Friday, May 30, 2008

Another construction crane collapses in New York, taking some lives, ruining others. But where’s the mayor? And where’s the outrage?

I’ve begun writing this just before 10 AM. About an hour and 45 minutes ago, roughly a mile from where I live, yet another of those death-dealing construction cranes collapsed in New York.

It’s hard to tell how many are dead. At least two, says NBC News. At least one, say another report. They’ve barely begun to dig around in the rubble for bodies. Meanwhile, I've been hearing the wail of fire engines and ambulances all morning from my window, and the roar of helicopters overhead.

Once again, the crane not only damaged its own construction site, but destroyed some apartments in a building across the street. Firemen are searching for victims, living or dead. People in the area – and there are hundreds of apartments in the area – are being evacuated.

It’s little more than a week ago that I wrote an angry rant about the mayor ignoring the safety and health concerns of his fellow New Yorkers, instead focusing on congestion pricing and other headline-grabbing causes. (Scroll down a bit to find it.)

Peek-a-boo! Where’s the mayor?

This morning, so far, we’ve not heard from the mayor. The highest ranking official I’ve heard interviewed was Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. He did a credible PR job for the politicians who are “discussing” what to do about collapsing cranes, while failing, at least in the two interviews I’ve heard, either to express concern for the dead and displaced New Yorkers, or to express any amazement or outrage whatsoever that you put your life in danger just by living here.

Hey, where is Mayor Bloomberg? Out in Podunk, giving another political speech? Or taking a long weekend at his retreat in Bermuda? Who knows? His home is also only a mile from the disaster. He could have walked from his front door to the disaster in 20 minutes, even if his limo wasn’t handy.

Fleeing from action

Former Mayor Ed Koch, even Mayor Giuliani (whom I like even less than Bloomberg) would have been on the scene almost instantly, at least appearing to be irate that such a thing could happen in their cities. They thrived at running toward the disasters, not away from them.

Somebody in municipal government ought to be in high dudgeon. Instead, all we New Yorkers are getting are the equivalent of a high-handed shrug. It’s the CEO attitude: “Well, you know, we need to make progress and sometimes there are accidents.”

In other words, City Officials To New Yorkers: "Drop Dead."

Saturday Morning Addendum: I'm away for the weekend, with only limited access to a borrowed computer. Friends called to say that some time last night on television (I think they mentioned NBC) there was footage shown of the mayor making a statement about the collapse. They think he used the words "intolerable" or "unacceptable." I'm told he even sounded, if not outraged, at least somewhat piqued. Well hallelujah! Maybe someone on his staff is reading The New York Crank.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

First independent interview with Rocky Mountain News’s space alien: “We have come to drink your…Celray Tonic.”

Man, it must be a slow week for news in Denver. The Rocky Mountain News is reporting that a local whack-o, a dude named Jeff Peckman, “who is pushing a ballot initiative to create an Extraterrestrial Affairs Commission in Denver” is going to show the news media a video of a “living, breathing, space alien” today, May 29th.

Oh please, gimme a break! I mean, did you think that our ace news staff, sitting here in The New York Crank newscubicle, were going to let ourselves get scooped by The Rocky Mountain Snooze? No way, pal!

Crank's interview scoops the
Rocky Mountain Snooze

Fortunately, we were able to reach the alien via ISF (Internet Space Phone) to get this exclusive interview, thus scooping not only the Rocky Mountain News, but also the Colorado Film School, in Denver, where allegedly some unnamed instructor has endangered whatever accreditation a Denver film school might possibly have (not to mention the credibility of the Rocky Mountain News) by declaring, to quote the newspaper, that he had “scrutinized the video ‘very carefully’ and determined it was authentic.”

We think that's only part of the story, for reasons revealed in the transcript of our exclusive interview.

CRANK: Are you really an extraterrestrial?”

SPACE ALIEN: So what do I look like, chopped liver?

CRANK: The Rocky Mountain News quotes their local space alien nut as saying the film “…shows an extraterrestrial's head popping up outside of a window at night, looking in the window, that's visible through an infrared camera….The alien is about 4 feet tall and can be seen blinking.”

SPACE ALIEN: Right, I saw that news article, too.

CRANK: What’s the blinking all about?

SPACE ALIEN: It’s an outrage. I come out of a dark space ship – we keep the lights way down so I can read the instrument panels – and I stick my head out. Do you think they step forward and shake my hand? Oh please! Instead, they shine a bright light in my eyes, like I just got stopped for drunk driving. What would you do if you came out of the dark and they shined a light in your eyes? Pee?

CRANK: Why have you come in your flying saucer to Denver?

SPACE ALIEN: We’ve already done Paris. You should see the prices!

CRANK: Yes, but why Denver?

SPACE ALIEN: We are very thirsty. There is very little moisture on our planet. And we hear that there’s terrific Celray Tonic in Denver.

CRANK: Cel-what?

SPACE ALIEN: Celray Tonic. We have come to drink your Dr. Brown’s Celray Tonic.

CRANK: Where in Denver do you expect to find that stuff?

SPACE ALIEN: Katz’s Delicatessen.
CRANK: But that’s not in Denver. Katz’s is in New York. On the Lower East Side.

SPACE ALIEN: I think you’re wrong.

CRANK: I know I’m right. I live in New York.

SPACE ALIEN: Wait a second, just wait a second, sonny. I’ll ask my navigator. Hey Glutzpittt, where the hell is Katz’s Delicatessen? (PAUSE) He says New York.

CRANK: So why did he steer you to Denver?

SPACE ALIEN: He says The Rocky Mountain News offered to pick up our landing fees and hotel bill. Also, they'll give us a free continental breakfast. They’re going to make a whole big thing out of us.

CRANK: They don’t have anything more newsworthy to report on?

SPACE ALIEN: Did I ask? Do I care? So long as they pick up the tab, who am I to complain? They have a saying on my planet: “No news is good news.”

Friday, May 23, 2008

As giant cranes tumble on New York pedestrians, a smallfry politician offers a plan to protect you. With this.

Man, it’s getting tougher and tougher to live in New York and – sorry Mike – before I get to the smallfry, it’s time to start socking it a little harder to outgoing Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

For a long time Bloomberg appeared to be on a quest for – what was it again, the Presidency of the United States? Anyway, his quest led him to nanny the city into smoking bans in bars, calorie postings next to menu items in fast food restaurants, a failed try to tax citizens from the outer boroughs who dared to drive into Manhattan, and a whole lot of traveling away from the city – instead of staying where the Mayor’s ought to have been keeping an eye on things.

Meanwhile, certain basic services that have always been the city’s responsibility got, uh, shall we say neglected?

When the mayor’s away
the rats will play

For example, while the Mayor traveled around the United States last year, evidently in a failed attempt to seek a Presidential nomination, his health inspectors were giving passing grades to rat-infested restaurants.

Had the mayor but stayed home and walked around his city a bit more often, he might have seen what thousands of residents of Greenwich Village saw: a virtual rat menagerie attracting crowds as the cute little critters skittered around the restaurant.

Eventually that led to TV news coverage of the restaurant rat zoo and an ensuing scandal. The health inspector who for one reason or another – Do I detect the aroma of bribe money? – gave the rodent-infested eatery a passing grade was relieved from duty.

Of course – to deliberately and horribly mix a sackful of metaphors – that was closing the barn door after the rats were out of the bag. But hey, better late than never.

You’d think the mayor might be inspired by this ratty scandal to do a top-to-bottom review of what, whether and how the city’s myriad inspectors were doing their jobs, which were designed to protect the public’s health and safety. But no.

Look out…below-o-o-o-oh!

So then, surprise! Last March, a giant construction crane collapsed, flattening a townhouse and killing seven people below, after a building inspector gave a passing grade to the crane – which it turns out he hadn’t inspected.

Well, Bloomberg was busy fighting for his failed congestion pricing plan at the time. Had he but succeeded, future victims of collapsing cranes at least wouldn’t be inhaling the fumes from quite so many cars – Mayor Bloomberg’s limo excepted.

Little wonder, with not only his presidential ambitions thwarted, but also his mayoral record tarnished, the mayor has been appearing even crankier than The New York Crank. In fact, if you Google “Mayor Bloomberg getting testy,” you’ll find something like 27,000 entries.

When the bigwigs fail,
the lightweights rush in

Already, the local political vultures are pouncing on the carrion of Michael Bloomberg’s mayoral career. Recently, I received an e-mail that New York State Assemblyman Johnathan L. Bing sent to all of his constituents.

In yet another case of rats, barn doors and bags, Assemblyman Bing revealed his efforts to pass legislation that hereafter would penalize inspectors more severely after the cranes they don’t inspect collapse on people.

Here’s an idea worth bagging

But best of all, as part of the collapsing crane discussion in his e-mail, Assemblyman Bing announced this stunningly helpful initiative:

Assemblyman Bing will be hosting an event later this month with the American Red Cross to inform constituents about emergency preparedness and to give away free "Go Bags" containing supplies that New Yorkers should have in case of emergency.
"Go Bag?"

That’s the knapsack-sized bag up at the top of the page. So hey, I’m not worried any more. If a 10-ton crane falls on my head, I’ll simply unzip the knapsack that no doubt I’ll be carrying with me everywhere, whip out a bandage, and put it on my crushed skull. Why, there might even be a bottle of water for me to sip, assuming I’m still alive and not quite totally paralyzed.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Meet your favorite TV news program’s newest correspondent in Afghanistan

Is the long arm of Osama Bin Laden about to reach into your TV set and start spinning headlines during the news hour? Well, consider:

A while back, the American TV journalist Dave Marash joined the Al Jazeera network as its primary English language anchor. Turns out it was only temporary.

Marash, a respected journalist, quit again this past March because of what he cited as increasing editorial control from Qatar where the network is headquartered, and the increasing creep of anti-American sentiment.

Speeding “creep”

Creep? Galloping aggressive plans to penetrate the U.S. market is more like it. Now the New York Times reports that Al Jazeera pushing for a "breakthrough" that would make the channel available to American TV viewers and help it move beyond a turbulent start-up phase, according to its new managing director, Tony Burman.
The same New York Times article reported that,
Mr. Burman said he planned to increase coverage of American news, particularly as the presidential election approaches. Mr. Burman said Al Jazeera also planned to invest in new bureaus; it already shares more than 60 bureaus with its Arabic sister organization. And the channel plans 'more provocative” current affairs programming and investigative journalism, he said.
And if that doesn’t give you the willies, consider that,
“Our goal is to go in the opposite direction to so many other news organizations which are, sadly, cutting back on their coverage of the world," said Mr. Burman.
"News? We don't need no
stinking news! We need profits."

Unfortunately, Burman knows whereof he speaks. Here in the US, newspaper after newspaper is cutting back on staff in the name of preserving profits, or warding off the next Rupert Murdoch.

The networks are no better. They blame their falling ratings on their anchors (witness the ongoing sturm und drang over Katie Couric) while failing to shoulder any responsibility for having fewer of their own correspondents – I mean correspondents on the company payroll full time – abroad.

My, what a curious accent
you have, Mr. Correspondent

Ever notice that nearly every correspondent in Iraq or Afghanistan for – oh, let’s take CNN – seems to have an English or Australian or Irish accent? Could it be that rather than pay the costs of putting their own person on the spot, the network pinches pennies by merely picking up dispatches from freelancers and reporters from other countries’ networks?

(Important note: I make a standing exception to all of this for Christiane Amanpour who has a sort of English accent, an English mother and an Iranian father, but who also has a journalism degree from an American university, works on the payroll for CNN last I heard, and may be one of the most impressive foreign correspondents in the history of American journalism.)

But Amanpour seems more like the exception than the rule. If you can pick up the cheap a reporter or freelancer who works primarily for the BBC, why not simply stoop to picking up a really cheap feed from Al Jazeera in Qatar? Hey, it would be lots more profitable than paying to have your own unbiased guy and your own salaried camera crew on the scene, wouldn’t it?

"On the other hand, Mr. Pinocchio said
that Mr. Durante's nose is really quite small."

Of course, American journalism these days has a pretty weird idea of what unbiased means. You can’t quote somebody who’s telling the truth without quoting somebody who “disagrees,” even if the lack of agreement is based on lies. And you can’t simply call a liar a liar – not even when the lie is as plain as the nose on Pinocchio’s face.

Little wonder the New Yorker’s TV critic Nancy Franklin recently railed:
…I don’t think that people want less news; they want, I believe, the same kind of informed passion and doggedness that TV-news people displayed while covering Hurricane Katrina, and they want anchors to go deep into issues…Who knows, young people might turn on their TVs in droves if news organizations had a few choice strands of Michael Moore’s DNA in them, and pointed out when, say, a public official wasn’t telling the truth. Jon Stewart is a lightning rod both for people who decry the notion that young people get their news from watching “The Daily Show,” and for people who think that his (and Stephen Colbert’s “The Colbert Report”) is the only current-events show worth watching. I’m not a Stewartite, but when Dick Cheney denies making certain statements about the war in Iraq and Stewart shows three video clips that prove he’s lying, I think he’s providing a real service to the country, and I’d like to think that that’s what his fans are responding to.
But no. The news networks will simply shuffle anchors, as if that’s the heart of the problem, cut reporting staff to make up for the losses caused by declining audiences, and show “both sides” to “balance” when somebody they interview tells the truth.

In the end, we'll always
have Al Jazeera

After all, when the last real reporter standing is finally given his “package” to take a hike, we’ll still get plenty of news – via a cheap feed from Al Jazeera and their “special” point-of-view.

Somewhere in his underground TV studio, Osama bin Laden is chuckling.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

He’s against privatizing Social Security. No, uh, he’s for it. Nope, against it. No, for it. Against it. For it. Against it. For it.

If John McCain becomes President of the United States, Social Security is as doomed as the buggy whip industry. His tool will be that old dirty trick “privatization” – a process that will do for Social Security what private insurance has done for medical care in this country.

Here’s the latest horror, from a May 15th posting on The Carpetbagger Report:

Asked about the change, McCain rejected his own campaign’s Social Security policy. “I’m totally in favor of personal savings accounts…. As part of Social Security reform, I believe that private savings accounts are a part of it — along the lines that President Bush proposed.”

When reminded that his campaign website says something completely different, McCain said his site would be changed. Two and a half months later, the site remains the same. As a result, McCain and his campaign have taken completely different positions on the issue, with the candidate embracing the same policy pushed by Bush, which Americans rejected overwhelmingly.
Makes you wonder whether Alzheimer’s has already set in.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Save America’s corporations from their greedy CEOs and themselves. Complain like hell. Maybe this book will help.

I got a full time reporting job on a big city daily newspaper when I was still a college student – by writing to the editor of the newspaper.

I got my first advertising job by writing to the chairman of an ad agency.

Those were the days when chief executives seemed to read their mail.

I repeat, those were the days.

You may not be old enough to remember, kiddies, but once upon a time corporate chairmen felt they had a responsibility to somebody besides themselves, their wives and their mistresses.

Okay, come to think of it, scratch the part about their wives.

The four vanished pillars
of corporate success

CEOs once stood on a four-pillared platform, supported by the reciprocal loyalty of 1) their stockholders, 2) their customers, 3) their employees and 4) their communities. To inspire that loyalty, they respected and were responsive to all four constituencies.

I repeat again, those were the days.

Today some top corporate chiefs
are as responsive as a dead toad

Not so long ago, when Bob Nardelli was still busy enjoying total compensation from Home Depot in excess of $200 million – in exchange for which his stewardship as CEO led the company’s stock essentially nowhere – he evidently was busy not giving a damn about his customers, either.

It was back then that the Crank’s beautiful girlfriend, in an extremely rare fit of misguided optimism, allowed Home Depot to take a deposit against $25,000 of her money to replace the double-glazed windows in her country home.

This no-brainer installation took nearly a year. Among other problems, the salesman kept calling the Crank’s beautiful girlfriend at her New York residence and announcing that the job was done and demanding payment in full. She’d drive out to the country and discover that the job hadn’t been done. This kind of thing happened time after time, over many months. And I'm not even going to go into the tale of the custom-made window that they couldn't get to fit.

I foolishly suggested that she complain to Bob Nardelli. “He can’t possibly allow this to happen once he knows about it,” I insisted.

Big Bob's big silence

She wrote to him. His answer? We’re still waiting to hear from him – an extremely dubious proposition now that he’s been hauled out of Home Depot by his hind end, but rewarded for his failure not only with a king’s ransom but also the chairmanship of Chrysler where he’s evidently still busy counting his money.

Ditto, in terms of James P. (letters-from-customers-be-damned) Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, from whom this cranky customer is still waiting for a reply to a letter he sent on August 10, 2006. And no, I’m not holding my breath any more, either.

Has a top ad guy
cracked the code?

But now a former top ad guy (and – full-disclosure – old colleague) Bruce Silverman has written a book called How To Complain For Fun and Profit, indicating that the Beautiful Girlfriend and I may have been complaining the wrong way.

Silverman, whose many senior titles have included President of Wong-Doody, a West Coast ad agency; President of Asher-Gould, another West Coast ad agency; President of Western International Media and Creative Director at various Ogilvy & Mather offices and of Bozell South, evidently had a cute little sideline all these years – writing complaint letters.

While you and I might write a complaint letter because we’re irate to the point of exploding, Silverman complains for what appear to be different reasons. His complaint letter are not only an art form but also a sport. He has saved his winning letters all these years, along with notes tracking his success in getting freebies. And he does keep score.

Free clothing, free nights,
free money, free bananas!

 In a chest-thumping e-mail to me Silverman boasted like the complaint champ he is,
"Over the course of the past 20 years, I’ve written dozens and dozens and dozens (!!!) of complaint letters to airlines, hotels, car rental companies, cruise lines, retailers, banks, credit card companies, car dealers, movie theater chains, theatrical producers… and a huge percentage of those letters resulted in me getting something back from them… and the “something” wasn’t just an apology! I’ve gotten free stays at great hotels, first class airplane tickets, cruises… clothing… MONEY… even bananas!"
Now it may be that Silverman has been writing only to those rare senior executives who still give a damn about anything other than their compensation packages. Or it may be that when Silverman began writing to the top people, 20 years ago, we still had a different breed of corporate manager running things, and this has upped his overall kill rate. Besides, who knows what "huge percentage" means?

Even so, Silverman seems to be on to something. A careful reading of the book, which you can learn more about here, reveals some techniques that may help you get some kind of compensation for the misery some company has put you through.

My favorite: “Praise with faint damn,” a technique for what I see essentially as getting the CEO to lower his guard by sucking up to him – before you figuratively grab his private parts and twist. I love this stuff. That’s why I’m shamelessly endorsing my old colleague's book.

Go ahead, grab the
gorilla’s bananas!

Listen, in a world where even many CEOs have ceased to give a damn about their customers – and everybody who works for them is too scared, too lazy, or too dumb to solve an irate customer’s problem – you need Bruce Silverman’s book. Who knows, by complaining you might just save corporate America from itself.

Heck, had James Dimon so much as sent me a bunch of bananas, I might not be slamming him a second time on the Internet for being just another greedy corporate gorilla.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Antioch Univer-SUE-ty. It can’t run a college but it sure can sue-sue-sue. Guess who the trustees are threatening to sue now?

Just when you think you’ve milked the last there is to milk out of the subject of Antioch University’s high-handed trustees and chancellor, who put a great college out of business after letting it slide to the brink of bankruptcy, the trustees come up with yet another whack-a-doodle legal maneuver to demonstrate that their ineptitude and mindless dudgeon have no bottom.

But first take note that:

•The trustees are already involved in a lawsuit with college faculty in Yellow Springs, Ohio, who were fired despite their tenure. And further...

•The trustees have also threatened some alumni and faculty of Antioch College and Yellow Springs with lawsuits for “trademark infringement,” after those groups founded an organization called Antioch Nonstop to continue teaching college courses that once were taught on the defunct campus. The supporters of Antioch College’s survival coined a slogan, “Be ashamed to let it die,” based on founder Horace Mann’s slogan, “Be ashamed to die until you’ve won some victory for humanity.”

There was unintentional irony in this trustees’ threat of a suit, in the name of “trademark protection.” It came from group that had overseen the college’s financial “failure,” deliberately shut down the college, contributed big time to the destruction of the college’s reputation, and refused millions of dollars in pledges from alumni who wanted to save the college.

The trustees’ lawyer had the gall to write, that use of the name Nonstop Antioch “…is likely to deceive the public with respect to Antioch’s trademarks and associated services and dilute the distinctiveness of the well-known Antioch marks and logos. The unauthorized use of Antioch’s valuable trademarks will cause confusion and improperly benefit you to the detriment of Antioch.”

Valuable trademarks? Valuable as what? Thanks to the trustees and their chancellor, the Antioch name these days is as vauable as an odiferous quart of month-old milk, with flies buzzing around the open container. But I’m getting off the topic here.

Here we go again – another
trustee law suit

On Thursday, the Yellow Springs (Ohio) News revealed that the University is now threatening to sue the Village of Yellow Springs over an air conditioner that is reportedly creating an ongoing noise nuisance to its residential neighbors and that the village says was built without the required permits.

According to the website The Antioch Papers, even the air conditioner’s manufacturer says the unit in question is “not suitable for residential areas.” Oh, and by the way, the trustees are also threatening to sue The Antioch Papers.

Twisted reasoning

You wouldn’t believe the University’s twisted reasoning for refusing to turn off an obnoxiously loud and neighborhood-disrupting air conditioner in an empty college. They make the prima facie insane claim that the Village of Yellow Springs is trying to make the college re-open by suing it to turn off its noisy, code-violating air conditioner.

This mad dog legal defense of an obnoxious machine has been going on for four years! The University seems to lack the money to run a once-great college, but evidently has plenty of dough in its war chest to spend on foaming-at-the-mouth legal trivia concerning illegal air conditioners, “protecting” a trademark that its own actions made worthless, and other nonsense.

Quick, somebody call the
men with butterfly nets

Why is this sounding more and more to me like certifiable insanity? Are the trustees and chancellor suffering a collective mental meltdown?

There ought to be a law requiring Antioch University trustees and their chancellor to pass a mental competency exam. And if they flunk it, they ought to be carted off to the looney bin, which more and more is where they are demonstrating they belong.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

How America is getting pecked to death by birdbrains. Part 1: The USPS and privatization.

Under the Republican-Bush Administration and so-called "conservative" ideology, the United States has very nearly become a Third World nation. Birdbrained thinking is behind every aspect of a declining United States, from the drain on our human treasure and national treasury by the Iraq war, to today’s topic: A draining trip to the post office.

I went to the post office today, May 7th, to mail a package. The post office is three blocks from my office, roughly a three-minute walk. I left the office at 12:25 PM. I got back to my desk at 2:20 PM.

The post office is one of the two biggest in Manhattan, the James Farley Post Office on Eighth Avenue between 33rd and 34th Streets. Using it turned out to be a nightmare.

The Flat Rate Follies

I wanted to use the service that lets you stuff anything that fits into a certain size box for a flat rate. I saw signs all over the post office announcing what a great deal this is. What I didn’t see, after a block-long traipse from one end of the huge post office to the other, were the boxes.

I finally found some kind of roving postal official who’s evidently there to answer questions such as, “Where do I get one of those flat-rate boxes?”

So I asked him, “Where do I get one of those flat rate boxes?”

“Well,” he said, seeming a bit unsure of himself, “there might be some over on that table.” He pointed to a table at the south end of the post office.

“Nope, I’ve already looked there,” I told him.

“Well, go over there,” he said, pointing in the opposite direction to the philatelic store at the north side of the post office.

I went to the store. I looked around. I couldn’t see a flat rate box. I got in a line. There were six people in front of me. Finally, it was my turn. I asked for one of the flat rate boxes.

“I have only one left,” said the clerk, pulling it from a hiding place behind his counter.

One left? One left? I’m in one of of the two largest post offices in Manhattan, if not in the United States of America, with signs all over the place advertising flat rate boxes, and they only had one box? One?

“I’ll take it,” I said. “How much?”

The price of “free”

“Oh, it’s free,” said the clerk.

Free? They make you stand in line 10 minutes for something they’re giving out free? Why don’t they just stack ‘em up in the corner, under a sign that says: Flat Rate Boxes. Take One, Free.

I put the contents of my package into the box. I addressed the box. I sealed it. Then I had to get at the end of another line, in the main hall of the post office to buy however much postage I needed to put on the box, and to obtain a receipt.

True, there were a few computerized stamp-generating machines in the hall as well, with long lines of their own behind them. But I wanted to make sure I got everything exactly right, since if I screwed up the box, I wasn’t likely to find another. So I got in the line for service by a human.

There were 27 people in that line. I know, because I counted them. There was one – one! – window with one postal clerk behind it open. Five others were closed. This was an the middle of the business day. In the bustling midtown Manhattan business neighborhood. In one of the city’s two largest post offices. One clerk!

From time to time, another clerk window would open for a few minutes, then close again. Often people in line didn’t see the window or hear the tiny bell the clerks behind the windows would ding instead of calling out “Next!” The Farley Post Office used to have a semi-automated system with flashing lights that would indicate when a window was available. That seems to be out of order.

The line in front of me shuffled along slowly. The line behind me grew longer. After a while there were only 12 people in front of me, and 41 behind me.

Postal customers seethe

Not that there weren’t postal employees around. There were, although none of them were doing clerical duties behind post office windows. For example, there were two uniformed postal postal police on patrol. On patrol for what? Probably to make certain none of the customers “go postal” out of sheer frustration and rage. A few seemed on the verge. Eyes rolled. Lips mouthed what appeared to be silent curses. The cops watched us suspiciously.

One hour and 35 minutes after went to the end of the line, I was “served.” A postal clerk took my package, asked if it contained any liquids (no) or explosives (nah, me?) and if I wanted any other “services.” (Nope, this one has cost me enough time.) He relieved me of $8.95 and handed me a requested receipt.

My package is now speeding on its way. I hope.

The birdbrained
urge to “privatize”

For a few bucks more – and certainly for a lot less that I’d bill my own clients for almost two hours of lost time – I could have gone the same distance to a FedEx office and gotten taken care of in less than five minutes.

I think that’s the intent behind the tightfisted Congressional funding of the Post Office that winnows down postal staffs to skeleton crews, slowing down service to a crawl while constantly driving up postal rates. The USPS is yet another service that birdbrained Republican dogmatists would like to “strangle in the bathtub.” Somehow, financing mail delivery the way the government has done since George Washington was President sounds like some kind of communist plot to them.

More important than war

Never mind that a funding post offices was the sixth item listed as one of the duties of Congress (Section 8) in the U.S. Constitution by the framers. They listed it ahead of the power to declare war. It was that important to them.

Today the birdbrains in Congress want the USPS to “pay for itself,” in violation of the constitution. Essentially, they want the government to dis-invest in a constitutionally-mandated benefit for citizens and small businesses (such as publishers) alike. So they choke off funding for the post office. Result: rates go up, service goes down, and in a huge building you can waste nearly two hours to mail a package via the one or (rarely) two clerks on duty.

Can and will private business do what the Post Office does? Sure, at a price that will drive up everything from the cost of paying your phone bill (and of receiving it, since the phone company’s costs also will get passed along to you) to the delivery of mail order shorts, to the cost of publishing a struggling journal.

Oh, also Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and happy Valentine’s Day. The price of mailing your card (or paying a bill) could cost you $4.53 at today's rates if it’s a privatized price.

Commerce will suffer. Taxpayers, instead of paying a miniscule portion of their taxes toward support of the United States Post Office, will pay a huge cost increase on everything that travels by or does some kind of business by mail. That’s just about everything. Got that? Every-thing. Every-damned-thing.

Of course, that’s what the Congressional birdbrains want.

How to protest

Write or call your Congressional representatives and senators. With just your zip code you can find their addresses and phone numbers here.

Quote this article to them. Or print it out and mail it to them.

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Do it fast. Before the price of a stamp goes up again.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Uh oh! If you blow the whistle on sleazy Republican sinners, here’s where you might end up:

So, uh, in case you’ve been napping for very long time, there was yet another hooker scandal in Washington, this time involving a madame named Deborah Jean Palfrey.

Once again, it involved political bigwigs. Republicans, in this case. There was the threat that a lot of Republican officials would get exposed. (Let the puns fall where they may.)

Johns? What johns?

But surprise, very few of the involved Republican vice customers got outed. (Democrats seem to patronize a different classs of hookers. Viz former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer.)

One of the few unfortunate johns whose name did see the light of day would be Republican U.S. Senator David Vitter, who “apologized” for committing “a very serious sin.” Another potential “witness” in the trial was Harlan Ullman, the military "genius" who invented shock and awe as the cool thing to do in Iraq.

Oh yes, still another would be one of Condi Rice’s boys, a dude with the title Deputy Secretary of State. However, Deputy Secretary Randall Tobias hastily, umm, “resigned” last April.

It was starting to appear as if we'd really have a show once the rock finished getting turned over. Who knew what else would crawl out? But somehow, a huge trove of details concerning Palfrey’s business and clients never surfaced during the trial. Or after it.

Hey folks, this was an operation that had been doing business in D.C. for 13 years and had “at least” 132 women working for it. And we're asked to believe that only three Republicans in government used them? Who were the rest of the johns? Door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesmen?

Oh my gracious! There's no one left
to write a tell-all book!

Vitter was facing up to 55 years in prison just for helping Republicans get laid. With all that time on her hands, she could have written one hell of a best-selling book from her cell.

But suddenly — poof! She committed suicide. And at almost exactly the same time, the trial judge sealed records identifying the women who worked for Vitter and didn’t testify. Of course, what they might have testified to is with whom they did what, when and where they did it, and in which position. Alas, now we’ll never know.

But wait! There’s more!

It turns out that a University of Maryland professor was “employed” by Vitter. Tch tch! You know, those professors are notorious for their publish-or-perish attitude. And if they testify in court, they can be so damningly articulate.

Except, the professor, Brandy Britton, also “committed suicide” before her trial could begin.

Coincidence? Well, if you say so. But it’s starting to feel a tad creepy to me.