On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate voted to begin floor debate on a bill (S. 2155) that would weaken regulations of banks, large and small, and grease the skids for the next bank crash. After the severe bank crash of 2008, in order to guard against future such crashes, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank law, which enacted the regulations the bill would now weaken. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) scored the bill for budget costs, and figured $671 million over ten years. But the CBO said its estimate was "subject to considerable uncertainty" due to a "slightly greater" "probability in any year that a systemically important financial institution (SIFI) will fail or that there will be a financial crisis." However, in 2008, we saw what some of the real cost to the country could be: $821 billion to the federal government, plus $3.4 trillion in real estate wealth and 5.5 million jobs lost.
December 28, 2017. Cleveland is in a deep freeze. It seems to have come about a month early this winter. The weather service forecasts the cold spell to run for at least another week. I am driving through icy, slushy streets. But it's mostly sunny, though by the rays of a low-arching winter sun. I see one car that looks like it has just been washed. The rest have a road salt glaze.
The House Freedom Caucus of the U.S. Congress has built a reputation for bullheaded pursuit of far-right policy, but not for pursuit of freedom, as its name would indicate. It has pushed federal government shutdown, caused the speaker of the House to quit, and scuttled the Republican bill to cut health care for not cutting enough. But, measured against the four freedoms once set down by President Franklin Roosevelt, the caucus seems more in pursuit of serfdom than freedom.
In his "Four Freedoms" speech, given eleven months before the nation's entry into World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt set down a standard of freedom:
In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
The first is freedom of speech and expression – everywhere in the world.
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way – everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want – which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear – which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor–anywhere in the world.
Let's see how the caucus measures up to those four essential human freedoms.
Despite cutbacks and financial stress in the industry, the mainstream daily newspaper is still on the job, reporting corruption in public office. For example, here are a few boiled-down summaries of reports that I found over the past month in the local daily I subscribe to.
Involuntary manslaughter among charges filed in Flint water crisis
(The Detroit Free Press, June 14.) The wheels of justice slowly, surely turning ...
Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced the fourth round of criminal charges in the Flint water crisis. The state charged five persons with involuntary manslaughter in the death of Robert Skidmore by Legionnaire's disease. An outbreak of the waterborne disease, which killed 12 and struck dozens more, followed the switch of the city's water from the Detroit system to the Flint River.
Among those charged are Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon and former Flint emergency manager Darnell Early. Lyons is accused of failing to alert the public to the outbreak of the disease for a year after he became aware of it. He is also charged with misconduct in office for instructing an official to stop study that would help find the cause of the disease outbreak.
The state also charged Michigan Chief Medical Executive Dr. Eden Wells with obstruction of justice and lying to a police officer. The obstruction of justice charge alleges that Wells threatened to withhold funding for the Flint Area Community Health and Environment Partnership if it did not stop its investigation into the source of the disease outbreak.
In a concert at the riverside pavilion in Cleveland last week, Paul Simon gave the crowd a tour-de-force -- and a sermonette.
The tour-de-force was made up of a strong choice of songs from Simon's 53-year-long career. Five Simon and Garfunkel songs, five songs from the lush "Graceland" album, a couple from last year's "Stranger to Stranger," and 13 more carried the crowd through a 2 hour and 10 minute musical trip. Throughout, Simon hit the right notes, while his band put out striking strong rhythms and soaring psychedelic sounds.
The sermonette came just before the last song:
I feel a little bit funny about saying these things, but I'm giving, I'm allowing myself the privilege of it due to my advanced age. For years it is my observation: Anger is addictive. And we are becoming a nation of addicts. Ask yourself, "Who are the dealers? Who are the pushers? Where, where is that anger coming from?" And be aware of -- when you hear it, when you see it -- be aware of its source. It's not, it's not that we aren't gonna have reasons to be angry. Of course we do. But decision-making and best choices are made with a cool and a calm mind. And in a well-knit community, practice kindness.
Then he played, in acoustic solo, "The Sound of Silence."
(To circulate petitions, go to ohfairdistricts.com.)
Ohioans are set to finish the job. In 2015, Ohio voters resoundingly passed an issue to slay statehouse gerrymanders. Now many are signing petitions for a ballot issue to slay Congressional gerrymanders.
Gerrymanders are irregular legislative districts drawn to favor one political party. The 2015 statehouse anti-gerrymander redistricting issue passed with 71% of the vote. It establishes a bi-partisan commission that must have at least two votes from representatives of each of the two biggest parties to adopt a district map.
The new Congressional redistricting issue uses the same commission and follows nearly the same procedures and map-drawing criteria as the statehouse redistricting law. Its map-drawing criteria are:
- compliance with law,
- no party favoritism,
- avoidance of splitting counties, cities and townships,
- representational fairness (based on statewide partisan preferences of voters), and
Simply stated at whatisnetneutrality.org: "Net Neutrality is the principle that the company that connects you to the internet does not get to control what you do on the internet."
That principle protects one's freedom to communicate and to choose information sources, without being throttled or blocked by one's internet service provider (ISP). In this information age, that freedom becomes more-and-more widely recognized as a right. And it becomes more-and-more crucial for citizens of a constitutional democracy in keeping informed and active.
CLICK to sign.
(Analysis.) Many liberal thinkers have put forth good reasons for senators to reject President Trump's nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. People for the American Way, one of a coalition of groups that delivered block-Gorsuch petitions with one million online signatures, cited his ...
troubling views and record when it comes to siding with wealthy and powerful interests, over the rights of working people, women, and the disabled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. -- Jesus of Nazareth
On January 27, President Donald Trump issued an order banning entry to the U.S. of persons from certain Muslim-majority countries, and of all refugees. The sudden enforcement of that order drew 1000's of people to the nation's airports, and elsewhere around the world, to stand against religious discrimination and for due process of law, and to support refugees and those blocked by the travel ban. It also drew this comment from one person who has been working to help refugees settle:
“When I see refugees now being shut off like that, I think, ‘How on earth can we be so hardhearted,’ ” said Harley Kooker, who first worked with refugees in Vietnam as a conscientious objector to that war. “I was always taught that we love whoever regardless of ethnicity, race, religion, you know, that’s who my Jesus is, that’s what my Jesus taught.”
By taking the office of U.S. president Friday, Donald Trump has also taken a big step towards impeachment. That fact has crossed the mind of at least one member of the House. Jamie Raskin (D-MD), who is a constitutional law professor at American University in Washington, D.C., and the director of the university’s Program on Law and Government Leadership, said:
"Right now (January 18) it looks pretty obvious that [Trump]'s on a collision course with the Emoluments Clause" ... "He has refused to divest himself of tens or hundreds of millions of dollars of business interests he has around the world doing business with foreign governments."
"[The Emoluments Clause] says that no elected official, either member of Congress or the president of the United States, can accept a gift, an emolument or any payment at all from a foreign government." ... "He [Trump] just simply refuses to accept that reality. So if he goes into office and he refuses to divest himself, the moment that the first conflict comes up, that's going to look like an impeachable offense."
(Analysis.) "All politics is moral," writes cognitive scientist and author George Lakoff. For years he has counseled Democrats on winning hearts and minds from the dishonest, but effective, Fox News and Rush Limbaugh-style Republican propaganda.
[S]tart with values, not policies and facts and numbers. Say what you believe, but haven't been saying. For example, progressive thought is built on empathy, on citizens caring about other citizens and working through our government to provide public resources for all, both businesses and individuals. Use history. That’s how America started. The public resources used by businesses were not only roads and bridges, but public education, a national bank, a patent office, courts for business cases, interstate commerce support, and of course the criminal justice system. From the beginning, the Private Depended on Public Resources, both private lives and private enterprise.
Over time those resources have included sewers, water and electricity, research universities and research support: computer science (via the NSF), the internet (ARPA), pharmaceuticals and modern medicine (the NIH), satellite communication (NASA and NOA), and GPS systems and cell phones (the Defense Department). Private enterprise and private life utterly depend on public resources. ... And stop defending “the government.” Talk about the public, the people, Americans, the American people, public servants, and good government. And take back freedom. Public resources provide for freedom in private enterprise and private life.
The conservatives are committed to privatizing just about everything and to eliminating funding for most public resources. The contribution of public resources to our freedoms cannot be overstated. Start saying it.
Of course, having, as the Republicans do, hundreds of radio stations and a major news network devoted to the messaging would greatly help. Still, every liberal-minded person that speaks a clear message grounded in values, whether to one or a million-and-one, would also help.
Fair and reliable elections, an informed citizenry, wide participation in governance -- these are cornerstones of democracy. But the recent election in the U.S.A. has pointed out serious cracks in those stones. Gerrymandered districts weakened voters of one party, and made races non-competitive. Recently-erected hurdles stopped many from voting. Big media focused on the horse race, and ignored policy issues. Persons trafficked in misleading and fake news on social media. And, in the end, demagogy and crackpottery carried the day. What follows are six simple ideas that can, I think, be easily implemented, and that might well go a long way toward fixing those cracks and strengthening our democracy.
In "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," Lewis Carroll tells the story of Alice, a more-or-less average curious, rational child, who, on a dreamy summer day, chases a waistcoat-wearing white rabbit down a rabbit hole into a bizarre land. In this, and in a later book ("Through the Looking-Glass"), we find many strange characters producing many puzzling and irrational quotes. For instance, we have the giant talking egg, Humpty Dumpty:
When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.'
'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'
'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master—that's all.'
And we have the Queen of Hearts, who is quite quick to propose simple, brutal solutions:
[The King] called the Queen, who was passing at the moment, 'My dear! I wish you would have this cat removed!'
The Queen had only one way of settling all difficulties, great or small. 'Off with his head!' she said, without even looking round.
... and, when the Dormouse spoke out of turn in court:
'Collar that Dormouse,' the Queen shrieked out. 'Behead that Dormouse! Turn that Dormouse out of court! Suppress him! Pinch him! Off with his whiskers!'
An observer of American politics since 1980 or so, might well picture oneself as, like Alice, having gone down the rabbit-hole to find many strange Republicans, who, like the characters in Wonderland, issue puzzling and irrational quotes. Over the decades, here are just a few of the characters we have met, as we went down, down, down ...