Fireplaces burning in the summer when it’s 90 degrees!

Yesterday in downtown Bellevue, I attended the Bellevue Arts Festival and popped into Lincoln Square South and other stores to cool off. I looked into the classy Hotel W and saw that they were running gas-powered fireplaces:

This is despite the fact that it was about 90 degrees outside.

I see other buildings in downtown Bellevue doing the same thing.

I suppose they do it for the mood. But what a waste!

Socialism, even democratic socialism, is quite different from progressivism

Bernie Sanders calls himself a democratic socialist. So does Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who recently won the Democratic primary in New York’s 14th congressional district, defeating incumbent Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Crowley in a major upset victory.

The odd thing is: are they really democratic socialists? Do they even know what democratic socialism is?

There is evidence that they aren’t and don’t.

Noam Chomsky and Cornel West say that Sanders is a social democrat, not a democratic socialist.   They call him a New Dealer. See Bernie Sanders is NEITHER a Socialist nor a Democratic Socialist and What does Sanders mean by ‘democratic socialism’?.

(Chomsky points out that Dwight Eisenhower — who said that anyone who questioned the New Deal doesn’t belong in the political system — would be called a raging leftist in the current extreme political climate.)

Professor Frances Fox Piven, the honorary chairperson of the official Democratic Socialists of America coalition, says Sanders “does not quite meet the definition of the term,” calling him a New Deal Democrat. Source: What does Sanders mean by ‘democratic socialism’?.

Marian Tupy, of the libertarian Cato Institute, writes in The Atlantic: “Bernie Sanders is not a socialist, but a social democrat.”
Bernie Is Not a Socialist and America Is Not Capitalist: Scandinavia is, by one measure, a freer market than the United States. Tupy writes:

Considering the negative connotations of “socialism” in America, it is a bit of a puzzle why Sanders insists on using that word. It would be much less contentious and more correct if he gave his worldview its proper name: not “democratic socialism,” which implies socialism brought about through a vote, but social democracy.

I wholeheartedly agree.

A New Yorker article on Ocasio-Cortez suggests that she calls herself a democratic socialist not because of any deep ideological commitment. Her self-appellation has “less to do with theory or ideology than with the simple fact that she kept seeing members at rallies for every cause she cares about, from the Hurricane Maria rescue effort to Black Lives Matter. She defines her politics as a struggle for ‘social, economic, and racial dignity.'”

That doesn’t sound like socialism to me.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders, distorted with embossing via gimp

According to Wikipedia:

Democratic socialism is a political philosophy that advocates political democracy alongside social ownership of the means of production[1] with an emphasis on self-management and/or democratic management of economic institutions within market socialism or decentralized and participatory planned economy.[2] Democratic socialists hold that capitalism is inherently incompatible with the democratic values of liberty, equality and solidarity; and that these ideals can only be achieved through the realization of a socialist society. Democratic socialism can be supportive of either revolutionary or reformist politics as a means to establish socialism.[3]

So, democratic socialism is still a form of socialism. Adherents want social ownership of the means of production.  Such ideology is out of the mainstream in America, and adherents are susceptible to criticism and ridicule.

This NPR article paints a mostly radical (i.e., accurate) picture of democratic socialism: What You Need To Know About The Democratic Socialists Of America.

This webpage What is Democratic Socialism Q & A by the (Young) Democratic Socialists of America has clear explanations of what they believe.

Most progressives are social democrats: they are not completely opposed to private wealth and corporations. They just want private wealth to be adequately taxed, regulated, and counter-balanced by a robust social safety net, for the sake of the common good.   Think FDR, Robert Kennedy, and Dennis Kucinich, not Eugene Debs.   Think the mixed Nordic model, not democratic socialism.

Social democracy is apparently the goal of Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, and, I’m sure it’s the goal of most of the millions of followers of Sanders.

Words matter.

Some supporters of democratic socialism describe it in a way that makes it seem compatible with private ownership and capitalism. For example, I saw this meme image on facebook:

Description of Democratic Socialism that makes it look compatible with capitalism

From what have gathered, the description in the image above is inaccurate. The image describes social democracy.  Democratic socialism is opposed to private ownership.

I have no problem with people who are really socialists calling themselves socialists. I do have a problem with sloppy language that can harm the Left.

For heaven’s sake, and for the sake of the progressive movement, Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez should call themselves what they are: social democrats!

 

Adam Smith Town Hall of July 8, 2018

U.S. Representative Adam Smith (D, 9th CD, Washington) spoke for two hours today to constituents on Mercer Island.

During most of the two hours Smith bashed Trump, in response to constituents’ questions. The audience seemed supportive of that. There were no conservatives offering a forceful alternative view.

Smith said that as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, he was able to view some of the evidence about Russian meddling in the election. Smith said: yes, the Trump campaign colluded with Russians (Manafort, etc), and, yes, Trump tried to squash the investigations, obstructing justice. But he says that it will be very hard to get 67 senators to agree to impeachment. And with Trump appointing Supreme Court justices, we can’t expect the Supreme Court to come to the rescue.

Smith spoke eloquently of Trump’s danger to America.

Smith said that he speaks often with Defense Secretary James Mattis, who is one of the few remaining voices of sanity and realism left in the White House. Every morning Mattis asks his driver if he’s been fired yet. If not, he goes to work.

In the video below Smith criticizes Trump for phoning Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to congratulate him on passing a constitutional amendment that stripped his opposition of basic rights.  “All around the world you see this creeping towards authoritarianism in our foreign policy.” We are backing away from international treaties and cooperation.  Some people say we should laugh at some of Trump’s more ridiculous pronouncements (such that we people should stand up straight when Trump talks). Smith sarcastically responded:  “You know fascism just never stops being funny.”

Smith said Americans want lower taxes, a balanced budget, and no cuts to spending.  (Impossible!) The Republicans’ simple, oft-repeated message is:  government and taxes are bad.  Since they can’t directly cut government spending, they just keep cutting taxes and raising the deficits. When no money is left, they will demand cuts to Social Security and Medicare (even though we have pre-paid for these programs out of our paychecks). Smith has sponsored bills to raise the cap on Social Security, so that the rich pay their fair share and so that Social Security can remain solvent for the long term.

If you want to see life without government, said Smith, go to Honduras, where there are no taxes and no functioning government. There is lots of crime, little education, and little productive economic activity.

Smith called for reversal of the Bush and Trump/Ryan tax cuts.

Smith spent a long time criticizing Trump’s racist immigration policies.  He said that crime rates among immigrants are lower than among U.S. citizens, and economic studies show that they help the economy.  Trump’s racist and divisive rhetoric is based on lies.    Yes, we need secure borders. No, we needn’t treat all immigrants like criminals, especially ones who have lived here for most of their lives.

Immigration from the south has mostly come to a halt — another reason Trump’s anti-immigration policies are amiss.

One rude constituent, who was reading the Financial Times while Smith was speaking, blamed inequality on over-population. He claimed that he could prove mathematically that inequality arises when there is over-population — which is why immigration is bad.  That theory was so outlandish that nobody seemed to take it seriously.

Smith spoke a lot about our overly permissive gun laws.  Republicans think that more guns would make us safer.  It’s simply not true. He told several stories of guns being used to kill people in families, And  he told of a certain politician who came to a town hall and placed his gun on the table to make a point (“See. I can defend myself.”) Smith pointed out that someone in the audience could have quickly drawn a gun and shot the politician dead before he’d have been able to grab the gun.   The Second Amendment mentions “well-regulated militia.”   We don’t allow individuals to own nuclear weapons, tanks, or machine guns. Nor should they be able to own rapid-fire, high capacity weapons.

Smith said that many gun-rights advocates say that citizens need weapons to defend themselves against the government.  I laughed out loud.  Smith said, “Don’t laugh.”  There are people who really believe that, despite the fact that the U.S. Army would easily destroy any individuals.

Smith said that the GOP health care plan can be summarized in two words:  stop Obamacare.  Trump is dismantling Obamacare by allowing insurance companies to stop covering pre-existing conditions.     Smith says we need universal health care, whether based on single-payer (like Medicare) or on some other system. Every other major industrial nation in the world has been able to do this, at lower cost than us.

Several times Smith said that to reverse inequality a first step is to get guaranteed health care for all.

Smith criticized the private prison industry, which are guaranteed occupants and which encourage detention.

A woman made an impassioned speech asking Smith to support a House bill in defense of Palestinians children allegedly being mistreated by Israel. During the speech, another woman held up  a banner and turned around, and another person videotaped.  Smith listened politely and said this is the first time he’d heard of the bill and he would ask some others and consider it.

When it was my turn to ask a question, I started by saying I agree with most everything Smith said, and I thanked him for becoming more progressive over the years. (Smith is now a member of the Progressive Caucus. I would like to imagine that I was instrumental in his joining the caucus.  At a fund-raiser for Smith in Bellevue a couple of years ago, he gave a speech in which he mentioned the word “progressive” several times. When it was time for questions, I shot up my hand and said, “You kept saying ‘progressive.’ Will you join the Progressive Caucus?”)  But, I said, I support his progressive opponent, Sarah Smith, on one issue:  he should have voted against the obscenely expensive defense bill, which will cost the U.S. between $610 billion and $719 billion (depending on how you measure it). I said that the U.S. has troops in 150 countries and military bases in 70  countries.  We spend more than the next 20 or 30 countries combined. The military sucks up over half of the discretionary budget. There’s too much secrecy, and it’s a major cause of deficits. I mentioned Eisenhower’s phrase “military-industrial complex.”

Smith defended his vote for the budget by saying that he needs to be bipartisan. He’s the ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee. Thanks to that  position, he was able to insert some progressive measures in the bill (on LGBT rights and on the risks of climate change, about which the military is cognizant).  He said that the GOP has enough votes to pass a budget without Dems’ help, but the Republicans realize they might not always be in the majority, and it’s best to work together when they can.

Smith also said that the Defense Department will finally be audited, though he joked that he’ll believe it when he sees it.

“If I were chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, the defense bill would be a lot more progressive.”

He said that he thinks the defense budget was $50 billion too high.

[Another attendee says that what Smith said was that if were Chair the defense budget would be 50 billion less. That’s not my recollection, but the message is almost the same.]

Someone asked Smith which of his opponents he’d run against in November: his anti-war opponent from the left, Sarah Smith, or his Republican challenger? Adam Smith said that he really doesn’t care; he’s confident enough that he’s the better candidate.

But I sense that he’d prefer the Republican, and that he is more scared of the rising tide of anti-war progressivism and socialism than by the Republicans. After the town hall, as we walked out, Smith looked pretty tired. Can’t blame him.

Adam Smith won the endorsement of a huge number of Democratic organizations and lefty advocacy groups.  Sarah Smith, who is young and inexperienced, has gotten the endorsement of very few groups.

At one point in the town hall, Smith said that when he was knocking on doors as a campaigner, he got more flack (criticism) from angry progressive than from angry conservatives. Progressives can be dogmatic ideologues, he implied. They were dissatisfied with the partial accomplishments of Obama (ACA, regulation of Wall Street, saving the economy, LGBT rights) and were angry about unmet hopes.

A Democrat will beat Trump in 2020 only if the left can unite, he said.

Each time the Democrats had gotten control of Congress, in 2010 and once before in the 1990s, the Democrats blew their chances by becoming a circular firing squad, and the Republicans roared back stronger than before.   Smith called for pragmatism, saying politics is a numbers game.  Often politicians need to compromise on their principles to remain in power.

Tim Steyer, impeachment, and saving America

I went to a Town Hall meeting in Seattle last night to hear hedge fund billionaire and progressive activist Tom Steyer call for support in his project to impeach Donald Trump.

Steyer briefly sketched the case for impeachment. Almost the entire meeting was taken up by his responding to questions from the audience, which packed an old, deteriorating warehouse in the Sodo district of South Seattle.

There was plenty of free food. Outside the hall, there was a Trump supporter holding a “Trump 2020” sign.

Steyer admitted that unless the Democrats take back the House in November, the chances of impeachment are very slim.  But even most Democrats seem uninterested in pursuing impeachment against Trump — the only Washington State U.S. House member to support Al Green’s impeachment resolution was Pramila Jayapal. Many Democrats think impeachment efforts are likely to backfire, as they apparently did for Republicans when they tried to impeach Bill Clinton.   Likewise, Patty Murray and Jay Inslee asked members of the Washington State legislature to stop their efforts to impeach George W. Bush.

Steyer said that impeachment will happen only if the American people rise up and demand an end to the dangerous presidency of Donald Trump.

Steyer Impeachment Town Hall, Seattle, June 12, 2018

But 42% of Americans apparently support Trump, whose approval rating has been increasing.  The Republicans tax plan pumped hundreds of billions of dollars into the economy, largely into the pockets of rich people and corporations who will fund propaganda to convince the public to support the GOP and Trump. If Trump manages to make peace with North Korea, no matter at what price, GOP prospects will be brighter.

It is difficult to be optimistic about the near or medium term future of America.

Much of the meeting was spent discussing health care, the environment, voting rights, fair elections, campaign finance, immigration, and other issues.  Several people asked Steyer whether he plans to run for President in 2020. He refused to say Yes or No and said, instead, that we need to concentrate on the midterm elections.

Steyer is smart and (but) mild-mannered.

After the speech I got to speak to Steyer and to shake his hand. I asked him if he can enlist the support of any other billionaires willing to help save America and the world.  He smiled warmly, said that he’s trying and that he can sure use the help.  He continued chatting with other people.

We were all asked to show our IDs on entry. There were photographers taking everyone’s photo.  My friend and I presumed this was for security purposes.

My friend lives in Medina, where Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and other super-wealthy people reside. My friend has billionaire neighbors.

Perhaps activists should hold signs near Medina calling on — begging — rich people there to help save the world.

As Ralph Nader said in his book, Only the Super-Rich can Save Us!  After all, they can’t take it with them.

Meanwhile, it may be wise to concentrate on local races.

How progressive are Washington State’s members of Congress?

Govtrack.us has a useful chart that purports to show where each member of Congress stands on a continuum from liberal to conservative.

The chart is based on co-sponsorship relationships between members of Congress: how often they cosponsored each other’s bills. Lawmakers who cosponsored another lawmaker’s legislation are placed close together. The X axis measures ideology (from progressive on the left to conservative on the right). The Y axis measures leadership: how often the lawmaker sponsored bills.

Click this link to explore the data interactively. I have copied the image here and marked Democrats with arrows and names:

Ideological positions of Washington State Congressional Democrats, from govtrack.us

A surprising thing about their analysis is that it puts Adam Smith to the left of Primila Jayapal. This seems wrong. I will redo their analyses using my own data science skills.

The govtrack pages for each candidate show scores from the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, League of Conservation Voters, Human Rights Campaign, NORML, and various right wing advocacy groups, such as Freedom Works, the Chamber of Commerce and Club for Growth.  See

Another scorecard they should probably have shown is the Social-Economic Justice Scorecard from the AFL-CIO: https://aflcio.org/what-unions-do/social-economic-justice/advocacy/scorecard/us-house-scorecard . According to that scorecard, all Democratic Washington State Reps score pretty high. Again, Smith scores higher than Jayapal or anyone else.

District Name Party 2015 (%) 2016 (%) 2017 (%) Lifetime (%)
WA 1 DelBene D 92 100 92 94
WA 2 Larsen D 88 100 95 91
WA 3 Herrera Beutler R 14 50 18 17
WA 4 Newhouse R 17 13 24 20
WA 5 McMorris Rodgers R 13 13 11 10
WA 6 Kilmer D 92 100 95 94
WA 7 Jayapal D 97 97
WA 8 Reichert R 42 63 37 41
WA 9 Smith D 100 100 95 90
WA 10 Heck D 96 100 95 95

I am curious about their votes on taxation and military issues. Are there scorecards covering those fields?

Here’s govtrack’s image for all Senators (Click to see bigger version):

U.S. Senator ideology

And for all House members (Click to see bigger version):

U.S. House member ideology

Review of Joshua Green’s Devil’s Bargain

Subtitled “Steve Bannon, Donald Trump, and the Nationalist Uprising,” Joshua Green’s book about the 2016 election explains how Trump pulled off an upset. Green interviewed Bannon and other major players. The journalism and writing are of highest quality, like what you can read in publications such as the New Yorker. I like that the writing doesn’t draw attention to itself but flows well.

I have a greater appreciation now for how Trump won and for the role Bannon and other nationalists played in his victory.

Trump won by

  1. Appealing to nationalism, racism, xenophobia, and economic populism;
  2. Relentlessly attacking Hillary and Bill Clinton as corrupt;
  3. Saying outrageous things that generated free publicity;
  4. Firing Paul Manafort in late August of 2016, hiring Steve Bannon, and listening to advice from the Mercer family;
  5. Concentrating on the swing states; (A week before the election, Hillary was campaigning in Arizona.)
  6. Getting a lot of help from the Mercer family and Cambridge Analytics;
  7. Getting a lot of help from millions of angry, young white males who spend time on the Internet as trolls and in the Dark Web of right-wing hate groups;
  8. Getting a lot of help from Jame’s Comey’s announcement about email investigations a week before the election;
  9. Riding the wave of populist, anti-establishment anger related to the Tea Party; (The Mercers at first supported Ted Cruz, another outsider who wanted to overthrow the establishment.)
  10. Repeating many of the populist themes of Bernie Sanders’ campaign; (One of Trump’s videos sounds almost exactly like a Sanders video: attacking the corrupt corporations and political elites.)
  11. Taking advantage of solid opposition research that appeared in the book Clinton Cash, which exposed apparent corruption in the Clinton Foundation and which resulted in headlines in the New York Times and other legitimate media outlets.

Though Steve Bannon was an extremist, and though he later was kicked out of the White House, he was smart (a former Goldman Sachs executive) and played a large role in many of these strategies.

In fact, Green is convinced that Bannon departure from the White House in August of 2017 was largely due to Trump’s annoyance at being overshadowed by Bannon.  Some people called Bannon Trump’s Karl Rove.   Trump wanted people to believe that he is a self-made man. In a tweet, Trump ridiculed Bannon and said he played a small role in his win.    Green suggests otherwise.

It’s easy to ridicule Trump as being dumb. In some ways he is. In other ways, he’s rather a genius. He is skilled at insulting and tearing down opponents. He beat Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, and Chris Christi and the other Republican candidates and then pulled off an upset win against Hillary. His repeated attacks against “Crooked Hillary” stuck. He had a knack for self-promotion and for appealing to voters’ primal views.

But he also appealed to economic concerns of the middle class. Green quotes Steve Bannon on Trump’s victory:

“Trump,” Bannon proclaimed, “is the leader of a populist uprising…. What Trump represents is a restoration—a restoration of true American capitalism and a revolution against state-sponsored socialism. Elites have taken all the upside for themselves and pushed the downside to the working- and middle-class Americans.” Bernie Sanders had tried to warn them, but the Democrats hadn’t listened, and didn’t break free of crony capitalism. “Trump saw this,” Bannon said. “The American people saw this. And they have risen up to smash it.”

Of course, as Green says, this spin is belied by the fact that Trump’s economic policies have favored the rich and have led to a dismantling of regulations that protect the public from predatory capitalism.   Bannon was more anti-establishment and more anti-Wall Street than Trump turned out to be. Bannon and his cohorts hated the corrupt GOP establishment and wanted Trump to overturn it.

Several times during the election, Trump campaign staff and Republican operatives were convinced Trump was in serious trouble. Trump’s attacks on Megyn Kelly for her aggressive questioning at Republican debates led to a quarrel with Fox News owner Robert Murdoch; but Breitbart News and other far-right groups were able to come to Trump’s defense and attack Megyn as a traitor to the cause. The Access Hollywood tape (“Grab’em by the pussy”) almost ended Trump’s campaign, but WikiLeaks released DNC emails, and Trump pivoted to attacking the Clintons about Bill’s infidelities and apparent corruption in the Clinton Foundation.

Trump was the Teflon Don.

Up until election night, Republicans were expecting to lose, though their polls showed the race tightening after Comey’s announcement.

After Trump clinched the election, a reporter asked Bannon if the outcome was worthy of a Hollywood movie.

Without missing a beat, Bannon shot back with a reply worthy of his favorite vintage star, Gregory Peck in Twelve O’Clock High.

“Brother,” he said, “Hollywood doesn’t make movies where the bad guys win.”

(The book has many such gems.)

Despite Trump’s relationship with Bannon and other nationalists, Green writes, “Trump doesn’t believe in nationalism or in any other political philosophy — he’s fundamentally a creature of his own ego.” Green predicts that Trump will disappoint most of his supporters, just as he disappointed and betrayed most of his business associates over the years. Green says that Trump’s presidency has mostly been chaos and failed policy initiatives.

Green seems wrong on two points. Trump’s anti-immigration policies are having a real, damaging effect. And he has launched an anti-globalist trade war with China. (This happened after Green wrote the book.)

42% of Americans still support Trump, according to some polls. I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins re-election in 2020.

Loving sociopaths

At my previous job, there was a coworker who was amicable and technically smart. Though he and his wife combined earned over $300K a year, he complained a lot about taxes. He’s a white Christian. He is skeptical about climate change and evolution. He watches Fox News and listens to Rush Limbaugh. He hates Dems and voted for Trump (he said he chose the lesser of two evils).

But, really, he’s (otherwise) a nice guy, with a self-deprecating sense of humor, and quite smart. I liked him, he liked me, and we enjoyed chatting. In our discussions, I told him that a pro-life Christian should be in favor of medical care for all — at least, surely, medical care for children, elderly, and poor people. He reluctantly agreed that basic medical care should be guaranteed. He told this to his (Chinese) wife, who is even more conservative than he is.

He kept trying to convert me to Christianity, to no avail.

After I left that job, he tried to reach out to me. But I rebuffed his efforts, even though I like him, because I am repulsed by his political views. After all, he voted for politicians who lie frequently and promote destructive policies: giving even more money to the rich and the Pentagon; deregulating Wall Street; gutting the EPA and other regulatory agencies; under-funding the IRS so tax cheats aren’t audited; making it harder for minorities and poor people to vote; separating parents and children at the border; allowing billionaires to buy elections and set policy; denying climate science; favoring corporations over unions; making it easy to buy military-style guns and ammunition; suppressing rights of women and gay people; etc, etc.

Are the GOP politicians he supports sociopaths? I think many of them are.  Some of the politicians probably regret being forced to support radical positions; this is probably why many Republican politicians are quitting.

Does my friend’s support for these politicians make him a sociopath too  — “a sociopath-by-proxy”?  I’m not sure.

In fairness to my coworker and to other Republicans, many Trump voters disliked Trump and voted for him only because they thought Hillary was even worse.    Still, Trump was obviously corrupt, stupid, racist, crude, dishonest, and misogynistic.   Though I disliked Hillary’s hawkishness and her friendliness to Wall Street, she was clearly more qualified, more honest, and less destructive than Trump.  The email scandal which Trump and others made such a big deal about was minor compared to all the scandals involving Trump.  How is it possible for an intelligent, decent person to vote for Trump over Hillary?

I know a progressive woman who became estranged from her sister because the sister joined the NRA in response to the Parkland shooting and the protests that followed from it.

The country is so deeply divided.

It’s hard to believe that all Republican voters are sociopaths.  I rather believe they’ve been brainwashed, by Fox News, AM talk radio, Breitbart News, and other conservative media.

I can forgive uneducated, poorly informed people for voting for Trump and other Republicans. I cannot forgive my friend, who is too smart to fall for their lies and distortions.

The phrase “banality of evil” is often used to describe why seemingly decent people can support or do horrible things. I’m sure many Nazis were good family men; they got caught up in a system of extreme evil. Likewise, I’m sure that George W. Bush is an amicable, likable guy in person. This might explain why Michelle Obama was able to cuddle him in this rather disturbing photo.

Michelle Obama hugging George W Bush

The photo is disturbing because George W. Bush is basically a war criminal — aside from all the other damage he and his cohorts did to America and the world.

With the photo and the story of my coworker in mind, I can now explain the three interpretations for the title of this essay.

    1. Some sociopaths, such as, say, George W. Bush, are kind, loving people in person. They are loving sociopaths.
    2. Some people, such as my Republican coworker, vote for sociopaths. They love sociopaths.
    3. In America today, it often happens that a dear friend, coworker, or family member votes Republican and we find ourselves loving a sociopath-by-proxy.

I fear for the future. I won’t be surprised if the Republicans do well in the midterms or if Trump wins re-election in 2020. Trump said, “I could stand in the middle Of Fifth Avenue And shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” Not quite true, but about 42% of Americans support him still, and his support has been increasing. It boggles the mind. But this article gives a hint about why people voted for Trump and about the need for Democrats to improve their messaging.

Report on 41st LD Town Hall, Feb 17, 2018

On Saturday, Feb 17 over 100 people turned up to the 41st Legislative District town hall at Somerset Elementary School in Bellevue.

Audience at 41st LD Town Hall, Feb 17, 2018

Representative Judy Clibborn (House Transportation Committee chair), Senator Lisa Wellman (chair of the Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee), and Representative Tana Senn (Vice Chair of the Early Learning & Human Services Committee) answered questions for two hours.

Rep. Judy Clibborn, Sen. Lisa Wellman, Rep. Tana Senn at 41st LD Town Hall, Feb 17, 2018

I asked Rep. Senn about the prospects for a carbon tax and for a capital gains tax. She said that it is likely that no Republican will vote for either bill. Because the Democratic majorities are so slim (a couple of seats in each house), and because there are some wish-washy (conservative) Democrats, it will be hard to pass either bill.

Last year’s state legislative deal funds education via increased real estate taxes.  (The legislature was placed under contempt by the Washington State Supreme Court for failing to adequately fund education, which the state constitution says is the “paramount duty” of the state.) Because of the high real estate values in King County, residents here are subsidizing education in other parts of the state. Most voters and legislators are Democratic here in King County and are Republican elsewhere. So the Republicans are happy to burden King County with the costs of paying for education.

All three 41st LD legislators voted against last year’s education deal, as did legislators in most surrounding King County legislative districts.

HB 2967 would enact an excise tax on capital gains in exchange for a reduction in property taxes. “Assisting Washington families by improving the fairness of the state’s tax system by enacting a capital gains tax and providing property tax relief.”  It is scheduled for consideration by the Finance Committee tomorrow, Feb 19. It has exemptions for primary residences and exempts the first $25,000 in gains ($50,000 for a couple).  The tax would apply to only about 48,000 households in the state.  Several people told me that two people in Washington — guess who? — would pay one quarter of the new tax.

One legislator said that some Republicans were pleasantly surprised that the Democratic leadership is relatively polite towards Republicans, allowing their issues to come up for consideration. One Republican legislator thanked her. So I wondered if a carbon tax or a capital gains tax could pass by some sort of horse trading. Apparently it will be difficult.

As for a carbon tax, Gov. Inslee proposed a carbon tax bill, SB 6203, “Reducing carbon pollution by moving to a clean energy economy.” A watered down version of the bill passed out of a Senate committee last week. (Lisa Wellman is one of the sponsors.) See CarbonWA for information about the various bills, their prospects, and the politics of the issue.

Senator Wellman pointed out that adding a tax on carbon will cost jobs in some industries. She mentioned, too, 10,000 jobs lost at Longview coal terminal. The workers need green energy alternatives. Such issues make passing a carbon tax politically difficult.

Fight for Climate

Wellman said that public banking is a “wave” across the nation. (New Jersey is seriously considering a public bank). In Washington State, Sen. Bob Hasegawa, Senator Wellman, and Senator Patty Kuderer have worked for a public bank bill. See SB 5464.  As Wellman explained, Washington should stop giving money away to Wall Street.

Someone asked about the prospects for stopping the rich from buying elections. We need to counter Citizens United, they said. One of the legislators spoke of the Disclose Act, SB 5991/HB: “Increasing transparency of contributions by creating the Washington state DISCLOSE act of 2018.” It passed the Senate and is in the House.

Closes campaign finance disclosure loopholes and requires the disclosure of contributions and expenditures by nonprofit organizations that participate significantly in
state elections.

Access to Democracy

One questioner spoke of the substandard conditions at most assisted-living facilities, which are often under-staffed.  The owners and lobbyists blame the $15 minimum wage.   One of the legislators said: Why work in such a facility when you can work under better conditions and for equal pay at, say, Starbucks?

A woman from Grandmothers Against Gun violence asked a question about prospects for gun control. Despite the horrifying massacre in a Florida high school, several bills failed to survive “policy cutoff.”  In particular, a bill about enhanced background checks failed. [Correction: I went to Olympia on Monday, Feb 29 to speak with legislators. There I saw some people dressed in orange and wearing signs calling for gun control. I said, “I heard that the enhanced background check bill…” Before I could finish, the man said, “No, the bill isn’t dead. That’s a rumor that was spread by NRA supporters to try to derail reform.” I also heard that some swing district Democrats would be vulnerable if they supported gun control, so it will still be hard to pass. And Speaker Frank Chopp is unwilling to risk losing seats. Some people think Chopp needs to take more risks, which he apparently did, because I heard that that the carbon tax bill is moving forward.]

One bill about restricting the ability of perpetrators of domestic violence to carry concealed weapons is still alive.  (Seems like a no-brainer to me.)  Another bill,  SB 5992, to restrict “bump fire stock guns”) passed the Senate and moving to the House.

Prohibits a person from manufacturing, owning, buying,
selling, loaning, furnishing, transporting, or having in
possession or under control, a bump-fire stock.
Provides the following definition for bump-fire stock: A
butt stock designed to be attached to a semiautomatic firearm
with the effect of increasing the rate of fire achievable
with the semiautomatic firearm to that of a fully automatic
firearm by using the energy from the recoil of the firearm to
generate reciprocating action that facilitates repeated
activation of the trigger.
Also seems like a no-brainer to me.

The legislators expressed frustration on the issue of guns (especially Rep Senn).  They said their inboxes have been flooded with emails on the issue.

There is more bipartisan support for reproductive rights, especially for reproductive parity, SB 6105. “Enacting the reproductive health access for all act.”

Requires the state health care authority to administer a
program to reimburse the cost of medically appropriate
services, drugs, devices, products, and procedures for
individuals who can become pregnant and who would be eligible
for medical assistance if not for 8 U.S.C. Sec. 1611 or 1612.

The aim of the bill is to prohibit insurers and employers from refusing to pay for employees’ reproductive-related medical expenses. (Think Hobby Lobby.)

The biggest drama at the town hall was the vehement questions by Asian Americans directed toward Sen. Wellman, asking her why she cosponsored SB 6406, “Restoring the fair treatment of underserved groups in public employment, education, and contracting.”

The aim of SB 6406 is to overturn I-200, a citizen initiative which Washington State voters approved in 1998. I-200 states, “The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.” The proviso against discrimination is uncontroversial. The proviso prohibiting preferential treatment effectively outlawed affirmative action in education, as well as programs to give preference to minority-owned and woman-owned businesses for public contracts. “All state agencies, boards, departments and commissions are prohibited from using any equal opportunity programs that grant preferential treatment in hiring. Initial consideration of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin may continue through outreach efforts. No comparable aggressive action to end equal opportunity programs that grant preferential treatment [sic?].”

I-200 was promoted by California affirmative-action opponent Ward Connerly and filed by Scott Smith and “initiative king” Tim Eyman.

The initiative passed with 58.22% of the vote statewide, but lost in King County.

Here’s a photo of some of the Asian Americans holding signs in opposition to SB 6406.

Asian Americans Opposed to SB 6406

Senator Wellman said that SB 6406 was “dead” for this session. One of the Asian Americans strongly demanded that she not cosponsor a similar bill next year. Wellman said she would take their views into consideration but would not succumb to threats.  Wellman said such threats were illegal when they involved donations. [In Olympia I heard that it’s unlawful for lawmakers to succumb to threats about funding, and they were told not to even respond to such aggressive emails. Also, I found out that there was similar organized oppositionat the 45th LD town hall. ]

Wellman also explained that the intent and effect of racial preferences and affirmative action is to help minorities such as Asians to get contracts. Before I-200, 13% of state government contracts were awarded to minority-owned businesses; afterwards, only about 1% were. (I’m not sure what exactly she was referring to.)

Wellman also described her experience as a Vice-President at Apple Computer, where she had to deal with discrimination against women. Too few women are in senior positions in many corporations. Likewise, there are too few women in high tech (software). When I used to interview candidates for software jobs, we’d regularly give preference to women and minorities, I think, partly because so few women and minorities applied.

None of the speakers explained clearly why they oppose overturning I-200, but my understanding is that many Asian Americans are angry that their children have trouble getting into colleges because preference is given to minorities such as African Americans. Harvard University has been sued for apparently restricting Asian enrollment. “The lawsuit alleges that Harvard effectively employs quotas on the number of Asians admitted and holds them to a higher standard than whites.”

Defenders of affirmative action and of racial preferences say that diversity is desirable in education and government contracting. Also, it is desirable to correct past wrongs (slavery and discrimination). Furthermore, if a student in a poor black community is able to earn good grades and test scores, despite the many roadblocks to success in such communities, it is evidence of intelligence and a strong character. Raw grades and scores are not the only factors that admissions officers should consider.

When I sketched this argument to one of the Asian American men opposing SB 6406, he said it’s unjust to correct past wrongs by enacting new wrongs. He also said that while it is appropriate to consider other factors besides grades and test scores, skin color should not be one of those factors.

After having gotten a chance to ask a question, one of the Asian Americans repeatedly raised his hand and called out verbally to be allowed to speak again. The legislators said that they wanted to give other people a chance to ask questions first. The man was politely asked, by a legislative aide, to sit down.

Senator Wellman said she would not debate the issue but would be happy to discuss it afterwards. They did.

I can see both sides of this issue. If my kid got better grades and scores but lost out to someone with lower grades and scores I might be unhappy too. It does seem like discrimination. Yet I understand too the desirability of diversity and of correcting past wrongs and so might be willing to sacrifice my interests for others who are in more need.

In late 2016 I met a Chinese American woman who said she voted for Trump. When I asked why she offered two reasons: (1) the efforts to allow transgender people to use women’s rest rooms, and (2) affirmative action in education. When I told this story to one of the Asian Americans at the town hall, he said that I shouldn’t lead by relating the issue to Trump. And he denied that college admission was the only (or main) issue involved.

After the town hall, a well-spoken African American woman spoke with the Asian Americans, telling how racial preferences helped her get established in her career. (She became some sort of executive.)

African-American lady tells how minority preferences helped her

A similar issue is the opposition among some people to HB 2927, which would standardize and broaden the outreach for finding students to enter gifted programs in public schools. There were questions about such gifted testing in North Shore School District.  See Washington state lawmakers consider universal screening to find gifted students.

A  reporter and photographer from the Seattle Times were in attendance. Both were friendly and easy-going. The reporter was having trouble getting cell phone reception (apparently, he had to step outside the gym). He said that he’s the only reporter on duty this weekend, and he needed to keep in touch with the editor in case there was an important story to cover.  I was somewhat surprised that the Seattle Times chose the 41st LD to cover.  I would have thought that, say, the 45th LD would be more exciting, given Manka Dhingra’s dramatic win there in the election last year.   The reporter said he generally worked on city hall and wasn’t so familiar with legislative issues.     I discussed with the reporters the trouble that newspapers are having staying in business and suggested that more people would subscribe if the editorial board stopped endorsing candidates. They insisted that the newsroom really is distinct (and cut off from) the editorial team.  We do desperately need journalism.

Here is the Seattle Times’ write-up on the town hall.

I’m pro-life: in favor of Medicare for all, a healthy environment, and gun control

I’m pro-life for adults and for later-term fetuses, but I’m pro-choice for early-term fetuses.  However, it seems that many conservative Americans are pro-life only for fetuses but not so much for children and adults.

Real pro-life includes everyone, not just fetuses. So, I’m in favor of government-guaranteed medical care for everyone.  And I’m in favor of stringent environmental regulations.

Here are some links about how harmful auto and truck traffic are to human health.

Many daycare centers and schools are dangerously close to busy roads.
http://www.invw.org/series/exhausted-at-school/

Living near highways bad for lungs
http://www.lung.org/our-initiatives/healthy-air/outdoor/air-pollution/highways.html

Living close to a major roadway could increase dementia, study says
http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/04/health/dementia-risk-living-near-major-road/index.html

Roads are harmful to pregnant women
http://envhealthcenters.usc.edu/infographics/infographic-living-near-busy-roads-or-traffic-pollution/references-living-near-busy-roads-or-traffic-pollution

Road pollution associated with increased breast cancer
https://nypost.com/2017/04/06/the-roads-you-live-near-affect-the-health-of-your-boobs/

Road pollution bad for heart health
https://news.heart.org/living-near-busy-roads-may-bad-heart-patients-health/

Then there are the indisputable negative effects of carbon pollution on the climate change.

Facebook is a business. People try to use it for sharing with friends and for political organizing.

I spend a lot of time on facebook, and I notice many of my friends spend time there too.

Mostly I use facebook to share political content: either content that I’ve found interesting or content that I myself created (articles, animations, witticisms, or images).

I also use facebook for fun: cat photos, silly memes, etc.

When one posts something on facebook, one never knows how many people will view the post. Facebook prompts you to pay money to promote the content.

In this podcast, Sam Harris mentions that he sometimes pays facebook money to promote his posts — in cases where he really wants his followers to know about the content.

It’s obvious that facebook is a business whose purpose is to earn money. Nor can we expect them to be entirely philanthropic.

But given the widespread reliance on facebook for education and sharing of information, it behooves us to be aware of the platform’s limitations and to work towards open source alternatives that will better server our needs.

One way to work around facebook’s limitations is to proactively visit the pages of people and groups that we are interested in. Another way is to mention people by name in our posts if we want those people to notice our content. (That feature could be abused and has been abused by some of my friends.)

alternativeTo lists some open source alternatives to facebook.

The issues involved with creating a social network are not at all straightforward, as the issue of fake news demonstrates. People want to use facebook as a soapbox to promote their own ideas. Some of the content is nutty or misinformed. The technical difficulties and the cost are significant too.

But I strongly feel that we need a wikipedia-like open source alternative to facebook that makes the algorithms and choices visible and customizable.