Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Cliven Bundy himself

I know many of the people who had been calling Cliven Bundy a hero tried to back down from that certain comments. I had thought I was going to write about those eventually, because when I was writing about Donald Sterling and Mark Cuban, it all seemed to relate. After all, Sterling has had racist business practices for a long time, but it was saying something overt that got him in trouble, because then it couldn't be ignored.

I imagine that Cliven Bundy has probably been a racist for quite a while, and that a lot of the people who had to back away from him kind of believe the same things, but they don't really say it, or think in those exact terms. They use code words like "urban" or "culture of work", and because those words don't specify race they think they are okay.

There is a lot to be said about how we fool ourselves or why we are happy to ignore things that happen as long as no one accurately states it, but I'm not going there yet. It does all connect though, which is worth keeping in mind.

Here is what Bundy said.

"They didn't have nothing to do ... they were basically on government subsidy, so now what do they do? They abort their young children, they put their young men in jail, because they never learned how to pick cotton. And I've often wondered, are they better off as slaves, picking cotton and having a family life and doing things, or are they better off under government subsidy? They didn't get no more freedom. They got less freedom."

His statements were based on seeing African American in a public housing project, and it was specifically seeing old people and children hanging out on a porch. He then talked about how hard-working Mexicans were and what good families they have, so you could know that he is not racist.

I think when someone says something that is stupid and ugly the tendency is to dismiss it out of hand. Some people knew Bundy was scum all along, and some people were embarrassed by the association and fled.

That leaves unacknowledged racism intact. It leaves logical fallacies intact. It keeps it okay to have ugly thoughts okay, as long as you don't speak them. That is how the systemic problems stay in place.

One thing I appreciate about knowing the context of that quote is that he was looking at older people and children and complaining about them not working. I don't know the specific ages, but are we then talking about seeing the retired and the young hanging out while the other adults are off at work? Because that's not a racial thing; that's normal.

Of course, under slavery it wouldn't be normal, because then there is no retirement age, and since there isn't schooling childhood play time is abbreviated, but the objection in this case would not be to them not working, it would be to them not having to work all the time. Surely Bundy is not saying that black people have to work more than other people, right?

Well, maybe he is. After all, without slavery they are getting abortions, going to jail, and not having a family life. Of course, with all those abortions there shouldn't be all of those children hanging around not working, or even any young men to go to jail after a while, and is it possible that the old people and the young people that he saw were related? Like maybe those are grandparents and grandchildren, and then after work the parents will be there and they will all eat dinner together? I'm no anthropologist, but if you see children, that sounds like there could be families.

I am going to go ahead and leave more freedom under slavery, and not having anything to do without learning how to pick cotton alone, because I think those statements are stupid in a pretty self-explanatory manner, and I think there's something more important here in Bundy's defense of Mexicans.

It does seem in this case to be specifically people from Mexico, in this case, and specifically undocumented workers because they "come over here against our Constitution and cross our borders, but they're here, and they're people...Don't tell me they don't work, and don't tell me they don't pay taxes. And don't tell me they don't have better family structures than most of us white people."

There is this still this false belief that people who get assistance are not working and paying taxes. Many SNAP recipients are employed. Many of them are employed at Wal-Mart, and many of those employees are getting housing subsidies too. There are homeless people who have jobs.

You can't rule out any of these people paying taxes. They may not be paying a huge amount, but assuming a lower income, whatever they do pay they are feeling. However, a nice family that is taking deductions for mortgage interest and property tax, children along with childcare or education deductions, and maybe some charitable donations (like tithing) pays a lot less in taxes than you might think.

Then of course, there is the grazing rights issue. I feel like the cattle and timber companies that use BLM land are getting away with a lot, compared to the usage fees, but Bundy didn't want to pay that. He didn't want to stop using it either, where someone else could pay the fees and get the benefits.

So honestly, my very first thought when he made his racist comments is that of course he would be pro-slavery. He does not believe in paying to use land; why would he believe in paying for labor?

There was more to it of course, and Rachel Maddow did a brilliant exposition on that, which you can watch:

There is a lot that is interesting there, but someone who wants to be cheap with his operating expenses for his own profit being supportive of illegal immigrants is really not surprising at all. Sure, he says they are people, and good people because they work hard and have families, but I suspect what he really loves is their lack of power.

Illegal immigrants will work long, hard hours in horrible conditions. You do have to pay them, but not very much. If they start causing trouble, it is easy to get them arrested or deported. They are easy to abuse. I think that's the way Bundy wants his black people.

We are still seeing that it is far too easy to abuse African-Americans, and we are seeing great efforts to keep that in place, that people are ignoring with double-speak and code words and urging the protesters to avoid violence when it is the cops who are bringing it. We need to look at these things clearly, not just jump away from the ugly and uncomfortable only when it is in the open.

Related posts:

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Bundy versus Ferguson

There have been a few comparisons made between the protests in Ferguson, Missouri compared to the Bundy standoff, and I have been thinking about it too.

The comparisons have mainly been in regards to the level of response. In the case of the Bundy standoff, the government side stood down. Even though Bundy has continued using federal land after not renewing his use permits years ago, so at least the seizure of property that remains on federal land is completely legitimate, the feds did not force the issue because they knew it would result in the loss of human life. They've had Waco, they've had Ruby Ridge, and they are careful with that.

The Bundy supporters were spoiling for a fight. They were talking about putting the women and children in front as human shields, to make the government killers of women and children, and they were armed and not just ready but apparently eager to fight. They attracted people who were so eager to kill that two of them went and killed three people two months later. Sure, the camp asked those two to leave because they were too radical, but when you are asking people to come ready to fight because you won't pay your grazing fees because you don't believe in the government, what do you expect?

The Bundy participants do not support the federal government, but they were still protected by it in their protest against having to pay to use land you don't own.

Let's look at Ferguson now.

police officer shot an unarmed man. Despite many attempts at obfuscation, it was not in connection with any crime. To me it sounds like an ego-gratifying show of force got embarrassing when the car door bounced off of the victim. There are so many issues to get to here, but I am trying to keep my focus small, for right now only focusing on the response.

There has been a much greater show of force. I do not believe for one moment that it is because the police are scared that the protesters will become violent. The protesters are not going out there armed, and their signature stance has been with the hands up in a gesture of surrender. That should prick the conscience, but not inspire fear for one's life.

Even if there had been some legitimate fear of physical danger initially, the first night that Ron Johnson was on the scene, when things were demilitarized, demonstrated that the protesters and police could coexist peacefully, and that there was not a need for tear gas, wooden bullets, rubber bullets, and pointed guns. But that was all brought back out.

I believe there was embarrassment again, and that doesn't help, but police egos should not take precedence over the public peace and safety.

The military equipment is frightening, and its origin in the "War on Drugs" makes it a good symbol for many aspects of the situation, but there are other things that are even more of a concern.

The removal of badges by police officers is a direct affront to the accountability that the protesters are seeking. They aren't afraid for their lives; they are afraid for their status quo. They are so afraid that they will trample the First Amendment.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

So curfews are set, people are told they can demonstrate but they can't stand still, tear gas is thrown into private yards, reporters are arrested and harassed, they are asked to stay confined to certain places, a no fly zone is declared, and the list goes on.

This is not for public safety. This is to prevent the redress of grievances, and the grievance is the lack of safety for too much of the public.

This is coming from state and local government. The federal government is committed to investigation, but a few comments on rights are drowned by reminders not to loot, which ignores how little looting there has been, and that has been thanks more to the protesters than to the cops. That is frustrating. It is worth remembering that when the federal government does have to step in, it is usually because of some issue with racism, and how often opposition to racial equality is referred to as "states' rights".

I wasn't sure that I was ready to write about Ferguson, and this still feels horribly insufficient, and incomplete. I'm just going to leave with another quote, from a newsreel about Jackson Mississippi during Freedom Summer:

"The Jackson Police Department operates with the best demonstration deterrent of any city in the country. In addition to Thompson's Tank, armor-plated and equipped with nine machine gun positions, the arsenal includes cage trucks for transporting masses of arrested violators, searchlight trucks, each of which can light three city blocks in case of night riots, police dog teams, trained to trail, search a building, or disperse a mob or crowd, mounted police for controlling parades or pedestrian traffic, and compounds and detention facilities to hold and house 10000 prisoners.

Along with these ironclad police facilities are new ironclad state laws, outlawing picketing, economic boycotting and demonstrating. Other laws to control the printing and distribution of certain types of information, and laws to dampen complaints to federal authorities."

Fifty years later, we're still don't have it right.

Monday, August 18, 2014

One more bad music video

There had been one video that always bothered me back in the day, and every now and then it would come to mind.

I speak of "Too Young to Fall in Love" by Motley Crue:

What bothered me then was if they were thinking of themselves as a rescue force, where were they when she was starving? They just looked at her like she was trash at the end, but if they cared about her welfare at all, she should have been there sooner. The spitting of the food at the end kind of bothered me too, but in more of a rolling my eyes kind of way, whereas I found the overall story arc really disturbing.

I recently saw the video again, and it bothers me more, partly because I have more context, but also because I noticed something new.

First of all, one thing that I see better now than I did then is that the video is really low on content. There's a lot of posing and posturing, but even the fight scene is remarkably low on action. So, I think the running gag with the rice, of Tommy (I think) wanting to taste it, and then not liking it, was filler. It was a little gross, which can offend the sensibilities of a young teenage girl, which is probably why I remembered it, but it also went with a general air of disrespect.

It is rice that is spit out, going along with a general Asian theme - I think it is specifically supposed to be Chinatown, but mainly it is supposed to denote exotic and vaguely criminal. The new thing I noticed is that despite the presence of several Asian extras, the girl and the shady guy who takes her in are not in fact played by Asians. Yes, the video is using "yellowface". Granted, there was a lot less awareness then - this was a single from 1984 - but it kind of just figures.

And still, it remains that for the plot line of the video, her actual welfare was not important. Yes, there is the assumption that she will now be sleeping with the "bad" guy, but surely the band wasn't fighting for virginity. She is contaminated now because she belongs to him. That she is now clean and fed, and would have a bed to sleep in, just makes her a prostitute.

It does, except again, I don't think the band is really arguing for chastity. It would seem the issue is that she is tainted by this guy, but that takes her out of the equation, making her an object in relation to the band and to the other guy, but not a subject for herself. That's only a music video, and not even well-done music video, but it taps into some things that have always been there, and are still around.

I have more things I could say about both the sexism and the racism, but I think that's it for today. There is so much going on right now that knowing the proper order to put things in just keeps getting harder. I may simply do some stalling this week.

Related posts:

Friday, August 15, 2014

Band Review: Birds In The Airport

There is a bit of keyboard work on the Birds In The Airport EP How's It Going To End? that reminded me of Reggie and the Full Effect. My first thought was that James Dewees pulls from so many different genres and styles that this was a completely unhelpful comparison, but that may not be the case.

Like Dewees, Tom Breyfogle is a multi-instrumentalist who supports many other acts while also creating his own music. Watching a video of Breyfogle recording "The Sky Is Falling Down" you get a good sense of how he could be helpful to many bands in a variety of ways. Listening to the EP, you get a further sense of his versatility.

I first checked out Birds In The Airport on the recommendation of Third Eye Blind's Alex Kopp, though at the time only "Under The Mushroom Cloud" was available. It was brilliant.

Musically there are echoes of the '60s and sock hops in it - I can imagine Peter Noone covering it - but instead of surfing the theme is nuclear war. However, there still is dancing and a relationship, and even if it was mainly folk music that referenced cold war fears, they were a part of that time period.

Between the title, those two tracks and "The End", a dramatic instrumental piece, I started thinking that it was a concept EP all about the end of the world, except for the other two tracks.

"Little Black Dresses" and "Quiet On The Set" are not overtly about global destruction, but there is an alienation to them that doesn't exactly turn an apocalyptic theme on its head. Perhaps enough coldness before the bomb lets you feel optimistic about the bomb, at least if you have a friend.

Maybe sometimes you just need your dog.

Musically and intellectually, there are good things here.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Band Review: Hyatus and Candy Wilson

I wrote Monday about "crashing" the Class of '89 reunion. Among the many good parts of that reunion was the music, and I wanted to write a little about that.

The band booked at B3 that night was Hyatus. They are primarily a cover band, though there might have been some original material later, or they sang songs I didn't recognize.

Hyatus had a wide repertoire of songs from our youth, and did a good job with them. I can see them doing well at lots of different types of events. There were a few things that they did to bring people more into the performance. One was traveling the space, with guitar players walking through the dance floor, circling tables, and keeping things lively in that way. I made a joke about a walking bass line, but I think it was only 6-strings who did it.

The other thing they did for audience involvement was to invite people up to sing with them. There is no way that they could have predicted getting Candy.

Candy Wilson (formerly Freeman) is an Aloha Class of '89 alum, and she is a singer and songwriter. And she has an amazing voice. Hyatus kept calling her back, and it really did add to the fun.

I do have one point of disagreement. At one point the band said something about her having the voice of an angel. I get it. Her voice is beautiful and she was dressed in ethereal white. Still, there is something a little more earthy than angelic about her voice. I think she might be up for some deviltry, is all I'm saying.

I am treating the two together because right now there is not a lot of information on either. Both Candy and Hyatus have Facebook pages, and Candy has some Youtube videos of her performing at the fair, but should be releasing an album soon.

Great night everyone!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Affordable Care Act and You

This is sort of a departure for me.

I work for Regence Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Oregon. I recently participated in Innovation Week there, and blogged about it here. While working on that, it occurred to me that the presentation I recently gave to my team might work well as a blog post, even without the PowerPoint format. I'm not sure where this would fit in with work/life balance, but I am giving it a shot.

There is still a lot of misunderstanding about the Affordable Care Act. When asked about the Act being in effect a few months ago…

  • 12% thought it had been overturned by Congress
  • 7% thought it had been overturned by the Supreme Court
  • 23% didn’t know
I had my group go through a quiz together that you can find at Feel free to take it before continuing here.

My group did okay. The one that surprised me the most is that a majority of people did think that health reform law would establish a government panel to make decisions about end-of-life care for people on Medicare. I thought this one had been pretty well debunked. Fortunately, it is one of the more interesting stories, so a large chunk of the presentation was spent going over the topic.

Evolution of a misconception 

1991 – The Patient Self-Determination Act requires health care providers, including hospitals, hospices, and nursing homes to provide information about advance directives to admitted patients.

2003 – The Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement and Modernization Act began providing reimbursements for end-of-life care discussions with terminally ill patients.

2009 – Rep. Earl Blumenauer (with three Republican cosponsors) proposes standalone bill to reimburse office visits discussing end-of-life issues, including living wills and advance directives, every five years for Medicare patients. Proposed in April, the standalone bill was soon tabled and inserted into the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that was being worked on.

July 16, 2009 – Betsy McCaughey, former lieutenant governor of New York, called it “a vicious assault on elderly people” because it required the elderly every five years to be told “how to end their life sooner.”

July 24, 2009 – McCaughey wrote an op-ed saying that presidential advisor Ezekiel Emanuel did not believe the disabled should be entitled to medical care (this was false). Within a few days, representatives like Rep. John Boehner were being quoted about government-sponsored euthanasia.

August 7th, 2009 – Sarah Palin first uses the phrase “death panel” on Facebook.

March 2010 - The provision was removed from PPACA prior to it becoming law.

January 4, 2011 - A proposed Medicare regulation to pay for end-of-life care consultations was also deleted.

Many of us with aging parents can imagine the value of our parents having coverage for periodic talks with their doctor about potential issues and options. Many of us can probably also imagine those parents getting irritated, feeling threatened, or saying something about how we will be relieved when they are gone.

There were multiple factors that contributed to the confusion. We can't ignore politics, but access to healthcare is an emotional issue, there have been changes and developments as the law was being worked on and enacted, and healthcare in general is a complex system with many moving parts.

I was lucky in that I had examples from personal knowledge of people dealing with various issues in three of the four states that we cover. (I'm sorry but I have no stories from Idaho.)

Washington: Politics was an issue for Tara Dublin, whom you may remember as a popular DJ, but who has been open about her financial struggles since losing that job. When the Washington exchange opened she signed up quickly, and tweeted about her happiness to have health care again. She was abused for this - not just because people who followed her were displeased, but because there were people specifically looking for positive references to the new exchanges so they could spew inaccurate vitriol.

Oregon: The constant changes led to some confusion for my sister Maria. We kept hearing stories of the Oregon exchange not working at all, so she used the phone number to sign up, but that just led to them sending her paperwork with her options that she was supposed to complete online. The site worked perfectly. I still have no idea how. I am curious about what will happen with the Oracle litigation. Something was going wrong, but it did not have to prevent signing up. I wonder whether there were people who could have used that information.

Utah: Finally, a friend in Utah ran into an issue with his signup. He has a disability that does not completely prevent him from working, but can hamper it, which I believe is why he was on Medicaid at one point, then he got off of it. The best option for him at the time of the deadline was to go back onto Medicaid, but there was a $2000 penalty for re-enrolling.

He was very upset. He was talking about the government valuing minorities over the majority, and moving to Australia. Ultimately, the penalty is a quirk of Medicaid, not the Affordable Care Act, and it probably won't affect that many people, but when you suddenly need $2000 it hurts. He has calmed down, and is not emigrating now, but I am not sure that he is completely reconciled to the law.

My group does not work directly with creating plans or assisting customers, so some of this might feel like it is interesting but not directly relevant. The main thing that we knew was that as we waited for programming to be completed it led to weeks where there was not a lot for us to work on followed by weeks of trying to catch up. I hoped the presentation would give us a broader picture.

For one thing, I had noticed some changes in some of the plans we were auditing, with less exemptions and increased coverage for preventive care. These are good things.

Just by knowing that we do work in insurance, people may ask us questions, and if we can give them clear answers and dispel some confusion, that is a good thing.

Most of all, there are a lot of reasons to feel good about working for a non-profit corporation. We have heard horrible stories before about insurance companies dropping customers after a major accident or illness, about letters that falsely told customers their old plans had been dropped and only provided the most expensive options as alternatives.

I remember shortly after Moda bought the naming rights to the Rose Garden there were two letters to the editor in the Oregonian. One Moda customer had just received notification that his rates were going up, and another was told that his medication was no longer covered. It might be coincidence, but it's hard not to be suspicious.

For our company, our core values are focused doing well for our members and for health care. There is no overriding commitment to shareholders, because we have none. We can feel good about working for Regence.

Related posts:

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tweeting cake

I focused on some recent and specific incidents in the Stolen Labor post, but there has been a long history of paid journalists taking their ideas from Twitter without attribution. Some practices are more egregious than others, and I am not going to get into that today.

The reason I mention it is because back in May someone had suggested maybe just tweeting nothing but pictures of cake for a day to throw the news cycle off. It was never scheduled. I'm not sure that things have slowed down enough to where it would not be completely irresponsible to take a day off from news. I was ready though.

There was a picture that came to me with it, of chiffon dresses in pastel colors, maybe white gloves and hats, and a quiet murmur of conversation accompanied by red punch and delicious cake.

That isn't going to happen like that. People are spread out physically in the first place, and who even wears pastel chiffons anymore?

However, there is an important point or two in there, and it's worth remembering as more and more terrible things happen, with increasing frequency and plenty of responses to make you weep for humanity.

Take time to get together. I am probably not going to travel to associate with people whose tweets I like and admire just because I like and admire them -- that's not practical for time or money -- but there are lots of people that I love right here, and it nourishes my soul to spend time with them. So a few weeks ago we had people over for ice cream sundaes, and I'm trying to arrange a lunch date with some other friends via e-mail.

Make time for cake. Good nutrition is moderation, but there is a mental uplift in getting a treat that goes beyond the sugar spike. It can be overdone, but the other extreme isn't any good either.

It can be true that this is a horrible screwed up planet, but that is not the whole truth. We need to keep in touch with the good parts too.