of view. Even with Tim gone I'm not ready to announce myself. I suppose that is also one reason (of many) why I've avoided Facebook. I wouldn't have been able to keep my gay side hidden from Tim's family.

There have been times where I've wondered what would happen if Tim and Kathy found out. How willing would I be to drop them from my life? When I'm with them I'm never truly myself. I concluded that I'm not ready to let go, even if the relationship is dictated according to their terms. Even so, I tend to see my nieces and nephews only every 2-3 years (2015-2016 being an exception), so there isn't a whole lot of relationship there. But if the bond were severed I would miss them.

Tim did not sound like he was close to retirement, especially with one son in college and another starting in a couple years. I dealt with Dad's finances intensely for several months. I had the advantage that Dad's final illness gave him time to tell me the basics. Tim didn't. I've been wondering if Kathy knows about Tim's finances – bank accounts, investment accounts, possible pensions, life insurance policies, will, etc. Mom knew nothing of Dad's finances, even before Alzheimer's began to steal her memory.

Tim and Kathy have been the focus of Mom's care. Tim was the one who seemed to organize which of his sons visited Mom on which day. Tim had chosen a facility that was within five miles of four sons. Will Kathy take over, or will one of the sons?

Tim, even though our relationship played by your rules, I will miss you. I grieve you died too soon.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The justices you want

Donald Trump has released a list of people he would consider nominating to the Supremes. Yup, they're all conservative. I've heard he did it to rally GOP stragglers and holdouts to his campaign. It makes sense. The GOP has announced (at least through their actions) that control of the Supremes is more important to them (and their backers) than control over the Senate. So Trump is saying so what if you don't like me as president. I'll give you the justices you want.

Anybody want a cell phone?

I've long resisted having a cell phone. The few times might have used it didn't seem to be worth the cost and the hassle to keep track of it. Added to that was my nutritionist disliking all that EMF energy beside my head or even in my pocket. I know lots of people say cell phones are perfectly safe. My nutritionist isn't one of them.

Then my father was ill last summer and I was told I had to carry a phone. So I carried his. It had 1800 minutes on it when I got it. When he died the phone still had 1600 minutes.

This phone was from TracFone. One paid for a certain duration of contract plus minutes. The contract expired at the end of last year. I got on their website and found that I couldn't extend the contract without also buying more minutes. The site, of course, suggested buying a year and 400 minutes for $100 (which, I guess, Dad had been doing for several years). I bought 30 days and 30 minutes for $10.

At the end of January I hadn't used it at all, so I didn't bother renewing. When I went to Austin in early April I figured I could use the phone so went to the website. There it told me the phone was 2G and would soon no longer be compatible with 3G and higher networks. It would be glad to send me a free phone. But I didn't have time to receive a new phone before the trip so didn't pay for more time.

A couple weeks later, about mid-April, I got on the site again. I would be leaving on my Washington, DC trip in about a week and it would be good to have a phone to work out meeting up with my cousin. I asked for the new phone. The site said I would have to wait 5-11 days for the phone. With a flight a week later I figured my odds were pretty good.

But it didn't arrive before the trip, so the day before I paid to have time put on the old one. That was a hassle. In talking to the help desk I had to keep coming back to, "But my flight leaves tomorrow and I need a working phone." The phone finally worked and showed the 30 minutes I had just bought. I was assured the other 1630 minutes would show up on the new phone.

They got the last laugh because when I tried using the phone near DC I only got "No Service." Useless phone.

When I got home the replacement still hadn't shown up. It did a couple days later. So that wait of 5-11 days meant it took 11 days for them to figure out how to send me a replacement phone. Time to ship it came after that. Since I wouldn't need the phone for a while I let it sit in the box.

The 30 days that I bought for the DC trip and couldn't use ends tomorrow so I figured I should activate the new one now in hopes of making the transfer easier. I went to the website and tried to log in. I hadn't recorded a password, so I entered my email addy and clicked on "forgot password." It said it didn't know that addy. How had I gotten on to order the phone?

So I called. There was the usual hassle of reading off various serial numbers, including prying off the cover to the new phone to pull out the battery to get to the SIM card. What about those 1600 minutes? I asked. I had to explain. She finally said that since I hadn't renewed time in February or March those minutes had vanished.

When I heard that I said, "Then there's no reason to continue with the activation." It took a few repetitions for her to get it.

I later thought I could have asked for a manager. But no. I'm done with TracFone.

So I have this brand new 3G phone. I'm not interested in using it, though perhaps when I travel in July it might be nice. If I decide I want one I'll find another phone network and hope I can use it there.

In the meantime, my landline works just fine.

Another indication of how my day has gone. I got on my bike this morning and rode it the two miles to my old church to return music I had borrowed. When I got on it again the back tire was flat. There was no way I was going to ride it anywhere and I certainly wasn't going to continue my ride. So I walked it home.

Tomorrow I'll pump it up to see if I can ride it to the bike shop 1 1/2 miles away. If not, I'll walk it there (the bike doesn't fit in my car). It looks like the back tire needs replacing anyway.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Need two more votes

You may need a scorecard to keep the players straight. In 2014 Obama signed an executive order prohibiting federal contractors from discriminating against LGBT people. Of course, this didn't sit well with the GOP. An amendment was inserted by Rep. Steve Russel (R-OK) into this year's Defense Authorization Bill to overturn Obama's order. As a law it would overrule executive orders. Rep. Charlie Dent (R-PA) proposed a bipartisan amendment to overturn Russel's amendment. Yes, a GOP representative wanting to remove anti-LGBT language! The House Rules Committee refused to consider Dent's amendment.

That Defense bill went to the House floor yesterday. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY, and I think, gay) introduced an amendment from the floor to remove Russel's amendment. And voting began.

According to House procedure (as I'm told) a vote clock is open for two minutes. At the end of that time the electronic voting machine is turned off. The presiding member asks if any member wants to change their vote. If so, those members must go to the front of the chamber to switch votes.

At the end of 2 minutes Maloney's amendment had 217 yes votes and 206 no votes. GOP leaders didn't like that idea. So the clock was left open and leaders, especially Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), prowled through the chamber looking for votes to switch. This way vote switchers could do it quietly through the electronic voting system. At one point Russel shouted "Need two more votes!" As soon as the tally switched to 212-213, defeating Maloney's amendment, the vote was closed and announced.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) was, of course, outraged. This will likely be a campaign issue for the vote-flippers, many of whom are in vulnerable districts. But "easily a dozen" GOP members went to Maloney and expressed disgust.

There is still reconciliation with the Senate version. And Obama has already threatened veto because of several other provisions in the bill.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Courts must defer

We're seeing the effects of a Supreme Court with only 8 members. Is this what the GOP intends?

The first of two cases in the news is Zubik v. Burwell. This is a collection of seven cases in which religious non-profits say the government's method of opting out supplying insurance coverage for contraceptives violates their religious beliefs.

We'll clarify one detail right now. It isn't that the government's method of the employer notifying the gov't they find onerous. It's that their employees end up with contraceptive coverage. It is contraception they object to, not the ease or difficulty in telling the gov't they're not paying for it.

The Supremes issued a statement "from the court," not from a named list of justices, saying the individual cases must go back to lower courts. The justices make it clear this action isn't endorsing one view over another. The various parties are to try negotiating again. Even so, the Court is supplying the lower courts with a bit of guidance: The final result is the employees must have insurance that covers contraception. Given the paragraph above that could mean the cases aren't resolved until Scalia's replacement is on the bench.

The second case is United Student Aid Funds v. Bible. This doesn't refer to the Christian holy book, but to Bryana Bible.

There are two frequently cited historical cases that say (1) When a law is ambiguous courts should defer to they way executive branch agencies interpret the law (Chevron v. Natural Resources Defense Council written by John Paul Stevens), and (2) when an agency drafts regulations to interpret a law and the regulations are ambiguous courts should also defer to the agency unless the regulation plainly conflicts with the underlying law (Auer v. Robbins written by Scalia).

Stevens explained his reasoning: Justices are not experts in the field, agencies are. Agencies are also closer to elections (through the chief executive) than judges are.

Conservatives have been very much in favor of these two historical rulings – Scalia wrote one of them – but that changed when Obama moved into the White House. It has gotten to the point where Roberts and Alito (plus Scalia, while he was alive) were pleading please give us a case so that we can overturn these rulings.

Along comes such a case and the Supremes don't have the votes to overturn those rulings. So they declined the case, though Thomas objected to not taking it.

Why does this concern me? Because it means lower courts must still defer to the Departments of Education and Justice and their recent instructions on how to treat transgender students in schools.

Saturday, May 14, 2016


Dad subscribed to Washington Monthly. I've taken a few of the recent issues to read, as I have for Smithsonian, Consumers Reports, Popular Science (not a lot of substance there), and Mother Jones. For most of these magazines I took only the most recent issues, thinking the rest would be out of date. Even the November/December 2014 issue of Washington Monthly, the one I recently finished, is a bit out of date. One article mentions Hillary gearing up for the campaign season and there's no Bernie in sight.

All of the major articles – nine of them – of this issue are about inequality in America (though we aren't the only country with this problem). There is an introductory article and a concluding article. In between various authors discuss how inequality affects each stage of life – preschool, the usual K-12 school, college, young parents, workers in general, and seniors. One more article discusses how the rise of Big Finance has fed inequality. These articles also discuss ways individual aspects of inequality might be solved – setting aside for a while that the current GOP and their corporate backers have no intention of implementing these ideas.

While reading the article on how inequality affects preschool I got to be thinking about how to frame the issue. So instead of summarizing the articles, insightful as they are, I'm going to use them for my alternate frame. While these WM articles provided input to what I say below, there are several other sources, though I won't always provide links. Onward.

When the subject or raising taxes comes up the 1% are quick to call it something like "wealth transfer." Why should the rich have some of their money confiscated by the gov't so that it can be given to the poor, those lazy people who will turn the safety net into a hammock?

But a wealth transfer has been going on for several decades from the poor to the rich. This is a result of intentional laws and policy choices the rich have inserted into our legal system and government.

We could appeal to the rich by saying their (increased) taxes would benefit them by:

* Creating safer infrastructure that everyone uses.

* Keeping our higher education institutions as best-in-world, providing research that benefits the 1% and their corporations, and educating workers to keep those corporations competitive in a global economy.

* Creating healthier and more productive workers.

* Creating a larger market for the products produced by the rich corporations.

* Creating a citizenry more content and less likely to turn to crime out of desperation and thus a more stable society.

If the rich pursued these goals they would have more money than they have now and be in a better society.

These are some of the ideas that would lessen inequality.

* Fully funded and universally available preschool is critical in pulling children out of poverty and into a life of a productive worker.

* Mix low-income K-12 students with middle- and high-income students. The low-income students begin to copy the aspirations and study habits of their better-off peers, something that doesn't happen when low-income students are kept in schools of their own. They also meet parents who advocate for quality education.

* Adequately fund college, with generous scholarships and grants (not loans) for low income students, and create programs to make sure students graduate.

* Provide and adequately fund more vocational and apprenticeship programs.

* Change the workplace culture, with plenty of input from the workers, to be more family-friendly.

* Boost the minimum wage and link it to inflation so that a worker doesn't have to go on government assistance.

* Restore the bargaining power of unions. Make it easier for them to organize.

* Increase maintenance and replacement of infrastructure, both because it is desperately needed (see Flint water and Michigan roads) and because that will tighten the labor market and push up wages.

* Share profits and productivity gains with workers instead of just shareholders.

* Revise the tax system, including the Earned Income Tax Credit, so that at low wage levels it becomes more of a supplement to wages.

* Fully fund retirement plans and return them to defined benefit plans so retirees can rely on them.

* Restructure incentives to save for retirement so that it benefits those who most need the savings and the incentives. Also simplify the various programs into one. The current model is based on a person's tax bracket, so the most benefit goes to the wealthiest.

* Solidify Social Security so that seniors don't have to work until they drop.

* Regulate the financial system to:
* Cap the fees managers may earn on mutual funds.
* Fully disclose the practices and fees of hedge funds.
* Reconnect the loan originator with the loan holder to reduce the chance of fraud.
* Tax trades in stocks and other investments to reduce speculation and volatility.
* Eliminate lightning trade deals, in which a computerized system can insert itself in a stock trade to make a profit on each trade.
* Demote shareholders to their proper place as only one of many claimants on the profits of a company (other claimants being research, company growth and investment, employee wages, the consumer, and the society in general).
* Restore the focus on long-term corporate health rather than short-term stock price.
* Break up large financial companies so that the failure of one cannot destroy the entire national or world economy.
* Restore the separation between citizen banking and speculative banking.
* Improve regulation to lessen the chance and severity of financial bubbles.

But this transfer of wealth hasn't been about money. If it was the rest of us would not be feeling the pinch. See above about the rich having more money when more people are prosperous. This wealth transfer has been about insecurity. The rich need to and are able to dominate the rest of us and to keep us from being able to challenge their position as Top Dog. To make their oppression possible they have institutionalized theft.

* Refusing to fully fund preschool for all who may want it is theft.

* Insufficiently funding schools in poor neighborhoods is theft.

* Treating and paying schoolteachers like pariahs, instead of paying them as people entrusted with educating the next generation, is theft.

* Refusing to maintain all public school buildings, resulting in places that are dingy, perhaps unhealthy or dangerous, is theft.

* Isolating residents according to income, refusing to allow the poor to live among the rich, is theft.

* Isolating residents according to race is theft.

* Insufficiently preparing a student for college is theft.

* Burdening a college student with huge mounds of debt is theft.

* Preventing a student from going to college because of insufficient money is theft.

* Pricing college so that the poor can't afford it is theft.

* Refusing to oversee charter schools, resulting in lower student achievement and waste of tax dollars, is theft.

* Refusing to provide comprehensive health coverage, including dental, vision, and mental, for everyone is theft.

* A health insurance company inserting its demand for profit into the doctor-patient relationship is theft.

* Refusing to offer paid maternity and paternity leave is theft.

* Refusing to make affordable child care available is theft.

* Refusing to offer paid sick leave is theft.

* Refusing to share productivity gains with the workers who made those gains possible is theft.

* Refusing to share profits with workers is theft.

* Refusing to keep infrastructure in good repair and up to date is theft.

* Refusing to enact progressive tax systems is theft.

* Refusing full disclosure and transparency of financial instruments is theft.

* Separating the loan originator and the loan holder is theft.

* Inserting a lightning trade computer between the participants of a stock deal is theft.

* Declaring that the shareholder is king and entitled to all profits is theft.

* Allowing a corporation to grow so big that its failure can threaten the economy is theft.

* Government handouts to already rich corporations is theft.

* Corporations claiming university and other federally funded research for exclusive use is theft.

* Corporate use of common resources, such as oil deposits, mineral deposits, timber, and grazing land, without paying license fees or rent is theft.

* Taxing capital gains at a much lower rate than wages is theft.

* Polluting our land, water, and air is theft.

* Denying science when a result interferes with profit is theft.

* Not prosecuting corporate crime is theft.

* Hiding money in overseas banks to avoid taxes is theft.

* Banks speculating with savings account money is theft.

* Refusing to provide affordable public transportation is theft.

* Creating a prison system around punishment instead of rehabilitation is theft.

* Demanding incarceration for low level crimes is theft.

* Putting people in jail when they can't pay fines is theft.

* The Social Security payroll tax is capped to incomes at $118,500 in 2015. Those with wages above that amount will get more in benefits for which they didn't have to pay. A large amount, perhaps all, of the problems in future Social Security shortfalls would be eliminated if this cap was removed. This cap in SS taxes is theft. Insufficiently funding SS is theft.

* Switching the management of pension money from the corporation to the employee, from defined benefit to defined contribution, is theft.

* Structuring savings incentives in favor of those who need it least is theft.

* Gutting union power to blunt their ability to bargain, allowing corporations to cut pay, benefits, and safety, is theft.

* Gerrymandering political districts to favor one party over the other is theft.

* Political debate that pits one group against another is theft.

* Structuring business and culture so that the poor are not able to contribute their talents is theft, from the individual as well as from the nation.

This list of methods of thievery is far from complete.

So what is the standard punishment for theft? Especially when done on such a grand scale?

All this discussion about inequality is not "politics of envy." Inequality doesn't just happen. The current level of inequality is intentional, due to specific policy choices. We can lessen inequality with different choices.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Without a paddle

Sometimes I can be really good at procrastinating. I'll claim the excuse this year that I'm trying to manage two houses, Dad's and my own. But I had plenty of warning on this one.

I'm sure it was a month ago when I noticed a trickle of water from the water heater to the nearby drain. I have emails to various people referencing it on April 16. But checking websites and sending emails is only the start of doing something.

The second big warning was two days ago when the shower kept getting cooler, even as I turned up the hot water. But I was busy and forgot the warning.

Yesterday afternoon I went into the basement to do a load of laundry. I could see the floor at the bottom of the steps was wet. So the laundry basket went back up to the kitchen and I put my rubber boots (still by the back door for winter) over my socks (easier then getting them over shoes too) and went back down.

There was water on the floor around the laundry area drain. The clothes already down there were soaked. The water heater had water spilling out the top (!) and it certainly sounded like the heater was working hard. Once into the water around the heater I could feel through the boots that it was warm.

Back upstairs for tools. It took a wrench to turn the shut-off knob, and then it turned freely without doing anything. Across the basement to the water meter. The shut-off after the meter wouldn't turn and it took some doing to get the shut-off before the meter to work and finally get the meter to stop turning. No water for the kitchen or bathrooms. Back at the heater it also took a wrench to shut off the gas line.

Then I called my favorite handyman. He and his wife came about a half-hour later. He used a plunger on the drain in the laundry area and got the water flowing out. He cut through the water pipes leading to and from the heater (completely cutting out the useless shut-off) and capped them. We could turn the water on again.

As I mopped the floor he went and got his industrial strength dehumidifier and a blower. When he returned he set it up as his wife pushed a squeegee across the floor. The dehumidifier said the humidity was 99%. There was condensation on the cold water pipes dripping onto the floor.

Now for a replacement. One thought was to get a heater from my uncle in Ohio who is a retired electrician and still had a heater in his barn. But that required borrowing a truck and I don't readily know someone with a truck. Even so, I called him and sent an email yesterday. No reply. I suspect he and his wife are on their spring vacation.

The plumber came today at about 1:00. He looked over the situation and took measurements. He was back at 2:30 with a new heater. He had it installed in a couple hours.

In the meantime I got an email from my aunt. She and my uncle are in Massachusetts for a grandson's graduation from college. They'll be home on Tuesday. I sent my regrets that I wouldn't reduce the inventory in their barn.

The dehumidifier is still running. The humidity is now down to 60%. The handyman checked websites that suggest humidity in the basement be below 50%.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Preborn v. preschool

Today would have been George Carlin's 79th birthday. A quote which is, alas, still relevant:
Boy, these conservatives are really something, aren't they? They're all in favor of the unborn---they will do anything for the unborn. But once you're born, you're on your own. Pro-life conservatives are obsessed with the fetus from conception to nine months. After that, they don't want to know about you. They don't want to hear from you. No nothing. No neonatal care, no day care, no head start, no school lunch, no food stamps, no welfare, no nothing. If you're preborn, you're fine; if you're preschool, you're fucked.

Roy Moore, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, has been suspended on an ethics charge. Back in January Moore sent an order to the state's probate judges saying the state's ban on same-sex marriage was still in effect in spite of the ruling by the federal Supremes last June saying the ban was unconstitutional.

Does the name sound familiar? This is the same Roy Moore, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supremes, who was removed from that office in 2003 after he refused to comply with a federal order to remove a boulder sized monument to the Ten Commandments. He was re-elected as Chief Justice in 2012.

As the Alabama Chief Justice is suspended, Robert Bentley, the state's governor, faces impeachment over a sex scandal. And Mike Hubbard, the House Speaker, faces criminal charges of using his position as speaker to direct business to his companies.

In somewhat old news, Charles Koch denounced presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump and the party that created him. And, yes, Koch had a big hand in creating the GOP he now denounces.

After the Great Recession that made a big mess of Iceland's banks and economy the citizens decided it was time to rewrite their constitution. A council was elected to do the rewrite. It was made up of 25 people from diverse professions, except not politicians and bankers. As they worked the draft was uploaded to the internet. Anyone could view and comment on it. Members also were active on social media to say which issue would be before the council next and inviting input. A crowdsourced constitution. All of it was transparent.

Alas, it didn't come up for a vote before the 2013 parliamentary election. It has been in limbo since then. The resignation of the Prime Minister due to the Panama Papers scandal didn't help.

The latest in that nasty "bathroom law" in North Carolina: Several businesses have been vocally supportive of LGBT people and condemning the law. GOP legislators are now telling businesses to shut up. If you keep talking about that law we're going to start withdrawing your tax breaks.

Reminder: United Methodist General Conference news is on my brother blog.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016


Civil unions in Italy! Alas, not marriage equality. Since the Vatican isn't far from the Italian Parliament we are pleased with this first step. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi was tired of the years and delays this effort has taken. So he forced a vote using a maneuver that, if it failed, would have cost him his job. In celebration Rome's famous Trevi Fountain was lit with rainbow lights.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Dueling lawsuits

I've been reporting on the nasty "bathroom law" in North Carolina. The Justice Department had issued a position, a warning to NC, saying that Title VII protects people on the basis of sex and that includes transgender people. One aspect of that protection is that federally assisted programs (such as most schools) must not discriminate.

Gov. Pat McCrory responded by filing a lawsuit against the Justice Department. The suit's two main points: "Transgender status is not a protected class under Title VII." And the law allows for special circumstance, such as transgender people, thus the Justice Department has overstepped its bounds, a blatant and baseless overreach. Only Congress can resolve this.

Within hours Attorney General Loretta Lynch filed a countersuit. She accused North Carolina of "state-sponsored discrimination against transgender individuals." Her suit asks judges to permanently block the law. With the law in effect the state could lose more than $4.5 billion in federal funding for education, including $1.4 billion for The University of North Carolina system. Hmm. The GOP controlled legislature probably didn't want these kids educated anyway.

A reminder that United Methodist General Conference news will be on my brother blog. A post has gone up today.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Tax score: 22-6

During every campaign season, this one included, candidates talk about cutting taxes. I'll set aside the problems of how tax cuts lead to underfunded government and how that almost always hurts poor people. Today's topic is the taxes themselves. My guide is David Akadjian of Daily Kos. His summary is quite simple:
All taxes are not created equal. Some benefit average people. Some benefit Wall Street and the wealthy.
So pay close attention to which taxes are under discussion for being cut.

Cutting these taxes benefit the 99% (you and me):
* Sales taxes
* Fees, tolls, licenses, fines, etc.
* Sin taxes (alcohol, tobacco, etc.)
* Payroll taxes (Social Security)
* Property taxes
These are all regressive taxes.

Cutting these taxes benefit the 1%:
* Capital gains tax
* Estate taxes
* Luxury taxes
* Corporate income taxes
* Personal income taxes
These are progressive taxes.

Akadjian has details on why each tax benefits the regular people or the rich. Shifting the tax burden and benefiting the rich is easy. Declare a cut on the income taxes. Everybody pays these, so most go along with the idea. Then, oops, a budget deficit is looming. This could be at the federal level, or because the federal grants to states were cut, or because state grants to cities were cut (as has been going on in Michigan for 25 years). Taxes need to be raised. But it is usually the regressive taxes that go up (which are usually the taxes a city can raise).

Back in 1978 Jude Wanniski proposed a plan to raise stock prices. In 1921-1929 there was a five-fold increase and stock price. Wanniski proposed we do it again. Never mind what happened to stock prices in October of 1929 and the American economy in the next decade. Wanniski's ideas became the core of Reagan's supply-side economics.

I listen to an economics show on NPR when I can. One thing this show repeats whenever the stock market has big gains or losses is: The stock market is not the economy and the economy is not the stock market. Akadjian elaborates:
[Wanniski's plan] doesn’t boost demand. It doesn’t create jobs. It doesn’t help the middle class. As Wanniski points out, these tax cuts benefit wealthy investors and juice the stock market.
And we get suckered because too many people can be led to believe that a rising stock market means a healthy economy.

Akadjian reviews all the tax cuts and increases over the last 40 years (about the time Wanniski presented his plan). He also keeps score. In those 40 years the new tax law benefited the 1 percent 22 times and benefited everyone else 6 times.

Both Trump and Cruz proposed reforming that tax system. Want to guess who would benefit?

Akadjian again:
We’re told that the 1 percent will invest and create more jobs. Anyone who’s taken even the most basic business courses knows that you hire people when there’s an increase in demand. Taking money from consumers (70 percent of GDP spending) reduces demand.

Love and protest

A couple weeks ago Jim and John got married. The venue is significant for two reasons. That venue was the First United Methodist Church of Charlotte, NC. The wedding, in addition to being a declaration of love and commitment, is a protest of both the nasty "bathroom bill" that was recently signed into law in North Carolina, and of the United Methodist prohibitions of clergy officiating same-sex weddings and holding such ceremonies in its church buildings. The timing was also deliberate, coming just a few weeks before the start of the denomination's General Conference, which starts Tuesday. Yes, the pastor could be brought up on charges, which could lead to a trial and dismissal. Or General Conference could come up with a way to permit such defiance.

I'll be trying to find news of General Conference and posting it to my brother blog, which is for denomination news of gay issues.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Quoth the raven

I've got lots of browser tabs. Time to talk about them or let them go.

The Arizona legislature, heavily controlled by the GOP, expanded the state Supremes from 5 members to 7, to be appointed by the GOP governor. Court packing? Lots of Dems think so. GOP legislators say it is just to handle the work load. Besides the other five were appointed by GOP governors.

Now that Trump is the last man standing in the GOP race, what about that lagging confirmation hearing for Merrick Garland for the Supremes? Both Hillary and Bernie are polling much higher than the Donald. Would the recalcitrant senators prefer someone nominated by Hillary? Hint: that person won't be more conservative than Garland. Perhaps they want the clown likely nominated by the Donald? So isn't Garland the best in damage control?

A couple weeks ago Garrison Keillor of A Prairie Home Companion did a parody of The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe. In Keillor's version the refrain has become "Quoth the raven, 'Donald Trump.'" I thought the whole think was delightful and clever. You can listen to it here (it is a radio show) or follow the link to watch it. It is 4 1/2 minutes.

My sister's wife told me she is scared that Trump in the apparent nominee and if he is prez. we're in for a disaster. She is skeptical of polling and of American voters being wise. I hear you.

This may – or may not – be of solace. Chris Cillizza of The Washington Post says the Electoral College math works against Trump. There are 19 states, plus DC, that have have voted for the Dem candidate in each of the last six prez. elections. They have 242 electoral votes. Hillary needs 270. Add in the states that have gone with the Dems in four or five of the last six elections and she's done. Or add in Florida, which has been evenly split.

There are 13 states that have gone for the GOP candidate in the last 6 elections. They total 103 electoral votes. To win this candidate would have to win states that have gone Dem in four of the last six elections. So how did Bush overcome these stats? The Supremes in 2000 and theft of Ohio in 2004.

GOP insiders area already gearing up to blame Trump for the loss rather than see if there is something inherently wrong with their basic message, meaning they would fare no better in 2020.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Travelogue – Taking inclusion seriously

Sunday, May 1

This morning was the first time I was really glad I had an umbrella.

I didn't account for the less-frequent Metro schedule on Sundays, so I was late for the morning service. Walking through steady rain also slowed me down. I attended a service at Foundry United Methodist Church. It joined the Reconciling Ministries Network of LGBT friendly United Methodist churches 20 years ago. One feature of the service was prayers for those going to General Conference, which starts in 9 days. The pastor is a delegate, so has a vote in the various issues. She also named a couple other delegates, though I don't know how they are acquainted with this particular church. She called to the front all those who will be going to GC to advocate for our cause (what I did 4 years ago). When they assembled I counted 17 across the front, not including the pastor. This is quite a commitment from one church. They take inclusion seriously.

This was Youth Sunday at this church so youth took part in most aspects of the service, including two pairs of youth describing what this church and their faith means to them. Twin boys did the Children's Moment. They told about a time when they were listening to the children's speaker. This person wanted to make the point that we're all different and we all have our own talents. But this speaker had a rocky start when she asked, "Does anyone look exactly like you?" The twins made a big show of nodding to each other.

The walk back to the Metro was drier. But the long service and Metro's Sunday schedule meant I didn't get to Cousin's community and her car until 1:45. She took me to a restaurant for a delicious lunch. We talked about the service as we ate. She said "I don't understand why anyone would think full inclusion is a bad idea." After lunch we went back to her house so I could finish packing. She took me to the airport.

The flight boarded on time. But the truck attached to our nose to push us back from the gate had stopped working. We had to wait until another one was available. Once we got to near the start of the runway the control tower guided us into a waiting area. There we sat for 50 minutes. Part of it was to wait out some serious weather along the route and part of it was the normal flight lanes were full of other planes from as far away as New York getting around the storm. We got into Detroit an hour late.

The calendar said spring and the azaleas were in full bloom. But most of the week was at least overcast and cool and there was rain a couple days. I definitely didn't need sunscreen. Even so, it was a relaxing week, good for a break from my regular responsibilities. A big thank you to Cousin who provided a place to stay and some companionship during the week.

Travelogue – On the bike

Saturday, April 30

No rain forecast for today and warmer temps (though no sun – no need for sunscreen since Tuesday), so I went with my original plan to spend the day on a bicycle. Cousin offered her son's bike. Alas, its tires were quite flat and I couldn't get the air pump to attach right (later Cousin said the lever worked opposite of what one expects, but I don't think that would have worked either).

I did an online search for bike rental places in DC. One with good prices was at L'Enfant Plaza. I took the Metro there. I had lunch at the food court (selections limited due to the weekend), and was on the bike before 2:00. It was cold enough I kept my jacket on (warmer than yesterday? I don't think so!).

I crossed the Washington Channel and did the loop around East Potomac Park (though I didn't realize what I was doing until I got to the end of it). I crossed another bridge near the south end of the Tidal Basin to the trail along the George Washington Parkway and the west side of the Potomac. I headed northwest.

I saw a good view of the Washington Memorial and pulled off the paved path. Between very little space beside the path before a downward slope and a likely depression in the ground my bike tipped over. With no place for my foot so did I. The grass was soft, so no injury though I felt the jolt. Four bikers who saw my tumble stopped to make sure I was OK. I could give them my name and I knew where I was. They offered to ride with me. But I still wanted to take that photo and I'm sure they wanted to go much faster than I could. Only then did one of them mention he wished he had a camera because the whole tumble seemed to happen in slow motion. I thanked them and they went on. I don't feel any effects, though a few joints might be sore in the morning. Here's the shot. Was it worth it?

I continued northwest to near Roosevelt Island, then turned around. I went beyond the bridge where I had crossed until I was beside Reagan National Airport. Then back to the bridge and across.

I walked the bike through the FDR Memorial (which I had seen before in the dark). This is a sprawling memorial with a "room" for each of his terms as president. This particular scene is (I think) from his second term. It shows a man listening intently to one of Roosevelt's Fireside Chats.

By this time I had been on the bike for nearly 3 hours and decided that was enough. I had a snack at L'Enfant Plaza before catching the Metro back to Cousin's place.

For supper we went to a nice Greek restaurant. Cousin invited a friend to join us. The place got a bit loud at times because the Washington hockey team is in the finals, which was, of course, on the screens in the restaurant and the bar next door.

After I posted the previous story about the Discover space shuttle and the flag I thought was backward, I got a note from a friend. He said I should think of a flag on a pole on a sea ship. The star field is closest to the pole, so is always upwind.

Travelogue – By a thread

Friday, April 29

A leisurely start this morning. I walked across the golf course from Cousin's house to the Metro station. It wasn't raining, but the grass was wet. The temp was again cool, so I had both sweater and jacket (things should warm up on … Monday). I got into DC and to the Renwick Gallery just in time for their noon tour. For a show that will last only another week nine artists were asked to create something for a particular room in the gallery and that something would be the only art in the room. None of the installations were paintings. Beyond that, I'll have to rely on photos – which the gallery encouraged taking.

My favorite is by Gabriel Dawe and is made up of miles of thread. I didn't get an overall shot – my images focused in on particular areas of color interplay (which my camera sometimes had a hard time focusing on). This image is from the front cover of the exhibit brochure.

Janet Eschelman hung fish net from the ceiling and shone lights on it, varying the color of the lights. This on will remain after the show. We were encouraged to lie down on the floor and look up (though I didn't). A chunk of the room was taken up by a portable bar to be used this evening. The guide said this is one of the most rented rooms in Washington.

Maya Lin, the person who designed the Vietnam War Memorial, created this map of Chesapeake Bay made of marbles. Yes, what doesn't fit on the floor climbs the walls and wraps around the windows. When there is sun on it the effect is like sun on water.

Leo Villareal created this light sculpture. It is 320 rods and 23,000 LED lights. The lights are controlled by computer. The lights can appear to flash randomly, shoot up or down, or create a series of expanding balls, part of what is seen here. The guide says the program is such that it will be a really long time before the sequence repeats.

By the time I was done at the Renwick and had lunch I didn't have time to get to the tour at the Folger Shakespeare Museum. So I decided to see some of the memorials I had only seen in twilight when I was here 2 2/3 years ago.

I found a tea shop near Lafayette Square, then walked along it and over to get a look at the White House. On my way west along the pedestrian zone a policeman said I had to head north along the park again. Hmm, something must be up, so I turned around to watch. I noticed that cop was allowing people to take the route he refused to let me take, so I went back. Nothing was said as I turned west again. At 17th Street I could see traffic was stopped. Soon four black SUVs zipped around the corner, over the lowered barriers, and into the White House drive. Cousin said it probably wasn't Obama because his motorcades have more vehicles. Biden's motorcades probably have more too.

I continued south on 17th Street, then cut across the Ellipse to the Washington Monument. I wanted to go to the top (which I had last done in 1974), but a sign said no more tickets for today. I heard a man ask a park ranger about the best way to get tickets. The reply: Be here around 7:00 am. Oh well.

I walked along the Reflecting Pool and was surprised to see how shallow it is, just a couple inches. I didn't go into the Lincoln Memorial (I had during the last trip), but went to the nearby Korean War Memorial. I had been here before, but at twilight. Because of the low light I hadn't seen the etchings on the nearby walls. Here are photos of the statues and part of the etched wall.

On to the Martin Luther King Memorial, which I has also seen before at twilight. Around the statue are some of King's important messages: "Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies." "If we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, or class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective."

Alas, I didn't have time for the nearby FDR Memorial.

From there I walked east to the closest Metro station (DC really needs a Metro station near the Lincoln Memorial). I took it to the Convention Center and the nearby Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church (named for the nearby Mt. Vernon Park). This is where I met Cousin.

We had a little trouble finding a place to eat because Justin Bieber was playing this evening at an arena a couple blocks away. We found a place that served chicken with Portuguese spices.

Back to the church to see a play in their basement auditorium. This was an actual auditorium, not folding chairs facing a makeshift stage. This is the home of the Washington Stage Guild. The presented the play, “The Gospel According to Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens, and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord.” The three characters are in a locked room, apparently moments after each has died. It takes them a while to puzzle out what they have in common – each of them had created their own personal version of the Gospels. I had known about Jefferson's efforts, now published as the Jefferson Bible. I hadn't heard about the versions created by the other two.

They guess that to be able to get out of this room they need to come up with Scriptures all three can agree on. That is an impossible task. The Bible that Dicken's created apparently follows our familiar narration, but punches up the drama a bit. This is dismissed by the other two as being too fanciful, relying too much on miracles. Jefferson had cut out all the miraculous stuff and kept all the parables and general teachings. Dickens dismisses this has being flat, having no drama. Tolstoy replaces the ten commandments of the Old Testament with five from the Sermon on the Mount. I don't remember them all, though the last one is “Resist not evil.” Jefferson and Dickens insist there isn't enough left. All three then have a good look at themselves, seeing how far short they have fallen from their ideals, mostly in refusing to give up their privileged status. Jefferson, in particular, is overcome as he wrestles with calling for the abolition of slavery, yet refusing to free his own. How could he run his estate without them?

Cousin and I discussed the play on the drive back to her house. We both decided we liked Tolstoy's gospel best. That surprised both of us because we didn't expect that from Tolstoy. Both of us know him only by reputation and neither of us knows his actual works. Dickens' gospel was over the top and Jefferson's lacked warmth.

Travelogue – Discovery

Thursday, April 28

The weather today was rainy, a good time for something inside. My goal for the day was to visit the Udvar-Hazy part of the Air and Space Museum next to Dulles Airport. I checked transportation through Google Maps. It said I would have to go east, almost to the Potomac River before getting a certain kind of shuttle to take me west to Dulles Airport. As I was checking this at 10:00 it said I would get there by 4:00. Um, no.

Cousin left for her work. Then I remembered she had talked about a county bus system, one that Google apparently didn't know about. I found it online and indeed I could get a bus from the nearby Metro station to the airport and museum. Buses left every 20 minutes and the ride took 40. Cousin's assistant had agreed to take me to the museum and was relieved she had to take me only a mile to the station.

Between the airport and the museum I could see on the highway ahead a row of motorcycles, one in each lane with blue lights flashing. They slowed and came to a stop. I knew we were in for a bit of a wait when the riders dismounted. After maybe five minutes whatever was ahead had cleared. They remounted and slowly got up to speed.

At the museum I had a quick look over the military planes, then on to my real goal, the space hall. This is the resting place of the shuttle Discovery. It looks quite big up close (and the Mercury capsules look quite small). I enjoyed just sitting there looking at it.

I'm puzzled why the flag on this side of Discovery is backwards. The one on the wing and on the opposite side are correct.

I caught up with a museum tour and kept with it while it was in the space hall. I did see other things in the hall – space food, space tools, space clothing, space science instruments, Mars rovers, and various satellites.

After a late lunch (ugh – the only option was McDonald's) and more time in the space hall I did work quickly through the commercial airplanes, such as the Enola Gay, a Boeing 707, and a Concorde.

Around 4:00 I had enough of the planes, so took the elevator up to the observation deck. It is a good place to see planes landing at Dulles – when the weather is good. But it wasn't. I could see the planes in their final approach, but nothing beyond them.

I took the bus back to the Metro station and then a neighborhood bus down Cousin's road. I didn't do it in the morning because it only runs during rush hour.

This evening Cousin didn't have to work. We made a stir fry and talked about family, including her sons. One is gay and lives locally. Alas he is too busy meet me this week. Her other son is attending a university in Berlin, Germany. He is majoring in linguistics.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Travelogue – Art and more art

Wednesday, April 27

Cousin took me to the Metro station as she went to her job. It was a cool day with some rain. I wore my sweater and wished I had my jacket as well. I took the Metro to Foggy Bottom and walked to the Kennedy Center. I went on the tour. For most of it there were three of us, one being the guide. We did get into all three venues – the concert hall, the opera house, and the theater. The guide pointed out various pieces of art and lounge decor donated by this country or that. Various countries donated art in honor of John Kennedy. This is the mural made of wood in the Israel Lounge. You can see a bit of the painted mural on the ceiling. Most people don't see these lounges except on the tour. During events they are for donors.

I took the Kennedy Center shuttle back to Foggy Bottom for lunch. I then walked from I Street to Q Street to see the Phillips Collection. It's a museum of modern art that had been three adjacent houses. The special exhibit was “The Nature of Seeing” which was artwork of landscapes. There were several works of Impressionism, including a few by Monet. This one is titled Rio San Travanso of Venice, by Henri Edmond Cross.

From there I walked over a bridge across Rock Creek Park, a little ways into Georgetown. Then I walked past a lot of embassies along Massachusetts Ave. to Dupont Circle. I found a bookstore and a place serving organic burgers. It was only about 6:30, but I was tired, so got on the Metro back to Cousin's house. Because she had an evening appointment I walked from the station to her home.

Travelogue – Fly me to the moon

I'm back from my vacation. It was a good one, especially since I didn't think much about my obligations here at home. This is the first post of my travelogue. Photos included!

Tuesday, April 26

My flight from Detroit to Dulles was downsized to a plane that held only 50 people. I got a call from the airline while I was in the shower asking if I would be willing to take a different flight. Perhaps they downsized it too much. The downsizing meant I didn't get the window seat I had chosen several months ago.

My cousin was waiting for me in her car outside the door I used to exit. We were both puzzled why the airport police didn't chase her away for sitting there so long. She took me to her favorite restaurant, which serves food without additives. We then went to her home where I left suitcases and I extracted stuff I would need for the afternoon. At 2:30 she left me near the Metro station about a mile from her place. She then went back to work as head of a small leadership training company.

I took the Metro into DC, getting off at L'Enfant Plaza around 3:30. I walked to the Air and Space Museum. Along the way a motorcade passed with sirens wailing. I overheard someone tell a friend that it was Obama. Cousin said it is possible to tell because various officials had motorcades of particular lengths, though she didn't know the specifics.

Once inside the museum I spent 90 minutes in some of the exhibits having to do with space. This is one of the lunar landers that didn't go to the moon.

Back to the Metro. This time I got off at the Ballston stop. This is a district in Arlington.
I met Cousin and a friend at a restaurant for supper. We went there because she had a late afternoon appointment in the area. We had a leisurely meal. Then she and I went back to her place, stopping at the neighborhood Whole Foods on the way.

Before I went to Texas at the start of this month I thought it would be good to extend the cell phone I inherited from my dad to use on the trip. So I got on the company's website. The phone has 1600 minutes on it and I had already found that I couldn't buy more days for the phone without also buying more minutes, a reason why I didn't renew the phone at the end of January. This time I was told the phone uses 2G technology and was becoming obsolete. They would be glad to send a free phone. Since this was the day before I left for Texas, I declined.

Cousin is big on phones and I knew we would want to coordinate when and where to meet. So last week I ordered that free phone. I was told it would take 6-11 days to arrive – and I would be leaving in six days.

It hadn't come by yesterday, so I got onto the website and ordered a month of service for the old phone. The phone showed the new expiration date, but no longer showed the 1600 minutes. I started a chat session with their help people. I was told since the new phone was ordered I should wait and use it. No, I'm flying tomorrow and need a phone. Well, they said, he 1600 minutes will return with the new phone but you still have the 30 minutes on the old one. The phone finally said something other than “No Service” and I could call out, so I ended the chat.

I think they got the last laugh. Whenever I powered up the phone today it showed nothing but “No Service.” It looks like I paid for a phone I can't use. Since I left the museum about the time we had agreed to meet in Ballston, calling Cousin would have been a very good idea.

Cousin lives in Fairfax County, Virginia. It is one of the richest counties in the. One of the supper conversations was about how even in this very rich county the public amenities, such as parks, are underfunded and infrastructure in general is in poor shape. Conservatives in action with no sense of community.

A note from today – that new phone was finally shipped last Friday, April 29th. It hasn't arrived yet.