Michigan Voters: Please “Plunk” for Sam Bagenstos for MI Supreme Court on Nov 6

“Plunking” means voting for just one person, even when you could vote for several.

On Nov 6, Please plunk for Sam Bagenstos for Michigan Supreme Court

This is easy to remember, because he’s the only candidate who has a hobbit-sounding name.  Sometimes he wears little half-glasses while reading, which really underscores the hobbit thing, although he’s sort of a tall dude.

Voting for Michigan Supreme Court

This year we have six candidates running for two open seats in the Michigan Supreme Court. This is on the “non-partisan” portion of the ballot—that is, even though the nominees have a party affiliation, that affiliation isn’t listed on the ballot.  As a result, in general, only about 50–60% of voters even bother to vote for a Michigan supreme court justice.  When they do, they overwhelmingly pick the incumbent (who have “Justice of Supreme Court” listed under their names on the ballot—generally, the rational voters have is “Well, I can’t think of anything terrible the supreme court did this year, so whoever is on it must be doing a good job.”)

My point is two-fold: 1) It is a small number of well-informed voters, coupled with a bunch of people who just like ticking boxes, who elect our supreme court justices and 2) once you’re on, it’s easy to stay on.

Why am I asking you to vote for Sam?

  1. He’s a solid dude.  I know him a little bit, personally, and know his wife and kids much better (we’re active in the same congregation). Sam isn’t in anyone’s pocket. He is smart and fair and works his ass off.
  2. He’s a civil rights dray horse. He was a top official in DoJ’s Civil Rights Division under Obama.  In the last couple years Sam has argued and won important victories for pregnant workers and disabled children before the Supreme Court of the United States.  He’s fighting for the people of Flint to hold the state accountable for their poisoned city water.

Why am I asking you to “plunk” for Sam?

You can vote for up to two supreme court justices.  You could vote for both Sam and the other Dem nominee, Megan Cavanagh—with your rationale being that this brings us closer to getting at least one progressive justice on the court.  But this is the midwest, and “Democrat” is not a reliable proxy for “progressive.” Megan Cavanagh has actually spent her career restricting civil rights, representing municipalities, police, and businesses against the sorts of clients that Sam has stuck up for.  (FUN FACT: One time Cavanagh argued before the Michigan supreme court, representing an oil company that accidentally dumped 396 gallons of fuel oil into a woman’s basement, destroying her home.)

So, on the one hand, you have Cavanagh who worked to get an oil company out of paying $100,000 in damages to a woman whose home they destroyed. On the other, you have Sam representing the people of Flint after they suffered heavy metals poisoning at the hands of incompetent city admins.

If you plunk for Sam (voting for him and only him), you essentially double the value of your vote.  This is important because, if trends persist (and there’s no reason they wouldn’t), the incumbents are going to devour the vast majority of the votes.  Effectively, only one supreme court seat is open (if even). Voting for both Sam and Cavanagh is essentially saying that you figure it’s a coin-toss between the two, as to which will better bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice.

That simply isn’t true in this case.  Sam is your justice. Please plunk for Sam.  Please spread the word.

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These Aren’t Concentration Camps (Yet)—But That Doesn’t Mean They’re Good

I strongly urge you to watch this video:

and read this article (“Inside the Former Walmart That Is Now a Shelter for Almost 1,500 Migrant Children” ) all the way through, then call your reps.

My point here: This is not a “concentration camp” by any modern conventional standard (in that “concentration camp” connotes harsh conditions, overcrowding, and general neglect if not outright abuse). Here’s a New York Times description at what they saw at this specific migrant internment center:

Most of the boys are from Central America. Many of them smiled, waved at or shook the hands of the reporters touring the site. They were asked by the reporters and Southwest Key executives, in Spanish, “How are you?”

The constant reply was “Bien, bien,” meaning “OK, OK.” The media was not allowed to interview the children.

Some were leaning back, getting a shampoo at the sinks in the shelter’s barbershop, where a striped lit-up barber’s pole spun outside the door. They lined up in the cafeteria for dinner — chicken, mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables. Some played pool, or joined a tai chi session in the rec room. One teenager sat at a cafeteria table with his head bowed and hands clasped, praying silently. Another told the cafeteria worker who served him dinner, “Gracias, Miss.”

Everywhere, some of the shelter’s more than 1,000 employees hovered nearby — they sat at the ends of the cafeteria tables while the boys ate dinner, watched “Moana” with the children in the old loading docks and escorted lines of boys in the hallways.

The vast majority, Southwest Key officials said, crossed the border unaccompanied.

That said, these certainly fit within the broad dictionary denotation of “concentration camp”—in that they are “a camp where persons (such as prisoners of war, political prisoners, or refugees) are detained or confined”.  (And we have no idea if other such centers are better, worse, or about the same).

Still, calling these “concentration camps” runs the risk of continuing to erode the general American understanding of the heinous magnitude of suffering endured by  the Jews and others interned and enslaved by the Third Reich, or the Americans of Japanese descent imprisoned by the U.S. government, or the countless others who have been confined, reeducated, absorbed, and exterminated by the smooth-grinding wheels of governments.

On top of that, calling these “concentration camps” is a disservice to progress and to these specific children.

That said, saying that “these aren’t concentration camps” is in no way meant to suggest that what’s happening here is good; it’s getting overcrowded, it’s unsustainable, they’re starting to set up tent villages (in Texas, in the summer—lack of rigid shelter and HVAC is a huge drop in livability outside El Paso). This is precariously close to starting the inevitable slide into what we all would recognize as concentration camps.

But, goddamit, right now we are very close to doing the Right Thing here: Most of these kids are showing up at the border without parents or guardians; it is right and good to shelter them, feed them, protect them, show them Moana. That’s what a country dedicated to the huddled masses yearning to be free should be doing.  With proper action, there is an opportunity here for these centers to level up to being well-run refugee centers.

We should call our reps, and say as much: I want unaccompanied minors to be sheltered and fed.  I want those who’ve been abused, or whose home places have been made unlivable by gangs or failed governments, to have access to asylum.  Kids who have braved the elements and the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, they’ve got True Grit; I want to know how they can become my neighbors and fellow citizens.🇺🇸

Contact Your Reps: The PotUS Needs to Stop Sanctioning Bigotry🇺🇸🔥

Here’s the email I sent my reps last night.  Maybe you wanna tell your reps something similar.  It’s been more than a year, and the President is no better at this than he was before he was sworn in. Maybe Congress needs to try something different—’cause all the nothing they’ve done thus far hasn’t had the intended effect (*grumbles* lousy beatniks).

SUBJECT: The PotUS sanctions bigotry, assists persecution

Dear [NAME TK],

I was truly and deeply dismayed this morning to read the President’s remarks on the recent NFL decision to fine players who kneel during the National Anthem.  Specifically:

“You have to stand, proudly, for the national anthem. Or you shouldn’t be playing, you shouldn’t be there. Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country.”

Just to be clear, I don’t particularly care for football, nor for labor practices within the NFL.  If that employer wants to set a weird (to me) rule about how to comport oneself during pre-game musical performances, then that’s for those employers, their employees, those employees’ union, and the courts to sort out.

I’m not even that concerned to hear a President so blithely unaware of existing First Amendment precedent; sure, I learned about cases like West VA State Board of Ed v. Barnette in middle school, but not everyone benefited from my fine education, and not every President can be a noted Constitutional scholar.

But I’m extremely concerned when I hear a sitting U.S. President breezily opine that a group of people who believe differently than he “shouldn’t be in the country.”  I grew up in a community with a very small number of Jehovah’s Witnesses—folks who, for religious reasons, do not pledge allegiance or stand for the National Anthem.  As a Jew, I did not share their beliefs—but I was taught, by my family, my faith leaders, and my teachers, that their beliefs were worthy of my respect.  More to the point, I was taught that their beliefs were due equal protection under the law—just like mine.

President Washington promised us a government “which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”  President Trump, meanwhile, sanctions bigotry and assists persecution—with these words, and with countless other utterances and decrees, tweets and executive orders.  In the decade before Trump my local Jewish Community Center received zero threats. Within 18 months of his nomination, we’d had two.  We hadn’t had run-ins with white supremacists here since the mid-1990s.  Last year our skatepark was festooned with dozens of swastikas and emblazoned with “JEWS DIE” and “WHITE WOMEN NO NIGGERS OR JEWS.”

Violent crime in general is trending down in the U.S., but hate crimes continue to climb—and speaking out against any element of that rising tide of hate and bias seems to run the risk of having a target painted on your back by a big bully, who we inexplicably permit to continue to bludgeon private citizens from his bully pulpit, uncensured.

What the hell are we supposed to do to feel safe?

Sincerely,

David Erik Nelson

SOURCES:

(This "America golem" is Nazi propaganda from WWII, but remarkably apt these days.)
(This “America golem” is Nazi propaganda from WWII, but remarkably apt these days.)

Email yr Reps: Mick Mulvaney is unfit to head OMB/CFPB 🇺🇸🔥

Mick Mulvaney currently heads the White House Office of Management and Budget (which you likely don’t care about), and serves as the interim head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (which you really should care about).  Last week he was pretty damned brazen about being totally fine with prioritizing lobbiest/industry wishlists over the welfare of your average American, provided that 1) the average American in question wasn’t from his home state and 2) the lobbiest in question had ponied up (for real; he straight-up said this to a roomful of bankers.  Once again, we’ve crossed the line into cartoonish super-villainy.)

Anyway, he’s unfit to serve, both because he’s actively averse to the mission of the agency he’s heading and because he encourages corruption.  Here’s what I wrote to my reps; maybe you wanna contact yours today.

subject: Mick Mulvaney is unfit to head OMB/CFPB

Dear [NAME],

I’m writing as one of your constituents, deeply concerned about Mick Mulvaney’s current roles in the Executive Branch.  As was widely reported (and, I believe, confirmed by Mulvaney himself) this past week, he has a “pay-for-play” policy for lobbyists and special interests:

“We had a hierarchy in my office in Congress,” Mulvaney told those gathered at an American Bankers Association conference in Washington. “If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.”  (He then went on to urge those gathered to buy influence.)

Not shockingly, those lobbying for payday lenders donated roughy $63,000 to his various campaigns. Earlier this year, in his role as interim head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Mulvaney dropped probes and enforcement actions focused on payday and high-interest lenders.

Given current reporting and his own statements and conflicts of interest, Mick Mulvaney seems generically unfit to head the White House Office of Management and Budget, and nauseatingly unfit to serve as the interim head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau—let alone White House Chief of Staff (his rumored next role).

For that matter, I’m not particularly comfortable seeing a man who so clearly accepts corruption as a “cost of doing business” return to the Legislature—but that’s for the people of South Carolina to sort out, may God have mercy on their souls.

Thank you again for your time and for continuing to fight the Good Fight in D.C.

All Best,

David Erik Nelson . . .

===============

SOURCES:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2018/04/25/trumps-rumored-next-chief-of-staff-mick-mulvaney-admits-to-selling-access-a-congressman

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/24/us/mulvaney-consumer-financial-protection-bureau.html

http://thehill.com/policy/finance/379919-mulvaney-ends-consumer-bureau-probe-of-payday-loan-collector-report

One by one, folks! We shall defeat them one by one.☝️

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A Modest Proposal in the Wake of the Repeal of Net Neutrality

SILVER LINING ALERT: While the imminent repeal of Net Neutrality will, over time, prove to be a major net loss for folks in general, there are three groups that could make hay while this new, crappy sun shines:

  1. Victims of revenge porn
  2. Victims of child pornography
  3. Their lawyers

Why? Internet providers have fought for and won the freedom to build revenue streams around regulating which packets traverse their networks how fast—and even to completely throttle some packets based on whatever criteria they like.  If they can do that, then they can certainly be held accountable for what is distributed through their networks.  They are no longer neutral conduits of information—and they have deep pockets.

I, for one, am saddened by this likely fatal blow to a free and open Internet—but I really, really look forward to watching victims—of hacks, of interpersonal betrayal, of privacy invasion, of documented childhood sexual assaults—sue the ever-loving shit out of Verizon, Comcast, AT&T, et al.

Go get ’em, Tigers!

Looking for Something to Call Your Reps About? May I suggest Mick Mulvaney?🇺🇸📞

Long story short: Mulvaney the current head of the Office of Management and Budget, and last week the President also made him acting director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  This is a little odd, since Mulvaney is on the record calling the agency a “joke” that he’d eliminate—but that’s all just talk.  What’s fundamentally rotten is that Mulvaney received roughly half a million dollars in donations from financial organizations that have been fined muy mucho dinero by the CFPB.

I’m not casting aspersions on Mulvaney or claiming he’s done—or would do—anything wrong; I’m sure he’s a great guy, and plausibly has many good ideas that make him highly qualified to filly two essential 120-hour/week gov’t positions.  But just as a thought experiment, say you had a kid in day care, and that day care hired someone who seemed like a fine pick and totally passed the criminal background check, but had also accepted millions of dollars from a group of notorious and powerful pedophiles.  Would this cause you concern?

Anyway, please take a minute and call your reps, and explain that you think there is maybe a moral hazard here.

*Record Scratch* *Freeze Frame* Yup, that's me; you're probably wondering how I ended up in this situation. Lemme tell ya; it all started…
*Record Scratch*
*Freeze Frame*
Yup, that’s me; you’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation. Lemme tell ya; it all started…

What Can I Do About Hate?  Just Take a Baby Step, White People!

The "fine people" protesting in support of Confederate statuary—AND NOT AT ALL  RACIST!—in Charlottesville, VA, August 11, 2017
The “fine people” protesting in support of Confederate statuary—AND NOT AT ALL
RACIST!—in Charlottesville, VA, August 11, 2017

In the weeks since Charlottesville there’s been a fair bit of “What can we[*] do about hate?” talk—on social media, in NYT and WaPo and Slate op-eds and think pieces, out on the street and around supper tables.  As someone in a class of folks disproportionately on the receiving end of the most resent paroxysm of hate, I have a suggestion:

Take “Awesome Baby Steps”

EXAMPLE: Last week the skatepark in my town—the one my son and I go to, the one lots of kids in this area (and, notably, lots of brown kids) use—got hit with motor oil (intended to ruin the concrete for skating) and dozens of swastikas and slurs.

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Photo Aug 18, 3 22 26 PM Photo Aug 18, 3 22 34 PM

The city, of course, responded in no time, and had it all clean in hours—God bless ’em. 

I went to skate there the next and found two things:  1) that the park was uncharacteristically busy for an early Saturday morning, all happy families showing resolve; and 2) it was covered in this new chalk graffiti

Photo Aug 19, 9 18 13 AM

Photo Aug 19, 9 17 10 AM

Photo Aug 19, 9 16 52 AM

Photo Aug 19, 9 16 35 AM

It’ll sound dumb, but this made me feel better.  This, in fact, moved me to tears. Folks punching Nazis in Charlottesville did not move me to tears or make me feel safer.  Neither did folks tearing down statues (although I nonetheless applaud that, and more so applaud the many cities who have covered and removed statues in the meantime—because tearing down the participation trophies handed out to white supremacists, nominally honoring traitors, is what you should do after winning a war). 

But kids coming out with chalk to make sure I knew that they continued to welcome me in civil society did make me feel better.  In fact, it made me feel better in excess of the amount the defacement had made me feel awful—and that slap in the face had left me livid and enraged and absolutely nauseated with a dread so atavistic that I sorta imagine it’s more akin to what a mouse exposed in vacant stubble feels than to any un-fun emotion an employable White man might know.  (This isn’t to say that White men don’t know bad times; it’s to say that there is a very specific flavor to being history’s perpetual prey).

Those kids with their chalk, that was an Awesome Baby Step. It didn’t take much—not much money, not much time, not much risk—but it made me feel a great deal better.  The pay-off was totally disproportionate.

You're not helping, autocorrect!
You’re not helping, autocorrect!

Again, I know this likely sounds silly. “Dave,” you’re thinking, “You know us! We see you every day when you’re walking your dog; we nod at each other and wave.  You know we’re cool with you!”

Listen: You can never, ever presume that the folks targeted by hate can continue to feel confident that you are OK with them being Americans. Don’t argue with me about it being stupid or paranoid or insulting—it’s just a fact of life.  In fact, the ability to look at rank-and-file White people with confidence and feel that this person has your back is the first thing to slip.  After all, someone voted for Trump, despite all the things he said.  Someone buys those Confederate flag stickers, someone goes to those rallies, someone breaks out the spray-paint, someone dials in the bomb threats.  It’s just not a possible state of affairs that every White person I see is one of the “Good Guys” and all the bigots are magically somewhere else—but also close enough to trash my skatepark, flyer my streets, drive through my neighborhoods, vote in our elections, etc., etc., etc.

So, here’s one example of an Awesome Baby Step you can almost certainly do almost immediately:

Start being super friendly to people of color every day

Nothing crazy, just always make a point to smile and acknowledge and greet—like, constantly: When you pass on the sidewalk, walk into a building, at the checkout line, whatever. 

The best case scenario is that these folks—who may have taken some hateful shit recently—feel less on the outs with the country. The worst case scenario is people think you are just a super friendly person.  Either way, none of us think “This person is coming to hurt us.”  It’s either a win-win, or just a win.  The odds are with you.

(If this seems disjoint—what with me mostly talking about anti-Semitism to this point, and now I’m talking about people of color, and the Venn Diagram of “brown” and “Jewish” in America is frightfully close to just being a pair of tangent circles—just know this: My lived experience, and that of most Jews I know, is that White people who are shitty to people of color are fairly likely to be shitty to Jews, too.)

Another Baby Step in Being Awesome:

When folks get targeted with words of hate, take a moment to counteract that with words of support

EXAMPLE: Our local Jewish Family Services got a bomb threat last Monday.  (In case you don’t know JFS, they aren’t an agency specifically offering services to Jewish families, but rather a non-profit founded by Jewish families to offer services in general, sorta returning the favor for the support many of our families received as refugees in the 20th Century). Our local JFS is the primary agency handling refugee resettlement for Syrians here in Ann Arbor.  That particular building is also a food pantry for struggling families in general.  So, threatening to bomb them isn’t just an attack on Jews: It’s an attack on the poor in general, and immigrants of all sort.  It’s a mean, small-hearted, fucked-up thing to do.  (Not for nothing, but if you are a White person pissed off that White families are struggling, I can tell you for a fact that JFS is handing out food support to just those exact White families that you, as a White Supremacist, want to see helped.  So, really, what the fuck?! Let us feed your people, OK?)

You probably feel bad learning that some jackass felt the need to totally derail a day of JFS trying to help immigrants and poor people (people who, more so than most, can hardly afford to “come back tomorrow; we’re closed because of a bomb threat.”)  Maybe you want to bend the arc of the moral universe back toward justice—but don’t know what to do.  Try this:

Call JFS, tell them you support what they do, and make a donationeven a tiny one.  Multiples of $18 are a traditional sum among Jews (it’s symbolic of Life), but anything is fine—or just voicing your support: 734-769-0209

I see a lot of White people and gentiles crying because we don’t know the “content of their hearts,” or whatever.  But I’ve got to level with you:

As a Jew—as one of the JEWS that was told last week that his skatepark and his wife (a “white woman”) were not for him, that he should DIE—I don’t particularly care what is in any of your hearts, because your heart isn’t going to kill me.

It’s your hands that will kill me.  And so I’m watching your hands.  I am wary, because wariness is what got my grandfather (Z”L) out of Ukraine before he joined his father in a ditch.  Wariness is what got my Aunt Lola (Z”L) through Auschwitz and to these shining shores.

Right now, your fingers dialing the phone, your voice, your words, your eye contact and smile are THE MOST IMPORTANT THING.  Use them to take awesome baby steps.

It is 2017:  You can take baby steps toward white supremacy, or baby steps away.  There’s no standing still anymore—because there never really was.

Thank you.


[*] “We” in this case has disproprtionately—sometimes explicitely, more often implicitely—been White people (and nominally White people, like myself). So I’m addressing that crowd—but let’s be real: These baby steps work for all of us. See also MLK’s 8 Commandments.

Call on yr house rep to cosponsor these bills and help wrangle our cantankerous President🇺🇸📞

The good news is that there are plenty of signs that there is finally some  bipartisan appetite to roll back the unhealthy post-9/11 ballooning of Executive power in the federal government (a less noted, but more significant, example is explained here and here). 

Bravo!

But our specific current PotUS needs some specific, itemized reigning in.  Here are two legislative items (the first a House Resolution, the second an actual bill) that aim to do just that.  Both could use more cosponsors—and could likely get them from either side of the aisle right now.

  • H.Res.456Objecting to the conduct of the President of the United States (the name kinda says it all on this one)
  • H.R.3228Free Press Act of 2017: “To require the President to provide frequent press briefings covering the official business of the President to the White House press corps.”

In light of the President allegedly drafting his son’s fake excuses for meeting privately with foreign agents to coordinate with smearing a political opponent and, prior to that, his alleged involvement in coordinating with Fox News to produce a Fake News story smearing that same opponent, compounded by the President’s ongoing public (not at all alleged—’cause we all saw him doing the public parts, and confessing to the private parts in newspaper interviews) attempts to channel, limit, and outright detail the FBI investigation into his coordination with Russian agents to smear and defeat his opponent, these two legislative items are just about the least congress can do right now.

So call your reps and ask them to do them—or, at the very least, call them and tell them what you think about what’s going on.  Today, during your lunch break or on your commute or whatever.  It literally takes under five minutes; you can just call, say you’re a constituent, and ask:

“Is Rep. So-and-So cosponsoring  H.Res.456 and H.R.3228, which seek to hold the President accountable for questionable actions and force him to regularly communicate productively with the press?”  

If so, then thank them for their work.  If not, then thank them for their work and reiterate that you really, really think your rep should be cosponsoring these items.

Now go! Hit the phones! 

Thanks!

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Call yr reps!🇺🇸🔥📞 Today’s Topic: EPA funding

This is an easy one: the budget currently under consideration cuts the Environmental Protection Agency’a funding by ~30%. Right now the EPA has one (1!) toxicologist serving the six-state region that includes Michigan (where we just had an enormous lead-tainted-public-drinking-water problem). That’s down from four toxicologists a few years back—and even with 4x the staff they were overburdened.

It simply isn’t possible to assure safe air and water with the EPA running at two-thirds power—and if we want to increase domestic manufacturing, then we’re going to need to be even more diligent than we are today. Call yr reps and urge them to push for full funding of the EPA.