Posted by: competitivemalaise | June 1, 2014

Random thoughts

1) Now that Shinseki has resigned, will the Republicans fund the VA at an adequate level? After all, what do long wait times really mean? Lack of staffing, wouldn’t you think? Heavy patient loads, and a lack of adequate staff to handle it?

2) Why is there such a demand for VA services? Did that have anything with the two wars the last administration started, with inadequate provision for funding the returning veterans?

3) If the Democratic Party ever wants me to donate, they should stop sending multiple alarmist emails a day. Enough already.  Plus, emails with highlighting is just ugly.

4) Also, they should stop telling me how terrible the Republicans are (I know that) and start talking about their plans, their goals, what they’ll do — and maybe telling me how terrible the Republicans are would work better if that wasn’t the subject of ALL their emails.

5) My ex-husband got married yesterday.  A few people were shocked that I was at the wedding … but why?  I don’t get it: we’ve always remained friendly, and I am happy to see him happy.  Family is family.  And his dog gets along beautifully with my cat.

6) Kids are ever amazing.

7) Apparently, I’m supposed to watch the entire first season of Pushing Daisies today, and put in my porch garden. I’d better stop taking naps and get down to it.

Posted by: competitivemalaise | May 28, 2014

Sent mail: Not one more

“Not one more”

Well,  because I’m a little more verbose than that, that was the subject line.  Wrote emails to Sens. Kirk and Durbin: enough already, not one more death from gun violence.

It’s time for a sensible gun policy in this country. It’s time to adhere to the “well-regulated” part of the second amendment.

It’s time to recognize that the second amendment was a state’s rights issue: i.e., that the state had the right to have it’s own militia. Why did the state need to have it’s own militia? To hunt runaway slaves. That’s why Patrick Henry argued for the change in the language of the second amendment. As the largest slaveowner in Virginia, he was concerned that if John Adams were elected president, Adams wouldn’t fund the state militias to hunt slaves (which was probably a valid concern).

The second amendment should have been retired with the Civil War.

Anyone who argues that it’s about individual freedom is an idiot (yes, I’m looking at you, Justice Scalia). And anyone who thinks it will protect them against an over-reaching government deserves a drone strike.

Too many people are being killed because of the gun fetishists in this country.  And the blame lies squarely with the NRA.

Posted by: competitivemalaise | May 21, 2014

I get mail

And here’s a letter from Sen. Durbin (I wrote to express my dismay at the nomination of Michael Boggs to a federal judgeship):


Thank you for contacting me about Michael P. Boggs’ nomination to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. I appreciate hearing from you.
Judge Boggs received his B.A from Georgia Southern College and his J.D. at Mercer University’s Walter F. George School of Law. Boggs has been a judge on the Court of Appeals of Georgia since January 2012. Previously, Boggs served as a Superior Court Judge in the Waycross Judicial Circuit of the First Judicial Administrative District of Georgia from 2004 to 2012. While serving as a Superior Court Judge, he established and presided over the court’s felony drug court program.
On January 6, 2014, Michael Boggs’ nomination was received by the Senate and was referred to the Judiciary committee, of which I am a member. As a member of this committee, I will be considering this nomination carefully and will keep your views in mind.
Thank you again for contacting me. Please feel free to keep in touch.
Richard J. Durbin
United States Senator


A couple things about this email: first, did I ask for Mr. Bogg’s resume? Do I care about his credentials?  In this case, no — although, I don’t find them terribly impressive (speaking as an academic snob).  Second, does this address his stances on the issues which I pointed out were offensive?  No, it does not. It does not address his character at all — and yes, I view his stance on some issues to be a moral issue.

For instance, his anti-choice stance is offensive to me as a woman: it means he devalues both women’s health and the ability of women to make their own choices about their own bodies. I don’t find that moral at all. Next, he opposes marriage equality, which is the defining civil rights issue of our time (well, that, and maintaining voting rights for all … sheesh, are we still fighting that battle?).  Rep. John Lewis has denounced this nomination — and if we’re talking morality and Civil Rights and John Lewis is against you — I think you’re on the wrong side.

Last, but not least, his support for the Confederate flag denotes him as … unAmerican. Frankly, it’s a flag that celebrates treason, and a war fought to ensure the existence of slavery.  No.  Disqualified on points to serve on the federal bench if you are muddled about what defines us as Americans (hint: it isn’t a “Rebel Yell”).  A little boning up on history might be important (and if you tell me that the North got to write the history after the War — well, yes: because the North won! that’s what happens when you win! — and it doesn’t mean that you can go in and change facts just because their uncomfortable now … for instance, like what the South was fighting for and who started it. Again, no).

And what I don’t see is: how are you going to vote on this offensive nomination,  Senator Durbin? Are you a strong “no”? Wavering? Because that’s really what I want to know: how are you going to vote on the nomination?

One note to Sen. Durbin’s staff: if you ask for my preferred title, try using it not only in the address line, but also in the salutation — looks weird if you aren’t consistent.

Posted by: competitivemalaise | May 13, 2014

“Open” internet vs. net neutrality

A letter from the FCC:

Thank you very much for contacting us about the ongoing Open 
Internet proceeding. We're hoping to hear from as many people 
as possible about this critical issue, and so I'm very 
glad that we can include your thoughts and opinions.

I'm a strong supporter of the Open Internet, and I will fight 
to keep the internet open. Thanks again for sharing your views with me.
Tom Wheeler
Federal Communications Commission

Well, that’s one way to defend against a highly unpopular rule change. And since when does “fight” equal “capitulate?”

Posted by: competitivemalaise | July 25, 2013

Lake house blogging

Some observations from vacation ….

One, nearly two weeks into vacation, and I am still having anxiety dreams. Dreams which portend of anxieties of my daily life back home, dreams which have to do with things I’d really rather not think about on vacation, work dreams, driving dreams, and so forth. Now as I write this, I can’t remember details, but I’m frequently waking up slightly annoyed. The good dreams never last, never get to the good parts … but the anxiety dreams go on and on and don’t resolve themselves. What is that about? Enough already. Maybe I’m getting too much sleep? Really, if that’s true … well, then, you can’t win.

Second, it’s gorgeous here. One slight quibble, from a week first in the suburbs and then in the country … what is it with these folks and motors? Honestly, lovely, relaxing, country, and someone is always running a lawnmower … how relaxing is that? And on the lake, do people content themselves with nice quiet boats like kayaks and sailboats and paddle boats and the occasionally pontoon boat? No. On the weekends especially, jetskis and motorboats that race up and down the little lake, sometimes pulling people behind them on skis or floats … ugh. Too loud.  And the Mama Loon doesn’t like the motors either. She yells at them a lot.

There’s a loon pair here, with a baby. They’re nesting across the lake, the baby is learning to swim but doesn’t dive much yet. The Mama Loon goes frantic trying to warn off the motor boats and jetskis. She doesn’t like them at all.  She had a good day yesterday when it was too cold and windy for the power boats to be out.  The photo below was taken by my kid as we were kayaking past the pair: Mama and baby.  She was not best pleased with us, though she didn’t seem to mind having her picture taken …. as long as we didn’t get too close or appear to be chasing them …


Posted by: competitivemalaise | June 22, 2013

Netroots Nation Friday

Friday was long long and busy.

Started by going to the “Morning Dump” with Lizz Winstead, Shannon Moore (the blogger from Alaska who Sarah Palin hates …), Joan Walsh, Cliff Schetcher, Tracy Weitz.The Dump was all about abortion access restrictions, and what that does to women. Tracy Weitz has done a fair bit of research on what happens to women who are denied abortions — who by time they make it to a clinic are just outside the legal gestation period. And it turns out that yes, they love their kids, but they are significantly poorer than the women who got abortions.  So restrictions on abortion are a good way to keep women in poverty: that’s the outcome.

OK, I keep trying to write a synopsis of the days events — at which I took copious notes — but I keep chatting with people instead. Which is the best part of the conference: chatting with folks. More interesting people here than can be believed, both the ones who are famous — or famous in the left-wing blog world — and the folks who are activists.

More blogging when I have a chance. Right now, I’m just giving up and saying it’s been fun, learning a lot, meeting people, seeing a lot of great folks.


Posted by: competitivemalaise | June 21, 2013

Netroots Nation Day 2 (one day later)

So, yesterday was a bit difficult for me — was over-tired, a bit sick, and just wanted to lie and sleep. Not  particularly productive for getting stuff done.

That said, I did see Lizz Winstead and Joan Walsh talk about their books – and about politics in the US now — that was terrific. Wish I could afford to buy Joan’s book … but there it is. Maybe on the Kindle at some point.

Went to the panel on “Mansplaining” but had to leave early as i felt awful.

Saw Howard Dean and Barney Frank talk about the Pentagon Budget — Barney is a joy to hear. We could cut the Pentagon budget by25% and still be the most advanced military in the world — and he says about new planes (can’t remember which ones) — who are we going to use them against? The Chinese just bought an aircraft carrier from the Ukraine — it’s not like they’re up on air defense. The second most powerful air force in the world — second to our US Air Force — is run by the US Navy. So ….

Fangirld geekdom: Saw Marcy Wheeler in the hallway, Saw Howard Dean and Barney Frank twice (and was close enough to touch Barney in the Daily Kos lounge when we were all milling about hoping for food), and really too many to count.

Ended the day going to the keynote speaches …. again, too many to count. Elon James White was the host: the man is funny. Terrific. Howard, Barney, Sandra Fluke, Jeff Merkely — highlights. Also, a San Jose city councilor, Congressman Mike Honda, and many others … video from the President and Elizabeth Warren.

Blew off Laughing Liberally — wanted to go, but was much too tired.

Read More…

Posted by: competitivemalaise | June 20, 2013

San Jose Day 1

Made it to San Jose for Netroots Nation.  Wickedly happy to be on an adventure, out of Chicago, and somewhere I’ve never been before.

So far, I’ve chatted with Jim Dean (he’s sitting across from me now on his computer), seen Markos in the lobby, and met a Flordia State legislator. I’ll have to look her up at some point 🙂  Oh, and Meteor Blades was checking in at the same time I was (no, I did not introduce myself as a fan — there will be enough fangirldom as the convention progresses).  And Howard Dean just walked by.  Really, the lobby of the Marriott.  is the place to be.

Did go outside for a brief walk: gorgeous weather here.

My roommate has not arrived: he had flight issues. Hope he makes it. Stand by is not a good way to travel.

Tonight, meet the scholars with DFA, followed by Liquid Courage with Howard Dean.  And it begins.


Posted by: competitivemalaise | March 20, 2013

Chicago’s Board of Education is running a con game

Went to a forum on the school closings that are projected in Chicago. The first number the Board of Ed rolled out was 129 schools on the list; the current number is around 80.  We’re supposed to feel good about that. The reasons why we need school closings shift from year to year: some years it’s about “underperforming” schools; this year, the code word is “underutilized.”

It’s all lies. That’s the take-away. Our public officials are lying to us, and no one is calling them on it.

Well, some folks are trying to call them on it. Raise Your Hand is doing its best to figure out what is real and what is falsehood.  The CTU is trying to call them on it too … but the press gets into a “he said, she said” on that one.

Lies.  Lies that schools are underutilized.  You want to know if a school is underutilized? Go visit it. Look at the class rooms, talk to the teachers, talk to the staff, see what’s going on. Has anyone on the Board of Education actually visited any of the schools on the closings list? No. They’ve run the numbers to say what they want them to say, and so what if the numbers lie.

And the numbers lie. The first number is the number that they’ve lost over 146,000 students in the last 10 years, given the Census number. That Census number counts everyone between the age of 0 to 19. Think about that. It includes children who are too young to attend school. It includes students who were never in public schools, who went to private and parochial schools.  Raise Your Hand ran the actual numbers, based on students who were actually in the Chicago Public Schools: the number actually lost is closer to 31,500. That’s a big exaggeration of lost enrollment.

The numbers used by CPS to determine “underutilization”  assume a class size of 36 students per class.  Let that sink in a moment. 36 students per class is assumed to be the optimal use of space. The optimal class size for elementary through high school.

I’ve always thought that the optimal size for a classroom was about 20-25 students per teacher.  At most. The smaller the class size, the more time the teacher gets to spend with the kids individually, the better the quality of the education.  Thirty kids is pushing it.

Then you have the special ed kids. The kids in special ed are mandated to have class sizes no more than fifteen per class, and ten is really more optimal. So the higher a percentage of special education classes in a school, the more it seems “underutilized.” Because the Board of Education’s numbers don’t take into consideration which classes are special ed: it lumps them all together.

So the Board of Education has now determined that what’s best for our kids is thirty-six kids crammed into a classroom? Even if they are special needs kids?  They’re actually lobbying the State of Illinois to allow them to increase class sizes to forty students per class.  That should make for some quality education time.

Think about the schools they’re talking about closing. The majority of them are in poor neighborhoods, because poor neighborhoods have schools that are labeled “failures.”  Actually, interestingly enough, this year the Board of Education argument isn’t about “failing schools,” it’s about under-utilization. Funny how that goes … consistency much?

At any rate, here are schools in neighborhoods that have high crime rates, have low-socio-economic status, and are mostly African-American and Latino. Often these kids are traumatized before they ever get to school: can you imagine trying to teach a class full of kids who have all seen violence? Violent death? Who have had parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, die violently? Who may have witnessed death? What does that do to your class dynamic, if the kids in your classrom are mostly terrified all the time? Does making the class size larger really help? Give you any room to cope with these traumas on an individual basis? Treat your kids like human beings?  Like individuals who deserve respect?

Notice, too, that while the Board talks about closing all these “underutilized” schools to save money, to use our resources more wisely, more profitably … it is also talking about increasing the number of charter schools. So our neighborhood schools are underutilized and need to be closed, but at the same time we need to spend taxpayer money to build more charter schools?

And that brings us to the money.  We’re told there’s a budget shortfall. We never actually see the budget.  They say they’re cutting costs at the administrative levels, but as they cut they also hire.  Departments are shifted around. Finding budget detail for the Board of Education itself is somewhat difficult.  The Board of Education frequently claims a projected budget shortfall, only to find that the actual budget ends in a surplus.  And while they claim to have a budget shortfall, instead of using that money to save and improve neighborhood schools, they’ve allocated $80 million dollars to charter schools.

So on the one hand, they have declining enrollment and underutilized schools so clearly neighborhood schools need to be closed to maximize efficiently. On the other hand, they need to fund the building and development of as many as 80 new charter schools because we have a demand for their services.  So which is it: are the schools we have underutilized or we do need more schools for our children’s educaiton?

Money is the key. What is happening when we build charter schools? We’re shifting public dollars into private hands, with much less oversight and much less control. We shift money to charter school companies that are designed to make a profit. And if a profit is being made, that profit is money that is not going into the direct education of students. It’s public money that is going into someone’s pocket.

That is offensive.

Posted by: competitivemalaise | March 3, 2013

Winning elections

It’s good to win.

When I got involved in the wonderful world of endless campaigns and election cycles, it wasn’t with any thought that we’d actually win.  The concept was that even supporting losing candidates changed the conversation — and boy, the conversation needed to be changed.  The conversation had become filled with right-wing propaganda, and it felt like no one was talking about the issues that really mattered in ways that made any sense — it was all framed to agree with Republican assumptions about the world. And some of us felt those assumption were not only wrong, but geared to re-distributing wealth from the majority to a tiny minority at the very top.

We kept being told it was a center-right country. We kept being told that this was the new reality. We kept being told that we were a minority.

But it didn’t feel like that. It felt like the leaders — whether it was the politicians or media flunkeys — were ignoring the majority. It felt like we needed to organize and start yelling … and the best way to do that was to support candidates who were running from the left, talking about our issues in ways that make sense, people who would listen to the lobbyists for our allies and not the corporate elite. But most of all: make the other candidate justify their positions, and make them re-think some of their positions.

It felt like a long-term plan. Keep at it. First you win at very local races, the small ones, build a bench, then move on to the bigger prizes.  Give it thirty years or so. Don’t worry about the battles: see the war for what it is — a war for our future.

But once you start winning … winning is fun. It’s joyous. It’s the precursor to a lot of hard work, the hard work of governing — but it’s good to win. Because then you’re not just changing the conversation, but allowing the folks who agree with you to have a voice — and proving that there’s more of them than conventional wisdom assumed.

Losing isn’t the end of the world. It can lay the ground work for the next race, the next election. It can show that an incumbent is vulnerable, even if he/she managed to hold on.  The best candidates learn from their losses … and take it to the next level the next go round (see Obama, Barack, loss to Bobby Rush, D-IL 1st Congressional District).

And sometimes you win and the candidate you worked so hard for turns out to be disappointing … easily co-opted by the powers that be. But sometimes they turn into real fighters, who really do take the work seriously, and work at the business of learning when to fight and when to compromise, when to poke a stick into the wheels of the legislative body to slow it down, and when to compromise to get something done — even when it’s not perfect.

But winning is sweet. It makes you see that you’ve made a difference, and that makes you fight harder for the next one.

It may be addictive as well.

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