Category Archives: Statehouse

As expected, the hammer has come down on smoking in public housing:

The Obama administration has issued a sweeping final rule banning smoking in all public housing units nationwide, extending a smoke-free environment to nearly a million units.

The rule, issued Wednesday by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, prohibits smoking any lit tobacco products (like cigarettes, pipes and cigars) in indoor areas of public housing complexes. It also bans smoking in public housing administrative offices and in outdoor areas within 25 feet from the buildings.

The department says the rule “will save public housing agencies $153 million every year in repairs and preventable fires, including $94 million in secondhand smoke-related health care, $43 million in renovation of smoking-permitted units, and $16 million in smoking-related fire losses.”

It gives public housing agencies 18 months to bring their buildings into compliance. The department says it has been encouraging public housing agencies to impose smoke-free policies since 2009 and about a quarter of the units already have these rules in place.

When it was proposed in November, I said the following:

This seems like the sort of thing that would rile me up, but… it doesn’t, for the most part. Mainly, because from what I’m reading this would mostly bring public housing in line with private housing. Which is to say that landlords – including the government – have their own incentives apart from social engineering to prohibit smoking in their apartments. Smoking represents a fire hazard. It smells, obviously, and can be difficult and costly to clean. If the places are furnished (which I suspect, though don’t know, they might be), you do get cigarette burns on the furniture. So all of these reasons make such a prohibition pretty valid.

I stand by those comments, especially as they pertain to indoor smoking. However, it’s the outside stuff that has me concerned. If you can’t smoke indoors, what about outdoors? Well, not there, either:

“Some commenters objected to the proposed 25-foot smoke-free perimeter around all public housing buildings,” the agency wrote in the final rule. “Some felt that the distance was too large because it would force smokers off the property and onto sidewalks or adjacent areas, including the street. Others expressed concern that the distance would be too great for elderly residents or residents with disabilities or would place residents in danger from having to travel so far. Some believed that the distance could subject smokers to crime or would force parents to leave sleeping children.”

“Commenters stated that requiring smokers to go outdoors is enough and that residents should be able to smoke on their porches or balconies,” the agency said.

“Many commenters objected to the proposed rule because of the burden it would place on public housing residents,” according to the final rule. “Some stated that an indoor smoking ban is unfair to persons with disabilities who cannot easily travel outside their units, particularly if they live alone and cannot leave without help. Others commented that it was not right to force the elderly or persons with disabilities outside in bad weather, putting their health at risk. Some simply stated that it would be unfair to make the elderly or persons with disabilities walk that far to smoke.”

HUD said it “appreciates” the comments on requiring the elderly and disabled to walk 25 feet to smoke, but refused to change the policy. The agency said elderly and disabled tenants, who make up the vast majority of low-income housing residents, would benefit from the rule.

Rules against smoking in public walkways and in front of doors are pretty standard. Rules against smoking on balconies and porches were not commonplace a few years ago, but I suspect are becoming moreso. I would need to know more about where the market is. I suspect middle class apartments and higher do it, while lower class ones don’t. This is a little bit troublesome because it means those who can afford their own apartment have options that those who can’t don’t. Ideally, you might have smoking and non-smoking buildings. But while that’s iffy, it can still be justified.

Where I’m really left hanging is the 25-foot rule, which I honestly missed at first. I saw it, but assumed that it meant 25 feet entrances and exits, and/or 25 feet from administration buildings and common areas. It didn’t occur to me that they would require 25 feet from back walls and the like because that doesn’t make sense and is really quite hard to justify. Now, depending on the layout, in some apartment buildings it’s a distinction without a difference. I’ve lived in one where that was the case because each unit had a front and back entrance. But it was only that one. Every apartment complex I’ve ever lived in or spent enough time in that I can mentally envision it in my head did have blank walls (with, at most, windows).

Why is this such a big deal? Well, if you’re smoking you are ideally covered from three sides and from above so that if it’s raining, snowing, or windy, you’re not out in the middle of it. But beyond that, the more coverage the better. Even being covered from one side can help with wind or wind and rain. Being out in the middle with no protection anywhere just really sucks. And from the sounds of some of the complaints, people are going to be shuffled out to the sidewalks. The justification for this is really quite limited, and there is not even an attempt between trying to balance the right of smokers to smoke and the right of non-smokers not to be inconvenienced. This assumes the former has little or no legitimacy. Which is, naturally, par for the course.

But here we are, though, with a somewhat captive audience that by definition have limited options available to them. With all of the places they can’t smoke, they are left without the ability to smoke wherever they live except perhaps off in the middle of the parking lot or a sidewalk. They may be without the ability to even find a complex where smoking is allowed. In all probability, they are going to simply continue to smoke in their apartments, risk eviction, and present all of the dangers to their kids that are being used to justify this law.

Or, of course, they could stop smoking. Which is, ultimately, where the conversation so frequently comes back to. Which is, of course, the goal mixed in with the other goals. I’m not entirely unsympathetic. Inconvenience can induce people to quit. The one previous time I quit smoking, it was precisely by limiting the opportunities until there were no opportunities left that weren’t ridiculously inconvenient. The last cigarette I smoked was when I was out in 30-degree weather, barely able to hold it because my hands were shaking so bad, and I said to myself “This is fishing stupid.” Which is the public health victory they’re going for, I guess, but it’s hard to ignore the prospect of elderly people smoking out in the middle of the courtyard in thirty-degree weather and winds.

The saving grace is that they (to my surprise) chose not to include ecigarettes in this band. Which, hey, if this policy does get people to switch from cigarettes to ecigarettes that’s a positive outcome. But it doesn’t do a whole lot for those that can’t quite seem to make the leap.


Category: Statehouse

{A Crosspost from Ordinary Times}
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Category: Statehouse
Matthew Stoller Tweetstorms on Trump.

wilson-bryan (more…)


Category: Statehouse

I don’t like Donald Trump. I hope he’ll be merely a bad president and not a disastrous one. I don’t like Trumpism, either. I hope (but am not optimistic) the anecdotes of racially and sexist motivated violence are either exaggerated, reported only because they’re topical, or at least don’t represent a new trend. The night of the election I was depressed and worried. You might not believe it, but I didn’t sleep at all. Not a wink. I just lay awake in bed thinking about the future.

And yet, when people in my life criticize Trump or his supporters, I get very defensive for some reason. By “people in my life” I mean family members, close friends, coworkers, and people on the blogosphere. Even my belief that we do indeed need to understand our opponents represents a certain defensiveness because my go-to (with some past exceptions) is usually to understand Trump supporters or non-liberals in general and not to understand the liberals who oppose Trump.

Perhaps some of this has to do with “flippism,” an idea I got from Jaybird, a commenter Over There. In relevant part,

It’s the basic idea that if you don’t know which of two choices are before you, you should flip a coin. Not because you should do what the coin says, mind, but because the moment the coin is in the air, you’re a lot more likely to say “OH I HOPE IT’S HEADS” at which point you’ll know which choice you actually prefer in your gut.

Then you just have to figure out how much weight to give your gut.

I bring that up because hypocrisy can work that way for people who are on the fence. Let’s say that you’re torn on a particular policy. There’s this way, there’s that way… you don’t know which is the best one… then you encounter a hypocritical politician. Are you inclined to snort and reach conclusions about all those people? Are you inclined to get defensive and start defending the guy even before you read a single attack? Well, now you know what your gut thinks.

As upset as I was about Trump’s victory, I can’t deny that somewhere in my gut I wanted him to win, if not the presidency, then at least the GOP nomination, and not in the way that some liberals wanted him to win the nomination in order to ensure a Democratic victory. In the voting booth, even though I voted for Clinton, part of me wanted to vote for Trump just to be contrarian. In Sangamon that vote wouldn’t have affected the outcome, but it’s still something I might have done.

Some of this defensiveness and “gut support” is a luxury. I’m not among the demographics most likely to be hurt by Trumpism if the worst (or even just the “moderately bad”) predictions about what it means come true. Some of it is probably also due to what my co-blogger Oscar recently described as the “-ism-lite,” which is the type of racism (and other ism’s) that are not quite as nefarious or bad as the more obvious or open kinds, but are still wrong and withal easy for its practitioners to overlook. As he puts, it instead of rejecting out of hand, “I have to parse it, process it, and then I recognize it and decide it’s not OK.”

I realize that in this post, other than noting that I do get defensive, I haven’t really explained the defensiveness or even the types of situations that elicit that defensiveness. I’m simply noting that it’s there and I’m not sure what to do with it.


Category: Statehouse

Sometime during the GOP primary races–probably after I wrote this— I started to sign on to the view that we need to stop “understanding” Trump supporters and focus on defeating them. I had forgotten two things.

First, while “defeating” (and winning over) the opposition are the principal goals in a political contest, it’s not always about “defeating.” It’s also about trying to live in the same world with others, being open to what they have to say, and when possible, convincing them to listen to what I have to say.

Second, understanding the opposition is always important. There’s the utilitarian reason. You’re more likely to win if you understand your opponent. But there’s also the intrinsic rightness of aspiring to empathy. People are people in their own right. I never said and never really believed that Trump supporters were the caricatures of racist reactionaries that others portrayed them as any more. But I probably acted that way.

Trump supporters have their own feelings and their own complex views of the things in their lives that affect them. They are humans just like me, though on average they probably got a lot fewer breaks in their lives than I have. I don’t mean that last point condescendingly, either, as in “they are so underprivileged that they must turn to somebody like Trump.” But it’s probably the case that I stood and stand to gain a lot than they from the type of policies that Clinton would have enacted or maintained. (It’s probably also the case that from a purely personal perspective, I stand to gain a lot from some policies Trump supports.) I also have resources to fall back on should I experience some reversals in fortune. So maybe I should withhold judgment when someone sees things differently. That’s what I ask of others before they judge me.

I do maintain some fundamental disagreements. Whatever their personal views, people who voted for Trump at the very least determined that his racist and sexist-bordering-on-pro-rape-apologetics statements weren’t deal breakers. For me, they would have been deal breakers even if Trump’s views aligned with my own on other matters. Some of my nieces, nephews, and in-laws are Latino or black. Those statements of Trump suggest either that they don’t have a place in our society or that their “proper” place is below white males. (That said and while I don’t know for sure, one of my Latina in-laws probably voted for Trump.)

I need to get out of my bubble more often. As the cliche goes, to understand someone is to forgive–or at least legitimate–them. “Understanding” can sometimes lead to apologetics or agreeing with that with which I should not agree. But it can also put things in perspective and force me to recognize others’ humanity.


Category: Statehouse

This is a reasonable facsimile of a campaign sign in a few places just outside of town near Lain’s preschool.

barrygarrison

I kept wondering where Garrison County was, and why there were signs for a campaign in some county somewhere else that I’d never heard of. I mean, there are a number of counties around here since we’re by two state lines, but even so I thought I knew what they were.

Finally, I remembered to google it and discovered that there is no Garrison County. So… what the hell?

It took me way too long to figure out what was going on.


Category: Statehouse

Some recent comments by you-know-who have lead us to relitigate past accusations of unfair elections, specifically 2000 and 2004. Up until now, I had forgotten that my one tangible contribution to a successful political campaign involved allegations of election fraud. I was only reminded when I read this article:

The US has rejected a Russian proposal to send diplomats to monitor the upcoming presidential elections and some states have even threatened to bring criminal charges against any that appear at ballot stations, Russian election officials report.

Sources in the Central Elections Commission have told Izvestia daily that its representatives held a series of talks with the US State Department to discuss sending a delegation of monitors to US polling stations on November 8. US officials categorically rejected even the possibility of such a mission, however, instead recommending that Russia join the international mission of the OSCE’s Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).

The request was also rejected on a state level, and in three states – Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Texas – officials used “very harsh formulas” to do so, the sources said. “In violation of all principles of democracy and international monitoring, in Texas they even threatened to hold monitors who appear at ballot stations criminally responsible,” they added.

Once upon a time, I sort of worked on a gubernatorial campaign. I didn’t actually work for the campaign, but a group I belonged to was contracted out to float ideas for attack ads. When all was said and done, we got a check for $214 a piece.

One of my ideas made it through into what turned out to be a devastating ad. (The genius of which was not my doing, however.)

The two candidates were Governor Mark Blankenship (R) and Former Congressman Jason Valle (D). The funny thing is that we were lukewarm on Blankenship and had, once upon a time, thought highly of Valle. In fact, Valle had earlier wanted us to be a part of his team. As a politician at the city level, he was a Democrat but a part of the conservative faction of City Council. When he ran for mayor, some of us were rooting for him. He ended up in congress, where he became a standard-issue Democrat. Running for governor was a bad idea. So, too, would have been burning our bridge to work for him. I might have been willing to, but others were more invested in the whole thing and I could understand where they were coming from.

Since we were in Colosse and he was a Colossean politician, we were a part of oppo research. Which was pretty easy, since we’d been following Valle for a while. My primary contribution was his speaking out in favor of (and voting for) opening US elections up to UN observers because our system couldn’t be trusted. Disliking France was all the rage, so my basic suggestion was something to do with putting Valle in a beret or something.

Very intellectual, I know. But it made it into an ad that was so successful that campaigns in other states copied it. While the UN thing was a central piece of the ad, it was the angle that got all of the attention. It was the ad agency that did that. (Not going to share it with you, anonymity and all that, but I can give you a link to the ad if you email me.)

It was kind of neat working for a gubernatorial campaign. I even got to meet the governor, albeit very briefly. It would have been cooler if it had been a governor that I supported. I voted for Valle.


Category: Statehouse
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UPDATE: Please see my version of this post Over There. The short story is, I was wrong and I retract my argument.

My wife got a piece of mail yesterday addressed to “[her name] or current resident” and the return address said, “paid for by the Democratic Party of Sangamon.” The bottom of the envelope had a note that said “From the desk of [Joe Schmoe],” who is Sangamon’s secretary of state. Inside the envelope were a vote-by-mail application, a postage-paid envelope in which to send the application, and a form letter from the Sangamon secretary of state explaining the vote by mail process. At the end of the letter is a postscript:

P.S. No matter who you vote for, voting matters. It’s the backbone of our democracy. Fill out your Vote By Mail application and send it back TODAY! You can apply online or find your early voting site at [Sangamaon]Dems.com/Voting-in-[Sangamon]

While I have mixed feelings about vote by mail, it’s an option open to people in Sangamon and I offer no complaint about it here. And because, as I understand, the state’s secretary of state is charged with voter registration and running the vote by mail service, I find it entirely appropriate that his office sends letters and applications to citizens.

But it’s unseemly, in my opinion, to have this thing paid for by the Democratic party. It’s also unseemly that she was the only one to get the application. While my wife is registered to vote, I don’t know if she’s registered as a Democrat. (If I understand right, in Sangamon, you don’t have to declare an affiliation when you register, but you may if you wish.)

I’m not a registered Democrat. I’m also not particularly friendly to the local Democratic party. Several months ago, a precinct captain was in the neighborhood asking for my signature on a petition for someone to run for Democratic the ward committeeman. I politely explained that I was uncomfortable with the quasi-official “party committeeman” form of governance. Equally politely, he didn’t pursue the matter or harangue me.

It’s possible I was put on the list of “not likely to vote for our person and therefore shouldn’t waste campaign resources on him.” When it comes to things like voter canvassing or who to hit up for donations, that’s a perfectly acceptable way to designate people. But if, as may be the case here, it might determine who receives vote by mail applications “paid for by the Democratic Party of Sangamon.”

Or not. There may be other, mostly innocent or innocuous, things going on. Our landline is registered under my wife’s name, so it’s listed in the phone book under her name. So if that kind of record is gotten by the same pool of information as the phone book, then I can see why the default would be to send the application to her. I also understand that in Big City, the Democratic Party is the main organization and its quasi-official role in governing the city gives it certain responsibilities. So it’s not completely bad that it helps meet operating expenses for public services like vote by mail applications. And Sangamon’s budget is pretty strapped, although I seem to recall similar notices sent to my wife years ago when the budget troubles weren’t quite as bad.

And the envelope was addressed to her “or current resident.” Presumably, I or anyone residing at that address could comfortably open the envelope and get the benefit of access to the application.

But I have a problem with that. I usually won’t open a piece of mail addressed to someone “or current resident” if that someone is not me. I opened this particular piece of mail only because my wife gave me permission. Even if the envelope had been addressed to me, the label “paid for by the Democratic Party of Sangamon” might lead someone to believe it’s just a political flyer or request for a donation. In that case, I’d be disinclined to open such an envelope. Some of that is counterbalanced by the “from the desk of Joe Schmoe” note I mentioned above. And of course, I was curious enough to open the envelope, so I wasn’t deceived.

But if a state service “from the desk of” the state’s secretary of state is being sent out “paid for by the Democratic Party of Sangamon,” that implies something like an official advertisement the party bought from the state, suggesting that for the benefit of paying for this outreach, it receives quasi-official status as the main game in town. This isn’t the most horrible thing ever, but it’s not entirely benign either.


Category: Statehouse

Over There, Tod writes about Theranos with some stuff that didn’t make it into an article he wrote for Marie Claire.

I have some comments on a couple of them. First, about Holmes herself:

When speaking in public, Homes has an awkward, stilted way about her. She’s monotonous and unemotional. While others on Ted Talks vibrantly emote, Holmes just kind of dully drones on. When answering tough questions in interviews, she tightens up and looks nervous, her face a mask of forced smiles.

There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. Lot’s of people simply aren’t good on stage or interacting with people they don’t know, especially on camera. If you’re one of those people, you can sound boring, or look like you’re being disingenuous or hiding something, even if you’re not. The point simply being that when looking for a reason for how Holmes not only got away with doing what she did for as long as she did, but also for how she became a near-universal media darling, the answer “charisma” falls woefully short.

I was really taken aback when I saw my first Holmes interview. She wasn’t at all what I expected, which I guess was Melissa Mayer more or less. I’d seen pictures of her and except for the carefully staged ones, she looks… always. Pretty, in her own way, but very awkward in demeanor. Which maybe should have been an indication that she was not as polished as Mayer, but didn’t quite serve that way. Until her fall from grace, it actually made me like her more. There was a bit of phoniness about a Geek’s understanding of what a Cool Kid is, but emphasis on Geek. A kinship, of sorts.

The second is about narratives, which I think is important but have comparatively little to add:

No one who had Holmes answer their questions with that answer on national television was under any illusion that Holmes was in any way answering that question, let alone addressing a very real serious public health concern about her product. But no one cared. In every case, the person interviewing her smiles and nods, and moves on to ask her how awesome it is to be the world’s youngest female self-made-billionaire, or what it’s like to truly make the world a better place, or some other totally unserious question that fits the narrative they set out to push before they ever lined up their interview questions.

Theranos became a public health problem because it was in Theranos’s interests to push a narrative that simply and obviously was never true. But it became one too because it was in the media’s interest to do the same.

This worries me about media coverage generally. I was talking on Twitter with someone recently about globalism and how one of the criticisms may be off-base. He asked whether I actually believed what the article said, given that it’s a pro-capitalism outfit and our masters all want us to believe it. I said that I believed it, but acknowledged something important: While I believe it’s true, I believe the media would tell us its true regardless of whether it’s true. I think the media does this about a lot of things, including trade, immigration, and race and gender narratives. Even political race coverage, wherein I believe the experts who say that Trump likely won’t win, but in the event that Trump were going to win, I believe they’d be saying… pretty much what they’re saying now. Which doesn’t lead to a reflexive disbelief on my part, but a persistent skepticism I don’t always know what to do with. But narratives are exceptionally important, and deviating from high society’s favored narratives is costly, which makes it easier for everybody to go along.

The last is a bit more political:

It turns out — and I know this will come as a shock to you — that most states have laws against medically testing people without a doctor’s consent, especially by medical testing facilities using procedures not approved by the FDA. Go figure! Turns out that Arizona also once had laws like this on the books. HB2645 essentially lifted those regulations so that Theranos could begin selling its tests to Arizona citizens.

Unsurprisingly, this strikes me as a more complicated issue. Yes, the Arizona legislature dropped the ball here. And they did so in service of a bad actor. And yet… medically testing people without a doctor’s consent doesn’t strike me as an inherently bad idea. I would say something about unapproved-by-the-FDA facilities and that being a good place to hang my hat, but… well, it’s the FDA. While the FDA might keep a company like Theranos from selling faulty goods, I don’t have a whole lot of difficulty believing they’d approach a good actor the same way.

And in a statement against interest, I believe we require a doctor’s consent on too much. A commonly cited example is birth control. Eyeglasses requirements are a bug up my craw as well. Doctors are too busy, and their time both too valuable and too expensive, to be involved in everything. Which gets to the difficult, nitty-gritty aspect of regulation. My approach here isn’t “Deregulate Everything!” but that some things that sound like a transparently bad idea – such as allowing blood tests without a doctor’s consent – may not be.

So while I can easily see that this particular manifestation of such deregulation is a bad idea, it’s not super clear to me what a better model looks like.

Addendum: Make it four. He mentions former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist as someone who lent Theranos credibility. I only bring this up because when there was talk of a Third Party thing with a split of the GOP, I brought up Frist on a few occasions. It was said mostly jokey, as someone underwhelming to a group of people who had their eyes on Mitt Romney or John Kasich. Someone kind of dusted off the shelf because “Hey, he’ll work.” Anyhow, one thought I did have that didn’t make me like the idea is how much he cashed in after he left office. The Theranos thing doesn’t surprise me. Notably, though, he sold out in ways that Democrats would approve by speaking positively about PPACA.


Category: Hospital, Statehouse
We don’t need to let everybody into the debates. However, debates should be more than just a selection mechanism but also a platform for introduction and discussion.

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Category: Statehouse

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Queenland

Greetings from Stonebridge a fictitious city in a fictitious state located in a tri-state area in the interior Mid-Atlantic region. We're in western Queenland, which is really a state unto itself, and not to be confused with Queensland in Australia.

Nothing written on this site should be taken as strictly true, though if the author were making it all up rest assured the main character and his life would be a lot less unremarkable.


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