Drinking from the Firehose, Volume 2

Well, it was another drenching week on hose duty. Here are a few longer pieces that provide some helpful perspective on a whole range of topics, from the environment, to the media, to veterans’ issues, to energy use and gerrymandering.


Mathematical Theorem Finds Gerrymandering in Pennsylvania Congressional District Map
Jocelyn Duffy
CMU News, 3.10.2017
“Pennsylvania’s congressional district maps are almost certainly the result of gerrymandering according to an analysis based on a new mathematical theorem on bias in Markov chains developed by Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh mathematicians. Their findings are published in the Feb. 28 online early edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). . . .”


American Energy Use, in One Diagram
David Roberts
Vox, 4.13.2017
“Every year, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory produces a new energy flow chart showing the sources of US energy, what it’s used for, and how much of it is wasted. If you’ve never seen it before, it’s a bit of a mind-blower. . . .”


How Fox News Changed American Media and Political Dynamics
Bruce Bartlett
The Big Picture, 5.21.2015

This one’s been around for a while,
but it’s a solid report worth the reading…

“The creation of Fox News in 1996 was an event of deep, yet unappreciated, political and historical importance. For the first time, there was a news source available virtually everywhere in the United States, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with a conservative tilt. Finally, conservatives did not have to seek out bits of news favorable to their point of view in liberal publications or in small magazines and newsletters. Like someone dying of thirst in the desert, conservatives drank heavily from the Fox waters. Soon, it became the dominant – and in many cases, virtually the only – major news source for millions of Americans. This has had profound political implications that are only starting to be appreciated. Indeed, it can almost be called self-brainwashing. . . .”


EPA staffer leaves with a bang, blasting agency policies under Trump
Joe Davidson
The Washington Post, 4.7.2017
“After 25 years, he retired last week from the Environmental Protection Agency with a tough message for the boss, Administrator Scott Pruitt. ❖ ‘I, along with many EPA staff, are becoming increasing alarmed about the direction of EPA under your leadership,’ Cox said in a letter to Pruitt. ‘The policies this Administration is advancing are contrary to what the majority of the American people, who pay our salaries, want EPA to accomplish, which are to ensure the air their children breath is safe; the land they live, play, and hunt on to be free of toxic chemicals; and the water they drink, the lakes they swim in, and the rivers they fish in to be clean.’ “


Trump’s Plan to End Europe
David Frum
The Atlantic, May 2017
“Why does the president want to undo the post–World War II order?”  Why indeed…


The U.S. Military Thinks Missiles and Bombs Work Better with a Strategy, Too
VoteVets.org, 4.14.2017
“They dispatched the carrier strike force toward North Korea. They launched the cruise missiles at Syria. But the U.S. military, stung when it was sent to war before without a clear plan and then blamed for the resulting mess, is expressing caution about being thrust deeper into any of the conflicts raging around the world. . . .”


Woody Guthrie, Old Man Trump, and a Real Estate Empire’s Racist Foundations
Bruce Bartlett
The Big Picture, 5.21.2015
“In the 1950s, Woody Guthrie lived in one of Fred Trump’s buildings. In newly discovered, never before published writings, Guthrie bitterly rails against the developer’s color line. In December 1950, Woody Guthrie signed his name to the lease of a new apartment in Brooklyn. Even now, over half a century later, that uninspiring document prompts a double-take. Below all the legal jargon is the signature of the man who had composed “This Land Is Your Land,” the most resounding appeal to an equal share for all in America. Below that is the signature of Donald Trump’s father, Fred. No pairing could appear more unlikely. . . .”


Notes on a Meeting with Donna Oberlander

Indivisible We Rise has introduced itself to our local representative, Donna Oberlander, and looks forward to further interactions. Last Friday, five of us met for an hour at her office. Betty Griffith represented Conservation, Nancy DiStefano represented Education, Janice Horn represented Healthcare, and Kay Luthin went as a Political committee substitute and steering committee member. Kathy Krouse served as our coordinator and spokeswoman, presenting Donna with an agenda to keep the meeting on track. Kathy presented a brief summary of who we are and what we represent, and spoke of our upcoming Earth Day event. Donna seemed quite cautious at first, but relaxed as the meeting progressed.

Janice asked about the long-term birth control that is so successfully offered in Colorado as a means to prevent abortion and lower societal costs; she seemed interested and took a handout about it. Janice also talked about a single payer option for healthcare in the Commonwealth; Donna knows the Democratic representative introducing a bill on this (HB 1688) and said she would talk to her about it.

Nancy asked about voucher and cyberschool issues. Donna was silent on our criticism of DeVos, but was vocal on how cyberschools and charter schools hurt our rural district. She has been promoting the formation of a commission on the topic, similar to the one that exists for Special Ed. We should encourage her on this.

Betty eloquently spoke about our natural world here in PA and about how the poisoned rivers have been cleared thanks to regulations. This brought on a slightly testy conversation among all of us about regulations, Pruitt, the EPA, the DEP, and dirty industries coming down the pike. Donna clearly holds the position that the DEP is a pain, preventing industries and projects from progressing, and the EPA is not her business. We expressed the other point of view.

Kay spoke on the topics of increasing division in the American citizenry and the tools of ‘fake news’ and propaganda further dividing us. Donna grew quite animated on the subject of civility and the division, stating that the pendulum used to settle in the middle, and now gets stuck to the right or the left. She said the women of the House are much better at working across the aisle than men and gave us several examples. When questioned, she said they discuss issues across the party divide. She does share our concern about the splintering of the country. Finally, we briefly discussed gerrymandering reform, which she had heard of but not with the same information our group has.

Thanks to Kathy, we presented Donna with a packet of OUR information: our structure chart, our brochure, a letter from our group asking for more environmental protection, and facts about the horror of cracker plants. Also included was a letter from the Post Gazette about weighing jobs versus health and environmental concerns. In the end, we felt that we had introduced our group to her in a firm and friendly manner. She had actually read a postcard Nancy had sent her, without knowing Nancy would be coming to the meeting, so keep your cards and letters going to her! She will now recognize our group when we call, send her fact sheets, or make requests. Let’s do just that!

Drinking from the Firehose: Politics Issue

Recent articles on political topics that we found insightful, hopeful, or alarming — and sometimes all three


How The Racist Backlash To Barack Obama Gave Us Donald Trump
Daniel Marans
HuffPost, 3.10.2017
How The Racist Backlash To Barack Obama Gave Us Donald Trump | The Huffington Post
“Remember when pundits hailed the election of Barack Obama as the beginning of a “post-racial” America? After the election of Donald Trump to the presidency, it seems like a distant memory. But in 2008, it was the prevailing wisdom among political commentators.  ❖  Cornell Belcher, a long-time Democratic pollster who worked on both of Obama’s presidential campaigns, started seeing through the mirage of racial harmony well before Trump’s election made it obvious. In Belcher’s book, A Black Man in the White House: Barack Obama and the Triggering of America’s Racial-Aversion Crisis, released weeks ahead of Trump’s election, he presents years of research showing that white resentment grew steadily under Obama….”


What Trump’s Budget Says About His Priorities
Ben Casselman
FiveThirtyEight, 3.16.2017
“President Trump on Thursday released the outline of his first federal budget, which would boost spending on defense and border security while slashing almost everything else. It’s important to understand what this “skinny budget” is not: an actual accounting of how the government will spend taxpayers’ money. That’s up to Congress to decide, and already many provisions of Trump’s budget appear to be dead on arrival. Rather, it’s best to think of the president’s budget as a statement of priorities….”


Stephen King on Donald Trump: “How do such men rise? First as a joke”
Stephen King
The Guardian, 4.1.2017
He’s written novels with eerily similar plotlines – but how did Trump become president? The only way to find out: inject a panel of fictional voters with truth serum…


The Destruction of Hillary Clinton: Sexism, Sanders, and the Millennial Feminists
Susan Bordo
The Guardian, 4.2.2017
“Many books have been written about the way racial differences among feminists both divided and pushed feminist thinking and practice forward over the past several decades. In the 2016 election, however, it was not race but generation that was the dynamic factor among left-leaning women. Women like me, who experienced many cultural battles in the “gender wars” firsthand – from the first scornful comments that journalists had heaped on “women’s libbers”, to the public shaming of Anita Hill, to the renewed threats to bodily rights that we thought we had won decades earlier – brought to the 2016 campaign a personal knowledge of the fragility of feminist accomplishments and an identification with Hillary that was deeper and longer than any current headlines….”


Six Degrees Of Trump Opposition
Percy Bacon, Jr.
FiveThirtyEight, 4.3.2017
“You can tell how much trouble Trump is in by how many groups are lined up against him.Many of the early struggles of Donald Trump’s presidency appear to be self-inflicted: a leader with little experience in government or politics, an administration with significant internal divides and a set of policy goals — such as rolling back the Affordable Care Act and blocking travelers to the United States from certain countries — that are complicated to execute.But there is another huge factor affecting him: his opposition….”


How to set up a VPN in 10 minutes for free (and why you urgently need one)
Quincy Larson
freeCodeCamp, 3.27.2017
How to set up a VPN in 10 minutes for free (and why you urgently need one)
“Thanks to a decision by Congress, ISPs can sell your entire web browsing history to literally anyone without your permission. The only rules that prevented this are all being repealed, and won’t be reinstated any time soon (it would take an act of congress). ISPs can also sell any information they want from your online activity and mobile app usage — financial information, medical information, your children’s information, your social security number — even the contents of your emails. They can even sell your geolocation information. That’s right, ISPs can take your exact physical location from minute to minute and sell it to a third party.You might be wondering: who benefits from repealing these protections?”


Bad Moon Rising

The latest post from Tom DiStefano:

There are bills in the state legislature that could possibly, though some blue moon, white magic sort of miracle, make things better.

But there are also bills out there in the legislature that through some sort of black magic, bad-moon-rising sort of travesty make things worse. Much worse. 

One of the bad-moon-rising type was introduced by none other than our neighbor and Jefferson County’s favorite son, Cris Dush. That’s right, old Cris is prime sponsor of House Bill 590 which could spread the pure evil of unfettered gerrymandering to the highest office in the land.

In his co-sponsorship memorandum, Cris applies some twisted rationalizations to call for fellow house members to sign onto his bill, trying to make it sound like it would improve things, but nothing could be further from the truth.

What House Bill 590 does is elect the members of the electoral college from each separate congressional district, rather than statewide, like it is now. It actually wouldn’t be such a bad thing, if there was no such thing as Gerrymandering. But the existence of gerrymandering makes it a very, very bad thing.

If it passes, whichever party gets to gerrymander the districts gets to elect the president. In just the same way that Pennsylvania has more Democrats than Republicans, but the Republicans elected the most Congress-critters and state legislators, the majority of gerrymandered districts would go to the Republican presidential electors.

Dush’s bill is pretty simple, and it doesn’t even require an amendment to the Pennsylvania Constitution, It just adds two paragraphs to Section 1501 subsection b of the Pennsylvania Election Code: 

“(1)  Two of the presidential electors shall be elected at large to represent the entire Commonwealth and shall cast their ballots for the presidential and vice-presidential candidates with the greatest number of votes Statewide.

“(2)  Each of the remaining presidential electors shall be elected in the presidential elector’s congressional district and shall cast a ballot for the presidential and vice-presidential candidates with the greatest number of votes in the congressional district.”

While it takes a human of great talent, intelligence and energy to make the world a better place, it seems, like the Donald, any hackified assholic clown can make things worse without too much effort at all.

As it stands, the bill has only three co-sponsors, which is a good sign, but is only a sign and carries no technical weight. It was refereed to the State Government committee, of which Dush is a member, which is a bad sign, and could be of more portent that its small number of co-sponsors.

All three cosponsors are Republicans. Besides Dush, they are the Honorable Francis Xavier Ryan of Palmyra Pennsylvania (yes, he went to Catholic school) and the Honorable Dan Moul of Gettysburg. None of those guys are heavy hitters in the Republican Party, but this could be stealth legislation, as similar stuff is popping up in Republican legislatures around the country. I’m keeping an eye on it. The saving grace is that Governor Wolf is likely to veto such crap.

☁︎ ☁︎

On the other side of the coin, we have Senate Bill 270, introduced by Daylin Leach of Philadelphia, which would have Pennsylvania join the National Popular Vote Compact. And there is a companion bill, House Bill 189, and they would, wonder of wonders, turn the Electoral College on its head.

The states in the compact pledge to award their Electoral College votes to the winner of the popular vote nationwide. This make the presidential election a popular election without changing the US Constitution. 12 states have signed on so far and as soon as states with 270 electoral votes sign on, the compact goes into effect. 

Now I have a few qualms about this, as it removes one of the safety valves built into the Constitution by the Founders, but I have to admit the Electoral College hasn’t really functioned as a safety valve after all. If it had, Trump would not be president, and if the Compact was in place now, Trump would not be president. 

But  Senate Bill 270 and House bill 189 only have a few sponsors and they are all Democrats in a heavily Republican legislature, so I fear this is another example of Aero Porcus (my made-up phony Latin for “when pigs fly”). 

But how do I know? How can you tell which bills will advance and which will never get out of committee? It’s something I’m working on, and there are a few clues, but without being a Harrisburg insider, it’s something I will likely never decipher on my own. 

It’s a tough puzzle. More than five thousand bills and resolutions are introduced in the legislature in a two-year session. We are now three months into the 2017-18 session and already there are more than 1,000 House bills, 350 or so House resolutions, half a thousand Senate bills and around 75 Senate resolutions. 

Only a few hundred bills, at most, will become law in any two-year session, and a lot of those are for naming bridges after war heroes, which seems a favorite pandering pastime of our Senators and Representatives.

The best I can figure is to watch the committees and see which bills they vote out to the House or Senate floor. And if a bill is some really nasty piece of work, it sometimes flies right though both chambers and get adopted before anyone knows what’s happening. Bills that would actually do us some good usually get fought over and watered down with amendments until they are mediocre mush.

And our 253 Senators and Representatives are known as one of the biggest, most bloated, over paid, ineffectual, corrupt and gerrymandered state legislatures in the country. Can this be changed? Aero Porcus, but we got to try. 

☁︎ ☁︎

Some links:

House Bill 590


Senate Bill 270


House Bill 189



Following the Money to a Trump Presidency

The Reclusive Hedge-Fund Tycoon Behind the Trump Presidency
The New Yorker.com

Jane Mayer, a writer for The New Yorker magazine, has done some terrific reporting on money trails and politico-financial cabals. Her work on the Koch brothers led to her 2016 book, Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right. While she was working on the story, back in 2010, she found herself the target of a smear campaign mounted by associates of the Koch empire — which she managed to survive.

This week’s New Yorker has another Mayer article, this time on the dark money contributions of shadowy billionaire Robert Mercer and a network of dark-side political operatives and media outlets that — with a little help from Vlad “The Derailer” Putin and the director of the FBI — put Trump in the White House. Mayer draws a very clear connect-the-dots picture of the way the key players (the Mercer family, Steve Bannon, Breitbart News, Kellyanne Conway, among others) aligned forces to change our world.

What’s remarkable to me is how little Trump himself had to do with the actual masterminding of his own election. Trump does crowds, and brilliantly; these people did the long-range strategy that created the crowds and put him in front of them. Trump is the lumbering, impervious tank the infantry shelters behind as they advance on the enemy — but in this case, the infantry are the masters and the enemy is us. The upshot: Trump is now President, and these people surround him in the People’s house.

Anyway, you might give it a read, if you haven’t already…

Titusville Update

It looks like we have our answer from Rep. Thompson. The demonstration in Titusville was reported in a number of places. This story from The Titusville Herald, quoting Thompson’s communications director, tells us all we need to know about our representative’s position on dissent (emphasis mine):

“Pennsylvania’s 5th Congressional district is larger than the state of New Jersey. So, when he is not in Washington, Congressman Thompson is on the road meeting with constituents or taking meetings in his Bellefonte and Titusville offices. Last year alone he hosted more than 1,000 constituent meetings. Mr. Thompson is a problem solver and welcomes all constituents to meet with him, voice their concerns, find common ground, and generate homegrown solutions to the challenges facing our country. However, he will not provide a venue for a few vocal activists to create a spectacle. Those individuals have all been offered meetings with the Congressman, yet many have declined to attend.

It turns out that Daily Kos posted about the event as well (here’s the link). The post included a shot from inside the crowded office:


A Visit to Rep. Thompson’s Office

On Valentine’s Day, Indivisible We Rise (five of us, anyway) made a trip to Rep. Glenn Thompson’s office in Titusville for an action orchestrated by Dan Doubet of Keystone Progress. About 25-30 people showed up to demand that our elusive representative hold a live Town Hall event with his constituents in Erie. (I will post the details on that when I can confirm the date.)

Thompson’s staff were certainly not expecting us when we began crowding into their tiny office. Our Clarion group was among the first to get in the door, so I was able to hand a letter to Rep. Thompson detailing the concerns of Indivisible We Rise members directly to his office manager.

The engagement was boisterous but cordial, and his staff were accommodating. (It seems they—or someone—called the cops when we first arrived, though, but they never came inside the building, as the situation was clearly non-confrontational; we discovered them outside when we left the building.)

A good day was had by all. As to results, we’ll have to wait and see whether Rep. Thompson deigns to attend the Town Hall that Keystone Progress has arranged for him…