Tuesday, October 14, 2014

What’s next for Southwest and Jet Blue airline passengers? Mid-air executions?

A hanging at sea (below the American flag, at the boat’s stern) dated from the mid-19th Century. Could an airline pilot have you hanged in flight for having an opinion??

There was a time when, at sea, the captain’s word was law. If he didn’t like the way you looked at him, or the fact that you whispered something to a shipmate, or that you complained about wanton flogging of the crew, he could hang you from the yardarm, like that

The hanging depicted in the picture above occurred in 1842 aboard a ship called the USS Somers. The hanged men were almost certainly innocent. You can read the horrifying tale of the paranoid captain and the hapless sailors here.

Now both Southwest and Jet Blue airlines seem to want to renew the practice of giving captains and themselves God-like legal powers over people aboard their vessels – air vessels in this case, to stop them from posting opinions on Twitter.

And no, the passengers are not tweeting threats. They’re not tweeting Al Qaeda or ISIS propaganda. They’re not tweeting remarks about bombs.

Instead, they’ve been tweeting how unhappy they were with airline personnel, and service.

For this, the passengers were forced off their flights. I suppose the authority to do this dates from that old rule of the sea, the one that enabled captains to hang people aboard their ships: the captain’s word is law.

Before I go on, I should point out that I like Jet Blue, one of the two airlines whose philosophy seems to be, “throw ‘em off the plane if they’re unhappy” Or at least I used to like Jet Blue. I’ve flown them several times. Their seats are roomier than comparable seats on United, which I’ve also flown in recent years. Their employees, at least when I’ve flown the airline, always seemed to be in better humor and consequently more courteous and accommodating to their passengers. My baggage got handled correctly and promptly. I wasn’t nickeled and dimed the way other airlines chisel their passengers.

But in one recent case, a planeload of passengers were delayed because the captain took umbrage at a tweet that questioned his sobriety Which leads me to wonder if there wasn’t really something to that passenger’s tweet after all. I’d be pretty plastered before I’d turn a plane around in mid-air and fly back to the airport to give myself a sobriety test and have a passenger taken off the plane for criticizing me.

Worse yet, although Jet Blue offered a paragraph full of long-winded gobbledygook, it in fact provided no rational or specific explanation at all of why the tweeting passenger was put off the plane. Here’s the reported full text of Jet Blue’s explanation.
It is not our practice to remove a customer for expressing criticism of their experience in any medium. We will remove a customer if they are disruptive and the crew evaluates that there is a risk of escalation which could lead to an unsafe environment. The decision to remove a customer from a flight is not taken lightly. If we feel a customer is not complying with safety instructions, exhibits objectionable behavior or causes conflict at the gate or on the aircraft, the customer will be asked to deplane or will be denied boarding especially if the crew feels the situation runs the risk of accelerating in the air. In this instance, the customer received a refund and chose to fly on another carrier.
So which was it, Jet Blue?” “Not complying with safety instructions?” “Exhibits objectionable behavior” by silently tweeting an opinion? “Causing conflict at the gate or in the aircraft?” Or more likely, just saying something about Jet Blue on Twitter that screws up the image you want to project, whether it's an accurate image or not?

In the Southwest Airlines case, a man and his two little kids felt he had been treated rudely by a gate agent and  tweeted that opinion. And then,
...after he boarded, an announcement came over the plane asking his family to exit the aircraft. Once at the gate, the agent said that unless the tweet was deleted, police would be called and the family would not be allowed back onboard.

Note, what Southwest, with less than a sterling reputation objected to was not the man’s behavior on the plane, but the text of his tweet.  And that tweet was hardly unique among Southwest’s present and more likely former customers. I mean, Southwest has a problem. I mean, a big problem. I mean, a horrendous problem. I mean…well, you get the idea.

Southwest’s solution to customers complaining about mistreatment? Don't stop mistreating them. Just  yank ‘em off the plane if they refuse to accept the Southwest party line.

Thie behavior  raises a question. If the captain or his employer can hark back to ancient laws of the sea to put you off a plane simply because he’s in a paranoid, or drunk, or simply cranky enough mind to, or because the airline doesn’t like to get caught misleading the public,  why can’t the captain hang you in midair? 

And what makes you think it will never happen?

Thursday, October 09, 2014

The Secret Service, the White House, the tan suit, Ebola, and Republican attack opportunists

The Ebola virus has African origins. Our
president's lineage is half African. Therefore
as any good Republican can see, err, ahh...
The Republican penchant for attacking the president – on any grounds, on flimsy grounds, on no rational grounds whatsoever – is getting a tad tiresome.

It started with that socialistic, communistic, fascistic, maybe even Muslimistic (not to mention totally totalitarian) idea that was the crown jewel of the Obama administration: seeing to it that as many Americans as possible had health care coverage. O, the horror of it all! 

Even to this day, Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell is running for re-election on a promise to repeal that accursed law and throw us back to the tender mercies of the greedy insurance companies. They will, he implies, do as right by us as they always have in the past because, uh, Freedom.

The American public has also endured Republicans foaming at the mouth concerning, uh, well let’s call them (and this is only a partial list) Benghazigate, Birthergate, Golfgate, Vacationgate, and what until now has been my all-time favorite. 

TanSuitgate 

TanSuitgate was when Republican Congressman Peter King launched into a vicious attack on President Obama for wearing a tan suit to a press conference. Then, facing withering scorn for his own idiocy, King walked it back maybe, oh a half step or so, and insisted he was only speaking in metaphors. Metaphors? Isn't that actually Congresspeak for speaking in tongues? 

For the record, here’s one of the Congressman’s kingly "metaphors" on what clearly, from his enraged tone, must have been nearly an act of treason by Obama:
“There’s no way I don’t think any of us can excuse what the president did yesterday,” King said.  “You have the whole world watching, you have a week, two weeks of anticipation of what the United States is going to do and then for him to walk out — I’m not trying to be trivial here — in a light suit, a light tan suit.”
So why am I not amazed, or even slightly surprised, that the Republicans are barking and snapping like a pack of rabid Yorkshire terriers because the Secret Service is is falling down on its job of protecting him?

Yes, we should all be concerned about lapses in the President’s security. And yes, the Secret Service needs a cataclysmic culture change to get the problem fixed. But some professions of concern over the president’s security by all the folks who’ve been trying to bring him down for the past two terms strikes me as a bit, eh, shall we say disingenuous?

 When Congressman Darrell Issa, the would-be scourge of President Obama, attacks the Secret Service for not adequately protecting Obama, one has to think his secret hope is that some of the mud flung at the secret service will instead stick to the President.

As the Fiscal Times reports:
Rep. Darrell Issa’s two terms as chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform have been marked by hearings on issues that seemed to greatly excite members of the hard right, Issa himself (R-CA) and the anti-Obama element of the Republican Party. Until now, Chairman Issa’s tendency to work himself into high dudgeon over scandals, including the “Fast and Furious” investigation and Lois Lerner’s IRS emails have failed to get real traction with the broader American public.
This morning, however, given the latest news reports about the severity of the Secret Service’s lapses in protecting the White House, Issa might finally get what he seems to have wanted all along – the chance to indulge in some high-profile righteous anger that has the sentiment of the American people behind it.

And now, the E-bomb

Now the latest stink bomb in the Republican arsenal is emerging. Ebola. You see, the E-bomb is all Obama’s fault. 
Many Republicans—and conservative media outlets—are also now hitting the president for thus far refusing to block flights to the U.S. from those nations, something some European countries have done.
Of course, if we block air traffic to the affected African countries and fail to send medical assistance to the areas where Ebola has reached epidemic proportions, the epidemic will inevitably spread faster, likely evolving into a worldwide pandemic that could cripple the United States.

Meanwhile, we’d have more and more, longer and longer delays at American airports, more and more angry passengers, more and more financial losses.

But of course, that would have to be the President’s fault, too.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Pharmaceutical prices, football, drug companies and a possible new role for universities

Football is a moneymaker for universities, no? 
Universities could create non-profit com-
petition for drug companies that would
help lower drug prices

But what does football have to do with scientific research or the advancement of knowledge in general – the reasons, presumably, for universities to exist?

Not a damn thing.

Meanwhile, earnings-hungry drug companies doing advanced research are literally bankrupting cancer patients who are faced with a choice that comes down to, “Your money or your life.”

When Leslie Stahl brought this home to 60 Minutes viewers on Sunday, she wasn’t revealing anything new. She was merely adding fresh emphasis to the horrid state of affairs that includes not only outrageous drug prices but also the power of the drug companies over Congress, which currently makes it illegal for Medicare to negotiate prices with insurance companies. 

When a drug company charges in excess of $100,000 to extend your life a month or more, even insured cancer victims end up paying staggering co-pays.

But there may be a stronger answer in the future than negotiation. It may veto create lower-cost, less greedy competitors to drug companies.

What if, instead of the hundreds of millions of dollars poured into football stadiums, perhaps with seed money from wealthy foundations universities put that kind of money into acquiring laboratories and researchers who would hunt for and test new drugs?

That’s a perfectly legitimate business for universities to be in. And nonprofit universities could be expected to use drug prices to pay back the price of their research and perhaps generate a little extra for their institutions – without charging the outrageous prices drug companies are getting.

The universities are also likelier to develop some new low-priced alternatives to medicine’s dwindling repertoire of effective antibiotics, to mention just one of the additional benefits.

You can expect the drug companies to bleat cries of self-pity over this, should it come to pass. Let me weep with them now: oh boo hoo. And yes, some universities will find greedy leaders who will want to overcharge as much as the pharmaceutical giants. But university overcharges threaten their non-profit status and could be controlled by reminding them of the trade off.

All the same, some additional cash from pharmaceutical royalties flowing to the universities could help stem the tide of endless tuition increases. It could create a resource on campuses for all sorts of student learning and work opportunities. It could add to the prestige of universities that sponsor such programs, especially when they yield valuable new drugs.

Yes, there are undoubtedly some institutions that will prefer to invest in football. That’s nothing new. 

But if you’re looking for a job (other than in coaching or sports marketing) would you rather say you went to a football school, or a scientific research school?


Just asking.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The remarkable thing about the ubiquitous corruption of American politicians is not that they can be bought, but how cheaply you can buy them

19 Century politicians would have blushed in shame if they were
caught stuffing their pockets with as little as California politicos will
take to be bought by Mitt Romney
So Mitt Romney wants to tear down a house in La Jolla, California, to build a bigger, fancier home. You know, the kind of a house a man who has an elevator for his automobiles might build while thumbing his nose at the world. The kind that says to everybody else, "in your-face-you-worthless-moocher." 

Small problem: he needs zoning regulations, permits, that sort of annoying stuff. City officials don’t like to give them to out-of-character palaces like the one Mitt has in mind. They mess up the neighborhood for everybody else.

But that’s no problem for Mitt Romney. He just buys the politicians. As reported by Matt Potter in the San Diego Reader:
The saga started almost four years ago when, as first noted here in December 2010, the ex–Massachusetts governor and wife Ann paid $1000 to La Jolla’s Island Architects to lobby city hall for approval of a coastal development permit at the exclusive oceanfront address, according to a disclosure form filed by Island’s Tony Crisafi that November 1. 
In addition, La Jolla-based lobbyist Matthew Peterson, a ubiquitous presence at both planning meetings and political fundraisers, has so far received at least $61,025 to grease the skids for the mansion with local politicos, lobbyist disclosure filings say. 
Campaign disclosure records show that Peterson and members of his firm, Peterson and Price, have given a total of $29,098 to city candidates since 2006, including $2000 to Democrat Bob Filner's mayoral bid and $1250 to the GOP Lincoln Club. 
Republican current mayor Kevin Faulconer's 2014 campaign got the most: $4950.
That’s right folks. Evidently not a single politician needed as much as $5,000 to sell out. Even the local Republican political club was bought for a piffling $1,250. 

You oldsters who thought the day of the $2 whore ended in 1902 can have another think, especially when the whore is a politician. Or am I verging on redundancy here?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

"I am mad as hell (we'll, I'm not showing it but trust me) and I'm not gonna take it any more."

Used to be, Paddy Chayfesky had to make up stuff like this for the script of his movie, "Network."

Not any more, folks.


This'll is spreading all over the Internet faster than the Ebola virus can create an epidemic in Liberia, but heck, I want my blog in on it, too. So here's another source of an about-to-be-famous TV resignation for your delectation, in which Anchorage, Alaska TV reporter Charlo Greene quits her job to sell marijuana.

My favorite bit comes at the end, when the anchor woman is simply Too Flustered for Prime Time.

Enjoy.

New York Times columnist David Brooks returns from Mars and reports everything there is hunky-dory

These folks took David Brooks aboard
their space ship and convinced him he 
was really visiting New York. New 
Yorkers woke up feeling strangely 
violated.
David Brooks, who I think spends too much time propping his head up in front of television cameras and wagging his jaw, has just reported on the state of things in New York. His verdict, “The city has never been better.”
Uh David, are you sure you are writing about New York City, USA, Planet Earth? Sounds to me like the science fiction City of NuuuNuuuNuu Yorxxx, on the Planet Mars. I’m tempted to go line by line,  but that would lead to the longest blog post I’ve ever written. So let’s just take, a few highlights of your piece.
“There has never been a time when there were so many interesting places to visit, shop and eat….”
Really, David? Y’mean, all those little neighborhood mom-and-pop stores, the hardware stores, and knitting stores, the kosher delis, the appetizing places, the Polish ,and Hungarian, and Chinese hole-in-the-wall restaurants that served affordable eats to people who inevitably lived around the corner, the toy stores and the paint stores and the …well, you get the idea. Do you mean to tell me David, that those were less interesting than the ubiquitous storefronts of three banking chains, three supermarket chains, and sixty zillion manicure parlors – more and more the only enterprises that can afford the increasingly oppressive commercial rents?
“Our global enemies are not exactly impressive. We have the Islamic State, a bunch of barbarians riding around in pickup trucks, and President Vladimir Putin of Russia, a lone thug sitting atop a failing regime. These folks thrive only because of the failed states and vacuums around them.”
Well, David, I don’t care whether the cause of terrorism is a vacuum or a vacuum cleaner.  I don’t find the ability to destroy the World Trade Center and take 3,000 lives with the winged equivalent of a bomb “not exactly impressive.” Unfortunately, 9-11 has left an indelible impression on almost everyone I know.  
 I imagine the loss was even more indelible for those who lost loved ones. Moreover, the fact that its perpetrators are bunch of barbarians is exactly what makes life unpleasant for other New Yorkers and me, whether I’m noticing what appears to be an abandoned package on the subway, or trying to board an airplane. 
As for Valdimir Putin, tell me please how we can force him out of the Ukraine without risking a nuclear World War III.
"Of course there are the problems of inequality and poverty that we all know about…
Right. More homeless people sleeping on the streets than ever before in New York and probably in America. Inadequate housing for middle and low-income people. The few pathetic attempts at “affordable housing” literally shame their occupants with “poor doors.” But let’s brush off all that David, because it doesn’t conform to your thesis. Where’s Charles Dickens now that we need him?
“We’re seeing a decline in civil wars and warfare generally.”
David, David, David! Are you writing for the same New York Times I’m reading? The one with stories about what’s going on and has gone in recently in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Crimea, Ukraine. Not to mention wars that don’t make the Times front page very often, in as many as 15 other African nations? Did I mention the hawks in the Senate, including Lindsey Graham and John  (“Bomb, bomb, bomb bomb Iran”) McCain who keep pumping for war, war and more war, with just about any one, at any price? While we're at it, have I mentioned Ebola?
“We don’t suffer from an abuse of power so much as a nonuse of power. It’s been years since a major piece of legislation was passed, and there’s little prospect that one will be passed in the next year or two.”
How right you are, David. One little matter, though. The “nonuse” of power is an abusive act of power itself. It is being committed by those in power in the House and Senate, a claque of obstructionists on the right.They would bring America to its economic knees and inflict immeasurable human misery on their fellow citizens rather than allow legislation out of committee and abandon their insane Ayn Randian notions of how things ought to be.  Inaction doesn’t just happen. And it can be a political act of violence.

Okay, David, I’ve said enough. I do think that you and your cousin Pollyanna ought to call up Dr. Pangloss and ask that he reduce the dosage of those pills he’s prescribing for you. Meanwhile, rejoice that you and I are not among the Americans sleeping in cardboard boxes or in a car, or searching fruitlessly for a job, or wondering where the next meal – or the next lone wolf bomber– is coming from.

Friday, September 19, 2014

I just got back from Paris and the news makes me want to puke

This is what comes from what I see in
the newspapers, not from French food.
Hey, I had a perfectly nice time in Paris. I ate runny, stinky cheese. I ate deliciously creamy butter. I ate baguettes by the basketful. I ate pommes frites. I ate extremely fatty liver with the consistency of velvet. I ate  meat that was doing the butterfly stroke in deep pools of obscenely rich sauces. 

And yet I came home weighing two pounds less than when I left. You can chalk that one up to alluring Parisian streets that almost grab you by the collar and demand to be strolled, and to nearly perfect weather that made the strolling easier. 

Walking around looking for the next place to eat evidently works off more calories than living on dry chicken breasts, or blowing a couple of hours every week in a stinking, sweaty health club. Call it the Crank Diet.

But when I get home, what do I find?

Thanks, Lindsey Graham, for ruining everything

I found the same old same old. Let’s start with Republicans like John McCain and  Lindsey Graham frothing at the mouth to demand we put “boots on the ground” in Syria to “defeat” a bunch of thugs in ISIL. 

Unfortunately, what “boots on the ground” is really code for is “American dead bodies on the ground.” You don’t commit troops to combat without significant numbers of them getting killed, some of them getting gravely wounded, some of them sustaining lifetime psychological wounds. 

None of those troops will be Lindsey Graham. And guaranteed, with the kinds of wars we’re fighting these days, there’s no victory at the end of the conflict

Personally, I’d rather see the U.S. track down and capture the sick-o who did the beheadings of their innocent victims. President Obama took out Osama bin Laden. We can take out this creep, too. Evidently, we and the Brits already have a good idea of who the hooded man with the knife is

So sniff him out. Hunt him down. And while I usually oppose capital punishment strenuously, I wouldn’t go into paroxysms of grief if, in the course of some special forces operation to capture the sick bastard, his own head should accidentally happen to fall off. The same goes for his bosses.

A nation of busybodies

Then there’s the business of throwing people off athletic teams for abusing their significant others and their kids, and spending hours of television time discussing it. Hey, don’t get me wrong. I am strongly – very strongly – opposed to either spousal abuse or child abuse. But we seem to be enlisting the wrong people to do the law enforcement. 

Spousal abuse, child abuse, and rape for that matter, are felonies. They should be investigated by the police. 

When credible evidence of who perpetrated such crimes is found, the police should make arrests and prosecutors should prosecute. The guilty would lose their player status simply by virtue of being in prison. 

The same, by the way, goes for college campus sexual abusers. It’s not the business of private institutions, whether sports franchises, or sports leagues, or universities,  to investigate, try, prosecute and punish felonies. When you get amateurs doing this work – and make no mistake, college panels and football commissioners are amateurs – they’re bound, sooner or later, to get it wrong, hurt innocent people, and probably exacerbate the problem. Let’s stop being a nation of busybodies and just call the cops whenever an assault happens.

Justice delayed is, uh…
Who said anything about justice?

Speaking of cops, what’s with the cop who shot Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9th? I’m writing this on September 19th, for the love of Mike! If anybody but a cop went to Ferguson and shot somebody dead, the case would be investigated, an arrest made, the perp charged with the crime and bail set, all likely before sunset. In this case, you’ve got the city of Ferguson dealing with the problem by handing out comment cards. So here’s my own comment:  I want to vomit a second time.

Okay, okay, a small hurrah

If there’s any good news, it’s that Scotland voted not to secede from the Brits. Hip hurrah. Listen, the first I heard of this was two days before the voting began. I have no brief either for or against either the Scots or the rest of the Brits on this. My concern was, and still is, that secession might be contagious. That concern wasn’t at all mitigated when Reuters ran a story saying that one in four Americans are open to their own secession.

I thought we fought a civil war over this. Now what? Do we have to put “boots on the ground” in Texas, too? 

Or maybe we should just go ahead and let Texas secede. But at the same time, we should build a wall on their border with us, impose a tariff on their imports, strictly limit or even prohibit immigration of Texans to America, cut Texas out of the U.S. power grid, and in general treat them with the hostility we generally reserve for, say, Cuba.


Okay, so I’m feeling cranky to be home from Paris and back in the office. You got a problem with that?

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Gone traveling. See you late-ish the week of September 15th.

I'm packed and all but outta here.

Where am I going?

Someplace nice.

Who am I going with?

Somebody nice.

Details please?

Fuhgeddaboudid. But maybe I'll tell you when I get back.

Or not.


Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Time to re-regulate the airlines

Ever since the Supreme Court decided that
money is "speech," airlines have been able to
"speak" to Congressmen in a language they
understand: Campaign payola for screwing
the passengers
The proliferation of “incidents” involving airline passengers arguing over reclining seats is growing. Over at Earthbound Misfit, "Comrade Misfit" has a few astute things to say about that, which I commend to your attention.

To my amazement, some commentators are blaming the passengers. Some blame the reclining passengers for reclining. Others blame the people who bring aboard anti-reclining apparatus and use it, or who simply go batcrap crazy when the passenger in front of them reclines into their space.

Who is to blame?

Let’s blame who is really at fault: 

The greedy airlines. 

It’s self evident that the more human beings the airlines can crowd into the same space, the richer they’ll get and the fatter their senior  officers’ pay checks and bonuses will grow. The principle of crowding human beings into spaces suitable for dead sardines was invented by the Nazis, who shoved human beings into cattle cars and transported them to concentration camps. When the cattle cars arrived at the camps, some of the passengers inside were already dead. The Nazis didn’t give a damn. Neither do the airlines. This isn't just a metaphor. Read the next paragraph.

Cramming so many people into tiny spaces for so long that their superegos explode isn’t the only danger. In case of a fire or emergency landing, more people will die – burning to death, or drowning – simply because they can’t get out of their seats, down the aisle, and out of the airplane in time.

There was a time when
we had a real government

The U.S. Government used to have regulations about things like that. Are you old enough to remember when the U.S. Government actually governed?  But then greedy lobbyists wormed their way into our completely corrupt Congress and convinced the lawmakers to heavily deregulate. The airlines were among the first to taste this new-found “freedom.” The promise to the rest of us was, when airlines could compete on matters like passenger comfort and perks, and prices, then the prices would get cheaper.

And so, to the best of my recollection, they did for a brief while. Prices got so cheap, in fact, that some airlines went broke, and others got swallowed up in mergers. Bye Bye Eastern. Bye Bye, Pan Am. Bye Bye, TWA. Bye Bye, Republic. Bye Bye Braniff. And on and on. And hello near-monopoly airlines who give less of a hoot for their passengers than they do for geese sucked into their jet engines.

Welcome to the Big Squeeze 

Now, with fewer choices of airlines, and with flight crews already squeezed for their once reasonable pay and benefits, the only people left to squeeze are the passengers. You and me. 

So unless you’re willing to pay a ransom well into the five figures for Business Class or First Class seats from A to B, you are squeezed, starved, screwed, and generally treated like something flushed out of the air toilet at 30,000 feet.

Regulations about minimum leg room, regulations about not imposing extra charges for “luxuries” like taking a bag or two while you travel (the unmitigated nerve of you!), not to mention regulations requiring edible food aboard flights lasting longer than four hours  – all these regulations need to be restored, and need to make sense.

Somebody is about to pipe up, “B-b-but that will raise the cost of air fares!”

Uh, yeah, probably. But the "cheap" fares currently advertised are total phonies. Consider:

By the time you factor in the extra charges for bringing baggage with you when you travel, the charges the airlines impose if you try to book a flight on the phone, or if you try to change or cancel a flight,  the the price of food you have to buy on your own, the price of losing precious hours when your plane is forced to land owing to a passenger dispute – not to mention the value of your life when you burn to death inside an airplane because there’s no way all the sardines can get out fast enough – you’re already paying far higher than advertised prices. If a single price covered matters like food and baggage that used to included automatically, and if Congress keeps an eye on fares, prices aren’t likely to rise so much that you’d wish you’d gambled your life instead.

Your spineless Congressmen who
regulate this stuff. Here's a list:

So who on the House Subcommittee on aviation has the spine to stand up and say, “Yes, let’s re-regulate the airlines so they can’t treat passengers like filthy cattle?” Who among them isn’t so corruptly in the pockets of the airlines they supposedly oversee? Let’s start with the Republican majority of 16, who could make it happen, if they wanted, without a single Democrat’s vote:

How about you, Chairman Frank A. LoBiondo, of New Jersey? How about you, Tom Petri,  of Wisconsin? How about you, Howard Coble,  of North Carolina? How about you, John J. Duncan, of Tennessee? How about you, Tom Graves, of Georgia? How about you, Blake Farenthold, of Texas? How about yo u, Larry Bucshon, of Indiana? How about you, Patrick Meehan, of Pennsylvania? How about you, Daniel Webster, of Florida? How about you, Jeff Denham, of California? How about you Reid Ribble, of Wisconsin? How about you, Thomas Massie, of Kentucky? How about you, Steve Daines, of Montana? How about you, Roger Williams, of Texas? How about you, Mark Meadows, of North Carolina? How about you, Rodney Davis, of Illinois?

No, I didn’t think so.

While the Republicans on the committee outnumber the Democrats 16-13, rendering Democratic votes impotent, there are still things the Democrats can do. Your Republican colleagues most assuredly have pet airport projects and other goodies they’d like to secure for the patrons who pay them off. So by delaying and obstructing expenditures for their pets as long as you can, you might be able to get their attention and the attention of the nation.

So how about a minority member revolt, Democrats Rick Larsen of Washington, Peter A. DeFazio, of Oregon; Eleanore Holmes Norton of DC; Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas; Michael E. Capuano of Massashusetts. Dan Lipinski of Illinois; Steve Cohen of Tennessee; Andre Carson of Indiana; Rick Nolan of Minnesota; Dina Titus of Nevada; Sean Patrick Maloney of New York; Cheri Bustos of Illinois; or Corrine Brown of Florida?

No, I didn’t think so, either.

But maybe we can give all these corrupt and near-corrupt Congressloafers a kick in the butt. You might start by copying this piece into an e-mail and addressing it to one of the committee members in your own state.  You can find their e-mail address here

Meanwhile, for your delectation, a performance I've embedded once before in this blog. Enjoy it again:







Friday, August 29, 2014

The river, the bike path, the nation, and the dead piano on the beach – an essay about a bad omen

Found on the bank of the East River, in lower Manhattan, at low tide.
The East River isn’t really a river. It’s a natural salt water canal between Long Island and the Island of Manhattan, fed by tidal movements from both its north and south ends. The river sometimes flows north to south, sometimes south to north, and, oddly, sometimes in both directions at once, with the direction of shore currents contradicting currents in the center of the river.

There’s a bicycle path along some of that River in New York. It starts a few blocks away from my home and ends near Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan. It’s not much of a ride for serious cyclists – a bit short of ten miles to the end and back  – but that’s enough during the summer, when days are long and warm, for an old fogey like me to burn off some tension at the end of the work day and get my heart re-started before dinner.

When the tide recedes, the river reveals a few feet of sandy beach in lower Manhattan, along with whatever jetsam the tide has dragged in, or passers-by have thrown in. About six weeks ago I noticed something that was out of the ordinary. Sometimes it’s plainly there. Other times, when the tide is very high, it vanishes for a while under the water.

Yeah, that’s it in the picture. A dead piano. Its legs are gone. Some of its keys are gone. Much of its sounding board is gone. Its strings are gone. I’m sure barnacles and sea worms are gnawing at its wooden belly. But part of the sounding board, and just about all of its pins, and its case minus the lid are still there. The only sound coming from the piano these days is the shushing of waves picking their way among the remaining pieces.

I don’t know how the dead piano got there, unless somebody dropped it off the Brooklyn Bridge, which is nearly overhead. Or unless someone threw it off a boat at high tide. Nor do I know what music the piano once played. Did it accompany a symphony orchestra? Did little girls in linen dresses sit in a parlor a century ago, practicing scales on it? Did a dilettante pick out popular tunes of the day on it? Was it a talented jazz musician’s piano? Did it accompany a violinist or a vocalist? Was it used, once upon a time, to play ragtime tunes in a whorehouse?

What’s with the unusual color of the paint on its case? Why were its legs amputated, like a diabetic’s near the end of his life?  And most of all, why would some vandal  want to take a valuable instrument, a thing beautiful to the eye and capable of delighting the ear, and toss it in a river, as if it were a Styrofoam cup or a worn out tire?

Forgive me now while I leap aboard a metaphor. I admit, it’s a complex and perhaps gravely shaky metaphor. It could crash and kill the essay. All the same, I’ll try to ride it. 

We – you, and I, and also greedy business owners, and judges, and lobbyists, and politicians, and public affairs strategists, and inert or brain dead voters, and lazy administrators and terrified employees and civil servants – we are allowing the United States to become a dead piano. 

We had a functioning, prosperous democracy here for a couple of centuries. It had its ups and downs,. It had grave faults. It often played discordant notes. But was also capable of great societal harmony, and  over time its performances were slowly but increasingly in tune with human decency and the pursuit of happiness. 

At home, each generation would do better economically than its predecessors. Each was a generation of pioneers – not only in terms of exploring territory, but in terms of exploring knowledge. Life expectancies were extended. “Impossible” marvels were achieved, from building bridges with foundations in the deep and swiftly-moving rivers of New York, to putting people on the moon. The nation’s educational level rose. Colleges and universities sprouted across the nation. College, for a while, became not an impossible dream but a commonplace achievement for the many. A simple working family, possibly for the first time in history, could live comfortably, eat well, own its own home, and possess a few of the luxuries of life. The nation invented new art forms, from the Broadway musical to the cinema. And I’m only scratching at the surface of American achievement.

True, in  some matters of social justice, most notably racial justice, we lagged seriously. Nevertheless, we eliminated, slavery. We eliminated, at least for a while, Jim Crow laws like those that imposed a poll tax on voters and that segregated accommodations and schools. 

For a while.

And then the vandals began to mass against us. For some reason, they didn’t like the music of a high-achieving Democratic republic. They began changing the tune. 

Prosperity? The vandals decided that the wrong people had it. The most prosperous people could never get enough of wealth – so our nation, in defiance of logic and justice and simple decency, began to give it all to them.

Science? Medicine? The arts? Even critical infrastructure? They cost money. We put a lid on them.

The vandals are on the march. They control the Supreme Court. They control one house of Congress and have rendered the second house inharmonious and nearly dysfunctional. The vandals infest our state capitals. Their mission is not to create but to destroy. Destroy health care. Destroy public education. Destroy justice. Destroy social equity. Destroy the environment. Destroy even the smooth functioning of government. 

The vandals, the barbarians, the thugs are sawing off the legs of the piano. And once the legs are off off, they want to throw the legless body off  the boat or the bridge. And far too many of us either accept this passively, or cheer them on.

How much longer before America itself becomes another dead piano on the beach?                       

Perhaps, if I’m lucky, I won’t live to see it. Things like the condition of America make me glad to be an old man.

Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog

Monday, August 25, 2014

Attention "You can't make this S#*T Up" Department: here's yet another justification for a global excess wealth tax



She's amazingly lifelike. I'm referring to the zombie-ish white-gloved blonde who lovingly and sensuously strokes a sleek coffin while she models what may well be the latest way for a one-percenter to bury wealth where it can do no one any good.

It's a coffin-installed sound system that plays music to moldering corpses six feet underground. It claims to do so "forever." Family and friends can program and re-program the music from the present life, if they choose.

One hopes a mischievous nephew won't program in whatever kind of music the deceased hated. Think of the late Richard Nixon being forced to listen to 24 hours a day of Snoop Dog.

The cost of keeping the dead entertained during their long, long sleep underground? 23,000 Euros, or in excess of $36 thousand American. Per corpse.

Listen, you can buy into life after death, or your can declare it's all a primitively superstitious myth (I know, I know, I'm getting redundant here) but in either case, six feet under is not where your loved one's soul, if there is one, resides.

However, some people will have 36 grand to throw away without so much as noticing it's missing. Other less fortunate marks will really not be able to afford the price, but will buy the contraption anyway, while still in a state of shock or vulnerability over their loss.

The United States was a rich country when we had marginal tax rates in the very, very high double digits for the very, very rich. Today, we tax, starve, oppress and milk the poor to bring the top tax rates down for the wealthy. All so they can have options like this.

If there actually turns out to be a hell, more than a few people will burn in it for this. With or without music.

P.S. Listen, Smartypants, at first, I thought this was a sendup, too. But it's not. Next time you're in Stockholm, you can drop in for a demonstration of this coffin sound system, just to the right of the Hollywood "aperitif" store,  here.


Monday, August 18, 2014

Greed, news networks, getting stiffed, getting screwed, whose ox got, uh, gored – and al that jazeera

Is Al Gore the screw-er or the screw-we?
Don't answer until you read this  post
Infuriating as the events currently occurring in Ferguson, Missouri are, I simply can’t bear to write anything more about them just now. If you’re keeping your eye on the unfolding horror story and you need to sate yourself on commonsense outrage, go here.

Meanwhile, I want to turn my attention to money, greed, Gore, and a news network. 

Despite the likelihood that the contretemps between Al Gore and Al Jazeera may be the most pun-worthy story of the year, I’ll lay off further punning, now that I’ve had my fun with headline of this piece. The story and facts of the dispute between Al G and Al J are fun enough

Seems that Al Gore is suing Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based news network, owned by Arab high oil mucky-mucks. Gore is fighting for money he says Al Jazeera stiffed him and his stockholders for .

See, according to a law suit filed by someone named John Terenzio, a suit since dismissed, Terenzio went to Gore and proposed that he sell Current TV, a news and commentary cable outlet that was owned by a group of investors including Gore.

Gore wouldn’t go for it. He was, said Terenzio, “adamant” that he wouldn’t peddle his pet news station to a bunch of Qataris. 

But then the Qataris (or maybe Terenzio) waved $500 million worth of oil moola  under Gore’s nose and guess what? Yeah, you guessed it.

The transaction closed. Current TV is no more. You can find Al Jazeera, and with it some of current TV’s former inmates, among many of the cable news offerings available in our great nation. But now Gore claims, on behalf of his stockholders of course, that Al Jazeera stiffed his people, including himself, for the escrow money.

That would be after Gore successfully fought off Terenzio, who claimed Gore stiffed him for a kind of finder’s fee for suggesting the deal.

What happens next? What am I, a seer? All I can tell you is that you are entitled to draw morals to this story where you can find them. For example:

  • Beware of big oil sheiks bearing $500 million gifts
  • In America, the stiff-er and the stiff-ee are often the same person. 
  • Middle men who see themselves as Lucky Pierre may get less luckily screwed.
  • People who go to Washington idealistically hoping to make laws will instead sooner or later turn their attention to making money.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The great Missouri police homicide whitewash

I generally loathe the Nancy Graces and Jeanine Pirros of this world – former prosecutors who begin their own one-sided prosecutions on TV, often before any jury has had an opportunity to begin weighing evidence against accused individuals. The Graces and Pirros stir up public sentiments that may not be justified. They poison the atmosphere, thwarting the likelihood of a fair trial – all for the sake of television ratings and their own enrichment and self aggrandizement.
That said, the investigating of the shooting of young Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, is beginning to stink of coverup. 
I’m not yet critical of the refusal of the local police to release the name and picture of the cop who evidently fired more than once at the unarmed young man, killing him while, according to witnesses, his empty hands were raised in the air and he begged the cop not to shoot.
(On the other hand, while the police concern for the well-being of the cop and his family may be justifiable, why doesn’t the same concern apply to all other persons who are arrested or simply declared “persons of interest” with their photographs and names published – before any jury has established their guilt or innocence, and in some cases before police have even enough evidence for an arrest?)
No details released – unless they favor accused cop
What bugs me in the Ferguson case is the growing appearance of a coverup that only begins with the hiding of the accused police officer’s name and likeness. Although the county police have admitted the autopsy shows Brown died “of gunshot wounds” (what a surprise!) they’re not releasing “any further details.”
Well, actually both Ferguson and St. Louis County police have released details. Those would be details prejudicial against the dead shooting victim. 
The cops claim the victim reached into the police car and tried to grab the officer’s gun. Nice trick of you can do that. He’d have to reach deep and low into the car, across the torso of the police officer, find the gun in a holster  by feeling around for it, and yank the pistol out of a holster fastened to the officer’s right hip. 
That unlikely series of events, had they actually happened, could have been thwarted simply by the police officer raising the window on Michael Brown’s arm, or bending back Brown’s fingers – had Brown’s arm actually been in the car.
And even if Brown had reached into the cop car, why did that justify shooting Brown multiple times? Clearly, the gun was in the possession and under the control of the cop. Otherwise he couldn’t have shot Brown.
How many bullets? And why is that a secret?
Among  the further details that would interest me is the question of how many bullets struck Brown. If it was more than one or two, or if the cop emptied his gun into Brown’s body, that would call for some seriously detailed explaining, don’tcha think?
I’d also like to know whether the nature of the wounds indicated that the unnamed cop was close enough to be struggling with Brown, as the cops are claiming (evidently based on the unnamed officer’s say-so) or whether the young man was some distance away where presumably he would have posed little or no threat.
This matters because at least two witnesses, (see here, here, and here) watching the event from at at least two different vantage points, reported that the shooting victim raised his hands and called out, “I don’t have a gun,” a declaration that the civilian witnesses say was  answered with a hail of bullets.
As of nine a.m. this morning, the cops hadn’t even spoken to one of the witnesses, Dorian Johnson, who was with Brown when he was gunned down.  The Huffington Post reports that Johnson’s attorney, a former St. Louis mayor is declaring, “They didn’t even want to talk to him [Johnson]. They don’t want the facts. What they want is to justify what happened.” The cops claim they can’t find Johnson, which is odd considering that he has appeared in television interviews on several media outlets.
A desperate attempt to blame the victim?
As for more details of the autopsy report, such as how many times Brown was shot, cops say the delay is because they are waiting for blood toxicology reports. Why the delay in details not related to toxicology? Well, it smells like – pardon me, stinks like – the cops, desperate to exonerate one of their own, are hoping and praying that somebody will find traces of alcohol or marijuana, or some pharmaceutical in Brown’s blood. And that meanwhile, news attention will turn to something else and the furor will quiet down.
But even if the toxicologist does find evidence that Brown had alcohol in his blood, that finding would not justify shooting Brown to death. All it could do is help besmirch the victim.
I do hope that Brown family will obtain an outside medical examiner to do an independent autopsy. The stench of police and prosecutorial collusion is so thick, and the “blue wall” of silence, appears to be built so high, I’m not sure even the local medical examiner and toxicology lab can be trusted.
I fear this may turn out to be yet another case where a rogue cop, aided and abetted by the entire police establishment, gets away with murder.