Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Bribery arrests? They’re only for the little people.

Public domain art from ClipArt ETC []

Bits and pieces from a  Los Angeles Times story by David G. Savage. It concerns a former Republican (natch!) governor of Virginia, one Bob McDonnell:
McDonnell and his wife were deeply in debt. Jonnie Williams, a free-spending Virginia businessman, offered to improve their "financial situation" if they helped promote his tobacco-based dietary supplement. 
Over two years, he secretly gave the couple more than $175,000 in loans, vacations and gifts, including a New York shopping spree by McDonnell's wife and an engraved Rolex watch for the governor.
Prosecutors showed evidence that within minutes of speaking to Williams about personal loans, the governor called or emailed aides and state health officials, asking them to come to the governor's mansion to hear more about the dietary supplement. McDonnell used the governor's mansion for a product launch for the new supplement. And he carried a bottle of pills in his pocket and suggested state employees might want to try them.
McDonnell was charged with bribery and corruption, and a jury convicted him in 2014 on 11 counts. A U.S. appeals court upheld the convictions and said the governor had taken bribes in exchange for "using the power of his office to influence governmental decisions."
But now the good part — good, that is, if you’re either a government official on the take, or a rich individual who wants to buy the law for your own benefit.

McDonnell has appealed all the way up to the Supreme Court. He may  lose in the tied-up court now that Justice Scalia is dead. I sincerely hope so. But the sheer gall of his appeal is vomit-worthy. 

Moreover, the very fact that the Roberts Court would entertain such an appeal is worthy of a counter-appeal to God: “Dear Lord, don’t stop at Scalia. Please take Justice Roberts as well.” 

As the LA Times tells it:
"The possibility that an individual who spends large sums may garner influence over or access to elected officials" is not evidence of bribery or corruption, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said two years ago in striking down the limits on how much in total a single donor may give to a field of candidates. "Ingratiation and access... are not corruption," he said, quoting from the Citizens United opinion
McDonnell's attorneys have latched on to that legal rationale to argue that doing small favors for big donors is protected under the 1st Amendment .
"Paying for 'access' — the ability to get a call answered or a meeting scheduled — is constitutionally protected and an intrinsic part of our political system," they said in their appeal. "If Gov. McDonnell can be imprisoned for giving routine access to a gift-giver, an official could equally be imprisoned for agreeing to answer a donor's phone call about a policy issue.”
Alas, McDonnell has been sentenced to a piddling two years for what has grown into an effort to subvert not only a bribery law, but the very basis of Democracy, which is that  government is not just for those who can afford to buy it. 

If it were up to me, McDonnell would spend his two years in solitary. Either that, or in a maximum security prison with other major felons, which he is.

And Justices Roberts, Alito, and Thomas would be in cells further down the solitary cell block.

Special thanks to “Comrade Misfit” at the Earthbound Misfit blog for taking note of this issue, which is how it came to my own cranky notice.

Monday, April 25, 2016

The Great North Carolina Transgender Pee-In

Officer! Arrest that statue!

Call the guy I'm talking about “Agitprop Al.” I think he’d like that nickname, although I’ve never asked him. He’s the kind of a guy who, when he walks into a bar, all the muzz-muzz that begins with openers like, “How about those Yankees?” thuds to a halt. Al thinks in big, dramatic thoughts. Big, dramatic, and also crazy, but big all the same.

Agitprop Al made an entrance at a Manhattan saloon the other afternoon and the bartender didn’t even try to stop whatever would come next. Instead, he instantly reached up and turned off the TV. Never mind that the Yankees were getting clobbered by the Rays. That wasn’t the reason. Or maybe it was. 

“I’ve got a way to screw North Carolina good,” Al announced.

Al was referring to a new North Carolina law that requires transgendered people to use public bathrooms earmarked for the sex they were physically born with — regardless of what sex they are now, or what sexual equipment they currently do or do not happen to have.

It seems that North Carolina Grand Poobahs of Idiocy are spreading a panicky nonsense theory. They say that men will pretend to be transgendered, go out and buy a dress, some makeup, and falsies, put all that stuff on, and then charge into ladies’ rest rooms and rape the fairest examples of southern pulchritude. 

That barely might have worked as a somewhat shaky cinematic concept back in the time of Hitchcock movies.  I have a suspicion that in today's real world, the merest suggestion that they wear a dress and falsies would have most rapists gasping and gagging.

Mind you, this Idiot’s Law about where to pee is already having negative repercussions for which the people of North Carolina can thank their law makers. 

It has led to the cancellation of Ringo Starr, Pearl Jam and Ani DiFranco concerts in North Carolina. It has led to millions, if not billions of dollars worth of hotel reservations cancelled by tourists who were formerly planning to visit North Carolina. It has led to harsh criticism from corporate America, and to a negative travel advisory from the British Foreign Service to its own LGBT citizens. 

But that could be nothing compared to Agitprop Al’s Big Idea.

“We get busloads of former women who have transgendered into men. We put them through boot camp, during which they learn karate, Tae Kwon Do, and other martial arts. We put them through intensive body building regimes. And they all grow big beards.”

“Uh oh,” the bartender said.

“Then we send them down to North Carolina to use the ladies’ rooms in big, menacing-looking groups,” Al went on. “Hey, they look like men, they identify as men, they’ve got beards, and they’re a little bit scary looking. It should terrify the confederate panties off the women.”

“They’ll get busted,” somebody down at at the end of the bar said.

“For what?” asked Agitprop Al. “They’re all being completely legal, because they’re going into ladies’ rooms which is the sex they were assigned at birth. And that’s what North Carolina’s own law says they have to do. In fact, each transgendered male should use the ladies'  room while carrying a birth certificate that says he was born a she. It's like a get out of jail free card. And who knows — these guys might pick up some attractive women.”

The question then arose as to what could be done in Mississippi, where the law, in the name of religious freedom, allows anyone to discriminate against a member of the LGBT community if he feels the Bible tells him so.

“In that case,” Agitprop Al said without missing a beat, “we send in a bunch of goons who say it’s their religion to beat the crap out of Bible thumpers. You can't stop them if that's their sincere religious belief.”

He thought a minute, then he began to recite. “And lo, they came to a watering hole and they filled it with water. And they heard The Word, and The Word was, Ye shall pee as ye choose to pee, and neither men nor women, nor their sons nor their daughters, nor their menservants or their maidservants shall have dominion over the hole. And those who seek dominion, them shall ye smite.”

“What the hell is that supposed to be?” somebody asked.

“It’s from the Book of Al, Chapter Seven, Verse Six. You wanna hear what it says about pooping?”

“That’s it, Mister!” said the bartender, switching the TV back on. “Finish your drink and go.”

The Yankees lost to the Rays, 8 to 1.

Monday, April 11, 2016

ESCAPE FROM BONDAGE? NOT QUITE. Crazed American lobsters invade Swedish waters, but they’re hobbled by rubber bands on their claws.

"Å titta, en amerikansk. Partår du svenska?"
(Translation, "Oh look, an American. Do you speak Swedish?")

While Americans fret over whether we should build a wall between our southern border and Mexico and make Mexico pay for it, Sweden may be coming up with some wall problems of its own. Sea wall problems, that is.

Seems that 32 American lobsters have been caught swimming in Swedish waters, reports the AP. Precisely how they got there isn’t at all clear. Some believe they were “liberated” from a steamy death in a Swedish restaurant kitchen by animal rights activists. If so, the activists neglected to remove the rubber bands from the poor lobsters’ claws, thus sentencing the lobsters to a slow death by starvation rather than a quick end in a steaming pot.

Others wonder whether something else was involved. A sudden migration from the seacoasts of the Northern Hemisphere, perhaps? If so, the lobsters are receiving no warmer a welcome than Syrian refugees who are also trying to get into Sweden.

American lobsters, declared Gunvor Ericson, state secretary for the Swedish Ministry of Environment and Energy, are an “invasive species.” I’m not sure what that statement says about Syrian refugees. Nor the next thing Erickson said.

“Once the American lobster is established, it will be impossible to eradicate,” the AP quotes Ericson as saying. “This poses a severe threat to the native European lobster, as well as to other native crustacean species.”

Now lobster nativist Sweden is calling for an import ban on live American lobsters among all 28 nations in the European Union. This of course would be good for the Scandinavian fishermen who net smaller and not-nearly-so-meaty European lobsters.

Moreover, it’s only time before someone decides that the answer to this unwelcome invasion of red shelled Americans may be a wall — a sea wall surrounding Sweden at the 12 mile limit. 

Sooner or later, some Swede is even bound to suggest that America could be made to pay for it. You don’t think so? Then how come all the alarm from the Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association? They’re attempting to dragoon members of the Maine congressional delegation, the State Department and the White House to their cause. Their cause is to block the lobster ban. 

“This ban is unnecessary,” said Beth Cassoni of the Lobstermen’s Association. She then asked a question considerably more insightful than what American journalists typically ask U.S. presidential candidates during debates of national importance. “Is this an invasion of species or an invasion of economics?”

And some, like me, are wondering what happened to the original 32 escaped lobsters? Have they been deported and shipped home? Have they been set free in Swedish waters again, this time without constricting rubber bands? Or have they ended up in some Swedish pot prior to getting devoured by self-righteous Swedish protectionists? This warrants an investigation.

And I’m not even going to get within a mile of any Trump-ish suggestions that, come to think of it, North Americans could simply skip an expensive wall at the Mexican border and the costly deportations of 11 million people, and instead steam undocumented immigrants and eat them. No no, Donald! Don’t you go there, either! Nor you, Ted.

Whatever happens, scientists are going all political over this. In America, the director of the U of Maine Lobster Institute (yes really there is such a thing) is declaring that lobster shell diseases aren’t contagious and that red-tail disease is virtually extinct. This presumably dismisses one of the Swedish concerns ["They're not only rapists of European lobsters, they also carry disease, and I suppose some of them are good lobsters..."] that could lead to a sea wall.

Another American scientist is poo-poohing the Swedish concern that American lobsters will breed with Swedish lobsters to create a race of mongrel crustaceans that will be at best halfbreed Europeans. 

The Swedes are naturally concerned about this because if they get stuck with an ocean full of  Swedish-speaking American lobsters, or vice-versa, then where will Sweden be?

But “attempts to introduce American lobsters elsewhere have failed,” tush-tushes Rick Whale. (I swear, that's his name. I suppose that if his name had been "Cow" or "Lamb" he would have gone into agricultural science.) Whale does research at the University of Maine’s marine science school. 

Wait a second Mr. Whale, you mean somebody actually has  deliberately introduced American lobsters into foreign waters? Sweden’s perhaps? Maybe the Swedes are right. Maybe the introduction failures occurred because nobody, anywhere, has thought to take off the rubber bands.

Personally, I like the lobsterman in Port Clyde, Maine, a guy named Gerry Cushman who was quoted by the AP as saying, “If they ban Maine lobsters, are we going to ban selling Volvos in Maine?”

I don’t think we have to, Gerry. We can just take all those Volvos and boil them.

Friday, April 08, 2016

The Washington Post takes a shamefully slippery slide off the path to truth, dragging Democratic civility with it

Before this controversy gets drowned out by whatever the next controversy turns out to be, I need to say something cranky about Bernie Sanders’ attack on Hillary Clinton’s qualifications, which was prompted by a headline in the Washington Post.

Here’s the headline: “Clinton questions whether Sanders is qualified to be president.”

What’s that sound like to you? To me, it sounds as if Hillary, by “questioning” Sanders qualifications, is saying he isn’t qualified. If I do think somebody is qualified, I wouldn’t question their qualifications.

The misleading headline was exacerbated by the Washington Post's lede, which repeated and thus reinforced the false claim. It said, “Former secretary of state Hillary Clinton on Wednesday questioned whether her rival in the Democratic presidential primary, Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) is qualified to be president.”

Not surprisingly, Sanders struck back against what appeared to be a deliberate kick to the groin. His counterattack left no room for doubt that if Hillary takes the low road, he can do so too. If you can bear a few seconds of intrusive advertising before the newsclip, here’s what Sanders said:

Now someone at the Post has gotten defensively self-righteous about what was, at the very least, a reporting mistake exacerbated by a sloppy editing oversight. I’m not saying the Post is deliberately misleading its readers. I’ll leave that conclusion, or its opposite, to you.

A new Washington Post headline announces, “Sanders’s incorrect claim that Clinton called him ‘not qualified’ for the Presidency.” 

Notice, it doesn't say the Post was incorrect. It says that Sanders was incorrect for believing the Post's false headline and story copy. And that's what gets my goat.

The basis for the Post's perfidious  self-absolution is a lengthy, tangled, argumentative attempt to parse its own copy, along with he-said she-said quotes and a self-pitying whine that writing and displaying an accurate news story is hard. Oh, boo hoo!

“Headline writing is an imperfect art,” the Post sniveled. “The editor often has to summarize the meaning of a complex and nuanced article in just a few words. Many Washington-based reporters have experienced the frustration of having an accurate article denied by an agency spokesman because of a headline that went a little far off the mark.”

In other words, to echo what Barbie Doll was once crucified for saying about math when you pulled the string in her back, newspaper editing is hard.

You can try, if you’re courageous enough and you’ve taken your Ritalin today, to read the Post's whole convoluted self-justification for having committed the political equivalent of throwing a lighted match into a can of gasoline here

Frankly, I’m not buying the Post’s unapologetic apologia.  The headline could simply have said something like, “Clinton criticizes Sanders for lack of preparation,” which is what the story was really about once you get past the lede.

But that wouldn’t have made a sensational, newspaper-selling  story.

So now we have mud flying back and forth between the Clinton and the Sanders camps. Less civility, but more raw meat for the Washington Post, sparked by the sloths or dissemblers (take your pick) who write and edit stories there. 

Sadly, the ultimate victims are the American public, including those of us who live far from the Post's circulation zone. We are interested in learning about differences in policy, not in hearing the slosh of mud. That interest has been demonstrated by, among other things, the slow fall from favor of Donald Trump, the mudpie champion of the world.
The entire Washington Post staff, starting at the top, needs to be sent to bed without its supper.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and the adult coloring book craze

My father can out-scribble your father.
And so can my President.
Too much attention to political punditry makes Crank a dull boy. An entire trend almost escaped my notice until I went on a wildly haphazard surf across the Internet and discovered the Adult Coloring Book craze.

If you haven’t heard of it until now either, then both of us need to crawl out from under our rocks and take a look at what’s going on around this planet.

I know this may sound crazy, but adult coloring books are the newest new thing. This is bigger than world hunger. Bigger that global climate change. Bigger than nuclear catastrophes. Bigger than a sackfull of rattlesnakes and another one chock full of squirming and wriggling ISIS agents.  Or as an online publication called Publishing Perspectives puts it, “It’s Springtime for Crayola.”

And not only Crayola. Another online publication called The Independent is reporting that a German manufacturer of colored pencils, Faber-Castell, is huffing and puffing to keep up with the demand for its products.
“Currently, we are running more shifts than usual in our factory in Stein, Bavaria in order to satisfy the global needs for artists pencils related to the colouring trend for adults,” reports Sandra Suppa, the pencil-pushing manufacturer’s spokesperson.
But wait, there’s more!

London’s Telegraph reveals:
Colouring books have become a surprising feature of many bookshops’ bestsellers lists in recent years, with Waterstones previously noticing a 300 per cent rise in sales in just one year. 
Melissa Cox, head of children’s buying at Waterstones, told the paper: “Colouring books are doing really well at the moment, which initially surprised us… and we realised adults were buying them for themselves.”
And right there, ladies and gentlemen, you have it: the Ultimate Explanation for Everything. The windows through which you can peer to see why so many people are taking Donald Trump and Ted Cruz so seriously and civilization is going down the crapper. 

It explains why Trump and Marco Rubio were able to get into a nose thumbing match over whose fingers (and presumably, therefore, whose penis) is smaller. Or bigger. It explains why Trump, and Fiorina, and Palin, and others, thought, or still think they’re qualified for public office.

Most of all, it explains why our nation is going to hell in a garishly embroidered hand basket.

We, and evidently the rest of the world, have regressed into a state of complete and utter infantilism. Our pastimes have devolved — from building furniture in the garage, or souping up hotrods, or feeding the homeless, or translating Cicero from the original Latin, to coloring within the outlines someone else has created for us in coloring books, just the way we used to when we were kids.

Speaking of kids, in must be scary has hell to a nine year old to see see your parents acting more like children than you are. And don’t try to defend this by saying that the coloring books are on “adult themes," which some of them most certainly are. That just proves my point. And scares the kids even more.

The planet — I suspect led by the likes of Trump, Cruz, Palin and other Americans, not to mention Marine LePen in France  — is eagerly, no voraciously seeking to dumb the culture down. That may be because reality is just too tough to conjure with. 

The planet is overheating. The seas are rising, yet water shortages are growing. The global  economy is finally colliding against its Malthusian limits as once fertile farms turn into deserts, forests into housing subdivisions, oceans into garage dumps, and fresh air into carbon dioxide. There are no simple answers to all of this, only complex, difficult and costly puzzles.

So let’s skip all that and instead go into denial by acting like children. My father can beat up your father. My fingers  are longer than your fingers and therefore guess what else of mine is longer. My wife is prettier than Ted’s wife.  My president can nuke the puke out of your president.

Where is this leading? What should we do about it? 

I know not what course others may take, but as for me…..hand me that box of crayons.