Saturday, February 25, 2017

Regulations

The new administration says, among other things, that it is opposed to "new regulations"; that it will remove 2 old regulations for every new one proposed; and that it wants to destroy the government departments which make and enforce the regulations.  This, they claim, will make us "free." 

I beg to differ.  It will make a small number of us free to do things not currently permitted under government regulations.  The rest of us will have to live with the fallout from that.  Specifically, businesses large and small will now be able to do things not currently permitted.

The new administration has already issued permits for a previously blocked practice:  dumping coal ash.  Pickens County, South Carolina is seriously concerned about a proposal to dump coal ash from another state in a landfill in their county, apparently whether they like it or not.  And they don't.  Dumping substances into streams isn't a problem restricted to coal country.  My husband is from Wisconsin and he has told me stories of creeks poisoned when dairies simply dumped their waste whey into streams, rather than pay to dispose of it.  This was decades ago.  And remember the Gold King Mine waste water spill in 2015?  There were regulations against that, but contractors working on the mine didn't follow the regulations properly and destroyed an entire ecosystem.

If you look back at history, many of the regulations that annoy businesses so much were created because at some point, businesses did things that seriously harmed people, to the point that the government (urged by its voters) told them, "You can't do that any more."  Here are some random examples.  I didn't research these; this is what I can think of offhand.  A lot of these changes came from labor union negotiations, or from citizens joining together to protest a situation.
  • The windows in your cars have to shatter into tiny squares with not much edge, so as not to slice you to pieces in a collision.  I'm old enough to remember when car windows broke like any other window, and a piece of the windshield, if you were unlucky, could cut your throat.  
  • You can buy a car today with reasonable expectation that it will not only protect you in a crash, but will not emit noxious vapors that pollute the air; all due to government regulations that make cars more expensive to produce.  I remember when none of that was true.  In particular, I remember when the air in Los Angeles was so bad that your eyes began to sting when you drove through the pass on the Grapevine at the edge of the plain containing the city - 1,500 feet above sea level and 88 miles away from downtown L.A.
  • You must be paid extra wages if you work longer than 8 hours a day, or on a weekend or holiday.  These rules came about, through union bargaining, because before the rules, you could essentially be forced to work 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, at threat of losing your job if you complained.  Research the history of factory work in the late 19th and early 20th century if you think I'm kidding.
  • If you're injured working on your job, you can apply for worker's compensation to pay for your treatment, which your employer is required to pay into as a form of insurance.  Before worker's comp, if you were injured on the job, you were probably just fired - which left you broke and unable to work.
  • Food you buy at the store can't contain poisonous substances.  The classic recent example of this happened in China in 2008, when milk and infant formula adulterated with melamine (cheaper than protein but looks like protein on analysis) poisoned approximately 300,000 infants, of whom 6 died from kidney damage and 54 were hospitalized.  Yeah, that's the same melamine in some dishes.  The World Health Organization said this was "clearly not an isolated accident, [but] a large-scale intentional activity to deceive consumers for simple, basic, short-term profits."  The FDA, which is at considerable risk of being eliminated, is why you don't worry about this here.
The Republican Party and its business supporters want to eliminate government regulations to make life easier for businesses.  Unregulated businesses have a history of operating in a way that makes them money, at the expense of both their employees and their customers.  They say eliminating regulations will make you "free."  Yeah - and disabled, poisoned, and broke.  What kind of freedom is that?  Not all businesses operate this way; but without government oversight, how do we know which ones they are?  This war on regulations is one of the most dangerous things the current President has suggested, and it isn't getting nearly enough attention.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Paying to be Heard

This just happened to me for the third time in a few weeks, and it annoyed me.  I understand why they do it but I'm still annoyed.

You see something on Facebook, or in an email (I've seen both), which says, Are you concerned about X?  Fill in your favorite issue for X.  So you click on "add your name" and they ask a bunch of questions about this urgent issue - the last one was "tell Republicans: don't defund Planned Parenthood" - and you think, wow, I'm being listened to.

No you aren't, because after you finish the survey, you get to the page that says, "Yes - and I'll give you $5!"  With the possible options of "Yes - and I'll give more!"  I also saw one that said, "No, I don't care about women's health issues."  (Really insulting, Ms. Gillibrand.  I do care.)

So these elected officials ask you for your opinion, but to be heard, you have to pay them $5?  Wait a minute.

Look again and they're all clickbait - they're all from people running for office:  Kamala Harris (before she won), Gavin Newsom (running for governor), and Kirsten Gillibrand (running for something in New York, where I don't even live). They don't actually give a flying damn what you think but they really want that $5.

If you want to be heard on any issue, phone your own representative, and both your senators, and tell them directly what you think.  You can also email them (via their official web sites). They work for you; your taxes pay them; they have to listen.  If you've chosen well, they'll even act for you.

It's true that this is how Bernie, and for that matter Barack Obama, got as far as they did.  But there's a big difference between saying, "I need your help, please donate", and saying, "I want your opinion" and not saying "and please donate" until the last page.  The latter is just deceptive.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Why Tom Price Shouldn't Be Confirmed

I think the best way to begin this is to quote the summary from the Daily Beast article on this issue:
Tom Price and another influential GOP congressman got a discounted deal on stock from an Australian firm seeking FDA approval for its new drug.
First of all, in most countries insider trading is illegal (although how long that will last under a President Trump is an interesting question).  But this isn't really insider trading.  Mr. Price and the other Representative, Chris Collins of New York, were approached by the Aussie company, and offered shares of their company (trading then as a penny stock), at a discounted price.

Does this smell like bribery to you?  It does to me, especially because the stock isn't public - it's traded privately to "sophisticated U.S. investors."

It smells even more like bribery when you consider that  the company, Innate Immuno, has a new multiple sclerosis drug that they want to market in the U.S. because they can charge a lot more for it here.  Messrs. Price and Collins both sit on key committees that regulate health, and Mr. Price is nominated to Secretary of Health and Human Services, which regulates the Food and Drug Administration.  The FDA will - or won't - approve the new drug for American sale.

Astoundingly, this investment isn't actually illegal for a Congresscritter (thank you, Jim Hightower).  Richard Painter, George W. Bush's ethics lawyer, notes that "“There is an appearance problem… to have members of Congress buying and selling stocks that are affected by the work of the committees they sit on."  The rules are "a lot stricter" in the Executive Branch, and Mr. Price has already agreed to divest all his stocks.  Which is nice for him, as his stake in Innate Immuno will probably yield him between half a million and a million dollars, on a basic stake between $50,000 and $100,000.

I've been working in the financial industry, and watching the market, for most of my adult working life.  As far as I'm concerned, the mere fact that we can discuss this issue means that Mr. Price is ethically disqualified to serve in Congress, much less to head Health and Human Services. You can make your own decision.  If you agree with me, call your senators.

Oh, and now we know why the Republicans' first act when they convened "in private" was to try to eliminate the Office of Congressional Ethics.

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Who Do You Work For?

I heard an interview today, on NPR's Here and Now, with Congressman Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla).

Mr. Mullin wanted to discuss repealing Obamacare immediately, but before that, Ms. Chakrabarti asked him about the Republican closed door meeting on Monday (Jan. 2), where the Republican leadership tried to eliminate the bipartisan Office of Congressional Ethics by making it report to the House Ethics Committee (run, of course, by the majority party, currently the GOP).

Oh, said Mr. Mullin, that wasn't a secret meeting, it was our "regular conference rules meeting" to work out our rules to control the House, and we wanted to get rid of the Congressional Ethics Committee because it's a waste of time and money.  He did say "we all should be held to a higher standard."

This sounds noble until you realize that Mr. Mullin is one of six Congressmen currently under investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics, his sin being taking time from Congressional business to make commercials for his family plumbing business, from which he also gets private income.  Challenged on this, he said it was terrible that a plumber who's owned his own business since he was 20 couldn't at the same time serve as a "citizen legislator."

Mr. Mullin doesn't seem to understand that the position of Congressman is a full time job.  Congressmen take the following oath of office:
I, AB, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.
I don't see anything there about using his Congressional credentials to recommend his plumbing business.

If Mr. Citizen Legislator were to hire a plumber for his business, who spent part of his time running a side business selling real estate, I suspect that plumber would be out of the plumbing business within a couple of hours of his boss finding out.  And frankly, that's how I feel about Mr. Mullin.  Unfortunately, since I'm not in his district, all I can do is disapprove.  But his idea of "public service" seems to be a little fuzzy.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Now what?

I have nothing to say about The Election.  In fact, I have huge amounts to say, but most of it has been said already, by many other people.  I have nothing new to say.  But I'm afraid, and there is so little I can do.  I'm doing what I can - writing to Senators to object to his cabinet picks.  But I feel very small and helpless.

I'm most offended by Mr. Trump because he doesn't understand, and he doesn't care that he doesn't understand.  He just wants to shoot off his mouth and be cheered.  He's about to become the head of the most powerful country in the world - the commander in chief of the world's largest military, yet - and he can't be bothered to listen to the daily briefings because they're boring.  He said so; I'm not making a judgment.

More than Mr. Trump, I'm afraid of the Republican Congress.  With a rubber stamp in the White House, the hard right Republicans want to repeal Obamacare, privatize Social Security, gut Medicare and Medicaid, and God knows what they'll do to public housing.  I receive Social Security; I receive Medicare.  I'm really unhappy with all these projects, and I can't affect anything because I don't vote for those Congresscritters.  And if you think this Congress will approve a huge infrastructure project to bring back the good jobs Trump promised his supporters, you are delusional.  You're fooling yourself.  I'm beginning to think we really do need Congressional term limits, but it's impossible, because Congress would have to vote for them.

It's going to be a bleak 4 years.  The only option open to those of us who don't like the situation is to complain, complain, complain - organize, call, write, march. Silence is consent.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Have You Stopped Beating Your Wife?

Now that Thanksgiving is over:  I wrote this at the end of September and then put it aside.  I just read it again today, and I still think it's worth saying.  I did decide it was unsuitable to post it on Thanksgiving Day.

KALW's Your Call, once again, had a segment that got me thinking.  Today's program was a review of a new dance program, Grace and Delia are Gone, performed over this weekend at Fort Mason in S.F.  (Ed. note:  Sorry, this broadcast was aired on September 29, 2016, so you can't catch the dance program tomorrow.  Click the link to listen to the broadcast.)

I'm sure it's a great program, but what startled me was the earnest conviction - from the choreographer, from at least one caller, and in some sense from Rose Aguilar herself - that violence against women is a new, modern problem, aggravated by men who've spent 5 tours in Iraq/Afghanistan, and all the guns we now have around.

You folks all need to read more history - a problem I've noticed before.  For those horrified by multiple tours in Afghanistan, read the history of World Wars I and II, when soldiers spent months or years on the battlefield, or on a ship at sea, alternating between brief periods of extreme danger and weeks or months of total boredom.  You probably never heard this personally from your grandfather because the WWII vets didn't discuss what they went through.  Some of them beat up their wives; some of them killed themselves (I went to school with a young man whose WWII vet father killed himself); most of them just went on with life.  And never talked about the war.

Violence against women has gone on for centuries.  Medieval women weren't educated, and they couldn't choose whom they married.  Aristocratic women were married off to further the family's political connections.  Married women were chattel property to their husbands, and the husbands were allowed to do whatever they pleased to their property.  Moralists might object, but beating the crap out of your wife was NOT illegal through most of European and American history.  The Victorians take a lot of flack for their views on morality, but they did start the idea that maybe wife-beating was a bad idea.

The primary difference between history and now is that over the last 40 years or so, American society has concluded that it's a bad idea for one spouse to beat up on the other (and don't think it only happens to women, or for that matter only to straight people).  We actually have laws against it, and support groups for victims - this is a tremendous improvement. It hasn't stopped the practice, but don't assume this is the worst of times.  And if the situation in the U.S. disturbs you, Google "wife beating" and take a look at the headlines on current practices in Islamic countries.

There's something in the human race that makes certain members of it make themselves feel better by beating up on people, or creatures, they consider their "inferiors" - wives, pets, children.  (Also, people of other races or religions; but we're talking about family violence here).  People who do this are usually but not exclusively male.  Until and unless this changes, we're unlikely to get rid of spousal abuse entirely.

Footnote:  in the 2 months since I wrote this, Donald Trump was elected President of the United States, to take office in January.  In a country as in an organization, the tone comes from the top.  Given Trump's rhetoric on the campaign trail, and the fact that he's on his third wife, I can't judge right now whether his presence in the White House (assuming he stays in the White House) will enable spousal abuse or not.  He's enabled a lot of gratuitous violence, but I haven't heard much about Trump-caused domestic violence, so maybe not.

Monday, July 04, 2016

Homelessness

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, as I do, it's hard to ignore the homeless population, whether they are rolled up in an old sleeping bag in the doorway of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium or pitching a collection of tents under a freeway overpass in West Oakland. There they are, and what are we going to do?  I started this post after reading and hearing a full week of coverage of press and radio coverage of the situation, assembled by 70 local Bay Area news organizations and organized by the San Francisco Chronicle.

I've written before about the housing issues caused by gentrification in this area (Gentrification) - rich people are bidding up the price of housing (both bought and rented) to the point that families who have lived here for generations have to move out of town.  This does, of course, affect the size of the homeless population, especially for renters:  a rise in your rent can mean you either have to move to Antioch (a 90 minute commute each way) or move into your car.  Or the nearest tent city.  Loss of a job can do the same thing.

The homeless population appears to range from people who are merely unfortunate (laid off because a business closes, say), to people who are ill in some way (anything from addiction to hepatitis to raging schizophrenia to Alzheimer's), to people who are actual criminals and prefer the anonymity of the street.  But the collective popular response to the homeless seems to be, "Ewww, them," mainly because homelessness makes it very hard for you to wash, or relieve yourself indoors.  

Many people feel that the homeless population is "not us."  We couldn't be like that.  This is self-deception; we could be them.  There was a time in my life when I could have been them.  When I was not quite 30, I decided that my 5 year old marriage wasn't working; I went alone to visit my parents and suddenly realized I couldn't go back.  At this point, luck kicked in and saved me - my parents took me in, fed me and put me up until I could find another job, which took several months.  

Here's the situation I was in:  my now ex was a spendthrift, so my bank account, which had held $500 when we married, was now down to $300 (a lot more money than you think, this was 1975).  I'd been working in a family business, so I didn't qualify for unemployment (and what a kick in the pants that was).  And because it was 1975, the credit cards were all in his name - married women at that time were just becoming able to get cards in their own names!  (The Equal Credit Opportunity Act was passed in 1974.)  

My parents were 68 and 63, and healthy, with solid pensions, living in a house they had owned outright since 1952; but if any of that had been different, I could have found myself on the street, and I knew it.  In fact, I've always known it, and I wrote my feelings up in 2008, shortly after I retired (The Bag Lady).

We are the homeless, and they are us; they're just unluckier than we are. There but for the grace of God go I.  And what do we do about that?  Some people talk about the U.S. as a "Christian nation," but as long as we leave the less fortunate sleeping on street corners, we aren't following any Christian precepts that I ever learned.  There is really only one good solution - as I said in Gentrification, we need to build more and more and more housing, mostly in tall buildings to make use of limited land. We need to build enough housing to drive down the price.  I explained this in some detail in Gentrification, so go read it there, and then think about what your beautiful views and tidy low-rise neighborhoods are doing to the people who are sleeping under the bridges.