Water, Water Everywhere

KhalimaSikorsky
photo collage by Khalima Sikorsky

I wonder what the folks at Davos are saying about the water in Flint, Michigan? Davos, if by some miracle you haven’t heard, is a Swiss mountain village where CEOs, hedge fund managers, economic leaders, political heavy weights, and a few celebrities meet to discuss the big issues of the day. Sometimes they come away with actual solutions to intractable problems. Mostly, though, they reaffirm their commitment to making deals and carrying on the neoliberal agenda for the world economic order by which they have grandly profited. This is why I suspect their conversations won’t really embrace the whole Flint, Michigan phenomena in all its seedy detail.

“Did you hear about the people of Flint?”
“The who? I don’t see ‘Flint people’ speaking at any conferences. Is it a new band?”
“No.”
“A restaurant?”
“No. Flint people are people who live in Flint, Michigan.”
“Michigan? Sounds dreadful. No ski slopes for miles.”
“Well, actually, what they need isn’t ski slopes. It’s water.”
“Water, really? Excellent. I have contacts at Nestle’s. We’ll send them high quality bottled water, tout suite!”
“I don’t think that will work.”
“They would prefer Pierre? Fine, I know an old fraternity friend who runs their import division. I’ll just reach out to him and we’ll set things straight, pronto.”
“No, no, no, no. They have water, it’s just been poisoned.”
“Poisoned? How very de Medici. The entire water system? Amazing. That sounds like the makings of a Hollywood thriller. Which terrorist group was responsible? ISIS? Boko Harem? Maybe we can get Kevin Costner on the project?”
“Actually, it wasn’t a terrorist organization at all. It was Governor Rick Snyder, and his emergency manager.”
“You don’t say. Well, I’m sure he had an excellent reason. You don’t go poisoning an entire city without good cause.”
“He wanted to save money.”
“The very best reason! We simply cannot be lavishing money on entire cities after all. Especially those darker cities if you catch my drift.”
“I do, but I suspect the move was ill advised. Now it’s come out that the children of Flint are suffering from lead poisoning and Rick Snyder is requesting federal emergency funds to bail his city out.”
“Oh, dear, more money! Tut, tut, it’s apparent to me that dear Mitch didn’t handle this crisis effectively. I have a PR firm—Burson-Marsteller– that can handle such things. Let me get them on the horn.”
“It’s too late. It’s already in the national news.”
“Oh that is dreadful. Nothing can be done, then.”
“Yes, yes it’s bad. Very bad. Mitch will be in for a rough ride. Yes, and I hear the children of Flint are dying, too.”

**

Of course, this is an imagined scene. I seriously doubt a conversation of even this short length would take place at Davos about such lowly concerns as Flint, Michigan’s water problems. Or Virginia’s water problems for that matter. In fact, there’s an excellent chance you haven’t heard about those issues either; because no one has died of them… .yet. But if you’re a Richmonder, you should probably know that on January 14th, the Virginia State Water Control Board approved permits that allowed the Dominion Virginia Power company to discharge water from coal ash ponds at Bremo Power Station, roughly 50 miles upstream of Richmond on the James River, and the Possum Point Power Station, located 30 miles south of Washington, D.C., at the confluence of the Potomac River and Quantico Creek.

Now there are a few things for us to keep in mind about this which our Water Board apparently didn’t. Residue from coal ash contains heavy metals like arsenic and mercury so there are significant environmental as well as health impacts to citizens downstream. Citizens in Richmond, Virginia, to be specific.

The odds of a Richmonder attending Davos are slight, but if someone from Richmond did attend, they are likely to be heading a big company, like Dominion Virginia Power for example.
Maybe next year or the year after, we’ll be able to imagine another conversation at Davos. Something along these lines…

“Did you hear about the people of Richmond?”
“The people of where?”
“Richmond, Virginia, darling. Oh, you haven’t heard of them? Well, you see, Richmond was an up and coming city. They were making quite a name for themselves as the river city of the East Coast, best urban white water rapids anywhere in the continental U.S., actually. They had a vibrant art scene and really wonderful restaurants. Foodies and creatives all over the place. And lots of tattoos. But then Tommy Farrell, you remember Tommy, don’t you?”
“Why, yes. Tommy and I used to play Mahjong together all the time! Heads that power company now, doesn’t he?”
“Yes, Dominion. Well he decided to bend a few legislative arms to get out from under some testy environmental regulators. You know Tommy had most of the Virginia General Assembly in his back pocket. He’s heaped about $1.6 million to statewide and legislative candidates since the start of 2013, so it’s no wonder some back water agency decides to do his bidding. Anyhow, it turns out pouring arsenic and mercury from old coal ash ponds into the drinking water for an entire city was not such a grand idea.”
“What happened?”
“I don’t want to go into the details—they are…graphic. Let’s just say Tommy never learned anything from Rick Snyder.”
“You mean this made the national press, as well?”
“Yes. And it killed Richmond’s chance to be a first tier city. Who wants to live in a place where you can’t trust the drinking water, after all? There’s only so much Pierre in the world to go around.”
“Pity…. Poor Tommy.”
“It’s like that old Rime from the Ancient Mariner, do you remember that? We had to memorize the thing in our prep school days. How does it go again?”
“Something, something…’Water, water everywhere. And not a drop to drink’, that’s it, isn’t it?”
“Yes, that’s it. Say have you tried these canapés? They are amazing!”

-by Jack Johnson

Grab Bag Friday

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So you may have heard there’s this guy running for president – no, not that guy! I’m talking about Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders! I’ll excuse you for thinking that I was going to talk about a certain billionaire demagogue for whom the mainstream media has been effectively, if not completely willingly shilling for since May. Of course, Sanders draws larger crowds, has a coherent policy agenda and a lifetime of experience in actual elected office, none of which said billionaire has, but that hasn’t helped Sanders.

His opponent in the Democratic primaries is also very well known, and while she has a coherent policy agenda and experience in governance, the press love her for the polarizing effect she has on the public and deserved or undeserved whiff of scandal that trails after her.

Secretary Clinton is the anointed choice of Democratic leadership, and their efforts to silence or marginalize Sanders by rigging the debate schedule, for instance, one can imagine encouraging the media blackout of his campaign would be expected in a high stakes, bare knuckle run for the presidency. But I suspect you will now hear a bit more about the Sanders campaign since a minor scandal seems to have erupted involving a breach in the NGP VAN voter data base which is vital to GOTV efforts for both the Clinton campaign and particularly the Sanders campaign.

So far, this doesn’t seem to amount to much but I suspect you will be hearing about it tomorrow night if you tune into the Democratic debate being held on the opening weekend of the most anticipated movie in recent history (thanks DNC), and more importantly on cable news channels that can’t find the will to concentrate on actual issues but love horse races and scandal.

With the collapse of the GOP into a shambling, drooling personification of the frightened Id of aging, rural white America is certainly an engaging storyline and worthy of better reporting than we’ve gotten from the press so far. The rebirth of a vigorous Progressive movement that has manifested itself in the Sanders campaign has simply been ignored, except in so far as it pertains to Mrs. Clinton’s poll numbers. Let’s see if Bernie doesn’t get some press now that there’s a “gate” to suffix to whatever this database thing actually is.

Democrats punish Bernie Sanders campaign following Clinton data breach
Why the Bernie Sanders Revolution is Not Televised
Huge week for Bernie Sanders gets little coverage

~by Scott Price

Recruiting for ISIS, Social Media

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“The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theater and causing a panic. […] The question in every case is whether the words used are used in such circumstances and are of such a nature as to create a clear and present danger that they will bring about the substantive evils that Congress has a right to prevent.” ~ Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

While some efforts are underway to curb terrorists’ easy access to social media for recruitment purposes, heavier monitoring is needed.

If our government does it, that’s a real slippery slope – though for national security matters, I think it would survive First Amendment challenges. I would rather see social media companies do it on their own.

“It was the second time in two weeks that Mrs. Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, had thrown herself into the brewing battle between Silicon Valley and the government over what steps should be taken to block the use of Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat and a range of encrypted apps that are adopted by terrorist groups.”
Hillary Clinton Urges Silicon Valley to ‘Disrupt’ ISISThe New York Times

“Google’s YouTube has expanded a little-known “Trusted Flagger” program, allowing groups ranging from a British anti-terror police unit to the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a human rights organization, to flag large numbers of videos as problematic and get immediate action.”
Social media companies step up battle against militant propagandaReuters

Schenck v. United States
“As the precedents stand at present, therefore, it appears that Schenck is still good law. Criminal attempts may be prosecuted even if carried out solely through expressive behavior, and a majority of the justices continue to view such prosecutions in the light of the majority opinion in Abrams: the Court will defer to legislative judgments, at least in national security matters, that some forms of political advocacy may be prosecuted.”

Let Us Now Praise Politicians (and the NRA that funds them)

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The BBC opened its article on our no good, very bad, massacre day by writing, it’s “just another day in the United States of America.” You can’t really argue with that. There is, however, the slightly interesting variation of having not just one regrettable massacre to worry about, but as of 9:51 p.m. this evening, two massacres. The first occurred in the wee morning hours in Savannah, Georgia, involving at least three wounded and one dead and the next occurred later during the day in San Bernardino, California where the final death toll has not been tallied but at least 14 people have been murdered, thus far. Not a good day, but not really that atypical either.

Gun deaths in the U.S. have killed more people in the last twelve years than AIDS, war, terrorism, and illegal drug overdoses combined. You can read about that below.

Why, you might ask, does this continue to happen?

Well, this link might help explain things. It is a listing of all the politicians who have received campaign contributions from the NRA.

The politicians on that list, by the way, were almost uniform in their sanctimonious offering of prayers for the victims of this latest round of killings in America. The largest recipients of the NRA largesse seem, somehow, always to be the first to offer their prayers of sympathy for those murdered by their calculated inaction. Such prayers, it should be said, are less than useless now.
~by Jack Johnson

Guns killed more Americans in 12 years than AIDS, war, and illegal drug overdoses combined.
Seriously.

Southern (dis)Comfort

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“The huge Golden Dragon facility has housing units on the factory grounds for the Chinese workers. The average worker so far makes $13 per hour.”

The disheartening news out of rural Alabama this week is enough to make you wonder how bad things have to get before the rest of the nation reads about them.

This one is on the front page of the Washington Post where Chico Harlan writes about “the best new opportunity in Wilcox County.” Egad!

A grim bargain
Once a weakness, low-skilled workers who get paid little have become the Deep South’s strength

~~~~~~~~

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[PICTURED IN THE IMAGE, CARLTON OTT,  CLARK RICE,  STEVE HAMM, STEVE PARRISH, DAVID JAY, MICHAEL MAGRINO, DEWAYNE HERRING, ANDY HUGHES, GARY COLEMAN, AND SCOTT SMITH]

This one, by Jon B. Carroll, reports on police officer whistleblowers from the Dothan Police Department who have turned over “hundreds of files from the Internal Affairs Division.”

I’m sure we’ll hear a lot more about this very soon, as the whistleblowers “believe that there are currently nearly a thousand wrongful convictions resulting in felonies from the 20th Judicial District that are tied to planted drugs and weapons ….” “Specifically young black men who had clean records were targeted.”
Leaked Documents Reveal Dothan Police Department Planted Drugs on Young Black Men For Years, District Attorney Doug Valeska Complicit

Stochastic Variations

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Visualized Stochastic Process

The word for the day is stochastic. Many times events or data points that mean nothing by themselves, but together mean a lot are stochastic. Let’s see how we can use this in a sentence: this weekend’s attack on the Planned Parenthood was stochastic in nature. When Carly Fiorina uses a fake video to accuse Planned Parenthood of harvesting fetus limbs for profit (get your baby parts here!) , not only is she lying, she is stochastically increasing the odds of an attack by a mentally unstable individual who might believe her. One could argue that in addition to acting in bad faith, she is, wittingly or not, engaging in a form of terrorism that is stochastic in nature, triggering unstable individuals across the country to act on her false accusations based on a fake film that she continues to flog despite ample evidence to the contrary.

Is there other evidence of stochastic triggering? Why yes there is; thank you for asking.

When Donald Trump encourages racism against immigrants by suggesting that Mexico does not send their ‘best’ people, but rather “… They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”… etc., despite a complete lack of evidence, (and plenty of evidence to the contrary), we might suggest that not only is Donald Trump lying, he is participating in a form of stochastic terrorism by encouraging weak minded individuals to act on his faulty assumptions. When Trump tries to defend this statement by doubling down and saying a month later, “What can be simpler or more accurately stated? The Mexican Government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States. They are, in many cases, criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.”… it can certainly tip the balance. Two men in Boston admitted they ambushed and brutally beat a homeless Latino man because they were “inspired” by Trump. Of course, Trump didn’t leave it at that. He also said that Muslim-Americans should be tracked, undocumented workers should be rounded up, and that a Black Lives Matter protester at his rally “maybe deserved to be roughed up.” Last August, when a man arrested for beating a homeless Latin man told police, “Donald Trump was right — all these illegals need to be deported,” Trump didn’t condemn the violence. Instead he said “people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again.” Thus, enabling such behavior and even promoting it by designating as patriots those who are flat-out hooligans.

We can also think of stochastic in a reverse form, where multiple events can be attributed to a given phenomenon, but are not. Take climate change, for example. Each individual ‘storm of the century’ that has now become storm of the decade or even storm of the year is a discrete data point that, individually, does not directly impute man-made climate change but, in aggregate, these data points certainly do add up. That’s why the scientist converge with 99% plus certainty that man-made climate change is a real problem, even dabbling with the naming of our era the Anthropocene epoch—that is, our epoch begins when human activities started to have a significant global impact on Earth’s ecosystems. A bad snowstorm or drought does not equal man-made climate change. Years of record high temperatures and back-to-back droughts certainly do.

One last way we can use the term stochastic is in the very nature of the war on terror that we are purporting to battle but are actually inflaming. Again, it’s all about aggregate data. Like our homegrown disgruntled Planned Parenthood shooters and immigrant beaters, there will always be a small population of mentally unbalanced individuals for whom any agitation will be too much. The trick is to not grow their number. Thus policy makers and politicians would be advised to avoid inflammatory rhetoric; especially rhetoric which is patently false, like for example, accusing Planned Parenthood of harvesting body parts from fetuses, or accusing Mexico of sending us rapists.

We’ve already seen how this can lead to unnecessary violence. But the same principle holds true for military strategists and foreign affairs officers when they advocate using drones or our military when there can be significant civilian casualties. It’s a simple numbers game. Every accidental civilian death is someone’s brother or father or sister or mother. Every such death increases the likelihood that someone else will take up arms against our military presence or the ‘West’ in general. This is not rational, any more than attacking immigrants or Planned Parenthood workers is ‘rational’… but it is real. There is no better recruiting tool for ISIS than the death of innocent civilians by unmanned drones. There is no better propaganda to paint us as heartless monsters, and we do it to ourselves. Every mission gone wrong, every innocent civilian murdered by some robot in the sky only adds to the raging fury against us. But this is controllable, too, and that is the ultimate lesson for today. The term stochastic gives us a handle with which to understand – and lay responsibility for—everything from so called lone wolf attacks on our own soil to terrorism attacks abroad. It’s time we began paying attention to what those numbers are telling us.

~By Jack Johnson

Countdown To The Apocalypse

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There are lots of opinions floating around about ISIS and which military strategy would be best to defeat it. Graeme Wood’s piece in the March Atlantic is an interesting one and very informative.

“One way to un-cast the Islamic State’s spell over its adherents would be to overpower it militarily and occupy the parts of Syria and Iraq now under caliphate rule. Al‑Qaeda is ineradicable because it can survive, cockroach-like, by going underground. The Islamic State cannot. If it loses its grip on its territory in Syria and Iraq, it will cease to be a caliphate. Caliphates cannot exist as underground movements, because territorial authority is a requirement: take away its command of territory, and all those oaths of allegiance are no longer binding.”

What ISIS Really Wants

But, for now and the long run, Gordon Brown (“prime minister of Britain from 2007 to 2010 and a U.N. special envoy for global education”) writes about a unique experiment already underway in Beirut.

[The strategy of the Islamic State is to “capture the rebelliousness of youth, their energy and idealism, and their readiness for self-sacrifice,” according to its own propaganda. Central to this worldview, as one former hostage held by young Islamic State extremists bore witness, is “the belief that communities cannot live together with Muslims” and “that there is a kind of apocalyptic process under way that will lead to a confrontation between an army of Muslims from all over the world and non-Muslims.”]

A powerful antidote to the Islamic State

Diminishing Marginal Utility

ThankfulnessResize

Here’s an article by Peter Dun that addresses Black Friday, material acquisition and the behavior of mindful thankfulness. I hope this Thanksgiving week is joyful and fulfilling for you and yours. Keep safe, watch the road, and try not to “blow through the turnoff.”

Pre-Black Friday tip: True spirit of Thanksgiving serves shoppers well

Friday Grab Bag

So Virginia is essentially a purple state: It has a GOP controlled legislature, featuring a madly lopsided majority in the lower House of Delegates and it controls 8 of the state’s 11 Congressional districts. Meanwhile, in recent years every time the Old Dominion gets to vote as an entirety, like say in presidential elections or for statewide office, the Democrats have won, which has led to the former capital of the Confederacy helping to elect the nation’s first African American President… twice, as well as both U.S. Senators the Governor, the Lieutenant Governor and the Attorney General.

Virginia has large “red” sections including pretty much all of the Southside, the western part of the state, the Shenandoah Valley, much of the I-95 corridor between the Northern Virginia suburbs and Richmond. The Democrats control the cities and the inner suburbs. There is a name for this sort of thing: Blue islands in a Red sea, and there are all sorts of reasons for this. The country and the ex-urbs are a lot whiter than the cities, education levels and cultural richness tend to cluster around the urban areas. It is no secret that the cities tend to be more progressive than the outlying countryside with the sometime exception of the beach, Hampton, Tidewater and Newport News where the large number of military personnel can impact elections generally and particularly where defense based jobs are at stake.

So this raises the question: How is it that there are enough Democrats to elect Barack Obama… twice, and make Democratic political fixer and Clinton bag man Terry McAuliffe governor and yet not control the legislature and in fact not have much of a hope of controlling the legislature for years to come?

The answer is complex for sure. It involves certain oddities of Virginia government like the off-year election cycle that has the Commonwealth electing statewide offices the year after national elections which in turn affects voter turnout, the great bugaboo of the Democrats who won the state in the 2012 election when 71% of registered voters came out to give Obama a second term, but often struggles in down ticket races where likely Democratic voters, minorities, students and the working poor tend to stay home. Part of the problem is that the Democrat’s voter base is simply less motivated to come out than the ethnically homogenous, culturally and religiously similar Republican base who are often whipped into action by a media based, talk radio fueled, get out the vote apparatus that over the last couple decades has become very effective. It is an old saw that low voter turnout leads to Republican victories and vis versa. Toss in some attempts at legislative voter suppression, vote “caging,” Citizens United and the lack of any real campaign finance reform, super pacs and the tendency for incumbents to win, and we can begin to see why the GOP can rather easily resist what appears to be a majority statewide Democratic vote.

Going into the election, Republicans held a razor thin margin in the State Senate, 21-19. If they lost a seat to the Democrats the 20 -20 tie would have been broken by the Democratic Lieutenant Governor who would have cast the deciding vote. While several seats changed hands on November 3rd, in the end the split remained 21-19 and Republicans will decide on important committee appointments, budget priorities and judgeships for the next few years. It bears noting that of those 40 seats, the 19 seats the Democrats defended, none was lost. In the 12 races where Democrats actually faced an opponent, the margin of victory was an average of 60.9%. Of the 21 GOP controlled seats, 11 were contested and a Republican candidate won every seat by an average of 59.39%. In the House, where the GOP went into the election with a robust 68-32 seat supermajority the Democrats managed to drag 2 seats back into their column to bring the margin to 66-34, but once again it was the visible lack of any real movement among the legislators that catches the eye.

The Dems started election night with 32 seats, 21 of those seats were uncontested. Of the 11 contested seats, 1, the open second House district just north of Fredericksburg, was lost when Republican Mark Dudenhefer defeated Democrat Josh King by 125 votes in one of the few close elections of the night. While the GOP did lose 2 seats altogether, in neither the House nor the Senate for that matter did an incumbent who was actually on the ballot lose. Just over half the Seats in the Senate were contested, while in the House that number was just over 1/3.

At the Congressional level, where an otherwise purple swing state is represented by 8 Republicans and only 3 Democrats, a look at a map shows just how out of whack the system is.

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Three small districts, 2 in the far north and 1 in the east of the Commonwealth serve to represent a Democratic electorate that routinely defeats Republicans at the statewide level, which brings us to the elephant in the voting booth, so to speak.

Gerrymandering, “to manipulate the boundaries (of an electoral constituency) so as to favor one party or class” is a problem that has existed in one form or another as long as there have been discreet, location-based elections. Democrats have and in some places may still use this time-honored recourse when the option is available. And there is little to no real argument that here in Virginia Republicans have been using the gerrymander to first establish and then maintain their massive lead at the local level.

In the case of Congressional District number 3, which is represented by Rep. Bobby Scott, the only African American Congressman from Virginia (African Americans make up around 20% of the state’s population), recent court rulings have acknowledged (as has the GOP), that that district was basically built to guarantee a safe seat for Scott, and more importantly several safe districts around 3 for Republicans. In other parts of the state, districts appear to have been spread, elongated and otherwise manipulated to create a few very blue districts, ensuring Republicans large majorities everywhere else. At the level of the State legislature in 2010 the GOP-controlled body produced a district map that virtually delivered the GA to the GOP for the next decade, if not longer.

Now these actions are under court scrutiny, and the Justice Department has attempted to invoke elements of the Voting Rights Act (although Republicans managed to cripple much of the enforcement sections of the law in recent Supreme Court rulings) in regard to Scott’s district on the basis that the gerrymander was based – as it most certainly was – on race, which is illegal. Unfortunately, we will have to wait and see if the gerrymandering for less racial and more politically practical reasons can survive the courts.

We at APV believe that at least part of the solution to the political games being played over redistricting would be a bipartisan commission that drew the lines based on population, proximity and other factors without input from politicians on either side of the aisle. Safe districts that look like political Rorschach tests only serve to depress an electorate that is already historically cynical about the democratic process. We will be watching the courts since the Republican GA has made it clear it has no interest in fixing this problem.

Here are some recent articles and resources:

http://onevirginia2021.org/redistricting/

http://redistricting.lls.edu/states-VA.php

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/supreme-court-takes-up-virginia-redistricting-case/2015/11/13/3d6bf540-8a3c-11e5-be8b-1ae2e4f50f76_story.html

http://wtop.com/virginia/2015/10/va-state-house-redistricting-map-survives-court-challenge/

-by Scott Price, APV President

Behind the Curtain

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“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!” ~L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

While the news stream is focused on one issue of importance, other critical issues are often under-reported. A peek behind the curtain this week reveals one such story by the editorial board of the New York Times.

“With each day that passes without a vote on Judge Restrepo and [67] other nominees, Republicans undermine the justice system, and the biggest victims are ordinary Americans who cannot count on fully functioning courts.”

Confirm President Obama’s Judges

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