Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Cable Car Museum

We took the cousins - our grandkids - to the cable car museum yesterday.  It's a free museum housed in the Washington/Mason cable car barn.

Most impressive are the active winding wheels that pull the cables.

There's a brief explanation of how cable cars work here on the museum site.

And here's a cable car on a very level portion of the ride.

There's more, but have been walking around San Francisco with grandkids in tow.  Sometimes on my shoulders.  There was an interesting set of posters in the museum about how the mayor in 1947 was planning to do away with the cable cars until some women got together and got a ballot initiative to prevent that.  I'll give more detail on that because it has important lessons for people today.  We even had some playtime at the Joe DiMaggio recreation center playground.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Oscar Screwup Response Was Class Act

It was any event organizer's worst nightmare.   The last award.  The most important.  And the wrong film was announced.  The La La Land crowd - there were a lot of people who took the stage - began their jubilant thank you's when La La Land producer Jordan Horowitz (I didn't know who it was at the time) told the audience that it was a mistake, that Moonlight had actually won.

There were no tears (at least visible on tv), no refusal to give back the awards, no yelling, no blaming.  Just the opposite.  It was one of the wrong winners who announced the mistake and who said very positive things about the actual winner, and the La La Land crowd gracefully ceded the limelight to the crew from Moonlight.

The mistake was acknowledged immediately and openly and the response was all so adult, so gracious, so harmonious.  This was not some minor issue, but rather the most prestigious award in the film industry, an industry filled with ambitious people.

Our news has been so dominated by three-year old tantrums lately, that this is a wonderful relief, and we should all be glad for the error, just to see how decent people behave.

Deadline says that PricewaterhouseCoopers has claimed the blame:
"We sincerely apologize to Moonlight, La La Land, Warren Beatty, Faye Dunaway, and Oscar viewers for the error that was made during the award announcement for Best Picture. The presenters had mistakenly been given the wrong category envelope and when discovered, was immediately corrected. We are currently investigating how this could have happened, and deeply regret that this occurred. We appreciate the grace with which the nominees, the Academy, ABC, and Jimmy Kimmel handled the situation."
Another, adult statement.  No weaseling.  Just standing up and admitting the fault, and apologizing to those who were affected.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Can An Alternative Fact Sell Jeans?

The first time I was aware of alternative facts in advertising, I was about ten or eleven.  I'd ordered the 'fresh' strawberries from the menu.  When they came, they were obviously frozen strawberries.  I told the waitress that they weren't fresh.  "Sure they are," she said, "their fresh frozen."

So lying in advertising is probably as old as advertising.

But announcing that what your are saying is a lie, I don't recall any ads like that before.

Here's a San Francisco billboard I saw today.

Maybe this is just a local joke, since Levis, the Gap, and Betabrand are headquartered in San Francisco.

*For the visually impaired, the billboard in the image says:
"Alternative Fact:
We're now bigger than
Levi's and Gap



Saturday, February 25, 2017

Structural Difference Between US and 1930's Germany That Makes It Harder For Trump

As a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand, I began to understand the differences between a centralized national government and one that split powers between the national government and the states.

In Thailand, everything was centralized in Bangkok.  There were provincial and local governments but they were controlled by Bangkok.  All government professional positions - in schools, hospitals, police departments, courts, etc. - were controlled by Bangkok.

This means if you run afoul of your employer in one province, you're screwed in every province.

If someone had issues  - i.e. disagreed with the actions of the headmaster of the school she was teaching at - they couldn't just go to another school district and apply for a job.  There was, essentially, just one school district, administered in Bangkok.  If you vocalized your disagreement and irritated your boss enough, you might find yourself transferred to a distant part of Thailand while your spouse, say a doctor in the hospital, was not transferred there (and couldn't get a job there without official sanction.)  An indirect, but very effective way of keeping employees in line.

My mother was 17 when she escaped Nazi Germany.   On more than one occasion told me that "the same thing could happen in the US," I have always wondered about that.

In Thailand I began to understand that the US structure, with powers divided between the states and federal government, would make it harder for an autocrat to seize control of the US.

Yes, local schools and police departments get federal funding, and Washington can threaten to withhold that funding.  But, a local police department is independent of the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies.  They can tell them to go to hell if they find an order distasteful or out of sync with local values.

So the other day when I heard the police chief of Santa Cruz declare their department would 
take a long hard look on whether to cooperate with Homeland Security in the future, I thought about this structural benefit of our government.

In Hitler's Germany, Berlin was similar to Bangkok.  All power was centralized there.  But here, the Santa Cruz police chief can tell Homeland Security to go to hell without losing his job.

As we figure out how to deal with the reality of most divisive and abusive president in American history, I can take some solace in this division of power between the feds and the states.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

San Francisco Baby Visit -

In San Francisco to see the baby.  She's tiny and beautiful for a week old.  You have to take my word for it.

But here are some pictures I took on the walk from the BART station.

San Francisco City Hall in very bright morning sunshine.

And right in front were these barricades waiting for duty.

A mural.

And a bit of resistance.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Can The "Efficiency Gap" Concept Change The Supreme Court's Mind On Gerrymandering?

[UPDATE September25, 2017: Gill v. Whitford is scheduled to be heard at the US Supreme Court October 3, 2017]

A Mark Butler FB repost got me to a Slate article on something I'd never heard of in terms of gerrymandering.  Since I got pretty involved in blogging the last Alaska redistricting process, I figure if I didn't know about this others don't either.

The article talks about a challenge to the Wisconsin state redistricting process that successfully used this concept of "efficiency gap."  The case has been appealed to the US Supreme Court, so it's something to pay close attention to.

While double checking, I came across a New Republic article written by Nicholas Stephanopoulus who was quoted in the Slate article.  It seemed more appropriate to go to the horse's mouth for my quotes about 'efficiency gap.'

Stephanoupoulus begins by pointing out that while the Supreme Court isn't for gerrymandering, litigants haven't come up with solutions that they are comfortable with.  He says they have hinted at some ideas such as Justice Stevens' idea of 'partisan symmetry.'  So Stephanopoulos and Eric McGhee have come up with what he claims would test for that, though he calls it something a little different.
"No litigants have seized this opportunity yet, but they should. To assist them, McGhee and I have devised a new metric of partisan symmetry called the efficiency gap. The efficiency gap is simply the difference between the parties’ respective wasted votes in an election, divided by the total number of votes cast. Wasted votes are ballots that don’t contribute to victory for candidates, and they come in two forms: lost votes cast for candidates who are defeated, and surplus votes cast for winning candidates but in excess of what they needed to prevail. When a party gerrymanders a state, it tries to maximize the wasted votes for the opposing party while minimizing its own, thus producing a large efficiency gap. In a state with perfect partisan symmetry, both parties would have the same number of wasted votes. 
Suppose, for example, that a state has five districts with 100 voters each, and two parties, Party A and Party B. Suppose also that Party A wins four of the seats 53 to 47, and Party B wins one of them 85 to 15. Then in each of the four seats that Party A wins, it has 2 surplus votes (53 minus the 51 needed to win), and Party B has 47 lost votes. And in the lone district that Party A loses, it has 15 lost votes, and Party B has 34 surplus votes (85 minus the 51 needed to win). In sum, Party A wastes 23 votes and Party B wastes 222 votes. Subtracting one figure from the other and dividing by the 500 votes cast produces an efficiency gap of 40 percent in Party A’s favor. 
The efficiency gap has several properties that make it ideal for measuring the extent of gerrymandering. First, it directly captures the packing and cracking that are at the heart of every biased plan. Surplus votes for winning candidates are the definition of packing, and lost votes for defeated candidates the essence of cracking. All a gerrymander is, in fact, is a plan that results in one party wasting many more votes than its opponent. The efficiency gap tells us exactly how big the difference between the parties’ wasted votes is."
If you didn't read that carefully, here are some key terms:

Two Kinds of Wasted Votes - votes that didn't contribute to victory
Surplus Votes - those votes more than needed to win
Lost Votes - votes cast for candidate who was defeated

Efficiency Gap is simply the difference between the parties’ respective wasted votes in an election, divided by the total number of votes cast.

An extreme example was Pennsylvania where gerrymandering gave the Democrats lots of lost votes.   From Republic Report:
"In Pennsylvania, one state in which the GOP drew the congressional districts in a brazenly partisan way, Democratic candidates collected 44 percent of the vote, yet Democratic candidates won only 5 House seats out of 18. In other words, Democrats secured only 27 percent of Pennsylvania’s congressional seats despite winning nearly half of the votes."

Democrats, who have been hurt badly by Republican control of redistricting after the 2010 census, are hoping this case could break open some opportunities for them.  Here's a FairVote article from December 2016 looking at this case and the larger picture.  

Monday, February 20, 2017

No Such Thing As Tone Deaf - As La Scala Orchestra For The Tone Deaf Demonstrates

Having learned one tonal language (Thai) and struggled with two others (Cantonese and Mandarin) I realized that people who say things like "I can't sing because I'm tone deaf" really aren't tone deaf.  They just think that.  After all, people in Thailand and China who can hear, all understand what people say to them, and if you are tone deaf, you simply can't do that.

My test for English speakers who tell me they are tone deaf is to offer the most tonal two phrases I know in English - listen to the short audio below.

And 100% of them understand that the first one means 'yes' and the second means 'no.'  The phonetic sounds are nearly identical.  The key difference is in the tones.  I first became aware of these tonal words in English when some of my high school students in Thailand came up to me after class and asked, "Ajaan Steve, What do mmm hmmm  and mmmm mmmm mean?"  I'd been using them in class unconsciously.

In Thai and Chinese the tones are part of each individual word - each syllable actually - but in English our tones are embedded in the sentences.  We tend to have a rising intonation for questions, for example.  Just say "no'
1.  As though this is the third time your four year old asks if he can have an ice cream.
2.  As though your girl friend has just turned down your marriage proposal, and you are checking in shock if she really said, "no."

Totally different tones.

This all came to mind today as I read a short piece about La Scala setting up a chorus for the tone deaf.  I smiled when I got to this sentence:
"Maestro Maria Teresa Tramontin has directed the choir for the tone deaf since its formation, in 2010, at the suggestion of Luigi Corbani, who was until recently the director general of the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi, known as La Verdi. "He believed that tone-deaf people didn't exist," Tramontin said." (emphasis added)
"In many cases, tone-deaf people have to be unblocked from a psychological point of view," Tramontin said. . .

Note:  There may be some people who cannot distinguish tones, I guess.  But then these people would have serious problems listening and understanding, let alone speaking, in countries that use tonal languages, as well most other languages, like English, where tones are connected to sentences rather than individual syllables.  They wouldn't be able to say in perfect English, "I'm tone deaf, so I can't sing."

A New Life

We're headed to San Francisco in a couple of days to meet our new granddaughter who arrived Thursday.  She's inherited my mother's first name.  My Seattle granddaughter got my mother-in-law's first name and it took a while to not look for my mother-in-law when her name was mentioned.  Neither name is at all common in the US.  Mentally, seeing my mother's name attach to a new human being is exciting and confusing.  But I know from the first granddaughter experience, that soon the new granddaughter will be the rightful heir to the name, and it will sound totally normal.

[Fill in the blank space as you like.  There are too many thoughts churning in my head to attempt to pin them down in a post.  Work for a better world for the babies being born this year.  Resist, but with respect and kindness and understanding.  Let's have a moratorium on vitriol.]

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Case For Hidden Figures As Best Film For 2016

When I started thinking about this, La La Land was getting lots of raves and I was thinking about why Hidden Figures was a better candidate for the Academy Award for best film.  Since then,  I've seen two more films - Fences and Moonlight -  which I'll add in.

Defining 'best' is always tricky.  There are lots of factors to consider and how important one factor is compared to another is up to the viewer.

I'm borrowing  criteria I used to explain my favorites at the 2007 Anchorage International Film Festival, and I'll use those here to help explain the case for Hidden Figures.

So what were my criteria? There are several factors.

1.  Technical Quality - There's a rough continuum from

shaky...........no problems.............very good...............innovative.

You can see this is not exactly a continuum.  Innovative is good when it works, but not when it doesn't.  The technical stuff, ideally, works so well it enhances rather than distracts from the story.

2.  Content - There's a vague continuum from:

Negative/disrespectful ............Boring.........good story.........original.......current.........important

Again, as I look at the line above, this is more a list of factors to consider than a continuum.

3.  Use of Medium. Movies combine sight and sound and movement and timing. The best movies are those that take advantage of the medium and tell their stories in ways that you couldn't tell it orally, in a book, etc.

4.  Whole Package. Even with weaknesses here and there, a film could pull it off by doing some things so well that the problems don't really matter.

Applying the criteria

As I mentally compared La La Land and Hidden Figures, it's clear that Content became my most important category.

La La Land scores high on Use of the Medium.  My brief review of it after I saw it mentioned that the camera was one of the actors in the film.  It wove in and out of scenes like another person on the set.  It wouldn't have worked as a book, you have to see it to get the effect.  I walked out of the theater happy.   But eventually, I realized that the whole movie was like a bubble - beautiful and shimmering and . . . empty and ephemeral.  There was no real content, the singing and dancing were acceptable.  Like a bubble, after it popped there was nothing left.  (Well, if you had just been through a similar kind of disrupted relationship it might feel more meaningful, but it didn't really tell us all that much about that either.)

Hidden Figures on the other hand was rich in Content.  It was a great story that not only told about  the lives of the three main characters, but their place in a pretty much unknown part of American history.  It smashed so many stereotypes about blacks, about women, about the US space program that it's impact is huge.

The three women were part of the 'colored women calculators' at NASA.  Their job was to do the math before computers were installed.  Despite American stereotypes, they were all three extremely bright mathematicians.  The film helps demonstrate why women aren't considered good at math and science.  The movie is replete with ways their brains were used, but they were kept invisible while the men got the credit for their work.  It also powerfully shows the obstacles that black women faced in the Jim Crow South.  Most vivid was Katherine's regular run nearly a mile each way to get to the only colored women's room on the NASA campus - in the heels that women were required to wear.  She was assumed to be the janitor when she walked in, and someone puts up a colored coffee pot so she won't contaminate the white folks' coffee.  And given the level of racial conflict in the US today, being reminded of sanctioned racism in place in the 60s.  And it's important to see real historical role models of smart, resourceful, black women and to be reminded (for some it will be the first introduction) that  black women can be, were, and are brilliant mathematicians and scientists if they're allowed to be.

Technical Quality and Use of the Medium were high, moving the story along without being flashy or in any other ways calling attention away from the story.

Fences and Moonlight are also good films with important stories about black lives.  The language in Fences is exquisite.  The story in Moonlight is compelling, but the structure is sometimes hard to follow.  That's not necessarily a bad thing.  Any good work of  art reveals itself more and more with each new encounter.  I could learn a lot by seeing Moonlight a few more times.

Ultimately though, the characters portrayed in Fences and Moonlight  are African-American characters we've seen on screen over and over again, though usually not in such a rich and understanding way.

But the characters in Hidden Figures are ones we have never seen portrayed on screen before - brilliant, gutsy black women who are vital to the US Apollo program, not because of their unsung physical labor, but because of their brains and insight.  This is a movie that corrects a huge oversight in the narrative of African-Americans in the space race, and by extension probably in a lot more areas that we don't know about.

Thus the content of this compelling story starts to fill a huge gap in our knowledge of how African-American women contributed to the United States, and thus to our understanding of the huge loss we've suffered by not fully using the talent of ethnic minorities and women as we strive for a better, stronger USA and world.  Ultimately, Hidden Figures just tells the best story and the story we know the least.  Thus, for me, it's the movie that matters the most.

Trump/Pence Would Like Your Opinion

Here's the kind of questions you get at the Trump/Pence Mainstream Media Accountability Survey.

5.  On which issues does the mainstream media do the worst job of representing Republicans? (Select as many that apply.)
☐ Immigration
☐ Economics
☐ Pro-life values
☐ Religion
☐Individual liberty
☐ Foreign policy
☐ Second Amendment rights

12.  Do you believe that contrary to what the media says, raising taxes does not create jobs?
☐ No
☐No opinion
☐Other, please specify:
[This one has a box to fill things in]

17.  Do you believe that the media has been far too quick to spread false stories about our movement?
 ☐No opinion
 ☐ Other, please specify:
[Again there is a box where one can elaborate]

At the end you leave your name, email address, and zip code.

Is this a ploy to get a favorable poll?
Is this a way to get fundraising lists? [apparently yes]
Is this a way to pick places for Trump to hold rallies?

Anyone want to predict what will happen to the people who submit these with anti-Trump comments?   Is it a fishing expedition for the Trump/Pence enemies list?

If you are going to be contrary and snarky, I suggest you set up a secure email address somewhere and use a proxy server to take the test.  Starting to feel like you live in China yet?

Nah, just go fill it out.  Let them see how many people disagree with them.

It seems to come from the Trump/Pence campaign.

Here's a Twitter trail of folks discussing the survey and whether to leave names or not.

Note: I cut and pasted the questions in without copying the format which had lots and lots of coding.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Who Owns The Evil Media Trump Hates? And How Does Kellyanne Conway Do That?

Sometimes post ideas gestate as I try to gather data and/or just get the time to do them right.  Two Trump related posts have been sitting around.

The first was in response to one of Trump's tirades about the biased media.

The second was a post that would look line by line at what Kellyanne Conway says to figure out exactly what and how she does that. Fortunately, someone else has already done that and you can see it at the bottom of this post.

1.   Trump's anti media campaign

As with all his tweets, Trump uses a disparaging descriptor before the person or organization name he's talking about.  Here, it's 'fake news' media.

Who exactly is this evil media Trump complains about.  It seemed pretty clear that they are all corporations or very rich individuals.  But maybe I was wrong.  (I wasn't.)

I thought it would be useful to look at the top 20 newspapers in the US and see who owns them, because, it's the owners who ultimately matter.  And if they are conservatives and/or billionaires, it tells you something about Trump's charges.  (OK, I understand that Trump, on good days, has a nugget of truth in each panful of tweet, and that tracking down his lies is a trap for the media.  Instead of dealing with real news, they are off proving that Trump is a habitual liar which everyone except Trump seems to acknowledge.)

Rank Paper Owned By Comment
  USA Today 
Largest US newspaper publisher by
total daily circulation
2Wall Street Journal Rupert MurdochAn Australian description and a
2008 Vanity Fair, personal bio with
names you'll recognize
3New York TimesNew York Times CompanyMexican Billionaire Carlos Slim
is biggest NYT investor*

Los Angeles TimesTronc (Tribune Publishing)
5 The Washington Post Jeff Bezos Billionaire, Founder of Amazon
6 Chicago Tribune Tribune Publishing
7 New York Daily Mortimer Zuckerman
8 The Dallas Morning
A.H. Belo Corp CEO Jim Moroney
Board Vice Chairman and
Belo Heir Robert Decherd
9 Denver Post/Rocky
Mountain News
MediaNews Group *
10 Philadelphia Inquirer Philadelphia Media Network PMN is owned by the community
philanthropic Philadelphia Foundation.
11 Houston Chronicle Hearst Corporation
12 Detroit News/Free
MediaNews Group/Gannett
13 Boston Globe John W. Henry Also owns the Red Sox.
14 (Long Island) Newsday   Dolan Family and Altice
15 Minneapolis Star
Glen Taylor Minnesota billionaire
16 New York Post Rupert Murdoch
17 Atlanta Journal-
Cox Enterprises
18 The Newark Star-
Advance Publications Also own Vogue, New Yorker,
and Vanity Fair
19 San Francisco Chronicle Hearst Corp
20 The Arizona Republic Gannett

The intricacies here are fairly new to me.  But there were some interesting notes here and there.
Wikipedia noted that as the largest shareholder in the NY Times he
They also noted that MediaNewsGroup borrowed money from the Gates Foundation, mainly to buy papers in the San Jose and San Francisco areas.  Is that a coincidence or does Seattle-based Gates get something from this leverage in Silicon Valley?  They also noted that Hearst owns 31% of MediaNewsGroup outside the San Francisco area.
More than one-third of the top 20 are owned by billionaires:  Minneapolis Star, Washington Post, Newsday,  New York Daily, New York Post, Newark Star Ledger, and the Wall Street Journal.

Trump has more in common with the owners and CEOs of the newspapers than he has with the average American.  While economic class is just one factor, it's important.  At the very least, these people understand the world Trump lives in and can judge him as a peer.  If they oppose him, that says a lot.  It's not because they are unfamiliar with the economic world he lives in.


2.  How Does Kellyanne Conway Do That?

The second was an attempt to transcribe the Kellyanne Conway interview with Chris Cuomo about Russian hacking, which you can see here.  Like others, I'm astounded by how she is able to not answer questions.  I thought if I wrote out the transcript, I could see how she does it.  And from the few minutes I did write down, I saw some patterns.
1.  Take a word or two from the questions and use them to attack someone else.
2.  Quibble about words
3.  Challenge the assumptions in the question

I never got it done and now someone - Carlos Mazo - has done it much better than I would have anyway. This is the content I would have eventually gotten to.

 I'd add one more conclusion about what Kellyanne Conway does: She eats up airtime so that nothing substantive can be discussed. She pollutes the public airways so everything is doubted. Nasty, democracy destroying work.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Double Standards = Only Standard Is What Helps Me

Republicans screamed for investigation after investigation on Hillary Clinton's email security - none of which showed more than procedural lapses - but now they aren't supportive of an investigation of Trump officials who had actual, unauthorized conversations with Russian intelligence agencies.  This would appear to be  a double standard.  Or, in fact the reason they gave - national security - was NOT the real standard.

I'd suggest that the standard or the 'principle' they used to call for the Clinton investigations had nothing to do with national security or whatever other reasons they offered to justify the time and money spent on the investigations.

Rather the standard or  'principle' was 'help us win, help them lose.'

The Republicans refused to hold confirmation hearings on Supreme Court nominee Garland on the grounds that a lame duck president shouldn't appoint the next SC judge.   They delayed hundreds of other Obama appointments.  Yet, today, they are blasting Democrats who want to hold thorough hearings and investigations of Trump's nominees.  From Politico:
"The GOP says the calls for delay are a transparent attempt by Democrats to slow down the confirmation process and isolate individual nominees with negative publicity. Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell, said 'Sen. Schumer is not satisfied with precedent and best practices.'"
They can really say this stuff with a straight face?  Well, those with the power to do what they want can, well, do what they want.

Double standard again, if the principle is to hold speedy nomination processes.  But it's clearly not.  The principle is 'help us win, help them lose.'

Trump and the Republicans have been supporting a ban on refugees and particularly those from half a dozen Muslim-majority countries on the grounds that there needs to be 'extreme vetting.'

Yet today, the Wall Street Journal reports
'The officials’ decision to keep information from Donald J. Trump underscores the deep mistrust that has developed between the intelligence community and the president over his team’s contacts with the Russian government, as well as the enmity he has shown toward U.S. spy agencies.'
Exactly what sort of vetting was there before Stephen Bannon assumed his seat on the National Security Council?  Any at all?  So, extreme vetting for some (when we already have a very thorough vetting procedure for immigrants and refugees), but not for Trump staff and nominees.   Double standard, if vetting were
really the issue.

For Trump, it's been clear for a long time, that 'help me win, help them lose' is is very top principle in life.  For many of the Republicans who would appear to be applying double standards and rejecting reality (i.e. climate change) 'help me win' essentially boils down to 'do what my big campaign funders want.'  Whether they be oil companies, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, agribusiness, gun manufacturers, insurance companies, you get the picture.  (Democrats are not immune from helping their funders either, of course.)

For those of my readers who do talk to Trump supporters, I'm just offering some questions you can ask them here.

  • If the Republicans are so interested in national security, why aren't they livid about the Trump team's contacts with Russian intelligence agencies?
  • If the Republicans are so interested in extreme vetting, why don't they want Trump's appointees to be carefully vetted?
  • If Republicans blocked countless Obama appointees, why are they complaining so vociferously about Democrats wanting to hold confirmation hearings that look carefully into the backgrounds of the appointees?  

How To Change All This

Actually, humans are humans, and it's likely that a certain percent of them will be lusting for power, so the only way to prevent abuse of power is to structure the system appropriately.

For the balance of power in Congress to change, people are going to have to work hard to overcome the gerrymandering of congressional districts.  They need to elect as many Democratic governors and  state legislatures as possible in 2018.  This is so they have more control of the 2020 redistricting processes in the states that impact the fairness of the congressional districts. An extreme example where, according to Price Economics and others,
"Democrats won more than half of the statewide vote, but only 5 out of 18 House seats."
In plain simple language, Democrats got 50% of the vote in Pennsylvania congressional districts, but only 28% of the members of Congress.

The Pennsylvania redistricting committee could do this by drawing district lines that put most the Democrats into a few districts so that the other districts go Republican.

Without changing these practices, the Democrats will not win back the house.  So start finding out about your own state redistricting process and how you can make it more fair.   The Republicans worked on this for years and years, so 2030 should be the real target (I know that's depressing) and we need to make as much change as possible for the 2020 census.

[Go back and look at the US Constitution.  Article 1, Section 2:
"Representatives and direct Taxes shall be apportioned among the several States which may be included within this Union, according to their respective Numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole Number of free Persons, including those bound to Service for a Term of Years, and excluding Indians not taxed, three fifths of all other Persons. The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct."
So every ten years the Census Bureau counts how many people there are so they can know how many representatives each state gets.  That count (or enumeration) is what the state redistricting boards use to make districts.]

Thursday, February 16, 2017

US Tradition Keeping Out Blacks - From Trumps Apartments To Voting Booths

One might think it's just a coincidence that the FBI released (apparently) today  hundreds of pages from the 1970s case against Trump and his father for discriminating against blacks in their apartments and the release of a study showing that the various voter id laws enacted in some states have had a significant effect in keeping black and other minority voters from the polls.

But it's probably not that much of a coincidence.   White folks have had lots of time to come up with subterfuges to keep blacks from housing, financing, jobs, marrying their daughters, staying at their hotels, voting, and the list goes on and on.  So there is always some new revelation of how it's done in some new form, new field, or new place.  Or historically as old data are released.

The reason Republicans have been yelling voter fraud at Democrats, is simple.  People think others are doing what they are doing.  And the Republicans, since taking over the South in the 1970s, have been trying to keep black voters from voting.  It's probably true when they say they have nothing against black voters.  It's just Democratic voters they don't like and black voters tend to vote Democratic. But white Democrats don't get affected the same way.    But it appears to also be true that the voter id laws are keeping significant numbers of blacks from voting.

Researchers Zoltan L. Hajnal, Nazita Lajevardi and Lindsay Nielson argue that earlier such studies were inconclusive, but now there's enough data and there have been enough elections that their new data can show a significant impact on minority voters.  (Yes, I'm sure skeptical readers will be reinforced by the decidedly un-Anglo Saxon sounding names of the first two authors, but what could be more American sounding than Lindsay Nielson?)  From the Washington Post article on the study:
"When we compare overall turnout in states with strict ID laws to turnout in states without these laws, we find no significant difference. That pattern matches with most existing studies. But when we dig deeper and look specifically at racial and ethnic minority turnout, we see a significant drop in minority participation when and where these laws are implemented.

Hispanics are affected the most: Turnout is 7.1 percentage points lower in general elections and 5.3 points lower in primaries in strict ID states than it is in other states. Strict ID laws mean lower African American, Asian American and multiracial American turnout as well. White turnout is largely unaffected."
And here's the graph from the article:

Beyond voter id laws, there are laws to keep felons (disproportionately black because of criminalization of being black - see the movie 13th  (available on Netflix), to reducing polling places in black areas, etc. etc.  I'm convinced that Trump's claims of voter fraud are almost true.  He just should have said  election fraud - the Republican party's massive campaign to keep blacks from voting.

That's why we have a voting rights act, but a key portion of which was ruled out of date by the Supreme Court in 2013.  Now some of the states are blatantly violating voter rights, and while the courts have eventually ruled against the states (the part that was invalidated was the part that required states with bad records to have new changes in voting related laws get pre-approval from the Department of Justice), folks are hoping another conservative on the Supreme Court and an Alabama born and bred white Attorney General will come to their rescue.

About the Trump discrimination case. . . They settled with a clause that allowed them to not admit guilt and pay a fine and agree to not discriminate in the future.

Their subterfuge came about mainly by telling black applicants that the apartments had already been rented (though they turned out to still be available when white applicants showed up) and if that failed, by telling them the rent was double what it really was.  Here's a screenshot from page 34 of the nearly 400 pages now on the FBI website.  (Many pages are almost illegible because of bad copying of documents and names and other identifiers are redacted, but this page is pretty clear.)

Click to enlarge and focus

This case has been extensively covered for people who were paying attention and not just absorbing Breitbart and Fox.  I mentioned already last March.

There are so many ways to discriminate without being obvious about it.  There was even a guide called  The Green Book - specifically for African-American motorists to help them find establishments that would serve them as the traveled by car across the US.  And there's ample examples of ways to discriminate covertly if you just google.  I've been unsuccessfully trying to find the name of a book in which the black Yale grad author writes an African-American guide to restaurants in New York City.  The factors he rated related to ways blacks are discriminated against in such restaurants.  I don't remember them all, but here are a few:

  • Whether they can find your reservation when you show up and realize you're black
  • How long does it take to seat you?
  • Do they put you next to the kitchen or in an obscure table where others can't see you?
  • How long does it take to get a menu, get served?
I'm counting on the Trump administration to help people realize the way power is misused in this country, to get people really pissed off, and to lead to much more positive and respectful communication between the people the very rich have so successfully divided and conquered.  

On a positive side is this short Danish film that points out that we all have much more in common than we think.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Steve Austin: Trump's Role Model For Taking Over White House

This was in my Twitter feed, posted by Rob Wesley.  It shows Stone Cold Steve Austin's first day as the head of WWF. You know, the organization Linda McMahon, the new head of the Small Business Administration co-founded and ran.  If you watch the first minute, you 'll watch it all.

And if you haven't read the previous post on Alexander Humboldt, I'd recommend that, too, though it's a bit more cerebral.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

They Doubted Alexander Humboldt's Intellectual Ability

I started reading Andrea Wulf's The Invention of Nature:  Alexander Humboldt's New World while Z was getting her swimming lessons.  (That's another wonderful story.)

You know - Humboldt like in the Humboldt Current, or Humboldt County, or any number of mountains, bays, glaciers, towns named after him all over the world.

The introduction talks about the 100th anniversary of his birth,
"On 14 September 1869, one hundred years after his birth, alexander von Humboldt's centennial was celebrated across the world.  There were parties in Europe, Africa and Australia as well as the Americas.  In Melbourne and Adelaide people came together to listen to speeches in honor of Humboldt, as did groups in Buenos Aires and Mexico City.  There were festivities in Moscow where Humboldt was called the 'Shakespeare of sciences', and in Alexandria in Egypt where guests partied under a sky illuminated with fireworks.  The greatest commemorations were in the United States, where from an Francisco to Philadelphia, and from Chicago to Charleston, the nation saw street pa were in the United Strades, sumptuous dinners and concerts.  In Cleveland some 8,000 people took to the streets and in Syracuse another 15,000 joined a march that was more than a mile long.   President Ulysses Grant attended the Humboldt celebrations in Pittsburg together with 10,000 resellers who brought the city to a standstill."
Somehow I missed that in American history.  The next paragraph talks about the celebrations in New York City.

So what did Humboldt do that made him such a hero around the world?
"Most important . . . Humboldt revolutionized the way we see the natural world.  He found connections everywhere.  Nothing, not even the tiniest organism, was looked at on its own.  'In this great chain of causes and effects,' Humboldt said, 'no single fact can be considered in isolation.'  With this insight, he invented the web of life, the concept of nature as we know it today."
He got his insights from a strong scientific education, a strong interest in nature, a wealthy family that allowed him to make amazing journeys around the world collecting observations of nature.
"After he saw the devastating environmental effects of colonial plantations at Lake Valencia in Venezuela in 1800 [just as the United States was becoming a country], Humboldt became the first scientist to talk about harmful human-induced climate change.  Deforestation there had made the land barren, water levels of the lake were falling and with the disappearance of brushwood torrential rains had washed away the soils on the surrounding mountain slopes.  Humboldt was the first to explain the forest's ability to enrich the atmosphere with moisture and its cooling effect, as well as its importance for water retention and protection against soil erosion.  He warned that humans were meddling with the climate and that this could have an unforeseeable impact on 'future generations.'"
Wolf talks about how his ideas influenced others.
"Thomas Jefferson called him 'one of the greatest ornaments of the age'. [Is that a compliment?] Charles Darwin wrote that 'nothing ever stimulated my zeal so much as reading Humboldt's Personal Narrative,' saying that he would not have boarded the Beagle, nor conceived of the Origin of Species without Humboldt.  William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge both incorporated Humboldt's concept of nature into their poems.  And American's most revered nature writer, Henry David Thoreau, found in Humboldt's books an answer to his dilemma on how to be a poet and a naturalist - Waldon would have been a much different book without Humboldt.  Simon Bolivar, the revolutionary who liberated South America from Spanish colonial rule, called Humboldt the 'discoverer of the New World' and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Germany's greatest poet, declared that spending a few days with Humboldt was like 'having lived several years'."
So it seems spending a few weeks with Humboldt via Wulf's book, seems like a good use of my time.

This is all background to better understand the title of this post.

Alexander and his older brother learned  Latin and Greek and Enlightenment science and humanities from tutors,  one of whom was particularly stingy with praise.  He was important in their lives because their father had died when Alexander was ten and the tutor was with them a number of years.
". . . Kunth was never quite satisfied with their progress.  Whenever they made a mistake, Kunth reacted as if they had done so to hurt or offend him.  For the boys, this behavior was more painful than if he had spanked them with a cane.  Always desperate to please Kunth, as Wilhelm [the older brother] later recounted, they had felt a 'perpetual anxiety' to make him happy.
  It was particularly difficult for Alexander, who was taught the same lessons as his precocious brother, despite being two years younger.  The result was that he believed himself to be less talented.  When Wilhelm excelled in Latin and Greek, Alexander felt incompetent and slow.  He struggled so much, Alexander later told a friend, that his tutors 'were doubtful whether even ordinary powers of intelligence would ever be developed in him'." (emphasis added)
Judgments of teachers can do great good and great harm.  Different kids react differently to different ways of teaching.  One of my very best teachers was stingy with praise and quick to dismiss, but I learned more from him than any other teacher.

And somehow Alexander got past these challenges to become the kind of scientist who was able to synthesize vast amounts of information and see how all the pieces fit together.  Looking forward to this book.

[I've posted more about this book here.]

Monday, February 13, 2017

AIFF2016 Followup: Immigration Nightmare - The Movie

[You can scroll down to see the movie, and further to see one of the director I took when she was in Anchorage last December for another of her movies at the Anchorage International Film Festival.  But here's some immigration context for the film.]

Immigration dominates the news these days, but for many there is no sense of the topic.  But let's look at some numbers to put things in perspective.  From the Homeland Security Website:

Below are daily averages:
1,069,266 passengers and pedestrians
- 326,723 incoming international air passengers and crew
- 53,786 passengers and crew on arriving ship/boat
- 688,757 incoming land travelers
So, in a year, there are about 400 million people going through Customs.  And how many terrorist attacks have we had inside the US since 9/11?

Back to daily averages:
• Conducted 1,140 apprehensions between U.S. ports of entry
• Arrested 22 wanted criminals at U.S. ports of entry
• Refused 752 inadmissible persons at U.S. ports of entry
• Identified 877 individuals with suspected national security concerns
• Intercepted 20 fraudulent documents 
I can't find any explanations of these figures or the terms used, so I don't know if there is overlap from one category to another.  Were the 22 arrested already counted in the 1,140 apprehensions?  Were the 20 people intercepted with fraudulent documents also counted in the 752 inadmissible persons?

But for my purposes here, the numbers here are so low that I'll count them all as if they are all discrete counts.  The total comes to 2811.

So, on a daily basis, that comes down to one quarter of one percent  of the people coming through get onto the list of 2811 above.  That's one out of every 400.   I have to assume that the 'perfect' foreigner  like Anna in the film - highly skilled, US education, a place to stay and a job where people are needed badly, no suspicious connections - is one of the 2811 caught up in a typical day.  And perhaps the woman in the wheel chair who couldn't speak English who will have to stay overnight because Anna isn't allowed to translate - is she part of these numbers?  It's not clear.

Here's the whole film which is being highlighted at Short Film of the Week.

WELCOME from Serena Dykman on Vimeo.

Is the situation in the movie an exception to the rule?  It doesn't look like it.  From the Center for American Progress (in Wikipedia identified as a progressive policy group):
"The most serious conviction for many deported immigrants is an immigration or traffic violation. Forty-seven percent of those deported in FY 2012 for committing a crime were convicted of only immigration or traffic offenses." (emphasis added)
Another excellent full length film on immigration we saw at the Anchorage International Film Festival in 2013 was called De Nieuwe Wereld (The New World) and took place in the  no-man's-land between the arrival area and the departure area in Amsterdam (I'm guessing because it was a Dutch film) where people with questionable or missing documents are held pending a decision.

I've got this titled as part of the Anchorage International Film Festival 2016, because the filmmaker showed another film - NANA - at the festival this year.  I mentioned it briefly in this post, but I also had a video of Serena Dykman that I didn't have a chance to post.  Getting work of this film got me to get it ready so I could post it here.  Below she talks about the film she showed at the festival - about her grandmother who survived Auschwitz and took on the mission of going to schools and elsewhere to spread the word from the mouth of survivor.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Fellow Anchorage Blogger's Book Get's Notice From Top Medical Journal

I've been a strong fan of Peter Dunlap-Shoal's book, My Degeneration: A Parkinson's Journey since
before it was even a book.  He was blogging cartoons - he was the Anchorage Daily News political cartoonist before his Parkinson's diagnosis - about his adventures with the evil Parkinson's.  I coined the term cross-cultural translation to describe the kind of research I was doing, and Peter's work fits perfectly into the field.  He's helping able bodied (at least people without Parkinson's, since no one is 100% able bodied) folks understand what his world looks like and feels like, with great detail and even greater sly humor.  He's also helping people with Parkinson's understand their own journeys.

So I was delighted when he first started blogging, then when his blog got awards, found a publisher, and ecstatic when I was able to get a copy. (Disclosure: I'm humbled and honored that he even mentions me in the book as someone who encouraged him to publish.  It was obvious to me how sensational the book was going to be, but I realize we can't always assess our own work objectively.) And his blog is linked to the column on the right under Alaska Bloggers.

And now, The Journal of the American Medical Association has highlighted Peter's book with effusive praise.  This is wonderful, because doctors should be reading it and recommending it to their patients.  I'm always delighted when good, decent people like Peter get recognized for their work.  Way to go Peter!!!!

Here's the start of the JAMA review:
My Degeneration: A Journey Through Parkinson’s 
My Degeneration by Peter Dunlap-Shohl is the true account of the author’s life with Parkinson disease (PD), and it is terrific, a read-in-one-sitting book that engages, teaches, and challenges readers from the first page until its conclusion. It’s one of the best graphic medicine books of 2016.
It starts with a punch to the gut when Dunlap-Shohl receives the unwanted diagnosis, contemplates a future of drooling and dependency, and seriously considers suicide. He’s brutally honest about his fears and struggles, and the beautifully rendered drawings show both the external reality of this chronic and debilitating disease and his internal struggles to cope.
I went through the University of Alaska Anchorage library to get to this, but you can see the whole review at the link here.

Soccer Break

Ater 90 minutes of regular play, this game, whose winner would play in the championship game the next day (later today), was 0-0.

The game was on one of many soccer fields at Starfire Sports Complex, a large soccer complex in Seattle where, I'm told, the Sounders once played.  This league, Washington Youth Soccer,  is separate from the high school league, which starts later.

The game began an hour late because the previous game also went into to overtimes and was decided with penalty kicks.  It was in the low 40s (F) and while the players were mostly in short sleeves, the spectators had space heaters and lots of clothing.  At least the Starfire sports complex has indoor fields too and I could watch the game from inside.  The damp cold here is more penetrating than Anchorages dry cold, and just standing around outside doesn't keep one warm.

It wasn't until near the end of the second overtime that there was a flurry of action near the goal and the team I was rooting for (a relative was playing), and while the goalie saved this one,

This one made it. I think.  The camera captures the action, but you can also miss things.  If not this one, then immediately after.   I think the ball in the shot below is just to the left of the goalie's chest in this picture.

It took me a while to figure out how the clock works here.  It goes up to 90 minutes in the regular game.  Then it keeps going to 100 minutes in the first overtime.  Then it starts again at zero.  So, if I have this right

 Today's game will be for the state championship in the under 17 group.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Andrew Sullivan's New Dish Starts With The Unique Nature Of Trump's Lies

Andrew Sullivan retired his popular blog, The Dish, in 2015.  He's something of a living rebuke to those who want to categorize people.  He's a practicing Roman Catholic, British born American citizen, often labeled conservative, and openly gay among other things.

Today he's marked his public return in a weekly blogpost/column hybrid.

His topic today begins with Trump's lies.  It's not to document them or complain about them individually, but rather to astutely point out that Trump lies differently from other presidents.  Here's a brief excerpt:
I want to start with Trump’s lies. It’s now a commonplace that Trump and his underlings tell whoppers. Fact-checkers have never had it so good. But all politicians lie. Bill Clinton could barely go a day without some shading or parsing of the truth. Richard Nixon was famously tricky. But all the traditional political fibbers nonetheless paid some deference to the truth — even as they were dodging it. They acknowledged a shared reality and bowed to it. They acknowledged the need for a common set of facts in order for a liberal democracy to function at all. Trump’s lies are different. They are direct refutations of reality — and their propagation and repetition is about enforcing his power rather than wriggling out of a political conundrum. They are attacks on the very possibility of a reasoned discourse, the kind of bald-faced lies that authoritarians issue as a way to test loyalty and force their subjects into submission. That first press conference when Sean Spicer was sent out to lie and fulminate to the press about the inauguration crowd reminded me of some Soviet apparatchik having his loyalty tested to see if he could repeat in public what he knew to be false. It was comical, but also faintly chilling.
Let's look at that idea of authoritarians testing loyalty by forcing subjects into submission.  There's a great example of that from Vaclav Havel (the playwright and former president of Czechoslovakia)  in his Power of the Powerless.  I cited it in a 2010 post about TSA requirements on airline passengers.  Havel was talking about how the communists tested the loyalty of shopkeepers.  Here's from History.Hanover's online copy of Power of the Powerless:
"The manager of a fruit-and-vegetable shop places in his window, among the onions and carrots, the slogan: "Workers of the world, unite!" Why does he do it? What is he trying to communicate to the world? Is he genuinely enthusiastic about the idea of unity among the workers of the world? Is his enthusiasm so great that he feels an irrepressible impulse to acquaint the public with his ideals? Has he really given more than a moment's thought to how such a unification might occur and what it would mean?
I think it can safely be assumed that the overwhelming majority of shopkeepers never think about the slogans they put in their windows, nor do they use them to express their real opinions. That poster was delivered to our greengrocer from the enterprise headquarters along with the onions and carrots. He put them all into the window simply because it has been done that way for years, because everyone does it, and because that is the way it has to be. If he were to refuse, there could be trouble. He could be reproached for not having the proper decoration in his window; someone might even accuse him of disloyalty. He does it because these things must be done if one is to get along in life. It is one of the thousands of details that guarantee him a relatively tranquil life "in harmony with society," as they say. 

Sullivan goes on to list some of the most recent bald face falsehoods from Trump.  Then writes:
 "None of this, moreover, is ever corrected. No error is ever admitted. Any lie is usually doubled down by another lie — along with an ad hominem attack."
This is, of course, part of Trump's credo, inherited from his mentor Roy Cohn, that I wrote about in post called, "Attack, Counterattack, Never Apologize." 

Next Sullivan tells us the job of the media and others is to challenge every lie, not go on to another question until the lie is acknowledged.  The risk, he says, to American journalists is far less than it was (and is) to those in other totalitarian nations.

Sullivan's next thrust is Trump's mental health.  We would not accept this behavior from someone in our daily life, he argues with an example of a neighbor who tells obvious lies and forces his family members to do the same.  While we can avoid a neighbor, we can't avoid the president.
"There is no anchor any more. At the core of the administration of the most powerful country on earth, there is, instead, madness."
The emperor has no clothes.

Sullivan then talks about the omnipresence of rulers in autocratic countries and ends with a discussion of the power of faith and the movie Silence.   

Trump is probably used to people in his business 'empire' agreeing to whatever he whatever he says.  We know he has used a mafia like strategy of promises and threats to enforce his view of the world on those outside his empire.

And that's the strategy he's using now as president.

If either one of the houses of congress were not controlled by Republicans, his presidency would have be unraveled already.  Only the courts (of the three branches of government) are standing up to him.  (Which is why the Republicans over the years have been blocking Obama appointments.)  How long can reasonable Republicans hold their noses and support Trump in Congress?

Perhaps the rest of us can propose a permanent monument (as well as support in the next elections) to the first five Republicans in the Senate and the first 25 Republicans in the House to stand up and oppose Trump on a continuing basis.  Maybe a monument isn't necessary.  Maybe we just have to convince them how it will affect how their grandchildren  and history will view them.  It's the first few to break ranks that are the brave ones.  Once the critical numbers are reached, others take much less risk to join them.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Looking At Media Past and Future - Ron Rosenbaum and Journalism After Snowden

[NOTE: This post began focused on the folly of not preventing disaster, an idea I've been toying with for a while as I try to make the point that while we will eventually get past Trump, it's going to cost us enormously, and the wounds will never completely go way.  The opening of Rosenbaum's piece seemed a good opportunity to make the point, but as I wrote, the issues of journalism under suppression became a more important focus.  Thus you get this post which goes in two different directions.  Sorry.]

Prevention has been part of American tradition since this country was founded.  

Ben Franklin, arguing for the creation of a fire department in Philadelphia wrote that "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."

We have lots of similar maxims, like "Shutting the barn door after the horse has bolted" and " A stitch in time saves nine."

Fram oil filters ran a very popular ad where the oil filter dealer says, "You can me pay now" and then the mechanic says, "or pay me later."

Image from Smokey Bear history
Smokey the Bear has been telling people since the 1950s that "Only you can prevent forest fires."

The point of all of them is that preventing a disaster from happening is MUCH less costly than repairing the damage afterwards.

Not preventing Trump's election is going to cost Americans and the world a great deal of suffering and pain, emotional, physical, and financial.

So I was a little disturbed by the opening of this LABook Review piece by Ron Rosenbaum, journalist and author of Explaining Hitler, when he wrote that he'd refused requests to write about Trump, until after Trump won the election.  I understand people's reluctance to use Hitler comparisons and I'm not saying that his words would have prevented Trump from being elected, but he, of all people, knew what had happened in the past.  He explains that he simply did not see Trump at the same level as Hitler.
Hitler’s method was to lie until he got what he wanted, by which point it was too late. At first, he pledged no territorial demands. Then he quietly rolled his tanks into the Rhineland. He had no designs on Czechoslovakia — just the Sudetenland, because so many of its German-born citizens were begging him to help shelter them from persecution. But soon came the absorption of the rest of Czechoslovakia. After Czechoslovakia, he’d be satisfied. Europe could return to normal. Lie! 
There is, of course, no comparison with Trump in terms of scale. His biggest policy decisions so far have been to name reprehensible figures to various cabinet posts and to enact dreadful executive orders. But this, too, is a form of destruction. While marchers and the courts have put up a fight after the Muslim ban, each new act, each new lie, accepted by default, seems less outrageous. Let’s call it what it is: defining mendacity down.
But the article is definitely worth reading.  It mainly chronicles how the Munich Post was the first and main newspaper to expose Hitler's past and plans.   The article is a cry, now, for people to defend the media against attacks from Trump, and the likelihood that Trump will try to shut opposition media down.

His final words about the Munich Post are not reassuring.  But his appeal to the reader is important.
"The Munich Post lost, yes. Soon their office was closed. Some of the journalists ended up in Dachau, some “disappeared.” But they’d won a victory for truth. A victory over normalization. They never stopped fighting the lies, big and small, and left a record of defiance that was heroic and inspirational. They discovered the truth about “endlösung” before most could have even imagined it. The truth is always worth knowing. Support your local journalist." (emphasis added)

A more forward looking view of journalism comes in a new book, Emily Bell and Taylor Owen's (eds) Journalism After Snowden: The Future of the Free Press in the Surveillance State.  Neiman Reports reviewer Clay Shirky says the book argues that the globalization of media means that reporters can get around local suppression by getting their stories into publications outside their national boundaries.  In this quote Shirky is discussing an article in the edited book that Shirky wrote himself:
"The potential for a global news network has existed for a few decades, but its practical implementation is unfolding in ours. This normalization of transnational reporting networks reduces the risk of what engineers call a “single point of failure.” As we saw with Bill Keller’s craven decision not to publish James Risen’s work on the National Security Agency in 2004, neither the importance of a piece of political news nor its existence as a scoop is enough to guarantee that that it will actually see the light of day. The global part is driven by the need for leakers to move their materials outside national jurisdictions. The network part is driven by the advantages of having more than one organization with a stake in publication."
A key message I get from this review of the book is that suppression of the media is much bigger than Trump, and the media is discovering ways around state censorship through the development of international media networks.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

If You Can't Impugn A Nominee, What's The Point Of The Hearing Process?

Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced in the Senate debate over the attorney general debate  for reading a letter written by Coretta Scott King that said, in part,
 "Mr. Sessions has used the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters.  For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship."


The Senate GOP invoked a rule against impugning a colleague.  Here's a copy of the rule from a Tweet by Senator Hatch:

And to clarify a bit more, here are some dictionary definitions of 'impugn.'
  • to challenge as false (another's statements, motives, etc.); cast doubt upon. (Dictionary.com)
  • to assail by words or arguments :  oppose or attack as false or lacking integrity (Merriam-Webster)
  • to cause people to doubt or not trust someone’s character, honesty, or ability (Cambridge dictionary)
  • To attack as false or questionable; challenge in argument: impugn a political opponent's record. (Free Dictionary)

It's admirable that the Senate has rules that forbid Senators from insulting one another.  But what happens when a Senator actually conducts him or herself in a way that is "unworthy or unbecoming of a Senator"?  Everyone is supposed to pretend it didn't happen?  

I can wholeheartedly support the idea of 'falsely impugning' being banned, but if one is simply calling out an actual behavior unworthy of a Senator, shouldn't that be allowable?

Senate Confirmation Hearings

But let's also recognize that in this session (no pun intended) Mr. Jeff Sessions (rather than Senator Jeff Sessions) is being considered for the position of Attorney General. Sessions has two distinct roles here.   It is not in his role as a fellow Senator that he is being impugned,  but in his role as a candidate for Attorney General whose qualifications are being debated. (I'm assuming here that Sessions doesn't get to vote on his own nomination, but maybe I'm wrong. It appears I am wrong.)

If a Senator cannot raise questions about a presidential nominee in confirmation hearings, what is the point of the the hearing?  The fact that the nominee also happens to be a US Senator should be irrelevant.   To say it is ok to impugn nominees as long as they are not Senators is a joke.

Why Is Warren's Speech Relevant

The words that were so offensive were the words of Coretta Scott King speaking from personal observation.  This is the wife of civil rights leader Martin Luther King.  She was intimately involved in the event she writes about.

The event she alluded to was the prosecution, by then Alabama Attorney General Jeff Sessions, of a black voting rights worker, Albert Turner, who was helping elderly black voters to register to vote and to actually vote.  The jury acquitted Turner.  

Abuse Of Power

I'm trying to write this as objectively as possible, but it's hard. Up to this point I've done ok.  But to write dispassionately about outrageous abuses of power is to support the abuse. I should say abuses.

First, there is the silencing of Senator Warren and the words of Coretta Scott King.  The silencing of the voices of black and white women by white men isn't new.  That doesn't make it right.

Second is the idea of Sessions as the attorney general.   The attorney general is supposed to uphold the law and to protect the civil rights of Americans and this nominee's record is so poor as to be laughable, yet he's close to confirmation.  (Not everyone agrees.) This is the perfect Stephen Bannon appointee.

The damage being done to American democracy by Donald Trump and his henchmen will take so much time to undo, and the suffering and injustices that come from it will never be totally undone.  

And both Alaskan US Senators voted along with the other Republicans to silence Sen. Warren.  I don't expect anything else from Sullivan, but Murkowski knows better.  She's already voted against DeVos, does she think this vote will buy her forgiveness from Trump's vengeance? 

Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Does US Pay Too Much For NATO And Other Issues Raised By Commenter

A commenter figuratively rolled his eyes about something  I said in post last week about Trump taking orders from Putin.  In a responding comment I pointed out that I’d qualified that statement and challenged him to be more specific about his problems with the post.

He responded with a series of issues that I couldn’t factually respond to off the top of my head.  I realized that I had an opinion on them, but that I hadn’t done any homework on them.

Normally, responses to comments should stay in the comment section.  But I spent some time looking things up (and was also diverted by gramping  duties), time passed, and I decided my response warranted its own post where more people would see it.

But I want to thank Oliver for coming back with his list.  As Justice Ginsburg said about Justice Scalia, his challenges make me better.  I'm assuming that Oliver’s questions are serious, and not just trolling to distract me from other things.  I assume  that Trump supporters could be thinking the same things.  (I didn't say 'other Trump supporters'  because I don't know if Oliver supports Trump or not.)  As I looked up the questions about NATO funding, I did find that his points mirrored Trump talking points (and in the case of NATO Bernie Sanders talking points) and there were complexities that weren't reflected that seem to make his concerns less clear if not moot.

So here's what he wrote the second time:
"Further Putin’s agenda? Let’s see, the former president sat by while the Russians allegedly hacked the election. Sat by while he gobbled up Crimea and the Ukraine. Yes, I know we did some sanctions and expelled some low level diplomats, or as it’s really know as doing nothing meaningful. Putin’s bombing campaign accomplished in a couple months what the Obama administration was unable to do in a year in Syria.
As for Trump, I don’t think it’s unreasonable for NATO members to pay their fair share, only five of the twenty eight members are paying the 2%. Even Obama ask them to up their contribution. The United States contributes between one-fifth and one-quarter of NATO’s budget. In FY2010 that contribution totaled $711.8 million. We all know what NATO did about Russian aggression over the past several years, nothing. So what is NATO for again?
I don’t think the man who says torture is ok as sick as that is has any intentions of weakening the U.S. intelligence agencies. We sell Taiwan 1.2 billion dollars in military equipment and that’s fine, Trump calls them on the phone and you have outrage from China!!! Tough.

I'm not going to respond to everything - that would be like a week's worth of posts.  I did most of my searching on the NATO points.  Here's what I found mainly at the Washington Post, Politifact, and the Congressional Research Service:   (feel free to offer other serious analyses)

NATO -   Basically they all say it’s more complicated than those numbers say:
1.  There are different NATO budgets.  One is related to NATO non-military costs and each member pays according to a formula based on its GDP.  In that area, countries are paying pretty much according to the formula.

2.  The Congressional Research Service says the US gets plenty of benefits from NATO
“DOD has noted that the United States has benefitted from NATO infrastructure support for several military operations, including the 1986 air strike on Libya, Desert Storm, Provide Comfort, Deny Flight, peacekeeping activities in the Balkans, as well as military operations in Afghanistan and training in Iraq. Finally, the Pentagon notes that U.S. companies have been successful in bidding on NSIP [NATO Security Investment Program] contracts.”
3.  When it comes to military contribution, the calculations include the total military expenditures for each country.  Most of the NATO countries only have troops related to Europe and NATO.  The calculation for the US includes all military spending world wide.  It’s true that some of those forces can be brought in, if needed, to deploy in Europe.  But it’s also true that the US troops in Europe are not solely to support NATO.  They can if needed, but they also support US military missions in other places - like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, etc.  So the calculations of those expenses, which make the US contribution look huge (less than your $700 million figure, but more than you 20% figure), are misleading because those expenses are for much, much more than defense of NATO.

Oliver, I realize this doesn't end the debate or change your opinion on NATO, but it does put the ball back on your side of the court on this one.

I don't have time to do the same tracking down of facts - and even if I did, there would still be disputes - but let me respond briefly to your comment about Syria:
"Putin’s bombing campaign accomplished in a couple months what the Obama administration was unable to do in a year in Syria."

Syria is a thorny problem.  I suspect that Obama had some options in the beginning that might have made a difference.  What would have happened if he had tried to take out Asad right away?   If he succeeded or failed, there would have been a lot of blowback.   History may or may not be able to sort that out.  There were lots of things to consider, including civilian lives and the already overextended US military that had soldiers overseas in their 3rd, 4th, and 5th rotations.  And there was an overstretched VA that would have to serve even more veterans.    And we don’t know what all has happened there behind the scenes.

I would argue that supporting the existing regime (as Putin is doing) is far easier than trying to figure out which of the rebel organizations should be supported.  Asad had a long-standing, well trained and organized army.  Supporting Asad meant Russia would get what it wanted from Syria if Asad prevailed.  The rebel outcomes were far less certain.    Russia also had no qualms about killing civilians.  Putin has no humanitarian interests in Syria (or anywhere else as far as I can tell), so was free to support the strongest party, despite its terrible record including atrocities in the prisons as this Amnesty International report describes.

I don't know Trump's intentions.  The idea that Putin has leverage over Trump is not nearly as far-fetched as Trump's long standing campaign about Obama being a Kenyan, which so many Trump supporters had no problem embracing.  There's far more circumstantial evidence that Trump's financially entangled with Russian interests and his serious of Russian friendly moves raises serious questions, even among congressional Republicans.  Seeing Obama's birth certificate, as Trump demanded for years, was far less consequential than seeing Trump's tax returns.  Yet Trump refuses to make them public, something all the recent presidential candidates have done.  And which would likely confirm his financial links to Russia one way or the other.  (And possibly open up new questions.)

So there are a few possibilities that Trump is weakening the US security agencies:
  • He is being pressured by Putin.
  • He is hurting US Security unintentionally - His lashing out at anyone who criticizes him leads him to attack the CIA and others and take actions that hurt them - as in replacing the chair of the Joint Chief of Staff and the head of national intelligence with Stephen Bannon on the National Security Council - which is being reported now, that he didn't realize he was doing when he signed the order.  

Oliver, I do appreciate your making me sharpen my facts.  I think we should be talking respectfully about the issues that some would rather have divide the nation for their own interests.  Your serious comments also help me understand how intelligent folks could see Trump as a reasonable option.  I do get the opposition to Clinton, but not when Trump is the alternative.  Now, if you still want to address the other issues - the Russian hacking and the Ukraine - I'll let you spell out your facts that demonstrate Obama could have done something different that would have worked.  

Perhaps the best thing that could come out of this is a shake-up of both parties, more serious talk across party lines,  and improvements in how we elect presidents.  But I think the issue goes beyond the parties to the corporations that have inordinate influence over congress and the presidency.