Monday, February 28, 2011

Open mouth, disengage brain

Definition of irony: Tim Pawlenty, the third most boring, elitist multi-millionaire politician in the world, trying to gain Tea Party cred. But all he could manage was to alternately lie and contradict himself (admittedly, this is potentially the alchemical formula for Tea Party fame, so maybe he's on to something).

First, he claimed that Obama supported (or, more accurately, “coddled”) the unions, when that is a fight that Obama has been specifically staying out of, as both sides have pointed out.

Now, recall that the unions are fighting to keep their right to have a voice in contract negotiations, against a governor who wants to strip away those rights and keep them silent. So what does Pawlenty follow up with?
“We don’t share President Obama’s worldview. We don’t want a bigger government shoving mandates down our throats. He’s got it completely backwards. They the bureaucrats don’t tell us what to do, we the people tell them what to do.”
OK, Tim, pay attention: teachers, firefighters, cops – they are "the people." They may not be the people who come to your Eagan, Minn. mansion for tea, but they are "the people." Who are fighting against overreaching government.

How is this not clear?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Next Ten Days

So, I'm at work clearing out my email the other day, and I find a piece of spam; somebody else's copy of it is here, if anybody cares. Although theirs was apparently addressed directly to them, and mine started out "Dear Pro-Life Friend" (which is two - two - two lies in one).

Now, I have no idea how they got my work email address - I'm fastidious about not using it for anything but business. They've got rules about that sort of thing. Nonetheless, it turns up on somebody's mailing list every so often. And since they'd gone to the trouble of tracking me down, it seemed only right that I should respond to it.

Dear Ms Musgrave,

I realize that you probably didn’t actually write the fundraising letter I received, but it has a facsimile of your signature on it, so you get the blame.

I also realize that you seem to refer to yourself as “Congresswoman.” Well, I’m sorry, but you aren’t one anymore. And as far as I’m concerned, six years representing Colorado (where I’ve never lived) doesn’t entitle you to a lifetime honorific. I realize that it’s a sign of respect to refer to former Congressfolk by their title, but respect, really, has to be earned (and let’s not go there).

Plus, this is America: we threw off the yoke of our aristocracy a couple of hundred years ago. So, for any number of reasons, I think you should probably drop the title.

I also apologize for my delay in responding, but I’m not clear how you got my work email address, but, since I do, in fact, have a job, I have to access this from home, in my own time, to respond. Rules, y’know.

Now, let’s start with the fact that you’re being a spokesmodel for the Susan B. Anthony List, which has misappropriated the name of a staunch feminist and claimed that she was pro-life. Since there are no writings or speeches that can be reliably attributed to her regarding abortion, it’s a bit of an unfounded leap to decide Ms Anthony’s politics for her, isn’t it?

(Of course, I guess that “unfounded leaps” are a specialty of yours. For example, your support for “abstinence only” education, as if AO actually works: you should ask Bristol Palin how it worked out for her. Or your apparent belief that a woman without a functioning brain, like Terri Schiavo, still qualifies as “alive” in any functional sense of the word.)

Now, I understand that you can’t seem to stop your knees from jerking wildly whenever anyone mentions abortion, but your effort to defund Planned Parenthood seems a little bit excessive.

After all, over 90 percent of Planned Parenthood’s services go to preventative healthcare for low-income women, like STD treatment, Pap tests, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and other healthcare that they wouldn’t be getting otherwise.

The most telling argument would have to be that, without the birth control that they offer low-income women, these women would be more likely to get pregnant, which would lead to more abortions. So, by trying to defund Planned Parenthood, you are probably causing more abortions than you’d be preventing.

On the other hand, you’ve never been a big advocate for birth control, have you? Aside from being openly opposed to allowing "Plan B" emergency contraceptive to be available when needed, you actually had the gall to insert an amendment into the "Runaway, Homeless, and Missing Children Protection Act" making it a crime to allow runaways access to contraception - after all, it's right there in the Bible. "Honor thy father and mother." So if they're rude enough to run away from home, they deserve to get pregnant, don't they?

Ms Musgrave, you're a short-sighted, partisan fool who doesn't bother to consider the repercussions of her actions. Isn't it time to leave the public eye, and maybe go hide in a cave and wait for the Rapture?


Editor’s note: By the way, we all need to stand up for Planned Parenthood.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

On, Wisconsin!

So, I'm clicking through Time Magazine yesterday, and I come across this column by Joe Klein, regarding the Wisconsin trade union debate. Now, I don't always disagree with Klein, but this column was just a revelation to me.
Revolutions everywhere--in the middle east, in the middle west. But there is a difference: in the middle east, the protesters are marching for democracy; in the middle west, they're protesting against it.
Actually, it sounds to me like the public employees in Wisconsin are demonstrating so that they can keep getting their voices heard, and so the government doesn't gain more control over their lives. Really, it sounds kind of like "democracy" to me.

But maybe I'm misreading the situation up there. Go on, Joe.
I mean, Isn't it, well, a bit ironic that the protesters in Madison, blocking the state senate chamber, are chanting "Freedom, Democracy, Union" while trying to prevent a vote? Isn't it ironic that the Democratic Senators have fled the democratic process?
Isn't it interesting That the Senate Republicans want to force through a bill to strip away decades of rights, and only allow it three days of debate? Why is it that they're in such a hurry again?
An election was held in Wisconsin last November. The Republicans won. In a democracy, there are consequences to elections and no one, not even the public employees unions, are exempt from that.
Absolutely right! There was an election! And because of that, you people have to lose your civil rights! That's just logic!

(You know, it's funny. I've been hearing that quote from the Right a lot lately. "Elections have consequences." It's funny, though. You'd think that if they really believed it, they'd have been saying it after the 2008 elections, wouldn't you? But I digress.)
There are no guarantees that labor contracts, including contracts governing the most basic rights of unions, can't be renegotiated, or terminated for that matter.
Uhh... Joe? Isn't that the point here? The unions want to be able to renegotiate as needed. The governor wants to take that right away from them.

Oh, yeah. And by the way, "contracts can be terminated"? (I reworded that a little; the double negative bothered me.) Yes, they can. But, being a contract, the courts get to step in, and if it turns out that one side is not "acting in good faith," they get to face penalties for being a lying bag of douche.

That's the point of a contract, isn't it?
And it seems to me that Governor Scott Walker's basic requests are modest ones--asking public employees to contribute more to their pension and health care plans, though still far less than most private sector employees do.
Well, yeah. When you factor in all the private sector employees who don't even have heath insurance, sure. (That's about 46 million people nationwide, incidentally.)

But here's the point you're missing, Joey. "Governor Scott Walker's basic requests" - what he's asking for now. Because he's also taking away any ability to argue later, when he gets completely unreasonable.

And he will. See, Scott Walker has always been against unions. He longs for the days when the worker had no rights, and the employer could pay slave wages and fire for no reason. It's been a dream of his for years.

But again, I digress.
When I covered local government in New York 30 years ago, the school janitors (then paid a robust $60,000 plus per year)...
OK, hang on here for just a minute.

You're saying that thirty years ago, a janitor was paid almost twice what he is now? Because the current median salary for a janitor in New York is $33,483. And in 30 years, without adjusting for inflation, janitors are earning 44% less than they did in the 80's?

Man, that union sucks!

(Quick math check - 60,000 - 33,483 = 26,517 / 60,000 = 44.195% - does that sound right to everybody?)

I'll skip a little here, while Klein spends about a paragraph whining about how mean unions are. I mean, I could point out the backbreaking demands of the industrial Barons of the 1800s, leading to the formation of labor unions, which were opposed by those privileged elite millionaires who hired thugs to yadda yadda yadda...

Nobody cares. Rich people want to stay rich, and don't care who they have to destroy to do that. If you don't know this history, you're probably too stupid to care.

But that does bring us to this:
Industrial unions are organized against the might and greed of ownership. Public employees unions are organized against the might and greed...of the public?
Uh... no, Joey, that would be the government. You know, like millionaire governor Scott Walker and his billionaire backers. How is that hard to understand?

But then Joey just gets stupid.
Despite their questionable provenance, public unions can serve an important social justice role, guaranteeing that a great many underpaid workers--school bus drivers, janitors (outside of New York City), home health care workers--won't be too severely underpaid. That role will be kept intact in Wisconsin. In any given negotiation, I'm rooting for the union to win the highest base rates of pay possible...and for management to win the least restrictive work rules and guidelines governing how much truly creative public employees can be paid.
Oh, god. I swear we've covered this. Read back up to the top. I'll wait.

OK, now, since Walker wants to remove any ability of the unions to bargain for anything except base salaries... what the hell are you saying here? That they'll win on topics that they can't even argue about anymore?

You're an idiot, Klein. In fact, let's go further than that.

The basic theme here is that public employees are overpaid. According to a study by Jeffrey Keefe, professor of Labor and Employment Relations at Rutgers, public employees are compensated 3.75% less than similarly skilled and educated private-sector counterparts.

And, in fact, Scott Walker is trying to say that he has to do all this to "save" Wisconsin, to plug a big hole in the budget. But you know the funny part? Wisconsin was doing fine (in fact, they had a budget surplus) until Scott Walker became governor, and created a crisis by giving the state's money away to his cronies.

So, basically, Walker is a lying, thieving bag of fuck, with all the integrity of a rabid weasel.

And here you are, Joey, supporting him. What does that make you?

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

OK, so I don't know what to say about this

I work in a medium-sized office building. Every office in it is related to healthcare in one way or another. As with most buildings, we have communal bathrooms.

I walked into the men's room today, opened a stall door, and stopped. Then I turned around, borrowed a coworker's cell phone (because mine doesn't have a camera), and went back to the same stall. (If you're curious, no, this isn't normal behavior on my part. But that's none of your business anyway, is it?)

Yes, that's a toilet. (I'll bet you worked that part out for yourself.)

And there, to the left of the toilet, are some newspapers. Not uncommon. Kind of a slob - hey, somebody's got to clean those up. (Plus, all he left was the ads. No comics, no sports section, nothing. Selfish bastard.)

And there, in the upper right of the picture? That's a plate of fries.

Like I said. I just don't know what to say.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Egypt - a brief look back

You know, with as short an attention span as the average American has, you'd think that the recent uprising in Egypt would have disappeared from the radar. After all, the first major protests against Mubarak started on January 25, and his government was overthrown in two and a half weeks.

And now, here we are, with a military council in power, saying that they'll ensure an orderly transition to an elected government. It's over, and American Idol is on. Why are people still paying attention?

Maybe it's the cognitive dissonance. We like democracy, but only on our terms.

Muhammed Hosni Sayyid Mubarak is not a nice man. He ruled Egypt for thirty years, primarily because the Egyptian constitution set him to be "elected" by a referendum of the Assembly, and nobody could run against him. When he grudgingly allowed a "democratic election" in 2005, he "won" by 89% of the vote, in an election so openly rigged that the Egyptians rioted in the streets. Mubarak's response? He had his chief political rival, Ayman Nour, convicted to five years hard labor.

(What Nour was claiming was, of course, totally unfair: of course you buy votes in poorer neighborhoods - that's just basic economics; and if security forces prevented people from voting for opposition candidates, sometimes with simple beatings, sometimes with tear gas, rubber bullets, and even live bullets - well, that's just high spirits on the part of patriots, right?)

Mubarak's government openly persecuted political opponents, and was a willing participant in Bush's policy of extraordinary rendition* (often orchestrated directly by his vice president, Omar Suleiman, who might have ended up in charge of Egypt had the the Egyptian people not opposed the "orderly transition" supported by the US and European governments).

Mubarak's police and security forces were blatant in their abuses:
In one video, a woman is forced to strip and is abused by a police officer and in another Egyptian mini-bus driver, Emad el-Kabir... is shown screaming on the floor as officers sodomize him with a wooden pole. The police then sent the video to el-Kabir’s friends to humiliate him. These videos remove the abstract quality of the debate over U.S. torture policies, both in terms of waterboarding and extraordinary renditions.

Both of the videos were put on Youtube and have been seen around the world. What is most striking about the el-Kabir video is that the police were so unconcerned about disclosure of torture that they sent it to the victim’s friends. It was only due to Youtube and public outcry that the officers were given relatively short prison sentences.
The Mubarak family amassed billions in crooked deals during his time with the government (both as a politician and earlier, as a high-ranking army officer).

The notably corrupt* Egyptian government bears some striking parallels to Iraq under Saddam Hussein: an almost cartoonish dictator (who was grooming one of this two sons for succession), security forces kidnapping people off the streets for rape and torture, corruption throughout all levels of government. But the American right wing cheered when Saddam was brought down. Why are they sobbing and clutching their pearls now that Mubarak has been ousted?

Is it because we weren't involved with the overthrow of this government?

Well, let's consider some of the people we did help put into power: the Shah of Iran; the Somoza family of Nicaragua; "Papa Doc" Duvalier of Haiti; General Suharto of Indonesia. (This ignores all the dictators America has helped keep in power.)

Maybe allowing other countries to decide their own fate is the best policy.


* Note: Microsoft Word documents

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Of course he can - he's rich!

(Since this is the first Sunday in February, I should probably have some kind of Superbowl post. Of course, if I watched football, that would be a lot easier to do; but at least I can write about something football-related, so maybe this qualifies as Superbowl-adjacent.)

You know, it's funny. A lot of people complain about the independent weeklies, those free papers that pay for themselves using advertising - I've been told that they're nothing more than a "free rag you pull out of a box on a street corner... that is, if you can find it among the brochures for escort services."

(Honest. We'll get to the football in a second. Relax!)

Personally, I've got nothing against these smaller independents. I've found that their style tends to be more readable than a lot of the "mainstream media," with a distinctly local flavor, and their reporters have been known to beat the more conventional news sources to a story. (For example, the place where I pulled that last quote is a fine example.)

Plus, they're free. My favorite price.

Although I lived near Washington, DC many years ago, I never saw the Washington City Paper. Dan Snyder, on the other hand, the owner of the Washington Redskins, apparently did see this story by Dave McKenna in this particular paper, and seeing it apparently made him unhappy. So unhappy that he's suing them.

(See? Football. Happy now?)

Now, Danny had some time on his hands. He always does, this time of year; the Redskins haven't made it to the Superbowl since he bought them in 1999. (Huh... I wonder if that might have something to do with why DC residents hate the man...)

Anyway, first he sent a couple of boys around to threaten the owners of the paper ; you know, to point out "Hey, nice little place you got here. Be a shame if something happened to it, wouldn't it?"

Of course, by "boys," I mean Daniel P. Donovan, general counsel for the Washington Redskins. And by "threaten," I mean... well, no, that's exactly what I mean. To wit:
We presume that defending such litigation would not be a rational strategy for an investment fund such as yours. Indeed the cost of litigation would presumably quickly outstrip the asset value of the Washington City Paper.
The paper put the entire three page letter on line - you know, in the spirit of full disclosure. And reading it, you can see that it's a good thing that this Danny got a nice cushy job sweeping "drunk and disorderly" charges under his plush shag carpeting; I don't think he was at the top of his class. (If nothing else, failing "Constitutional Law" has to drag that grade point average down a bit, doesn't it?)

OK, Dan, let's go over it one more time.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
See that part I bolded there, Danny? Read it again.

So Atalaya Capital Management (the owners of the Washington City Paper) put their lawyer on it, who probably fired off his reply over lunch; it wasn't like he had to try hard. And again, the letter mysteriously made it on line ("No, really. I don't know how that keeps happening..."). It's a straightforward smackdown. (And only 3 pages long, too - you should check it out.)
We encourage you to consult with First Amendment counsel in regard to your claims and would be happy to discuss the matter with such counsel at any time. I expect that, with the advice of counsel and upon further consideration, you will agree that continued debate over the relevant law serves little productive purpose.
Or in other words, "yo, counselor! Suck on 'dis!"

But Danny and Danny didn't take the hint. And they filed suit.

Now, the majority of this 11-page filing can be boiled down into "Waah! He said mean things about me!" Much of the press, on the other hand, has gone toward one claim, itself almost libelous, that the cover art, of a defaced picture of Snyder, was "anti-Semitic."

Well, as the paper explained it:
For the record: The story didn't mention Snyder's religion at all. And the illustration is meant to resemble the type of scribbling that teenagers everywhere have been using to deface photos for years. The image of Snyder doesn't look like an "anti-Semitic caricature"—it looks like a devil.

But we at City Paper take accusations of anti-Semitism seriously—in part because many of us are Jewish, including staffers who edited the story and designed the cover.
(If anyone was really interested, I could explain why the traditional representation of the Devil was intended to look Jewish, but let's move on.)

But, since libel requires specific allegations, Danny's "lawyers" (let's assume they were lawyers, although the evidence is a little shaky at this point) dug up four. Of course, the internet is a wonderful place to do research on stuff like this, and the Paper's lawyers have found all their work done for them. To wit:

a. that "Dan Snyder... got caught forging names as a telemarketer with Snyder Communications"

Well, let's check this AP story from Friday, April 27, 2001, entitled Verizon fined $3.1 million for telephone slamming:
Verizon and its former marketing agency, at the time owned by Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, were fined $3.1 million for illegally switching Florida customers' long distance telephone service without authorization.

The state Attorney General's Office said representatives of Bethesda, Md.-based Snyder Communications forged thousands of customer signatures to switch them to service provided by GTE, which is now Verizon.

Investigators also found GTE employees forged signatures and "used deceptive tactics" to get customers to switch service.
OK, that's one. What's next?

b. that Mr. Snyder caused Agent Orange to be used to destroy trees "protected by the National Park Service" on "federally protected lands," a matter about which previously published reports have been publicly corrected

Wow. See, that would be cool, if it bore any relation to what the story actually said. Which was:
That’s the Dan Snyder who... made a great view of the Potomac River for himself by going all Agent Orange on federally protected lands
I mean, you understand the word "metaphor," right? It's not that anybody used Agent Orange, it's that somebody cut down a bunch of trees. You know, like in this this 2006 Washington Post story:
A high-ranking National Park Service official improperly helped Washington Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder broker a deal to cut down more than 130 trees on a hillside between his Potomac estate and the C&O Canal, according to a report by the Interior Department inspector general's office.
OK, that's two.

c. that Mr. Snyder bragged that his wealth came from diabetes and cancer victims

Oooh... harsh. Of course, the writer was referring to his own story, where he was reporting on this video from 2000.
Snyder replies that at Snyder Communications, they had "weekly meetings" to come up with a list of what groups to market goods and services to.

"We'd make jokes, each niche would be a $5 million niche, and we'd go after each one," Snyder says.

Greenfield asks for examples of his targeting decisions.

"We were looking at trend lines," Snyder says. "We saw that the aging baby boomer demographics were coming on strong. That meant there's going to be a lot more diabetic patients, a lot more cancer patients, etc. How do we capture those market segments?"

The first 20 times or so that I saw the clip, I had pretty much the same reaction: "Uhhhh....Did Dan Snyder just brag to a crowd of college kids that he looks at folks on the business end of diabetes and cancer as a target market? As members of '$5 million niche?'"

And then I'd rewind the clip. And, dang if Snyder wouldn't say it all over again!

So let me type it again: "That meant there's going to be a lot more diabetic patients, a lot more cancer patients, etc." Snyder says. "How do we capture those market segments?"

Repeat after me: Yucky! I mean, sure, big business is a cold realm. But it takes a special kind of guy to boast about exploiting the downtrodden in front of a roomful of young strangers and TV cameras.
Aa-a-a-and next!

d. that Snyder was "tossed off" the Six Flags' board of directors

Ouch. That one had to hurt. I mean, Danny even has a witness that the whole departure was amicable and both sides were happy. So where does the truth lie?

How about in the actual filing from Six Flags at the time?
In addition, Mr. Shapiro shall serve as an initial director and shall be entitled to appoint the remaining director; provided , however , that such remaining director shall not be Daniel M. Snyder without the consent of the Majority Backstop Purchasers.
Yeah, that's exactly what they'd say during an amicable breakup, huh?

Really, what all this proves is that, by all appearances, Danny Snyder would seem to be a world-class douche, and hates it when people point this out.

Of course, this is only my opinion. I could be wrong. I freely admit that, and would submit this final paragraph as evidence of my fair-minded treatment of this situation into any court filing.