Friday, August 28, 2020

‘Black Lives Matter’ or ‘Shut up and dribble?’ That’s the choice America has to make

 That's the title of a piece from Leonard Pitts.  Below is an excerpt which just seems so obvious.  

White people often think you can buy your way out of race. They refuse to grasp that racism doesn’t care how much money you make or how many diplomas adorn your walls. Thabo Sefolosha of the Houston Rockets earns a reported $2.5 million a year; New York City police broke his leg. Danielle Morgan has a bachelor’s degree, two masters and a Ph.D. Campus cops at Santa Clara University knocked on her door and required her to prove her house was her house.

Money is not enough. Education is not enough. Excellence is not enough.

But enough is enough. That’s why the NBA called time out."

Yet watching the Republican Convention this week, it is clearly not obvious to lots of people.  

The sordid history of the gun toting McLoskeys from St. Louis has been chronicled.  Yet they were featured as heroes at the convention.   The 17 year old murderer in Kenosha is being feted as a right-wing hero, yet he killed two protestors and the police ignored him even though people were telling them he was the shooter.   Trump and his storm troopers spent four days trying to stir white fears that black Americans will overrun their neighborhoods and loot and rape and murder.  And that people like me are intent in destroying the United States.

We know why Trump is doing this.  To help him win the election.  Plain and simple.  And because he has no concern for black Americans unless they can help him get reelected.  (A couple of black women shown as Trump supporters told the NYTimes they were told the video was for something else entirely and they aren't Trump supporters.)  To say Trump has no black friends is meaningless, because Michael Cohen has said Trump has no friends period.

Perhaps these fears just reflect what white people know - that whites have treated blacks like shit* since the first Europeans and blacks arrived in the Western Hemisphere.  And they fear that if blacks gain some semblance of equality, they will do the same to whites.  I think this is the fear of those who know they are guilty, know they deserve to be punished.  But the oppressed tend to just want to be treated decently and fairly.  They don't want to act like their oppressors.  They want acknowledgment.  Look at the Truth and Reconciliation process in South Africa.  Look at restorative justice examples. 

Yes, some oppressed people have turned the tables and become oppressors themselves.  Israel, despite being the home of many holocaust survivors and their children, treats many of their Arab citizens badly.  But these Arabs weren't the Jews' Nazi oppressors.  Most Jews get along quite well with the German government - which did apologize and did give and is still giving reparations to Jewish Holocaust victims.

The simple point that Pitts makes above is that it doesn't matter how rich or educated or important black Americans are.  When they or their children are out in public anonymously, they are seen by many whites (and other people of color even) as trash and are vulnerable to all sorts of abuse from regular people as well as law enforcement and other institutions.  Until that ends, this is a racist society.  And there are two fronts this needs to be fought on:

  1.  Individual prejudices - conscious or unconscious beliefs that blacks are inferior, not as competent, dangerous, and any number of other stereotypes all people raised in the US (and elsewhere) have absorbed.  (Any white who would be disturbed to hear their son or daughter wanted to marry a black person carries this sort of prejudice.)
  2. Systemic racism - organizational structures and procedures - that set up more and higher obstacles to blacks than to white Americans as they try to pursue the American dream.  Things like Jim Crow and poll taxes in the past, and systematic voter suppression today such as disenfranchising felons and black neighborhoods by deleting them from the voting records or limiting the number of polling places available.  And the kinds of laws and procedures that are aimed at making a disproportionately high number of blacks into felons.  Both  #1 and #2 reinforce each other.  

If you run into folks who don't get this obvious reality, see if you can get them to read.

White Rage, by Carol Anderson, looks at how the Supreme Court used States Rights after the Civil War to ignore disenfranchising blacks in the South through poll taxes, set up laws that resulted in the arrest of blacks for 'loitering' and then taking them as prisoners who were given to white businesses as essentially prison slaves until the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  States rights was also the excuse to ignore cases of lynching and other killings of blacks.  How school integration was avoided to leave black students in poorly funded public schools.  And how the War on Drugs continued the policy of imprisoning blacks. (And this continues today as Trump encourages white supremacists to take up guns to protect whites.)

I know, lots of Trump supporters don't read books.  But a number do have college educations, even from prestigious universities.  And if they don't read, let them watch the movie 13th, about the 13th Amendment. 13th is on Netflix and in libraries and covers similar ground as White Rage.

*Sorry, sometimes euphemisms aren't strong enough, the stark truth doesn't come through.  The infrequent use of expletives means that when you use them, they have more impact.  They haven't been 'normalized' and neutered.  

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Alaskans - Did You Know Expirations For Driver's Licenses Are Suspended During the COVID-19 Emergency?

 I didn't either. 

My wife's license is expiring soon and she wanted to renew it. She called to see if she could renew it online or by mail.  Well, you could, they said, but you're over 69 so you have to come in. 

She got an appointment for 3:45pm, but there was still a long line.  BUT people were masked and keeping their distance and the clerks were separated by plexiglass or something.  Neither of us have had any symptoms and it's been a week or so.  

But I did send an email to the Director of the DMV and the Assistant Director.

The email back to me was also shared with someone in the Department of Administration (I'd copied by State Rep and State Senator).  Today I got an email from the person at DOA.  It says: 

". . . attached please find the Order of Suspension 2, on page 24 please find, the DMV AS 28.15.101(a) is suspended. This suspension applies to the expiration date of all driver licenses, and we have asked that this suspension be continued."

Clearly, the clerk my wife talked to by phone at the DMV didn't know this.  And neither did the Deputy Director of the DMV who originally responded to my email with:

"It is possible for your wife to renew her license online at if she is younger than 69. For those 69 years of age and older, Alaska has a statute (AS 28.15.101 (c) (2)) that states that if an applicant is 69 years of age or older on the expiration date of the driver’s license being renewed then their license may not be renewed online or through the mail, which is why we’re limited."

 So I'm letting others know this.  The snow tire ban through September is also suspended.  There are lots of things on the list of suspensions.  A lot have to do with health procedures, fees, etc.  Also there are a lot on Retirement and Pensions.  

The whole list is below.  

07.30.20 Order of Suspensio... by Steve

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Why DNC Rightfully Warned Us About Four More Years

And it seems the RNC is trying to turn it around and scare the Trump base into thinking Biden will be even worse.  Here are two examples.

1.  Truly scary Trump nomination.  The guy is a Harvard Law professor who believe the US should be a Catholic based authoritarian theocracy:

Trump Nominates Adrian Vermeule to ACUS

" . . .in an essay for The Atlantic, Vermeule proposed a new legal ideology that would disregard the Constitution altogether. According to Vermeule:

Subjects will come to thank the ruler whose legal strictures, possibly experienced at first as coercive, encourage subjects to form more authentic desires for the individual and common goods, better habits, and beliefs that better track and promote communal well-being…. The Court’s jurisprudence on free speech, abortion, sexual liberties, and related matters will prove vulnerable under a regime of common-good constitutionalism…. So too should the libertarian assumptions central to free-speech law and free-speech ideology—that government is forbidden to judge the quality and moral worth of public speech, that “one man’s vulgarity is another’s lyric,”  and so on—fall under the ax. Libertarian conceptions of property rights and economic rights will also have to go, insofar as they bar the state from enforcing duties of community and solidarity in the use and distribution of resources."

 Vermeule's Wikipedia page gives more details about his very unAmerican philosophy.  If you're wonder ing about his connections with William Barr, you're asking the right questions.  Here's a piece linking Barr's ideas with Vermeule's.

The ACUS, by the way,  is the Administrative Council for the United States.  What does the ACUS do?  Here's what their webpage says:

"ACUS is an independent federal agency charged with convening expert representatives from the public and private sectors to recommend improvements to administrative process and procedure. ACUS initiatives promote efficiency, participation, and fairness in the promulgation of federal regulations and in the administration of federal programs."

2. Who is Miles Taylor and why did he resign from the Trump administration?  

First, who he is courtesy of Wikipedia:

"Miles Taylor is an American former government official who specialises in security and international relations. He was formerly a Trump administration appointee who served in the United States Department of Homeland Security from 2017 to 2019, including as Chief of Staff to former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and Acting Secretary Chad Wolf."

Second, why he resigned.  This high level Trump official resigned when Trump told him and others to keep all immigrants out of the US.  When Trump was told it was illegal, Miles Taylor says that Trump replied, "I don't care.  I'll pardon you all."

Before you get too depressed, here's the Economist's forecast for the election as of yesterday.  

They give Biden a 90% chance of winning the electoral college vote and 98% chance of winning the popular vote.  We're still over two months from the election.  But these kind of numbers mean that if Trump wins it will be like the vote in Belarus.  And it make me think the pollsters in the election in 2016 were only wrong because they didn't consider voter suppression and tampering with voting machines.  

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Random Thoughts On COVID-19 Impacts Now And Later

 Impact On Kids 

There's lots of talk about the debilitating impacts on the mental health and development of kids with schools out of session.  But I haven't seen anything (I did look, though not exhaustively) on all those kids for whom school is torture because they are shunned, picked on, bullied, beat up, or otherwise made to feel miserable at school.  For them, distance learning is probably an improvement.  

Medical Waste

I've been appalled for a long time about medical waste.  I think it started when I accompanied someone to the ER for a twisted ankle that was swelling.  It was winter here in Anchorage with lots of snow.  We got into the ER and they pulled out some sort of chemical ice pack, they twisted it and put it on her ankle.  I don't recall the price of the item - over $50 at least.  All the free snow and ice you could want, perfect for molding in a plastic bag on an ankle, was just outside the door.  

When you get a shot, the syringe and needle is tossed.  My mom was a lab technician and I remember the autoclave (there's a word that's been sitting idle in my brain for decades just waiting for this post, I even forgot it was there) where they sterilized the glass syringes and the needles.  Now things get tossed. 

When my mom caught MRSA in the hospital - new doctors kept coming in and each put on a whole set of protective clothing before entering.  (They all wanted to do new tests which required drawing more blood from my poor mom.)  They saw her for less than five minutes, then tossed all the protective gear when they left.  

While I don't know how much this kind of waste adds to the total medical costs, I do know it contributes to the landfill problems, including plastics and ocean plastic gyres.  

But when PPP were in short supply at the beginning of the pandemic, medical personnel began wearing masks all day instead of throwing them away after each patient.  Hospitals found ways to sterilize PPP. 

I hope there are people rethinking our throwaway hospital practices.  How can they reduce what they add to landfills, reduce the use of the raw materials, reduce costs?  All the medical supply companies will be fighting them all the way.  It would be interesting to see the role of medical supply company lobbyists play in the developing the rules hospitals must follow in these practices. 


The whole way my household gets food has changed radically.  We use an app and then go pick it up 'curbside' in the parking lot.  (There really isn't a curb involved.)  I'm getting better finding what I'm looking for with the app.  I buy less spur of the moment things because I don't see them.  And I realize that we have at least one new staple in our fridge - cottage cheese.  It's an easy to 'prepare' snack that's probably healthier - and less expensive - than the Talenti gelatos in the freezer.  Also, without going out to eat, our food bill has gone way down.  

Will we go back to in-store grocery shopping when this is over?  I  suspect so, but I don't know, but when we're pressed for time I'm sure we'll use the apps.  And I know there will be a huge demand for restaurants.  And there will be plenty of people ready to open restaurants to meet that demand.  

Laws of Nature versus The Rules of Men*

The notion of social construction - things that are created by humans - is becoming clearer during the pandemic.  Often these are institutions that people just assume are 'natural', fixed, the way things are.  Like slavery once.  Like women not voting.  Like until death do us part heterosexual marriages.  (And the * in the heading is to emphasize that until very recently in the US, nearly all laws were made by men.) 

We're seeing now how the economy can collapse.  How school can be cancelled.  How our customary forms of greetings can be put aside.  How covered faces can be seen as the fashion of bandits, the assumed oppression of some Muslim women, to now a badge of political political persuasion or concern for health.  

But while we keep being enlightened about the 'made up' quality of the rules of people, the laws of nature keep steady - the sun comes up each morning, the weather does its thing, viruses do theirs.  

Science is the study of the laws of nature.  Science doesn't always correctly describe how nature works, but it's surely proving that science does a lot better than religion or politicians who want to ignore it for their own personal gain.  

I'm hoping that when this is over, a lot of the rules of men that oppress other people, that keep people poor, that destroy the natural world, that allocate wealth, will be seen as just made up rules that can be changed to create a more equitable and positive place for people to live.  

Video Conferencing

As I'm writing this post in Anchorage, I'm also on jitsi watching my grandkids in San Francisco playing with various Lego and other building materials.  We're just hanging out together doing our own things, but we can look and see each other as we do it.  It's VERY cool that we can be together like this.  I think back to my childhood when even a call to outside the local area in Los Angeles cost so many cents per minute, and international calls were dollars per minute.  This video conferencing is as amazing a change as anything I can think of.  (As I was proofing this my granddaughter pulled  apart her big brother's lego creation and he got so mad he hit her.  And she cried and told him to go away.  And now they've made up with the guidance of their dad.  

Everyone enjoy your weekend.  Time for me to get away from this screen.  

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Wow! Republican Right Knocked Off A Bunch Of Incumbents In Yesterday's Primary

I haven't kept close tabs on the Republican primaries this year, but I do know there's been a split between the Party and a number of Republicans who have worked closely with Democrats in the House and Senate.  

A quick look at the results (you can see them all here) shows a Republican primary massacre of incumbents like never before.  Will this lead to new Republican dominance in the state legislature?  Or will it make it easier for Democrats in November.  Probably not in Matsu, but I'm not sure about the rest of the state.  

Here are some results:

In the Senate

Senate President Cathy Giessel lost 28% to 71% to Roger Holland on Anchorage Hillside.

Long time Republican incumbent John Coghill got 47% to Robert Myers 52% in Fairbanks.

Natasha Von Imhoff got 48% to Stephen Duplantis' 51%.

Gary Stevens lost 48% to 51% to John Cox in Kodiak. (only 95% of precincts reported, but he's down almost 900 votes 1403-1334.  Not likely.)

 Incumbent David Wilson won with 32% against seven others.

Bert Stedman comfortably kept his seat (64%)

Newly appointed Josh Revak got 64%.  

In the House, 

Incumbent Mark Neuman lost 37% to Kevin McCabe's 62% in Matsu.

Incumbent Gabielle LeDoux got creamed (20%) to David Nelson's 79%.

Incumbent Jennifer Johnston also got creamed (27%) to James Kaufman's 73%

Recently deceased incumbent Gary Knopp got 13% of the vote to Ronald Gilhman's 61% (a 3rd candidate got 24%)

Former Rep Lynn Gattis lost 28% to former Right to Life Board Member Christopher Kurka.

Bizarre Right David Eastman won 51% to Jesse Sumner's 48%.

The ruthless hand of Tucker Babcock has clearly been busy.  

Why I'm Now Moderating Comments

I've been getting a bunch of sexual spam comments lately.  When someone posts a comment I can see the comment three different ways:

1.  I see the comment itself.  (This doesn't work well for comments on old posts.)

2. I get an email telling me there's a comment, who it's from, and what it says.

3. There's a blogger page where I can see all the comments.

So I've been spending five or ten minutes a day removing these sexual comments.  They're just inappropriate for this blog.  They usually aren't up too long, certainly not over 24 hours at the most.  But taking them down quickly doesn't seem to deter the spammers.  

So I figure with the comments moderated (they don't go up until I say they can) I'm hoping that they give up and find other prey.  I changed the setting Monday and there were some yesterday and four more waiting for moderation.  

This post is for readers who comment now and then.  You won't see your comment until I get around to checking. (I don't get emails for comments now - I have to check on the blog.)  I hope after a week or two the spammers who have pushed me to take this action will have given up.  Then I'll turn off moderation of comments.  

Thanks for your patience.  

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Some Links to Reading On Immunology, Epithets, And Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Miller

This article by Ed Yong at The Atlantic emphasizes the point that Immunology is complicated.  Then goes into what happens when COVID-19 gets into the system.  The first line of defense and then the second line.  Then talks about how these complications make it hard to figure out who will be able to brush off the virus relatively easily, why we aren't sure if people can get it a second time,  and who might get really sick.  

How did an African green monkey that died in 1962 get involved in the biggest research debacle of this pandemic?

Helps explain why there were a few initial studies that said hydroxychloroquine was effective against the COVID-19 virus.  

3.  On a different topic, here's a post that examines the psychology of insults in the age of Trumpsults.
"I shall call these the “Foul Four” because the researchers showed words conveying negative evaluations exemplify four themes. Those themes are worthlessness, stupidity, depravity and peculiarity."



The mind of evil is hard for most of us to fathom.  Michael Cohen says that's one reason to read his new book Disloyal.  Well here's another look at the lives of evil - Mr. and Mrs. Stephen Miller - in Vanity Fair.  It reminds us that in a United States that works, people like this are sidelined, but just waiting for the opportunity to take power.  I guess I should qualify "United States that works" to mean for white citizens since the supremacist hatred of Miller was alive and well in the Southern United States, legally, until not that long ago, and symbolically in the many confederate statues that are still all over.  

According to this February 2020 post on Stephen Miller, I'd opened a draft about him back in early 2016, linking to an article about him at Santa Monica High School.  So I've known about his depravity a while.  I didn't know anything about his wife Katie, who appears to be just like him according to this article.  Here's just one episode that's described.

"In 12th grade AP English, she found a way to stand out. Her teacher was Simone Waite, a revered educator and one of the few African American faculty members at the school, which had a Black student population of just 4%. Waite was teaching Toni Morrison’s Beloved, which she had done many times before, and gave them some historical background, including about slavery. “One of the many things it did was that it took away our history,” she told the class. Waldman didn’t like that, and asked, “Couldn’t they just tell each other about their history?” Waite explained that it wasn’t that easy. They went back and forth, but Waldman wouldn’t let it go. Seeing that they were in a rut, Waite told her that they should agree to disagree and move on with the lesson.

Waldman stopped coming to class and promptly drafted a petition, calling out Waite for being “psychologically damaging” and “sickening,” as the teacher recalls. Waite heard about it from a student, and was confused and devastated. The student assured her that no one agreed with Waldman. Waite eventually met with Waldman and her father, Glenn. After hearing both sides, Waldman’s father concluded, according to Waite, that “this teacher is extremely well-liked,” and that the best course of action would be to take Waldman out of her class.

Waite struggled not to take it personally, and eventually came to a realization. “I hesitate to say this, but it was about race. ‘Here is a Black woman teaching me this novel by another Black woman, and saying things that I definitely do not agree with politically,’” Waite posits. “She did whatever was in her power to show something. It just didn’t work.” There were aftershocks. Waldman was in two classes with Waite’s daughter, Alexandra, who was often the only Black kid in the class. Even after publicly trying to take down her mother, Waldman would text Alexandra to ask for homework help, as if nothing had happened. Alexandra and her mother didn’t know what to think. Alexandra and Katie weren’t friends. There were plenty of other kids to ask. It struck Waite as another kind of power play. Alexandra did her best to ignore Katie."

Thursday, August 13, 2020

"I stiffed contractors on his behalf, ripped off his business partners, lied to his wife Melania" Forward From Michael Cohen's Book

The Mueller Report, Bolton's book, and countless other books haven't had the political impact such revelations would have had on any other presidency.   Part of this can be blamed on the Republicans in the US Senate who have abdicated the obligation to keep the president accountable. 

So, why should we expect this book to be any different?  Well, this book was written by a man who participated in and witnessed the president's regular violations of the law as well as moral norms that have been important to this nation.  

Second, I think that although the various books that have been published haven't had the impacts of Nixon's tapes, they each caused a little more erosion in Trump's support.  

The link below takes you to the book's site.  Not the publisher's site.  The publisher isn't mentioned.  You can order an autographed copy for $40.  You can order a plain hardback addition for $32.  It says a portion of the price will go to an unnamed non-profit organization.  Nor is there information on  when it is due to come out, though other reports say, "soon."  I assume that means before the election.  I also assume that the Southern District of New York already has most if not all the allegations that will be in the book, plus evidence that Trump's lawyer had.  

Here are some experts from the Forward of Michael Cohen's forthcoming book Disloyal:

 "To half of Americans, it seemed like Trump was effectively a Russian-controlled fraud who had lied and cheated his way to the White House; to the other half of Americans, to Trump’s supporters, the entire Russian scandal was a witch hunt invented by Democrats still unable to accept the fact that Hillary Clinton had lost fair and square in the most surprising upset in the history of American presidential elections.

Both sides were wrong. I knew that the reality was much more complicated and dangerous. Trump had colluded with the Russians, but not in the sophisticated ways imagined by his detractors. I also knew that the Mueller investigation was not a witch-hunt. Trump had cheated in the election, with Russian connivance, as you will discover in these pages, because doing anything—and I mean anything—to “win” has always been his business model and way of life. Trump had also continued to pursue a major real estate deal in Moscow during the campaign. He attempted to insinuate himself into the world of President Vladimir Putin and his coterie of corrupt billionaire oligarchs. I know because I personally ran that deal and kept Trump and his children closely informed of all updates, even as the candidate blatantly lied to the American people saying, “there’s no Russian collusion, I have no dealings with Russia…there’s no Russia.” 

He doesn't mince words or downplay his own corrupt role in the Trump empire - though Trump would argue, I'm sure, that Cohen overestimates his role.  

"When Trump wanted to reach Russian President Vladimir Putin, via a secret back channel, I was tasked with making the connection in my Keystone Kop fashion. I stiffed contractors on his behalf, ripped off his business partners, lied to his wife Melania to hide his sexual infidelities, and bullied and screamed at anyone who threatened Trump’s path to power. From golden showers in a sex club in Vegas, to tax fraud, to deals with corrupt officials from the former Soviet Union, to catch and kill conspiracies to silence Trump’s clandestine lovers, I wasn’t just a witness to the president’s rise—I was an active and eager participant.

To underscore that last crucial point, let me say now that I had agency in my relationship with Trump. I made choices along the way—terrible, heartless, stupid, cruel, dishonest, destructive choices, but they were mine and constituted my reality and life. During my years with Trump, to give one example, I fell out of touch with my sisters and younger brother, as I imagined myself becoming a big shot. I’d made my fortune out of taxi medallions, a business viewed as sketchy if not lower class. On Park Avenue, where I lived, I was definitely nouveau riche, but I had big plans that didn’t include being excluded from the elite. I had a narrative: I wanted to climb the highest mountains of Manhattan’s skyscraping ambition, to inhabit the world from the vantage point of private jets and billion-dollar deals, and I was willing to do whatever it took to get there. Then there was my own considerable ego, short temper, and willingness to deceive to get ahead, regardless of the consequences."

And a warning to us all.  A warning I wish my Republican representatives in the Senate and the House would take more seriously than they do.

"Now, sitting alone in an upstate New York prison, wearing my green government-issued uniform, I’ve begun writing this story longhand on a yellow legal pad. I often wrote before dawn so not to be disturbed in my thoughts when my fellow inmates awoke. I had to report to the sewage treatment plant where some of us worked for a wage of $8 a month. As the months passed by and I thought about the man I knew so well, I became even more convinced that Trump will never leave office peacefully. The types of scandals that have surfaced in recent months will only continue to emerge with greater and greater levels of treachery and deceit. If Trump wins another four years, these scandals will prove to only be the tip of the iceberg. I’m certain that Trump knows he will face prison time if he leaves office, the inevitable cold Karma to the notorious chants of “Lock Her Up!” But that is the Trump I know in a nutshell. He projects his own sins and crimes onto others, partly to distract and confuse but mostly because he thinks everyone is as corrupt and shameless and ruthless as he is; a poisonous mindset I know all too well. Whoever follows Trump into the White House, if the President doesn’t manage to make himself the leader for life, as he has started to joke about—and Trump never actually jokes- will discover a tangle of frauds and scams and lawlessness. Trump and his minions will do anything to cover up that reality, and I mean anything."

None of this is surprising to me or even new.  Anyone who paid attention over the last four years understands this about Trump.  It's why we are so alarmed.  It's really hard for me to understand how a person can act like Trump.  I can talk about it, but I can't really feel it, can't put myself into his head.  When I read, as a younger man, stories about the Gulag, about the Holocaust, and about other instances of torture, what I always wanted to know more about was the mind of the torturers.  I couldn't understand their behavior.  What Cohen offers me in this book is a peek into the mind of a monster.  

"As you read my story, you will no doubt ask yourself if you like me, or if you would act as I did, and the answer will frequently be no to both of those questions. But permit me to make a point: If you only read stories written by people you like, you will never be able to understand Donald Trump or the current state of the American soul. More than that, it’s only by actually understanding my decisions and actions that you can get inside Trump’s mind and understand his worldview. As anyone in law enforcement will tell you, it’s only gangsters who can reveal the secrets of organized crime. If you want to know how the mob really works, you’ve got to talk to the bad guys. I was one of Trump’s bad guys. In his world, I was one hundred percent a made man."

Some Nice Stuff For A Break - Clouds, Sunflowers, And The Power Of Teachers

First, here's the view I saw at Goose Lake yesterday.  Clouds can be so amazingly beautiful.  

And sunflowers at UAA.  

My own sunflowers - planted from seed - are just now budding.  There is time for them to bloom still!  (I'm trying to put this on the right and have the text on the left, but Blogger has created a new "improved" version and I haven't figured out how to align the pictures and text the way I want them.)

And finally, I found this AOC twitter thread truly endearing.  

{If it's too small to read, click on it.  It will take you to the Twitter post.  Then click on the image again and it will let you see each of the four tweets enlarged.]

This young member of Congress is so intelligent and so creative!! And then you look at the old men in power and scratch your head.  If more people with the energy, decency, intelligence, and imagination were in Congress, we could have such an incredible country.  My only hope is that when the people of AOC's age now gain power in Congress is that they won't have been worn down by the tedium of fighting entrenched power.  But meanwhile this exchange with her 2nd Grade teacher is priceless.  

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

This Story Encapsulates A Lot Of What's Wrong With The United States

 From an LA Times article:

McDonald’s has sued former Chief Executive Steve Easterbrook, alleging that he fraudulently hid details of three sexual relationships with employees when the board fired him in November over a separate relationship with a subordinate.

In a securities filing and a document lodged with the Delaware Chancery Court, the fast-food chain said it was seeking to recover the compensation and severance payments it allowed Easterbrook to leave with. Equilar, the executive-pay consultancy, reported at the time that his severance deal was worth about $40 million .

McDonald’s would not have approved the separation agreement had it known the extent of his “inappropriate personal behavior,” the company said, but would instead have terminated him for cause.

" the board fired him in November over a separate relationship with a subordinate."
  1. He was fired for cause, yet got to take home $40 million!!
  2. Severance pay of $40 million (for just one employee!) for a company (McDonald's) that pays so little that its workers qualify for food stamps.

My theory incorporates two key components:  
  1. How corporate boards, made up of other corporate executives, all benefit when an executive gets the highest possible compensation package, because that sets the standards for their own boards to set their own compensation.  
  2. "Temporary" tax cuts on the wealthy, gave boards more incentive to raise compensation to make as much money as possible while the taxes were lower.  
Steve Clifford outlines the argument for point 1 in The Atlantic article:
How Companies Actually Decide What to Pay CEOs:     
I know—for over 20 years, I helped craft some extremely generous executive-compensation packages.

He talks about the shift from using internal equity as the model (keeping the ratio between the highest paid and the average worker pay reasonable) to the external equity model where the compensation of the top executives in a corporation should be competitive with other top executives.  This meant, he writes, internal equity went from 20:1 or 30:1 in the 70s, to the situation in 2014 where 
500 of the highest-paid senior executives at U.S. companies made nearly 1,000 times as much money as the average American worker, after taking into account salary, bonuses, and stock-based compensation.
The article explains exactly how compensation committees on Boards of Directors actually set executive pay and why it spirals higher and higher.  

The second point is harder to definitively prove, but Bush's tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 along with cuts to inheritance taxes means that the wealthy get wealthier much faster and the gap between the rich and the poor gets wider and wider.  Here are a couple of articles that go into more detail:

I believe that a large inequality gap has lots of harmful consequences to democracy:
  • The wealthy have an outsized influence on elections through unlimited campaign contributions and ability to lobby federal, state, and local, legislators
  • Employers have far more power over employee wages and working conditions through their ability to get Congress to weaken union power
  • More people are living from pay-check to pay-check and thus their employers have more leverage over them for a variety of issues - forced overtime, less time with their families, forced arbitration for disputes, etc. 
But proving these things is complicated. 

But all this hinges on a number of assumption about morality.  While the Christian bible talks endlessly about charity and helping the poor, our basic philosophy about work - The Protestant [Work] Ethic - assumes that those who are poor have themselves to blame.   It ignores the elaborate rules and procedures that are devised to justify a $40 million severance package for someone who had an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate in a company where most of the employees are for working minimum wage.  

And in our increasingly technological work places, where machines are rapidly replacing workers, we need a different mechanism than work for the basic distribution of wealth.  And in a world where the imperative of the market ignores the environmental and human damage of corporate externalities, we need to find an sustainable economic system more in balance with the natural world.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Government Censorship And Persistent Journalists

Governments suppressing stories that make them look bad are not new.  When my son taught in China he mentioned one day that the Chinese have a better sense of the news than Americans because the Chinese KNOW that what they read is not true.  Here's a story from the Washington Post about writer John Hersey going to Hiroshima in 1946 to tell the, up to then, suppressed story of the human suffering caused by the atomic bomb.  

The U.S. hid Hiroshima’s human suffering. Then John Hersey went to Japan.

"Hersey and [his editor] Shawn suspected that the U.S. government’s wartime propaganda machine had covered up the human suffering of the atomic bombs that leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki 75 years ago this month. Pictures from Japan showed destroyed buildings and decimated neighborhoods, but little was known about the human toll, especially from radiation.

The U.S. government controlled access to the bomb sites. The War Department quietly asked American news outlets to limit information about nuclear aspects of the attacks. When reports of widespread suffering from radiation began to emerge from international journalists and Japanese officials, the American government downplayed it all as propaganda. One general even told Congress that dying from radiation was, in fact, “a very pleasant way to die.”

It was time, Hersey and Shawn decided, to find out the truth."

 Hersey lived in China until he was ten (The Call is his novel about a missionary family in China) and I suspect that helped him see the world from a different perspective than most other American journalists of his time.  

Today our president stymies journalism by lies, by walking out when the questions are too exacting, through misinformation, and just by creating so many incidents that the press has trouble sorting the important from the unimportant.  

The key story, I'm my mind is the Senate.  Reporters should be holding Republican Senators accountable for their abdication of their responsibility to hold the president accountable.  They should be as much of the news as the president is.  

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Get Out Your Brooms And Caring

From Nabih Bulos, a reporter in Beirut, published in the LA Times and other places.  He was near the blast and still can't account for two hours right after the blast, nor can he recognize the photos on his phone.  He woke up on the ground with an eye swollen shut and cuts on his arms.  I've picked out the hopeful part, the part that I think most Alaskans, masked or not, would do in an emergency:

"Nevertheless, a picture emerges of two things. One is that I was extremely lucky. The other — and this is a surprise for a card-carrying misanthrope like myself — is that people can be incredibly, almost irrationally kind in times of crisis.

One friend offered his car. Another drove my fiancee and me more than an hour outside Beirut to find a hospital that wasn’t inundated with casualties. A friend of my brother’s — whom I had never laid eyes on before — arranged for his neurosurgeon buddy to set up a CT scan appointment and eye examination, and chauffeured me from hospital to hotel to clinic. Everyone helped — no hesitation, no questions asked.

That generosity seems everywhere. In my neighborhood, roving bands of broomstick-toting volunteers walk around battered streets and apartments, sweeping away blood-soaked glass shards, pulverized furniture and the other detritus of lives shattered. Others grab tools, salvaging what materials they can to board up entrances and restore some semblance of normalcy for shell-shocked residents. Dozens of charitable groups and mutual aid organizations have reoriented themselves to dealing with the tragedy. All this is done in the almost complete absence of the state, whose carelessness appears to have caused the cataclysm in the first place."

Actually, we're in the middle of a slow motion emergency.  Let's get out those brooms and start sweeping away the epithets, the demands for trivial rights, and pick up our responsibilities to each other and to our democracy.  

Friday, August 07, 2020

"Musk then wrote: 'We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it.'”

 A friend alerted me to this article in Counterpunch. It begins like this:

"On July 24, 2020, Tesla’s Elon Musk wrote on Twitter that a second U.S. “government stimulus package is not in the best interests of the people.” Someone responded to Musk soon after, “You know what wasn’t in the best interest of people? The U.S. government organizing a coup against Evo Morales in Bolivia so you could obtain the lithium there.” Musk then wrote: “We will coup whoever we want! Deal with it.”

Musk refers here to the coup against President Evo Morales Ayma, who was removed illegally from his office in November 2019. Morales had just won an election for a term that was to have begun in January 2020. Even if there was a challenge against that election, Morales’ term should rightfully have continued through November and December of 2019. Instead, the Bolivian military, at the behest of Bolivia’s far right and the United States government, threatened Morales; Morales went into exile in Mexico and is now in Argentina."

With all the crap going in within our borders I was only vaguely aware of the Bolivian coup, and not of the details.  Billionaires who are smart and ambitious think they know what is best for the world.  I guess the 2020 version of the General Motors old slogan is What's good for Elon Musk is good for the country.*  

But it looks like we're still in the US imperialism era that saw us bring Pinochet to Chile and the Iran/Contra deal in Central America.  But how could that be a surprise given that Elliott Abrams, who was convicted of lying to Congress (and then pardoned by the 'good' Bush) over the Iran Contra affair is Ambassador to Venezuela and now also the envoy to Iran.

US citizens - this is all being done in our name.  Though if we don't vote hard in November, we won't live in a democracy much longer and so won't be responsible any more.  

*Actually, Wikipedia says that Charles Wilson, the head of General Motors, in Senate confirmation hearings to be Eisenhower's Secretary of Defense, actually said it the other way around.  

"Wilson's nomination sparked a controversy that erupted during his confirmation hearings before the Senate Armed Services Committee, based on his large stockholdings in General Motors. Reluctant to sell the stock, valued at the time at more than $2.5 million (or about $24 million in 2018), Wilson agreed to do so under committee pressure. During the hearings, when asked if he could make a decision as Secretary of Defense that would be adverse to the interests of General Motors, Wilson answered affirmatively. But he added that he could not conceive of such a situation "because for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa." That statement has frequently been misquoted as "What's good for General Motors is good for the country." Although Wilson tried for years to correct the misquote, he was reported, at the time of his retirement in 1957, to have accepted the popular impression." [Emphasis added]

I'd note that Truth or Fiction says the Musk tweet was true and shows a copy of the Tweet.  I found the original Musk tweet about the stimulus and the tweet that raised the Bolivian coup.  There are lots of comments but I couldn't find the one from Musk saying "We will coup whoever we want"  but there is one that has been removed followed by a Musk tweet saying they get lithium from Australia.  

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

University of Alaska New President Virtual Meet & Greet Today, 2:00pm

The appointment of the current interim president of the University of Alaska happened without my paying much attention.  There are just too many things going on in the world.  I did notice a number of hits on some of my older posts on University of Alaska president and chancellor searches, particularly one: Search Committee History 1990, 1998, 2010, 2015 - From Open To Closed
There's also one that looks at the change from academic to business culture:  University of Alaska President Search Part 1: The Cultural Conflict

On paper, or pixels, it would appear that this search continued those trends.  This appears to have been carried out solely by the Board of Regents with some interviews with selected folks around the university and the state.   The new interim president's background isn't easy to review on line - because there isn't much there.  Here's pretty much what I could find - her bio on the university of Alaska president's pages.

"Pat Pitney
The University of Alaska Board of Regents selected Pat Pitney to serve as the university’s interim president beginning on Aug.1, 2020.

Previously Pitney served as the state’s Director of the Division of Legislative Finance. She was the former Vice Chancellor of Administration, University of Alaska Fairbanks and worked at UA Statewide for 17 years. In all, Pitney spent 23 years with the University of Alaska before leaving to serve as the State Budget Director in the administration of former Governor Bill Walker. 

Pitney is expected to serve as interim president for a minimum of a year or up to 18 months or until the appointment of a president, whichever comes first.

Pitney moved to Fairbanks in 1987 from Billings, Montana. She earned her MBA from UAF and an engineering physics degree from Murray State University (Kentucky). She has three adult children and two grandchildren. All three of her children are UA graduates, with degrees from UAF, UAA and UAS.

Before moving to Alaska, she was a member of the 1984 U.S. Olympic Team and won a gold medal in women’s air rifle."

I've never met her or recall seeing her, though she may have been at a Board Meeting I tended, but who knows?  What I'd note here is that it's clear the preponderance of Regents from business is once again reflected here.  We seem to have a President without of terminal degree: the highest degree is an MBA, yes, business.  Nothing mentions her ever teaching at any level or doing research.  

This reflects a national trend to corporatize universities.  I do believe that universities should be run efficiently and effectively, but business tends to emphasize the efficient part.  Universities have traditionally seen their jobs as to educate human beings.  That's hard to measure quickly and quantitatively.  But there seems to be an emphasis of metrics around productivity - number of students per faculty, number of students graduating in four years.  But little concern about what they learn, particularly as human beings and citizens.  Today their job is seen more as producing workers for American corporations.  

But often people have unique qualities that rise above the traditional qualifications of a job.  We are at a time where budgets are a major concern and Pat Pitney has experience there.  And as the former state budget director she has connections with the administration that are potentially helpful in advocating for the University.  And she has an Olympic Gold Medal which means that at one time in her life, if not still now, she could be highly focused on her goal.   But such focus often comes with the necessity to shut out everything else that is happening, such as other important values that a university should strive to  uphold.  

Not having any teaching experience (I'm assuming if she had it her official bio would mention it) is troubling.  University presidents have traditionally risen from the ranks of academics.  I can't imagine the military hiring a general who hadn't risen through the ranks.  Nor are there many, or any, examples of corporate CEOs who have been plucked from a life without lots of business experience.  But nowadays, corporate heavy boards of regents, seem to believe non academics are well qualified to run universities.  Just as Republican voters thought that a business man with no previous government position, would make a good president.  

But this afternoon, the University is offering a chance to see Pat Pitney in the COVID-19 equivalent of 'in person."  

I'd note it is scheduled for 30 minutes - from 2pm to 2:30pm.  So even though you can submit questions, obviously the answers won't be very detailed.  As I think about this, really, a half an hour is a joke.  This is a quick show and tell, and just like I can't find a real, serious resume up for her online, this meeting will just allow us to hear her voice, see what she looks like, but not get serious.  

Saturday, August 01, 2020

Garden Edibles

We haven't planted many veggies in the garden for a while.  We have a lot more shade than we used to have and all the farmers markets have much more variety than we could ever grow.  But with the virus coming on, we got a few seeds and we're starting to see the results.  Not a lot, but it feels good to see food grow so relatively easily.   

The beginnings of a broccoli stalk.

The most advanced of the snap peas.

And I like the sharp flavor of the nasturtium leaves in the salad.

And the raspberries, well I just have to cut off the old stalks at the end of the year and they come back and gives us raspberries without us having to do much except pick them.

And I'm just adding in the begonia flower because I like it so much.  But, no, I don't eat them.