Even the water from the tap is a political subject


Plenty of Chicago-area newspapers are reporting this story as if it’s some kind of unusual water dispute between two Cook County municipalities. But water is an essential resource, and it’s fairly obvious that not everybody has equal access to fresh water. This dispute is particularly intense because Evanston (as the supplier of water) can’t or won’t just turn off water supplies to the Village of Skokie because that’s just the wrong thing to do. However, Evanston’s argument — that Skokie needs to pay for its water without a subsidy from Evanston taxpayers — is also hard to ignore.

We can get into the details of how water is distributed, but I think this showcases how politics isn’t a faraway place populated by people we only hear about every election cycle, but instead is a reality that seeps into our everyday lives. We can’t just not talk about politics, not when the water from our taps is a political issue. Nobody gets to say they’re not invested in local politics: When you don’t have water in your kitchen and bathroom because your local government won’t pay higher rates for water supply, you’ll find out just how much of your everyday life is political.

When is it not free speech?

A vehicle plowed into a group of people protesting the white nationalist march through downtown Charlottesville, Va., on August 12.

I have previously written about the extent of free speech, as defined by the law, and indicated my disagreement with protesters at the University of California, Berkeley, over the shutting down of far-right hate-speech figure Milos Yiannopoulos.

The events in Charlottesville, Virginia last weekend prompted me to reexamine my position, and consider where the limits of the freedom of speech should be drawn to ensure an orderly, tolerant, and welcoming society.

On Sunday, I posted a note on Facebook about the paradox of tolerance: an argument presented by philosopher Karl Popper that if we practice unlimited tolerance, then we will also need to tolerate the intolerant who seek to destroy our tolerant society; tolerance without limits will lead to the disappearance of its own society. Therefore (emphasis mine):

I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols.

Source: Karl R. Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies

Siva Vaidhyanathan, a professor at the University of Virginia (and someone I had the fortune to meet this winter), put it eloquently in his opinion piece for The New York Times: “There is no ‘free speech’ if anyone brandishes firearms to intimidate those they despise. You can’t argue with the armed.”

The brandishing of firearms to advocate a point is, almost exclusively, a far-right phenomenon. However much the so-called “alt-right”, white nationalists, neo-Nazis, white supremacists — whatever you call it — wish to argue, the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have warned that white supremacist groups have carried out more attacks than any other domestic extremist group over the past 16 years.

Certainly, the left and liberals have not been wholly non-violent. But this is nowhere near equivalent to the violence wielded by right-wing groups in the name of advocacy for their causes, and far more incidents have demonstrated the far-right’s refusal to accept facts — a necessary precondition for meaningful debate. (Obama’s birth certificates, anyone?)

It also doesn’t demonstrate a willingness to debate when far-right protesters accuse peace-promoters as race traitors, imply threats of sexual assault, and spout theories about the difference in brain sizes between the races, and disproven associations that brain size is associated with intelligence (it’s not; climate is probably a bigger factor).

It is simply not possible to engage in rational argument when the best tools of knowledge gathering (namely, the sciences) are dismissed and ignored. Nor is it possible to engage in rational argument when you are being run over by a car.

Under such circumstances, is it time for us to consider the paradox of tolerance and the reserved right to not tolerate as Popper describes?

Are we reaching a critical point in society where, for the sake of continuing our progression towards an orderly, welcoming, diverse, inclusive, and egalitarian society, we must considering using the option that Popper had argued should be reserved as a path of last resort?

Should We, The People of the United States of America, invoke the right to “suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies” in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty?

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“Thank you” to the LGBT community?

Photo by Christopher Skor on Unsplash

In three cruel tweets, the commander-in-chief of the United States military declared he was banishing transgender individuals from service.

On the same day, the Department of Justice filed court papers arguing that Title VII, which prohibits discrimination by employers on the basis of an “individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin,” does not protect employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Title VII is part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency with responsibility to enforce Title VII, had filed a brief in support of Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor who was fired after he told a woman customer that he was gay. The Justice Department claimed the EEOC was “not speaking for the United States.”

Trump’s decision to bar transgender individuals from serving in the US military appears to be unexpected, as the Pentagon deferred all questions to the White House.

This has jeopardised the lives of people like Eli, whose service in the United States Air Force is now in question because of these tweets from Donald Trump.

And Republican senator John McCain, who has served in the US military and now chairs the Senate Armed Service Committee and quickly defended transgender service members: “We should all be guided by the principle that any American who wants to serve our country and is able to meet the standards should have the opportunity to do so — and should be treated as the patriots they are.” He had returned to the Senate to push through a vote to debate health care legislation after being diagnosed with brain cancer.

These cruel, regressive actions took place on the same day under the administration of a president who had, during his campaign a year ago, tweeted his pledge to support to the LGBT community.

If this were any other person, I would say he has a funny way of showing it.

But no part of Trump’s actions shocked me; I do not believe that a man who would make lewd, degrading remarks about women — and still be elected — would have the sensitivity to appreciate the difficulties and plights plaguing the LGBT communities. His history of chronic lying — and baby-like dodging when presented with the truth — means his lack of sincerity a year ago should come as no surprise to anyone.

But — among the many terrible things about this regression for LGBT equality — the announcement appears to be a desperate political maneuverer by Donald Trump to distract from the failures of the Republican-majority Senate to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, despite it being a specific Republican Party promise; and the ongoing investigations into his campaign’s collusion with the Russian government to influence the US presidential election.

It yet again demonstrates the depravity and self-centredness that defines Donald Trump: his willingness to harm the lives of millions of Americans for his own, selfish, political gain.

A man who sacrifices the people he governs for personal gain is not a democratic leader, but an authoritarian dictator.

Is this really the person you want to be President of the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Here are the Republicans, politicizing human decency

Apparently, we’re okay with 22 million people finding it harder to get medical treatment

Photo by Daan Stevens on Unsplash

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released its report on H.R. 1628, “Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017” — the Senate Republicans’ answer to abolishing Obamacare.

Multiple news outlets have covered the story, but perhaps the most telling piece of information is this sentence in the CBO’s summary:

“The Senate bill would increase the number of people who are uninsured by 22 million in 2026 relative to the number under current law, slightly fewer than the increase in the number of uninsured estimated for the House-passed legislation.”

There are over 300 million people in the United States. If the Republican Party is serious about the goals of this legislation, it means they want to leave 1 in 13 Americans out of health insurance, and eliminate or reduce healthcare cost assistance for everyone else.

Story after story has been published on the experiences of Americans saved from bankruptcy because of their health insurance.

I have heard of people whose homes were lost and lives were destroyed because of health care costs due to an unexpected illness; I have not heard, yet, of anyone fiscally ruined by the mandate to purchase health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, and the tax credits offered by the federal government to help pay for it.

Why, then, are Republicans so keen on repealing the Affordance Care Act, with such dire predictions?

If it’s because the individual mandate infringes on individual freedoms, then Republicans seem pretty happy to control when and how a woman can get an abortion.

If it’s because Medicaid and medical costs have been rising rapidly, then this note from the CBO’s summary is telling:

The largest increases in deficits would come from repealing or modifying tax provisions in the ACA that are not directly related to health insurance coverage, including repealing a surtax on net investment income and repealing annual fees imposed on health insurers.

So, Republicans will reduce the deficit due to health care costs by repealing a revenue-raising tax on investment income.

If that doesn’t make sense to you, you’re not alone.

The Senate Republicans’ legislation does nothing for the people who need healthcare most. It simply gives yet another tax cut to the country’s richest and wealthiest few, while taking away desperately-needed assistance from the poorest and neediest people in American society.

Republicans seem determined to turn healthcare into an expensive market good, as if receiving life-saving medical treatment at a Massachusetts hospital is the same thing as purchasing a luxury yacht off the shores of Florida.

Unlike other nations (the United Kingdom; Sweden; Switzerland; Canada; France; Taiwan; Japan; China; Singapore; Australia; New Zealand, just to name a few), the United States does not have a universal healthcare or national health insurance scheme, where financial cost is not a barrier to access for medical treatment. The Senate Republicans’ bill will simply make it even harder for Americans to get the medical services they need.

Does the U.S. healthcare system need reform? Yes. But leaving 22 million people without health insurance, raising costs for individuals and families, and giving a tax cut to the rich is not the right way to do it.

The United States is one of the richest countries on the world, and yet basic healthcare and medical treatment for everyone — regardless of your ability to pay — is somehow politically controversial. And I thought it was human decency to heal the sick.

What I don’t understand about politicians and their tax talk

House Republicans have inserted a last-minute provision into the Republican healthcare bill, as part of an effort to woo more votes from upstate New York representatives.

The provision would deny matching federal aid to the state of New York if it did not shift the the burden of Medicaid from New York counties to the state government.

Here’s the bit I don’t get:

But William Cherry, the Schoharie County treasurer, said upstate counties would be able to make a significant reduction to their property taxes if they did not have to shoulder part of the cost of the state’s Medicaid program.

“This would be a huge step and a great benefit to taxpayers,” said Mr. Cherry, a Republican who is president of the New York State Association of Counties.

It’s not for me to comment upon New York policies, because I don’t live in New York, don’t pay taxes to the state of New York, and have no ties with the state.

But my point: government is government. Yes, there may be different layers of government, from local, to county, to state, to federal, to international (hello, EU), but it’s ultimately all government.

And governments of any kind have basically two ways of raising revenue: taxes and borrowing. And as a nation, we’re supposed to hate government borrowing.

William Cherry, the county treasurer mentioned in The New York Times article, argues that upstate counties can make a “significant reduction to their property taxes,” by eliminating Medicaid costs from county budgets.

Notwithstanding that the majority of the county property tax burden goes to paying for schools, not Medicaid, there’s another point I’d like to make: shifting the burden from counties to the state doesn’t reduce those costs, it just moves them to another balance sheet.

At the end of the day, the state government is going to have to pay for all the costs previously borne by the county government, and the state is going to have to get the money somewhere. If the money doesn’t come from county taxes, then it’s very likely going to come from state taxes, unless the state does something else: like drastically cutting back on spending for Medicaid.

Shifting costs from the county level to the state level does nothing for taxpayers. It’s merely another example of how the system of government we’ve set up is designed against taxpayers’ interests.

If politicians really cared about taxpayers (let alone citizens), then they wouldn’t be fighting about who should pay for what, but instead trying to work out what’s the best way to bring the best possible public services at the lowest cost to the taxpayer.

President Donald Trump

The Executive Residence of the White House. Image by Daniel Schwen [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons


WASHINGTON (AP) — Pledging to empower America’s “forgotten men and women,” Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th president of the United States Friday, taking command of a deeply divided nation and ushering in an unpredictable era in Washington. His victory gives Republicans control of the White House for the first time in eight years.

As I stepped out of my apartment doors this morning, the 45th president of the United States of America turned from a hypothetical legal assumption into a fact. Donald Trump is now president of the United States.

He’s the commander-in-chief of the world’s largest military force and 6,970 nuclear weapons (second in the world, after Russia’s 7,300). He’s in charge of a federal executive bureaucracy of 2.06 million employees. He’s the President.

I feel very strongly about Donald Trump. It’s nearly all negative. But regardless of how I feel, Donald Trump has been sworn in as the 45th president of the United States, and I cannot deny that the constitutional precedents for his election as President has been met.

Dick Durbin, my senator from Illinois, put this excellently in a Medium post.

My presence is an acknowledgement that once again America has achieved what so many nations have failed to do: peacefully transition to new leadership.

This is true. The model of American democracy only works when the people of the United States obey and respect the constitution and the rule of law of the United States.

Our society has a procedure for correcting problems in the laws than govern us, and it’s Congress, the constitutionally established federal legislative branch. Congress, along with our state legislatures, has the power to make laws, amend laws, and repeal laws, and it is responsible for doing so in a manner with the best interests of society in accordance with the requirements of our legal system and our Constitution.

Article I. Section I. All legislative powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States…

My strong dislike for the Republican Party has been based on the blatant obstructionism of Republicans of any meaningful legislation because of their opposition to Barack Obama as our president. But if the Democratic Party does the same thing with Donald Trump in the Oval Office, then I will be sorely disappointed with all of our politicians, regardless of party affiliation, who represent us in Washington, D.C.

I can appreciate that some people felt as strongly about the election of Barack Obama eight years ago as I do now about the election of Donald Trump. But I value our country’s civics, governance, rule of law, and republican democracy far more than my strong dislike for the 45th president.

And so, in a manner similar to Dick Durbin, I accept the constitutional truth that Donald Trump is now president of the United States. I will support the President “when he is right, and I will oppose him with every fiber of my being when he is wrong.”