Saturday, March 1, 2014

Steve Duin: Oregon's Senate Republicans can't deal with progress or innovation |

Call your state senator and tell them not to come home without passing this first.

Steve Duin: Oregon's Senate Republicans can't deal with progress or innovation

The best bill of the 2014 legislative session -- House Bill 4143 -- transforms the uncollected straw from class-action lawsuits into a gold mine for Legal Aid.  And if it disappears down the mine shaft, we will chew once again on the familiar dilemmas of state politics:

 * Can Oregon Democrats close the deal on anything that matters?

 * Do Oregon Republicans cash those fat checks from Big Oil at Umpqua Bank or Wells Fargo?

This failure will loom much darker than that, however.  The inability of the Legislature to memorialize this creative problem-solving will stand as a chilling reminder of how dramatically the world is changing and how insufficient our antiquated political system is to maintain order.  

Although this rescue op for Legal Aid was drafted by two House Democrats, Reps. Jennifer Williamson and Tobias Read, it isn't a partisan issue.  "There was a time when plenty of Republicans were outspoken proponents of legal services,"  Portland city Commissioner Nick Fish said.  "The whole idea originated under Richard Nixon, for God's sake."

And when Republican Gordon Smith and Democrat Ron Wyden served together in the U.S. Senate, they petitioned appropriation leaders with equal passion on the need to provide additional funding for Legal Aid.

That makes sense:  The need for legal services -- and the incidence of poverty, domestic violence and landlord-tenant disputes -- does not break down on partisan lines.

But House Bill 4143 broke that way when Senate Republicans and corporate lobbyists realized they finally had use for one another.

The GOP's conservative base is increasingly marginalized. On a national level, Republicans are backing down on the immigration issue and looking increasingly ridiculous in their denial of climate change.

Gay marriage?  Arizona may be the Republicans' Armageddon on that front.  "What Arizona proved, as much as any other (development) in recent American politics," Politico notes, "is that there's currently no more powerful constituency for gay rights than the Fortune 500 list."

In Oregon, Republicans can't even pull off a Dorchester Conference.  The decision by the social-issue misfits to host an alternative luncheon at the Monarch Hotel invites a visit from The Daily Show's Samantha Bee.

For the sake of its 2014 fundraising campaign, then, the Senate Republican caucus is happy, even desperate, to carry water for BP, which lost its legal argument in January about over-charging customers who used debit cards.

By law, BP is allowed to keep the damages that go uncollected.  House Bill 4143 would redirect those millions to essential legal services for the poor, which blows the mind of industry lobbyists.

"In the frenzy of a short session, you can kill a bill pretty quickly by saying it's too complicated," said Williamson, who endured a hug Friday from a BP lobbyist who assured her the execution was almost complete.

"The path of least resistance is saying, 'We'll look at it in the interim.' The problem with that is people have been working on this since 1991.  There's no question about the process.  It's been vetted.  It's a very simple bill."

To recap:  Oregon would join 48 other states that refuse to return unclaimed damages to the sullen losers in class-action suits. It would, at long last, provide stable funding for legal-aid services.

The only folks who can't keep up are the 14 Senate Republicans and Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose.

Politics as usual?  Yes and no.  Senate Republicans want the business lobby to owe them a favor.  Johnson enjoys attention.  We've passed this way before.

But Adam Davis at DHM Research, who has tracked and polled Northwest politics for more than 30 years, believes this is an especially odious turn.

Davis argues that he's never seen the electorate so negative about "government." Voters increasingly don't differentiate between politics and policy, he said, or the state and federal conflagrations.

Combine that with the disinformation industry and the "increasing ignorance" about how government works, Davis says, and he's "seeing a storm related to the public-opinion climate like I've never seen before.

"It's sheer creepiness out there right now."

Voter anger was once focused almost exclusively to government waste and inefficiency, much of that tied to public-employee compensation, Davis says.  That has evolved over the last decade:  The electorate is increasingly frustrated by the lack of progress and innovation.

"So, here was an idea that addressed why people are feeling negative about politics," Davis says.  "And it went nowhere.  That's not only testimony to our system, but it fuels the negativity about not getting anything done."

House Bill 4143 is the best idea to come out of the Legislature in recent memory. It remedies a flaw in class-action law and funds a legal-aid system that can't provide the poorest Oregonians with the help they need.

But the bill is being chewed up in a political system that is designed to be adversarial, not productive, and one that celebrates, year after dreary year, all that is stubborn and self-serving and dull. 

-- Steve Duin   

Why do huge boondoggles get going?

How systems work 


Feb 25, 2014 01:00 am

Originally published as Systemantics, the pun in the title carries the important message that systems have "antics" — they act up, misbehave, and have their own mind. The author is having fun with a serious subject, deciding rightly that a sense of humor and paradox are the only means to approach complexity. His insights come in the form of marvelously succinct rules of thumb, in the spirit of Murphy's Law and the Peter Principle. This book made me 1) not worry about understanding a colossal system — you can't, 2) realize I can change a system — by starting a new one, and 3) avoid starting new systems — they don't go away.

The lesson is that whatever complexity you are creating or have to work with — a website, a company, a robot, a tribe, a platform — is a system that will over time exhibit its own agenda. You need to understand the basic laws of systems, which this perennial book (now in its third edition) will cheerily instruct you.

-- KK

The Systems Bible
(3rd Edition of Systemantics)
2003, 316 pages
$7, Kindle
$18+ (used), paperback

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:





A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. The parallel proposition also appears to be true: A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be made to work. You have to start over, beginning with a working simple system.


We begin at the beginning, with the Fundamental Theorem: New systems mean new problems.


The system always kicks back — Systems get in the way — or, in slightly more elegant language: Systems tend to oppose their own proper functions.


Systems tend to malfunction conspicuously just after their greatest triumph. Toynbee explains this effect by pointing out the strong tendency to apply a previously successful strategy to the new challenge. The army is now fully prepared to fight the previous war

Undernews: Recovered history: Louis Armstrong and the civil rights movement

Recovered history: Louis Armstrong and the civil rights movement

Sam Smith - Louis Armstrong, given his great popularity among whites, would, from time to time, come under criticism for not doing more for civil rights. Ben Schwartz in the New Yorker sheds some interesting light on this in a new article, including Armstrong's response for not having taken part in a protest march: 
"My life is my music. They would beat me on the mouth if I marched, and without my mouth I wouldn't be able to blow my horn … They would beat Jesus if he was black and marched."
In fact, musicians vary markedly in their activism and often express it in their own most familiar language: music. For example, Billie Holiday's Strange Fruit, a song about lynching,  became popular more than a decade before the modern civil rights movement. And we forget that musicians on the road in integrated bands were among those who ran most directly into the walls of segregation. It was, for example, one reason Armstrong didn't return to New Orleans for years. 

And then there are the stories, that get missed, like this one in Schwartz' article: 
One example, of too many, came when Armstrong was arrested by the Memphis Police Department in 1931. His crime? He sat next to his manager's wife, a white woman, on a bus. Armstrong and his band were thrown in jail as policemen shouted that they needed cotton pickers in the area. Armstrong's manager got him out in time to play his show the next evening. When he did play, Armstrong dedicated a song to the local constabulary, several of whom were in the room, then cued the band to play "I'll Be Glad When You're Dead, You Old Rascal You." The band stiffened, expecting another night in jail, or worse. Instead, he scatted so artfully that, afterward, the cops on duty actually thanked him. Armstrong most likely never quit smiling that night. His subversive joke was not understood by anyone except the African-Americans in his band.
Schwartz also writes: 
Armstrong chose his battles carefully. In September, 1957, seven months after the bombing attempt in Knoxville, he grew strident when President Eisenhower did not compel Arkansas to allow nine students to attend Little Rock Central High School. As [Terry] Teachout recounts in "Pops," here Armstrong had leverage, and spoke out. Armstrong was then an unofficial goodwill ambassador for the State Department. Armstrong stated publicly that Eisenhower was "two-faced" and had "no guts." He told one reporter, "It's getting almost so bad a colored man hasn't got any country." His comments made network newscasts and front pages, and the A.P. reported that State Department officials had conceded that "Soviet propagandists would undoubtedly seize on Mr. Armstrong's words."....
When Eisenhower did force the schools to integrate, Armstrong's tone was friendlier. "Daddy," he telegrammed the President, "You have a good heart."
Unmentioned by Schwartz is an example of Armstrong, like Holiday and other musicians, helping to frame an issue well before political activists. Here are the lyrics to "Black and Blue," written by Fats Waller in 1929 and later an Armstrong standard: 
Cold empty bed, springs hard as lead
Feels like ol' Ned wished I was dead
What did I do to be so black and blue 

Even the mouse ran from my house
They laugh at you and scorn you too
What did I do to be so black and blue 

I'm white inside but that don't help my case
'Cause I can't hide what is in my face 

How would it end, ain't got a friend
My only sin is in my skin
What did I do to be so black and blue 

How would it end, ain't got a friend
My only sin is in my skin
What did I do to be so black and blue
It was a song, incidentally, that helped turn me, then a young white high school student in the segregationist 1950s, not only on to jazz, but towards the civil rights movement when it arrived a few years later. 

Music can work like that
Anonymous said...

From reader CB: Armstrong was wiser than many give him credit for. By protecting his mouth, he protected his career and enabled him to make statements in more lasting ways. An example of a promising career that was ruined by a slug to the mouth during a fist fight is that of trombonist Jimmy Knepper. You probably recall his recordings and performances with Charlie Mingus in the 1950s and early 1960s (some of his best - Tijuana Moods, Pithecanthropus Erectus, Mingus Ah Um come immediately to mind). His front teeth were broken or knocked out and he was unable to play thereafter.