Tuesday, February 09, 2016

Informed Debate

Donald Trump "reprimands" a woman who called Ted Cruz a "pussy" by repeating the epithet.  In Orgegon the remaining holdouts at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge taunt the federal law  government by spinning donuts in federal vehicles in support of their demands.

Democracy in America 2016.



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Friday, February 05, 2016

Establishing Some But Not All Religions

The latest dust-up between church and state has occurred in Phoenix, Arizona, my old hometown.  City Council allowed various faiths to offer an opening prayer at its meetings but balked when the local Satanic Temple requested an opportunity to offer the prayer.  Suddenly, the practice didn't seem like a good idea, especially to the Christians who approve of some but not all prayer.  Council members decided to ax the whole idea of a prayer in favor of a moment of silence.

A moment of silence at the start of a city council meetingseems plenty appropriate to me.  The Christians and followers of other religious traditions can pray to their respective gods and goddesses and everyone else can use the time to reflect on their purpose in attending the meeting.  Or maybe just to think about something else altogether. 

What it all comes down to is that some prayer (read:  Christian and possibly Jewish and occasional Muslim) is acceptable.  All else is suspect. 

Some religions are apparently more privileged than others.


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Monday, February 01, 2016

Suicide Sainthood

The man who said he preferred to die rather than face incarceration did just that.  Clever man that he was, LaVoy Finicum used his death to purchase a martyrhood that his fellow sagebrush rebels can use as both justification and inspiration for continuing their disruption of life in Burns, Oregon.  I can't say that he willingly planned his death but I don't put it past him.  He presented himself as a principled man, a grandfather, risking his life for his beliefs.  I won't gainsay his belief, however dubious, nor do I question his calculation so, yeah, he could have decided to take a bullet for the cause.  After all, Jesus did the same and look what that started.

Getting killed by police is pretty easy, even for a white person.  Brandishing firearms and making threats for weeks on end will make police edgy.  Trying to run a roadblock, and then dropping your hands toward a weapon that you've bragged about to the entire nation  is guaranteed to elicit an armed response.  A man who wanted to live would have raised his hands well into the air and frozen in place as soon as he exited the truck.  Instead, he taunted the beast and died.

Maybe Finicum wasn't that clever but he got what he said he wanted.  His fellows have another grievance to stoke their anger and challenge the government.  I don't doubt that Finicum would approve.



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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Virginia Heroes

The Washington Post has a good article about the Virginia Tech professor who documented both the lead content of Flint, Michigan's water and the complete failure of public officials at all levels who discounted and covered up the problem.    Turns out Flint is not his first run-in with lead pipes and devious public officials. 
Marc Edwards...more than a decade earlier proved, along with an investigation by The Washington Post, that corrosion in the nation’s capital’s pipes had caused lead to seep into the water supply and pass through kitchen faucets and shower heads. After helping to expose that water crisis in 2004, he spent six years challenging the Centers for Disease Control to admit they weren’t being honest about the extent of the damage the lead had on children.  He burned through thousands of dollars of his own money, as well as $500,000 from a MacArthur Foundation genius grant he won in 2008, to take on the federal government. He was harassed, lampooned, and threatened. He lost friends.  Then, in 2010, he was vindicated when it was proven that the CDC had lied to the public in a misleading report, which falsely claimed lead levels in the water had not posed a health risk to D.C. residents.
Unlike state, local and federal officials, Dr. Edwards has earned the trust of Flint's citizens by his dogged pursuit of the truth behind one of the most grievous governmental failures in US history.

This event, and the actions of a dedicated public official reminds me of another public official who went out of his way to identify a similar environmental crime.  In 1975 Virginia state epidemiologist Robert Jackson documented Kepone poisoning of  workers at Life Sciences Products Company in Hopewell, Virginia after being alerted by a local doctor who had treated worker and suspected chemical poisoning.  Upon seeing the plant, which was housed in an old gas station, Jackson arranged to meet with workers and take blood samples which returned results high enough to trigger an immediate state shut-down of the plant.

Further investigation found that, in addition to poisoning workers, the plant had also poisoned the lower James River, leading to a ban on commercial fishing on the river that lasted until 1988.  In the end Allied Chemical, which had contracted with two employees to create Life Sciences to produce Kepone, was found to have also discharged Kepone to the river and was fined $13.2 million for violating federal pollution laws .  Life Sciences was also fined $4 million but was already defunct and never paid.  The two owners were fined $25,000 each.

The difference between Flint and Hopewell was that in the latter event, government worked to identify  and take immediate action.  Not so in Flint.  What did work in both cases was that one individual acted on results to force action.  Hopewell was more fortunate than Flint in that action was immediate but if it weren't for the tireless efforts of Dr. Edwards, the official stone wall of evasion in Flint would not have been breached.

What did not work in Virginia was public oversight of hazardous materials and their routine discharge into the state's waters.  Virginia's State Water Control Board (SWCB) largely ignored Allied Chemical's discharges until the Dr. Jackson blew the whistle on the company after egregiously poor handling of a toxic substance by Allied's supposedly independent subcontractor.  The SWCB in that era was less likely to challenge one of the state's largest industries.  I worked on a 1976 program evaluation of water resource management in Virginia that found " widespread noncompliance among major municipal and industrial [discharge] permit holders in Virginia." 

America may have come a long way in dealing with environmental hazards since the 1970's.  Still the system requires dedicated public officials to speak out forcefully. 

Kudos to Doctors Edward and Jackson.  American could use many more of you.

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Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Knives Are Out

Republican presidential politics is turning bloody.  True conservatives distrust Donald Trump.  The Establishment loathes Ted Cruz (so does just about everyone).  Polling so far has all the pundits predicting a two-way fight. No third alternative has gained traction going into the Iowa caucuses and New Hampshire primary, leaving the GOP with a choice between "being shot or poisoned" according to Lindsey Graham.

These days the Republican establishment seems to be coming to terms with its binary choice, deciding that Trump is the lesser of its two evils.   They are making a logical choice.  Trump appears to be expanding the Republican electorate where Cruz is appealing to a base that is still likely to be Republican no matter who is the party's nominee.  And they genuinely loathe Cruz. 

All this is both amusing and satisfying since I care little for Republican ideology or policies.  I would like to think that either Trump or Cruz would lose to either Sanders or Clinton but I don't have any illusions.  Both Democratic possibilities have liabilities.  Sanders' liabilities are mostly tactical:  his limited connection to minority communities that are the Democratic base and lack of foreign policy experience.  Clinton's liabilities are strategic:  she's the ultimate insider in an anti-insider political year and has a serious credibility problem.  She has the experience and resources.  Sanders has the enthusiasm.

I don't make predictions but I do have preferences.  I'm a Democratic Socialist so Bernie Sanders is my first choice.  Clinton is acceptable as a second choice although if she were the nominee I would likely vote for Jill Stein in November, something I can do in reliably Democratic Washington.  Neither Trump nor Cruz is acceptable to me as president, although I will allow that Cruz is the more dangerous of the two.  For that matter, no Republican candidate offers reasonable policies for America's economic, social, environmental, and foreign challenges in the 21st Century.

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Monday, January 18, 2016

Timeless Words

I've posted this before but if the mainstream media can focus almost exclusively on Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I have a dream" speech, I will continue to remember that he also spoke against the the war in Vietnam.


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Saturday, January 16, 2016

Tea Leaves

A Bernie Sanders optimist could take comfort from the Washington Post over the past few days.  Today the paper reports that the Republican nomination is becoming a Trump-Cruz race.   Yesterday the Post headlined that Clinton's lead over Sanders is "evaporating"Polling trends so far show that Sanders is a credible candidate against either Trump or Cruz.  The optimist could revel in the December Quinnipiac poll that showed Sanders 13 points ahead of Trump but would also have to take note that the same poll has Cruz ahead of Sanders by one point.  The optimist might also not want to pay too much attention to the favorable trend toward Cruz in recent weeks.

This early, any long-term prediction from these results are hardly definitive.  What I do see is that Bernie Sanders is currently credible candidate against any Republican.  That may change but in a year when everyone is angry and anti-establishment Democrats could do worse than to nominate a candidate who is challenging that establishment. 

Yesterday's headline is ironically apocalyptic:  "Clinton's lead is evaporating, and anxious Democrats see 2008 all over again".  If I were a Democrat reflecting on the 2008 election, I would recall that the my presidential candidate energized the electorate to win a convincing victory.   My party increased its majorities in the House and Senate, achieving a near filibuster-proof Senate majority.

If I were a Democrat these days, I would be more anxious if my candidate were an establishment figure that cannot energize the electorate.


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