Helen of Marlowe's Blog

What would we have done?

Posted in Government, Politics by helenofmarlowe on July 2, 2017

At our UU forum this morning, the topic was Current Events, and we
were led in our excellent discussion by a member who is a US attorney. We
didn’t spend most of our time talking about our president who
tweets up storms almost daily, but that topic did take some of
our time. And I have a question I’d like to toss out to
anyone who will give thought to this question:
What would we, as a nation, have done, if President Obama had
talked about women (and others) the way Trump does?
I constantly hear people say, of Trump’s behavior, that this is
not acceptable. And I think, yes, apparently, it is acceptable,
because we are accepting it.  So I ask, if President Obama had
said these things, what would we have done? My reason for
asking is because I say, whatever it is that we would have done,
let’s do it.
I don’t want hyperbolic answers such as “shoot him” and I will
delete any such, but I want to think about what we, officially, as a nation,
would have done.
What would we have done?

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Think it doesn’t matter who is president?

Posted in "North Carolina", Ecology, Environment, Politics by helenofmarlowe on October 7, 2016

I have heard intelligent people in recent weeks say that it doesn’t matter who the president is. It troubles me. I want to say to them, imagine if Al Gore had actually taken the White House when he won at least the popular vote and maybe the electoral vote. Do you think the US would have gone to war in Iraq? Think about all the repercussions of that misguided decision to take our country to war.

And climate change: If Gore had taken his place in the White House, we would be much further down the path to dealing with climate change, which is surely the most urgent issue confronting our world.

One of our candidates has said that climate change is a Chinese hoax. He has said that he will get rid of the EPA. EPA doesn’t just invent regulations, it enforces laws passed by congress. (He has also said he’d tear up the Paris climate agreement. Perhaps he doesn’t understand that he can’t do that, but he can take our country out of it.)

As The Guardian says, “Scrapping the EPA … would cause an unravelling of basic protections of air and water. …Trump is demagoguing. It plays to the far-right base but it would have enormous consequences for people’s health.”

And, from The Washington Post,

But more prosaic powers also present grave dangers. U.S. prosecutors have enormous discretion to investigate, or not investigate, and Mr. Trump would appoint his attorney general and a raft of new U.S. attorneys. These have to be confirmed by the Senate; but if you take comfort in that, simply imagine a Gov. Chris “Bridgegate” Christie at the Justice Department, or a Newt Gingrich — who, in Mr. Trump’s thrall, has advocated expelling any American who believes in sharia law — as homeland security secretary.

If Mr. Trump wanted to wield the IRS against that Chicago family; if he tried to use U.S. diplomats to help his hotel business in Russia or Azerbaijan; if he barred disfavored reporters from the White House; if he ignored a judge who told him, say, that immigrants had to be given hearings before being deported — what recourse would Americans have?

We should take comfort in the polls which show Trump unlikely to win. But then,look at the surprising Brexit vote, and the surprising Colombian vote against the peace agreement. Polls can make very very wrong predictions.

Think it doesn’t matter who is president? I go back to Al Gore, and the reminder that we would not have had the war with Iraq, and we would be working seriously on climate change, if the candidate who won the people’s vote had taken his place in the White House.

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Under-Ocean Travels By Way Of the 2nd and 14th Amendments . . .

Posted in Politics by helenofmarlowe on October 17, 2013

. . . For a Vorsteg Family Reunion

Last week we traveled (twice!) over and through  one of the Seven Man-made Wonders of the World.     

But at the time, I didn’t know that. I just thought we were driving through a scary under-sea highway in the middle of a 28-mile bridge on a very windy day (20 mph, gusts at 28 mph).  Later, in our Virginia Beach Hampton Inn room, I learned from wikipedia of the interesting history of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. While driving the tunnel, it did not occur to us to wonder how it looked from above. But now, thanks to google, we know:

Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel

So, we have just returned from a drive from western NC to Virginia’s outer banks, for a Vorsteg family reunion at David & Molly’s vacation home (photo top right).  We had planned to visit some national wildlife refuges, including The Great Dismal Swamp, but all the national parks were closed for our latest infamous government shutdown.  We did get to the Wild Fowl museum in Virginia Beach, and the Norfolk Botanical Gardens, which are state run and hence were open. NorfolkBotGrd  We went to Chincoteague, but missed the ponies.  The best part was seeing Bob’s brothers and sisters, and some extended family.

All of which got me to thinking about those Republicans who shut down the government, whose major goal – in their own words – was to make sure the Obama Administration fails. For the most part, those are the same Republicans who insist that any regulation on guns in America is a violation of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. Would that they were as loyal to the 14th amendment.

But – in the Second Amendment, the word “gun” is never used. The Second Amendment reads “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

Nothing there about guns. Should we be able to carry hand-grenades into parks and playgrounds? Is prohibiting box-cutters on airplanes an infringement of our right to bear arms? Should I be allowed to keep and bear a jar of anthrax for my protection against gun-slingers? Who decided that the 2nd amendment’s reference to “arms” applies only to guns? Can’t be because that was the kind of arms people used in those days.

Next time I hear one of these almost-always-Republican self-appointed constitutionalists from the tea party defend the 2nd amendment, I’ll ask them if they also believe in defending the Fourteenth.

Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution

Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions … shall not be questioned.

And I would like to see  President Obama  just tell the world that, since our constitution requires it, he will promise to pay the bills.  I hope he will do that next time.

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 How can we trust our elections?

Posted in "North Carolina", Government, Politics by helenofmarlowe on September 30, 2012

Gov. Romney may end up in the White House not because the majority of voters choose him, but because Pres. Obama’s lead may not be large enough to survive the obstacles his supporters will face on the way to the voting booth, and inside it. The Obama supporters who will not be allowed to vote, or whose votes, once cast, will not be counted, may be in numbers high enough to put the wrong man in the White House. Again. We all know, and most of us acknowledge, that the photo ID laws and the purging of voter rolls disenfranchises many legitimate voters, and these voters are not evenly distributed among voter demographics. That burden falls most heavily onto college students, the elderly poor, and racial minorities. Guess how they usually vote.

I’m taking a coursera course, Securing Digital Democracy, from the University of Michigan. Most of what we’re learning, I already knew in general terms, but this course is revealing the details. Especially interesting to me are the intricate innards of the voting machines which were implicated in putting George W. Bush into the White House.

Code might be a million lines long. Any typos? Any errors? Any malicious code? What happens is unobservable. The process is secret.

The ways that these machines can miscount votes, either because of design flaws that have been discovered and reported but not corrected, or by deliberate manipulation, are too many to list. I take notes as I watch these lectures, with pen on paper, and my spiral notebook contains eight pages of ways these machines can miscount votes. In most cases, the software running the vote has never been tested. No independent tests. Diebold has threatened election officials with loss of their job if they request independent testing.

Instead of a hand behind a curtain, we have a secret program developed by a private company. We can’t see the code, but hey, it was approved by our government, so what could go wrong? Right?

Some of the troublesome source code is revealed and explained in the course. In some cases the teacher points out the errors, and in some he simply says, see if you can find the errors.

Here is an example of the latter. I cannot find the error(s).

Image

Computer Science departments were able to get hold of actual voting machines (through cloak and dagger adventures that I won’t go into here) and find hardware flaws as well. The many ways the votes can be changed involve the removable memory chips, the locks, the bootloader, the encryption keys, the memory cards, and the jumpers on the motherboard, to name just a few.

Memory cards (holding the votes) could easily be replaced without leaving evidence. And the machines were left unlocked in schools and other public buildings so that anyone with access could replace a memory card. A person with even brief access (the computer has a locked compartment, but the lock can be picked in about 10 seconds) can replace memory cards or even replace a chip that will cause the machine to boot to another program other than the vote recording program.

Once in, a hacker can even change the code so that when a vote is cast for Candidate X, the machine records a vote for Candidate Y, but the paper record shows that the voter voted for Candidate X, assuring the voter that all went well. This kind of malicious code is not as likely, as it would be caught in the case of an audit, but only in the case of an audit, and most precincts don’t end up in an audit.

Our voting machines are tested by independent testing authorities.  The testing companies are chosen by the voting machine companies and paid by them.  After machines are certified by ITAs, independent computer experts have found flaws that allow votes to be changed without detection.  Every independent testing has found serious flaws in machines that have been certified.

There is great incentive in a competitive market for ITAs to produce a glowing report, and no requirement that flaws be reported.

Exit polls were extraordinarily reliable predictors of wins until computer counting became the prevalent means of deciding outcomes.  There is overwhelming evidence that exit polls are more reliable than  the counts reported by private proprietary secret computer codes. Yet the National Election Pool had made a decision to eliminate exit polling in the 2012 election in 19 states.  This further erodes election integrity.

All this is troublesome, but it requires citizens to learn about the troubles. And that’s not easy. So should we just  trust our elections to private corporations with secret codes?   What could go wrong?

See the answer  here, at  Voting Machines, again.

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Nero Wolfe’s Income Taxes

Posted in "North Carolina", Literature, Politics by helenofmarlowe on August 25, 2012

Nero Wolfe, detective extraordinaire who sprang from the imagination of Rex Stout in the 1930s, is in the 90%  (marginal) tax bracket.

I was reminded of today’s conflict between Tea Party Republicans and the Occupiers, and almost everyone in between, when I recently read a Nero Wolfe mystery.

Most of Nero Wolfe’s clients come into his office with a $10,000 deposit. And with assurance that this is only a deposit, and that after the job is completed, Wolfe can make out the bill for whatever he wants it to be. Wolfe usually replies something to the effect that he always makes out his bill for whatever he wants it to be.

But in “Instead of Evidence” (1946) Wolfe is about to turn down a job. Not just because he doesn’t like the job, but also because the fee being offered is absurdly low, only – at least for deposit – $5000.

The client stuck his cigar in his mouth, took it out again, and asked, “What’s the matter, don’t you want five thousand dollars?”

Wolfe said gruffly, “I wouldn’t get five thousand dollars. This is October. As my nineteen forty-five income now stands, I’ll keep about ten per cent of any additional receipts after paying taxes. Out of five thousand, five hundred would be mine. If Mr. Blaney is as clever as you think he is, I wouldn’t consider trying to uncover him on a murder for five hundred dollars.”

The prospective client is not so easily deterred. His hand went into a pocket and came out full of folded money, and he began to speak to Mr. Wolfe of the advantage of taking cash, thereby allowing the detective to keep the full amount. No receipt required.

But, as narrator and Wolfe sidekick Archie Goodwin reports,

Wolfe’s look stopped him. “Pfui,” Wolfe said. He hadn’t had as good a chance to show off for a month. “I am not a common cheat. Not that I am a saint. Given adequate provocation, I might conceivably cheat a man – or a woman or even a child. But you are suggesting that I cheat, not a man or woman or child, but a hundred and forty million of my fellow citizens. Bah.”

No Swiss bank accounts or off-shore investments or hedge funds for Nero Wolfe.  No hiding assets in the Cayman Islands.  Cheat a hundred and forty million of his fellow citizens? Bah!

Coursera — free online university courses

Posted in Government, Politics by helenofmarlowe on April 19, 2012

I heard about Coursera on NPR. Apparently it’s so new that it’s not yet in Wikipedia – at least, I didn’t find an entry.     Hosted by Princeton, Stanford, University of California, Berkeley, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, and University of Pennsylvania,  Coursera offers free on-line classes in several dozen subjects. The courses are free, carry no credit or grade and don’t lead toward any degree.

You can find Coursera, look at the course offerings, sign up if you like, at https://www.coursera.org/courses

I’m tempted by several of their offerings, such as History of the World Since 1300, Modern and Contemporary American Poetry, Listening to World Music, Health Policy and the Affordable Care Act.  All these tempt me, but I think I’ll start with Securing Digital Democracy.

I’ve been interested in electronic voting since Dr. Avi Rubin’s analysis of the 2004 election (and many other analyses and reports) convinced me that the 2004 election was stolen electronically. I’ve looked for Dr. Rubin’s statistical analysis, which concluded that the reported results could not be accurate, but I’ve changed computers several times since 2004, and my bookmarks didn’t move with me.  I have the printed copy of that report somewhere, but life is too short for me to start looking for it.  I do find some summary comments here

http://www.jhu.edu/jhumag/0204web/vote.htm

But back to Coursera and their on-line course offerings. I followed a link from the Coursera web page, a link found on the  Digital Democracy description page introducing the assistant professor who will teach the course, and read “He recently led a team from the University of Michigan that hacked into Washington DC’s internet voting system. In his spare time, he reprogrammed a touch-screen voting machine to play Pac-Man.”  Why Pac-Man?  

He says, “We could have reprogrammed it to steal votes, but that’s been done before   and Pac-Man is more fun!”

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American Theocracy — A Tiresome Re-run

Posted in "North Carolina", Government, Government Politics, Local Government, NC, Politics, Religion by helenofmarlowe on February 21, 2012

Not to be outdone by Forsyth County Commissioners, who spent many thousands of dollars and much county time litigating a losing battle which was finally settled by the U.S. Supreme Court,  Rowan County (NC) County Commissioners have apparently decided to fight the same fight.

SALISBURY, N.C. — Commissioners in one North Carolina county plan to continue offering Christian prayers at public meetings, regardless of a letter from a civil liberties group citing a recent Supreme Court action upholding a federal court’s ban on the practice.

The Salisbury Post reported (http://bit.ly/xtafV5 ) that a huge crowd turned out for the Rowan County Board of Commissioners meeting Monday night to offer their support to the elected officials, who say they’ll defy a decision by the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals striking down so-called sectarian prayer, or prayer that’s explicitly linked to a particular religion, such as Christianity.

“If they tell county commissioners they can’t pray, soon they’re going to be in my church telling me I can’t pray in the name of Jesus,” said Terry Brown, a county resident who came to the meeting.

The appeals court’s ruling was in the case of the Forsyth County Board of Commissions. Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by that board, letting the Fourth Circuit’s ruling stand. Since then, the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has contacted 25 and 30 government bodies in North Carolina in response to complaints from residents about sectarian prayer.

Only one of about two dozen members of the public who spoke Monday night argued that prayers offered to a specific deity don’t belong in government meetings.

“I think what’s going on right now is a clear example of why we need this law, and why it should be obeyed,” said Salisbury resident Chris Crowell, who compared the atmosphere of the meeting to a religious revival.

Rowan County residents might as well gear up for a long and losing battle.  For a preview of what they have to look forward to, here’s how it went in the Forsyth County Commissioners meeting two years ago, when the Commissioners, in defiance of all good sense and good law, decided to appeal two lower court rulings and send their case to the Supreme Court.

Can’t these benighted North Carolina citizens look around the world and see what it’s like to live in a theocracy?   Is that really what they want for our nation?

What’s the Significant Difference?

Posted in Government, Politics, Religion by helenofmarlowe on February 18, 2012

What is the significant difference?

There is something I’m  missing here. The Catholic church went into a frenzy in their moral outrage at the idea that a Catholic institution should be required to provide for their employees an insurance policy that includes birth control, which they say they believe is immoral.

I won’t get into the seeming contradiction that they hate abortion even more than they hate contraceptives, and are sticking by their guns in spite of the evidence that the one reduces need for the other. There’s probably some logic there that I just don’t get.

And I won’t yet try to understand why the compromise offered by the White House, that insurance companies would instead provide contraception coverage separately and at no cost, was not welcomed by the bishops.

What I’m really trying to figure out is this:  What’s the significant difference between appeasing the Catholics on this issue, and requiring Quakers to pay for war (via taxes)?

Quakers are  opposed to war and to all forms of violence.

And what about requiring Seventh-day Adventists to support our government’s policies on  factory farming?

 For more than 130 years Seventhday Adventists have practiced a vegetarian dietary lifestyle because of their belief in the holistic nature of humankind. (http://www.sdada.org/position.htm)

Yes, I see that in the case of the Quakers and the Seventh-day Adventists, it is tax policy that pulls them into the fold of a behavior that contradicts their religion, but is that a substantial difference?  Does it follow, logically, that Catholics should impose upon non-Catholics their beliefs (well, just some of their beliefs; institutionally, they are also against the death penalty but I haven’t heard our Catholic presidential hopefuls mention that)?  That they should impose upon non-Catholic employees, for example, a Catholic rule that even 98% of Catholics don’t actually follow?  And what about Christian Scientists?  Should employees at Christian Science establishments be required to forego health insurance altogether and rely upon prayer?

Is there really a substantial difference, or is it just that Quakers and Seventh-day Adventists, and Christian Scientists,  are not trying to defeat our president?

A UU Forum on Occupy

Posted in "North Carolina", corporatocracy, Economy, Government, NC, Politics, Unitarian, UU, Winston-Salem by helenofmarlowe on February 7, 2012

At our Sunday morning forum yesterday (2/5/12), our guest speaker was Ethan Smith, representing the local Occupy Winston-Salem group. Most UUs (Unitarian Universalists) are familiar with Occupy and some have been participants.  I’ve been an enthusiastic supporter and occasional participant.

Here's a screenshot of me (on right) at a protest against Wells Fargo, when the top Wells Fargo management was speaking our the convention center. Since we don’t have a TV, my son Chris sent me this screenshot. I was surprised he recognized me, since it was such a fleeting report, and he didn’t know I was participating (probably didn’t even know about the event).

 

Occupy’s mission includes public education and civic participation to reveal the 1%’s crimes centering in war and money, end the crimes through arrests of the criminals, and enact policies for 100% of Earth’s inhabitants.

A hand-out gave a little bit of the history and philosophy of Occupy, and talked about local issues:

“Occupy Winston-Salem stands in solidarity with our brothers and sisters across the globe as a non-violent, leaderless movement of Americans united to fight the corporate abuse of our democracy, and to take the reins of power away from profit-driven interests and assert our rightful place in the political process.” The handout goes on to mention “the shackles of corporate greed.”

Ethan recounted some of the recent activities of the local group, talked about the commitment to non-violence, and  about the reliance on rotating facilitators at meetings.   Although there have been extreme police reactions to protesters in some cities, the local Winston-Salem police have done their profession proud.  Our local police, our protesters, and our city officials have worked in co-operation.  Some Winston-Salem churches have given strong support.

A UU member (one who is not involved in Occupy, and I don’t know whether or not he sympathizes) objected to the word greed, saying our narrative is wrong. I (though I didn’t speak out) think some of the language often used to describe the Occupy movement reveals a lack of understanding.  I often hear that the Occupiers are pushing for  “redistribution of wealth” (or of income). There are many people who will mis-interpret that, sometimes deliberately.  I think  “redistribution of opportunity” or “expansion of opportunities” is a more accurate description of what we in Occupy want.  Or how about distributive justice.

Ethan talked about our government’s encroachment on liberties, such as the Patriot Act, NDAA, laws and ordinances limiting free speech, arrests of journalists, mass arrests of protesters, such as, in NYC, 700 protesters arrested at once, with journalists being swept up along with protesters.

Freedom of the press in the US has fallen to 47th in the world

Other UUs wondered why Americans are complacent. The data has been out there for years – the data on the wealthy getting richer while the middle class fades into history amidst government policies that favor the powerful.  Why are people so complacent? Is it because we are constantly told we must keep up with sports, fashion, acquisitions and amusements, and so we don’t pay attention to our democracy?  Another UU  suggested the nature of coverage in the news media invites confusion and shallow understanding – everyone tries to look as though they are  “fair and balanced” – and gave as an example the Komen controversy in which news reports did not link this with  faith-based initiatives and the connection of a Komen leader with the congressional investigation of an organization that didn’t need investigating.

I believe there is much than can be done to make America work for all of us.  How about  a tiny tax on stock trades, especially on high frequency ‘flash’ trading.  How about huge fines for corporate criminals, the CEOs of the “corporate people”, aka banks,  responsible for evictions based on robo-signing?

Economic mobility in America has stalled. “Parental income is a better predictor of a child’s future in America than in much of Europe, implying that social mobility is less powerful.” (From The Economist) And as Jason DeParle writes in the New York Times, social mobility is a lot lower in America than in most other developed countries.   The   “work hard and save” formula doesn’t work any more.   Now the best advice for Americans is to choose your parents wisely.

Regardless of where Occupy goes from here, the movement has forced our nation to discuss the increasing inequality that has been hurting middle-income workers for thirty years.

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Credit where credit is due

Posted in Government, Obama, Politics by helenofmarlowe on November 21, 2011

I came across this (click photo to see) post on Facebook. Darrell Garrett, whom I don’t know, is apparently a friend of a friend, and that’s how I saw this. (Anyone with more than 750 friends is bound to cross that six-degrees-of-separation line somewhere.) I wanted to respond to Mr. Garrett’s challenge, since he says that no one has been able to. But I don’t know how to write in the “response” block. I don’t hang out on FB a lot. Perhaps FB allows responses only from Friends. And I think Mr. Garrett and I would agree on one thing at least – that we would not be companionable Friends.

Click to open

I’ve been disappointed with President Obama. He has moved much further to the right than I expected, and he seems to have been very late in discovering that what he called negotiating we called betraying his supporters. He has referred to liberals as “sanctimonious”. And like everyone else in American politics he has become beholden to big money. Some of his largest contributions come from Goldman Sachs, Microsoft, Citigroup, JPMorgan, Time Warner, IBM. But in this era of he-with-the-most-money gets the most “free” speech, I don’t know what he can do about that.

But he does deserve some credit, so here goes: my late-night effort to look for reasons to support President Obama.

1. President Obama has proposed a Jobs Bill that will reduce unemployment, and will not increase the deficit. Republicans have blocked it, but he has done what he can do get around the blockade.

2. He has created a Consumer Protection Agency, which you will benefit from. The Republicans have tried to gut it of all it’s authority and have refused to accept as its leader the woman who has done the most work on it, but at least it now exists.

3. He has appointed two moderates to the Supreme Court, moderates who actually have legal credentials and high scores from the bar.

4. He has cut taxes for the middle class and for small business, and has tried valiantly to reduce the loopholes that allow the rich to take more and more from the poor. (Yes, hard-earned money from the working poor IS being re-distributed to the rich. And no corporations actually pay the tax rate that Republicans are fond of quoting.)

5. He captured Osama bin Laden

6. He has made some effort to address the very real and serious environmental problems.

7. He has put a stop to the policy of allowing politicians to re-write scientific reports.

8. He has instituted a more humane policy on Cuba, allowing Cuban families to travel to visit their parents and children.

9. He has removed restrictions on embryonic stem-cell research.

10.He can put a sentence together, even a compound or complex sentence, complete with subject and verb. This may not be important to you, but it is important to our standing in the larger world.

Would anyone care to add to my list? Or challenge my list?

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