The family photo that could get me into Congress

    This is the best picture we’ve ever taken as a family. Our friend Leisa Thompson took it about a year ago. For reasons that still aren’t quite clear to me, we were hanging out inside a giant piece of sculpture at the time. We had a print of it made, and it’s hanging upstairs, about six feet from where I’m tying this now. I’ve never thought seriously about running for public office, but it’s hard to look at it and not think, “I could win a Congressional race with this.”


    I wonder if anyone’s ever run for office just because, by some quirk of fate, they’d taken an incredibly good family photo. I suspect they have.

    Even if I’d wanted to run for office, I couldn’t. I’ve said too much. Just a few weeks ago, I was standing in a group of a dozen or so people, explaining to them at there was nothing so ugly in all the world as an all-white baby. I was only half serious, of course, but I can see how my opponents might be tempted to take something like that and run with it. And then there was that unfortunate stretch, about ten years ago, when a shockingly large percentage of the posts here were about ball shaving. And I’m sure that’s just scratching the surface. If someone was really motivated to destroy me, who knows what they might find by digging through the archives of this site…

    update: On a whim, I spent ten minutes going through the archive, looking for things that could possibly derail a political career, and found, among other things, evidence of me begging a porn star to find me a writing job in the industry, and a watercolor that I’d done of my penis, which I referred to as majestic… So, no need to worry Debbie Dingell, you’re safe this time.

    update: I didn’t, by the way, obscure the eyes of my wife, son and daughter in the photo above because I was embarrassed of them. I did it because I was embarrassed for them. It’s one thing to ruin one’s own political career by posting about being thrown off of Romper Room for spitting and having a fetish for Mary Todd Lincoln. It’s another, though, to have one’s political career thwarted in middle school by a father intent on over-sharing in public.

    Posted in Mark's Life, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

    It’s now scientifically proven… You have no voice. You have no power.


    According to The Hill, the fall 2014 edition of the academic journal Perspectives on Politics will contain definitive evidence that, statistically speaking, you and I, as average Americans, have “virtually no impact whatsoever on the making of national policy in our country.” Here, with more on the findings of Princeton University’s Martin Gilens and Northwestern University’s Benjamin Page, who together authored the article, which is titled “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” is a clip from The Hill.

    …The analysts found that rich individuals and business-controlled interest groups largely shape policy outcomes in the United States.

    This study should be a loud wake-up call to the vast majority of Americans who are bypassed by their government. To reclaim the promise of American democracy, ordinary citizens must act positively to change the relationship between the people and our government.

    The new study… examined survey data on 1,779 national policy issues for which they could gauge the preferences of average citizens, economic elites, mass-based interest groups and business-dominated interest groups. They used statistical methods to determine the influence of each of these four groups on policy outcomes, including both policies that are adopted and rejected.

    The analysts found that when controlling for the power of economic elites and organized interest groups, the influence of ordinary Americans registers at a “non-significant, near-zero level.” The analysts further discovered that rich individuals and business-dominated interest groups dominate the policymaking process. The mass-based interest groups had minimal influence compared to the business-based interest groups.

    The study also debunks the notion that the policy preferences of business and the rich reflect the views of common citizens. They found to the contrary that such preferences often sharply diverge and when they do, the economic elites and business interests almost always win and the ordinary Americans lose…

    Ordinary citizens in recent decades have largely abandoned their participation in grassroots movements. Politicians respond to the mass mobilization of everyday Americans as proven by the civil rights and women’s movements of the 1960s and 1970s. But no comparable movements exist today. Without a substantial presence on the ground, people-oriented interest groups cannot compete against their wealthy adversaries…

    Earlier this year, in an interview with the policy and advocacy group Demos, Gilens explained that this significant imbalance illustrated the need for reform. Here’s what Gilens had to say.

    …My work shows that when the preferences of the middle class, or of the poor, diverge from those of the well off, that the poor and the middle class have virtually no influence over government policy outcomes. Policymakers seem to respond to the preferences of the well off, not perfectly, but to some significant degree, and little or none to the preferences of the middle class much less the poor, and we see that across many decades and many sort of issue domains. It’s not just economic issues, but with regard to social issues, and so on.

    (When) we can reform our political system so that politicians, political candidates, and policy makers are less dependent on money from affluent donors and corporations then we will be able to shift policy in directions that will be sort of more broadly beneficial to the less well off in our society…

    In related news, billionaire Charles Koch a few days ago invoked the name of Martin Luther King in a USA Today op-ed in which he instructed the poor to endure their lot in life with dignity. “If a man is called to be a street sweeper,” Koch quotes King, “he should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.’”

    Posted in Civil Liberties, Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

      Riot police and protestors clash for the fourth straight day in Ferguson, Missouri over the killing of a young, unarmed black man… Anonymous promises to hold police force responsible if immediate action isn’t taken

      This video was posted just minutes ago by Patricia Bynes, Democratic Committeewoman of Ferguson Township, Missouri. It shows police officers in the city of Ferguson launching tear gas and stun grenades at protestors. This is the third night in a row that police and protestors have faced off in the northern St. Louis suburb.

      It is real out here

      Here’s the background, for those of you who haven’t been following the news.

      This past Saturday afternoon, at approximately 2:15 PM, an unarmed, young black man by the name of Michael Brown was shot dead by a police officer in the middle of a Ferguson, Missouri street. To hear police tell it, Brown, who, had he not been killed, would have begun college today, reached for an officer’s gun through the window of a police cruiser and was killed in the ensuing struggle. According to eye witnesses, however, Brown was gunned down in cold blood, as he stood, hands raised, facing the officer, asking him not to shoot.

      According to Brown’s friend Dorian Johnson, who was with him at the time of his killing, it all started when a police cruiser pulled up alongside the two young men as they were walking down the middle of the street. “Get the fuck onto the sidewalk,” the officer said, according to Johnson. When they didn’t immediately comply, the officer, who had driven past, threw his car into reverse, and pulled back alongside them, seemingly intent on escalating the incident. To hear Johnson tell it, the officer attempted to open his door, but, when it hit Brown and bounced back, he, instead, grabbed Brown by the neck, though the window. At that point, things apparently went to hell, as the officer pulled at Brown, and Brown attempted to pull away. A shot was fired, Brown was struck, and, as he began to stumble away, he was pursued and shot several more times by this same officer. As of right now, it’s hard to know what really happened. This is especially true as the police officer who killed Brown has not made a public statement. What we do know, however, is that Brown’s body was more than ten yards from the patrol car when he was shot the last time, which would indicate to me that he wasn’t killed in a struggle through the window over the officer’s gun.

      As Brown’s body lay in the middle of the street for hours, word spread and a crowd formed. Protestors, with their hands raised, began chanting “Don’t shoot.” And, over time, the largely black St. Louis suburb descended into violence. (Much of the coverage the first night focused on instances of looting, but it would seem, for the most part, the protesters have been peaceful.)

      It’s worth noting at this point that, of the more than 50 officers on the city of Ferguson’s police force, only three are black, despite the fact that the city itself is 68 percent African American, according to U.S. Census data.

      Furthermore, the police are behaving, in the eyes of many, as though they’re more interested in shutting down the investigation than facilitating it. Not only have they refused to release the name of the officer who killed Brown, but they’ve forced the media from the protest areas. (There is presently a no-fly zone around the city, which is keeping news helicopters from covering the conflict.)

      In response to these recent developments, both U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the NAACP have called on outside monitors to ensure that the investigation is carried out in good faith. And, earlier today, Anonymous came forward with a promise to monitor the situation as well. “We are watching very closely,” the faceless band of activist hackers said in their familiar electronic voice. “If you abuse, harass or harm in any way the protesters in Ferguson, we will take every web-based asset of your departments and governments offline. That is not a threat. It is a promise.” (Anonymous also said that they would release personal information on every single member of the Ferguson police department, should anything happen to a protester.)

      Here is the video from Anonymous.

      Here’s a clip: “Anonymous will not be satisfied this time… with simply obtaining justice for this young man and his family. Anonymous demands that the Congressional Representatives and Senators from Missouri introduce legislation entitled ‘Mike Brown’s Law,’ that will set strict national standards for police conduct and misbehavior in the USA.”

      While I appreciate the sentiment, and like the idea of national standards relative to police conduct, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I approve of what Anonymous has done thus far. Earlier today, for instance, they posted photos of the Police Chief’s house and his children… No, I’d prefer my justice dispensed in a courtroom, at the hands of a jury… Still, though, given the rising tide of police abuse we seem to be experiencing in this country, I’m sympathetic to their cause… I just don’t like lynch mobs… With that said, though, I like the fact that we’re seeing outside pressure exerted on the powers that be in Ferguson. They need to know that our eyes are on them, that we won’t be distracted, and that we demand answers.


      update: There was apparently another police shooting in Ferguson this morning.

      update: One good thing that Anonymous did today… They released police dispatch audio from the day of the Brown shooting. I don’t know if there’s much to be learned from listening to it, but I like that it’s now in the public domain.

      update: It’s being reported that a Huffington Post reporter was roughed up by Ferguson police. Here’s a clip.

      The Huffington Post’s Ryan J. Reilly and the Washington Post’s Wesley Lowery were arrested Wednesday evening while covering the protests in Ferguson, Missouri after the death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, who was shot by a police officer last week. The journalists were released unharmed, but their detentions highlighted the town’s ramped up police presence, which has left numerous residents injured by rubber bullets, pepper spray and tear gas during protests held every night after Brown’s death.

      SWAT officers roughed up the reporters inside a McDonald’s, where both journalists were working. Reilly snapped a photo, prompting cops to request his identification.

      “The officer in question, who I repeatedly later asked for his name, grabbed my things and shoved them into my bag,” said Reilly, who appeared on MSNBC’s “All In with Chris Hayes” shortly after his release to recount the arrest. “He used his finger to put a pressure point on my neck.”

      “They essentially acted as a military force. It was incredible,” Reilly said. “The worst part was he slammed my head against the glass purposefully on the way out of McDonald’s and then sarcastically apologized for it.”

      [Read more about the rapid militarization of the American police state.]

      update: From BoingBoing: “The protests were peaceful for many hours, and turned chaotic when police shot rubber bullets, tear gas (or another form of noxious gas), used an LRAD sonic weapon to blast the crowd with painful sound, and assaulted protesters.”

      update: More footage from this evening’s police assault.

      Posted in Civil Liberties, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 86 Comments

      Michigan’s failed experiment with for-profit charter schools gets national attention


      It’s nothing new for us. We’ve been talking for years about Michigan’s failed experiment with for-profit charter schools. Now, however, it would seem that word is getting out to the rest of the country. The following clip comes from today’s Washington Post.

      Charter schools were originally conceived as centers of experimentation and innovation where educators could try new approaches quickly on a small scale with a minimum of paperwork. Many charters have lived up to that promise, but that same openness that allows new ideas to flourish may also have left the sector vulnerable to a dangerous level of corruption.

      For decades, Michigan and Florida have been on the cutting edge of shifting public education into the private sector. These policies were based on a deeply held and often explicitly stated belief that choice and market forces could net only solve education’s problems but could also alleviate much of the need for regulation.

      Now recent investigations from the Detroit Free Press, South Florida’s Sun-Sentinel, and the Florida League of Women Voters have painted a troubling picture of two out-of-control charter school systems.

      Starting under the administrations of former governors John Engler and Jeb Bush, both Michigan and Florida have been early and enthusiastic backers of the charter school movement and have been particularly receptive to for-profit management companies. While many states prohibit full-service, for-profit companies from running charters, Michigan, and to a lesser extent Florida, has encouraged the model.

      “Michigan has one of the least restrictive environments for charter schools in the entire nation,” said Casandra Ulbrich, vice president of the state Board of Education,” …“We basically opened the door to all types of different charter schools, most of which are run by for-profit management companies, and it’s led to a lot of issues, primarily… financial oversight and transparency.”

      …(F)aith in the ability of market forces to supplant regulation and oversight was so strong that lawmakers in both Michigan and Florida deliberately chose to forgo conventional oversight. Governor Engler made this point clear when he explained why, despite mounting scandals, the Michigan Department of Education does not need more authority over charters.

      “The oversight is ultimately the parent, just like it has always been,” Engler said. “The parent moved if (the traditional school) wasn’t working, but that was limited economically. It’s a question that misses the broader point: What goes on in schools should be the focus. The whole focus should be on education… The structural questions, frankly, are missing the point.”

      This philosophy contributed to extraordinarily opaque systems in both Michigan and Florida. The Detroit Free Press reports:

      Management companies insist — without much challenge from the state — that taxpayer money they receive to run a school, hire staff and pay suppliers is private, not subject to public disclosure.

      Quisenberry, the president of the Michigan charter schools association, said school expenditures are “appropriately public” while “things that would be related to the company itself and its internal operations are appropriately private.”

      And, guess what? Without oversight, the corruption has become rampant, and there doesn’t seem to be any end in sight. Here’s just one small example from the list, which is growing longer by the day.

      …Michigan’s largest charter school management company, which also has extensive real estate holdings, charges the state so much in rent that it gets a 16 percent rate of return on its investment, roughly double the return for comparable commercial properties.

      As John Chamberlin, professor emeritus of public policy at the University of Michigan, said: “When you say, ‘Line up here and you can scam the state,’ you shouldn’t be surprised if people line up and scam the state”…

      I don’t know about you, but I don’t much like seeing my home state held up in front of the rest of the country as a cautionary tale. I mean, I’m glad that the rest of the country has an opportunity to learn from our mistakes, but I’d really rather it was Texas or Arizona serving as the cautionary tale, and not Michigan, the state that gave us the sit down strike, the 40 hour work week, and the middle class.

      Sadly, though, over the past 20 years, we allowed this to happen.

      Despite the clear warning signs, we allowed private companies to loot our public coffers at the expense of our children.

      We allowed the Republican legislature to remove the caps on for-profit charters, while reducing oversight.

      We sat by and watched as our public schools were shuttered and replaced by for-profit entities with no allegiance to our communities.

      We voted for candidates who aggressively sought to pull for-profit charter companies into our state, to the point where, today, one quarter of our nation’s for-profit charter schools are here, in Michigan.

      We watched passively as the profession of teaching was first attacked and then systematically dismantled.

      Convinced by the likes of the Koch brothers that it was greedy teachers, with their “gold-plated benefits,” that were sucking our communities dry, we allowed union protections to dissolve.

      We looked on silently as experienced educators were forced from their classrooms only to be replaced by young college graduates given the impossible task of reading scripts and handing out tests to ever swelling classes of disengaged kids.

      And now we’re paying the price.

      Our most promising young people are fleeing our state as soon as they’re old enough to, and new families aren’t coming here to take their places.

      We should be ashamed of ourselves.

      Posted in Education, Michigan | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

      Know that you are loved, Robin Williams

      Late last year Robin Williams spent a few hours answering questions from fans on Reddit. Among other things, he offered the following piece of advice on navigating hard times. And, given the fact that he apparently took his own life this morning, after having suffered through a sustained bout of depression, I thought that it was worth repeating.


      Having suffered through my share of depressive episodes, I know it’s easier said than done, but, if you ever find yourself in a position where you think that things are truly hopeless, know that there really are people out there who would love to have an opportunity to try to help you.

      As for Williams, while his professional work never really resonated with me, I can appreciate the fact that others found something valuable in it, and my heart goes out to them today, as well his friends and family. To quote John L. Sullivan in Sullivan’s Travels, “There’s a lot to be said for making people laugh.”

      One last thing. If you have the time, and want to get a sense of what Williams was dealing with, I’d suggest listening to the 2010 interview he did with Marc Maron. (Williams talks of suicide at the 55 minute mark, saying that he “doesn’t have the balls to do it.”)

      Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 21 Comments


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