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.🇺🇸

Joyner Lucas’s “I’m Not Racist” — a perfect musical example of the 45/45/10 Formula

The 45/45/10 Formula for narrative/argument is one of the perpetual bees bumbling around my bonnet.  This video for this song is such a stone cold perfect example (and, subsequently, so rhetorically devastating) that I just had to share.  PRO-TIP: The first two-and-a-half minutes will likely be almost unbearable to watch for most white Americans.  If it helps, know that Joyner Lucas (the musician and the voice you hear throughout the song) is black (although not the black guy in the video).

At any rate, to review my 45/45/10 Formula:

  • The first 45% of a piece is the Setup: Characters/concepts/situations/dynamics are presented and relationships among these made clear
  • The next 45% is the Tangle: Complication(s) disrupt (or at least complicate) the situation laid out in the Setup
  • The last 10% is the Resolution: The knot is Untangled, for better or worse

In the case of this track, the Setup runs from the open to ~2:50. The Tangle then runs to ~5:50, and from that point to the cut to black is the Resolution. What especially thrills me here—beyond the hard body impact of the rhetoric itself and the lean power of the videography—is how shifts in the music mark out the transitions between stages in the argument: Each section break is marked out be an abrupt shift in the tone and mood of the backing track.

This is a wonderful primer on how to structure an narrative argument to hold an audience and not persuade them, per se—because that’s not the goal—but rather to enduringly stick in their craw, so they keep troubling over your argument long after they’re done with the piece of entertainment.  This is how you write moral fiction.  This is how you plant the seeds that grow the trees that, indefatigably and seemingly effortlessly, bend the arc of that moral universe back toward justice.

And that, kids, is our business.  Go, watch … and learn.

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.)

I wrote this lil essay back in 2009, during what turned out to have been the low-water mark for global anti-Semitism…

…boy oh boy do I miss those days.

Anyway, here’s a snippet from the middle:

“A Jew?” they asked.

“Yes,” I said, “Probably the only one in this room right now.” (I thought one of the gringo lawyers was Jewish, but she had gone out to smoke, so I felt pretty safe with this claim.)

The tico husband nodded his head sagely, smiled, and said, “The Jews control all of the money,” and then his smile froze and eyes went wide as his ears registered what his mouth had just said.

I want to stress that I didn’t feel there was any actual anti-Semitic content to the statement. During both this most recent visit to Costa Rica and my last, the groom had cause to emphatically insist that there is no anti-Semitism in Costa Rica, sorta out of the blue, which I take to be an indication that it’s pretty common in some circles. But ticos are, on the whole, the least aggressive or confrontational people I’ve ever met. As far as I’m concerned, they can hate Jews with as much vigor as they might muster, as I can’t imagine that ever building up to the point where someone would even bother scratching a swastika into a bathroom stall door, let alone killing my entire family and incinerating the corpses. It’s just not a tico thing to do. They don’t even yell at stray dogs, stupid drivers, or smarmy guys whistling at female joggers from passing cars.

And here’s the rest: “International Relations” by David Erik Nelson.

Photo Aug 19, 9 18 13 AM

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!

Here’s the Chart Your Bigoted Cousin Needs to See

You know when your cousin–or whoever–archly intimates that Those People don’t really need food assistance or tuition assistance or healthcare subsidies or whatever, because “You always see Them with nice clothes or a new iPhone or a big flatscreen TV!” or whatever?

Remember this chart.  And then show him this chart. 

Similarly, when he points out that folks used to be able to work a summer in a factory and pay for a full year of college, back before affirmative action and illegal immigrants took all the decent jobs from hard-workers and gave them to the under-qualified and under-productive–please, once more, remember this chart.  And then show him this chart.

Poor people have nice TVs because wages have gone up a little and the price of TVs has dropped like a brick.  Cousin Bigoty can’t afford to get his kids an education because wages have gone up a little and tuition has shot the moon.

inflation-wages-veblen-commodityDWSmfpSXUAADG2t

That said, economically speaking this chart is by no means a slam dunk for any particular political worldview. Check this article, with its nearly 180-degree interpretations of this chart: The same data can be read as either an indictment of failed socialism being inevitably co-opted and driving up the cost of necessities, or as an indictment of late capitalism giving the masses their “bread and circus” while denying them the necessities of serviceable healthcare, housing, and education.

For my part, it looks to me like what happens when you have massive (and growing) income disparity: Everything divides into either run-away Veblen goods or near-disposable commodities (from the perspective of those at the nose-bleed heights of the top of the hockey stick). This chart illustrates why, for many Americans, America no longer feels great, and similarly why all the trade protectionism and corporate tax giveaways and draconian immigration restrictions in the world will never make America great again. 

Presented without further comment: The CIA’s “Timeless Tips for ‘Simple Sabotage'”

Fun

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[source: Timeless Tips for ‘Simple Sabotage’ — Central Intelligence Agency]

FUN BONUS EXERCISE: Read this whole thing, and ask yourself:

Is this more plausible as a CIA guide for resistors trying to drag down fascists in foreign nations, or as a plot to nudge patriotic Americans into suspecting organized labor and broad progressive social movements of actually being enemy saboteurs? 

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#LadyLiberty’sTourchIsAGaslight