Friday, December 29, 2017

Have you read the Constitution?

I completed the sale of my parents’ house today. After almost 54 years it has passed out of the family. I went from the title company office straight to the bank to deposit the check. Then I went north to have lunch with my sister and her wife at a lovely Asian restaurant owned by a lesbian.

On the way home I listened to a program from the Aspen Ideas Festival on Michigan Radio. Walter Isaacson, CEO of the festival, brought together Normal Lear and Khizr Khan for a discussion of the Constitution. Lear is famous for the many TV shows he created, one of them was All in the Family, featuring the character Archie Bunker.

Khan is famous for a brief moment in the Democratic National Convention in 2016. Khan’s son had been killed in 2004 in the Iraq War, so at the Convention Khan sharply criticized the nasty guy, especially on the then proposed ban on Muslim immigration. A couple paragraphs of that speech were frequently quoted by media. This one is key:
Donald Trump, you're asking Americans to trust you with their future. Let me ask you, have you even read the United States Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy. In this document, look for the words "liberty" and "equal protection of law."
During that paragraph Khan pulled out a miniature copy of the Constitution out of his pocket and held it up. Yes, he carries copies with him.

This Aspen Ideas Festival discussion was about what Khan is doing to promote knowledge and understanding of the Constitution, evidently with Lear’s help. Khan reports that most schools no longer have a class in civics, so he and his colleagues go into schools (a great deal of interest in middle schools), pass out copies of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence and talk to the students about what it all means. Khan focuses on what he says are the two most important amendments, the 1st and 14th. No other countries have in their constitutions have such phrases, such “dignities” as he calls them, of “freedom of assembly” and “equal protection.” Because of such phrases Khan highly prizes the Constitution and is doing what he can to defend it.

During the program it is clear that Khan has a great deal of reverence for our Constitution.

The audio is 52 minutes.

My brother is visiting his daughter (with husband and 3 children), who lives a half-day drive south of here. His other daughter is also there. I’ll be visiting them for the holiday weekend, so this is my last post of the year.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Fox on trampoline

I don’t watch much TV. I turn it on maybe a half-dozen times a year. One of several reasons is all the commercials. They’re for stuff I don’t need and are annoying.

So why would I travel a half hour to pay money to sit in a theater to watch 80 minutes of commercials?

Because they’re the winners of the British Arrows for excellence in commercials. And the Brits have an unusual sense of humor.

This was put on by the Detroit Film Theater. I had seen previous winner reels before (also presented by the DFT), though they hadn’t done it for a couple years. Some of these films are what we Americans expect from a commercial, others appear to be 3-4 minute short stories. Some of my favorites:

Skittles, of Mars/Wrigley. The teenage boy is throwing skittles at his girlfriend’s window to get her attention. She doesn’t respond because she is catching the skittles in her mouth. After a few catches she scoots over so others can also catch skittles – her brother, dad, grandma, policeman, and the family pet.

Harry and Ahmed, for UNICEF. Harry was a child when he left Nazi Germany as a refugee. Ahmed is a child now, a refugee from Syria. We see how similar their stories are.

Tumbleweeds, for Pearl and Dean, showing some of the additional jobs needed by the movie industry. In this one we meet the woman who trains tumbleweeds to roll across the scene at just the right time in Western movies.

Unlimited You, for Nike. First we see people encouraged to take up sports. Then we see them going to extremes, such as woman diving off a cliff and a child ready to skateboard down a San Francisco hill.

Duel, for Audi. We see a man and a woman fighting it out and crashing into things in a posh hotel, but the film is played backwards so we see all the upset trays being reassembled. At the end we see they are two valets vying for who gets to drive the Audi (at least I think so).

Buster the Boxer. At Christmas the parents buy a trampoline for their boy and install it in the yard after dark. The animals – foxes, badger, squirrels, and others find it and have fun. Buster is stuck inside, watching. The next morning as the boy is allowed out the dog races past and jumps inside first.

The best of the year was We’re the Superhumans, for Paralympics. We first see a drummer without arms who holds the sticks in his feet followed by a singer and a band of differently abled people as they play in the background to accompany other paralympians do all kinds of other wonderful stuff, such as sports from wheelchairs and dancers with artificial legs.

I see from the website that not all of the winners were included in the show I saw tonight. I may have to watch them online, perhaps tomorrow. You can watch them here.

Monday, December 25, 2017

True belonging

To my Christian readers, Merry Christmas. To all my other readers I wish you peace and joy in whatever way you celebrate the Solstice and New Year.

A few days ago one might have wondered if we would get a white Christmas in the Detroit area. Then a snowstorm blew through yesterday and handled that issue. On the drive home after the Christmas Eve service at my church with weather reports of more snow today I wondered what my Christmas driving would be like.

The gathering – all of family still in Michigan – was at my sister’s house about 100 miles north of my house. I got on the road much later that I originally thought. Then the usual 1:45 drive turned into a 2:15 adventure. I had sunshine when I left home and sunshine approaching my destination, but in between was a snow storm that slowed traffic to a crawl.

Once at sister’s house I assembled my contribution to the meal, and we ate. Then there was a brief gift exchange (significantly shorter than when a herd of nieces and nephews were in attendance). We had some pleasant conversation and then I thought it best to head home while I could do much of the route in daylight. The trip home was 1:55.

A few days ago I mentioned not being in the mood for Christmas. That has included usually turning off Christmas carols that take over even the classical music radio stations in town. So on my trip north I listened to an NPR program and the next CD up in my car’s sound system (the Saxophone Concerto by Michael Torke is really cool!). NPR covered the entire trip south.

That NPR program this morning was The 1A hosted by Joshua Johnson. This show was a rebroadcast of a conversation with Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston. Her latest book is Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to stand Alone. She became known for a TED talk on The Power of Vulnerability, now viewed over 30 million times (I haven’t watched it yet).

I didn’t take notes while driving this morning, so I listened to the 47 minutes again this evening. Here is some of what she talked about.

Brown is a qualitative researcher. She asks people to tell their stories and she draws meaning and principles from them.

Empathy means “I feel with you.” It drives connection. It includes the idea that I could be in your situation, and when I am I’ll need you – we’re here for each other. Sympathy means “I feel for you.” It drives disconnection because it can include condescension – “You poor thing!”

She was asked to define her term “True belonging.” She had thought belonging meant being a part of something bigger than ourselves. But true belonging is a spiritual practice about belonging to yourself. It’s about being so true to yourself you are able to be a part of something larger and about standing alone when required. When we truly belong we are not asked to change who we authentically are. It demands we be who we are. Before we belong to any sort of group we must belong to ourselves. We must know our own self-worth, must believe in our own self. Then we carry belonging with us.

Trying to fit in with a group is the greatest barrier to belonging. Fitting in asks what am I supposed to do, say, feel, and believe in order to not be challenged by a group (which could be the dominant culture). It is a hollow substitute for belonging. It means sacrificing ourselves to achieve it. The connection to others is not real and we can feel lonelier.

We cannot belong to a group of people in a stronger way than we can belong to ourselves. Belonging is not something we negotiate with groups of people.

We are sorting ourselves into factions of like-minded people, but as we do that we are becoming lonelier. In these bunkers of people we have only “common enemy intimacy” – we hate the same people.

Definition of vulnerability: uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. We think of vulnerability as weakness, but courage only comes out of vulnerability. Vulnerability is an accurate measure of courage.

Social media does not promote connection. People are emboldened to say things they wouldn’t dare say in person. Social media is a great way to communicate, to decide how to meet in person to build connection, but is horrible as a way to build that connection.

Pain will never be denied. You can’t drink or drug it away, you can’t surround yourself with stuff. Pain will find a way out. Pain, partnered with fear, erupts into blame and rage. A government that supplies you with an opponent to rage against is a very seductive formula.

Blame is a discharge of pain. Its opposite is accountability, an act of vulnerability – accepting concern, making amends.

When confronting opponents here are some practices: People are hard to hate close up, so we should move in. Speak truth to BS, but be civil.

A global problem is rampant dehumanization of people. This is the start of every genocide in history. It begins with language, the names we call each other. We are not biologically wired to be cruel to each other, not wired for hate, violence, rape, murder. To allow ourselves to be cruel we first dehumanize, push people outside the circle of protected humanity. Both the right and left use language to push people away.

Families can be tribal. A family member outside the tribe can have difficulty. The discussion should be about boundaries, what is good and not good to discuss. Do this when emotions are not high. But we don’t want to sever ties unless there is an issue of physical safety or when humanity is denied.

I can be empathetic to people who have vastly different experience – for example, I can relate to the Black Lives Matter movement even when I’m not black. There is something greater – love and compassion. Empathy isn’t about shared experience, but about shared emotion. Do you know rage, pain, joy, grief, love? If so, you can extend empathy. It is about digging to find when I felt afraid, powerless, enraged. Alas, we tend to not be be fluent in emotional identification.

Stop walking through the world looking for evidence you don’t belong. You’ll always find it. Belonging begins in your own heart.

On to some of my own thoughts. I’ve written a lot about ranking (racism, misogyny, etc.) being behind and a part of many of the problems facing the nation and the world (the GOP tax scam is all about ranking). Behind that is the question: Is ranking a natural, perhaps inbred, part of being human? If yes, then we can’t fight it and might as well accept it and our own place in that ranking. If no, then ranking can be swept away and we can work towards a life without it.

I have answered that question for myself, though maybe not in a definitive way that would convince a skeptic. My answer is that ranking is not natural, though we are definitely susceptible to it. Since we live in a culture that teaches it with nearly everything it does we learn it readily. However, humans have constructed culture not built on ranking, such as ancient Crete as discussed in the book The Chalice and the Blade.

Brown’s discussion on dehumanization supports my viewpoint. She says we are not wired to be cruel. Before we can be cruel we must see the other side as not human. Thus ranking is not natural.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

That’s the power of hatred

In August 2016 I came across this quote from President Lyndon Johnson:
If you can convince the lowest white man that he's better than the best colored man, he won't notice you're picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he'll even empty his pockets for you.
I posted it as part of my growing understanding ranking, which explains we have been taught to assign rank to people in our society – men over women, white over black, going through many other categories. As I recognized from this quote a person’s need to feel superior to other people (especially in a culture that teaches such superiority) is much more important than a person’s need to feel economically secure. Ranking is an amazingly strong force.

Twitter user Propane Jane expands on this idea in a long series of tweets. Recognizing the strength of ranking is important to understand how the GOP tax scam got passed. In case you aren’t up on your acronyms: WWC is White Working Class. Excerpts of what Jane wrote:
People need to understand that his socioeconomic self-sabotage keeps occurring repeatedly because the White American majority would rather be robbed blind by the White 1% than align themselves with the majority of people of color to elect Democrats. Equality is too risky. A rising tide lifts all boats, which is PRECISELY why non-wealthy White Americans continually vote in majority for the GOP’s austerity. Skin privilege and feigned supremacy are worth more to them than money in the bank, especially when POC still have less than they do.

I know it makes folk uncomfortable to ponder this thought, but I’m sick and fucking tired of people asking “why do they vote against their self interest” as if maintaining racism as an institution isn’t a self interest or these voters’ primary electoral motivation. It’s one thing for them to keep lying to themselves but the rest of us don’t have time to participate in their denial along with them. The WWC hasn’t been duped by the GOP, they are *willful* participants in their own demise.

These people are intentionally making a habit of finding out who people of color are rallying behind and which party we’re giving our votes to so they can vote the complete fucking OPPOSITE.

Learn this basic fact now, y’all.

NO amount of facts or self-inflicted economic hardship will stop these people from voting GOP for bigotry, misogyny and homophobia’s sake. Give up on that fantasy now. Also the folk on the left who foolishly think that if shit just gets bad enough for the White majority they’ll wake up one morning and join the multicultural coalition they’ve intentionally avoided for the last FIFTY YEARS need to snap the FUCK out of it. It ain’t happening. Trust and believe that impoverished White people who live in the reddest of red states and religiously vote Republican are already suffering the dire socioeconomic consequences of their votes, they just don’t give a fuck b/c Whiteness is their sustenance. They won’t have a pot to piss in or window to throw it out in Trump’s Amerikkka, just like they didn’t under Reagan and GWB. Predictable economic hardship hasn’t stopped them from voting GOP and it never will. That’s the power of hatred.
Jane uses the recent election in Alabama where many people willingly voted for a pedophile. She also mentions the “unpopularity” of Hillary Clinton. Then she continues:
The more folk insist on playing dumb and burying their privileged heads in the sand, the more America retreats from its stated ideals and reverts back to all of its original sins. We ignore and deny the impacts of racism and misogyny on our politics at our own peril. No one should be surprised that non-stop glorification of White people who were so hateful and ignorant that they wanted to take their country back simply b/c a Black man was running it has resulted in a GOP government intent on destroying everything he/we built. No one should be surprised that the refusal of White “moderates” to lay down their privilege and join the multicultural Democratic coalition results in GOP victory and maintenance of the discriminatory status quo.

Y’all can be certain I won’t stop calling it out no matter how many folk jump in my mentions to say “not all white people”. Until the White majority gets its shit together, our ONLY hope is in our collective recognition that they won’t change and we have to OUTVOTE THEM. Give up on chasing these racist, sexist dummies who don’t even have sense enough to vote to keep their own fucking healthcare coverage. Focus your time, money, and energy on fighting GOP voter suppression that’s targeted at people of color.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Votes out of a hat

A few days ago I wrote about a race for the Virginia House of Delegates that Democrat Shelly Simonds won by a single vote. This particular race would also determine whether the GOP would control the House or would have to work out a power sharing agreement with the Dems.

Sigh. It was great while it lasted.

The GOP took one of the rejected ballots to a three judge panel. They ruled it counted for the GOP candidate David Yancey.

This is a ballot that had been rejected because the voter filled in the ovals for both Simonds and Yancey, then drew a slash through the oval for Simonds. This was considered an overvote. The voter should have gotten a fresh ballot. The GOP agreed it was an overvote during the counting – until they needed one more vote. The race is now declared a tie.

So sometime next week the race will be decided by essentially drawing a name out of a hat. Again, the control of the chamber hangs on the outcome. Not democracy at all.

I heard that in Virginia Dem Delegates got 200,000 more votes than GOP Delegates or about 10% more. Yet because the state is so highly gerrymandered the result is only a 50-50 split in seats. But even a few districts gerrymandered for the GOP elected Dem Delegates.

Heaps of praise

We’ve seen GOP members of Congress steadfastly refuse to provide the checks and balances on the nasty guy as the constitution says they should do. We’ve seen his cabinet heap praise on him. All this in a democracy?

Another example is some GOP members are working to destroy the credibility of investigator Robert Mueller. That prompted Melissa McEwan of Shakesville to write:
One man does not subvert our democratic norms and systems to usher in authoritarianism on his own. He has help, and lots of it. The Republican Party is willing, even eager, to provide all the help that Trump needs.

The inaction and even assistance in Congress has me thinking whatever authoritarian actions the nasty guy does the rest of the GOP wants it too. Don’t upset the guy when he is doing exactly what they want him to do. They’re as much authoritarian as he is. They want that. They’ve been working towards this moment for decades.

Sarah Kendzior proposes another possibility for the way the GOP sucks up to the nasty guy.


Perhaps a year ago (I don’t remember the date – at least a year, maybe 18 months) there was a lot of news that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) was hacked just before the Democratic Convention. Some of the info gained in that hack was dribbled out over the fall campaign and made a difference in the results.

Very little has been said that the RNC was also hacked (and, apparently, Sen. Lindsay Graham’s personal email) at about the same time. Little was said because that info wasn’t used during the campaign. But it certainly wasn’t forgotten. The nasty guy could be hanging it over certain members of Congress.

There may be other reasons for all that praise for the nasty guy. Kendzior lists a few:

* One is the careerism and opportunism I mentioned above. Take the chance to impose the nasty policies while we can. Kendzior dismisses this. It’s just everyday politics. But everyday politicians don’t heap praise like this.

* Threats to family and friends.

* Contamination – of being on the outer edges of the administration’s criminality. This could include bribery by the nasty guy’s donors (but that’s also everyday politics).

* Threats to the country, such as provoking another country to attack America or disrupt our infrastructure.

Kendzior says these threats can be used against more than Congress – they can be used against any government official. And even mass media.

When these threats are wielded against the media our news begins to sound like propaganda or at least the stories that expose a lot are killed. Either action could be because of fear.

When officials are threatened they become afraid to criticize the executive branch, perhaps even afraid to state concerns privately. This comes from a suspicion of surveillance. Self-censorship becomes a survival mechanism.
When it gets to this point – when you self-censor by instinct, when you’re always on guard, when punishment always looms, and accountability is annihilated, you’ve passed into authoritarianism.

We’re not there yet. But we’re getting close.

It is important not to let them change your values, your morals, your individuality. Authoritarianism isn’t just a matter of external control; it’s most insidious aspect is what it does to you inside.

That prompts a question. Are GOP members naturally authoritarian or are they being blackmailed into it? Perhaps both? That they have been acting authoritarian is demonstrated by the scam masquerading as a tax cut bill. Yeah, the giveaways to the rich and the resulting threats to the social safety net is bad. What is worse, says Will Wilkinson writing for the New York Times, is the contempt they showed for democracy in the process. There were no hearings or debate on the bill. Sections were rewritten by hand and a vote was forced before anyone could read it.

Wilkinson explains this isn’t an issue of “makers” protecting themselves from “takers.”
Democracy is fundamentally about protecting the middle and lower classes from redistribution by establishing the equality of basic rights that makes it possible for everyone to be a capitalist. Democracy doesn’t strangle the golden goose of free enterprise through redistributive taxation; it fattens the goose by releasing the talent, ingenuity and effort of otherwise abused and exploited people.

A bit more on that tax scam bill. The Center for American Progress estimates the nasty guy will save somewhere between $11 million to $15 million a year on taxes. His children and the children of many in his cabinet will save $4.5 million in estate taxes.

So Joy Reid said on Twitter journalists and constituents should be busy asking every GOP Congresscritter five important questions:

* What is your net worth?
* How much will you gain financially from the bill?
* Did your voters urge you to vote for it?
* How much will the average person in your district see in tax relief?
* Will you vote to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to cover the deficit?

One of Reid’s Twitter replies suggested showing the size of the Congresscritter’s houses. Yeah, they’re big.

Thursday, December 21, 2017


My church has what it calls a Longest Night service, held appropriately on the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. This isn’t a celebration of the solstice, but an acknowledgment that some people are not happy during the Christmas season, some people are grieving. The grief is usually because of the death of a loved one, though could be because of a broken relationship, severe illness or depression, or something else.

One of the songs this evening was “Worn” by Tenth Avenue North. Some of the words:
I’m worn; my prayers are wearing thin.
I’m worn even before the day begins.
I’m worn; I’ve lost my will to fight.
I’m worn, so, heaven come and flood my eyes.

Le me see redemption win,
Let me know the struggle ends,
That You can mend a heart
That’s frail and torn.
I wanna know a song can rise
From the ashes from a broken life,
And all that’s dead inside can be reborn.

Melissa McEwan uses her blog Shakesville as a community meeting place. Each December she offers a place for the community to vent about why Christmas won’t be sparkly snowflakes. And readers do, offering all kinds of stories of dysfunctional families. The one that sticks in my mind is the woman who says it is not safe for her to be around her father, which means she can’t spend Christmas with her mother, brother, and his family.

My Christmas is nowhere near that bad, but life isn’t sparkly snowflakes either. Our lives have changed a lot in the last few years. I’ll have a quiet day with my sisters along with the wife of one and the daughter of the other. We’ll exchange a few simple gifts and share a meal.

I’ve attended the Longest Night service for three years now. The first one was a few months after Dad died. I don’t remember it. I remember a particular aspect of the second one very well. We were asked to write a message on a piece of paper, then come forward and slip the folded paper into the straw of the manger. My message was anger at Dad because of the enormity of the task he had dropped in my lap. I had already been cleaning out the house for 20 months and still had a long way to go. I still had to manage money for Mom’s care, which could go for several more years. In addition, Tim had died. Karen had died. I got back to my seat and the grief overwhelmed me.

This year I still had a few tears. This time the slips of paper were in the shape of stars and we were given three of them. On one I wrote a name in each point: Dad, Mom, Tim, Karen, and now Ruth and added “I miss you.” On the second I wrote, “I have completed the task as well as I am able.” The task isn’t quite done. There is still a closing on the house and a final tax season. Even so, what looked enormous a year ago is done. The house has been emptied and repaired. The investments have been distributed.

I noticed the back of the third star was a pattern of butterflies. Mom’s first bout of cancer – melanoma – was at age 50. Surgery removed part of her cheek. Melanoma appeared again at age 55. Some time after that she also had breast cancer. At age 50 Mom adopted the butterfly as a personal symbol. She saw hope in the chrysalis bursting open and a beautiful butterfly coming out. Mom’s hope was rewarded and each time she returned to a busy, vibrant life. This year the cancer came back. There was no butterfly.

Perhaps not for Mom. The task Dad dropped in my lap is (nearly) done. I intend to break into and keep a busy, vibrant life.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Listening to voters

Gosh, those Congresscritters really listen to their voters! The Senate passed their version of a bill to steal from the poor disguised as a tax cut a couple weeks ago. The Tax Policy Center analyzed the mess and determined that it delivered 62.1% of its benefits to the richest 1% of Americans.

It is the least popular legislation in three decades. Voters made their displeasure known and the GOP leadership listened. The new bill – approved by the House this afternoon – has changed that distribution. The 1% richest Americans now get 83% of the tax cuts. You’re so sweet! Thanks for thinking of me! But… you shouldn’t have.

The GOP says they phased out the middle class tax cuts after a few years as a budget gimmick – gotta keep the bomb that will blow up the deficit under $1.5 trillion, at least on paper. But no future administration or Congress will actually allow such a giant tax hike on the middle class to actually take effect. So, no worries! That 83% going to the top dogs, won’t really happen. All cool!

Yeah, the middle class should see a tax cut big enough to actually notice. At least for a few years. Just don’t peer under the rug where the poor get nothing.

Every vote matters

In my wrapup of the November election results I noted that a few seats in the Virginia House of Delegates were so close they had to be recounted. That recount finished today. The last to be recounted was district 94 in which Democrat Shelly Simonds won over Republican David Yancey – by one vote. That means each party will have 50 seats. And, unlike the state Senate, there is no way to break a tie.

So the GOP will not control the House as it has for 18 years. The two parties have to work out an agreement to share power.

So every single time you have the opportunity, VOTE!

Strong responsibility

A couple weeks ago in a Detroit Free Press editorial Stephen Henderson had a lot to say about rich white supremacist Richard Spencer being invited to speak at the University of Michigan. Henderson says U of M had a very good reason to refuse to let Spencer speak. He is very good at inciting violence and his followers are happy to come along and oblige.

Even so, Henderson agrees that Spencer should speak. However, with the invitation extended the university has a strong responsibility.
The goal should be to give Spencer space to speak, but to deny him control of the time, place and manner in which the speech takes place, and to prevent the violence attendant at his other speeches from happening in Ann Arbor.

The university also needs to make as clear as possible how awful Spencer’s ideas are with smart but aggressive counter-programming. Invite other speakers to speak back to his message. Organize – preferably with students – robust events that show the power of town-square-style competition of ideas.

Whatever happens, the university cannot let Spencer have the spotlight alone.


The university has a dismal record of upholding this responsibility. The campus is already tense for minority students because of racist incidents. Spencer’s rhetoric would likely embolden these perpetrators. In addition the university has a record of twisting free speech to crack down on dissenting speakers, such as during the civil rights and women’s rights movements.
If the university is going to be tolerant of speech as offensive and intimidating as Spencer's, it had better be sure that it is doing all it can to protect speech equally – more so than other institutions, perhaps, because of its call to principled, open and vigorous debate.

It hasn’t always done that in the past. And it hasn't ensured that the students who'll feel victimized by Spencer's speech also feel like the university has their back.

The Spencer speech is an opportunity to recommit, and to excel to a space where diversity of thought and reason, as well as diversity of ethnicity and class, are respected for everyone on campus.

Women are good for business

In last Sunday’s edition of the Detroit Free Press there was a front page article, Breaking the Boardroom Ceiling. It reported that women on corporate boards are good for business. General Motors’ board of directors is 50% women and the boards of Ford and Fiat Chrysler are well above 20%. In addition, 20% of board seats in Michigan based Corporations are filled by women and nationwide women fill 20.8% of board seats.

A nonprofit organization “2020 Women on Boards” started advocating for women on corporate boards back in 2010, aiming for 20% by 2020. The goal was reached three years early.

This trend of more women on boards is being pushed by investment companies that want a good return for some pretty large pension funds. That includes funds run by men. Their reasons for the push:

* Gender diverse companies are 15% more likely to outperform their peers. Women interrupt the “head-nodding group think.”

* The more male-dominated board has a higher likelihood of fraud. Women are more ethically sensitive.

* Women are less overconfident, and are more risk-adverse.

* At least half of consumer spending is influenced by women. Their views need to be represented during crucial decisions.

* Incidents that jeopardize corporate reputations and disrupt revenue streams would not have happened or would be addressed more quickly with more women on the board. This likely refers to sexual scandals, but probably a lot more than that.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Don’t stay indifferent

When I lived in Germany for two years starting 28 years ago the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe were crumbling. I heard it described this way (though I had to look up the details): Poland’s revolution took ten years. The revolution in Hungary took ten months, in East Germany it took ten weeks, and in Czechoslovakia it took ten days.

So, starting about 1979 Lech Walensa captured the imagination of the West. Democracy arrived in 1989.

I remember the elation I felt when the Berlin Wall was opened. A few weeks before I planned a trip to Berlin, not knowing what was coming. I was there five days after the Wall opened – after the weekend party in West Berlin finally subsided. Easterners were allowed to freely cross to the West, but us Westerners still had to go through passport control. I spent a day in East Berlin, which included a requirement to change a certain number of West German marks to East German marks (made of aluminum) and spend it all before I returned to the West. I used it to enter a couple museums and buy lunch. Back in West Berlin I went through the Checkpoint Charlie Museum that documented the various ways (many bizarre and ingenious) people tried to escape from behind the Iron Curtain. Some were successful.

I went back to Berlin 18 months later. The experience was different – no wall. I could pass from West to East just by walking past the Brandenburg Gate. No passport check, no lightweight coins. Watch for the vendors selling trinkets to the tourists.

East Germany is now safely a part of Germany, a very democratic country. But Poland appears to be another matter. The government led by the Law and Justice Party and its leader (though not Prime Minister) Jaroslaw Kaczynski is becoming authoritarian. In response, Martin Mycielski of the Committee for the Defense of Democracy organized the largest mass demonstrations in Poland since 1989. For these efforts Mycielski and his organization were awarded the European Citizen’s Prize by the European Parliament in 2016.

Mycielski has long admired American culture and politics. He was quite alarmed by the election of the nasty guy. He is helping us in the way he knows – describing for us what authoritarians do. For that he created the website Learn from Europe.

Mycielski starts with “Year 1 Under Authoritarianism – What to Expect?” He has a list of 15 items. All of them seem to accurately describe what the nasty guy and the GOP have been doing over the last year. Some of them:
They will come to power with a campaign based on fear, scaremongering and distorting the truth. Nevertheless, their victory will be achieved through a democratic electoral process. But beware, as this will be their argument every time you question the legitimacy of their actions. They will claim a mandate from the People to change the system.

Remember – gaining power through a democratic system does not give them permission to cross legal boundaries and undermine said democracy.

They will divide and rule. Their strength lies in unity, in one voice and one ideology, and so should yours. They will call their supporters Patriots, the only “true Americans”. You will be labelled as traitors, enemies of the state, unpatriotic, the corrupt elite, the old regime trying to regain power. Their supporters will be the “People”, the “sovereign” who chose their leaders.

Don’t let them divide you – remember you’re one People, one Nation, with one common good.

They will create chaos, maintain a constant sense of conflict and danger. It will be their argument to enact new authoritarian laws, each one further limiting your freedoms and civil liberties. They will disguise them as being for your protection, for the good of the People.

See through the chaos, the fake danger, expose it before you wake up in a totalitarian, fascist state.
On to the “Authoritarian Checklist.” A couple of those items:
* Win elections on fear & populist promises

* Limit minority & women’s rights
Mycielski provides “6 Rules for Survival under an Authoritarian Regime.” The first of those:
Don’t stay indifferent. It WILL concern you eventually. It will concern your family, your friends. Voice your objection IMMEDIATELY. Show them you care. RESIST.
And “7 Rules on Approaching Authoritarian Supporters.” This is a list of guidelines to follow if that regime supporter is a neighbor, friend, or family member. Rule 1:
Don’t look down on them, don’t patronize them, even if you know what they’re saying has no factual basis or you find it offensive. Don’t preach, ask questions. Try to understand them, where they are coming from, what their problems are and why they see solutions to them in the regime. Treat them as people, as equals. They believe what they’re saying is true and they might have valid reasons for their support.

Host Ray Suarez interviewed Elaine Tyler May on today’s edition of All Things Considered on NPR. May wrote the book Fortress America: How We Embraced Fear and Abandoned Democracy. A lot of our leaders have made a big deal of danger to personal safety – fear of dangers increased even while the dangers statistically declined. This fear has its uses.

Don’t want women in the public arena? Warn them they are only safe at home. Want to keep the races separate? Loudly proclaim that young black men were dangerous. But the most likely victims of violence are black men and the least likely are white women. May’s conclusion:
[Fostering fear] has really affected our political life. It has affected our personal lives, and really since the late 1960s, American politicians, American leaders, have used the fear of crime to call for law and order kinds of policies, to encourage Americans to be afraid of their neighbors, of people they don't know. And that has really caused a sense of retreating of the common good. It's created distrust where we know those fears are highly exaggerated and completely out of touch of the reality of the situation.

Deeply comic

Friday evening I went to the Detroit Film Theater to see the movie The Other Side of Hope, directed by director Aki Kaurismaki of Finland. It was described as “deeply comic” and rated rather high, so I gave it a chance.

The story is topical. Khalid has escaped the war in Syria and is applying for asylum in Helsinki. He is also looking for his sister who got separated from him during their travels. One of the locals is Wikstrom, a guy who has had enough of selling shirts to clothing stores. He gets someone to buy out his inventory and uses that to buy a small restaurant. He got it cheap because the three employees haven’t been paid in three months. Of course, Khalid and Wikstrom meet up.

The characters and situations are a bit eccentric such as attempts to liven the restaurant to make it more profitable. But the humor is droll to deadpan to subtle to lost in translation. I smiled some and laughed a bit. It was OK, but not the laugh festival I anticipated with a description such as “deeply comic.”

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

What are we defending?

I found a good quote by a person with the Twitter handle of Indigenous and who displays Native art on the home page:
If the U.S. can’t afford to protect the environment, build bridges or teach children anymore, then what exactly is it defending with its military budget?

Sydette, a Twitter user, tweeted:
… oh my god y’all really think #metoo is just getting a backlash? … it’s gonna be all out WAR for YEARS. Are y’all really that new?

Several others echoed the sentiment that what women are experiencing is much more than a simple backlash. They also provide examples. In the discussion Twitter user Manoushka quotes Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale:

Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.

A clash between views

Jessica Mason Pieklo, writing for Rewire, offers another review of the case of the bigoted baker before the Supremes last week. A few of her observations.

Noel Francisco argued the case for the nasty guy’s Department of Justice. He has ties to at least one extreme right think tank (though the group tried to hide the connection so Francisco would be seen as unbiased) and was probably well schooled.
Francisco insisted that under the Colorado law, a Black baker would be forced to create a cake for the Ku Klux Klan. This is a point the conservative justices jumped on, despite knowing that the KKK is not a protected class and therefore not subject to the same anti-discrimination protection as a same-sex couple.

Pieklo then focuses on Anthony Kennedy, who has been balancing the dignity of LGBT people with the dignity of religious people. In the same-sex marriage case Kennedy was on our side. In the Hobby Lobby case (in which the company was given permission to not provide contraceptive services for its employees) Kennedy was on their side. This baker case is a clash between Kennedy’s two views.

So Pieklo thinks Kennedy may not fully support our side. And whatever he decides his reasoning will be mushy.

Delighted with wrong prediction

I predicted yesterday that in the Alabama special Senate election scoundrel Roy Moore would win. I am delighted that my prediction was wrong. Democrat Doug Jones won by enough of a margin that there won’t be an automatic recount.

I said the GOP was cheating. Ari Berman, who wrote the book Give Us the Ballot; the Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America, confirms it. He lists the ways the cheating was done in a tweet, so I’ll expand a bit.

Police at polling stations. This has an intimidation factor. Also in previous elections police have checked voters for outstanding warrants, a big deterrent.

Voters listed as inactive. This is likely a surprise to many regular voters.

Long lines at polls. That can be accomplished by not supplying enough voting machines (of course, plenty of machines in affluent areas) or being really slow when a machine stops working. People in long lines have a higher tendency to give up.

Voters told they have the wrong ID. Of course, people who don’t drive (likely can’t afford a car) don’t have a drivers license. In addition, after saying the driver's license is one of a few acceptable IDs, Alabama, claiming a budget crisis, closed DMV offices in counties where blacks make up more than 75% of the voters.

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville says, yeah, there was some cheating. But that fraudulent Election Integrity Commission didn’t pull out all of its sinister dirty tricks yet because Roy Moore wasn’t worth exposing them before 2018. So stay vigilant.

I had lunch with my friend and debate partner today. And we debated. A bit. He thought the accusations of Roy Moore being a pedophile were unproveable, irrelevant, and a sideshow. The real issue, with very little mention in the media, is that Moore has no respect for the rule of law. The evidence is that Moore was twice removed from the Alabama Supremes for defying the national Supremes. That should have been what disqualified him from being a Senator.

While I agree with my friend I’m not so dismissive of Moore’s sexual assaults. I’ve concluded that how a politician treats women, LGBT people, and minorities is a good indication of the kinds of policies they will promote and whether I’ll agree with those policies. So, yes, Moore had no respect for the rule of law, which should disqualify him. And also Moore treats everyone but white Christian men like dirt and that also disqualifies him.

The political question is now which of those disqualifications will sway the most voters?

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

No surprise

On the way home from rehearsal this evening I heard in the 10:00 NPR news that in the Alabama special Senate election the race is too close to call with 70% of the vote counted. Even so, I’m going to make the disappointing prediction that the scoundrel (don’t have enough room for all the adjectives) Roy Moore will win. I make that prediction based on a little bit of evidence.

The GOP is cheating.

Come on now. Don’t act so surprised. Infuriated, yes. Surprised, no.

The details:

John Merrill is Secretary of State in Alabama. He was an election monitor in Russia and declared their election to be “free and fair.” It wasn’t. He said he would implement Russian tactics in Alabama.

I previously reported on voter suppression.

Today voters are being turned away because they have been declared “inactive” or told they have the wrong ID.

I would be delighted to wake up tomorrow and hear that my prediction is wrong.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The partisan outcome would never have been possible

As I’ve mentioned a few times now I’m part of the campaign to end gerrymandering in Michigan (the campaign website explaining gerrymandering is here). So I’m quite interested when I find links to articles on the issue. Especially one that can satisfy my inner geek.

Nicholas Stephanopoulos, a law professor at the University of Chicago, wrote an opinion column for The Inquirer of Philadelphia. Like Michigan, Pennsylvania is highly gerrymandered. Like Michigan the voters are about evenly balanced between Dems and GOP. Yet, the GOP sent 13 representatives to Congress while the Dems sent only 5.

Back in 2004 the Supremes heard a case about gerrymandering in PA. The justices said we don’t like gerrymandering but we don’t know how to measure it. Another case, based on the 2011 redistricting, is before the PA Supremes with a ruling expected by the end of the month.

Since the 2004 case political scientists got to work. Last year I’ve discussed one measure that came out of that work, called the efficiency gap. This news article mentions a couple more. It doesn’t describe them, though does link to the scholarly papers (as PDF) that were presented in court. I took a look at the one under the link “maps” written by Jowei Chen, Ph.D, an associate professor of Political Science at the University of Michigan who has testified in several gerrymandering cases.

Chen used a computer simulation that randomly drew districts and compared the results with what the lawmakers drew. Chen lays the goals (which gives you an idea whether you want to read the rest of the paper).
By randomly drawing districting plans with a process designed to optimize on traditional districting criteria, the computer simulation process thus gives us a precise indication of the range of districting plans that plausibly and likely emerge when map-drawers are not motivated primarily by partisan goals. By comparing enacted plans against the range of simulated plans with respect to partisan measurements, I am able to determine the extent to which a map-drawer’s deviations from traditional districting criteria, such as geographical compactness and county splits, was motivated by partisan goals.
The traditional criteria for districts are: population equality (specified in the federal constitution), being contiguous, avoiding county splits, avoiding municipality splits, and geographic compactness.

Chen randomly created 500 maps using the traditional criteria. Then applied precinct voting data to each map and to the enacted map. Then he ran all his statistical measurements to the created maps and the enacted map. Finally, he drew some tables and charts.

For example, The random maps gave the GOP 7 to 10 districts, with 54% of the maps giving the GOP 9 out of 18 seats (what the overall vote tallies suggest they should get). None of the maps gave the GOP more than 10 seats. And yet the enacted map gave them 13. Chen supplied 3 more graphs of various measures. In all of them the random maps were all clustered over here and the enacted map was way over there. Chen wrote:
I thus conclude with overwhelmingly high statistical certainty that the enacted plan created a pro-Republican partisan outcome that would never have been possible under a districting process adhering to non-partisan traditional criteria.

Stephanopoulos tackles some of the arguments the GOP lawyers tried in court. In one of those arguments professor Wendy Tam Cho said that all those hundreds of simulated maps may not be representative of all possible lawful maps. Stephanopoulos says that’s true but irrelevant. All those maps do prove (1) there are hundreds of maps that are more fair, and (2) Pennsylvania geography (in which Dems tend to cluster in cities) didn’t cause the GOP to get the extra seats. The other GOP arguments are just as logically flawed.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Just aren’t energized

With the senate race in Alabama coming to a vote in just a few days, some people are wondering why black people seem so disengaged. They certainly wouldn’t want bigoted Christian supremacist Roy Moore to win. But they don’t seem all that excited about Democratic challenger Doug Jones. A lot of reasons are offered. Perhaps Jones isn’t appearing enough in black communities. Or the organizations that do black voter turnout lost out in the latest campaign finance laws. Maybe even though Jones prosecuted Klansmen, black voters just aren’t energized. Perhaps Jones isn’t talking to black crowds to avoid alienating white crowds. Maybe news of the race or Doug Jones hasn’t reached black communities.

Vann Newkirk of The Atlantic says all these breathless commentaries miss one important thing. Voting has always been a burden for black people in Alabama and the latest voter suppression efforts have made it worse. Why get excited for a candidate if you can’t vote?

Thankful I’m gay

Mikey Rox writes The Frivolist, a column that appears in Between the Lines, the LGBT newspaper for Michigan. In this week’s edition the column is titled, “10 Reasons I’m Thankful I’m Gay.” There was a time in his life (and in many gay lives) where he though it would be so much easier to be straight. But now he considers being gay a blessing and shares his gratitude. Here’s his list and under a few of them I’ll give my own version.

1. Compassion and empathy comes naturally. Rox wrote:
I know what it feels like to be called names and spat on and beaten for being different, and every day those memories inform how I treat others. In hindsight, I’ve realized that many people lack compassion and empathy because they’ve never known what it feels like to need and want it.
I add: I wasn’t picked on for being gay. But I saw how other LGBT people were treated and knew it could have easily been me. I agree that being gay and battling the church’s stance on LGBT people has very much formed my sense of compassion.

2. No accidental babies.
My version: I’m also definitely a party of one.

3. I wouldn’t know half the people I love.
My version: My important friends at my current church are in the LGBT community. I’ve been feeling a bit adrift lately because a couple of them have been out due to health issues.

4. I’ve helped change people’s minds about the LGBT community.
My version: I tend not to discuss the issue with our opponents. But as I’ve become more comfortable with my orientation those around me have taken it in stride and have also added a touch of challenge to the world.

5. An appreciation for the male body.
I’ll leave it at that.

6. I live by my own rules. Rox wrote:
Today, I don’t give a f*** what anybody thinks about my sexual orientation. This is my life. Come along or don’t, but this ride isn’t stopping for anybody.

7. My open-mindedness grants me access to experiences that many people are afraid of. Rox wrote:
I’m living my truth and learning every day about all the different people with whom I share this planet.
I add: Part of my reply is the learning I do through this blog. I’ve become quite interested in how patriarchy affects the lives of women. Part of my reply is if I wasn’t gay I doubt I’d volunteer at the Ruth Ellis Center where most of the youth are black.

8. My humor, even as a defense mechanism, makes me more attractive.
My version: Sheesh, I’m not skating through life on my looks.

9. I wouldn’t have such a satisfying career.
Rox is paid to write about gay issues. My careers in the auto industry and in teaching at a local college may not have been different if I was straight. But my “job” of writing this blog came about because I’m gay and the evolution of my ideas and principles and ethics developed through this writing.

10. My life would be completely different – and I love it just the way it is.
My version: Back in high school and college when I dated women (perhaps I just “hung out” with them?) I assumed I would marry and have kids. I didn’t and I love what I have now.

A few years ago I realized I’m a complete package. The gay parts influence the ethics parts and the compassion parts and the music parts and everything else. My ethics would be a lot different if I wasn’t gay. I suspect I would have matured to be a lot less tolerant and accepting. I love what I have now.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

My ignorance is just as good

Fannie Wolfe of *Shakesville* occasionally has a summary of LGBT news in the age of the nasty guy. In Tuesday’s installment she included a discussion of the baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a gay couple. This case was before the Supremes on Tuesday. Fannie closes with this:
I have a working theory about anti-LGBT strategy here. With Trump continuing to be historically unpopular, how beneficial might it be for the Christian Right to wage a revived, full-on culture war, in which leaders of the Christian Right convince their followers that the forces of Political Correctness are oppressing them? What vigorous anti-LGBT counter-measures and messaging might the Trump/Pence Administration deliver to their loyal, white conservative Christian base, in response to a win or, perhaps worse, a loss in this case? It's hard for me to see any outcome of this case as a win, at least in the short-term, for LGBT people.

Some men seem to be upset that they can’t flirt (harass) women in the workplace anymore. Melissa McEwan, also of Shakesville, offers no sympathy. You know how to treat men in the office without harassment so you already know how to treat women. Harassment includes unwanted hugging or leering while commenting on a woman’s dress. And since there is this big public discussion about harassment you can no longer plead ignorance that a particular action is inappropriate.

McEwan is also annoyed with the call that men should treat female coworkers the same way they their wives and daughters. Some of her reasons:

Some men abuse their wives and daughters.

A woman shouldn’t have to be related to a man to be treated with respect.

Making a distinction between women who are relatives and those who aren’t implies these female relatives are property to be maintained.

A quote appropriate for today.
There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”
– Isaac Asimov, 1980 “Cult of Ignorance.”

For the absolute best (if a little purple) description of trickle-down economics here is Lewis Black on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
You wanna test that trickle-down theory? Drink about twenty beers. Then pee your pants. Then put a cup down here, and stand and see how long it takes for that pee to fill up that cup.

The alcohol beverage industry doesn’t like this one. Researchers at University of Connecticut and Georgia State University have noted that after the introduction of medical marijuana laws alcohol sales fell by about 15%. That’s because marijuana is safer: People don’t die of marijuana overdose. It is less addictive, less likely to cause vehicle deaths, and less linked to violent behavior. Excessive alcohol use kills nearly 90,000 people a year compared to marijuana’s zero.

I don’t drink alcohol and haven’t tried marijuana (though I was pretty sure I smelled it at a recent Ann Arbor Symphony Orchestra concert). I hear legalizing marijuana will be on the Michigan ballot next year. Perhaps these stats are a reason to vote for it.

Australia confirmed!

The Australian House of Representatives passed a same-sex marriage law on Thursday. Marriages may begin in January. The vote was almost unanimous. From a picture I wonder if for some votes the members indicate their position by which side of the hall they sit or stand. In this picture one half looks mighty empty.

A commenter to another blog noted how the Australian government mismanaged the process at every step, making it much harder than it needed to be. A summary:

1. Back in 2004 a lesbian couple, married in Canada, asked is our marriage legal? The law didn’t specify gender. Instead of saying it does, another law was hastily passed to say marriage was between a man and a woman.

2. A same-sex marriage law was repeatedly introduced, but the major parties were too skittish to touch it.

3. So they did this non-binding postal survey on the question.

4. It could have been a referendum with formally written language and a legally binding outcome.

5. Marriage equality advocates didn’t want the survey because they knew the “no” side would be vicious, inflaming extremists.

6. Because the postal survey didn’t have formal language our opponents gleefully campaigned on the scariest version of the law they could think up.

7. Even so nearly 62% of the responses were yes.

8. But even with that affirmation members of Parliament are still trying to appease the religious right. I don’t know how much of those efforts made it into the final bill.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Used to unravel protections

This afternoon I took part in a web seminar put on by Soulforce. They did it today, the same day the Supremes heard the case of the cake baker who discriminated against a gay couple. The title of the seminar says it well, “Religious Exemptions 101, It Ain’t About the Cake.” I mostly watched (while typing notes), though did submit a comment.

I started supporting Soulforce many years ago. They’re a group that is trying to dismantle white Christian Supremacy. I got involved because they strongly stand up for LGBT rights (they were founded by Mel White, who is gay).

The session was moderated by Soulforce Director Yas Mendes Nuñez. Speakers were Rev. Alba Onofrio, also of Soulforce, and Katherine Franke and Kira Sheppard, both of Columbia Law School and its Public Rights, Private Conscience project, which studies uses and misuses of religious liberty.

Rev. Alba began with a definition. Christian supremacy is using the language and doctrine of Christianity for purposes of domination and harassment, using it as a tool for oppression. This is frequently referred to as white Christian supremacy because it is used almost exclusively by the white Fundamentalist churches and denominations. We must disentangle the religion from the oppression.

Franke spoke next. Some of her points.

Religious liberty is a big deal in this country because many of the people who came here first were members of religious minorities who were seeking religious freedom. This religious freedom has been tied together with race. Mormons (back in the 19th Century) were declared criminal, partly because of their views of polygamy, but also because they were declared to be non-white (even though they, similar to the hated Irish, looked white).

In this century prohibitions against racial discrimination came first, then expanded to include prohibitions against religious discrimination.

People are using religion as a license to discriminate. This sets up an antagonistic relationship between religion and equality. We’re told we can be for religion or equality, but not both. But this ignores many religious people who promote equality. So let’s move away from this way of framing the issue. Let’s switch to how this case hurts religion. Many minority religions also need equality protections. Religious liberty as a whole is at risk from these Fundamentalist people (though I note many of them are no longer interested in religious liberty – they want to impose their religion on us). The wider populace still values the religious liberty idea.

White Fundamentalists were clever in choosing to take this case to the Supremes. They can say, it’s just a cake! Why get so worked up about it? Just go to a cake shop that likes you. It’s a smart case because the stakes are so low. All this tempest for a cake? Sheesh.

But it isn’t about the cake. It’s about the religious exemption. And as soon as it is used to unravel protections for LGBT people it will be used to unravel racial accommodation.

This case is backed by the Koch brothers, the super rich guys who back a lot of conservative (supremacist, though not obviously so) causes.

The Religious Freedom Reformation Act (RFRA) says that federal policy cannot place undue burden on the practice of religious beliefs. It was passed by Congress with broad bipartisan support. The left agreed to it to protect religious minorities, such as the case of prisons refusing to allow a Jewish prisoner to wear his yarmulke. But the Fundamentalists have been using RFRA for oppression and the Supremes have permitted it.

Sheppard then spoke. She is important to the discussion because she is a black woman. Her focus at Columbia and within this religious liberty project is on racial justice work.

Religious liberty has been about discrimination against black people since then 1950s, the dawn of the civil rights era. Bible verses were used to support segregation as well as support discrimination as being a part of religious rights.

After Brown v. Board of Education the South created segregated private academies (I’ve heard white students from the South are surprised that white students from the North went to public schools). These schools were tax exempt, essentially supported by the federal government. That ended in 1970s and the Supremes agreed the IRS was permitted to withhold exempt status on segregationist institutions.

Religion is still being used to attack the right to an abortion and other cases of reproductive health. And, as I’ve said many times in these posts, religion was used to attack LGBT rights and same-sex marriage.

Because of the nasty guy and his supremacist views we’re going to see more of these laws. They won’t directly target race, but they will be used to support racism. An example are the laws that permit discrimination against sex outside of marriage. The only sign of sex outside of marriage is the single mother. And most single mothers are women of color. The nasty guy has supported bills that prevent government from penalizing someone who discriminates. Go ahead and violate laws that prevent discrimination because you can’t be punished. Thankfully, this hasn’t passed. Yet.

Sheppard is concerned about Catholic hospitals and the ethics guidelines set by the Catholic Bishops. These hospitals can’t perform abortions or help in preventing pregnancy. Sheppard told the story of Tamisha, who was pregnant and in a lot of pain. She went to the nearby hospital (which was Catholic). They saw the fetus was dead (though didn’t tell her that) and even though there was the threat of severe complications from infection the hospital refused to do an abortion and she was sent home. Only when a miscarriage began did the hospital help her. Tamisha sued.

These ethics guidelines impact mostly women of color. They face higher rates of unintended pregnancy. They have higher rates of not being insured and because of that more likely to have complications that need abortion. And Catholic hospitals refuse to help.

Fundamentalist schools ask for exemptions from Title IX, which prevents discrimination against women. Lately, Title IX exemptions have also been used to discriminate against transgender people.

The focus shifted back to Franke. She suggests when talking to Fundamentalists, don’t talk about religious freedom. That gets them combative. Instead, talk about religious exemptions. True religious freedom means not imposing on others. Religious views that are about creating an abundant, joyous life are good. Views and doctrine that is about harming others is false religion. When discussing religion we must also discuss power and work to separate the two.

Religious rights can also (and should be) used to support people of faith in the immigrant sanctuary movement. These are people inspired by their faith to help others. The discussion of religious rights in this case includes rejecting harm. So the religious rights claim can also be a political claim. For example, Texas permits guns on college campuses (and Franke she doesn’t want to be that professor when a student with a gun comes to the office). The Quaker faculty in Texas are using a religious argument to oppose gun carry laws – it is against my religion to have guns in my office.

A participant asked about how supremacy relates to disabled people. As with the religious view that races shouldn’t mix, there is a (thankfully, not common) religious view that a disabled person must have sinned against God and disabled people are not made in God’s image. Therefore they should not have rights. Franke often poses this situation to prospective law students. The correct answer: You’re entitled to your beliefs up to where those beliefs begin to interfere with the rights of others.

If the Supremes rule with the cake maker this case opens the door to discrimination against a lot of kinds of people. Hate speech laws are out the window. As with many cases concerning us lately, Anthony Kennedy is the deciding vote. He’s been good on gay rights, not good on race rights or women’s rights. He is also a Catholic. During arguments today he didn’t give an idea how he will vote.

Justice Roberts seems to feel free speech is more important than anything else. So if he buy’s the baker’s idea this is a speech issue we’ll lose.

In prior posts I’ve discussed judicial scrutiny. For different kinds of cases the government must meet differing thresholds of justification for discriminatory laws. Race issues require a higher level of scrutiny before the Supremes. Many in our society are determined to be colorblind. But sex discrimination laws require a lower level of scrutiny. We kind of like having two genders and the idea of being gender-blind hasn’t caught on.

At the end they briefly discussed the comment I sent in. I said that those coming to America for religious freedom were also looking to set up their own religious supremacy. The speakers agreed that supremacy is a founding sin, it is even embraced in the Constitution (see slavery). So we have to engage with it.

The case before the Supremes was in the evening NPR news in a report by Nina Totenberg. The baker, Jack Phillips, represented by Kristen Waggoner was up first. The progressive justices fired off with why does the baker, but not the jeweler, the hairstylist, the makeup artist, the invitation designer, or even the florist, get to claim his work is art covered by free speech? Justice Breyer said, “We're asking these questions because we want some kind of distinction that will not undermine every civil rights law.”

Noel Francisco, Solicitor General from the nasty guy administration, was up next. He claimed the court should not allow discrimination based on race, but urged the justices to allow narrow cases of discrimination based on religion and sexual orientation. Kennedy responded, “I think that’s an affront to the gay community.”

Frederick Yarger represented the Civil Rights Commission of Colorado, that backed the gay couple. He said a baker may refuse to put a message on a cake if he finds it offensive, but if he sells a cake to a straight couple he must also sell it to a gay couple. Kennedy responded that tolerance is necessary in a free society, best when it’s mutual. But Colorado hasn’t been respectful of the baker’s religious beliefs.

David Cole of the ACLU represented the couple. He reminded the justices of the late Antonin Scalia’s opinion that a broad law neutrally enforced is constitutional even when it has an incidental effect on some people’s religious views. To do otherwise would permit “every citizen to become a law unto himself.”

The ruling will come by the end of June.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Master of a universe

I heard it again today – people getting together to conclude that the nasty guy is mentally ill. I say “people” rather than psychiatrists because I heard about pushback from actual psychiatrists that such a diagnosis cannot be made without a proper examination.

Melissa McEwan of Shakesville pushes back for other reasons:

* This is a cruel comparison to people with actual mental illnesses.

* It promotes the idea that the nasty guy is just like that and we should excuse such behavior.

McEwan offers another, probably more accurate explanation: The nasty guy never faces the consequences of his actions. Part of that is because he was born to immense privilege. And the rest of it is that he creates his own reality and forces everyone in his sphere to affirm it. McEwan describes it as, “Master of a universe built to his own specifications.” He has the privilege and the power to invent his world and assumes others will make it happen. And he designed this world without consequences or accountability.
The presidency is supposed to come with built-in accountability in the form of checks and balances — but Trump's party, currently controlling both Houses of Congress, refuses to do that job. Like every other sycophant in Trump's history, they just give him what he wants; reflect back to him the reality that he demands.

A big question looms – will he be able to maintain his personal reality as investigator Bob Mueller gets closer? And what damage will he do in the attempt?

A heart problem

The Senate GOP passed that horrible bill mislabeled as a tax cut. Keep in mind the purpose of this bill: Take money from the poor.

Kelly Macias of Daily Kos discusses an essay the Rev. William Barber published in The Guardian (just before the bill passed).

I wrote a post back in 2013 discussing power and violence. In particular, every time someone is asserting power (in later posts I describe this as enforcing ranking) there is violence. This violence can be physical, mental, economic, or spiritual.

I’m pleased to see I have the same ideas as Barber. He described the bill as an act of violence. He noted the hypocrisy of giving tax cuts to corporations and the very wealthy at the expense of the poor. Wrote Barber:
The claim of the cuts is scarcity. But we do not have scarcity of money; we have a scarcity of moral will. We have an abundance of resources that could end poverty for everyone.

We know our nation has a heart problem when our elected leaders would rather fight a war on the poor than a war on poverty. This is bigger than any one bill. Legislation like this could only come so close to fruition in a broken political system
Both Macias and Barber skewer “trickle down” economics, the idea that if a lot of money is given to the rich some of it will trickle down to the poor and thus the poor will be better off. Except the rich make sure very little trickles down. And the smaller federal revenue is matched by cuts to help the poor.

In reading that a thought popped into my head. If the goal is to benefit the poor, instead of giving money to the rich in hopes that some of it reaches the poor, it would be so much more effective to, oh, I don’t know, perhaps … give it to the poor.

That could be done through a universal basic income. Or, if you don’t want to help lazy people, it could be done by increasing the minimum wage so that it is a livable wage. And then there is the whole issue of a tax code that taxes the income of poor people more aggressively than the income of rich people.

So, yeah, the purpose of this horrible bill is to take money from the poor, to increase their oppression.

Feeling the heat

Yesterday morning I had two work crews at the house. The first had been scheduled for a while. That was a contractor to replace the side door in the garage. The frame had rotted, so the whole thing had to go. He also rehung gutters on two sides of the house that were sagging. He finished a bit after lunch.

The other crew replaced the furnace. I had reported it had gone wonky a couple days ago. The crew brought in the new one, which I noticed is shorter than the previous one (and that one was shorter than the one in the house when I moved in). The crew did their thing and finished about 2:00. About then two more guys arrived. It was soon clear that one of these was the manager. One of the original guys explained he had installed furnaces before but this was the first under this company. His boss had come to inspect the work. At times they talked to me, explaining the changes in code since the previous furnace was installed. Mostly the boss talked to his guys.

Along the way the boss noted a few other things the guys should do to bring everything up to code, which included the type of material used to support the PVC pipes of the exhaust system. Which they changed. Though they were “done” at 2:00, the boss didn’t finish his lessons and they didn’t leave until 3:00.

I went out for dinner with friends and enjoyed the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The 10th Symphony of Dmitri Shostakovich, with a supposed depiction of Joseph Stalin as its harrowing second movement, is an awesome piece of music!

I came home to a cold house. The temp had dropped 5 degrees again. This time the furnace didn’t kick in. By morning the inside temp was down to 58F. Before dashing to a morning event I called the heating company. I told the answering system for emergencies that I would be home by noon (I was actually home a bit earlier). Shortly before noon I got a call and a guy was here shortly after. He had the furnace running fairly quickly.

New furnaces are now required to go through a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupt, the kind of outlet now required in bathrooms and kitchens where water is present. It had tripped while I was at the concert. The reason for it tripping is unknown.

This GFCI requirement was added to the code by the electricians. The furnace people hate it. As today’s repairman said: Suppose you go off to Florida for a month (lots of people in Michigan do that). A little bit of water leaks into the basement and flows into the drain. But the moisture is enough to trip the GFCI. The furnace cuts out and the pipes freeze and burst. Which is better, a puddle on the floor or frozen and burst pipes?

If the furnace cuts out again I know to reset the GFCI and see if that does it. Though it could be a cold morning while I make my way to the furnace.