Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sam

He died twelve years ago today.

Sam BW 11-26-03

Sam
February 1, 1989 – July 20, 2002

Not a day goes by that I don’t think of him and miss him. There’s still that worn spot on the bedspread where he slept, and I still make room for him on the bed.

Sunday Reading

Friendly Help — J. Lester Feder at BuzzFeed has the story on Quakers helping gay Ugandans.

A group of American Quakers say they are offering a way out for some desperate Ugandans fleeing the country’s new Anti-Homosexuality Act.

This group, based in Olympia, Wash., calls its project the Friends New Underground Railroad (FNUR) because it sees itself as following in the footsteps of the Quakers who helped bring slaves out of the American South before the Civil War. Working with fewer than 10 Ugandan “conductors,” they report having funded passage out of the country for 107 people with grants ranging from $52-$185. The refugees mostly travel in small groups on back roads and make their way to safe houses in neighboring countries. FNUR says they know of at least 12 people who have gone on to third countries like South Africa and Sweden, and they have received unconfirmed reports that around 30 have reached Europe.

The security precautions they say they take makes their work impossible to verify. The identities and locations of the conductors are kept secret even from one another. FNUR won’t identify any of the people they’ve evacuated because they say they don’t yet feel secure in their new location, though they say they financed the escape of 22 students in a Catholic seminary accused of homosexuality in the eastern town of Jinja whose case made headlines abroad. They won’t say which countries people escape to, who aids them once they exit Uganda, or how those who have gone onto Europe have secured the visas that other refugees can spend years waiting for because they fear the escape routes being shut off. One of the three co-organizers — the only one of the group with experience in international relief work — won’t be publicly identified by his real name, saying “we don’t want to put anybody in danger.” Instead he goes by Levi Coffin II, adopting the name of one of the Quakers who was a leader in the original Underground Railroad.

“We got into this because we were asked,” Coffin said in a phone interview from Washington state. The person who became Conductor Number One was a Ugandan acquaintance who asked for support when a group of LGBT people asked him to help get them out of the country. “Quakers have a long tradition of this kind of work… This is work that we were both literally and figuratively called to do.”

If their account is accurate, it is a remarkable feat for a handful of individuals with very little experience in international aid. (Their project was adopted by their congregation, the Olympia Friends Meeting, and has since teamed up with another similar effort and other Quaker meetings. It also was just endorsed by the national Unitarian Universalist Association.) Most Ugandan activists and international human rights groups are discouraging LGBT Ugandans from fleeing, since they largely go to Kenya and wind up in enormous refugee camps that are often just as dangerous for LGBT people as Uganda itself. Those lucky enough to be identified as candidates for resettlement abroad can spend months or even years waiting for a plane ticket.

HT to Julie.

An Agenda for 2014 — John Nichols at The Nation looks at what Elizabeth Warren is telling Democrats to run on this year.

Elizabeth Warren says she is not running for president in 2016—despite the enthusiastic “Run, Liz, Run” chanting that erupted when the senator from Massachusetts took the stage at this year’s Netroots Nation conference. But Warren came to Detroit with the platform on which Democrats should be running in 2016.

And in 2014.

Warren is frequently described as a populist. And she can certainly frame her message in populist terms, as was well illustrated by the strongest statement of her Friday Netroots Nation address: “A kid gets caught with a few ounces of pot and goes to jail, but a big bank launders drug money and no one gets arrested. The game is rigged.”

But as the Rev. William Barber, of North Carolina’s “Moral Mondays” movement, reminded the conference in a Thursday evening keynote address, populism is not an ideology or a program unto itself. Populism can go left or go right. Populism can be cogent or crude. What matters is the vision that underpins a populist appeal.

What Elizabeth Warren brought to the Netroots Nation gathering was a progressive vision that is of the moment—a vision rooted in the understandings that have been established in the years since the “Republican wave” election of 2010. As Republicans in Congress practiced obstructionism, and as an increasingly activist Supreme Court knocked down historic democratic protections, Republican governors aggressively attacked labor rights, voting rights and women’s rights. Citizens responded with rallies, marches and movements—in state capitals, on Wall Street, across the country. They developed a new progressive vision that is more aggressive and more precisely focused on economic and social justice demands, and on challenging the power of corporations and their political allies.

Warren’s Netroots Nation speech incorporated what has been learned, and what has been demanded. She made a connection between the movements and the political process that has tremendous significance for the coming election cycles.

Warren’s Democratic Party has not fully recognized that connection—not by a long shot—but Warren gets it. And the response of the thousands of activists, organizers and communicators gathered at the Netroots conference suggests that “the base” is ready to rally around it.

So what is it?

“This is a fight over economics, a fight over privilege, a fight over power,” says Warren. “But deep down it’s a fight over values. These are progressive ideas; these are progressive values. These are America’s values. And these are the values we are willing to fight for.”

Bonus: Charlie Pierce on Sen. Warren.

Rick Scott Rakes It In — Stephanie Mencimer at Mother Jones on the people buying the Florida governor’s re-election.

Florida Governor Rick Scott really knows how to pick a fundraiser. Last month, he was scheduled to attend a $10,000-a-plate event at the home of a real estate developer who’d done prison time on tax charges. Hours after Mother Jones disclosed the event, Scott canceled it. Now, on July 21, Scott will headline a $10,000 per person fundraiser at the Boca Raton home of another deep pocketed donor who is the CEO of a private prison company that’s profiting handsomely over the immigration crisis at the Mexican border.

George Zoley is one of the founders of the GEO Group, the second-largest private prison company in the country. Among the 98 facilities the company owns or manages are several detention centers for undocumented immigrants run through contracts with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. One of those is a facility in Broward County, Florida, that’s been the site of at least one hunger strike and protests over allegedly poor treatment of the 700 immigrants held there, most of whom have no serious criminal histories.

In 2012, members of Congress demanded that ICE investigate the Broward facility after reports the center was holding people who should have been released and that it was not providing adequate medical care to the detainees. An investigation last year by Americans for Immigrant Justice also found credible reports of detainees suffering food poisoning from being served rotten food. The group noted instances of sexual assault among detainees and inadequate mental health care that may have contributed to at least three suicide attempts. Detainees also reported being forced to work for $1 a day and to pay $3 a minute for phone calls.

The Geo Group, which rakes in $1.5 billion in annual revenue, earns $20 million annually just from the Florida center.

The GEO Group also operates the Adelanto Detention Center that, with 1,300 beds for men, is the largest immigrant detention center in southern California. In 2012, a detainee there died from pneumonia. The US Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Detention Oversight concluded that the man’s death was preventable. Investigators determined that the medical staff had “provided an unacceptable level of care” and commit “several egregious errors” that led to the man’s death. Immigration reform advocates have reported various forms of abuse at the Adelanto facility: maggots in the food, inadequate medical treatment, mistreatment by the GEO staff, and the overuse of solitary confinement. These allegations landed the center on the nonprofit Detention Watch Network’s list of the worst detention facilities in the country.

The GEO Group is now expanding the Adelanto facility to add another 650 beds, which includes a women’s wing. The GEO Group expects the expansion to result in an additional $21 million a year in revenue. The GEO Group has also invested heavily in lobbying Congress, spending more than $3 million over the past decade to keep the money flowing to its detention centers.

Zoley netted $22 million in compensation from the GEO Group between 2008 and 2012. He’s donated a fair bit to the GOP and to Scott, who’s made privatizing Florida’s jails and prisons a priority of his administration. Zoley accompanied the governor to the UK in 2012 on a trade mission. The Geo Group donated $25,000 to Scott’s inauguration, and Zoley also personally donated $20,000 to help spiff up Scott’s living quarters in the governor’s mansion.

Zoley’s sponsorship of a fundraiser for Scott, who is in a tight race against former governor Charlie Crist, a Republican turned Democrat, isn’t surprising. (Scott’s office did not respond to a request for comment.) But the governor’s cozy relationship with the operator of some of the country’s biggest immigrant detention centers might not go over well with Latino constituents, who tend to oppose federal immigration detention policies.

Doonesbury — Fiction writing.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

To A Dog, You’re Family. To A Cat, You’re Staff

I’ve been given the sincere honor of house-sitting Benjamin and Madam while Bob and the OP are traveling for a few days.  We live very close to each other so it’s merely a matter of moving a few things like my laptop, and actually it’s closer to work than my place.

Anyway, it’s taking a little getting used to the new routine.  It’s been almost exactly twelve years since Sam died, but the programming kicked in; last night as we were taking our after-dinner walk around the block, more than once I prompted Ben to move along to the next bush by saying, “C’mon, Sam…”

The first time I did it I didn’t even think of what I had said until it dawned on me that I had said it.  I had a “Whoa” moment, smiled at the memories of taking Sam on his walks, and then, a few minutes later, did it again.  The good thing is that Ben did not notice.

We’re getting along fine, but as you can see by the picture I took before I moved in yesterday, he seemed to have his doubts.

Ben 07-18-14

All is well, now.  He slept in his bed and this morning we followed the set routine.  He’s at my feet now, patiently waiting for our morning stroll.

On the other hand, Madam the cat is tolerating me… barely.  I’m told she’s very affectionate once she gets to know you, but that’s not happened yet.  She’s showed up at feeding time, and last night after I got into bed, she came and looked to see who was sleeping in her bed.  She purred loudly but spent the night elsewhere, and after breakfast she disappeared to wherever it is that cats hang out.  I think they have a secret hiding place designated in each house in the Feline Master Plan to Rule the World.

I’m looking forward to getting to know Ben better, and I am sure I will soon be doing Madam’s bidding.  In fact, I see the glare of her eyes from across the room.  Coming, Your Grace….

Short Takes

U.S.: All signs point to Russia’s involvement in Malaysian airliner shoot-down.

Iran nuke talks to be extended another four months.

President Obama will sign executive order banning LGBT discrimination without religious exemption.

Federal court overturns Oklahoma’s ban on marriage equality.

GM delayed recall in another ignition switch case.

The Tigers lost to Cleveland 9-3.

Friday, July 18, 2014

How Not To Fire People

Microsoft laid off 18,000 people yesterday, and the memo that went out with the news is so laden with corporate-speak and happy-talk about someone else’s future stock portfolio that it makes you want to wither and crawl away.  Kevin Roose at New York magazine takes a look.

Typically, when you’re a top executive at a major corporation that is laying off more than 10 percent of your workforce, you say a few things to the newly jobless. Like “sorry.” Or “thank you for your many years of service.” Or even “we hate doing this, but it’s necessary to help the company survive.”

What you don’t do is bury the news of the layoffs in the 11th paragraph of a long, rambling corporate strategy memo.

And yet, this was Microsoft honcho Stephen Elop’s preferred method for announcing to his employees today that 12,500 of them were being laid off. (18,000 are being laid off companywide; Elop, the former head of Nokia, oversees the company’s devices unit, which was hardest hit by the layoffs.)

How bad was Elop’s job-axing memo? Really, really bad. It’s so bad that I can’t even really convey its badness. I just have to show you.

Here’s how it starts:

Hello there,

Hello there? Hello there? Out of all the possible “you’re losing your job” greetings, you chose the one that sounds like the start to a bad OKCupid message? “Hello there” isn’t how you announce layoffs; it’s what you say right before you ask, “What’s a girl like you doing on a site like this? ;) ” It’s the fedora of greetings.

Read the whole thing, and then go out and buy a Macbook.

Two Fools

Rush Limbaugh says the breaking coverage of the shooting down of the Malaysian jet is just a distraction from the immigration crisis.  Don’t be fooled!  (And all along, I thought the immigration crisis was just to distract us from Benghazi!  Silly me.)

Meanwhile, the wreckage is still smoldering and John McCain is wondering why President Obama hasn’t sent troops into Ukraine already to avenge the shoot-down of another country’s plane over another country’s airspace.

It’s kind of comforting to know that in times of turmoil, there are always useful idiots to remind us of how some things never change.

“We Have Just Shot Down A Plane”

The New York Times has copies of intercepted audio recordings of pro-Russian separatists as they realize that they shot down the Malaysian airliner.

ETA: Transcript here via Kyiv Post.

Igor Bezler: We have just shot down a plane. Group Minera. It fell down beyond Yenakievo (Donetsk Oblast).

Vasili Geranin: Pilots. Where are the pilots?

IB: Gone to search for and photograph the plane.Its smoking.

VG: How many minutes ago?

IB: About 30 minutes ago.

SBU comment: After examining the site of the plane the terrorists come to the conclusion that they have shot down a civilian plane. The next part of the conversation took place about 40 minutes later.

Major”: These are Chernukhin folks who shot down the plane. From the Chernukhin check point. Those cossacks who are based in Chernukhino.

“Grek”: Yes, Major.

“Major”: The plane fell apart in the air. In the area of Petropavlovskaya mine. The first “200” (code word for dead person). We have found the first “200”. A Civilian.

“Greek”: Well, what do you have there?

“Major”: In short, it was 100 percent a passenger (civilian) aircraft.

“Greek”: Are many people there?

“Major”: Holy sh__t! The debris fell right into the yards (of homes).

“Greek”: What kind of aircraft?

“Major”: I haven’t ascertained this. I haven’t been to the main sight. I am only surveying the scene where the first bodies fell. There are the remains of internal brackets, seats and bodies.

“Greek”: Is there anything left of the weapon?

“Major”: Absolutely nothing. Civilian items, medicinal stuff, towels, toilet paper.

“Greek”: Are there documents?

“Major”: Yes, of one Indonesian student. From a university in Thompson. 

Militant: Regarding the plane shot down in the area of Snizhne-Torez. It’s a civilian one. Fell down near Grabove. There are lots of corpses of women and children. The Cossacks are out there looking at all this.

They say on TV it’s AN-26 transport plane, but they say it’s written Malaysia Airlines on the plane. What was it doing on Ukraine’s territory?

Nikolay Kozitsin: That means they were carrying spies. They shouldn’t be f…cking flying. There is a war going on.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Any Day Now — Updated

Three judges are poised to rule on marriage equality in Florida.

Each case deals with different set of couples who want to get married in different counties, but the basic question is the same: Does Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage violate an individual’s right under the U.S. Constitution to equal protection?

“Literally any second now we could get rulings from the judges in one or more of those cases,” said Mary Meeks, an Orlando attorney helping represent six gay couples in the Miami-Dade County case.

Beyond those three lawsuits, two other legal challenges also are pending, but those rulings are not imminent.

All of the cases challenge the ban on gay marriage in Florida’s constitution, an amendment approved in 2008 with 62 percent of the vote.

But John Stemberger, president of Florida Family Policy Council, the Orlando group that championed the amendment, predicted Tuesday that Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel in Miami-Dade would soon overturn it.

He was in her courtroom July 2 listening to lawyers argue the case. That included his lawyer, Mathew Staver of Liberty Counsel, who urged Zabel to uphold the ban.

“It was rather stunning,” Stemberger said of that hearing. “I don’t expect her to uphold the law.”

As is the case with most of the other states where courts have overturned bans on marriage equality, a ruling from the court in Miami-Dade County does not mean that happy couples can line up at the county clerk’s office all over the state to get licenses.  The ruling will be for the county alone and will most certainly be stayed pending appeal.  But there is a chance that one of the cases could have state-wide impact.

A more sweeping ruling could come from U.S. Circuit Court Judge Robert Hinkle in Tallahassee. He’s presiding over the most complicated case: a consolidated pair of lawsuits asking him allow a same-sex couple to get married and force Florida to recognize the marital rights of 10 same-sex couples and a widow who got married in other states or Canada.

Daniel Tilley, an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union who represents eight of those couples, was optimistic Tuesday.

“We expect that could come any day now,” he said.

If one of the judges rules in favor of gay marriage, it’s also not clear whether the change would take effect immediately or whether the losing side would first be given time to file an appeal.

No matter the outcome, lawyers expect a series of appeals, something that would likely put the issue before the Florida Supreme Court or a federal appeals court, whose rulings would be binding statewide.

I’ll keep you posted.

UPDATE: The court has ruled in the Monroe County case: The wedding is on, but not until Tuesday.

Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia overturned Florida’s 2008 constitutional gay-marriage ban on Thursday, and ordered that two Key West bartenders and other gay couples seeking to wed be allowed to marry.

The judge gave the Monroe County Clerk’s Office until Tuesday to begin issuing marriage licenses to gay couples.

“The court is aware that the majority of voters oppose same-sex marriage, but it is our country’s proud history to protect the rights of the individual, the rights of the unpopular and rights of the powerless, even at the cost of offending the majority,” Garcia wrote in his opinion, released about 1 p.m. Thursday.

The judge gave the clerk’s office several days to prepare “in consideration of… anticipated rise in activity.”

Don’t Quote Me

It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey; he must be living under a bridge or something.

The reason is that the politician who campaigned as a straight talker/no bullshit tell-it-like-it-is doesn’t want to end up being quoted.

In an interview on Wednesday on CNBC, Christie reminded viewers how he conducts business: “[O]wn up to what your positions are. Say what they are. If that’s not good enough to win, then you don’t want to govern under those circumstances anyway.”

He then proceeded to repeatedly dodge a series of direct questions posed by the interviewer, journalist John Harwood. Does he support closing the Export-Import Bank? “I don’t spend a lot of time focusing on the Export-Import Bank.” Does he think that people responsible for the financial collapse of 2008 should go to jail? “Things are a lot more nuanced than that.” Are the fines that banks are paying for their role in the collapse appropriate? “I won’t just sit here an opine on things.” Is Hillary Clinton a big government liberal? “I’m not going to get into talking about the Secretary.”

At one point, Christie felt compelled to explain to Harwood why he was avoiding many of his questions. He didn’t want to answer them, he said, unless and until he ran for President. He added that he thought it was “frankly immature to be expressing a lot of those opinions just because I’m sitting here…and you ask.” He told Harwood could “ask whatever you like” but “I don’t have to answer.”

He seemed particularly concerned that his answer would be “on tape” and could be used against him…

Oh, yeah, he’s running for president.  No doubt about it now.

Keep It Up

The best fund raisers for Democrats are the Republicans.

The DCCC sent at least two emails in 24 hours about Palin’s remarks to supporters — one unsigned under the subject line “BREAKING: Impeachment” and another under House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s name.

In a third email to supporters with the subject line “Palin HUMILIATED,” the DCCC claimed it received nearly 10,000 donations in just 24 hours — double the committee’s typical donation rate.

The committee said as a result of the flood of grass-roots donations, it was just short of a $3 million fundraising goal it set after House Speaker John Boehner threatened to sue Obama late last month — although it’s unclear how much of the money raised was in direct response to the impeachment-related emails.

Maybe they could use some of that money to pay Sarah Palin to keep talking.

Oh, and speaking of unintended consequences, the plan by Speaker Boehner to sue the president over implementation of Obamacare is being met with shrugs by other Republicans.

Far from unanimously embracing the speaker’s plan, some prominent Republicans have been tepid in their support. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the No. 2 Republican, said this week that while he believed in the lawsuit, he recognized that “in the end, it’s a symbolic gesture.”

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, was indifferent when asked whether he thought the House lawsuit was the best approach. He said that when Senate Republicans had wanted to challenge Mr. Obama’s recess appointments, they had done so not on their own but by signing on to a suit brought against the administration by a third party.

Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University whom Republicans called to testify, described an “uber presidency” that had evolved to become something far more powerful than the founders had envisioned. “It is always tempting when one person steps forward and says they can get the job done alone,” he said. “That’s the siren’s call that our founders warned us to resist.”

Democrats and their constitutional experts pointed out that the lawsuit could have consequences Republicans probably do not intend. If it is successful in challenging the administration’s move to delay parts of the health care law, for example, the result will be that the law is put into effect more quickly.

I’m still gigglesnorting over them suing the president for not implementing a law they voted to repeal fifty times.