Tuesday Reads: Two Business Models and Their Effects on Workers, Customers, and Corporate Profits

woman-reading-porch

 

Good Morning!!

I love this painting by American impressionist Frederick Childe Hassam. Just looking at it relaxes me. The colors are gorgeous and somehow surprising. I wouldn’t normally expect orange to have a calming effect, but it does for me in this work. It’s interesting that Childe Hassam used the color orange quite a bit in his paintings. The subject of this painting is a startling contrast to what’s happening in the world right now, and that’s why I decided to use it and others by Childe Hassam today as a reminder that there is still beauty in the world despite the ugliness of world events.

I’m going to focus on a local Massachusetts story today, and I hope you’ll share your thoughts on it; but please feel free to discuss any topics you wish in the comment thread. I’m going to be focusing on working people and working conditions, so I’m going to begin with this great piece by Robert Reich at Truthdig, The Disconnect Between Workers’ Pay and Social Worth.

What someone is paid has little or no relationship to what their work is worth to society.

Does anyone seriously believe hedge-fund mogul Steven A. Cohen is worth the $2.3 billion he raked in last year, despite being slapped with a $1.8 billion fine after his firm pleaded guilty to insider trading?

On the other hand, what’s the worth to society of social workers who put in long and difficult hours dealing with patients suffering from mental illness or substance abuse? Probably higher than their average pay of $18.14 an hour, which translates into less than $38,000 a year….

Or consider kindergarten teachers, who make an average of $53,590 a year.

Before you conclude that’s generous, consider that a good kindergarten teacher is worth his or her weight in gold, almost.

One study found that children with outstanding kindergarten teachers are more likely to go to college and less likely to become single parents than a random set of children similar to them in every way other than being assigned a superb teacher.

And what of writers, actors, painters, and poets? Only a tiny fraction ever become rich and famous. Most barely make enough to live on (many don’t, and are forced to take paying jobs to pursue their art). But society is surely all the richer for their efforts.

At the other extreme are hedge-fund and private-equity managers, investment bankers, corporate lawyers, management consultants, high-frequency traders, and top Washington lobbyists.

They’re getting paid vast sums for their labors. Yet it seems doubtful that society is really that much better off because of what they do.

Read the rest at the link. Robert Reich is a treasure, isn’t he? He never gives up.

Childe Hassam, French Tea Garden

Childe Hassam, French Tea Garden

Now to the local story, which I see as related. I have posted links recently in morning posts and comments about a work stoppage that has been going on here in Massachusetts and that has implications for retail and other low-wage workers around the country. I posted this article from Esquire last week, but I’m going to link to it again: The Last Stand for the Middle Class is Taking Place in a Parking Lot in Massachusetts, by Chris Farone.

Americans have grown to accept that corporations will invariably take advantage of their low wage workers, and executives have done nothing recently to pretend like this isn’t the case. When asked if his multinational beast would fight a federal hike in employee compensation, Walmart U.S. President Bill Simon told reporters in May, “We are not opposed to a minimum wage increase, unless it’s directed exclusively at us.” Compassionate stuff.

It’s a dangerously low bar set by the nation’s largest retailer — don’t expect your bosses to support an acceptable living wage for workers, let alone bonuses or a 401k, or even respect.

But at one of the most popular grocery store chains in New England–Market Basket–there is a struggle going on that could be turning point similar to the fight by fast food workers for better pay and benefits. Farone writes:

Here’s the most unusual part: Protesting employees are demanding the return of their beloved CEO, ousted by a board focused solely on the bottom line. After store workers were fired for skipping shifts to rally outside Market Basket headquarters last week, their then-chief executive, Arthur T. Demoulas, said in a statement, “This is not about me. It is about the people who have proven their dedication over many years and should not have lost their jobs because of it.”

Demoulas was ousted by his cousin Arthur S. Demoulas, who had managed to take over control of the company’s board of directors and whom workers suspect want to take the company in a different (anti-worker) direction. The reason Arthur T. is beloved is that he paid his workers a living wage, provided them with outstanding benefits, all the while attracting customers with quality local produce and low prices–underselling every other grocery chain in New England, including Walmart–all this while making handsome profits.

Market Basket’s formula proves that executives and managers and cashiers can all profit, together. Employees get the benefits of a 15 percent profit sharing plan provided by Market Basket, while the groceries the store sells are less expensive, on average, than Walmart’s. As for the register: Market Basket rang in $4.6 billion in revenue last year, and is the 127th biggest privately owned company in America.

And it proves that none of this matters in the American economy if those at the top aren’t getting more than enough. Executive pay is the only beast America’s brand of the free market is designed to feed in 2014. CEOs made 331 times what an average worker made in 2013, and it’s clear that there will be no exceptions.

The American economy no longer exists to support a thriving middle class, or to help the weakest among us attain a livable wage for an honest day’s work. It is solely in existence to add to the pile of wealth for the unchecked at the top.

Childe Hassam, Church at Old Lyme (Connecticul)

Childe Hassam, Church at Old Lyme (Connecticul)

You can see how the Market Basket formula threatens other corporate bosses. Because it’s successful.

As it turns out, the Market Basket formula does work. In a recent study of Massachusetts grocery store chains, the nonprofit Washington DC-based Center for the Study of Services found “DeMoulas Market Basket’s prices averaged about 22 percent lower than the average prices at the Shaw’s stores [they] checked and 10 to 21 percent lower than the prices at the Stop & Shop stores.” Despite paying starting full-timers $12 an hour and having many career employees on the payroll who make six figures, the survey found that Market Basket had, on average, lower prices than all of their competitors — including Walmart.

Despite such presumably tight profit margins, Market Basket pays its roughly 19,000 workers yearly bonuses that often equal up to several months worth of salary, plus invests the equivalent of 15 percent of every paycheck into a retirement plan. At the same time, the company is impressively profitable. Shareholders have pocketed in excess of $1 billion since 2000, while the business is currently the 127th biggest privately owned American company according to Forbes. In 2013, Market Basket reportedly rang in $4.6 billion in revenue.

Demoulas workers began protesting in store parking lots, store shelves are empty because the workers who deliver goods and stock the shelves aren’t doing so, and loyal customers are refusing to shop at Market Basket until Arthur T. is back in charge. And please note these are non-union workers.

Last week, Arthur T. offered to buy out Arthur S’s share in the company. That offer is still on the table. But over the weekend, the board announced that workers who had been protesting would be fired if they didn’t come to work yesterday. They also announced a job fair to attract replacement workers. The protesting workers announced they would continue to protest. So how did the job fair work out?

From the Boston Globe: Few Show Up for Market Basket Job Fair as Protests Enter Third Week.

Day one of Market Basket’s job fair did not seem to turn out many current employees looking to change positions within the company. Dozens of protesters marched back and forth across the entrance to the company’s Andover facility, continuing the remarkable worker and customer protest into its third week. At one point a shuttle bus brought in fresh protesters, who took a shift on the picket line as grateful protesters handed off signs and pictures to them.

Few vehicles took the left turn into the facility’s parking lot. Those that did were met with leers and jeers from the crowd, which quickly followed police orders whenever a car did come through.

“I don’t think anyone will show up,” said Mike, a North Andover Market basket employee who declined to give his last name for fear of retribution from the company. “Most of us believe this is a scare tactic to get us back to work.”

Childe Hassam, Acorn Street, Boston

Childe Hassam, Acorn Street, Boston

After the failure of the job fair, executives announced that people could apply for Market Basket jobs secretly by e-mail.

AP, via ABC News: Market Basket Workers Plan Huge Rally for Ex-CEO.

Employees who have organized massive protests over the past two weeks say they are expecting up to 15,000 employees, customers and supporters to attend a rally Tuesday outside a Market Basket store in Tewksbury.

The family-owned chain has been in turmoil since June, when a board controlled by Arthur S. Demoulas fired his cousin, CEO Arthur T. Demoulas.

Hundreds of warehouse workers and drivers who support Arthur T. Demoulas have refused to deliver food to the chain’s 71 stores, leaving store shelves severely depleted and prompting customers to defect to other supermarkets.

Workers are hoping Arthur S. Demoulas’ side of the family will accept an offer from his cousin to buy the company, which is known for its low prices.

As for the firings that took place yesterday, Mass, NH Attorneys General warn Market Basket.

The Attorneys General in both New Hampshire and Massachusetts have sent the Market Basket CEOs a warning saying if anyone is fired they better get the wages they are owed.

“Even though they may have the right to terminate employees we want to make sure the company knows that for payment, wages, for benefits may have accrued over a time period, those are due on the day of termination,” said Attorney General Martha Coakley.

And there will be lawsuits, Fired Market Basket Supervisors Plan To Sue. So, to sum up, the board of directors of Market Basket seems willing to bring down the company to support one side of a family dispute over contrasting business models–on the one hand, a focus on the bottom line and making profits for the fat cats; on the other, a focus on sharing profits with workers, making customers happy,  and in the process making plenty of money for all concerned. Who will win? I don’t know, but, IMHO, this is an important struggle.

What do you think?

Childe Hassam, Bowl of Goldfish

Childe Hassam, Bowl of Goldfish

More Headlines:

The Guardian: US fast-food workers fight McDonald’s as battle for better wages heads to court.

Bloomberg: Israel Pulls All Troops From Gaza as New Cease-Fire Holds.

New York Times: Eight Days in Gaza: A Wartime Diary, by Atef Abu Saif.

AP on a crazy scheme to bring down the Cuban government–why do we keep doing stupid stuff like this? US Sent Latin Youth Undercover in Anti-Cuba Ploy.

New York Times: Behind Toledo’s Water Crisis, a Long-Troubled Lake Erie.

The Guardian: The case of baby Gammy shows surrogacy for the repulsive trade it is, by Suzanne Moore.

The Hill: US won’t turn back flights over Ebola.

Politico: Congress approval hits new low (poll).

The Daily Beast Exclusive: ‘Pro-Troop’ Charity Pays Off Tea Party Cronies Instead.

What else is happening?


Wednesday Reads: Something Else Beyond Denial

f439b0d8b79ea9da013188b573a9599bThere must be a thing, something beyond denial, that people with all sense and reason experience. Beyond comprehension it seems. Beyond explanation. Even now as I write these words…the mind and heart do not move forward and process the thing I was told last Friday.

“…is HIV Positive, he has had HIV for over 11 years…”

My Uncle. My fabulously “gay” uncle. Who is only 18 months older than me.

HIV for 11 years. No. Why couldn’t he tell me. (He did not tell his sister for the first three years.) He is too smart to be so foolish…he knew to take care of himself. No, we’ve already made it past the late 80s and 90s, he got through that fine. (I suppose.) No. He would never get HIV. I knew the truth. He was my secret super hero….

You see, my uncle was on his way to an emergency room, there was something wrong internally. My Aunt was worried, she had to let me know the whole story.

7d45fe82cc4e42b6e3198ac8f8449978Sigh…

My Aunt told me this on Friday, even she said her timing was shitty. She felt that it was something he should’ve told me on his own, face to face, but with the emergency situation at hand, she thought it was best I knew everything.

It was during a big lunch that included ten of my kids’ friends…my friend Cindy, my daughter’s boyfriend’s mother (it was our first meeting) and his two younger brothers and the rest of our circus of a family…but I could not react like I wanted to.  The boyfriend caught my aunt holding me up near the Honey Baked Ham…he knew something had happened. He told Bebe, but she saw how well I hid everything and didn’t think anything was wrong. When the shit hits the fan as much as it does, you get used to the splatter.

Well, that crowd finally left, and I could act like a normal human being and fucking cry and sob uncontrollably, it still did not seem real to me.

JD could not have HIV, we 0169fa3d747a227943a11d45e7201e87were beyond the point of concern. I thought he was safe…I mean…The idea that he could even get it was out of the question. To me he was like “Super Fag” (and I don’t mean that in any derogatory way).  He was invincible, and impervious to any disease. Like his t-cells had some super human power to withstand any viral attacks from evil outside forces.  All he needed was a little super “Fagsuit” with a rainbow cape and a catchy theme song or memorable send off line…

You must understand this. JD is wonderful, funny, talented and loving. He is such a special, good person.

He is still invincible to me because even now I can’t get past this.  I cannot process this information.  My mother, father, husband….they all said it was something they expected…no surprise.

But for me, it fucking hit me out of nowhere.

Still.

How do you describe this feeling? This emotion…I am not in denial. I know that he has HIV. But the words do not register in my brain, and they certainly do not register in my heart.

After a weekend of worry, waiting for a diagnosis, it turns out to be an abdominal abscess. He does not realize how bad this thing really was, he had some special type of IV that pumped the heavy duty antibiotics directly into his aorta.  Scary stuff.  He went home yesterday evening. I am so thankful for this.

Next step is talking to JD on the phone, he is glad that I know and sorry he did not tell me himself when we saw each other the last time 5 years ago…during my Nana’s memorial. But I can hear the tears in his voice on the message he left me today.  What can I say to him? All I want to do is hug him and make him laugh…like he always makes me laugh. I love him so much.

Boston Boomer told me that writing about this might make me feel better, I don’t know, it is all still numbing to me. Don’t take offense to the cartoons, I needed something funny to contrast what my return post was focused on, my humor is a twisted sort of way…but then you all know me so well.

Now for a quick group of links.

Thank you BB and Dak for covering for me these past couple weeks. I love you both so very much. ;)

Jake is still all over the place on his sugar levels, but yesterday he started his first job. I only hope they are more supportive of diabetics than this employer out in California.

Walgreen’s tab for ADA violation: $180k and a bag of chips

Josefina Hernandez worked as a cashier at a California Walgreens store for 18 years. About five years into her tenure, she was diagnosed with Type II diabetes, a condition she reported to her employer.

In the 13 years that Hernandez worked for Walgreens after being diagnosed with diabetes, Walgreens allowed Hernandez to keep candy nearby in case of low blood sugar, keep her insulin in the break room refrigerator and take additional breaks to test her blood sugar or eat because of her diabetes.

In that 13-year time period, there was only one time when Hernandez asked to take an additional break to eat food because of low blood sugar. Apparently, the accommodations provided by Walgreens were working out just fine.

But then came the famous Chip Theft of 2008.

Hernandez was returning items in a shopping cart to shelves when she noted she was shaking and sweating from low blood sugar. She didn’t have any candy with her and was in the magazine aisle, so she opened a $1.39 bag of potato chips that was in the cart and ate some of them.

After 10 minutes, when she started feeling better, Hernandez said, she went to pay for the chips at the cosmetic counter (where she had been instructed to pay for store items) but no one was there. Hernandez put the potato chips under the counter at her cash register and returned to restocking items. She later paid for the chips when her cashier duties were finished.

Seems reasonable right? However, her manager sounds like he votes Republican.

An assistant store manager spotted the chips and asked whose they were. Hernandez said the chips were hers. The assistant manager reported Hernandez to the store manager for taking the chips.

After meeting with store management,  Hernandez was suspended and then terminated for violating the store’s “anti-grazing” policy.

According to court testimony, Walgreens officials said the company incurs significant losses from employee theft, estimated at exceeding $350 million per year. In order to combat the problem, Walgreens has a strict policy against employee theft in the form of “grazing” — eating food merchandise without paying for it first — that applies to all employees.

The store manager testified he was “absolutely certain” about terminating Hernandez because she took the chips in violation of company policy, and that he believed there was no “gray area” or “discretion” under Walgreens’ policy.

You can read the details of the settlement here:  America’s Largest Drug Store Chain to Pay $180,000 to Settle EEOC Disability Discrimination Suit | U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) – JDSupra

Drugstore giant Walgreens has agreed to pay $180,000 to a longtime employee with diabetes and to implement revised policies and training to settle a federal disability discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today.

[...]

Terminating a qualified employee because of a disability violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).  The law also requires an employer to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee or job applicant with a disability, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship for the employer.  After an investigation by EEOC investigator Carlos Rocha, and after attempting to resolve the case through pre-litigation conciliation efforts, the EEOC filed the lawsuit (EEOC v. Walgreen Company, Case No. CV 11-04470) in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

On Apr. 14, U.S. District Judge William Orrick noted that “Walgreen has failed to allege any misconduct that is unrelated to her disability,” and denied Walgreens’ motion for summary judgment.  At this hearing, Walgreens’ own legal counsel acknowledged Hernandez as a long-term valued employee with a very good track record, and described her termination as a “harsh result” perceived by the EEOC as unfair.

“Not only was this harsh and unfair, but it was illegal, and that’s why the EEOC sued to correct this wrong,” said EEOC San Francisco Regional Attorney William R. Tamayo.  “People may think this case revolves around theft, but the real issue is how a company responded to a valued 18-year employee, whom it knew for 13 years to be diabetic, and who attempted to pay for the chips after she recovered from her hypoglycemic attack.”

Wow, good for Josefina! At last some good news about the “little” guy beating the big company assholes.

The rest of today’s links in dump fashion:

Tom Petty is stepping up to the mic:

Tom Petty Isn’t ‘Playing Dumb’ About Church Sex Abuse Scandal on New Song | Billboard

Tom Petty Talks Religion: ‘No One’s Got Christ More Wrong than the Christians’ | Mediaite

Over in Britain they are asking why here in America are there so many Hot car deaths: The children left behind

Sticking with children for a bit longer.

The brown babies are getting a brown senator worked up: (But I guess Cuban is the “good” sort of brown?)

Rubio: U.S. Cannot Admit All Children Seeking Asylum : The Two-Way : NPR

Anti-Immigration Activist: Public Execution Would Be ‘Too Good’ for Obama | Mediaite

Rick Perry to Send National Guard to Stop Child Migrants – COLORLINES

The child migrant crisis is not just a border issue: Blue states need to step up.

But hey, if the Christian right wing assholes aren’t trying to send the immigrant children back to the hell they are escaping, they are trying to save them from Hell by teaching them “Jesus” saves!

Evangelical Group Aims to Convert Children as Young as Five at Portland Parks and Pools

Fucking religious people piss me off.

And it works all ways:

Right-wing professor: Raping Arab women is ‘the only thing that deters suicide bombers’

Ohio limits probe of charter school where teacher allowed boys to grope female classmates

Ladies who don’t use contraception have had it with you 99% that do, you dirty girls.

This is something too:

Airlines Suspend Flights to Israel After Hamas Rocket Falls Near Main Airport – NYTimes.com

On the “I don’t know karate, but I know…”…crazy front: BBC News – ‘Eighty new genes linked to schizophrenia’

And last bit of news, those off-shore wind farms are like an all you can eat buffet for seals: Seals forage at offshore wind farms

By using sophisticated GPS tracking to monitor seals’ every movement, researchers have shown for the first time that some individuals are repeatedly drawn to offshore wind farms and pipelines. Those man-made structures probably serve as artificial reefs and attractive hunting grounds, according to a study published in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on July 21.

“I was shocked when I first saw the stunning grid pattern of a seal track around Sheringham Shoal,” an in the United Kingdom, says Deborah Russell of the University of St Andrews. “You could see that the individual appeared to travel in straight lines between turbines, as if he was checking them out for potential prey and then stopping to forage at certain ones.”

Russell and her colleagues tagged harbor and on the British and Dutch coasts of the North Sea. Their data showed 11 harbor seals within two active , Alpha Ventus in Germany and Sheringham Shoal in the southeast UK. At both sites, some individual seals regularly entered the wind farms and, in some cases, showed these striking grid-like movement patterns as they appeared to forage at individual turbines.

The researchers also observed both gray and harbor seals associating with subsea pipelines. Two seals in the Netherlands encountered a section of pipeline and followed it on multiple trips for up to 10 days at a time.

There is a video illustration at the link.

The researchers now hope to continue their research to understand the population consequences of the massive planned developments. For instance, no one knows yet whether wind farms increase the total amount of prey available to or simply concentrate prey in a new and man-made location, making the prey particularly vulnerable to predation. The researchers say it will be imperative to resolve this uncertainty so that anthropogenic structures can be designed and managed to reduce adverse and increase any positive effects of these structures.
Well, what is up in your world this morning?

Friday Reads: Bigots Among Us

images (36)Good Morning!

I have read the most horrifying stories this week.  It makes me wonder if a good portion of humanity has a death wish. I’m going to share a variety of links that I’ve found; and a lot of them aren’t the most uplifting, I’m afraid.

Knowledge is power.  Ignorance may be bliss to the holder but not to the folks around them. There is no lack of headlines in the area of bigotry and intolerance. This is truly discouraging to those of us that care passionately about social justice.

Crime rates have been falling recently but our incarceration rates are not. There’s a huge study out on the economic costs of our prison society and its images (37)findings are not pretty.  We’re spending billionaires of dollars locking up the poor, the uneducated, and the mentally ill in a distinctly racist way.

While crime rates have fallen 45 percent since 1990, the memo said that the incarceration rate is now at a “historically unprecedented level,” jumping 222 percent between 1980 and 2012. An African-American man who never graduated from high school has a 70 percent likelihood of being imprisoned by his mid-30s; for similarly educated white men, the rate is about 15 percent. And the United States imprisons at a rate six times greater than most peer nations, including those of the European Union, Japan, Israel, and Mexico.

The U.S. Department of Justice announced rules last month that would give the Obama administration wider latitude to extend clemency or reduce sentences for drug-related prisoners who don’t present a threat to public safety. In addition, the U.S. Sentencing Commission voted unanimously in April to reduce sentencing guidelines for certain nonviolent criminals, a move now before Congress that could go into effect Nov. 1 if lawmakers don’t take any further action.


Ronald S. Sullivan Jr.
 is a clinical professor of law and director of the Criminal Justice Institute at Harvard Law School. The program focuses on criminal practice, education, and research, and hosts a teaching clinic for third-year law students to represent indigent criminal defendants in local and juvenile courts. Sullivan spoke with the Gazette about racial and national sentencing disparities, the economic and social costs of mass incarceration, and the sentencing reforms now under consideration.

GAZETTE: According to the memo, while the overall crime rate fell 45 percent between 1990 and 2012, the rate of imprisonment has spiked 222 percent between 1980 and 2012. What’s behind this disparity? Is that strictly the result of policy decisions like mandatory minimum sentencing, repeat-offender laws, and the growth in for-profit prisons? Or are other factors at work?

SULLIVAN: That’s certainly a big piece of it. … policy decisions in respect of mandatory minimums drive the huge incarceration rate. But there are other factors as well. What those factors are is the subject of a lot of academic debate nowadays. And to be honest, we’re not exactly sure what it is. We do know that on a per-capita basis the U.S. incarcerates more people than any country in the world, including Rwanda, Russia, Cuba, all of the places one does not associate with a robust tradition of liberty. And that’s in many ways shocking.

The theory would be … with the high rates of incarceration that the crime rate would go down and then that would be followed by less incarceration because there just wouldn’t be as many crimes committed. But those numbers have gone in opposite directions. Mandatory minimums simply don’t explain all of it. Part of it, at least I think, has to do with selective law enforcement — the over-policing of certain neighborhoods, particularly minority neighborhoods and poor neighborhoods. That is to say, if police are there and looking for crimes, and over-police certain neighborhoods, you’re going to produce more defendants in particular areas. And if the populations are drawn from poor populations, they’re unable to afford to be released on bail, they’re unable to afford good lawyers, and studies show that if you’re not released on bail you tend to stay in jail after sentencing. An unfortunate reality of the United States is that far too often the justice you receive is a function of how much money you have.

The prison-industrial complex is also an important factor. It doesn’t take an economist to know that if … you make your money by people going into prison, then there’s going to be higher incarceration rates. So I think that certainly plays a role as well.

GAZETTE: What are the areas of debate among scholars?

SULLIVAN: One explanation has to do with the United States’ articulated goals of punishment. Back in the ’70s and before, rehabilitation was an articulated goal of the criminal justice system. The Supreme Court has said clearly now rehabilitation is no longer a penological goal. We look at incapacitation, we look at deterrence, and we look at retribution as goals that the penal system serves. When you take rehabilitation out of the mix, then that de-incentivizes the system from having shorter sentences because there’s no longer an affirmative goal of reintegrating people meaningfully back into the community. That’s one of the things that scholars argue drive up the incarceration rate.

The other has to do with our system of elected judges in most states. Judges who are elected, the argument runs, respond to democratic pressures. We live in a political economy where people think that more and harsher punishment is better, even though most competent data suggests that longer sentences, after a certain point … make people worse as opposed to making them better. But you have democratically elected judges who respond to the will of the people, and if that will is for longer sentences, no matter how misinformed, then judges oftentimes acquiesce to those pressures.

The other issue has to do with legislators. It, again, has to do with the political economy in which we live. With this mantra of being “tough on crime,” legislators essentially race to see who can draft legislation with the harshest, longest penalties. I think that legislators don’t believe that prosecutors will attempt to enforce the most harsh provisions of particular laws, and in that sense, from the vantage point of the legislator, it’s sort of a win-win situation: They can get the political credit for drafting an incredibly harsh law, but not really have to deal with the effects because the notion is the prosecutor will sort it out and will recommend a fair sentence. That assumption, though, just hasn’t really been borne out in reality.

GAZETTE: The current incarceration gap between white men and African-American men is particularly striking. Does that figure surprise you, and what accounts for this gap? Is access to justice a factor?

SULLIVAN: The figure does not surprise me, and it is unfortunate that the figure does not surprise me. The figure reaffirms that race insinuates itself into almost every aspect of our life still, and it has a particular salience in the criminal justice system. … Here we see the effect of over-policing much more dramatically. In our culture, unfortunately … blackness is seen as a proxy for criminality. So the same or similar conduct engaged in by a person of color is seen through a lens that views that conduct as criminal, where others simply are not taxed in the same way.

The debate over the use of lethal injections and the drugs used for state executions continues.   Three newspapers–including the UK Guardian–have sued to 8706624f946740fb5bfd634de4b31b58make public the source of drugs for these injections. Most states are trying to make that information private.  Many of the recent botched executions came from simple druggists compounding the formulations because many of the major drug manufacturers–especially those in Europe–refuse to do so.  Should the formulation and the source of death penalty drugs be kept from the public?

The growing secrecy adopted by death penalty states to hide the source of their lethal injection drugs used in executions is being challenged in a new lawsuit in Missouri, which argues that the American people have a right to know how the ultimate punishment is being carried out in their name.

The legal challenge, brought by the Guardian, Associated Press and the three largest Missouri newspapers, calls on state judges to intervene to put a stop to the creeping secrecy that has taken hold in the state in common with many other death penalty jurisdictions. The lawsuit argues that under the first amendment of the US constitution the public has a right of access to know “the type, quality and source of drugs used by a state to execute an individual in the name of the people”.

It is believed to be the first time that the first amendment right of access has been used to challenge secrecy in the application of the death penalty. Deborah Denno, an expert in execution methods at Fordham University law school in New York, said that more and more states were turning to secrecy as a way of hiding basic flaws in their procedures.

“If states were doing things properly they wouldn’t have a problem releasing information – they are imposing a veil of secrecy to hide incompetence.” “This is like the government building bridges, and trying to hide the identity of the company that makes the bolts,” said Richard Dieter of the Death Penalty Information Center. “Those involved in public service should expect public scrutiny in order to root out problems, particular when the state is carrying out the most intimate act possible – killing people.”

A Guardian survey has identified at least 13 states that have changed their rules to withhold from the public all information relating to how they get hold of lethal drugs. They include several of the most active death penalty states including Texas, which has executed seven prisoners so far this year, Florida (five), Missouri (four) and Oklahoma (three). Attention has been drawn to the secrecy issue by the botched execution of Clayton Lockett in Oklahoma on 29 April in which the prisoner took 43 minutes to die, apparently in great pain, from an untested cocktail of drugs whose source was not made public.

Lockett’s lawyers had argued in advance that he might be subjected to cruel and unusual punishment as a result of the lack of information surrounding the drugs, but the state supreme court allowed the procedure to go ahead having come under intense pressure from local politicians, some of whom threatened to impeach judges.

In the wake of the events in Oklahoma, in which the prisoner writhed and groaned over a prolonged period, the state has agreed to pause for six months before carrying out any further judicial killings to give time for an internal investigation to be completed. President Obama described the Lockett execution “deeply troubling” and has asked US attorney general Eric Holder to review the way the death penalty is conducted.

Until last year, Missouri which is now executing prisoners at a rate of one a month, was open about where it obtained its lethal injection chemicals. But like many death penalty states, its drug supplies have dwindled as a result of a European-led pharmaceutical boycott, and in a desperate move to try to find new suppliers it has shrouded their identity in secrecy. In October, the state changed its so-called “black hood law” that had historically been used to guard the identity of those directly involved in the death process.

The department of corrections expanded the definition of its execution team to include pharmacies and “individuals who prescribe, compound, prepare, or otherwise supply the chemicals for use in the lethal injection procedure”. Six inmates have been executed by Missouri since the new secrecy rules came in –they went to their deaths entirely ignorant of the source or quality of the drugs used to kill them. All that is known is that the pentobarbital that Missouri deploys in executions probably came from a compounding pharmacy – an outlet that makes up small batches of the drug to order in the absence of stringent regulation.

We continue to see GLBT civil rights characterized by the right as an attack on their religious rights and their homobigoted behavior and language The-Birth-of-a-Nationwrapped up as a first amendment issue. How does the right play the victim card in a debate about limiting the rights of others?  It is doing the same things with women’s reproductive rights.

While Religious Right leaders are quick to equate criticism as an attack on their freedom of speech and religion, some of them are all too happy to limit the free speech or religious liberty of the people they disagree with. That includes the Benham brothers.

In the flurry of public appearances in the wake of the HGTV cancellation, the Benhams and their right-wing fans have portrayed themselves as committed to the principle that everyone in America should have a chance to express themselves.  On the O’Reilly Factor, David Benham denounced the gay agenda for seeking “to silence those that disagree with it, and it begins with Christians.” Jason warned that “when an idea seeks to silence any other idea that may disagree with that, then we have ourselves a problem on hand.”

But as blogger Jeremy Hooper recently pointed out, back in November 2004, David, Jason, and Flip Benham were all part of a group of about 15 people who went to a Charlotte, North Carolina city council meeting to complain about the gay pride celebration that had taken place in a city park six months earlier. They were among a group of people who had gone to the Pride event to, in Jason’s words, “tell them that Jesus loves you just the way you are, but he refuses to leave you that way.” But the Benhams and their friends were appalled at what they saw. “This is filth, this is vile and should not be allowed in our City,” said David. Jason urged city council members to reject future permits for Pride celebrations – and seemingly for any LGBT-themed event:

They have a right to apply for this permit, but you have a right and responsibility to deny it. I [implore] you not to be governed by the fear in which you feel. If you deny them this permit you will open a can of worms but you in your leadership position have to take that responsibility and you have to not allow the fear of making this homosexual community mad. You have to accept that responsibility and deny them every permit that they ask for.

In the words of Charlotte Pride organizers, “The Benham brothers once tried to silence us. They failed.”

Some Benham fans, like the American Family Association’s Bryan Fischer, say flat-out that the First Amendment’s religious liberty protections were only meant for Christians and don’t apply to Muslims, Mormons or other minority faiths. Back when many self-proclaimed “religious liberty” advocates were opposing efforts by Muslims in New York to build a community center – which critics gave the inaccurate and inflammatory name of “Ground Zero Mosque” – David Benham and his father Flip were among them. According to the Anti-Defamation League, David participated in protests against the Center, calling it a “den of iniquity” and labeling Muslims “the enemy” that was attacking America.

In these public debates, “Christian” as used by Religious Right leaders often doesn’t really apply to all Christians, but only to a subset of Christians who share their right-wing politics. Other Christians don’t count.  The Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, who has bemoaned “cultural elites” who want to “silence” and “bully” people like the Benhams, recently said that pro-gay-equality Christians don’t deserve the same legal protections as he does because “true religious freedom” applies only to those with religious views that align with those of the political Right.

We’ve seen a lot of this coming from Governor Bobby Jindal who is a bully that insists that GLBT rights activists are bullies. 

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s commencement speech at Liberty University was a masterpiece in this type of dishonest projection. Posing as a champion of free speech and freedom of religion, he actually made a chilling argument in favor of stripping both of those freedoms away from ordinary Americans, businesses and anyone who might disagree with turning this country into a theocratic state. He started by defending Hobby Lobby for trying to strip contraception coverage out of their employees’ own healthcare plans. “Under the Obama regime,” he argued, “you have protection under the First Amendment as an individual, but the instant you start a business, you lose those protections. And that brings us to the second front in this silent war: the attack on our freedom of association as people of faith.”

It’s all nonsense, of course. In fact, Hobby Lobby’s intention here is to reduce religious freedom by forcing their employees to adhere to certain religious rules in order to get the benefits they already earned. ( They have a history of trying to impose their religious dogma on non-believers through other means as well.) The only people in any real danger of losing freedom are women, who are in danger of losing their freedom to use their insurance benefits in a way that fits their personal beliefs.

But Jindal was just warming up, claiming the “Obama administration” was gunning to decide “who can preach the Gospel.” This outrageous conspiracy theory was justified, in his opinion, by supposed other attacks on “free speech,” namely that TV networks are reluctant to house the opinions of open bigots. “The left no longer wants to debate. They simply want to silence us,” he said of Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty, who was never silenced and has, to this date, been allowed to say any fool thing he wants. But he was briefly suspended from A&E, leading conservatives to decide that “free speech” means you have a right to your own TV show.

All of this has gotten me interested in again in White Supremacist movements.  I really believe that most of these Southern Republicans fall squarely 67294811_blossoms_241543binto the neoconfederate mold and aren’t that far off the KKK tree.

White supremacy is referenced in relation to specific news events as well. For example, the murder rampage by the neo-Nazi Frazier Glenn Miller, the recent weeks-long debate between pundits Ta-Nehisi Coates and Jonathan Chait about “black pathology”; birtherism; stand-your-ground laws; and the open embrace of the symbols and rhetoric of the old slave-holding Confederacy by the Republican Party have been framed and discussed in terms of white supremacy.

Conservatives and progressive often use the phrase “white supremacy” in divergent ways. Conservatives use the phrase in the service of a dishonest “colorblind” agenda, evoking extreme images of KKK members and Nazis as the exclusive and only examples of white racism in American life and politics. Conservatives use extreme caricatures of white supremacy in order to deflect and protect themselves from charges that the contemporary Republican Party is a white identity organization fueled by white racial resentment. Liberals, progressives and anti-racists use the phrase “white supremacy” to describe the overt and subtle racist practices of movement conservatism in the post-Civil Rights era, and how American society is still structured around maintaining and protecting white privilege. This analysis is largely correct: however, it often conflates concepts such as racism, white privilege, and white supremacy with one another. Language does political work. In the age of Obama, the phrase “white supremacy” is often used in political discussions like an imprecise shotgun blast or a blockbuster bomb. If the Common Good and American democracy are to be protected—countering how the right wing has used the politics of white racial resentment, racial manipulation, and hate to mobilize its voters in support of a plutocratic agenda—a more precise weapon is needed. A necessary first step in that direction requires the development of a more detailed and transparent exploration of the concept known as “white supremacy.”

tumblr_m643ofO3Mw1r194ulo2_1280One of the sure signs to me of either a racist or a misogynist or a homophobic bigot is that they all insist they have no problem women, racial minorities, and/or gay people.  The believe they are the victims by being forced to deal with any one else in terms other than their own choosing. Therein lies the problem.  Here’s a perfect example from Kristen Powers writing at USA Today.   You can’t call out bigotry without being called a bully obsessed with political correctness.  Then, you’re told that the real victims are white conservative christians.

Each week seems to bring another incident. Last week it was David and Jason Benham, whose pending HGTV show was canceled after the mob unearthed old remarks the brothers made about their Christian beliefs on homosexuality. People can’t have a house-flipping show unless they believe and say the “right” things in their life off the set? In this world, the conservative Tom Selleck never would have been Magnum, P.I.

This week, a trail-blazing woman was felled in the new tradition of commencement shaming. International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde withdrew from delivering the commencement speech at Smith College following protests from students and faculty who hate the IMF. According to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, this trend is growing. In the 21 years leading up to 2009, there were 21 incidents of an invited guest not speaking because of protests. Yet, in the past five-and-a-half years, there have been 39 cancellations.

Don’t bother trying to make sense of what beliefs are permitted and which ones will get you strung up in the town square. Our ideological overlords have created a minefield of inconsistency. While criticizing Islam is intolerant, insulting Christianity is sport. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is persona non grata at Brandeis University for attacking the prophet Mohammed. But Richard Dawkins describes the Old Testament God as “a misogynistic … sadomasochistic … malevolent bully” and the mob yawns. Bill Maher calls the same God a “psychotic mass murderer” and there are no boycott demands of the high-profile liberals who traffic his HBO show.

The self-serving capriciousness is crazy. In March, University of California-Santa Barbara women’s studies professor Mireille Miller-Young attacked a 16-year-old holding an anti-abortion sign in the campus’ “free speech zone” (formerly known as America). Though she was charged with theft, battery and vandalism, Miller-Young remains unrepentant and still has her job. But Mozilla’s Brendan Eich gave a private donation to an anti-gay marriage initiative six years ago and was ordered to recant his beliefs. When he wouldn’t, he was forced to resign from the company he helped found.

Got that? A college educator with the right opinions can attack a high school student and keep her job. A corporate executive with the wrong opinions loses his for making a campaign donation. Something is very wrong here.

The right seems to be really confused about the first amendment, which clearly deals with the relationship between the federal government, religion, the press, and the people’s free speech.  The same idiots that scream that Hobby Lobby can deny its employees contraception and say that businesses should be able to refuse to serve GLBTs will shout out a corporation that says they don’t want to be known for bigotry of any kind.  They also misunderstand the protection given to University professors when it comes to academic freedom.  Companies have to comply with the law.  They do not have to keep employees that don’t represent their corporate values.  PERIOD.

Anyway, it just amazes me that this intense amount of uncivil bigotry and hatred seemed to have burbled up again after all these years.  All it took was an African American President and a few powerful women–namely Hillary Clinton–to bring the crazy out.

I just wanted to mention that most of these silent film images come from “Birth of  a Nation” but one comes from “Broken Blossoms” also known as the “Yellow Man and the Girl”.  Both of these films were directed by DW Griffith around 1919. Both movies starred Lillian Gish and were received differently by white audiences than by the racial minorities they also depicted.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?


Tuesday Reads: Are Women People?

women people2

Good Morning!!

Question for today: Are women human? Are we people in the eyes of our government? We’ve been told that corporations are people. We know that white men are people–that was established by the U.S. Constitution when it was ratified in 1789.  Since that time, there have been amendments that granted some rights to non-white men and to women. We can vote now. Does that mean our government recognizes our humanity?

Today our ultra-conservative, mostly Catholic Supreme Court will hear two cases that bring this question to the forefront, and the Court’s decisions may give us some answers to the question of whether American women are officially people with individual rights.

From MSNBC: Supreme Court to hear birth control case

Depending on whom you ask, Tuesday morning’s oral argument at the Supreme Court is about whether Obamacare can keep treading on religious liberty – or it’s about a woman’s right to access contraception on her employee insurance plan, no matter what her employer thinks of it. Either way, it is the first time the Affordable Care Act will be at the nation’s highest Court since it was first largely upheld as constitutional. The same two men as in that case, current Solicitor General Don Verrilli and former Bush administration solicitor general Paul Clement, are facing off to argue over a narrower provision.

Before the Supreme Court decides whether the contraceptive coverage required of insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act violates a 1993 law governing religious liberty, it has to settle the threshold question: Does a corporation even have religious liberty?

women human

I think the question about the rights of women is far broader than that. Without access to birth control and abortion, a woman has no real autonomy as a human being. If she becomes pregnant–even through rape–she loses the ability to make choices about her future life. It has been a relatively short period of time since women have had the power to make those choices. But that power has led to other advances for women–such as the right to prosecute a rapist or an abusive boyfriend or husband, the right to have credit in her own name, the right to an education, and entry into careers from which women were previously blocked. We can only hope that the justices see clearly what their decisions will mean for women’s lives and women’s personhood.

Back to the MSNBC article:

Hobby Lobby Stores, an Oklahoma-based, evangelical-owned craft chain with about 13,000 employees, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a small Mennonite-owned cabinet maker in Pennsylvania, sued the administration and got two very different answers from the lower courts. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals declared of Hobby Lobby that “such corporations can be ‘persons’ exercising religion.” In ruling on Conestoga’s bid for exemption from the requirement, the Third Circuit disagreed: “For-profit secular corporations cannot exercise in religious exercise.”

The companies are among the 47 for-profit corporations that have objected to their company plans complying with the minimum coverage requirements under the Affordable Care Act. Under those regulations, contraception is covered fully, without a co-pay, as preventive care. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood object to a handful of contraceptives that they speculate can block a fertilized egg, which is neither documented in the science nor the medical definition of abortion. Other for-profit plaintiffs object to any birth control coverage at all….

The Obama administration says that the government has a compelling interest in women’s health and in gender equality. The Department of Health and Human Services agreed to classify contraceptives as preventive care after considering testimony from medical experts, who cited the country’s high rate of unintended pregnancy and the persistence cost barriers to accessing effective birth control.

Some legal experts argue that to rule for Hobby Lobby would be imposing religion on others, by forcing the women who work for such companies to pay the cost of their employers’ religion. Frederick Gedicks, a law professor at Brigham Young, has even argued in a brief before the Court that doing so would violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

What will SCOTUS decide?

women people4

At NPR, Nina Totenberg offers some scary quotes from Steve Green, the president of Hobby Lobby:

“We believe that the principles that are taught scripturally is what we should operate our lives by … and so we cannot be a part of taking life,” explains Hobby Lobby President Steve Green.

“It’s our rights that are being infringed upon to require us to do something against our conscience,” adds CEO and founder David Green.

Using birth control is “taking a life?” Apparently one of the arguments Hobby Lobby is using that–contrary to scientific facts–some forms of birth control are equal to abortion. So is every sperm is sacred too? Should men be prosecuted for masturbating? But those questions are not likely to be asked, because it is already legally established that men are people.

 

At the WaPo, Sandra Fluke writes: At the Supreme Court, a potential catastrophe for women’s rights.

Unlike my congressional testimony in 2012, which was about Georgetown University — a Catholic-affiliated university — refusing to include contraception in student insurance because it was a religiously affiliated school, the institutions arguing before the Supreme Court are not houses of worship or religious non-profits. The Affordable Care Act already includes special arrangements for those types of organizations. These are private, for-profit corporations — a craft store and a cabinet manufacturer — that want to be excluded from health insurance and employment laws because of bosses’ personal views.

Laws that include religious protection have never given corporations the right to have religious views, and it would be a terrible idea to make such an enormous change to our legal precedent now. Our laws protect individuals’ private religious beliefs, but when you cross over into the public sphere to become a corporation and make a profit off of the public, you must abide by the public’s laws.

Depending on the court’s rulings, the cases’ outcomes could deny millions of women coverage of any or all forms of birth control, limiting women’s ability to control their reproductive health, plan their pregnancies and manage their lives. As I testified, women also need birth control for many other medical reasons, including relief of painful health problems like endometriosis.

women people3

And, Fluke argues, recognizing a right for corporations to hold religious views will open the door to

Allowing any private employer to dictate which laws fit inside its religious beliefs could upset the necessary balance of both religious liberty and employee health and safety laws. Depending on the exact ruling, any for-profit corporation could cut off its employees’ insurance coverage for blood transfusions, vaccinations or HIV treatment — all of which some Americans have religious objections to. Any critical health coverage the boss doesn’t agree with could be eliminated.

Furthermore, SCOTUS could not limit these proposed “religious freedoms” to Christians.

Although this country predominantly descends from a Judeo-Christian tradition, our valuable religious protection laws ensure that anyone is free to practice any religion they want, including religions whose belief systems and practices many of us would disagree with vehemently. In fact, far-ranging beliefs that are not associated with any organized religion could be used to justify a corporation’s practices as well.

Sahil Kapur of TPM points out that Justice Scalia, who might be expected to vote in favor of a corporate “right to religious freedom,” will have to deal with one of his previous rulings: Justice Scalia’s Past Comes Back To Haunt Him On Birth Control.

In 1990, Scalia wrote the majority opinion in Employment Division v. Smith, concluding that the First Amendment “does not require” the government to grant “religious exemptions” from generally applicable laws or civic obligations. The case was brought by two men in Oregon who sued the state for denying them unemployment benefits after they were fired from their jobs for ingesting peyote, which they said they did because of their Native American religious beliefs.

“[T]he right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a valid and neutral law of general applicability,” Scalia wrote in the 6-3 majority decision, going on to aggressively argue that such exemptions could be a slippery slope to lawlessness and that “[a]ny society adopting such a system would be courting anarchy.”

“The rule respondents favor would open the prospect of constitutionally required religious exemptions from civic obligations of almost every conceivable kind,” he wrote, “ranging from compulsory military service, to the payment of taxes, to health and safety regulation such as manslaughter and child neglect laws, compulsory vaccination laws, drug laws, and traffic laws; to social welfare legislation such as minimum wage laws, child labor laws, animal cruelty laws, environmental protection laws, and laws providing for equality of opportunity for the races.”

That opinion could haunt the jurist if he seeks to invalidate the birth control rule.

“Scalia will have to reckon with his own concern in Smith about the lawlessness and chaos created by liberal exemptions to generally applicable law,” said Adam Winkler, a constitutional law professor at UCLA. “For him to uphold an exemption now is to invite more of the lawlessness that he warned about.”

women human5

At Think Progress, Ian Millhiser addresses the right wing organizations that have waged a concerted war against women’s rights during the past several years: Read This One Document To Understand What The Christian Right Hopes To Gain From Hobby Lobby.

2009 was a grim year for social conservatives. Barack Obama was an ambitious and popular new president. Republicans, and their conservative philosophy, were largely discredited in the public eye by a failed war and a massive recession. And the GOP’s effort to reshape its message was still in its awkward adolescence. If the conservative movement had a mascot, it would have been a white man dressed as Paul Revere and waving a misspelled sign.

Amidst this wreckage, more than two hundred of the nation’s leading Christian conservatives joined together in a statement expressing their dismay at the state of the nation. “Many in the present administration want to make abortions legal at any stage of fetal development,” their statement claimed, while “[m]ajorities in both houses of Congress hold pro-abortion views.” Meanwhile, they feared that the liberals who now controlled the country “are very often in the vanguard of those who would trample upon the freedom of others to express their religious and moral commitments to the sanctity of life and to the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife.”

The signatories to this statement, which they named the “Manhattan Declaration,” included many of America’s most prominent Catholic bishops and clergy of similar prominence in other Christian sects. It included leaders oftop anti-gay organizations like the National Organization for Marriage, and of more broadly focused conservative advocacy shops such as the Family Research Council. It included university presidents and deans from Christian conservative colleges. And it included the top editors from many of the Christian right’s leading publications.

Perhaps most significantly, however, the document’s signatories includes Alan Sears, the head of one of the two conservative legal groups litigating what are likely to be the two most important cases decided by the Supreme Court this term. Indeed, the Manhattan Declaration offers a virtual roadmap to understanding what religious conservatives hope to gain from Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius, two cases the justices will hear Tuesday which present the question whether a business owner’s religious objections to birth control trump their legal obligation to include it in their employee’s health plan.

Read the gory details at the link.

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Finally, I ask that everyone read this year-old article at Time Magazine by Jessica Winter, Subject for Debate: Are Women People? It is both darkly humorous and deadly serious.

All my adult life, I’ve been pretty sure I’m a sentient, even semi-competent human being. I have a job and an apartment; I know how to read and vote; I make regular, mostly autonomous decisions about what to eat for lunch and which cat videos I will watch whilst eating my lunch. But in the past couple of months, certain powerful figures in media and politics have cracked open that certitude.

You see, like most women, I was born with the chromosome abnormality known as “XX,” a deviation of the normative “XY” pattern. Symptoms of XX, which affects slightly more than half of the American population, include breasts, ovaries, a uterus, a menstrual cycle, and the potential to bear and nurse children. Now, many would argue even today that the lack of a Y chromosome should not affect my ability to make informed choices about what health care options and lunchtime cat videos are right for me. But others have posited, with increasing volume and intensity, that XX is a disability, even a roadblock on the evolutionary highway. This debate has reached critical mass, and leaves me uncertain of my legal and moral status. Am I a person? An object? A ward of the state? A “prostitute”? (And if I’m the last of these, where do I drop off my W-2?)

Please go read the whole thing. It’s not long.

So . . . those are my recommended reads for today.  What stories are you following? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread.

 


Sunday Reads: Little Big Men

0ebdc95ad82b06d8bea49b4849e78134Good Morning

This post is going to have a theme, can you guess what that is?

Our first “little” big man story, or should I say stories, of the morning…updates on the man from New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie. The little being in quotes because this dude’s future role in the GOP used to be about as big as his “big and tall” non-wrinkle pleated-front dress slacks. Now he is being booed, yeah…you read that right…booed, and you know for a man like Christie, that has to sting like hell.

Gov. Chris Christie Booed Twice in One Week at Super Bowl Events | Mediaite

3729011e942d087aae0a96f0bd8f00dbFor the second time this week, Governor Chris Christie was met with scattered boos when he took the stage for an event leading up to Sunday’s Super Bowl XLVIII at New Jersey’s MetLife Stadium. The first incident occurred on Monday night, when Christie appeared alongside New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio in Jersey City.

As Al Sharpton, who aired video footage from the event on PoliticsNation Tuesday night said, “It was a dramatic contrast to what we saw three months ago” when he was reelected in a landslide.

No kidding, video at the link.

Well, a lot has happened since the first and second booing. That being the news that Christie knew what was going on with the bridge…as told by former BFF David Wildstein.John Gutmann, 1935

Okay, you know I am joking with the BFF thing right? The NY Times had the story here: Christie Linked to Knowledge of Shut Lanes

Read all the stuff there, I know Dak and Boston Boomer have covered it too.

Then we have the backlash from Christie himself.

Chris Christie attacks N.Y. Times, David Wildstein – Mike Allen and Maggie Haberman – POLITICO.com

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, after a low-key initial response to Friday’s explosive allegations about his involvement in a bridge-closing scandal, mounted an aggressive defense late Saturday afternoon, attacking The New York Times and a former political ally in an email to friends and allies obtained by POLITICO.

“Bottom line — David Wildstein will do and say anything to save David Wildstein,” the email from the governor’s office says, referring to the former appointee who reignited the controversy.

30461ca47ed89bcf41c64db627d7fb0dI think the best part of this move from Christie is the title of this email his office sent out:

The subject line of the 700-word email from the governor’s office is: “5 Things You Should Know About The Bombshell That’s Not A Bombshell.” It offers a harshly negative portrayal of Wildstein’s character and judgment.

Sounds like one of those quickie news articles from USA Today.

Read the rest at that link to Politico, I have another link about the email here from TPM, I just wanted to use this picture: Christie Hits Back: Bridge Official Will ‘Say Anything To Save’ Himself

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The full email is below.

Christie Email

This email goes back to an incident in Wildstein’s past…when he was a 16-year-old kid for Christ’s sake.

Geezus….go look at the full email, it is priceless.

Worse Than I Realized by Josh Marshall at TPM:

It speaks for itself that Wildstein is out to save himself. He is not sitting on a reputation for integrity and truth-telling. So the wisdom of doing anything more than saying Wildstein is trying to save himself and lacks credibility is highly questionable. The end product here reads like it’s coming from a team or a person who is flailing and grasping at straws.

If I’m a Republican power player reading this to a get a read on what’s actually happening, what’s likely to happen next week or next month, I think I come away thinking things are considerably worse than I realized.

18f25a5ddcf4c15866f1d40653b3b49fOne more Christie link: Chris Christie should resign if bombshell proves true: Editorial | NJ.com

Forget about the White House in 2016. The question now is whether Gov. Chris Christie can survive as governor.

David Wildstein, the man who ordered the George Washington Bridge lane closures, is now pointing the finger directly at Gov. Chris Christie, saying the governor knew about the lane closures in September when they occurred.

That directly contradicts Christie account at his Jan. 13 press conference when he made this statement: “I had no knowledge of this — of the planning, the execution or anything about it… I first found out about it after it was over.”

If this charge proves true, then the governor must resign or be impeached. Because
that would leave him so drained of credibility that he could not possibly govern effectively. He would owe it to the people of New Jersey to stop the bleeding and quit. And if he should refuse, then the Legislature should open impeachment hearings.

Well, moving on…to another New Jersey little “big” man…Danny DeVito.  Esquire Interview -The Serene Beauty of the Five-Foot Fury of Asbury Park Guy just needed a job, and instead he became Danny DeVito. And the word big is in quotes for Danny because the man is just fucking awesome and bigger than anything you can possibly imagine.

His parents sent him to board at a prep school in the upper-crust suburb of Summit, New Jersey, fifty miles north and inland. He was the baby by more than a decade to two sisters, and as the only boy—the DeVitos had suffered the loss of two children, including a son, years before Danny came along—he was their prince. His father, Daniel Sr., preferred paying tuition to bail money.

“My father was a good man,” DeVito says. “He supported his family. He always worked hard. He had a candy store, a luncheonette kind of thing, when I was born. Then he had a pool hall. That didn’t really do very well. It was small—five tables—and couldn’t really compete. But he loved to play pool.”

One of the classic experiences I had with my father was we drove from Asbury to see a guy named Mr. Blatt. Mr. Blatt had pool tables—probably had other sports equipment, too. I don’t know. All I know is we drove up to New York, I think—November, December—in one of his Oldsmobiles. He always had an Oldsmobile. It was like paradise for a kid going into this place, and he ordered five slate-top four-and-a-half-by-nine tables, which fit—just fit—in the little store he rented. And he picked out the felt, he picked out the balls, the cue balls, the chalk, the counters for the straight pool counters, pill bottles for pill pool. Picked all this stuff out. I was twelve, maybe.”

That’s a big deal for a boy that age.

“Yeah, a real big deal. And on the way home, it started snowing. One of the biggest blizzards that we ever had. And we were stuck without chains, on the way back to the shore, in the middle of it. No cell phones—you’re at the mercy of humanity. And people stopped. Somebody stopped, and they had an extra set of chains and fixed my father up. He never was slow with the duke, my father”—an old-school nod to the timeless practice of greasing the right palm in return for a solid—”so it worked out good.”

Which is a wonderful story, don’t you think?  That made me think of this scene from Throw Momma From the Train:

Please go read the entire interview, it is a great long read. I’ve caught up on lots of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia episodes I’ve missed over the years. That is one funny show.

e878a32e5e478ba5a419d16b238b0dc6In other news that seems fitting for something out of the circus, this article by Zach Beauchamp:  The Inside Story Of The Charlatan Who Duped The Nation’s Top Conservatives | ThinkProgress

On New Year’s Eve, I learned FEMA’s “Dirty Little Secret.”

It was the title of a fascinating email, one that had somehow dodged my spam filter. The message was suffused with breathless concern about the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s recent order of “420 million survival meals;” such provisions are apparently “the #1 most critical item in a crisis.” You see, “FEMA knows that if you control the food supply, then you control the people.”

Normally, such paranoid ramblings merit nothing more than a quick delete and a sad shake of the head. But the New Year’s note stood out because of the source. I was being alerted to FEMA’s nefarious plot by no less than National Review, the nation’s most important conservative magazine.

“Please find this special message from our sponsoring advertiser Food4Patriots,” the publication wrote. “This important support affords us the continuing means to provide you with National Review’s distinctly conservative and always exceptional news and commentary. We encourage you to patronize our sponsors.”

Since being added to National Review’s subscriber list, I had received four emails from the venerable publication selling me on Food4Patriots’ plan to “make darn sure your family won’t go hungry or get herded into a FEMA camp” by purchasing the dehydrated food they’re hawking. Indeed, Food4Patriots is deeply ensconced in the conservative movement, placing its ads in both more mainstream outlets (Fox News, Townhall.com) and fringier sites (Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, RedState, WorldNetDaily).

Food4Patriots is a lucrative enterprise. Its parent company, Reboot Marketing, took in $11.8 million in 2012, an astonishing 1,428 percent increase over its 2009 revenue.

But the company’s skyrocketing revenues came on the back of some (arguably) really shady practices. In fact, when I wrote National Review’s editor and publisher to give them a heads up about what I learned about the company, they promptly suspended future Food4Patriots ads.

Oh it is good…fascinating stuff, and it is a long read so go refill that coffee.

843d34af3ec04fdeb8f6e9a6bc6362d8Another link for you, this is an update to something I don’t think we have mentioned on the blog before so first the back story. Sam Bee interviewed Peter Schiff, an asshole CEO. Who goes on to tell Daily Show viewers the ‘mentally retarded’ could work for $2: ‘You’re worth what you’re worth’ | The Raw Story

The investment broker and talk radio host told Daily Show correspondent Samantha Bee that lifting the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, as President Barack Obama announced he would do by executive order for federal employees, could have devastating effects.

“There’s a law in economics, supply and demand, that you learn in Econ 101, and if you increase the price of something, you decrease the demand,” Schiff said. “The higher you make the minimum wage, the more jobs are going to be destroyed.

The CEO of Euro Pacific Capital argued that government programs, not low wages, were trapping Americans in poverty, and claimed that paying workers twice as much would double the cost of some goods – such as fast-food hamburgers.

“I do like to taste the tears of poverty in my milkshakes,” Bee said.

Schiff said those workers already earn enough.

“Did you ever go into a McDonald’s or Burger King?” he said. “I don’t really eat there, but they don’t seem desperate and hungry to me. They’re young kids, they seem to be enjoying themselves mostly.”

People don’t go hungry in a capitalist economy, Schiff claimed.

“It’s socialism that creates, you know, scarcity, that creates famine,” he said. “In a free market, there’s plenty of food for everybody – especially the poor.”

Schiff argued that eliminating the minimum wage law would allow more people entry to the workforce, and Bee asked him to identify someone whose work might be worth just $2 an hour.

“You know someone that might be? Maybe someone who is – what’s the politically correct word, you know, for mentally retarded,” Schiff said. “I believe in the principles this country was founded on.”

“I’m not going to say that we’re all created equal,” he said. “You’re worth what you’re worth.”

e006fb9d73724c77aad8e8710ad04350Well, the video is something you need to see, it is at the link. Go watch it.

Okay that was crazy, wasn’t it?

Now, check out what the dude is saying now: Investor Peter Schiff digs himself in deeper after ‘Daily Show’ remarks about the ‘retarded’ | The Raw Story

Radio commentator and investment adviser Peter Schiff , who was recently interviewed by The Daily Show’s Samantha Bee for a segment on the minimum wage, is very upset that he has been pilloried for using the not very politically-correct expression “mentally retarded” on air. During the episode, when prodded by Bee to explain who might be willing to work for $2 an hour, Schiff responded,  “You know someone that might be? Maybe someone who is – what’s the politically correct word, you know, for mentally retarded. I believe in the principles this country was founded on.”

Responding to public criticism about his star turn, Schiff has taken to his blog to express his displeasure with The Daily Show by pointing out that that Samantha Bee didn’t assist him with his answer and that he had delivered a four hour long disquisition on the free market and pay rates that somehow didn’t make it onto the half-hour long  satirical news program.

b26982af32a2d9f6a2c98435ffe5c297It is like some kind of canyon he is digging here.

Mr. Schiff  pointed out that  “Of the more than four hours of taped discussion I conducted, the producers chose to only use about 75 seconds of my comments. Of those, my use of the words ‘mentally retarded’ (when Samantha Bee asked me who might be willing to work for $2 per hour – a figure she suggested) has come to define the entire interview.” He then added,  “I just couldn’t remember the politically correct term currently in use (it is “intellectually disabled”). Assuming she knew it, Bee could have prompted me with the correct term, but she chose not to.”

Mr. Schiff then went on to further clarify that there were were two groups who would probably be happy to work for $2 an hour: the more appropriately named ” intellectually disabled”  and  “…unpaid interns who tend to value work experience and connections more than pay. ” He then pointed out that the Daily Show staffer who booked him for the show and attended the interview had  “… been thrilled to start there as an unpaid intern.”

Turning back to the “intellectually disabled”, Mr. Schiff added that if they “…can’t perform work that produces a minimum wage level of output, then no employer seeking to make a profit could afford to pay that person the official minimum wage. ” and that “Many of the jobs they perform may seem mundane to those of normal intelligence, but they are often the most enjoyable and rewarding aspects of the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. I pointed out that if the federal minimum wages were to apply to them, a great many of those opportunities would vanish. Others may disagree, but I believe a job for such a person at $2 per hour is better than no job at all.”

Some of his best friends are retards, oops… “intellectually disabled.” WTF is wrong with these people?

daab3814f86be30205d0781a9a71a933Just a few more links for you today, in dump fashion.

Postal Service Banking: How the USPS Can Save Itself and Help the Poor | New Republic by David Dayen

One of the key messages of tonight’s State of the Union address will be President Obama’s willingness to bypass Congress to create jobs and reduce inequality. As luck would have it, yesterday a new government report detailed an innovation that would preserve one of the largest job creators in the country, save billions of dollars specifically for the poor, and develop the very ladders of opportunity that Obama has championed as of late. What’s more, this could apparently be accomplished without Congressional action, but merely through existing executive prerogatives.

What’s the policy? Letting the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) offer basic banking services to customers, like savings accounts, debit cards and even simple loans. The idea has been kicked around policy circles for years, but now it has a crucial new adherent: the USPS Inspector General, who endorsed the initiative in a comprehensive white paper.

I have read this whole article and I don’t know what to think of it. Dak? Any thoughts?

This op/ed is only here because of the spelling topic of the thing…not the repeal Obamacare stuff…okay. Correct Spelling, Canceled by Phil Kerpen

As an American, I laugh at those archaic British spellings. Colour? Honour? Their inferiourity, if you will, is obvious. Centre? Theatre? Ridiculous. Most of these barbaric forms were corrected in America hundreds of years ago. Yet one galling Britishism is appearing on my computer screen all too frequently of late: “cancelled,” with a gratuitous extra l.

133581 600 Correct Spelling, Canceled cartoons
Randall Enos / Cagle Cartoons

Does something about Obamacare drive otherwise reasonable people to write about health plans being “cancelled” instead of “canceled”? Does the prospect of intrusive government involvement in health care cause us to regress? Is it subconscious deference to British and Canadian expertise at imposing socialized medicine? Whatever the cause, it needs to stop.

f734859e318878ec2ee90f8ac299fbccI don’t know, I usually have to go back and correct my spelling of flavour to flavor. Anyway,

Google’s Ngram feature searches the vast library of books Google has digitized. A search for “traveller” and “traveler” shows the British version remained dominant in America throughout the 19th century, but by 1915 the single l version overtook it and is now dominant. Merriam-Webster even touts “traveler” as an example of a Noah Webster triumph.

It took longer for “canceled” to triumph over “cancelled,” according to Google Ngram. The single l version didn’t take the lead until 1942, and they remained competitive for the next 40 years before “canceled” took the lead for good in 1983. As of 2000, the most recent year covered by the Google data, the now-standard American version was used over 73 percent of the time. The double l monstrosity appeared destined to finally disappear. In 2010, the Associated Press helpfully reminded the world that their style guide says “canceled” has one l.

Yet lately it seems everywhere I look there are American publications going British on this word. It’s baffling. If we are slouching towards a British-style health care system, we should at least spell the canceling of all those health plans in the correct American fashion.

3862148307_6d6daa3819This leads me to a little wordplay: World Wide Words Newsletter: 1 Feb 2014 Give the mitten

Q From Michael Thomas: I was recently working an acrostic puzzle and came upon the clue, “to break up with a loved one”. The answer, which I had never run across, was give the mitten. Could you explain the history of this phrase, please?

A It’s new to me, too, Mr Thomas, as it probably is to readers, since it is now extremely rare. The meaning has often been the one you give (in the American Civil War, a soldier who received a Dear John letter was said to have been given the mitten) but it could also often mean that a woman had rejected a unwelcome admirer out of hand. It occasionally meant that a student had been expelled from college or a workman had got the sack.

It’s known to be at least 170 years old. It has sometimes been taken to be North American, as the examples that were written down first — in the 1840s — are from works by Thomas Chandler Haliburton of Nova Scotia, who had a keen ear for the vocabulary of his times. However, as it is also recorded in Britain and Canada during much of the nineteenth century, it is probably an older British idiom that emigrants had carried abroad. In support of this, at the end of the century, the English Dialect Dictionary noted it as a British regional or dialect expression in the form to send one a mitten, to reject somebody or to cast them off.

Oh why didn’t we know this when Mitt was running for Prez…we could have used that as a slogan. Let’s send Mitt a mitten.  More at the link.

Back to the little big man theme: The Extreme Emotional Life of Völundr the Elf

An illustration of Völundr.Elves have been a fixture in the European mentality for a long time in fairytales and legends and, recently, in the most popular novels and films of our age. In this article, my aim is to determine the function of elves in Old Norse narratives from the thirteenth century by concentrating on the figure of Völundr, the protagonist of Völundarkviða, who to my mind is the most important Old Norse elf. The poem portrays his marriage to a southern swan-maiden who later leaves him. He then retires into solitude, hunting bears, and counting his rings until he is captured and enslaved by the avaricious King Níðuðr. The poem ends with Völundr’s gruesome revenge on the king and his family.

Völundarkviða is the tenth of twenty-nine poems in the Codex Regius ms of the Poetic Edda. Few Eddic poems have suffered less from scholarly neglect: a recent bibliography lists over 100 studies, not counting editions. There are grounds for this attention. To take one, Völundarkviða is usually classified as a heroic rather than mythological poem and shares common characteristics with some of the more ancient heroic poems in the Elder Edda, and yet it stands among the mythological Eddic poems in the manuscript between Þrymskviða and Alvíssmál.

Over the weekend I saw this man was buried with his Harley Davidson, did you see it?

American biker buried ‘riding’ Harley-Davidson in clear box – Americas – World – The Independent

An American biker has made his final journey on his beloved Harley-Davidson and been buried astride the motorbike in a clear box.

It was Bill Standley’s wish to share a grave with the 1967 bike, which took him travelling around 49 out of America’s 50 states.

His body was dressed in full riding gear and positioned on the Harley in a see-through box, which was driven to the cemetery on a trailer before being lowered into the extra-large plot.

Work on the unusual coffin started six years before Mr Standley’s death, aged 82.

He built the plastic casket that would hold him and his motorbike himself with his sons, and bought three burial plots next to his wife.

Damn, talk about taking it with you. There is a video report at the link, if you need to see it. The photo is enough for me.

And finally another twist on our title, but this features little big men and women…

Alrighty then.  Y’all have a wonderful day, and since it is Superbowl Sunday…I guess we’ll see you around the blog later on.  In the meantime, what are you reading about this morning?