Friday, May 30, 2014

The VA mess, bonuses, greed, and the hopeless situation of our veterans

Resigned VA Chief Shinseki: his 
resignation is called for, but it won't
solve anything

So, Erick Shinseki has resigned. He had to go. He seemed, until almost the last millisecond, blind to the problems of veterans waiting for months for appointments. Or not getting them at all. Or dying while waiting to see a doctor.

How did he miss the scandal going on under his nose? Was he blind? Couldn't he at least read a newspaper in the morning?

Alas, like any good General, Shinseki listened to his field commanders. (in this case their equivalent are Veterans Administration managers) when he wanted field intelligence. That’s normally a good practice, based on the assumption that the field commanders are telling the truth. But when they start turning in false intelligence, a good practice becomes a terrible one.

Yes, we can and should punish the VA managers who lied about appointment times and did other egregious forms of book keeping to make themselves look good so they could get bonuses, even as American heroes died awaiting medical care. But simply jailing them all won’t fix the problem, which lies not in the VA but in America's tight-fisted, politically doctrinaire, fact-blind, self-aggrandizing Congress

The real reason vets weren’t getting the medical care to which they’re entitled, and which they’ve surely earned, is that the VA doesn’t have enough medical staff to treat them all in a timely manner. And the reason for that is that Congress won’t appropriate enough money to hire more medical staff.

Until Congress is willing to pay for medical care what medical care needs to cost, we’ll have VA managers without bonuses and we’ll still have American heroes dying waiting for a doctor's appointment.

The people who should really be punished at the penny-pinching agents of the Koch Brothers’ (and other political campaign “donors”) greed.

Yeah, that’ll be the day.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Edgar Allen Poe, Abu Dhabi, beating the crap out of cheated workers, and more about the horrid legacy of New York University President John Sexton

Compared to supporting what is virtually slave
labor, you could say that the disrespect of Edgar
Allen Poe's legacy is a piffling trifle among the
transgressions of New York University.
Dr. John Sexton, the president of New York University, will retire in 2015 with benefits of roughly $800,000 a year. That should let him land softly after years of collecting a salary currently at $1.5 million a year, and a $2.5 million “length of service bonus,” according to The Wire.

Sexton deserves the money, said  a university spokesman (and therefore an employee of Sexton), in part because Sexton raises about a million bucks a day for the university.

Staggering tuition 

All those millions accruing to Sexton will come as little comfort to the university’s students and their parents, who don’t seem to be the primary beneficiaries of Sexton’s bucks. 

This year, according to the university’s own brochure “Financial Facts,” students will need to cough up $64,067 a year, if they’re from out of town. If they’re New Yorkers who live at home and take the subway to classes each day, they can get away with a piffling $49,936 a year, says the same brochure.

So where does the money go? Some of it goes into ambitious building programs in New York, where the university likes to build its buildings tall and ugly, in sharp contrast to the relatively low-rise profile of mostly 19th Century Greenwich Village.

And some of it seems to go to ambitious building programs abroad, where the university has set up satellites, 12 of them so far, where one NYU faculty member says it’s “just about people paying an NYU New York tuition and then being shipped off to Prague where you can house and educate the kids for a fraction of the cost that it takes in New York and then NYU pockets the difference.”

Care for a little anti-semitism or
imprisonment with your education?

One of those foreign outposts helping to line Sexton’s pockets is in Abu Dhabi. Yup, the very oily Arab Emirate that also played host to a symposium that  “challenged the reality of the Holocaust; a speaker called Jews ‘the enemies of all nations.’”

“I would be concerned about young people from Connecticut or from anywhere else in the country, for that matter, heading off to Abu Dhabi to get an education,” a Connecticut state legislator, Andrew Flesichmann, told a reporter from New York Magazine. Little wonder. If your son or daughter is caught while being gay in Abu Dhabi, the penalty is up to 10 years in a United Arab Emirates prison, or possibly the death penalty. It's unclear to me whether, if your child is executed in the middle of the academic year, you will still be liable for the next term's tuition.

Near slave-labor construction

Equally concerning is that the imported workers who are constructing the middle eastern NYU outpost are virtual slave laborers who get cheated, underpaid, housed in slum conditions and who also get beaten up and deported – owing substantial debts to the recruiters who brought them to Abu Dhabi – if they protest.

A report in the New York Times describes their plight, which includes getting paid half of what they were promised before they left home, working 12 hours a day, six days a week, living 15 men to a miserable hovel of a room, and having their passports confiscated by their employers, who directly or indirectly are working for NYU. That way, they can’t even get out of the country without the permission of their enslaving employers, even if they can somehow raise the air fare on their own.

Moral fiber at other universities,
but not at NYU

American universities with more moral fiber than NYU have told Abu Dhabi in effect to go jump in an oil well when approached about arrangements similar to NYU’s. 

Harvard sent back a $2.5 million donation from the president of the United Arab Emirates. And the University of Connecticut cut off negotiations with Abu Dhabi for is own campus there, “in part because of its concerns about human-rights violations, as well as the realization that the country’s restrictions against Israelis and homosexuals would violate the school’s nondiscrimination clause,” said New York Magazine.

But NYU under John Sexton, has had no such qualms. Heck, even historic landmarks get no respect. Some years ago, the university decided to demolish the home of the great American poet and author Edgar Allen Poe to make way for a nondescript building, 170,000 square feet of it,  for the university’s expanding law school. 

"We don't need no stinkin' culture"

The neighbors protested, of course that the university was destroying a cultural artifact while uglifying the neighborhood, but hey, NYU is one university that don’t need no stinkin’ culture. It finally relented enough to agree to "preserve" the facade of the original building. Hah! The  “preservation” was moved half a block from its original site, uses none of the original brickwork,  and has been denounced as “a facade, literally and figuratively,” by the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation.

Oh yes, and one more thing. Like Abu Dhabi, the university doesn’t seem to treat dissent kindly. To protest the destruction of the Poe House back in 2000, a speaker stood in front of the spot with over 100 Greenwich Village residents, reading Poe’s poem, "The Raven" into a hand-held microphone. Poetry on the street in front of a university building? Horrors! No wonder somebody called the cops!  I wonder who?  Next thing you know, in this nation of free speech, the man was arrested for reciting poetry while not having a permit to use a microphone.

Seems as if, wherever NYU builds, it’s a midnight dreary.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Thomas Piketty Thomas schmiketty! The New York Crank has been advocating an excess wealth tax since 2007. Where’s my effin’ footnote and share of the royalties, Tommy?

The New York Crank came out
for an excess wealth tax even
before a 2007 post on the topic
that included this picture, stolen
from the former Billionaires for
Bush website.
Listen, I hate to say I was there first.

I don’t want to thump my chest and hoot and holler and say I’m the inventor of the newest new thing. 

I don’t want to make plagiarism accusations about Thomas Piketty, whose hot “new” idea (a perfectly valid one) is to fix many of society’s economic and social justice ills with a huge tax on wealth. 

But let’s face the facts, Tommy Boy. The New York Crank was there first. Which makes the idea mine while it makes you merely one of my word-multiplying camp followers.

This cranky blog was advocating a humongous tax on wealth since June 29, 2007, when a post in this space was headlined, “Rich people behaving badly, or why America may need an ‘excess personal wealth’ tax. Read these tales and retch.”

I stated the case for taxing excess wealth again, only a few weeks later, on June 18, 2007, in a New York Crank post headlined, “Still not convinced America needs and excess wealth tax on multi-multi-millionaires and billionaires? Check out this hair-curling super-rich dude.”

I drove home the point still another time on Valentine’s Day, 2008, with a post entitled, “Does America need an excess wealth tax? Don’t even dare thinking about renting another yacht until you read this.”

On September 7th, 2010, this blog bore the headline, “Filthy rich people behaving like swine–still more reason for a 90 percent tax bracket.” (I know, I know, Piketty is advocating a tax just on accumulated wealth, not incomes, but c’mon. How do you think wealth gets accumulated in the first place? Even if you say wealth is generated by property, the wealth initially comes in the form of income.)

There were also some blog posts that referred to the idea, without spelling it out in the headline. One, way back on July 03, 2007 featured the photograph above and the headline, “No comments needed, but I’ll give you a few anyway.”

Another post, on July 18 of last year, over a photograph of a guillotine said, “Here’s more evidence that America desperately needs an excess wealth tax – unless we want to see a return of this contraption.”

Speaking of head-severing contraptions, I’ve suggested here more than once that sooner or later, if the rich keep greedily holding to their “Let-‘em-eat-cake” mentality, they might indeed suffer the fate of Marie Antoinette. Or something like her fate. Personally, I’m charmed by the idea of a guillotine at the corner of Wall and Broad, directly in front of the New York Stock Exchange, simply for its symbolic eloquence in that spot.

If you haven’t read Piketty’s book, find out why it’s important that you do in Paul Krugman’s article, “Why We’re in a New Gilded Age.” I’m generously recommending you read Krugman’s piece even though Krugman never thought for a millisecond of recommending The New York Crank, but hey, I play fair, even among people who pander purloined ideas.

And then go buy the book that expands on the original purloined Cranky idea. Trust me, this book will do more to very slowly but eventually change the course of economic history than 50 Occupy Wall Street mobs of kids who vanished when  couldn’t figure out what they stood for in the long run.

It's in our DNA, so shut up and eat it!

"In striking down the statute on aggravated harassment dealing with speech that was merely annoying or alarming, the judges unanimously ruled that the law was unconstitutionally vague and overbroad. They cited another court’s ruling that “any proscription of pure speech must be sharply limited to words which, by their utterance alone, inflict injury or tend naturally to evoke immediate violence.” Mere annoying speech, the lingua franca of many New Yorkers, was not enough."
     From an article in The New York Times. Boldfacing my own.

So shut up and eat it, jerk!

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Political fashionistas, Nazis in the municipal building, botched executions, and a prayer to shove down the Supreme Court Justices’ throats. Or maybe up some other part of them.

Mr. Adolph Schickelgruber is
is one of several evil people
mentioned in this post. Read on.

I know, I know, I’ve been gone so long you were wondering if I was…hors du combat as the French say.

No such luck, dudes. After a long dry spell, a brief gush of income-producing work bashed down the door of my cranky office and demanded – demanded! that I immediately stop whatever else I was doing, and instead do my thing for them.

Hey, as the U.S. Supreme Court perfectly well knows, money talks, and it talks one hell of a lot louder than words. Loud enough, in fact, to drown out any real speech.  So I temporarily abandoned my cranky blog. But now, while I wait for the people who hired me for thruppence ha'penny to pay up…and wait…and wait, I have a few moments to try to play catch up here in Blogistan.

And so, I went through the old and the new news this morning, and discovered more than a few items fighting for my attention.

Let’s deal with the frivolously weird stuff first. High fashion is is about to get highly political. First Cosmopolitan Magazine announces that it’s going to have a mink-coated person covering hard news and politics. Not even two weeks later, Marie Claire announces that it is going to have a political beat, too. Isn’t that a little ill-fittingly weird? You know, sort of like The Wall Street Journal having a rock and roll reporter, complete with his own Twitter feed, to keep its readers at bond law firms and hedge funds au courant? Oh, wait.

“Happy birthday dear Schickelgruber” Back during WWII, there was a campaign to hurt Adolph Hitler’s feelings while we fought a war to the death with him. “Call him by his real name, Adolph Schickelgruber,” said posters, and ads, and little squibs in magazines. In fact, Adolph’s father actually  had changed the family name from Schickelgruber to Hitler, but who cared? Well, now Schickelgruber’s ghost is stirring up the local nincompoops in the tiny French-Alsatian town of Oltingue, population something like 700. Or are the nincompoops local?

Seems a group of people went to the little town’s mayor and asked to rent out a room in town hall for a birthday party. You know, a little Alsatian wine, like a nice cold, crisp Gewirtztraminer perhaps, a tempting wedge of cake, some friendly folks wishing grandma well, that sort of thing? Hah!

Instead, somewhere between 150 and 200 neo-Nazis held a 125th (that’s one-hundred-and-twenty-fifth) birthday party for their beloved Schickelgruber, using his stage name, Adolph Hitler. Was there local outrage? For bien sur, and deservedly so. But now some people are wondering if the troublemakers didn’t actually come from Germany, which is right across the border from Alsace, a French province where they speak both French and German. 

Mein Gott and Mon Dieu, das ist une grande scandale!

Rat Poison Mary. Don't let her serve
you dinner in the Governor's mansion.
Rat Poison Mary investigates herself. You couldn’t possibly have missed this one: Oklahoma last week botched an execution, thanks in part to the Governor Mary (call her Rat Poison Mary) Fallin. She overruled  her own state’s Supreme Court –or perhaps defied is a better word – to speed up the execution of convicted murderer Clayton Lockett, refusing to say what chemicals he’d be injected with to kill him, where they came from, or why separation of powers, a principle upon which our nation was founded, doesn’t seem to hold any water in Oklahoma.

Well, you know the story. Lockett died a slow and agonizing death. So slow and agonizing that finally officials drew the curtain around the death chamber so that the press and other witnesses couldn’t observe what ghastly stuff was going on. They say Locket died of a heart attack after the execution was called off. Maybe. Or maybe they switched over to rat poison and kept pumping it into him until every last one of his blood vessels hemorrhaged. Or maybe somebody put a pillow over his face and smothered him. Or clubbed him to death with a ball peen hammer.

We may never know, because Rat Poison Mary arranged for a so-called “independent investigation,” to be conducted by a department that reports directly to herself, and to be led by a man who is a former Oklahoma Department of Corrections employee who was present at the execution. He was there because…uh…well. they’ll probably tell you it’s none of your business. Can you say "coverup?"

Until somebody incontrovertibly proves otherwise, using completely independent experts rather than political hacks, I’m going to stick with my rat poison theory. Moreover, I’m going to start calling the Oklahoma governor Rat Poison Mary every chance I get. I wish you would, too.

May God keep the five right wing members of the U.S. Supreme Court – preferably in a dark cell in Guantanamo.  Freedom of religion used to mean you also had freedom from religion. You wouldn’t want somebody walking into your home, uninvited by you, to tell you that Satan, or Zoroaster, or Zeus is the only true God. So why should anybody have to put up with it in a town meeting of the pathetic little backwater dump of a usually-freezing-cold burg called Greece, N.Y.?

Turns out, the town governing body had been starting out with a prayer to Jesus, which is fine if you believe that’s who God is and if you also believe in God, and if you’re religious enough to pray about it. But some folks were offended, one thing led to another, and the whole matter was before the other kind of supreme beings, the old dudes in black robes.

Chief Justice Kennedy: "What Constitution?"
Sure enough, justices Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito did the expectable, and voted in favor of the establishment of an official religion, in direct violation of what the U.S. Constitution says “shall not” happen. 

Listen, I don’t want to knock religion. It brings many people comfort when nothing else can. And while I would argue that you can’t possible know if there is a God, I believe the same logic dictates that you can’t possibly know there isn’t, regardless of my own opinions on the subject.

So what should we do about imposed Christianity, just legalized by the five right wing  court totalitarians? Well, since the court’s position is that you can’t “censor” religious speech, let’s have more of it. I urge every appointed or self-appointed member of religious and quasi-religious sects to go up there to Greece and demand equal praying time.

How about a prayer that begins, “Oh beloved Satan, sworn enemy of  the false gods of the west…
The goddess of Lust. Put her
in your church and pray to it,
Mr. Justice Kennedy.

How about an invocation calling for the imposition of Sharia Law in the town of Greece?

How about prayers to Zoroaster, and Zeus, and Dionysus? Or to Tlazolteotl, the Aztec goddess of lust, carnality and sexual misdeeds? In concert with deeply held religious beliefs, the minister or shaman could name various body parts that might concern Tlazolteotl, and what should be done with them, and by whom, and for how long, and in whose bed.

Of course, the five Supreme Court justices would rule against that sort of prayer, using whatever excuse they could think up, once Greece bounces back to court with them. But at least, the justices would clearly put their own preferential religious politics on display.

However, I think we could work on the preferential bit, too. How about a national day of mass prayers, to the diety of your choice, calling for the Sacred One of your choice to either strike justices Kennedy, Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito dead or, better yet. to afflict them with a stroke that robs them of their own speech, not to mention the ability to flee from church once the next round of prayers to Zoroaster and Tlazolteotl begin.

Hey, it's all just an exercise of your freedom of speech.Right Supreme Courtiers?