Category: All of Spark’s Favorites

Resistance Tuesday: March 7, 2017

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While the Trump administration works to divide our nation and to deepen the hatreds and inequalities that further such division, organizations like MoveOn.org are working assiduously to keep that agenda from succeeding.  MoveOn’s program includes the participation in national “Resistance Tuesdays” (also pursued by other organizations as well).  For the many outraged Americans who can only do so much, the idea is to focus the energies of as many resistance members as possible on Tuesdays, a weekday that allows us to visit elected leaders’ offices and to hold public events that can enjoy a brief moment in the spotlight.

This week, I participated in three actions for Resistance Tuesday.  First, I joined a group of MoveOn and Indivisible members, and visited the Detroit Regional Office of Michigan’s Senator Debbie Stabenow.  Terry Campbell, the senator’s regional manager, had a friendly meeting with the roughly 40 or so of us.  We brought with us a flyer of issues to present, calling on the Senator’s help in resisting Trump.  Senator Stabenow has already been at the spearhead of the resistance by Democratic members of the US Congress, so there was no acrimony like that found between many Republican members of Congress and their constituents.

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Terry Campbell (on the left, at the head of the table), Sen. Stabenow’s regional manager, discusses our issues with MoveOn and Indivisible members in the senator’s Detroit office.

Then, I went to Ypsilanti, MI to participate in a Planned Parenthood/ACA support rally at a district office of US Representative Debbie Dingell (MI12-D).  We rallied on the street outside of the office building for about half an hour, while cars driving past us honked their horns in support of our rally.  Dingell’s district office staff invited us up to the office for cookies and lemonade, and to discuss our issues with them.  As with Senator Stabenow, Rep. Dingell has been a key player in supporting the Affordable Care Act and resisting the Republican agenda of repealing it; and she has also been a leading voice on the Hill for defending Planned Parenthood from attacks by conservatives.  Our meeting with the staff was therefore similarly friendly.

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Planned Parenthood supporters rally in front of the Ypsilanti district office of Rep. Debbie Dingell.

Both Stabenow’s and Dingell’s staffs made it abundantly clear that Republicans are not shy about contacting them about concerns and pleas to vote on their side; and that our voices were therefore a vital part of the growing resistance, and a necessary part of the process of pushing Congress away from the extremism of the White House’s agenda.  We were thanked for our activism, and urged to make Resistance Tuesdays a regular moment for contact and action.  The staff members also told us that for our voices have been far more numerous than are the voices of those supporting the regime of hatred and division.  Terry Campbell of Stabenow’s staff said that some 10 resistance calls come in for each call urging support of Trump nominees and initiatives.

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Planned Parenthood supporters enjoying cookies and lemonade while filling out issues cards in the Ypsilanti district office of Rep. Debbie Dingell.

Finally, I drove to Dearborn, MI, where I had worked for the Clinton campaign during last year’s campaign season.  At the Arab American National Museum, speakers from Voters Not Politicians and Count MI Vote held a town hall on redistricting.  The groups are working on fielding a ballot proposal in Michigan to create an independent, nonpartisan redistricting commission to eliminate the state’s outrageously gerrymandered districts.  In the 2016 election, for example, Republicans accounted for 47.6% of the vote, while Democrats accounted for 47.3%; a minuscule advantage showing the state’s roughly even partisan split.  However, 9 of the 14 Representatives elected to Washington were Republicans, versus 5 Democrats.  In the state house in Lansing, a closer split (63 Republicans to 47 Democrats) still shows a much stronger partisan division than is apparent in the actual, counted votes of the state’s citizens.  Both Republicans and Democrats in Lansing have taken advantage of gerrymandering in the past to minimize the votes of the weaker party in the state house, and have redrawn districts to silence opposition and to create primary challenges to strong candidates from the weaker party.

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Michigan citizens attend a town hall with Voters Not Politicians and Count MI Vote in Dearborn.

The two groups holding the town hall argue that voters from neither party can be truly represented as long as gerrymandering continues.  While voters for the weaker party will never get either their candidates nor their issues onto the central stage, voters for the stronger party will also get pushed over in favor of special interests as that party’s candidates will always be confident of re-election.  Candidates and elected officials in states with gerrymandering are universally more responsive to campaign contributions from large, corporate donors; and take only a token interest in hearing even their own party supporters on issues and positions.  Corporate donors have long been opposed to state propositions to eliminate gerrymandering, because they understand clearly that while gerrymandering does not itself cause corporate corruption of politics, it is an environment that openly enables such corruption to flower.  The groups were recruiting volunteers and donors for the upcoming year’s campaign to put their initiative onto the ballot in Michigan.

The day’s activism demonstrates several strengths about the resistance.  First, the three completely different groups of voters participating in three different events (I was the only one in the crowd who attended more than one of these three events), shows us that, with local groups rising all over the state and the nation, resistance support is much stronger than what might be thought by looking at the numbers of any one, single event.  The state of Michigan held far more events this Tuesday than just the three that I attended; and each event had a diverse group of local and regional supporters come to be heard and to learn about how to express their collective voice.  The resistance is strong, is diverse, is everywhere, and is growing.

The second lesson is that, thanks perhaps to groups like Women’s March on Washington, and to Planned Parenthood, women are specifically taking an increasingly dominant role in organizing, leading, and attending these events.  While the agenda of the Trump administration affects all people in the United States, women are specifically impacted even more by so many of the different aspects of Republican plans to infringe on our rights.  From steps to keep refugees out of our country (a group that is predominantly women and mothers with children), to the deportation sweeps and detention actions against immigrants (mothers are being separated from their children and families, particularly the children born here being separated from their mothers who are being detained), to more visibly anti-woman programs like the campaign against Planned Parenthood (whose provision of health care to the poor would be even more necessary if the Republicans succeed in repealing the ACA) and against reproductive rights, women have found that this regime has them directly in their cross-hairs.  Women activists are coming out fighting, pushing their issues onto the central stage, taking seminars on running for office, and constructing a community of non-violent, caring resistance members and actions.  This community is strong, is diverse, is everywhere, and is growing.

Finally, individual voices of constituents are consistently held by elected officials to be a strong factor when they can be heard in groups.  A single voter acting alone can have their issues recorded for their member of Congress if they bother to call, and those issues are tallied so that members of Congress do see what issues are important to the constituents who call or write or visit.  However, groups showing up en masse can put an agenda directly in the face of elected officials, who have little choice but to respond and to try to show their responsiveness on those issues.  Conservative citizens’ groups were created by and shaped the Tea Party during the last eight years of Republican obstruction of the Obama administration; and the new progressive resistance is coming out in numbers that are simply unprecedented, and make the Tea Party pale by comparison.  These groups are strong, are diverse, are everywhere, and are growing.

What can you do?  Get on Facebook, or Twitter, and find a local Women’s March, Indivisible, or other group.  Or go to MoveOn.org, or Planned Parenthood, or to any other citizens’ groups working for the resistance.  Check out The Resistance Calendar for events in your area (or national events that you can travel to if you are able).  And keep calling, emailing, and visiting your members of Congress, putting your issues onto their agenda.  Actions like these are why the resistance is strong, is diverse, is everywhere, and is growing.

Headline image (Senator Stabenow’s Regional Manager in Detroit, Terry Campbell, sits in the front row, second from the left), shared with the author by an unknown MoveOn volunteer, taken on her cell phone, and used with her permission.   All other photographs ©2017, Sparkpolitical.

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A Brief Thought from Today’s Resistance

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Today, Trump supporters in Michigan rallied at the state capital in Lansing, bringing with them cranes and trucks with professional Trump campaign signage – leading one to wonder, “Just which side is paying people to protest, precisely?”  Indications of professional political campaign financing to the conservatives notwithstanding, resistance organizers all around Michigan organized a counter-march, in effect protesting against the counter-protesters protesting against our protest.  Joe Montgomery of Ypsilanti was one such organizer, posting a page onto Facebook inviting people to march at the capital building, while other organizers created events at other Michigan cities as well.  My wife and I chose to join the capital protest.  Having several signs from previous protest actions, rallies, and marches, we found the signs we wanted, and drove to Lansing.

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While the Trump supporters, with their seemingly well-financed materials, gathered by the capital building, we of the Resistance rallied first at Wentworth Park, just a few blocks away.  We chanted as we gathered enough of a crowd to make an impact; then at noon, we marched to the capital building to launch our peaceful protest of the support rally.

Upon arriving at the capital building, we noticed people wearing and carrying Confederate battle-flag apparel and other materials; and contrarily flying the American flag as well (not apparently aware of the opposition of those two flags during the war in which both were flown, nor of the opposition of the ideas that those flags stood for).  Mr. Montgomery also noted that one of the leaders of the support rally offered a Nazi “heil” salute at one point.  While the regime’s speakers used megaphones from the side of the building to argue in favor of their doctrine of hatred and fear, we stood by the street and chanted the normal chants becoming ever more familiar to the Resistance.

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The Trump supporters hurled insults at our crowd; while our marchers for the most part resisted the temptation to engage the other side (I saw only one marcher attempt a conversation with a Trump supporter; Trump supporters’ insults were generally ignored or laughed off as not being worth the time to recognize or requiring any response).  Trump supporters called the marchers “snowflakes,” “losers,” and “cockroaches.”  One Trump supporter walking past me called the marcher next to me a “whore.”  This was a divide not just of politics; but of style of engagement and hostility.  The Republicans were openly aggressive, hostile, unfriendly, and they directed their opposition not towards our positions but toward a simple adolescent recourse to personal invective; while our side deployed maturity, relevance on specific issues, and overt friendliness and positivity.

Many of our resisters noted further that while many of our signs argued for policy positions, very few of the Trump supporters’ signs did (most of the supporters carrying signs held only the standard-issue Trump-Pence campaign signs left over from last year).  Another demonstrable difference between our two crowds was the expected ethnic difference; with our crowd’s great cultural diversity offsetting the depressingly homogeneous whiteness of the predominantly middle-aged and older supporters of Trump.  In short, then, our crowd had not just a language and issues advantage; and not just an advantage of positivism over negativism; we also had the ethnic advantage, and the advantage of diversity of ages participating, young and middle-aged and old alike.

After sharing the space to the side of the capital building for about 15 minutes or so, Mr. Montgomery suggested we rally right on the front steps of the capital (some of our marchers later claimed to have earlier chased off the Trump supporters from those front steps).  We marched around to the front steps, and there rallied where each marcher who wanted to speak to the crowd could.  There, we were rallied by the improvised remarks of representatives of Women’s March and Planned Parenthood supporters, activists from By Any Means Necessary, students fearful of the regime’s implications on their education, immigrants fearful for the safety of their families, gay and transgender and cisgender and other people of all sorts of cultural identities fearful of the whitewashing over of their society by the hatred of the new administration and its supporters.  Activists who had helped to fight against deportation sweeps and actions by state police and ICE agents spoke out about keeping our eyes open and actively standing in the way of the administration’s extremist agenda.

As with so many actions of the past two months, we of the Resistance showed each other great love and care for each other, regardless of our disjointed agenda of a thousand different issues.  We applauded each other, hugged each other, and promised each other to stay networked in as we continue to form our twenty-first century resistance, a resistance (like that of the Arab Spring and in so many other places) that is enabled by today’s technology to develop with a power and speed unimaginable to resistance efforts of previous centuries.  And the millennials who are even more plugged in to this technology are ever more the driving force of the Resistance.

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All photographs ©2017, Sparkpolitical.  With special thanks to Joe Montgomery.

Comedy Central’s Advice for Hillary Clinton

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Click to watch Michelle Wolf addressing Hillary Clinton’s “Likeability Problem.”

Michelle Wolf of Comedy Central reminds us that we all hate our bosses.  Since Hillary Clinton is running for the job of being the boss, she should embrace her ability to be the boss, and forget about being “likeable.”  As Wolf exclaims, Hillary “…eats enemies and shits policy.”  Likeability?  We do not want or deserve a leader we like; we need a leader who knows what she is doing, to save us from the wasteland of the Trumpocalypse.

Wolf also buries the “email controversy” by reminding us that none of us really know what servers are and what the issue even implies. “The only question we should ask about her emails is, ‘Did they get where they were supposed to go?’  Then shut the **** up!”

Headline image of Michelle Wolf, from the video clip referenced above.

Projections for Round Four of the Primaries

We have now reached the home stretch of both parties’ primaries.  Both parties have seen the fight for their nominations devour the weaker candidates, and there is finally a small enough number of remaining states that we can look at what’s left and project the final outcome.  For those who are new to the process, and who have not been following Spark!‘s coverage of the primaries, you may wish to see our previous posts on the Election 2016.  We began with a brief “Primer on the Primaries” (explaining the process in general), and then divided the events into three “rounds.”  Round One ran from the first primaries in February through “Super Tuesday,” March 1, 2016; Round Two ran from Super Tuesday through March 15; and Round Three from that point to the end of April.  As of April 29, 2016, there are just over six weeks before the final primaries are concluded.

As of today, Real Clear Politics shows the following results from the primaries already concluded (since they regularly edit their numbers, later visits to their site will reveal different results):

For the Republicans, Donald Trump is the front-runner, with 994 delegates. Ted Cruz has 566, and John Kasich has 153. The winning candidate at the Republican Convention in mid-July will need 1,237 of the 2,472 delegates available.  Trump at this point needs 41.4% of the remaining delegates to get there.  Neither Cruz nor Kasich has a viable path left to secure the nomination on the first ballot.

For the Democrats, Hillary Clinton remains the front-runner, with 2,165 delegates for the convention, while Bernie Sanders has 1,645.  The winning candidate at the Democratic Convention in late July will need 2,382 of the 4,763 delegates available.  Clinton needs but 17.5% of the remaining delegates to get there; while Sanders needs a whopping 82.6%.

Both parties also have some delegates allotted to candidates who have already dropped out.  Marco Rubio’s 171 delegates stand out most prominently, but there are also a handful of delegates for other candidates like Martin O’Malley and Jeb Bush.  The many state parties each have different rules for what delegates for dropped out candidates are expected to do at the convention.

Upcoming Events, and Projections for the Results:

May 3 (Tuesday) Indiana Open Primary for both parties.  Indiana will hand out 57 Republican delegates, and 83 Democratic delegates.  Trump has been leading Cruz by a small margin in Indiana, although Cruz has picked up points throughout the month of April.  For Republicans, Indiana is a “winner takes all” state (the Democrats do not use this practice at all, allotting proportional representation in all of their state and territorial parties), so Trump is the likely winner of all 57 Indiana delegates.  Clinton has been ahead of Sanders by only a few percentage points; so both are likely to come away with roughly half of the 83 delegates.  Spark! projects the delegates count to be: Clinton 43, Sanders 40.  Trump 57.

May 7 (Saturday)Guam Democrats will hold a Closed Caucus, allotting 7 delegates.  Polling data is not readily available, although the other two Pacific territories (Northern Marianas and American Samoa) each gave two thirds of their delegates to Clinton.  Our projections: Clinton 5, Sanders 2.

May 10 (Tuesday)Nebraska Republicans will hold a Closed Primary for their 36 delegates, allotted on a “winner takes all” basis.  No polling data is available; but Nebraska lies in a region that has generally preferred Cruz over Trump, so we project Cruz will take the 36 delegates.

Also on May 10, West Virginia will be holding semi-open primaries for both parties (independents can vote in either party; but party-registered voters may only vote in their registered party).  The state will allot 34 Republican delegates, and 29 Democrats.  All polling in West Virginia is relatively old (early March at the latest). While the very last Democratic poll had Clinton leading Sanders, most others showed a substantial Sanders advantage; and the demographics of the state also indicates it to be a potential Sanders victory.  Trump has held a significant advantage in all, similarly dated polls. We give Clinton 8, Sanders 21; and Trump 25, Cruz 8, and Kasich 1.

May 17 (Tuesday)Oregon Closed Primary for both parties, which will allot 28 Republican delegates and 61 Democrats.  In addition, Kentucky Democrats will hold a Closed Primary for their 55 delegates.  Trump holds a significant advantage in Oregon (with 43% among Oregon Republicans), although Cruz or even Kasich may get delegates out of the state as well.  In both Oregon and Kentucky, Clinton leads by narrow margins (41:38 in OR, 43:38 in KY).  For Oregon, we project Clinton 29, Sanders 32;  Trump 18, Cruz 7, Kasich 3. For Kentucky, Clinton gets 29, Sanders 26.

May 24 (Tuesday)Washington Republican Closed Primary, allotting 44 delegates on a “winner takes most” form of proportionate allotment, wherein at district levels each candidate can get all delegates from a victory with over 50%, and where each candidate must secure at least 20% to get any delegates from a district.  Washington presents an interesting contest for the Republicans, with no good polling data available.  However, Trump has generally outperformed Cruz in opinion polling of coastal states (and in actual primaries of the eastern coastal states).  On the other hand, Cruz got a narrow edge in Alaska’s delegation.  We give Trump 39, Cruz 5.

June 4 (Saturday)Virgin Islands Democratic Closed Caucus, for their 7 delegates.  No good polling data is available. We guess and give Clinton 4, Sanders 3.

June 5 (Sunday)Puerto Rico Democratic Open Primary, for their 60 delegates.  This delegation is even larger than 27 of the 50 state delegations; and is by far the largest of the non-state delegations.  While no polling data is available, the Latino population (and Clinton’s generally friendlier remarks about the island) suggest a likely Clinton advantage and victory.  Clinton 35, Sanders 25.

And Finally (cue the fanfare):  on June 7 (Tuesday), there will be a massive last battle in both parties for five states:  California, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, and South Dakota.  Also, the Democrats will hold a Caucus in North Dakota.  303 Republican delegates, and 694 Democrats, are going to be selected for the conventions by these battles.

California’s Closed Primary will allot 172 Republican delegates, and a mountainous 475 Democrats.  Trump has a clear lead for the “winner takes all” state, which should present a great victory for the Great Bloviator.  Clinton has held a small margin there over Sanders; and the chance for Bernie to pick up a “Yuge” array of delegates there may well reward his campaign’s decision to begin fighting for the state even before the last battle (on April 26) for the Old Colonies of the Northeast.  However, we give Clinton 255, Sanders 220; and Trump 172.

Montana’s Open Primary will send 27 Republican and 21 Democratic delegates to the conventions (the Republicans on a “winner takes all” basis).  The only polling available is useless, being over a year old.  However, regionally, the state’s neighbors have largely favored Cruz and Sanders.  Clinton 6, Sanders 15; Cruz 27.

New Jersey’s Primary (Open GOP, Closed Democratic) will decide 51 Republican delegates and a hefty 126 Democrats.  A Rutgers poll shows that a Trump victory in the “winner takes all state” is pretty much in the bag already (having over 50% of the state’s Republicans).  Clinton has a significant lead on Sanders (51:42), although Sanders is picking up steam.  Clinton 67, Sanders 59; Trump 51.

New Mexico’s Closed Primary for 24 Republicans and 34 Democratic delegates.  Polling data there is scarce, with the last being in February (with most of the initial clown car still in and hopeful).  Trump and Cruz were tied; but together they polled barely half of the votes.  New Mexico is the only state whose Republicans on June 7 will not be “winner takes all”; so it is possible all three candidates will get something out of it.  Clinton held a 47:33 advantage over Sanders back then; and its western and eastern neighbors have both favored Clinton.  New Mexico also is both a state of loyal Democrats, and a state with a large Hispanic population; both of which features also promise a likely victory for Clinton.  We give Clinton 20, Sanders 14.  Trump gets 11, Cruz 12, and Kasich 1.

South Dakota’s Primary (Closed GOP and Semi-Open Democratic) will allot 29 Republicans and 20 Democrats, with the Republicans on a “winner takes all” basis.  Although the state’s delegate counts are fairly low, the state promises an interesting battle.  Polling data is completely wanting there; and the state lies in a transition area between Trump’s area and Cruz’s area; and between Clinton’s area and Sanders’s area.  It could go any way.  Just for fun, we give Clinton 8, Sanders 12; and Cruz 29.

And let us not forget the Democrats’ North Dakota Open Caucus for their 18 delegates, in which we guess Clinton 4, Sanders 14.

After June 7, the Republicans will be done; but there will still be one more Democratic event:  on July 14 (Tuesday), the Democrats will hold a Closed Primary for the 20 delegates representing the District of Columbia, to wrap up the 2016 primaries season once and for all.  Washington, DC is another place devoid of good polling; but it is located in an area friendly to Clinton, and with a large African-American population, the district is likely to support her pretty prominently.  Clinton 16, Sanders 4.

Some totals for those not doing the counting (you’re welcome, by the way):  Before June 7, the Republicans will be fighting over some 171 delegates, and the Democrats for 302 (not including super-delegates).  On June 7, the Republicans will struggle over another 303 delegates, while (including DC’s June 14 primary) the Democrats will battle for some 714.  In total, these will add some 474 Republican delegates and 1,016 Democratic delegates.

Our projections give Donald Trump 139 delegates before 6/7; and 234 on 6/7, for a Round 4 total of 373, and a final total of 1,367, comfortably (for him, at least) over the 1,237 needed to get the nomination without a second-ballot floor fight.  Cruz should get 56 delegates before 6/7; and 68 on the 7th, for a Round total of 124, and a final total of 690.  Kasich is allotted an optimistic 4 more delegates before 6/7, and another one on the seventh, for a Round total of 5 and a final total of 158.  Trump should be the presumptive nominee going into the Cleveland Convention in July, with room to spare.

These projections also give Hillary Clinton 154 delegates before 6/7; and 376 on/after, for a Round 4 total of 530.  This would  bring her total to 2,695, significantly over the 2,382 needed to win the nomination on the first ballot.  Bernie Sanders gets 149 delegates before 6/7; and 338 on and after, bringing his Round 4 earnings to 487, and his final total to 1,844.  These numbers do not include another 153 super-delegates who have yet to cast their support; but who are also likely to be strongly pro-Clinton.  Clinton should be the presumptive nominee going into the Philadelphia Convention in July, also with room to spare.

Okay, but what is REALLY going to happen?

Obviously, these projections are seeded with presumptions; and of course the first point at which candidates (and voters) may make events happen differently is at the point of these various presumptions.  Two presumptions needing closer consideration in particular:  Trump’s performance in Indiana and in Washington.  The former is a “winner takes all” state; so as long as he wins there, he gets the full tally.  But what if Cruz bests him?  That takes all 57 votes away from Trump, and turns them over to Cruz.  Cruz’s path to the nomination at the first ballot is closed; but he (and the Republican electorate) can still stop a Trump first-ballot victory.  Washington is not “winner takes all”; but it gives strong benefits to the leading candidate at the expense of the weaker one(s).  We presumed a massive delegate advantage to Trump: 39:5.  But Cruz could, perhaps, show a strong performance there (the polling data is lacking; so we presumed a “coastal states” advantage for Trump that may not happen).  Those are the two places where our projections gave Trump a major delegates win, and where polling is questionable or lacking.  Elsewhere, Cruz could certainly outperform our expectations; but it would matter less (or, as in California and New Jersey, there is little hope of beating those expectations).

Another presumption is one that some Republicans have been mulling over: that the 1,237 delegates target is the ticket to a first-ballot nomination.  There has been talk over the internet about the RNC putting through a pre-convention rules change by which the “bound” delegates become unbound (the delegates themselves would have to approve of the change, so the question is, could enough Trump delegates want or be convinced to abandon their support for their putative candidate, vote through the rules change, and “unbind” themselves?).  After all Sanders’s talk about a “political revolution,” it seems the RNC is considering throwing their own in-party political revolution to keep the presumptive nominee from getting his prize.  There are also, of course, a number of delegates assigned to candidates no longer running (Rubio, Bush, Carson, etc.); and those delegates might end up supporting Cruz (or some new candidate).  However, by themselves, they are far too few, and Cruz is far too behind, for that strategy to get him even close to the nomination.

Yet another presumption has been one that Bernie Sanders himself has been trying to deflate, that the Democratic super-delegates are (as they have been so far) going to overwhelmingly support Clinton at the convention.  Sanders has been consistently arguing that super-delegates first of all should, and second of all will decide their support based on the pledged delegates vote.  The problem with that argument is that it ignores the fact that, momentum and excitement notwithstanding, Clinton has been consistently winning the pledged delegates fight, and is not simply depending on the super-delegates to hand her an unearned victory.  As of this writing, Clinton has 1,645 to Sanders’s 1,318 pledged delegates; and our projections bring those totals to 2,174 and 1,805.  Super-delegates are unlikely to recuse themselves en masse from voting (if they did, there would indeed be a contested convention, with no candidate getting to the 2,382 threshold for the first ballot).  The super-delegates abiding by Sanders’s argument and watching the vote would support the winner for the pledged delegates, and that is almost unquestionably Clinton.  Looking at our numbers (and the presumptions behind them), the reader will note that in almost no state won by Clinton did Spark! assign to Clinton an overwhelming majority of the delegates, but gave Sanders fair portions of pretty much every state.  California will be the biggest fight; but both candidates are strong there, and even if our numbers and the called winner (Clinton) are wrong, Clinton will still take to the convention delegate numbers similar to those projected.  Sanders will find it almost impossible to beat our projection of a pledged delegate margin by anything close to the 370 or so we project.

So Sanders’s “political revolution” depends on the party machinery abandoning not only their traditional role, but also the candidate who has won the most pledged delegates, for a candidate with nothing to offer in terms of reasons for doing any of these (other than his argument – justified by opinion polling – that he is shown to beat Trump in a general election by a greater margin than is Clinton).  Then, if the super-delegates do make such a decision, the “political revolution” is more of a coup – with the establishment denying the winning candidate the nomination and handing it to the candidate who had won fewer votes.  Exactly the thing Sanders is complaining about as a key to get Clinton nominated, is the only possibility that Sanders himself has at this point for getting nominated.

At any rate, presumptions notwithstanding, Spark! projects that in November, the general election will be one decided between the Democratic ticket headed by Hillary Clinton, and the Republican ticket headed by Donald Trump.  We will likely revisit these expectations and projections as we get closer to that last big battle on June 7.

Headline image from Huffingtonpost.com, via The Yale Herald.

The Second Round of the Primaries

The opening round of the primaries is over, and the pace of the primaries process is about to accelerate dramatically.  The various candidates each have their own strengths going into this next round, from now through March 15 (there are, of course, primaries and caucuses going on throughout March, April, May, in into early June; but the significance of March 15 makes it a good point at which to stop and begin the next phase).

The story thus far:  The primaries have begun with the Iowa Caucus (on February 1), the New Hampshire Primary (on February 9), two separate Nevada caucuses (the Democratic caucus on February 20 and the Republican caucus on February 23), and the Republican South Carolina Primary (on February 20).  Here’s where the two parties’ separate battles for their nominations are looking so for:

Democratic Campaigns:

In terms of basic delegate counts, the Democratic candidates have won:

Hillary Clinton: 52

Bernie Sanders: 51.

While the two Democrats are almost tied, the Democratic Convention also assigns a significant number of votes to so-called “superdelegates” (key party members and legislators, designated beforehand by the Democratic National Committee).  Thus far, Clinton has 451 likely superdelegate votes (based on endorsements), while Sanders has only 19.  A convention vote based only on states voting thus far, plus the superdelegate endorsements, would hand an overwhelming victory to Clinton, 504-70.  However, these numbers also represent only 15% of the total delegates and superdelegates count in Philadelphia in July.  The next round (up to March 15) will finally put the Democrats at the 50% mark for voted delegates.

The last Democratic primary before Super Tuesday is in South Carolina (an open event, in which both independents and Republicans can also vote).  Current polling among likely Democratic voters in South Carolina shows 57% supporting Clinton and 33% Sanders (with the rest still mulling things over).  If those numbers stay true, Clinton should go into Super Tuesday with 82 or so delegates and 533 convention votes total, to Sanders’s 69 or so delegates and 88 convention votes total.  While Clinton’s advantage is (to borrow a favorite Sanders word) huge, Super Tuesday’s 860 delegates could potentially seal the deal for Clinton (as if those numbers did not seem to do so already).  The question is how many of those delegates could Sanders get.

A quick look back at the Public Policy Polling (PPP) tracking poll released earlier this month (which matched initial voting preferences to respondents’ racial identity), combined with the racial composition of South Carolina and the Super Tuesday states (and the proportionate delegates count from those states) demonstrates that of the 911 delegates to be produced from these collective states, at least 500 should go to Clinton, and at least 278 should go to Sanders.  The battle is for the remaining 133 delegates (many responding to the poll were still uncertain for whom they were voting).  Together with the superdelegates, but not including those 133 “undecided” delegates, Clinton still has a massive advantage, 1,004 to Sanders’s 348.  Even if Sanders gets all of those 133 extra delegates, that only brings him to 481, still less than half of Clinton’s take.  To put a dent in Clinton’s advantage and keep himself alive into the convention, Sanders therefore has to exceed expectations founded upon polls like the PPP tracking poll, and convince already pro-Clinton as well as undecided Democrats to vote for him.  With only a week left to do so before Super Tuesday, the Sanders campaign clearly has its work cut out for it.

Republican Campaigns:

Donald Trump has exceeded the expectations of everyone (except himself, and his own trumpenproletariat), and also exceeded the simplistic expectations implied by previous polls.  He now stands as the powerhouse of a newly re-organizing (or disintegrating) Republican Party.  He has a significant majority of delegates thus far (albeit from only four not very large states; so there is ample time for some yet-to-be-imagined counter-strategy by other Republicans to put him in his place).  As of last night (the Nevada Republican Caucus), the current convention delegate counts among the five remaining contenders are:

Donald Trump: 81

Ted Cruz:  17

Marco Rubio: 17

John Kasich:  6

Ben Carson:  4

There are also 8 delegates unaccounted for from states already voted (7 bound to candidates who have dropped out; and one Nevada delegate left to be determined as polls are still being counted).  Trump has a plurality of his party’s popular vote, winning not quite one third (31.9%) of the Republican popular vote.  This first phase of the primaries diminished the largest ever number of contenders for any American primary (17 candidates to start with) to the five current hopefuls.  For at least two of the remaining candidates (John Kasich and Ben Carson), the state primary and caucus rules in many of the state Republican parties doom them to irrelevance.  Only fifteen of the 52 remaining primaries and caucuses have no inclusion thresholds (which mandate some specific minimum performance level in order to gain any delegates); and most inclusion thresholds effectively mean that Kasich and Carson will get few delegates even from states that use proportionate delegation.  Realistically, the three reasonable contenders for the nomination are Trump, Cruz, and Rubio.

Despite showing both in opinion polls and in the popular vote thus far that barely a third of Republicans can get behind Donald Trump, the jobs-to-China billionaire has an advantage in that a number of states (including the key states of California, Florida, and Ohio) assign delegates on a winner-takes-all system (with a mere plurality as the qualifying measure of victory).  Trump needs only to do what he has been doing – beating Cruz and the rest for the greatest number of votes – to win all of those states’ delegates (a total of 744 delegates).  Add those (and the delegates from other winner-takes-all states) to the fact that thus far he has come in first in all of the states voting since Iowa (where he took only one delegate less than the winner, Ted Cruz); and Trump has a shot at going into the Cleveland convention with a majority of delegates.  The prediction of a brokered convention may not turn out, and Trump may well get the nomination on the first ballot.

In the meantime, while Ted Cruz started from a polling advantage over all other Republicans with the exception of Trump, Marco Rubio has come from behind and tied him for second place.  Rubio’s campaign has achieved that underdog campaign dream, the “big mo” (for momentum).  Although on January 7, Cruz topped the polls at 31.8% of Republican respondents (beating Trump’s 27.8 and Rubio’s third-place 11.3), the evidence suggests that as other candidates drop out, Rubio is attracting their votes and getting delegates.  The significance of Rubio’s race goes far beyond the mere triviality of the second-place holder; and Rubio’s accelerating campaign will have some advantages over both Trump’s and Cruz’s in the days ahead.

Thus far, with each state’s primary or caucus the sole event of the day, and with numerous days between these events to prepare for them, Trump has used a combination of campaign strategy and his cult-of-personality approach to public appearances to defeat traditional conservatives like Bush and Tea Party conservatives like Cruz.  Trump has carpet-bombed states with his own form, and with hats and T-shirts (made, of course, in China); while Cruz and the others have spent money on phone banks, door-to-door canvassing, and other direct vote-getting operations.  Trump’s minimalist strategy has worked, in the environment of the first round, an environment that allows candidates time to breathe and to move resources (themselves most especially) to the places where they most need them.  The next round, however, will have an entirely different environment.

The Next Round:

The next sequence of primary events (from now through March 15) are as follows:

February 27 (Saturday):  South Carolina’s Democratic Primary (an open event in which both independents and Republicans can vote as well), apportioning 51 more delegates.

March 1: Super Tuesday.  The largest single electoral event of the primaries season.  10 states will have primaries or caucuses for both parties simultaneously (AL, AR, GA, MA, MN, OK, TN, TX, VT, and VA); plus 6 more single-party primaries and caucuses (American Samoa D, Alaska R, Colorado D, Democrats abroad, North Dakota R, Wyoming R).  652 Republican delegates, and 860 Democratic delegates, will be apportioned by these events.

March 5 (Saturday):  Louisiana and Kansas have closed primaries and caucuses for both parties.  In addition, the Republicans hold closed caucuses in Kentucky and Maine; while the Democrats hold a closed caucus in Nebraska.  155 Republican delegates, and 113 Democratic delegates will be apportioned by these events.

March 6 (Sunday):  The Republicans hold an open primary in Puerto Rico to apportion 23 delegates; and the Democrats hold a closed caucus in Maine for 25 delegates.

March 8 (Tuesday):  Michigan and Mississippi both hold open primaries for both parties.  In addition, the Republicans hold a closed caucus in Hawaii and a closed primary in Idaho.  140 Republican delegates, and 184 Democratic delegates are apportioned.

March 12 (Saturday):  Republican closed events in Guam (a territorial convention) and the District of Columbia (a caucus), for 28 delegates.

March 15 (Mini-Super Tuesday):  The second largest electoral event of the primaries season.  Five states hold simultaneous primaries for both parties: FL, IL, MO, NC, and OH.  Also, the Republicans of the Northern Mariana Islands out there in the Pacific get to throw their two cents (and nine delegates) in.  Some 367 Republican delegates, and 697 Democratic delegates, are up for grabs.  By the end of the day, 1,535 of the 2,472 Republican delegates (62%) will have been apportioned.  Also, some 1,889 of the 3,782 (50%) voted Democratic delegates will have been apportioned.  Both parties should have a pretty good idea of how the candidates will be looking, although for the stronger candidates the game will be far from over.

The two largest electoral battle days of the primaries season are March 1 and March 15.  These days will challenge all campaigns alike; the “establishment” candidates like Clinton and Rubio, and the “insurgent” campaigns of Sanders and Trump.  Unlike the first round of primaries, which allow campaigns long preparation times to saturate each state with public appearances and local campaign operations, and where each campaign can focus squarely upon the only state coming up next, putting all their chips on one square, the political meeting engagements of March require more actual strategy.  Campaigns have three principal resources to divide between the multiple states up for battle:  the candidates themselves (a much more limited resource, especially in March), campaign finances, and supporting endorsements (politicians and celebrities to deliver speeches in support of or in place of the candidates themselves).  Campaigns have to decide how to measure out these resources, particularly the first one.

In Trump’s case, that first resource (Trump himself) is even more significant, because it is almost all that he has.  He actually has far less cash on hand, and almost no significant fund-raising system, than the other candidates; and his money has largely been spent on “swag” (hats and T-shirts) rather than on communication and vote-getting (phone banks, canvassing, etc.).  He also has virtually no endorsements of significance, outside of popular culture icons like Ted Nugent and Sarah Palin (McCain’s Folly from Seward’s Folly).  Super Tuesday will be a test of his ability to advertise himself nationally, and a test of his campaign’s already established support in those states.  In the meantime, Cruz and Rubio have larger actual organizations, and have much more money and public supporters of significance.  They can use these resources to blanket Super Tuesday and March 15 states with personal vote-getting, and to whittle down Trump’s apparent but not overwhelming advantage.  One disadvantage that these larger and better-organized campaigns face, however, is voters’ flexibility.  Most Republican candidates’ supporters show a far greater willingness to consider other candidates than do Trump’s.  With Trump’s supporters dug in, how much can the large-scale maneuver warfare of the Cruz and Rubio campaigns achieve?

Rubio has an additional advantage of “likeability” with respect to Cruz and Trump (both of whom are detested by many establishment Republicans), as well as the “big mo” (for the moment, at least).  Rubio and Cruz represent, to some, different names for the same candidate (the “token Latino” to attract ethnic votes, and established alternatives to Trump’s insurgency); but Rubio’s campaign platform is more moderate in scope than Cruz’s plan to shut down most of the federal government.  Rubio has more overall “electability,” measured by traditional standards – which themselves, in 2016, are coming increasingly into question and being discarded one after another.  Were this not 2016, Rubio would be the GOP’s dream candidate.  But the game is changing, and the measures for victory are changing with it.

On the Democratic front, Sanders, too, has exceeded expectations, particularly in groups which were most favorable to Clinton (women, Latinos, and African-Americans).  While those latter three groups still favor Clinton, Sanders has whittled down her advantage.  But as with Trump, Sanders has enjoyed the ease of the first round to gain points, and now faces the tough battles of March.  Clinton has developed her organization throughout the country, building support and working to disarm the “Clintonphobia” that the Republicans and Sanders have worked hard to reinforce.  The question of March will be the same for Sanders as for Trump: can the insurgencies fight a ground battle on numerous fronts simultaneously, against established campaign machinery backed by the party establishments?

Image from I Agree to See; via Google Image Search.

A Brief Reprieve from the Stress of Politics

https://images.unsplash.com/photo-1455747567720-24b648967e1d?ixlib=rb-0.3.5&q=80&fm=jpg&crop=entropy&s=d25ef6ee49136e506b7e891676f509dd

Before you freak out over Trump, or over Democrats for supporting the “wrong” candidate,

Take a moment to stare into the sunset (or sunrise), and reflect:  This is just a moment

In history, that future citizens will forget after learning about in high school.

Posted as a “Three Line Tale (TLT).”  Photo and post concept by Sonya Oldwin; full image here.  Thanks also to jansenphoto’s blog, Dutch Goes the Photo, for his post inspiring my response.

Growing a Family with Water in Flint

The Guys from Texas

While the city of Flint, Michigan waits for a long-term resolution for its beleaguered water system, as its citizens struggle from day to day for the most basic of needs, that of water, the people of Flint look eagerly to any support they can get.  For now, at least, the city is blessed with the limelight and the attention of our fickle media.  Help is coming in from across the state and across the nation; at least for now.  This is the story of four amazing men who joined in that drive, and built new family connections in the process.

After my recent volunteer experience, I went back to Flint on Saturday with my wife Tonya and our young friend Joshua.  This time, we ended up getting sent by the Red Cross to Crossing Water, operating out of St. Michael’s Catholic Church.  We spoke with Michael Hood, program director, who is sending support teams to Flint households to determine families’ needs and provide for them as best they can (Crossing Water was also the subject of another writer’s experience, which I re-blogged here). The group is currently working very hard to find people with the most urgent circumstances and get them some relief: disabled people unable to lift and carry cases of water, mothers of young babies that require clean water for mixing formula, undocumented people lacking the proper identification to show the National Guard workers checking residents through the water pick-up stations, home-bound elderly folks without access to the pick-up stations, etc.

While talking with Michael (in a room filled with eager volunteers, many also sent from the Red Cross), we met four young men (see photo above; from left to right):  Samah Haider, Wajahat Zaidi, Daniyal Taqvi, and Mohammed Bhayani.  These four men had arrived in the room through a very different path from the rest of us.  They had just arrived in a U-Haul truck filled with 12,000 bottles of water (300 cases, in six pallets), and they had driven up from Texas to help get water to the needy families of Flint.  I spoke later with Daniyal Taqvi, and learned how they had made their way to Michigan.

Earlier in the week, Daniyal had been watching TV, and he saw news reports of Flint children suffering from lead poisoning and going to the hospital with tragic complications.  That image truly brought the reality of Flint’s crisis home to him.  Daniyal is a board member of the Houston chapter of the “Who is Hussain” organization (an Islamic organization whose Michigan chapter has already contributed directly to Flint, with over 30,000 bottles).  As Daniyal explained to me, Hussain ibn Ali, the martyr honored by the group, died while suffering from thirst.  “Water is something that touches a bond with us,” Daniyal said.  “All people need water, and as a human being, it is my responsibility to be able to provide water to them.”

Already experienced in working together on food and water drives in Houston, Dallas, and Austin (for the homeless, and to help build the Muslim community), these four young men were able to use the Who is Hussain structure and other elements of Houston’s Muslim community to collect some $1,500 for Flint in three days.  But they did not just want to send money.  Daniyal explained that maintaining a human connection with the care that these men were providing, and with the community they were aiding, was for them a key part of that care.  During our conversation, Daniyal was close to tears as he described the love and human closeness that he felt with those of us who joined his team, and with those to whom he gave water.

As the four men made their way up north in a rented car, they had little idea of what was to happen on arrival.  Their way was eased by compassionate souls in the rental company, and in a bank helping with the trip’s finances.  Daniyal tells me that in both places, the companies waived various fees when they learned of the group’s mission, to help them get aid to the north.  However, despite this aid, and the money raised in Houston, the group wanted to dedicate the donations entirely for water; so all actual costs of the trip itself were borne by the four men as part of their own donation to the cause.

Never having been to Michigan in the winter, the team expected a frozen winter wasteland, and they were bemused by the unseasonably mild temperatures and the lack of snow on the ground.  They arrived in Dearborn, rented a U-Haul, bought 6 pallets of water from Sam’s Club, and drove to Flint.  After using Google to locate aid centers in Flint, the men got the email of an organizer at St. Michael’s church at 609 E 5th Ave; and the men finally found themselves in a room with Crossing Water’s Michael Hood, and with about 15 Red Cross volunteers, including my own little team, Jason Garcia and his family, and others.

Michael Hood’s phased operation (mapping out needs, and then getting water to those specific people needing it) was a longer-term and broad-based system of care, and our Texan friends wanted to get water into the hands of those needing it rather more quickly, and more personally.  They did, however, donate about a third of their supply to Crossing Water (two pallets; about 4,000 bottles in 100 cases).  As they began unloading cases onto the ground, we formed a daisy chain together to get the cases from the truck to the church, and into a storage area inside.  As we unloaded, cars driving by inquired about getting water, and we gave some of them cases of water as well.

Water Truck

Samah and Daniyal getting ready to unload the last of the two pallets for Crossing Water.  Photo by Jason Garcia.

Once the church’s storage room was full, Daniyal and his team-mates wanted to go into Flint neighborhoods to deliver water personally, their main motivation in coming all the way to Michigan from Texas.  We met a Flint woman who needed water; and she told us that her whole neighborhood needed water.  Soon a convoy was formed, headed by the Flint native’s car, followed by myself, the water truck, and a couple of other cars of Red Cross volunteers.  Other volunteers remained with Crossing Water to help with their canvassing campaign.  Meanwhile, our watering convoy descended on northwest Flint, in the area of Dupont Street and Martin Luther King, Jr. Ave.  We went door-to-door; some of us contacting residents to find out who needed water, while others did the heavy lifting and moved cases to those homes needing it.  The volunteers’ cars all had water as well (which we had all brought to donate), and we emptied out our car stashes while also taking cases from the truck.

In that first neighborhood, a resident told us about another nearby neighborhood needing water, and we found our way to a building with many elderly residents (many without cars and unable to get to the drive-through pick-up locations).  We formed another daisy chain, and unloaded a pallet’s worth or so into a central holding area that a building resident had identified as the best place to leave water where everyone could get to it.  While we were there, an elderly lady began crying when she talked to Daniyal, learning that help had come to her all the way from Texas.

Another resident told us about a government housing project, Aldridge Place, that was very large and very needy.  She agreed to show us the way, and our mobile watering army followed her there.  It was indeed a large complex, with numerous buildings and cul-de-sacs.  We simply dropped off a case at each door, knocking to alert residents, many of whom came out and thanked us as we worked.  As one resident saw Daniyal moving a case of water, she also began crying, hugged him, and said, “Everything’s getting better.”  Finally, with only a little water left in the truck, the Flint native who had led us to the project showed us to a last nearby neighborhood where we unloaded cases at each house that showed signs of occupancy.  At last the truck was empty.  We all thanked each other, hugged or shook hands, took pictures of the truck with our tired little army, and then called it a day.  (My family met up with our new Texan friends for dinner in Dearborn later in the evening, but that’s another story.)

Tired Relief Crew.png

A tired relief crew at the end of the day.

When I asked Daniyal what motivated them all to do such charitable work, he reminded me that we are all human beings, first and foremost, whatever else we may be.  He also felt it important that, with so much of the media’s attention focused on bad examples of Muslims, Americans should see the positive impact that Muslims and their faith can play in our society, with Islam’s own unique imperatives of charity and brotherhood.  His own organization, Who is Hussain, has organized other water drives in Flint, as well as peace rallies in the wake of last year’s darkest moments of terrorism.

Daniyal has come away from this experience with a deep sense of family connection with us in Michigan.  He feels new, profound connections with those like myself who followed the lead of these men and helped them fulfill their mission of mercy.  And he also feels a profound connection to those needy to whom he gave water, a meaningful and spiritual experience for him.  These men came to give; but they got back something that they felt distanced from in the north – family.  Daniyal was touched by the realization that “humanity still exists,” that while not everyone is equally blessed, those with more can share their blessings with those who have less.  Daniyal wishes now that everyone could do something like this at least once; to realize we are all part of a greater human family.  He, Samah, Mohammed, and Wajahat are proud to have given water to their family.

Flint is only one place in the US that needs help, as much as it lies on the headlines of today’s papers and internet sites.  My city in Michigan, or their cities in Texas, could be among the next places that need outside assistance, that need good people like these to come from other towns to help.  These men did not come here to help people that looked or dressed or worshiped like them.  They came here as people, to help other people in need, members of the same community of mankind regardless of petty differences.  They came here in the best tradition of their faith, and of the nation we all share, traditions that call for all people with extra resources to help those without.  This is the ultimate meaning of our City on a Hill, the building of a community of care and welfare.

Those politicians and extremists who call for restricting entry to our City of people in need of shelter (some of whom look precisely like these four amazing men from Texas) are not building our City, or defending our nation or what it stands for.  And they threaten the ties that build our nation – the ties between the diverse communities and cultures of our City.  Such ties will be needed more than ever as our nation’s infrastructure ages, as political rhetoric demonizes and marginalizes the poor and the different, as some Americans refuse to accept others as members of the same human race.  Instead of such politicians and pundits, we need more men like these four.  We need more men like Daniyal Taqvi, like Mohammed Bhayani, like Samah Haider, and like Wajahat Zaidi – they are the true builders of our City, examples of our best traditions, and leaders who give real meaning to our values.

With special thanks to Jason Garcia, Michael Hood, John Gleason; and of course our new brothers in Texas.

Whom Are We Allowed to Criticize?

Quote of the Week:  To learn who rules over you, simply find out whom you are not allowed to criticize. –Voltaire

As an American citizen, I have a strong appreciation for the First Amendment to the US Constitution, guaranteeing our rights to free speech, and the freedoms of religion, press, and assembly; as well as the less-cited right to petition the government for redress of grievances.  All of these rights work together in harmony to allow us the right to criticize whomever we please – in theory.  Obviously, the Constitution was never purported to be a perfect document; and there are glaring omissions from the point of view of modern society.  For example, major corporations were beyond the imagination of the framers of the Constitution; and so corporate powers over individuals, communities, and even our government specifically are completely unrestrained by any line of the Constitution.

In fact, every grouping of people outside of the government proper has the power to restrict rights of all people joining those groups (besides often working to limit rights of others outside the group).  Churches can require members to follow religious rules; families, companies, and other groups can control speech as rigidly as they please; and so forth.  While the Constitution protects rights to criticize other groups, we are losing the fight within groups.  This becomes evident as political divisiveness and the vitriol of rhetoric separate factions within political parties as deeply as they separate the parties themselves.  As Democratic and Republican campaigns for the nomination to the presidency heat up, invective not only between but also within the campaigns is also heating up.  There is an ever-increasing expectation of ideological conformity within the campaigns.  Trump supporters (the trumpenproletariat) become ever more shrill in favor of their candidate, and eat each other alive when any of them expresses doubt or recognizes a flaw in their candidate.  The supporters of other campaigns do the same.  As a Clinton supporter myself, I have received the most vicious criticisms on Facebook from fellow Clinton supporters (whenever reflecting on weaknesses, like her Wall Street connections and her Iraq vote), while Sanders supporters and Republicans have been far less nasty.  While some members of both parties’ campaigns complain about attacks by other candidates from the same party, I have seen fierce expectations of conformity within the members of several individual campaigns.

This bipartisan expectation of conformity is troubling indeed.  It demonstrates that whatever the Constitution says, we are not allowed to criticize those very individuals asking us for our vote and purporting to represent our interests and views.  That is not a foundation of democracy; that is a weakness that can potentially undermine our democracy.  None of our candidates are perfect (if you will excuse the understatement); and we must express our doubts not only about those we are fighting against, but of those for whom we are fighting.  If we do not, the very point of this fighting is lost.

Headline image via Google Image Search

Flint in Crisis, Part I: A Tale of Two Cities

Lansing Protest 3

The following constitutes Part I of a multi-part Special Report on the current water crisis in Flint, Michigan.  Part II was published several days later.

The Flint water crisis begins with the decline of the manufacturing cities of Detroit and Flint; and with the “water war” between those cities over Flint’s water supply.  That “war” was escalated by the Republican administration of Governor Rick Snyder, whose entire tenure has been powered by corporate financiers.  Snyder’s administration has been a long, sordid tale of privatization of public goods such as education, municipal services, and utilities.  Taking advantage of poor cities like Detroit, Plymouth, and Flint, Snyder has appointed “emergency managers” empowered to overrun elected municipal governments across the state (some, like Flint and Detroit, with large Democratic majorities and therefore hostile to the governor), and to transfer public services to private profiteers.

Both Flint and Detroit have suffered from the loss of automotive and other manufacturing jobs to non-union southern states and to low-wage foreign markets.  The cities have therefore also lost their principal revenue source: middle-class manufacturing workers.  Snyder has pushed these cities and others into selling off their public services to the private sector that has backed his elections (including his re-election in 2014, with less than 21% of the voting-age public supporting Snyder).  In both 2014 and 2015, Detroit was plagued by its own water crises, which were financial problems involving tens of millions of dollars of unpaid water bills.  Detroit’s response was to cut off water to delinquent accounts.  However, with a major portion of delinquent accounts being owned by about 40 major businesses (including major Detroit sports arenas like Joe Louis Ice Arena and the Comerica Park baseball stadium), Detroit left intact its services to the major debt holders and instead targeted the small-debt holders, the poor families of Detroit.

Detroit’s Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) also sought to reduce its deficits by raising the price of water sold to other municipalities, such as Flint, whose water costs almost doubled between 2004 and 2013.  The DWSD had been the principal supplier of water to the city of Flint, a smaller city even harder hit by globalization.  In November 2011, Snyder began appointing “emergency managers” to run Flint’s financial affairs.  The managers often overruled the decisions of the elected city council.  Snyder’s managers in Detroit and Flint began working in parallel to privatize city services in both cities, with the DWSD a major target.  Too big to be sold outright, Snyder’s corporate appointees worked to parcel out the DWSD into more easily digestible portions.  After Flint ceased acquiring water through Detroit, Snyder’s administration and managers broke up the DWSD into a smaller version of itself (keeping its old name), and a new semi-private, autonomous corporate entity, the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA).

The Republicans’ desire to break-up the DWSD, and the city of Flint’s need to cut their growing costs for water, pushed the two into a search for alternate means of supplying the city’s water needs.  A consortium of city and county water officials, the Karegnondi Water Authority (KWA), was created from drain and water authorities in Genessee and Lapeer counties.  The KWA proposed to build a pipeline to bring water from Lake Huron to Flint, with construction to be completed around the end of 2016.

With a major source of its revenue threatened, the DWSD and the city of Detroit argued that Flint was initiating its own “water war” against them.  They also argued that construction costs and risks would make the new pipeline water more expensive than the costs of Detroit’s water.  In several attempts by the two cities to come to terms, and with Snyder’s office running interference, the DWSD apparently offered to cut costs back.  Detroit proposed to cut prices by as much as half, which would have made Detroit water cost 20% less than the construction and operation of a new pipeline system; but Snyder’s office killed the deal.  Finally, in March 2013, the city council approved the plan for the KWA pipeline.  The DWSD retaliated, issuing a cut-off notice to take effect the following April.

With the cut-off to take place at least two years before the completion of Karegnondi pipeline, Snyder’s emergency manager for Flint, Ed Kurtz, pushed the city council into tapping the Flint River, according to reports by both Time Magazine and the Wall Street Journal.  Both the WSJ and Michigan blog Bridge MI deny that the city council were given any choice in the process.  Both organizations cite sources within Flint’s city council saying that the decision was made solely by the state (the emergency managers and the State Treasurer, Andy Dillon).

The Flint River, once contaminated by factory waste disposals into the 1950s, continues to suffer pollution problems from winter-time run-off of road salts and other ground contaminants.  Road salts themselves are heavily corrosive, containing chloride and other corrosive chemicals which have bled into the Flint River, the principal drainage system of the region.  In April, 2014, Flint disconnected its municipal water supply from the DWSD.  Almost immediately after the shut-off of Detroit water, in the spring of 2014, Flint residents noticed a change in the taste, odor, and color of their municipal water.  That summer, Flint doctors recorded unusually high incidences of rashes, hair loss, and other ailments.  In the fall, Flint schools began bulk purchases of bottled water.  In October the GM plant in Flint ceased using municipal water after corrosion damage was detected in parts exposed to water from the municipal system.

The corrosion at GM was caused by high levels of chloride in the municipal water (having some eight times that found in Detroit water).  While most municipalities add safe corrosion inhibitors, Flint water was not treated.  The chloride corroded the old lead pipes of the city’s water system, leaching lead into the water coming out of the pipes.  The lead quickly reached extremely hazardous levels.  While federal law considers 15 parts per billion (15 ppb) as a minimum “action level,” requiring responsive action, EPA tests of Flint residential water reached levels as high as 13,200 ppb, almost 900 times the minimum action level.

Further problems in the river water were detected by researchers called in to investigate increasing medical concerns.  The water had untreated biological issues, with both E. coli and Legionnaires’ virus detected shortly after the water switch.  While the city quickly recommended the boiling of water to combat E. coli, the Snyder administration still refuses to accept a connection between two independent medical reports of Legionnaires in the water, and some 87 recorded cases of Legionnaires in Flint after the water switch.  So far, ten of the Flint Legionnaires patients have died from their ailments.

While the EPA essentially kept quiet on the issue, instead pressuring the Michigan Department for Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and other state authorities to take action, the MDEQ refused to accept the validity of the increasing evidence of large-scale problems in the water supply.  Both city and state governments largely treated the greatest problem cases as isolated local incidents not demonstrating a greater problem. Meanwhile, medical institutions in the Flint area recorded the average level of lead in the blood of local children as doubling since 2013, and in some areas tripling.  In January, 2015, Genesee county declared a public health emergency, and urged Flint residents not to drink the water.

Almost a year later, in December, 2015, a Snyder-appointed task force to look into the problem finally criticized the MDEQ for failing to “properly interpret” federal guidelines on water lead levels, and for failing to require corrosion-control treatment for Flint river water.  Following this criticism, MDEQ director Dan Wyant resigned from his post.  His successor, Kevin Creagh admits to his agency’s “tone-deafness” to the problems.

With ten residents dead, numerous children showing cognitive and physical impairments indicative of excessive lead poisoning, and various rashes and infections plaguing many more residents, public activists attempted to reach the voters and motivate public officials of the state to take responsibility for their actions and fix the problems they caused.  Protesters from across the state marched in Flint on January 8; and then again in front of the governor’s condominium in downtown Ann Arbor on January 18.  The next day, hundreds more protesters poured into Lansing, marching to the steps of the capital building as Snyder delivered his annual “State of the State” address inside.  The United Auto Workers union (UAW) was there in force, representing the aggrieved auto workers whose loss of jobs and income has served as an economic trigger for these events.  Protesters from Flint and other Michigan towns called for justice; for the resignation, impeachment, or even arrest of the governor; as well as for a substantive solution to the Flint water crisis.

In his address on the 19th, Governor Snyder finally apologized for the crisis, saying, “I’m sorry and I will fix it… You did not create this crisis, and you do not deserve this.”  Two weeks before, the governor had declared a state of emergency in Flint and in Genesee County.  On January 12, he also mobilized small units of the Michigan Army National Guard, to provide water supplies and security.  On January 16, in response to the governor’s request for federal support, President Obama declared Flint to be a federal emergency area.  Although the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) requires that federal “states of emergencies” be for natural catastrophes, FEMA has funding for lesser “emergency areas” such as the Flint crisis.  The federal government allotted an initial relief package of $5 million, with FEMA coordinating relief with multiple agencies.  In his address on the 19th, Governor Snyder requested $28 million from Michigan’s state budget for emergency relief.

A full year after Genesee County declared an emergency and told residents not to drink the water, the governor’s office finally noticed and also declared an emergency.  That was almost a full year of tens of thousands of poor families knowing that their water was poisoning them and their children, but lacking the resources to buy enough bottled water for their daily household needs.  Only after a year of repeated complaints by dozens of residents at city council meetings and with bottles of poisoned, discolored, and foul-smelling water from their homes, did the governor finally declare an emergency.

For more information, come read Part II.  Also read our re-blog of “No Words“; our story on “Helping Out in Flint,” and our most widely read story, “Growing a Family With Water in Flint.”

Headline image © 2016, Sparkpolitical.  All rights reserved.

 

Trump’s Potemkin Candidacy

During the reign of Catherine the Great of Russia, her favorite, Grigory Potemkin, created a fake village to show her, to prove that her reforms had made life better for the peasants.  The term “Potemkin village” derived from this has come to mean an elaborate facade built to hide the emptiness behind it.  Donald Trump, the GOP’s current front-runner candidate, seems to have taken the story to heart in developing his website and platform.  He is the GOP’s Potemkin candidate, with the barest veneer of policy, but hiding behind it a vast emptiness of thought or competence.  He is running on a thin film of xenophobia and nostalgia for a “whites only” America that has not existed since the 1950s.  This facade of policy is spelled out through five platform issues that together virtually ignore the entire range of issues vital to Americans today, and which also contain no logical consistency or even basic conservatism, beyond the xenophobic paint on the cover.

First on the list of Trump’s platform issues is US-China trade reform.  On no other trade issue does Trump enunciate any ideas, so his trade strategy is hinged solely upon achieving greater success in China.  Trump assigns our current trade imbalance with China to “Wall Street insiders that [sic] want to move US manufacturing and investment offshore,” thereby ignoring his own business model in doing exactly that.  He claims his own administration will somehow employ “smart negotiators”; but he neglects to say what strengths or strategies he would have that are different from past negotiations.  Trump blames Chinese tariffs and other barriers for protecting Chinese markets from American products; but he fails to explain how he would bring lost jobs back to the US, or how American-made products (which are more expensive than Chinese-made products) would penetrate the lower-income Chinese economy.  He also elucidates no strategy or plan for solving (as he promises to do) the problem of Chinese intellectual property abuse.

Trump does advocate, however, certain points that he thinks would improve American negotiating strength.  He wants first to lower the corporate tax rate in the US; but he ignores the main problem pushing jobs out of the US, which is that wages and overall production costs are substantially lower in China and other overseas markets than in the US.  He claims that reducing overall American debts and deficits would reduce Chinese financial advantages (which they likely would); but of course he ignores the fact that most of his overall platform involves greater spending and lower taxes, a clear recipe for greater reliance on Chinese financial underwriting of his typically Republican “borrow and spend” approach to government.  Finally, Trump imagines that a greater US military presence in the Pacific (especially in the East and South China Seas) would somehow push China into more cooperative behavior.  He clearly ignores China’s historical gift for long-term geopolitical strategy, and China’s historical lack of response to momentary military demonstrations.  Trump also fails to explain how the already overwhelming strength of US forces in the Pacific are insufficient; and the economic cost of greater deployments to the western Pacific also goes unmentioned.  Trump’s China “strategy” (his only plan for enhancing American trade) therefore ignores basic political, strategic, financial, and economic realities; and also is based on an unexplained hope to somehow negotiate more successfully, without any ideas as to how that might be done.

Trump’s next platform issue is the inefficiency of the Veteran’s Administration.  Trump offers to make the VA more competitive, by enabling vets to get care through any doctor or facility that accepts Medicare.  He, again, fails to explain where Medicare is supposed to find the available funds.  He also wants to spend more money to fund more research on veterans’ mental health issues (e.g. PTSD); and on job training and placement, veterans’ education, and business loans for vets.  He wants to expand the VA dramatically by creating satellite clinics in rural and other areas.  His main complaint about previous attempts to fix the VA is that they adopted a strategy of throwing money at the problem; and yet that is exactly what he proposes to do, by expanding both Medicare and VA funding.  Trump also blames waste and corruption in the VA, and imagines that a simple house-cleaning should fix things.  He offers no numbers indicating to what extent a house-cleaning would improve efficiency; and he offers no guidance as to how he would get an increasingly miserly GOP to pay for other people’s health care with the substantially greater funds he proposes to throw at the problem.

Tax reform is a greater and more central problem for Trump.  He wants to lower not just taxes, but our debt and deficits.  With greater spending on military and VA programs (the former already the nation’s single-greatest fiscal problem, and therefore the only real option for large-scale deficit reduction), Trump cannot adequately explain how he would reduce both taxes and the deficit.  His tax reduction plan is typically childish.  He wants poor people to send an “I win” form to the IRS, relieving them of paying taxes which they already do not generally have to pay.  How they get to “win,” by still not paying taxes, is never explained, not to mention insulting considering the paltry services available for their support.  He wants to simplify the tax code (from seven to four main income brackets), lower the corporate tax rate (to a maximum of 15%), and eliminate estate taxes.  He claims that encouraging more domestic investment, and taxing off-shore income more consistently, will make up for the great losses elsewhere; but of course he has no actual numbers to back any of this up.  Trump is blissfully free of difficult or enlightening details, and merely expects that his sheer Trumpness will somehow change the fiscal realities of American taxation and economics.

Trump also expends some of his very sparse language on promising to do nothing whatsoever about the problem of increasing gun violence.  He refuses to accept bans on military-style weapons, and he calls for national right-to-carry legislation that would stomp all over states’ rights to defend their citizens from out-of-state gun carriers.  Trump’s unabashedly federalist approach also includes expanding mandatory minimums for various classes of crimes, taking away power from the judicial branch of federal and state governments.  He also falls upon the “mental health problem” of gun violence; and (of course) fails to identify how he would ensure that those without any diagnoses or clinically documented histories of mental illnesses (but who harbor the kind of anger that has been producing atrocities like mass shootings) would somehow be prevented from gaining access to weapons – or how doing so would not, contrarily, violate the very Second Amendment he promises to uphold.

Trump’s final platform issue is immigration reform.  Trump continues his bigoted and unsubstantiated claim that aliens pose a violent crime hazard, and he still promises to get Mexico to pay for the construction of a massive border wall.  Looked at more closely, this claim actually is intended to implement a large-scale increase on fees for legally documented immigrants coming to the US; making not the Mexican government but the legal immigrants themselves pay for the wall.  Trump actually offers few measures for tackling illegal immigration, focusing almost entirely on reducing overall legal immigration (and he ignores the effect this would have of incentivizing illegal immigration).  He also refers to the main pathway by which illegal immigrants gain residence, by arriving here legally but then overstaying temporary visas, as “… a threat to national security” (without explaining that insulting assertion).  Finally, as with so many of Trump’s other proposals, he comes to the conclusion that we need to spend more money (this time by tripling the personnel of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE), as the billionaire seems uniquely suited to finding new ways to spend other people’s money.

As the reader may have noticed, this short list leaves out most of the vital issues up for debate between the parties for 2016.  Some very few clues can be gleaned from statements elsewhere (speeches and interviews, etc.), but there is a vast silence on a number of vital questions.  With national security and defense a suddenly predominant issue, Trump’s silence is appalling.  He has denigrated veterans (such as Senator John McCain) and claimed his high-school education (at a pre-military prep school) gave him more military training than some of our professional soldiers get.  But that “training” has not manifested in any other ideas of how to defend our nation, beyond banning Muslims (and/or marking them and putting them into concentration camps), and claiming that illegal immigration is a significant threat (without any substantiation).  Trump’s xenophobia has alienated over half of the American voting public (not to mention some 72% of potential Democrats), erasing any possibility that he could be a consensus candidate or achieve strength among independent voters.  And he has offered nothing at all about defense policy, deployments (other than expanding our Pacific forces in theory), strategy, etc.

Trump has also offered virtually nothing at all on the economy, only his few scattered and unrealistic notions on trade with China, and his skepticism on raising the minimum wage.  With jobs and economic security a major issue for many voters, his silence is ominous.  He also has little to say about health care, focusing his few thoughts upon throwing more money at the VA, and repealing ACA, without indicating any replacement.  Previously, Trump had been more of a leftist on that issue, favoring universal socialized care along the lines of that used in Canada, but he claims now to have changed his mind (to conform with the expectations of his new-found alliance with the GOP).  On the issue of climate change, Trump’s statements would almost be funny if they were not so pathetic.  He admits that, “I believe there’s weather.  I believe there’s change…,” and otherwise denies the science as anything more than a “Chinese concept” for somehow gaining some industrial advantage.

Education, a major issue influencing American competitiveness in the twenty-first century, is another problem area.  Trump tells us that he is “…not cutting services, but [is for] cutting spending” (again, without clarifying how to get the same services at lower costs).  He wants to cut the Department of Education’s budget, eliminate Common Core, and delegate education administration almost entirely to the states, apparently relieving himself of the burden of forming his own thoughts about priorities or strengthening overall educational performance.  In addition, Trump’s failed attempt to develop a for-profit “scamiversity” (Trump University, now the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative) presents an ill omen of support for other anti-education businesses posing as educational institutions, a sobering prospect for higher education and American competitiveness.

Finally, Trump’s cultural position shows a complete failure to appreciate historical trends and demographics.  On women’s issues (beyond wanting more money for women vets), Trump has been absolutely silent.  On minority issues, he has said too much; proposing to deport, or mark and concentrate, immigrants and refugees.  He also openly encouraged his supporters’ violence against BLM protesters.  He is eager to surrender to ISIS and similar groups their main immediate objective, that of making the US more afraid of Muslims and more anti-Islamic, to push them into the arms of extremist recruiters.  Trump clearly wishes to restore a pre-1960s, “for white men only” America, which is exactly what making our superpower “great again” is intended to mean.

Trump’s platform is weak in both establishing objectives, and in offering actual proposals for meeting those objectives.  Trump is virtually silent on a vast array of major issues (national security, health care, the economy, education, and climate change), and he has little more to say on the few superficial issues he has deigned to care about – immigration reduction, trade with China, VA reform, tax reform, and federalized gun-rights expansion.  However, his few suggestions for policy all add up to one thing:  increasing the size and cost of the federal government; while at the same time he offers to reduce taxes.  That recipe has always meant borrowing from China, bizarrely another policy he claims to reverse.  While working within the GOP, his platform is barely conservative, and is predominantly federalist and expansive, but in ways which will lose liberal and independent voters.  His policy is like the old Potemkin village of Russia, designed to fool those looking only long enough to see the facade but no more.  Trump intends to reach only the low-information voter who cares nothing about data or logic.  For anyone else, Trump’s “ideas” (such as they are) can only mean one thing for the real City on a Hill behind the Potemkin village:  complete and utter disaster.

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