Monday, May 20, 2019

Maybe the Next Border Wall We Build Should Be Around Alabama

It’s hard not to address the latest Republican “elephant in the room,” the new draconian abortion laws passed or passing in Ohio, Georgia, Missouri, and Alabama.

This is a topic I’ve addressed a number of times in the past, most recently in March, when the Current Occupant was deceivingly describing abortions as if babies were being sliced and diced like they were being served at a Japanese steak house.

These laws are cruel, inhuman, and degrading, and it’s been argued that these qualities are a feature rather than a byproduct. The fact that Alabama’s zero-tolerance law was passed by 25 white men is a slap in the face the 52% of our country’s population who just became second-class citizens.

But this is the Religious Right’s big chance to see serious movement on Roe vs Wade. All of these laws are designed to go to the Supreme Court for final resolution, in hopes of overturning the almost 50-year old precedent.

Every prospective justice makes a point of telling the Senate that they intend to leave settled law alone. But we know that it’s just lip service. It’s what they have to say to get confirmed. Then they’re free to do whatever they want because of the lifetime tenure that comes with the position.

It’s no accident that these harsh anti-abortion laws are coming into play now. The last two Supreme Court appointees were hand-picked to rule in favor of laws that limit abortion.

The current panel has already overturned a longstanding precedent in recent weeks, prompting Justice Breyer to point out this slippery slope in his dissent. Many are perceiving that as a warning that Roe is in danger as well as “stare decisis.”

Georgia passed the ban after six weeks and everyone lost their minds, with talks of statewide boycotts abounding. Then Alabama said, “Hold my beer.”

The Alabama law, which essentially outlaws abortion without exception, is the harshest of all the new legislation and is, therefore, the most talked about. Even some leading Republicans have expressed doubts about it, as having gone too far.

This one is likely to be struck down by the Supremes, but I worry that it’s so severe that it makes the other laws, with the 6-8 week limits, look reasonable in comparison. And it lets those leading Republicans appear to be thoughtful and even-handed.

So we could be there celebrating the denial of the Alabama law, only to have the rest of them upheld, and be left with women having to seek abortions before they’re even sure they’re pregnant… which accomplishes the same thing the Alabama law was meant to do.

If I was a young female and living in one of these jerkwater states, I’d be stockpiling Plan B like Trump stockpiles gold shit… IF I could even find it there. I’d probably have to take a road trip to get it and then hope the pharmacist doesn’t have deeply held religious beliefs about it.

I liked Alyssa Milano’s suggestion about women going on a sex strike, in protest. I wrote something about that many years ago, I forget for which controversy, but it was more targeted. I suggested maybe the wives of these legislators cut them off until they back the hell out of women’s uteri.

I am outraged at this intrusion by a minority of political weasels into the personal lives of women. How DARE they substitute their values and morals and judgment for that of others! I mentioned last March that if I were a woman, “outrage” wouldn’t begin to cover it.

How dare some sanctimonious schmuck try to tell ME what’s best for me and my family? How dare some moralistic prig insert themselves into MY family tragedy? How dare anyone other than me and my doctor think they have the right to utter a single syllable to me about it, let alone set up more hoops for me to jump through because my personal decisions run contrary to theirs? And if heaven forbid, my doctor tells me that if I should carry this baby to term, I am likely to die, I’m supposed to consider some legislator’s moral stance? FUCK. YOU!” Fuck you right in the ear.

As my mom always says, “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.”

I hope that the rise of these laws reminds the country that the rights we’ve taken for granted are under attack by Republicans. And unless we do something about it in 2020, the effects will be felt for generations to come.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Where You Start Isn't Always Where You End Up

We’re going to have a major opportunity in 2020 and I’d feel a lot better about it if Democrats didn’t have such a history of screwing these things up.

I know I’m not the only one talking about this; I just want to add my voice to the chorus.

This is going to be a real horse-race of a primary season. There are so many options out there, many of whom have rabid followers. No matter who ends up being the nominee, there will be some salty people out there.

What we need to do, as Democrats, is to make sure the final choice is clear. No matter who is ultimately nominated, he or she will be better than the current occupant, by a landslide. Conscience votes, protest votes, and non-votes will only lead to another four years of this unmitigated disaster of a regime.

We need to see this election as a binary equation. Who do we want, A or B? Feast or Famine? Pool or Pond?

"Pond" would be good for you. (Source)

There is no Miss Congeniality in presidential politics. (Vice Presidents aside…heh.)

We either get a president who respects climate change, reproductive rights, a functioning government, etc., or we don’t. Those are our choices.

I see other liberal blogs that are worried that current frontrunner, Joe Biden, isn’t liberal enough for the burgeoning hard-left movement. But here’s the thing… Obama wasn’t either.

For example, Obama didn’t enter office supporting same-sex marriage. But do you know what? He did by the time he left office. He did because his supporters moved him that way.

The same can happen with any other Democratic nominee. When the culture moves, so do the politicians. (The good ones, anyway.) Politicians who don’t respect the will of their constituents get replaced.

There is too much at stake to fret about any nominee whose stance on any given issue isn’t exactly where we’d like it. The only choice we have is to compare that stance with that of Individual One.

OR, Individual Two. Maybe a miracle can happen and Trump will be out of office by the next election.

Geez, wouldn’t it be something if both Trump and Pence were out, and Pelosi was President? What would even happen then? Would she want to keep the job? Would the other nominees let her, without a fight? It’s a juicy situation… Granted, I think it’s vastly unlikely. I don’t think either one of the current occupants is going anywhere because the Republican Senate will never let it happen.

That’s why it’s just as important to elect some more Democratic Senators. A new president will need someone to work with, as opposed to the blockade Obama had for six of his eight years. Getting rid of Mitch McConnell alone will do wonders for the morale of the 99% of the country he doesn’t listen to.

If we want big changes, we have to have the presidency AND both sides of Congress, like the Republicans just did. Without all three, we can look forward to a lot more nothing.

So let’s not get too carried away with the minutia of the primary candidates. I hope all involved will keep the fight pointed at the Republicans and keep the infighting to a minimum. Why help the opponent by drawing blood on ourselves?

Someone is going to come out the winner. Whomever it is, that’s who we have to rally behind. I’m thinking that if everyone fights a good fight, there can be cabinet positions for everyone.

There are more Democrats than there are Republicans. If we show up and vote together, we win.

Monday, May 6, 2019

The Next First 100 Days

One thing I wonder about during my occasional sleepless nights… Is there anyone keeping track of all the atrocities from the Trump administration that the Democrats have to undo? I mean, assuming they win office in 2020. Or, heaven forbid, 2024, which I’m sure would be an even longer list.

When he’s not stepping on his own dick, Individual One has been a busy bee during his first half term. Some of the things were heavily publicized, other things not so much. So much harm has been done to the apparatus of government, usually in the areas that keep the super-rich from screwing everyone else.

Is anyone keeping track of this stuff? I can come up with some stuff off the top of my head, just by rolling through some of my old posts, but it’s hardly an exhaustive list.

As far as I can tell, the only big legislative act was the massive tax cut for the 1%ers. The bad news is that it would take a filibuster-proof Democratic Congress to undo that financial felatio and that’s unlikely. The good news is that so many of the other destructive policy changes were done via presidential order. The next guy up is completely within his rights to undo them again.

This would make an epic First 100 Days for a new Democratic administration. Within the first three months, a new president could perform a major chunk of American reputation repair, without even breaking a sweat.

First, they can start to get our financial house back in order by overturning the stripping of the Dodd-Frank Act and restore independence to the Consumer Financial Protection Board. This will keep banks from dangerously gambling with our money and sinking the economy the way they did in 2008 and put them back on notice that swindling their customers is once again forbidden.

Also, re-enact the “Fiduciary Rule,” which decrees that brokers must put their customer’s interest before their own. (Only a Republican would think it’s a good idea to have that the other way around. But you won’t hear them talk about THAT on the campaign trail.)

Obviously, rescinding Trump’s tariffs should be done immediately. Trump still thinks tariffs on foreign goods hurt the exporters, rather than the US consumers who buy the merch at higher prices.

On the health care front, repairing the damage done to the ACA would be needed. The ACA has suffered death by a thousand cuts, but a new president can stop the cutting and start the mending.

Ensuring that birth control remains an integral part of insurance coverage will save untold millions, in addition to being the most effective way to lower the number of abortions. Republicans like to talk about governmental over-reach but their abortion policies are the grossest examples of government gone intrusive.

They’ll also need to cut the gag-order language concerning reproductive health care abroad. Being forbidden to discuss relevant health matters is never a good idea.

And they’ll need to end this heinous idea that caregivers in hospitals or behind pharmacy counters can withhold medical care because they have a “religious” disagreement with a prospective patient. That’s akin to letting a cashier refuse to ring up a salami sandwich because she’s a vegan, only with life and death consequences. You want a nice, spiffy new law? Make the Hippocratic Oath the next constitutional amendment.

A new administration can be a literal lifesaver towards the environment, whose prognosis has suffered greatly in the last two years. The EPA can be re-staffed and have its scientists unleashed to once again, discuss what the data says, rather than what a bunch of rich businessmen want it to say. They can end the dumping of coal waste into running streams and rivers, which, again, only Republican businessmen seem to think it’s a good idea.

We can get back into a world leadership position by rejoining the Paris Accords. Climate knows no boundaries. It’s going to take all countries working together to make any kind of difference in the rising global temperatures. We can’t do it alone and they can’t do it without us.

The next one up can look at actual immigration reform and not just place a moratorium on brown people. Reversing everything Trump has done regarding the southern border would be a good start. That includes reining in ICE, who has become a de facto Gestapo, with nearly limitless powers to run in anyone they choose.

The next president can nip a problem in the bud before it becomes entrenched, by restoring Net Neutrality, and make sure the broadband providers don’t turn the internet into just another overpriced and inefficient cable company product.

I know there is a lot more, but you get the picture. These are things that solid majorities of the country would be behind… even more so if it’s weren’t for the corrosive Fox “News” cheerleading for the other side.

Not only are these righteous actions, but they’d also make a pretty damned good platform to run on, wouldn’t they? If you can’t sell this stuff, you don’t have any business running for the Democratic nomination.

The agenda is right here. Now which candidate will pick it up and run with it?

Monday, April 29, 2019

Really, We CAN Handle the Truth

I wasn’t going to mention the rampant falsehoods coming from the Oval Office again this week but hey, I’d be remiss if I didn’t celebrate a milestone.

Over the weekend, Individual One passed a landmark when his prevarication count passed 10,000 lies told since inauguration. Hail to the Chief! That’s some serious dedication to the Falsifying Arts. From now on, they should just replace the Eternal Flame in Arlington with this:

He passed the 10k level with 49 lies on Friday, 24 of which came at his speech to the NRA. For an encore, he lied 61 times at his big shake-'em-up rally in Green Bay.

All totaled during his time in office, he’s produced 10,111 lies in 828 days, for an average of 12 per day.

It’s so bold, you almost have to laugh, until you realize how tremendously unfunny it is. I mean, people actually BELIEVE this stuff.

Just look at the conservative letters that come into newspapers and such. So many of them start with one of his lies as the base from which to make their point. Crisis at the border. Mueller exonerates Trump. Mothers and Doctors collaborate on killing healthy babies.

I would be interested in seeing these lies broken down into recurring categories; I’m sure it would be informative. The more he lies about a subject, the more important it would be to him that we believe it.

Obviously, The Wall would be a big chunk; you’d probably need some sub-chunks to cover the various areas in which he’s lying about his vanity project. Russia would be another big chunk, as well as anything to do with covering his ass from legal proceedings.

I’ve always said that people will believe anything if you say it enough times, especially if it plays to their biases. Trump knows this well and should be cast in bronze as Exhibit One. The sooner the better.

More Debunkery
This week’s misleading meme, harvested in the wild from Facebook:
(Killers voting)

This exists because there are proposed laws afoot that would restore released felons’ right to vote. This scares the hell out of the GOP wherever plays out because they think “Released Felons” = “Likely Democratic Voters.”

I guess it all depends on the nature of the felony. I’d bet you white collar felons, what few there are, would skew heavily Republican. I was going to say “banking industry felons” but when the hell do bankers ever get convicted of anything?

So in the continuing effort to suppress probable Democratic votes, we have this attempt at skewing the perception of voting ex-felons.

On the surface, this vote for a vote meme might seem like a valid idea, but what is omitted is more important.

How many “killers” get released from jail, compared to all other felons? I’d bet it’s damned few.

Compare the “damned few” to the total number of ex-felons and you begin to see the whitewash. There are thousands of non-violent felons who have been released from jail, either on parole or from time served. There is no rational reason why these people shouldn’t be eligible to vote, and “We’re afraid of who they’ll vote for” wouldn’t count.

They want to suppress the voting rights for thousands because the potential votes of a few might be distasteful. The goal is to make you look one direction, at the murderers, and use them to get you to support depriving a bunch of other people of their vote.

We all have the right to vote. Nothing in the Constitution takes that right away. I can understand and support depriving the vote from prison populations… there are costs when you commit crimes (and you’re not rich and white).

Freedom of speech is the same way. If we support freedom of speech for ourselves and those with whom we agree, the same has to be true of those with whom we disagree.

But once you’re out? The whole idea of prison is supposed to be based on rehabilitation. You do your time and then get to go free. If you did something so heinous that they never let you out, so be it.

But once you’re free, you should be able to vote again. Voting is a civic duty and is something that could help bring ex-cons back into society. It’s a way to take responsibility for what’s going on around you.

This meme is pure voter suppression masquerading as empathy for victim’s rights. We know THAT has to be wrong.

Since when did conservatives have empathy for anyone (that’s been born)?

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Truth Shall Set Us Free

If the release of the Mueller Report has shown us anything, it’s the ease with which the current administration lies to us, not only from the Prevaricator in Chief, but all the way down the food chain.

That Trump is a degenerate liar is, at this point, obvious. But then to keep up with the boss, everyone else who wants to keep their jobs has to back up the lies with lies of their own.

Just look at the tap-dancing that newly-appointed Attorney General Barr has done in the last couple of weeks. First, he pens a soft-soap “summary” that was edited with as much integrity as those Planned Parenthood “sting” videos. Up means down, yes means no, and “not exonerated” means “is exonerated.

Also, we learned that if you’re not smart enough to know something you did is a crime, you get a free pass if you’re white and wealthy. 

 And then we learned that if you’re upset, the crimes you commit afterward don’t count.

Both of these whoppers were especially egregious because they were put forth by someone who is supposed to be the nation’s top law enforcement official, and presumably knows better.

So, we had a whitewashed “summary,” that changes the conclusion and omits major plot points, then a press conference to further muddy the waters, as if we weren’t going to be able to draw the opposite conclusions by reading the report, redactions be damned.

And all this was after a feverish attempt by the GOP and the Administration to keep the report from being released at all.

And now that the redacted report is out, the White House is trying to discredit the report (again,) which is pretty ballsy after spending the previous two weeks talking about how it exonerated the president.

That’s probably the only truthful thing he’s said in ten years.

Sarah Sanders got roped into the Mueller report as well when he questioned her about where she got her information about James Comey losing the support of the rank and file FBI staff. She had to admit it wasn’t based on anything real, or in other words, she made it up out of thin air. Later, during damage control, she claimed it was a slip of the tongue (that she repeated multiple times).

If I were running for president, I’d make truthfulness a major plank in my campaign. I’d make it a primary concern to reverse the culture of falsehoods that pervade the oval office and all who seek its approval.

I remember back in the 70s, after the Nixon years, Jimmy Carter won the next election by (among other things) campaigning on how he’d never lie to the American public. Couldn’t hurt to make that an issue. (Of course, said candidate would then have to live up to that while coping with a press who would investigate every syllable from then on.

More Debunkery
They really have the knives out for Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, don’t they? She must really scare the Powers that Be. Look at this one:

As if any of these things preclude being a US Representative.

You could say the same thing about Paul Ryan when he won his first term in Congress.

Ryan was not married, nor had children. He never ran a business, nor bought a home. “Professional” job? He worked for congressional staff, was a marketing consultant for a construction company, but he also worked as a waiter and fitness trainer.

Oh, and he was also 28 when he won his first term.

No one was casting public aspersions about his experience. He won his election fair and square, just like AOC. (Maybe not as dramatically thought… she beat a 10-term congressman by 15 points.)

But then he was a well-to-do white guy and that meshed with his future actions to further enrich well-to-do white guys at the expense of the poor and middle classes.

Besides, like with a myriad of other “faults,” it’s only a problem when it’s a Democrat. Or a young woman of color. Because it’s not like Republicans clamor for their own people to have personal experience with the issue they’re legislating…

Funny how they didn’t mention education. AOC graduated cum laude from Boston University, with a BA in international relations and economics. But yeah, criticize her about not having a family.

Right. What about the one SHE GREW UP IN? Do they really think you can’t learn something about family life from being a daughter or sister? Please…

If the Right wants to criticize, they should stick to things like her positions or actions. That’s fair game if you don’t believe in what she’s doing. Memes like this are just more noise and yammering.

It’s just more mud to throw at the wall to try to affect the cultural narrative regarding a political opponent. That’s why I think it’s important to debunk this BS at every turn.

The truth needs to win out… The REAL truth, not some gilded Trumpian facsimile.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Debunkery - The "Compensating" Edition

Let’s look at some more conservative misinformation, harvested in the wild from my Facebook timeline.
This came with the caption: "Don’t think this can’t happen in the USA."

This can absolutely happen in the USA, but not for the reason the poster is inferring. (I presume the author thinks it’s a Muslim or immigration issue, but I could be wrong.)

In the top two segments, the real cause is religious extremism coming into power. It just so happens that these were both predominantly Muslim countries, so the result was Muslim extremism.

Here at home, this is already beginning with Christian extremism. Look no further than the draconian abortion laws passed in Ohio, Mississippi and Georgia, which translate into banning abortions before many women even know they’re pregnant. (Obviously, these laws were created for the express purpose of being tried before the Supreme Court, in an all-out attempt to overturn Roe v Wade, while there is a quorum of conservative justices on the bench.)

When laws are passed to restrict abortions AND birth control, it can only mean that the subjugation of women is the primary goal. If this path continues, it won’t be long until our “USA 2017” picture will look like this:
As for the part of the meme about France, I put forth that it’s not a compelling picture at all. it’s just 4 women in Muslim garb, in a crowd of other people. That could be from anywhere at any time. They could be tourists, for all anyone knows.

This is just willful ignorance.

I’m not even going to address the job approval percentages, because they vary greatly in time and by who conducts the poll. And I’m not vouching for the accuracy of the economic numbers, although I suspect the $665 billion deficit is a little light, especially after the Trump Tax Package passed. I’m really looking at the ratio between the two presidents and it’s clear that whoever created this graphic has produced a laughable case of ignoring context.

Because the creator is comparing each president’s first year in office, that means President Obama was just getting a grip on the recession left for him after the previous Republican’s eight years in office. All the numbers were way down and about to make a U-turn.

When Obama handed off the economy to the next occupant after his own eight years, he was handing off seven straight years of economic growth and falling unemployment. Trump is basically standing on Obama’s shoulders and bragging about how much taller he is.
(This is evidence, not a new meme to debunk.)

The best that can be said for Trump at this point is that he didn’t screw things up (yet). Numbers improved each month and that continued. But it does mean that he doesn’t get credit for the gross number. He should get credit for any gains of more than the economy was already gaining. (And that ain’t much.) 
Because annoying liberals is worth thousands of innocent lives…

Dear Gun Nuts,
If you want to talk about whining, how about the whining that comes from protecting your fetish from those who don’t want to be killed by it?

We are trying to prevent hundreds or thousands of mass gun deaths. You’re trying to protect your desire to have a lethal toy that goes budda-budda-budda-budda.

The truth is on the shirt… you don’t have a rational need for an automatic or semi-automatic weapon. You don’t need it to hunt and you don’t need it to protect yourself. And your target shooting hobby should not take precedence over everyone else’s right not to be shot to bits.

Everyone says, “But I take care of MY gun… I know how to use MY gun… No one can get to MY gunI’ll teach MY kids how to respect it… The mother of the Sandy Hook shooter did everything “right” too. It’s all perfectly safe, right up until it isn’t and by then, it’s too late.

It’s not whiners you should be concerned about… it’s the mourners, like the of thousands of widowed men and women and children who have to grow up without a parent.

Please find another way to create stirrings in your big boy parts and put the military death machines away. I’m sure you can still feel like a real man with a pistol or standard rifle.

Or maybe just go buy a big truck instead.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Just Checking Boxes Isn't Enough

I applaud the election of the first African-American (and lesbian) woman for Mayor of Chicago. Obviously, the race came down to two African-American women, so breaking this ground was a foregone conclusion.

I’m always happy to see ceilings being shattered in this way and I hope she’s the right person for the job. Because if living in Baltimore has taught me anything, it’s that corruption comes in all persuasions.

The last three Mayors of Baltimore have been African-American women and the terms of all three have ended (or will end soon) in disaster. All started with great promise but were brought down by either greed or ghastly lapses in judgment.

Sheila Dixon was mayor was elected in 2007 and served until February of 2010. Before she left, she was indicted on twelve felony and misdemeanor counts, including perjury, theft, and misconduct. The “marquee” offense was the theft of gift cards her office had obtained, which were meant for underprivileged kids. (And the fact that some of them came from her real estate-developer boyfriend made it all the juicier.)

She was convicted on one count of fraudulent misappropriation and resigned as part of a plea deal.

City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake served out Dixon’s and won re-election in 2011. She was a decent and dedicated mayor; decidedly low key and businesslike.

She probably would have been re-elected again but her handling of the Baltimore riots over the Freddy Gray killing made it impossible. Critics say she waited far too long before asking the Governor to call in the National Guard. The Governor said he couldn’t get her on the phone.

And then at a press conference, she made the statement that destroyed her career:

"It’s a very delicate balancing act. Because while we try to make sure that they were protected from the cars and other things that were going on, we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.

There was more to it than that, and context to be added, but all anyone ever heard after that was “we also gave those who wished to destroy space to do that as well.”

That was basically her epitaph. She might as well have said, “Let them steal cake.”

She opted not to run for re-election in 2016.

That election came down to former City Councilwoman and State Senator Catherine Pugh against, of all people, Sheila Dixon, who was trying to come back from the dead. The race was closer than it should have been, but Pugh won out.

She also began her tenure as someone who was getting shit done.

As you may or may not have seen in the national news, Pugh is now embroiled in a book publishing scandal, wherein she wrote a series of self-published "Healthy Holly" children’s books and conjured an insider deal to sell them to the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), which operates 13 hospitals across the state. But no one can account for all the books. They know of almost 9000 sitting in a Dept. of Education warehouse, but that’s it. There were around 90,000 copies printed. (To give you a sense of scale, the first run of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was only 50,000.)
See, Pugh is one of 30 board members at UMMS. And as the Baltimore Sun found out, there are eight other board members who have contracts between themselves or their businesses, with UMMS.

Note: The Baltimore Sun basically broke this whole story. Because that’s what good journalism can do… And if I were them, I’d be digging into some of the other “corporate boards” and see who else is working insider contracts.

Mayor Pugh has temporarily stepped aside, for medical reasons*, with the current president of the city council stepping in as acting mayor.

*Mayor Pugh was hospitalized with pneumonia for 5 days, a week ago, so there are legit health issues. But the timing sure makes it look fishy.

Meanwhile, the story keeps getting worse. Other city power players have come out and said they each paid the Mayor $100,000 for a run of books, yet no one ever took delivery. It seems apparent that these book deals are a way to raise campaign funds while getting around donation limits and disclosures. (If there are any left, that is.)

It also came out that Mayor Pugh had her house renovate without obtaining any of the necessary permits. This, despite a city official visiting the site and handing her a list of permits she’d need.

Every time some new twist comes to light, they report that she now has to go back and edit her ethics forms for the last seven years.

I want to know one thing: what good is an ethics form if you can just keep adding shit to it every time you get caught? Why even bother? I say, you file your ethics form and if you omit something important, you lose your job. Period. Maybe if we stop playing around with this corporate and governmental graft and start putting some white-collared butts in jail, maybe we’ll see a higher degree of public service.

Isn’t how they handle the petty crimes of the working class?

So it’s only a matter of time before this next groundbreaking leader disappears with a whimper and wisp of smoke.

Baltimore also has a vast policing problem, as if that wasn’t laid bare by the Freddy Gray case. I’ve written about it before but the Baltimore police department is so corrupt, they don’t even recognize that what they are doing is wrong.

In one of the more egregious episodes, a sergeant sent a patrol officer to stop a group of young African-American men, question them and order them to disperse.  When the officer said he had no valid reason to do so, Sarge told him “Then make something up.”

All this happened with the DOJ agent right in the car with them.

There was also a scandal with what was called the Gun Trace Task Force. This was a group of cops who shook down criminals, drug dealers, and completely innocent people, just because they could. They stole confiscated money, they padded their time sheets with unworked overtime, falsified police reports and generally committed more mayhem than the actual street gangs. And as a side effect, everyone these guys arrested or testified against had to be set free, because everything about these cops was now tainted.

All up and down the food chain, people who could have stopped it looked the other way.

This city has eaten up police chiefs left and right. They all come in looking to change the culture and keep order, but nothing ever changes. And the last candidate, one Mayor Pugh recruited and hired from Fort Worth, hadn’t filed a tax return in several years. So he got booted before he could even get started.

Now we have a police chief who last ran New Orleans. I hope he’s got his dress beads on because it’s like Mardi Gras out here every day. I truly wish him all the best.

My point today is not to throw stones at African-American politicians, women, cops or other public servants. I’m just saying that electing a female or person of color is not a magic potion for Chicago. The real challenge will be doing honest work and serving the public. History is littered with people who couldn’t pass up enriching themselves in underhanded ways if their lives depended on it. (One such piece of litter is our current White House occupant.)

If Baltimore serves as an example of anything, it’s that greed and graft are not bound by race or gender. It seems to be universal. As Dilbert author Scott Adams frequently says, (and I’m paraphrasing from memory here,) when there is a high reward for doing something wrong and low risk of getting caught, people will usually go for the reward.

Maybe we should be happy that a new subset of people is now privy to the self-enrichment schemes previously used exclusively by white men.

So congratulations to Mayor-elect Lori Lightfoot. I wish her and her staff all the best. 

Maybe when she’s done cleaning up Chicago, she can send a few pointers our way.

Monday, April 1, 2019

April Fools

I feel like we need a diversion from the political abyss that has been our roster of current events, so let’s talk about something more frivolous, yet topical (for today, anyway).
I love a good prank. I used to be notorious for playing pranks, whether in the office, for April Fools or just for the hell of it. I’ve posted about some of them before, like doing office pranks, including a prank on one of my best friends, more office pranks, and then one from my youth that took about a year to fully play out.

As I learned in my youth, the best pranks are played in the mind, where no one gets hurt and nothing is damaged.

I haven’t done any in ages, though. The closest was the time I was the last one sitting on one end of the floor. I was the only one there for about three weeks. It was a time of upheaval with our company, as we had just moved to a new office building and our company had just been sold.

Anyway, the new department to which I was reassigned was coming to move into my area at the same time I was about to go on a week’s vacation. I wanted to welcome them to my little neighborhood, so since I couldn’t be there, I posted a sign.

Population: One  18

No, it wasn’t really a prank, just a bit of whimsey, but it was something that isn’t usually done around the conservative hallways of financial services companies.

The funny thing is, when I came back from vacation, the sign was still there. I took it down, wondering how it went over. No one had said a word. Finally, about a month later, I asked someone I’d become friends with, and she confirmed that it was indeed well received. I supposed they wondered what kind of a weirdo they would be working with.

Today I was able to pull one off that I conceived of about six months ago. But to tell the story, I have to start with a little background.

It’s funny how the older you get, the less you give a shit about what people think, and the more likely you are to speak your mind.

In my job, I manage a fleet of vehicles and to do so, I work with a couple of outside vendors. I am their customer and they provide services. And sometimes, they can really bungle things up, sometimes to the point of costing my company money in wasted time and inconvenience.

 For example, they may promise to deliver a car to a new driver, but come the day of supposed delivery, they hadn’t even contacted the driver yet. Our guy is waiting at home, dead in the water, and they’re sitting on their thumbs.

In such circumstances, I get on the phone with the vendor and, well, give them hell. I want to rattle the cage a little bit, to let them know in pointed terms that they are disappointing their customer and costing us money in lost time and productivity. Fix the problem, don’t let it happen again.

And because my office is a low-walled “open-floorplan” cube farm, I am known by my group as the guy who goes off on people. In fact, when I get going, I can hear all the typing and clicking stop, like crickets that silence in the presence of a jungle predator. Occasionally I will hear a gasp, or a giggle, which lets me know the peanut gallery is open.

Also, in most cases, I’m speaking with my account rep, who wasn’t the one who screwed up, but she’s the one who relays my unhappiness to the department that did. I’m basically just venting and she knows I’m not directing it at HER. But that’s a nuance that doesn’t translate well to office eavesdroppers.

I always apologize for the sideshow, because it’s not my intention to infringe on their trains of thought. I don’t want to be mean, either. I don’t berate anyone or curse at them. But I do make it clear, in pointed terms, that I expect better out of my vendors and have no tolerance for excuses, especially for recurring, avoidable problems.

Often, during these “post-mortems,” when I’m telling my group what the story was, the memories will start.

Remember that time when he said…”

Oh and that other time when he said… And I thought he was talking to one of OUR people…”

It was during one of these sessions that I decided that on April Fool’s day, I should really give them something to listen to. The only question was whether I’d follow through on it or not.

I was really on the fence. In this day and age, you never know who’s going to get upset about something or tell a damaging story to someone in charge.

Then this morning I saw the box of donuts in our common area. Score! Nothing like a nice donut to brighten your day. I opened the box only to find a big tray of carrots, celery, and dip. Gah! I’d even seen that trick shown on Facebook but fell for it anyway. (Although there was an actual box of donuts under the one that had the veggie tray, so I still got my donut.)

So, this afternoon, when everything was quiet, my desk phone rang and proceeded to have a “call” with my vendor.

Me: Oh, hi, (vendor rep name) thanks for calling. So did you get that car delivered on Friday? What? Oh, you’re kidding…  You’ve got to be kidding me. We talked about this! I made this request three weeks ago! You mean you’re just getting on it now? This is unbelievable.

I can hear the crickets stop, so I know they’re dialed in. (I was told later that one lady tapped another on the shoulder to get her to take her headphones off and listen.)

Me: I can’t believe you’re screwing us again! This is getting to be a regular thing. You screw us on deliveries, you screw us on motor vehicle reports, you’re screwing us on everything!

I hear a giggle.

Me: Look, you’re not the only vendor out there. Other vendors are ringing the phone off the hook trying to get our business. Maybe it’s about time I started answering the calls.

Time for the kill.

Me: This was supposed to be delivered on March 29th. What day is it today? What day is it TODAY? That’s right, April first. APRIL FIRST… otherwise known as… April Fool’s Day.

That’s right, (laughing) OK, I gotta go. Talk to you tomorrow.

Now I hear laughing mixed with sighs of relief. They’re going, “Oh my God…”

He totally got her!”

I stood up and said, “Yeah, and there wasn’t even anyone on the phone. April Fools!”

I had dialed my desk phone from my cell phone. Much laughter ensued.

The old double-whammy. Works every time.

Monday, March 25, 2019

We've Waited This Long, Why Not Wait a Little Longer?

At long last, the famed Mueller Report came out last weekend, with not so much a bang as a whimper. No more indictments, no serious charges, no conspiracy with the Russians to influence the election.

The reason for the whimpering is that no one really knows what’s in the report yet, aside from Attorney General Burr. All he’s released thus far is a four-page summary which he (or his staff) wrote.

Here’s a guy who was on the record as having been opposed to the investigation from the start and was later hand-picked by Trump to take the AG job. I guarantee that both sides of that last sentence were intertwined like a snake on an octopus.

Is there anyone on Trump’s staff that hasn’t lied to the American public on his behalf? It’s practically a job requirement. So with an issue this big and the possibility of severe liability to the president, how can we possibly trust anything AG Barr has to say about the report?

As far as I’m concerned, we know nothing and will continue to know nothing until the full, unredacted report is released (or leaked).

Obviously, Trump and the Republicans are doing the “No Collusion Mambo” up and down the steps of Capitol Hill. That’s meaningless, as well as being true to form.
Trump has been barking about being vindicated with the release of every Mueller document, indictment, briefing, or horoscope, whether it addressed the collusion issue or not. It wouldn’t surprise me that Trump issued a tweet claiming the last full moon was proof that he didn’t collude with the Russians OR witness any peeing hookers. He knows full well that repetition = perceived truth and that facts don’t enter into it.

The document itself says “this report does not exonerate the president.” So naturally, Trump claims exoneration. That’s the modern political paradigm in a nutshell.

It’s going to be up to the House of Representatives to get to the bottom of the report, either by subpoenaing the AG to release the report in full or deposing Mueller himself.

The sticky question the Republicans will have to answer is: “If the report clears the president, why hold it back?

People only hold back things like this when there’s something they don’t want the public to know. And remember, it was only up to Mueller to gather findings. Those findings were presented to the AG for interpretation as to whether crimes were committed. But there was zero chance this Trump stooge was going to determine there was criminal activity committed by his boss. To do so would invalidate the reason he was put in the job in the first place.

If they release the full document, other legal experts can chip in with independent opinions which may contradict the finding of the Stooge General. That’s the last thing the administration wants. So the stonewall is on.

I also wonder why, if there was legitimately no collaboration with the Russians, what were all those people lying about when they perjured themselves? The Trump indictees must have known some pretty serious things for them to risk lying to Mueller’s team or to Congress. I mean, Trump, himself, no longer differentiates his lies from truth, but what’s the excuse for the rest of those clowns?

So, like I said, there’s no sense in getting caught up in this little piece of performance art. Only when the full report comes out, by hook or by crook, will we know what really happened.

Meanwhile, the president can turn his attention to what’s really important to the American people… prosecuting Saturday Night Live.

Director’s DVD Commentary: This is just my view from the bleachers. For a top quality deep dive into this mess, check out this post from the Booman Tribune.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Writing Checks and Checking Out

There are two things I want to talk about this week.

Is Maryland the New Oregon?
Two weeks ago, the state of Maryland’s House of Delegates passed a bill to allow doctors to prescribe to patients with less than six months to live, a fatal dose of medication to allow them to end their lives. The bill passed narrowly, 74-66, with a vote in the State Senate still to come.

Opposition to the bill is coming from usual religious types, like the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore, which is not unpredictable. Archbishop Lori said that the bill would “further undermine the dignity of life.

I would ask the Archbishop how dignified it is to live out your final days in agonizing pain, or in a drug-induced stupor, forced to have others tend to your waste processes.

This issue is a lot like the abortion issue, wherein people from outside of your family want to make painful, personal decisions for you, admonishing you to abide by their own morals and not yours.

I would posit that the opposition comes from families who have never had a loved one suffer through a painful, drawn-out death. Or those who have never had to contemplate helping a loved one die peacefully while risking murder charges themselves. Otherwise, they might think twice about putting anyone else through that kind of torture.

Obviously, there should be safeguards in a law like this, preventing patient coercion. Great care must be taken that this is a path the patient chooses to take, for their own benefit and not to avoid the inconvenience of others. Authors of this bill say there are such safeguards, critics say there are not… Just like every other political debate going on. The two houses should be able to bang out some protections to calm any reasonable objections.

Granted, they’ll never calm the philosophical ones, so that leaves us to again fight the MYOB fight.

One thing the law does have in its favor is that the state of Oregon has had an assisted suicide law on the books for years. My friend and Oregonian, the Infidel, may know better, but I haven’t read of any rash of terminal patient suicides; in fact, I heard the number actually decreased after passage. That disarms some of the scare tactics opponents throw around about how people will be lining up to bump off their parents and claim their inheritance. Or people making rash decisions that they will regret, albeit for a very short time.

I know I’ll feel a lot better if this law gets all the way to passage. Then if one day, in what I hope is the very distant future, I’m wracked with pain on my deathbed, I can check out on my own terms without having to drag my sorry carcass out to the car and run a hose from the exhaust pipe.

The College Bribery Scandal
I so wish it involved Colgate University so we could call it “Colgate-gate.” And if Bill Gates was involved but got away with it, the headline would be Bill Gates Skates Colgate-gate. (I could go on, but I already did, once. I hate the whole “Adding ‘Gate’ to Every Scandal” trope.)

It’s only an important scandal if celebrities are involved, right? That’s why the only people we know about who are implicated in this pay-for-admittance deal are the two Hollywood actresses. You’d think it was a whole Hollywood undertaking. It’s always, “These two actresses, (here are their headshots!) and 48 other less well-known rich people, were charged blah blah blah…”

The Press’s knee-jerk use of the celebrities in the lede allowed the Republicans to position this as a “liberal” scandal. Now, I don’t know who else is involved but I’d bet that Republicans predominate, for no other reason but the culprits had to have a lot of money on hand. Worst case, it’s a split, making it an American problem and not a Republican/Democrat problem.

The NY Times referred to this as Snowplow Parenting. That’s a step up from Helicopter Parents, who merely hover. The Snowplow Parents work to clear all obstacles from their offspring’s paths. It’s nice in theory but leaves the children totally unprepared to deal with life’s inevitable obstacles. Or even normal adult tasks.

I always thought a parent’s primary objective should be to prepare their kids to be independent. Knocking down every obstacle and refusing to let your kid try something and fail is a huge disservice. If one can’t handle disappointment, (and life will be loaded with it), it will be a miserable existence indeed.

OK, I guess it would be quite nice if your parents bought your way onto teams and got you into colleges for which you weren’t qualified, but eventually, the snowplowing is going to come to an end, and then what?

Personally, I’m glad I worked for whatever I got. My rewards corresponded with my efforts. My parents always provided a safety net, but I was out there on my own. I did my own homework and my own projects. If they were crappy, I got a bad grade. It was on me.

Side note: I stopped asking the folks for homework help very early in life, after the Math Debacle. I went to grade school in the 60s when the “New Math” revolution was in full swing. My parents could help me with math, but their way had nothing to do with the way I was being taught. So even when I got the right answers, my parents’ methods didn’t lend themselves to the next tasks, when we moved on to other functions.

After that, I had my mom review writing projects and suggest edits, (usually for grammar and clarity.) That was it.

I picked my own college, did my college application by myself, and got myself enrolled. More importantly, I paid my own way through school via part-time jobs.

My folks supported me… I guess you could call it a collaboration. I purposely picked a state college to which I could make a daily commute, so to avoid dorm costs. They helped me with buying books, which was a complete racket. And during my last semester, when I ran out of money, they kicked in the last $500 of my tuition.
They would have paid for me to live on campus but it was important to me to do this on my own. That’s how they raised me. I made it my business to get in and out in four years.

The sad thing, in today’s world, is that this is practically impossible anymore. Not only have tuition costs skyrocketed, there are so few jobs left for teens and young adults to do. The entire retail sector that once was, is now GONE. The stores that are still open don’t have nearly the same staffing level that they did in the late 70s.

I worked at a grocery store, a gas station, and a record store. (There was also one summer in a glass factory, which I call My Summer in Hell.) But that was enough to pay my tuition and gas/beer money.

Now, the grocery store would have self-service cash registers, and the stations with live cashiers have them bag the groceries too. So there would be no bag boys and half the number of cashiers.

The gas station? Well, that was a pretty cheap operation right then. I worked by myself all day and that hasn’t really changed. But they were so cheap, they didn’t even have a cash register… I had to make change out of a cigar box. They were so cheap, they advertised their gas prices in liters. Don’t think THAT didn’t get me yelled at all the time when customers found out gas wasn’t really .49 per gallon. Like it was the gas jockey’s idea…

And record stores? They’re just gone, disappeared from the landscape. And the malls you usually found them in, are either gone too or a shell of their former selves. So what’s left? Food, I guess. Big box stores. Everyplace else is on a skeleton crew. Stores make sure they keep their payroll down and no one gets over 30 hours, lest they become eligible for benefits.

So I feel for kids and parents today, who are caught in this mess. It’s a shame that kids who work hard and do their best are getting squeezed out of the competitive colleges by kids whose parents stacked the deck for them.
But at least they’ll know what it’s like to survive not getting your first choice in life.

Chances are, they’ll handle it better than those who have received everything they’ve ever wanted, but yet spend their nights rage-tweeting about not getting enough credit and respect.