The Five Pillars of Islam and the Yogurt Business

If you’ve eaten breakfast in the last 14 years or so, you’re undoubtedly aware of Chobani, a company out of upstate New York that has been making and selling those little yogurt cups that your doctor tells you to eat for breakfast instead of the steady stream of congealed wads of fried salt obtained from fast food restaurants and gas stations everywhere.  It’s actually pretty good yogurt – pineapple on the bottom is my favorite – that comes in at about a buck per little cup, no preservatives, not swimming in sugar.  Just good yogurt, with good ingredients, at a good price.  The company is also a pretty good example of Islam in action, and I want to give you a glimpse of that, hopefully to put the lie to a lot of Islamophobic BS out there.  Let’s start with the elevator-pitch version of describing the company.

Chobani was founded in 2005 by Hamdi Ulukaya, a Turkish Kurd who decided a lot of the yogurt available to the mass market was straight garbage, so he started making and straining yogurt in his home.  This came naturally to him, because he had grown up raising sheep and goats with his family near the Euphrates river, producing yogurt and cheese.  In 2005, he got a Small Business Administration loan to purchase a shuttered Kraft yogurt plant, and after a couple years of tinkering with recipes and fermentation methods with another Turkish yogurt genius, the first batch of Chobani yogurt left the factory for store shelves in 2007.  Since then, the company has experienced monumental growth and made a bunch of people very wealthy indeed.  This is the part where the story changes from the typical corporate success story, because from day one, Ulukaya has insisted on paying his workers well, engaging positively in the community, and making sure the company’s products are accessible to everyone.

This slots nicely into a discussion of Islam, because both Ulukaya and Chobani are excellent examples of Islam’s better angels.  As Christianity has the Ten Commandments, Islam has the Five Pillars – one of which is zakat, or alms-giving.  Although the actual obligation is to donate 1/40 of one’s assets over a given poverty floor called nisab on an annual basis, scholars disagree on the exact valuation of nisab – so in practice, many Muslims consider an annual donation of 10% of their assets to be close enough (and often proves to be a larger donation than it would if they worked out the math, so it’s rare that this is argued against).  It is also worth noting that the literal translation of zakat is ‘that which purifies’, so the donation is not merely to support one’s community, but to guard against the greed and avarice which excess wealth so often brings.  Chobani has operated from the outset with this in mind, and donates at least ten percent of its earnings to others either through direct grants (including a recent donation of nearly $50K to a Rhode Island school district that was attempting to shame students into paying off their lunch debts by giving them cold sandwiches instead of the nutritious hot lunches the other students enjoyed), or donations of its products to the needy.  Chobani’s hiring decisions also keep those less fortunate in mind – approximately 30% of its workforce are refugees – and all employees are paid well, receive benefits including 100% paid parental leave for six weeks for all employees who had been with the company for 12 months – for fathers too, and is also extended to parents of adopted or fostered children.  In 2016, Chobani gave ten percent of its stock to its employees (divided up by tenure), giving many of its long-term employees a strong financial foundation which will turn into quite the nest egg when the IPO hits.

It isn’t really possible to separate the company and the founder, because the founder’s philosophy and adherence to the principles of Islamic economics is central to the business’s operations.  Hadith, or Islamic tradition, teaches that a business that does well should reward the people who helped the business succeed, so Chobani is good to its employees.  Hadith teaches that a business cannot succeed if its customers are too poor to purchase its products, so Chobani is generous to its community.  This is capitalism done properly, and results in the company being seen as a boon to its community, thus making consumers more likely to purchase its products.  By respecting and rewarding the people who helped make the company successful, including its customers and potential customers, and by respecting and rewarding the communities that provide it workers and space to grow, it increases its wealth while not unfairly taking that wealth away from others.

You don’t need me to give you examples of exploitative capitalism – we are all touched by businesses and other entities who take more than their share and give back only what they are absolutely required to in order to generate a warm and fuzzy PR piece about a corporation donating a fraction of a percent of its income to give a couple dozen schoolchildren books, or otherwise get its name in the news.  Chobani instead gives deeply of its assets to support people, and any notice it gets for this is of course welcome, but is a side effect instead of the purpose.  This is also intentional, zakat demands that the giver not demand undue attention for their donation – whenever Chobani or Ulukaya himself gives a statement about a donation, it is never in the context of ‘see how amazing we are’, it is always a simple statement about why it is important that those with means donate to those without, and encouraging others to do the same.  The focus is always on encouraging others to give, and never on pinning glory on themselves.

This is Islam in action.  The average Muslim has no more love for terrorism or other acts of hatred and war than you do – and in fact less, because extremists target other Muslims just as often (if not more so) than they do Westerners.  For every Muslim extremist plotting horrible acts, there are many, many more who simply want to live their faith and make the world a kinder and more loving place.  Just as for every Anders Breivik, there are many, many more Christians who support their communities, love their neighbors, and otherwise try to live as Christ would.

I know it’s difficult to shun fearmongering and hatred, I know it is far too easy to let one’s outlook and perspective be poisoned by those whose lies serve their own hateful agendas – but we must all look deeply within ourselves and commit to approaching our neighbors with an open hand, not a closed fist.  Only by doing this, by treating others with love and acceptance, will we make the world a truly better place.  Hate and greed give us war, famine, and terror; love and acceptance give us justice, harmony, and space to grow as individuals and societies.  I’m not telling you anything here you haven’t already heard before from religious leaders and Mister Rogers.

It’s going to take a lot of work to reject hatred and make the world a better place.  You’re going to need a good breakfast for that, and Mr. Ulukaya has a suggestion.  (And try the pineapple, it’s really good.)

done playin’, back in the game

Hey, who wants to put pressure on a couple crappy state legislators? I have a list of all their campaign contributors for the last year and easy links to click to get in touch.

Howdy! It’s been a while, I know. Don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but there’s a bill that’s just been introduced in the Utah state legislature that would codify trans erasure into law – HB153 would, among other things, use some really ‘eew eew body parts gross, i am a shrinking violet’ language to state that as far as the state of Utah is concerned, trans people do not exist, and you are the gender you are assigned at birth. It was introduced by Rep. Merrill Nelson and Sen. Ralph Okerlund, who absolutely sound like the sort of guys – why is it always guys – who care what’s going on in someone’s underpants a little too much. I could just drop their email addresses in here and tell y’all to go bonkers with the messages, but I decided to flex just a bit.

I’m going to put you in touch with their campaign contributors.
This should go without saying, but as an ass-covering measure, please don’t say anything to these people that’ll get you banned from Facebook or whatever. Don’t make threats, don’t be abusive, explain your issue and move on. If you’re interested, you’ll find sample communications at the bottom of the article which you are completely free to use and modify as you see fit, but you’re on your own if you get screamed at. You might also note that I’ve not included links for private individuals who have donated – personally, I think it’s more useful to focus on organizations who donate as I feel (perhaps incorrectly) that there’s a greater expectation of awareness of a business or organization as far as exactly what their donation will be used for as opposed to a private individual, so if you want to yell at an individual person, you’ll have to hunt them up yourselves.

First let’s take a look at Merrill Nelson’s contributions, all data from disclosures.utah.gov:

19 JAN 2018: PacifiCorp, $500 (Five hundred dollars doesn’t sound like much, but you might be interested to know that PacifiCorp is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, which if you hadn’t heard, is run by Warren Buffett (twitter)- one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in America, remarkably progressive by the standards of rich white dudes, and not exactly a fan of people using his money for knucklehead stuff.)
19 JAN 2018: Parsons Biehle & Latimer (fb), $200
18 MAY 2018: Utah Rural Telecom Association , $500
21 MAY 2018: AGPAC (fb) (tw), $2,000 <– wowie zowie, biggest individual contribution right here
08 JUN 2018: R. Chet Loftis (previous candidate for Utah House, lawyer for health insurance companies) $100
18 JUN 2018: WCF Insurance (fb) (tw), $250
31 AUG 2018: Utah Public Power PAC (fb) (tw), $200
31 AUG 2018: Home Builders Ass’n of Utah PAC (fb) (tw), $300
31 AUG 2018: Utah Ass’n for Justice PAC (fb) (tw), $250
07 SEP 2018: Zions Bancorporation (fb) (tw), $300
07 SEP 2018: Reagan Outdoor Advertising (fb) (tw), $700
26 SEP 2018: Utah HOSPAC (tw), $600
26 SEP 2018: Utah Bankers Ass’n State PAC (fb) (tw), $500
26 SEP 2018: Utah Ass’n of Realtors PAC (fb) (insta), $1000 <– our only other four-figure contributor
26 SEP 2018: 1-800 Contacts, Inc. (fb) (tw), $250
12 OCT 2018: Utah Rural Electric PAC (entity listing), $750 <– who doesn’t even have a website in this day and age
12 OCT 2018: Friends of Art Works for Kids (fb) (insta), $500
12 OCT 2018: U-Car PAC (fb), $751 <– this was the most obnoxious to track down because they gave three different addresses to three different candidates they gave three different donations to, each of which was an increment of $50 plus one dollar. Weirdly disorganized paperwork for car dealers, but what are you gonna do.
12 OCT 2018: Utah County Republican Party (fb) (tw), $200
12 OCT 2018: UMW Recycling, Inc. (fb) (tw), $300
16 OCT 2018: Citizen Action by Public Employees (fb) (tw), $300
24 OCT 2018: Political Action Trust (fb) (tw) (insta), $500 <– Intentionally vague name that the Dairy Farmers of America (based in Kansas) operate under in the state of Utah for some unknowable reason.
24 OCT 2018: Farmers Employee & Agent PAC of Utah, $500 <– This is interesting! According to the financial disclosure, this line item is “10/24/2018 Farmers Employee & Agent PAC of Utah no address, Tooele, UT 84074 $500.00”. There IS a Farmers Employee & Agent PAC, but it’s based out of Ogden, and didn’t make any donations to ANYBODY on October 24. It made a $5,000 donation to the Northern Utah Legislative PAC on 10 OCT 2018, but they didn’t report it to the state of Utah until 9 JAN 2019. Looking over at NUPAC’s financials, they show receipt of the donation on 24 OCT 2018, but the only outgoing funds on 24 OCT 2018 was reimbursement of fundraising costs and food to a guy named Kyle Palmer, who is apparently from the Tooele area. The most logical explanation is that Palmer took five hundred out of the reimbursed costs he was given, handed it to Nelson, told him it was from FEAPAC but gave only his own city, not the city the PAC is registered in, as the address. That’s – interesting, to say the least. It couldn’t be that FEAPAC wanted to give money to Nelson without their name on the check, because whoever put the check in Nelson’s hand straight up told him it was from FEAPAC. But why the incomplete address that’s just Tooele, UT? Nelson’s accountant should have caught that and sorted it out when they were processing the end-of-year report for financial disclosures. This is gonna bug me until I figure it out, so I’ll add it to my to-do list. Five hundred bucks isn’t exactly ‘forget you saw this rolled up rug with feet sticking out of it’ money, though, so it’s most likely just some crossed wires.
24 OCT 2018: Ash Grove Cement Co. (tw) , $250
05 NOV 2018: Comcast Financial Agency Corp. (fb) (tw), $500
05 NOV 2018: Tourism Works PAC (fb) (tw), $200 <– Appears to be a side gig of a business called Orchid Events, as they share a physical address including suite number.
10 DEC 2018: Utah Ass’n of Health Underwriters, $300
10 DEC 2018: NAIFA Utah IFAPAC, $300

Whew! Okay, now on to Ralph Okerlund. Interesting sidebar: This guy itemized every last cent he spent on anything. It is extremely important to Ralph Okerlund that you are aware that the transaction at Target on January 28, 2018 for $15.30 was for session SNACKS, not a session MEAL – the fact that trans youth is already at an increased risk of suicide and Utah in particular ranks sixth highest for national suicide rates, not so much. As before, all data from disclosures.utah.gov:

19 MAR 2018: UP Railroad (fb) (tw) (insta), $500
19 MAR 2018: Express Scripts, Inc. (fb) (tw), $500
19 MAR 2018: Parsons Biehle & Latimer (fb), $500 <– also donated to Nelson, but not as much. Maybe they have an accounting fetish? I can not properly express to you the degree of care Okerlund took with his financials here. They’re pristine.
19 MAR 2018: AT&T Services, Inc. (fb) (tw) (insta), $500
19 MAR 2018: AT&T Services, Inc. (fb) (tw) (insta) , $500 <– yes, again.
19 MAR 2018: Flash Technologies (fb) (tw) (insta), $200
29 NOV 2018: AT&T Services, Inc. (fb) (tw) (insta) , $500 <– threepeat
29 NOV 2018: Ash Grove Cement Co. (tw), $250 <– Donated same amount to Nelson. It’s important that the kids not have an excuse to think one’s your favorite.
29 NOV 2018: Education Direction (fb) (tw), $250
Ralph Okerlund would also like you to know that on December 13, 2018, he purchased a ‘SUU Meeting Travel Meal’ at the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory for $14.97. Wait, that’s – they don’t – YOU SIT ON A THRONE OF LIES, RALPH OKERLUND! ROCKY MOUNTAIN CHOCOLATE FACTORY DOES NOT SELL MEALS, THEY SELL SNACKS! HOW DARE YOU MAKE A MOCKERY OF CAMPAIGN FINANCE DISCLOSURES! FOR HATE’S SAKE I SPIT MY LAST BREATH AT THi’m okay, i’m okay, i think i’ve been looking at weirdly meticulous financial disclosures a bit too long is all

Okay, the sample communications I promised you. These might seem softer than you’d expect, but please keep in mind that these people are not necessarily aware that the legislator they gave money to was going to sponsor this bill. For all they knew, they were backing a candidate who promised to fix potholes and promote the construction business. Be gentle. Replace bits in [bold italic brackets like this] as appropriate.
Sample email or facebook post:

Hi! I’m [your name here], and I’m contacting you because your organization gave $[dollar amount] to [Utah Rep. Merrill Nelson for entities from the first list, Utah Sen. Ralph Okerlund for entities from the second list] in 2018. I wanted to make sure you were aware what your money purchased. Along with [Utah Sen. Ralph Okerlund for entities from the first list, Utah Rep. Merrill Nelson for entities from the second list], he introduced HB 153, a bill that would eliminate the ability for transpeople to have their gender marker changed on their birth certificate after a court deems their “sex change” to be complete. In fact, it would effectively codify into law the idea that as far as the state of Utah is concerned, transpeople don’t exist. Utah has the sixth-highest rate of suicide at 22.7 deaths by suicide out of 100,000 total population, and although data on suicide among LGBTQ+ people is difficult to compile as not all LGBTQ+ people publicly identify as such, there are numerous studies available (which I will provide links to!) that strongly suggest that the suicide rate is between 1.5 to 3 times the rate of straight cisgender (identifying as the gender you were identified as at birth) people. The state of Utah cannot afford more suicide, the LGBTQ+ youth of Utah are already dying. This law will help none, and harm many. Just figured you should know what you were signing up for next time Nelson and Okerlund come calling for a donation.
Link to the bill: https://le.utah.gov/~2019/bills/static/HB0153.html
Link to an article containing several studies on LGBTQ+ youth suicide: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suicide_among_LGBT_youth

Sincere regards,
[your name here]

Sample tweet:
FYI, @UtahReps Nelson and @RalphOkerlund filed a transphobic bill, and did so with your $ – you gave $dollar amount to [Nelson if to an entity on the first list, Okerlund if to an entity on the second list] in ’18. Figured you should know what’s what if they wanted more of your $. Here’s info about the bill: https://rewire.news/legislative-tracker/law/utah-vital-statistics-act-amendment-hb-153/
(The link automagically gets shortened by Twitter to 23 characters, so it’ll fit easy peasy in the 280 characters allotted, assuming you make the obvious contextual edits like the dollar amount and the name they donated to.)

If you’re one of the three people in America who actually prefer to use the phone to contact people anymore, first of all why, second of all here’s a sample script. Again, please remember that you are not (necessarily) talking to bad people. We don’t know the context of the donation, it could very well be that they donated to a candidate who wanted to support something they believe in and this will be a complete surprise to them.

“Hi, I won’t take up a lot of your time, but I wanted to let you know exactly how [Utah Rep. Merrill Nelson for entities from the first list, Utah Sen. Ralph Okerlund for entities from the second list] is using the money you donated back in 2018. He and [the other knucklehead] recently filed a new bill that, if it became law, would essentially erase trans people from the state of Utah by mandating that one’s gender is determined at birth, cannot be changed except in the case of error (like the doctor delivering the baby somehow not knowing what they’re looking at), and would remove the ability of a transperson to have their birth certificate changed to reflect the gender they, their healthcare professional, and their court order says they are. I’m happy to send you more information on the bill if you’d like, but mainly I just wanted you to know exactly what they are doing with your money so you can make an informed decision next time they call you for a donation.”

lies, damn lies, and statistics

Let’s talk about gerrymandering.  It’s bullshit, and I’m going to explain exactly why.  The topic sort of requires visual aids which is why it’s a post and not a podcast.

Let’s invent a state and call it Fredonia.  Let’s say that Fredonia has six million residents, which allots it ten congressional districts and ten electoral votes.  Let’s also say that of its registered voters, roughly 40% are registered as Democrats, 40% are registered as Republicans, and 20% are registered as Independent or ‘no party stated’.  Let’s also assume that it follows the same rough demographics as other states, and have the registered Democrats be more concentrated around cities, and less concentrated in rural areas; with the inverse true of registered Republicans, because this is the general trend in the population of America.  Independents are all over with no particular concentration points.  (I might use this construct again, so if in future posts I refer to Fredonia, I’ll link back here and we’ll all agree it means ‘average state with a fairly even distribution of political sensibilities’.)

You’d be forgiven for assuming that the state legislature would follow the 40/40/20 spread or something fairly close to it, or even that it would be fairly evenly divided between the two major political parties with the odd independent; and that their representation in Congress would be similar.

NOW LET’S GERRYMANDER THE CRAP OUT OF IT

Absent the idea of gerrymandering, congressional districts are divided up by population, with each district getting as close to an equal portion of the population as can be managed with a target of ‘as close to six hundred thousand people as possible’.  Other than that, the lines are supposed to be drawn to be roughly in line with borders of cities, towns, counties, etc.  This makes it simpler for someone to tell who their representative is – ‘I live in Hooterville, so I’m in the 3rd district’ vs. ‘Lemme just plug my zip code and four digit extension into this here calculator’.

Gerrymandering is the practice of jiggering congressional district borders around to produce an intended result – either by drawing the lines to include as many members of their desired political party as possible, thus increasing the chances that the district will vote that way; or excluding their opponent’s party.  It also refers to splitting a concentration of a rival political party among as many districts as possible, to dilute their effect and deny them a bloc.  Advanced Gerrymandering flips the script a little – it recognizes that Overshoe Heights is hopelessly lost to their opponent, so it draws the district around Overshoe Heights to pack as many members of its rival party into it as possible, thus keeping those voters out of other districts.  Master-class Gerrymandering is a reactive process vs. the proactive processes of basic and advanced gerrymandering: it involves either merging two districts together and making up the difference by creating a new one elsewhere, thus forcing two incumbents to compete; or flipping a district from predominantly one party to another to dispose of an annoying incumbent.

But wait, you say, no matter how you draw the lines, there’s still going to be a few Republicans in your gerrymandered Democrat district or vice versa.  And you’re right, but remember, the goal of gerrymandering isn’t to manipulate individual voters, but rather, districts.  Furthermore, people tend to succumb to the ‘wasted vote effect’, which means that although Dogville might have 20% of its voters registered as Democrat, they’re likely to look at the fact that 75% of its voters are registered Republican and figure ‘why bother’ and stay home on election day.

My good friend Professor Wik E. Pedia has seen fit to provide me with some examples:

12th district of North Carolina – this one’s packed with as many Democrats as possible to get them out of neighboring districts, favoring the Republican party.

38th district of California – this one’s jiggered around to favor the Democrats.

really
(4th district of Illinois.  You can just barely see the thin line on the left there that connects the two halves.  Districts are required to be contiguous, but there’s nothing saying you can’t have a connecting bit that’s exactly as wide as Interstate 294.  This was redistricted in 2013 to make the connecting bit a little bit wider, but it’s still positively ridiculous.)

Okay, so if gerrymandering is so obviously bullshit, why is it allowed?  Several reasons – first, it’s a game of inches.  It’s not as if someone with evil in their heart starts with a completely even map of districts that would be a simple grid laid over the state modulo some wobbles for population density, and jumps straight to the horrible runes illustrated above, they’ll nudge a line a little here, a little there, until half a dozen revisions later they get what they want.  Second, both parties do it.  Seriously, although the bulk of cases of obvious gerrymandering favor the Republican party, the Democrats aren’t innocent either.  Why would either party outlaw a practice they have used to great effect?  Third, it’s been a Thing since there’s been a United States.  Seriously, Patrick Henry and his bros gerrymandered Virginia’s 5th to try and keep James Madison out of Congress. (It didn’t work.)  And finally, gerrymandering is a bit like pornography – hard to really define when you get right down to it, but you know it when you see it, to borrow a turn of phrase from Justice Stewart.  There’s a difference between pointing at that horrible nightmare going on in Illinois, and being able to actually codify the difference in legal language.

Okay, so if gerrymandering is obviously bullshit, and we’re not getting rid of it anytime soon, what now?

The short answer is to change the way we vote.  For Presidential elections, and for congressional representation in all but one state (Maine), we use a system called ‘first past the post’.  Everyone gets one vote, they vote for one candidate and one candidate only, and the candidate that gets the most votes wins.  Simple, but lends itself well to manipulation via gerrymandering and some other tactics.

Maine recently switched to a system called Ranked-Choice Voting – each person still gets one vote, but instead of picking one candidate, they list them in order of preference.  When it comes time to tally the votes, first the counters look at everyone’s first choice and tally those.  If one candidate takes more than 50% of the total votes, wham done.  If not, then the candidate who got the fewest votes is eliminated, and the ballots who had that candidate listed as their first choice are counted for whatever that ballot had listed as its second choice – so on and so forth until one candidate beats 50%, and then they’re declared the winner.  This system is still slightly vulnerable to gerrymandering in that by packing, you can still produce a district that’s all but guaranteed to vote a certain way, but fogs it up a little by removing the disincentive to vote for less popular candidates.  In first-past-the-post, a vote for a candidate that isn’t the nominee of either of the two major political parties is not only almost guaranteed not to win, but also means that vote ISN’T counted for either of the two political parties – ask your buddy who wrote in Bernie on the ballot how much grief they took from Hillary supporters to explain how that goes down.

Most of Europe uses a system called Proportional Representation, in which each party on the ballot nominates not a single candidate, but a list, and voters vote for which party they want.  A party which wins 40% of the vote wins 40% of the seats, which they fill from their list from the top down.  A variant called ‘open’ allows voters to also vote for individual candidates on the list, thus choosing which candidates on the list fill the seats the party wins.  This actually eliminates the need for congressional districts entirely – instead of each district choosing a representative, the states chooses all its representatives at once, and the proportion of each party’s candidates in the pool of that state’s representatives reflects the proportion of that party’s supporters within the state.

The downside is that voting gets a little more complicated with Ranked-choice voting or with Proportional Representation than with our simple first-past-the-post method, but it’s significantly more fair, breaks the duopoly the Democrats and Republicans have, reduces the impact of gerrymandering and other forms of manipulation, and (especially with Proportional Representation) more accurately reflects the will of the people.  In exchange for that, I think we can handle ‘rank these candidates in order of your preference’ or ‘what party do you want, optionally, which people on that party’s list do you want’.  It’s an idea whose time has long since come, and the only parties that stand to really lose out are the established political parties who, let’s be real, haven’t accurately represented the will of most people for a very long time.

Give it a think and maybe start some conversations about it.  Be excellent to each other, I love you all.

-30-

and there we were all in one place

Funny things happen to Washington DC when you drop half a million people or more on it.  We basically took over most of downtown, streets were shut down, the National Mall was packed solid, and the Metro was so far beyond capacity that station managers gave up trying to get everyone to pay and just focussed on getting them through. If your card didn’t beep after a couple tries, well, whatever, go on through.

And yet there were no arrests – at the inauguration, which I wouldn’t have gone to for any amount of money, there were 217 arrests.  Assaults, rioting, protesters crossing the line.  Drop three times as many folks at least in the same space only a day later, and you’d expect bedlam – but there was not a single arrest.

There was instead an air of relentless positivity and radical peacefulness – even the signs displayed this.  For every sign that boiled down to ‘oh SCREW THIS GUY’ there were a dozen more that were messages of positivity and support. “Never forget you are valuable, powerful, and deserving of opportunity.” “Love is love.” “No human is illegal.” “Women deserve equal rights.” “Black lives matter.” “Refugees welcome.”

It’s resistance, but joyful resistance.  It’s the happiness of returning to fulfilling work – a vocation, a Calling, instead of just a job – after a too-long sleep.  America is waking up.

Excited people swapping tales of the people they were marching for and interspersing them with sightings of the faces of the previous and greatly missed administration. A woman with a Hillary pin tells a man with a Shrek sign (Get out of my swamp!) about seeing John Kerry walking his dog.  A man holding a sign announcing that Trump’s approval rating (32%) is less than the Rotten Tomatoes score for Paul Blart: Mall Cop (33%) talking to someone with a pussy hat about his mother with an aw-shucks smile.  People telling each other about their friends and loved ones who couldn’t make it to DC but they’re at a sister march in Boston, or in Seattle, or in Paris.

Reassuring themselves and each other that none of us are alone, that this is a fight we will keep fighting, that if their feet get tired there’s a million more pairs marching in lockstep.

Given the tremendous amount of people dropped on the Capitol, and the crap that went down at the inauguration, the DC police and various federal agencies freaked out a little – I spotted a division of mounted officers (horses!) and several sniper nests atop tall buildings which became more frequent the closer we got to the White House.  But every DC cop and uniformed Secret Service agent and National Guard member seemed surprised and relieved at the radical positivity – I lost count of the number of times I marched past and saw an officer chatting with someone who’d stopped to take a rest or ask for directions.  Every time, without fail, they were smiling – not the uniform, move-along-citizen sanitised smile of official positivity, but a genuine happiness at seeing democracy taken to the streets without the chaos.  Unrest without unruliness.

And that’s how we’re going to win this one, and every other fight we’ve got coming in the next however long.  Hate is strong, and scary, and has long sharp teeth.  But love is stronger, fearless, and has hide too thick for any fang to pierce.  They’re going to try to bring us down and get us mired in negativity and goad us into violence so they can point and shriek and call us all criminals – because that’s the only way they can win.  They can never defeat us if we don’t follow their script.

Write your own story.  Don’t let them hand you one.  Be excellent to each other, I love you all.

please don’t kill us

In this episode, we talk about the Republican legislative agenda, about how it’s fundamentally incompatible with Trump’s tax plan that promises tax cuts for all, and how an ACA repeal without an equivalent program in place isn’t merely an inconvenience, it’s a literal death sentence for an alarmingly high number of Americans.  There’s also a sidebar about That Document, and an open question about the Watergate fire.

The Senators mentioned, and their phone numbers, are:

Senator Bob Corker – (202) 224-3344

Senator Lisa Murkowski – (202) 224-6665

Senator Rob Portman – (202) 224-3353

Senator Susan Collins – (202) 224-2523

Senator Bill Cassidy – (202) 224-5824

eighty bucks and deamonte driver

Deamonte Driver, who lived not far from where I live, would have been looking forward to his 23rd birthday this year, a young life at the very peak of its potential – instead, his mother is looking at the tenth anniversary of his death. Because she lost Medicaid due to a paperwork mixup that resulted from the family having to move, and not having the $80 for an extraction, she could not find anyone willing to remove the abscessed tooth.

Eighty bucks. That’s about what the average family spends on groceries in a week (source: https://www.bls.gov/news.release/cesan.nr0.htm) For want of eighty bucks, the bacteria in Deamonte’s mouth spread to his brain, where it killed him on February 25, 2007 despite emergency brain surgery.

That surgery, and the costs of the healthcare that started when his health declined to the point where he was rushed to a hospital, totalled to about a quarter million dollars. Since Deamonte’s mom didn’t have eighty bucks, she sure as hell didn’t have a quarter million, so that cost went unpaid, where it was picked up partially by taxpayers and partially by the healthcare industry (and therefore by healthcare consumers).

Congress soon afterward passed a bill requiring pediatric dental coverage to be included in Medicaid, a provision which was eventually included in the Affordable Care Act. Repealing Obamacare would mean creating the same situation that killed Deamonte Driver for want of eighty bucks, instead forcing the public in general – whether they can afford health coverage or not – to help shoulder the burden of a young man’s life and a quarter million dollar bill.

It goes without saying that I’d rather not be complicit in the death of a 12 year old kid. It also goes without saying that I’d rather pay part of $80 than part of $250,000. There is no situation where a straight repeal of the ACA makes sense.

Opponents of the ACA will scream about how much it costs to cover everybody. They’ll scream about how it’s not fair that the costs of one person’s healthcare should be spread among everybody. What they won’t tell you is that it costs LESS to cover everybody, BECAUSE the costs of one person’s healthcare DOES get spread among everybody if they don’t happen to be independently wealthy enough to pay it out of pocket. (And if you think anyone wealthy enough to pay for their healthcare out of pocket does so, and doesn’t have very good health coverage, you’re out of touch with reality.)

Eighty bucks is less than two hundred fifty thousand bucks. I don’t care what direction you look at it from, I don’t care if it’s a great big 80 made out of diamond and an itty bitty 250,000 made out of balsa wood. Eighty is, was, and always shall be less than 250,000.

And a mother should never have to put flowers on her baby’s grave because she didn’t have $80 for the dentist.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/…/02/27/AR2007022702116_3.html

(liquor) cabinet

In this episode, we talk about Trump’s appointees for cabinet and cabinet-level positions, and I bust out a personal theory that I’m pretty sure is true, but has some terrifying implications.