Thursday, July 31, 2014

Aniekan Udofia Energizes DC Walls

I recently began taking a course in TV Production from DCTV, the public access TV station in Washington, DC. Our project is to make a short segment on Aniekan Udofia, a young American mural artist who grew up in Nigeria.

Aniekan has created numerous murals around town and other places in the country, such as New Orleans. This mural was commissioned for the City Dept. of Parks and Recreation at a public swimming pool near the Eastern Market.

Aniekan has a remarkable talent. He learned to make murals with aerosol paint by hanging out with taggers. He is largely self-taught, but he makes a formidable teacher.

Aniekan grew up in Nigeria but came to America to become a magazine illustrator. His illustrations are excellent, but he had to learn the craft from the criticism of magazine art directors. His murals, on the other hand, are world class.

Aniekan's web page is at http://www.aniekanudofia.com/1/.

Our segment for DCTV will air sometime after the class is over in September.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Schuette v. BAMN: SCOTUS Sets Back Minority Rights 50 Years--At Least

The current Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has done more damage to minorities than anything else it has harmed during its scorched earth campaign. Its recent decision in Schuette v. BAMN continues its assault on minority rights, turning back the clock to the time before Brown v. Board of Education.

In Schuette, the conservative majority of the court ruled that the electorate of Michigan had a right to stop preferential treatment for African Americans in college admissions. The Justices ruled that letting more minority students into college is harmful to the majority and they put an end to it, not just in Michigan, but everywhere else, since SCOTUS rulings are binding in all states. This ruling reversed SCOTUS rulings in Bakke (1978) and Grutter (1996). In both those cases, SCOTUS upheld the right of admissions officers to use race as one factor in making decisions about who would or would not be admitted to a college or university. Now, the only way to give race-based preference would be to pass a state-wide initiative. In her dissenting opinion, Justice Sotomayor notes that placing such an initiative on the ballot would be extremely expensive and, more to the point, it has never been successful.

The Justices knew exactly what they were doing because they had done it before, when they ruled that California's populace had a right to stop race-based admissions by sustaining California's intolerance initiative, Proposition 209, in 1996. Affirmative action programs in California's colleges had made getting a quality education easier for minorities during the decades prior to Prop. 209. Afterwards, according to Sotomayor's dissent, minority admissions plunged from 30% in 1995 to 13% in 2006.

Since the conservative Justices knew what had happened in California, they knew what would happen in Michigan. State-supported institutions that are supposed to support the aspirations of all the people stopped admitting minorities. Michigan's Law schools once again became the almost exclusive prerogative of the white and wealthy. Minority populations would find it far more difficult to find lawyers or physicians of their own kind, or even any white or Asian physicians who were willing to practice in minority communities. But the conservative Justices approved that result. They explained that they were protecting the rights of the white majority, who, Sotomayor pointed out, needed no protection. Though the conservative Justices claim that they are not racist, the results of their decision, in this case and in many others--more all the time--are exactly the same as if they were racist down to their nylon socks and black wing-tips.

Whence comes this vehemence? Why are Scalia et al. so adamant that African Americans achieving success should be prevented at all costs? Scalia and his friends claim to be following the intentions of the Framers, the 18th Century politicians who wrote the Constitution and turned it into law. But their motives go much deeper than that. They intend to preserve the social order as it existed in 1789, with a wealthy minority in charge of the government and a disenfranchised majority. The Constitution holds the seeds for such oppression, since it permits a minority to thwart the will of the majority, with two houses of Congress, with a tiny but powerful Supreme Court, with presidential veto power that can only be overridden by two thirds of both House and Senate. The Framers wanted those few who were then in power to remain in power forever.

Times change. Ideas are abandoned. Slavery was abolished. Senators are elected by direct vote. But the Supreme Court is struggling mightily to turn back the clock and freeze time and institutions in one and the same moment.

A government that cannot change with the times is a government that cannot last. The pace of change is so fast now that our government will be forced to change faster to keep up. Time is inexorable. Gentlemen of the Supreme Court, your time has past.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Rikki's Wild Ride Published At Last

Rikki's Wild Ride is a rare combination of artistry and story-telling. The book, just released to Amazon, is illustrated by 18 pastel paintings by Holly Masri. She also had the concept and wrote the story, which is appropriate for children and entertaining for adults.

Rikki was a parrot, a green person who was six inches tall with a six-foot tall attitude. He was loud and obnoxious at times, but also endearing and entertaining, as shown in this book. He was also our friend. I'm grateful to my wife, Holly, for painting a portrait of me with Rikki and putting it into the book. The portrait makes me look like St. Francis of Assisi, which I am not, but whom I admire.

This book is truly a labor of love that has taken many years to come to fruition.



Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Israel's actions against Palestine are illegal, immoral, and inexcusable

Earlier today I encountered a discussion of Israeli actions against Palestinians on the Mondoweiss.net site. One commenter made several statements about the legality of Israel's actions; another, an Israeli apologist, attempted to counter those statements. I have indicated why the second commenter was wrong on all counts.
Charge: Israel has acquired territory by war.
Response:  Acquisition of territory by war is by no means automatically “illegal” nor it is “immoral” – for example, the acquisition of territory by Israel isn't in itself illegal – you can't argue this, you may argue that holding it is illegal, but this is another issue]
My opinion: In fact, acquisition of territory by war was outlawed by the UN Charter, article 2, paragraph 4, which forbids signatories from using force or the threat of force against the territorial integrity of another state. So acquisition of territory by war is absolutely illegal. Whether it is immoral depends on your moral compass.
Charge: Israel engaged in ethnic cleansing 
Response: how can you make this claim in straight face, LOL! How can you claim “ethnic cleansing” when the article itself claims that the Arab population is rising?!!? This must be the most inept and incompetent “ethnic cleansing” ever!
My opinion: The charge of ethnic cleansing is not one that should be laughed at. The writer seems to equate ethnic cleansing with murder, whereas the phrase also describes the expulsion of a people from its homeland. Israel expelled 700,000 Palestinians from their homes in 1948. In addition, members of Netanyahu's party have recently called for the expulsion of all Palestinians from Gaza.
Charge: Israel set up a system of apartheid.
Response: this smear is wearing tired, you all know it – and it even isn't logically supported – apartheid is about race, since Arabs are of the same race as Jews, the definition doesn’t hold. You may claim discrimination on basis of citizenship (justified due to real security concerns) but not apartheid – but you chose propaganda attempts over serious debate.
My opinion: The UN  International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) defines apartheid as a system of racial discrimination that includes discrimination on the basis of
race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin.
The convention does not recognize an exemption due to "real security concerns" as the writer supposes. Whether Arabs and Jews belong to the same "race" or "ethnic origin" is a matter of dispute among anthropologists because the concept of race itself is controversial.

Charge: Israel has transferred population into occupied territory.
Response: this is a non sequitur, because you are trying to insinuate Geneva convention but the territories are not occupied from a qualifying side, and so, don’t fall under this definition.
My opinion:  The writer argues that settlements in the West Bank do not violate Article 2 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which prevents moving people into occupied territory, because the West Bank is not an occupied territory. This theory has been put forth by a few Israeli politicians, but has been rejected by the International Court of Justice. The idea that Israel does not occupy the West Bank forcibly flies in the face of logic.
Charge: Israel is stealing natural and other resources from occupied territory. 
Response: You conveniently forget that whatever water Israel takes is in accordance with an agreement with the P.A.
My opinion: The Israeli government has been diverting water from the Jordan River to the Negev desert since 1967. It has been diverting water from the Wadi Gaza since 1973. The Palestinian Authority (P.A.) was created in 1994. Israel therefore could not have agreed with the P.A. to use this water until long after the usage was already established
Charge: Nothing is ever going to transform a bible into a property deed. 
Response: There is no need for that, the UN (or the League of Nations) have reconfirmed the ownership of Jewish nation over the biblical land of Israel.
My opinion: The writer does not specify which resolutions confirm the ownership of Israel over the biblical land of Israel. The Balfour Declaration (1917) granted the right to form a Jewish homeland in Palestine on condition that
nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine. 
That seems a far cry from granting Israel any right to a "biblical Israel".


Monday, July 21, 2014

Microsoft fires 18,000 workers and strikes another blow for the one percent

Microsoft's Ballmer and Nokia's Elop celebrate their good fortune.
Bing! Another 18,000 jobs just disappeared down the rabbit hole of high-tech indifference. Microsoft has announced that its acquisition of Nokia will not mean continued employment for Finnish workers. 1100 of them have been fired, with limited prospects for future employment.

Here is the future promised by American corporations. Microsoft is famous for poaching employees from other companies, but it does so for its own profits, not for the benefit of the people it hires.

American politicians, including Obama, have preached that students should study technical subjects like Science, Technology, Electronics, and Mathematics--STEM. STEM workers will go to work for high-tech companies and enjoy a profitable career until they are fired because their wages are too high and they can be replaced by workers in China and India.

Companies like Microsoft continually lobby Congress to admit more workers from other countries. They complain that there is a shortage of high-tech workers. They need more bodies to feed the roaring fires of the high-tech boom.

Only there is no boom, at least not in developed countries like the US and Finland. Just last year, Microsoft announced it was acquiring a large part of Nokia's business, and that 25,000 employees of the Finnish electronics company would become Microsoft "team members". Three months have passed since the deal was closed and 18,000 of those team members are being thrown out of their jobs.

Of course, in modern hi-tech jargon, the jobs (not people) have become "redundant". It is their misfortune that people who held these redundant jobs are now unemployed. Microsoft does not explain how jobs can become redundant when it is demanding that the U.S. import more workers into the country. Redundant means there are too many workers, not too few.

Microsoft claimed that the acquisition of Nokia would accelerate innovation and help introduce a billion people to Microsoft services. Microsoft has just redefined the word "innovation" to mean "unemployment".

So the executives of Nokia and Microsoft smile and pose for cameras while they contemplate how many careers will be destroyed by their actions. Moore's law states that the complexity of electronic components doubles every two years. There should be another, equally famous law, that states that some percentage of tech workers laid off from their jobs will never find technical employment again. Let's call it Ballmer's Law. Ballmer's law increases the wage disparity between the wealthy employers and the workers they make redundant, because mergers bring higher stock prices to the executives of a company while taking salaries away from the workers.

Innovation indeed.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

New York Times Profiles John Christy, A Climate Change Denier: When Will They Learn?

John Christy, a "real" climate scientist, received another whitewash in the New York Times on July 15. The author of this article portrayed the dispute between Christy and his critics as an interesting scientific discussion. The author portrays Christy as an honest scientist unjustly scorned by his colleagues. The article attempts to elicit our sympathy for this beleaguered scientist.

Only it's not true. Christy is not an honest scientist. He is one of two or three scientists on the planet who cling to the data produced in an experiment involving data gathered by hot-air balloons and earth satellites. Numerous papers have been written explaining the errors in this data, but Christy will have none of it. Christy and his colleague, Roy Spencer, made an analysis of the balloon data and are staking their scientific reputations on its validity. Due to their obstinacy in the face of overwhelming evidence, however, their scientific reputations are about as weak as the poll ratings of the Republican party.

Christy is not an honest scientist because he has been using the usual right-wing outlets to publicize his views. These outlets include Heartland Institute, where Christy is listed as a climate change "expert" in their Journalist's Guide to Global Warming Experts (2008). Note: Christy has reportedly refused to appear at any of Heartland's climate change denier conferences because, according to NY Times science reporter Andrew Revkin, he does not wish to be presumed guilty by association. Christy's articles have been published by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), which has received funding from the Koch brothers and other energy companies as it spews out tracts claiming that the EPA is protecting tiny insects at the expense of jobs, among other prejudicial nonsense

Christy has published numerous climate denier articles in hockeyschtick.blogspot.com, (and here) a blog whose only purpose is to attack climate scientists who disagree with climate-science deniers. 

Christy has regularly appeared at climate denier conferences held by the Cato Institute, including a 2003 conference on climate change that featured a roster of climate change deniers. The Cato Institute has received more than $12 million in funding from the Koch family and its front organizations between 1986 and 2011. Cato undoubtedly pays its conference speakers for their appearances, so Christy has apparently benefited from Koch largess.

The Wall Street Journal recently published an op-ed where Christy claims his balloon observations disprove the conclusions of nearly every other climate scientist. The Wall Street Journal, through its continual beating the drum for climate skeptics, has long since ceased to be a neutral reporter of scientific facts.

The New York Times should recognize that there is a political discussion going on here, not a scientific one. Arrayed on the side of climate change deniers are oil companies and other corporations that contribute heavily to publicize their political views. Therefore, the Times should research and publish articles about where the money to publicize deniers like Christy comes from. Where is the Times article on that?

All these articles are have one goal, to cloud the issues and make us doubt scientific opinion. We do not doubt scientists when they tell farmers when to plant crops, nor when they tell us that some food additives are poisonous instead of healthy, nor when they instruct oil companies how to process crude oil into gasoline--no, all the science that tells us those things is just fine. When it comes to climate science, however, climate change deniers warn us not to believe the vast majority of scientists who warn us about the dangers of global warning, but instead to trust the 3 or 4 who take money from the Koch brothers and tell us not to worry about the future.

Climate change deniers are like the human sharks who promoted no-interest loans. No-interest loans delay payment until some time in the future when those who receive them are hit by huge increases in loan payments that they have no ability to pay. Climate change deniers urge that we should do nothing to prevent catastrophic climate change. There are no observable ill effects at present. But future generations will pay a huge price for our blindness and inaction. Perhaps our descendants, like the debtors of no-interest loans, will be unable to pay the price.

Errata: A previous version of this post erroneously reported that John Christy had given a keynote address for the Heartland Institute. I apologize for the mistake.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Most Corrupt States are Controlled by Republcans

A 2011 study of corruption in the U.S. has reached some alarming conclusions. The study used a single factor to determine the level of corruption in a state, namely, the number of officials convicted of corruption over the past several years. There were 25,000 corruption convictions between 1974 and 2008. Corruption trials are all prosecuted under federal laws, which do not vary from state to state and do not favor one party over another. Therefore, a corrupt state official cannot influence his own trial. 

Political corruption results in higher state expenditures. The same study found that states with higher levels of corruption spent an average of $1,300 per resident per year more than they would have with only average levels of corruption. The state of Mississippi, which the study rated most corrupt in the U.S., therefore lost $3.8 billion due to corruption of its officials.

Corrupt states spend more money on construction, capital, and highway projects, because these projects are undertaken by large, monopolistic enterprises. When only one or two companies bid on a project, it is hard to tell whether the bid is inflated by payoffs to politicians. Corruption often takes the form of subsidies to sports franchises for locating in a city or constructing a new stadium. Miami-Dade County paid $337 million to build a stadium for a baseball team. Ultimately, the taxpayers of Miami-Dade will pay at least $2.6 billion to pay of the bonds sold to finance construction. The stadium primarily benefits the owner of the team, Jeffrey Loria, whose estimated net wealth is $500 million. Corruption in these sorts of deal is difficult to prove, but Florida is the tenth most corrupt state on the list.

Government corruption leads to expenditures on capital projects like the Marlins stadium. The budget increases are offset by cuts elsewhere, usually in health and education. In Miami, Florida, the Mayor of Miami-Dade County cut 36 positions for fireboat crews. He also demanded that the fireboat crews should also be cross-trained in emergency rescue, which the union refused to do. The dispute led to shutting down one fireboat.

On the evening of July 4, 2014, a 3-boat collision led to 4 fatalities. The unmanned Miami fireboat, which might have responded and rescued one or more victims in the water, stayed in port. The unmanned fireboat may or may not have saved anyone that night. The stadium deal may not have involved corruption. One fact is clear: The Miami government was able to give $337 million to millionaire Loria, but could not find the funds to pay firefighters.

The most disturbing aspect of this survey is the correlation between the level of corruption and a state's adoption of the Republican Party platform. For example, the study concludes that favoring tax cuts over incremental tax raises correlates with a state's corruption. In other words, the motto, “no new taxes” may invite corruption.

The study says that corrupt state governments tend to hide their excesses by engaging in deficit financing. A popular way for governments to raise revenues for capital projects is tax increment financing (TIF). This form of funding does not increase budgets, but it does lead to abuses. TIF is used to fund redevelopment projects, with the money going to large, politically connected construction companies. Redevelopment projects are supposed to help residents of blighted districts, but they frequently result in gentrification, when richer residents move into the redeveloped districts and the poorer residents are forced out. The money raised goes to the corporations and taxpayers eventually pay the higher cost of services demanded by the new residents.


Policies of Republicans, who favor cutting taxes and awarding contracts on favorable terms to corporations, have caused Republican-governed states to experience more corruption. Here is a list of the ten most corrupt states and the political parties that control them. The list comes from the study and the political party control statistics come from Multistate Associates Incorporated.

Ten most corrupt states Mississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Alaska, South Dakota, Kentucky, and Florida.

Rank.   State name      Governor's Party       State Senate Party       State Assembly Party

  1. Mississippi        R                               R                                 R
  2. Louisiana          R                               R                                 R
  3. Tennessee         R                               R                                 R
  4. Illinois               D                              D                                 D
  5. Pennsylvania     R                              R                                 R
  6. Alabama            R                              R                                 R
  7. Alaska               R                              R                                 R
  8. South Dakota    R                              R                                 R
  9. Kentucky          D                              R                                 D
  10. Florida              R                               R                                 R


There are 30 power bases listed in this table. 25 (83%) of them are controlled by Republicans. This is the type of figure you would expect to see if the correlation between corruption and Republican policies is true.