R.I.P. William Donald Schaefer Tom Swiss Mon, 04/18/2011 - 20:40

By the end of his tenure as Comptroller of Maryland, William Donald Schaefer had overstayed his time in politics; and some people may remember him just as that cranky old man, and for his sexist, homophobic, and anti-immigrant remarks. But as Mayor of Baltimore, Schaefer helped birth the first Baltimore Renaissance; and as governor of Maryland, he supported public schools, the University of Maryland system, and the Chesapeake Bay. Rest in peace, Willy Don.

faux Statue of Liberty stamp

Posted on: Fri, 04/15/2011 - 10:42 By: Tom Swiss

Sometimes real-life ironies make a better comment on a subject than any artist could hope to make. Such is the case with the new postage stamp that was planned to feature the Statue of Liberty.

Now, despite the fact that in all my trips to NYC I've never visited her, I'm a fan of the iconic Lady. As a Pagan I appreciate her as a modern rendering of a Roman goddess, as a descendant of immigrants I like her role as national greeter (even if my ancestors didn't come in through Ellis Island), as a fan of international cooperation I like that she was a gift from France, a nation with which we share deep historical ties, and as a fan of crowdsourcing I like that funds for her construction were raised in small amounts from ordinary people. Lady Liberty is the real deal.

Thus, it is all too appropriate in today's fake America, that it's not really her appearing on the new stamp. Instead it's an ersatz Liberty built for a Vegas casino. The Postal Service selected the image from a stock photo provider, and ended up picking a photo of the Statue of Liberty replica at the New York-New York casino.

GOP politicians gone wild

Posted on: Tue, 04/05/2011 - 11:17 By: Tom Swiss

As I've said before, I miss having a sane Republican party. I'm an independent voter, not a member of any party, and I've voted for Democrats, Republicans, Greens, and Libertarians. But it's becoming more and more clear that the GOP has just gone nuts, Charlie Sheen-style.

Over the past month or so, the evidence has become overwhelming that it's time for an intervention -- voters need to sit the Republican leadership down and tell them, no more votes for you until you straighten your party out.

Let's look at the political wreckage over the past month or so:

  • Ninety-one year old New Hampshire Republican Martin Harty says the "defective people, the drug addicts, mentally ill, the retarded -- all of them" should be sent off to die. He also admits that he has no idea what he's doing in the state legislature: "We're all sort of bluffing it out. The few votes I've made so far I really didn't know what I was voting for or against. Just looked at the people around me and went along with them."
  • During a debate on a Florida bill for a dress code for students, Republican Representative Kathleen Passidomo blamed the alleged gangrape of an 11-year-old on the way the girl was dressed. "There was an article about an 11 year old girl who was gang raped in Texas by 18 young men because she was dressed like a 21-year-old prostitute," Passidomo claimed.
  • While talking about gang rape and blaming the victim is apparently okay in the Florida House, don't use the U-word. Democrat Rep. Scott Randolph was chastised by the GOP leadership of the House for using the word "uterus" on the House floor. During debate on an anti-union bill, Randolph pointed out that Republicans claim to be against regulations, and then turn around and put all kinds of regulations on citizens. So he suggested that perhaps his wife should "incorporate her uterus" to benefit from the GOP's anti-regulatory ideology and get around their push for measures that would restrict abortions. (He got the line from his wife.) "The point was that Republicans are always talking about deregulation and big government," Randolph said. "And I always say their philosophy is small government for the big guy and big government for the little guy. And so, if my wife's uterus was incorporated or my friend's bedroom was incorporated, maybe they would be talking about deregulating."

    But according to House GOP spokeswoman Katie Betta, the using the U-word just went too far: "...[T]he Speaker believes it is important for all Members to be mindful of and respectful to visitors and guests, particularly the young pages and messengers who are seated in the chamber during debates. In the past, if the debate is going to contain language that would be considered inappropriate for children and other guests, the Speaker will make an announcement in advance, asking children and others who may be uncomfortable with the subject matter to leave the floor and gallery."

  • Republican governor Rick Scott is pushing to push to privatize Medicaid in Florida -- and a business he started, and handed over to his wife when he took office, could benefit enormously if the plan goes through.

    Scott started Solantic, a chain of walk-in urgent-care clinics, in 2001, just a few years after he resigned as the CEO of hospital giant Columbia/HCA amid a massive Medicare fraud scandal. He transferred his $62 million stake in Solantic to his wife when he took office, but this doesn't eliminate the conflict of interest.

    Solantic also offers drug testing services. And Scott recently signed an executive order requiring random drug testing of many state employees and applicants for state jobs -- and is pushing a bill to make poor people pay $35 for a drug test before they can collect welfare. On the other hand, he's opposed to a database that would help stop doctors from over-prescribing addictive prescription drugs, more likely to be abused by white middle- and upper-class people. That would be too much government intrusion into people's lives.

    Three months into his term, Scott's approval rating has fallen to 33 percent.

  • But why should Florida have all the fun? The lunacy continues in Wisconsin where Republican Governor Scott Walker is using state funds to fund a sinecure for the son of a major campaign donor. With almost no management experience, 26-year-old college dropout (and two-time convicted drunk driver) Brian Deschane now manages dozens of employees and oversees state environmental and regulatory issues, making more than $81,500 a year. After only two months on the job, Deschane has already received a 26 percent pay raise and a promotion.

    Deschane’s father is Jerry Deschane, executive vice president and longtime lobbyist for the Wisconsin Builders Association, which contributed $121,652 to Walker's campaign.

  • Among the 50,000 emails sent to Walker during the fight over his union busting bill was one from Carlos F. Lam suggesting a "false flag" operation where an operative pretending to be on the union side would attack Walker. Lam is not just a random wacko, but a deputy prosecutor in Johnson County, Indiana. Or rather, he was: he resigned when the story came to light. Lam is the second Indiana prosecutor to lose his job over controversial statements about the Wisconsin protests: Jeff Cox, an Indiana deputy attorney general, was forced out after tweeting that Wisconsin police should use "live ammunition" to clear protesters from the state Capitol.
  • Speaking of people from Wisconsin who draw a public salary, take a moment to shed a tear for Republican Congressman Sean Duffy, and his meager $174,000 salary. At a Polk County town hall meeting earlier this year, he complained that he's having trouble making ends meet on a taxpayer-funded salary three times the median income in Wisconsin.

    The GOP has been trying, unsuccessfully, to squash the video of Duffy's comments.

Paul Krugman: "The whole budget debate, then, is a sham."

Posted on: Tue, 03/08/2011 - 01:21 By: Tom Swiss

In a recent op-ed, Paul Krugman cuts through the budget fog and points out, "The whole budget debate, then, is a sham. House Republicans, in particular, are literally stealing food from the mouths of babes — nutritional aid to pregnant women and very young children is one of the items on their cutting block — so they can pose, falsely, as deficit hawks."

That the current budget debate is fraudulent is obvious to anyone who's paying attention. As I've mentioned, Wisconsin is a shining example -- Governor Scott Walker gave away over $100 million in tax breaks to the usual members of the investment class before declaring that the state's fiscal situation was so desperate that state employees would just have to bend over and take one for the team.

Says Krugman, "What would a serious approach to our fiscal problems involve? I can summarize it in seven words: health care, health care, health care, revenue."

It is health care -- not the broad category of "entitlements", but specifically health care -- that is set to rise sharply without action, both as the population ages and as our ridiculous system diverts a greater percentage of money away from doctors and nurses and into the pockets of private insurers like UnitedHealth, a company whose annual profits are greater than the entire budget of several states, and also into the coffers of Big Pharma companies, many of which are even bigger than UnitedHealth.

While Obama's health care reform plan is a weak effort, it's the most serious effort out there to address long term deficits.

Krugman continues, "This brings me to the seventh word of my summary of the real fiscal issues: if you’re serious about the deficit, you should be willing to consider closing at least part of this gap with higher taxes. True, higher taxes aren’t popular, but neither are cuts in government programs. So we should add to the roster of fundamentally unserious people anyone who talks about the deficit — as most of our prominent deficit scolds do — as if it were purely a spending issue."

airline security remains a joke

Posted on: Thu, 03/03/2011 - 16:49 By: Tom Swiss

Surprising no one who's been paying attention, it turns out the despite the body scanners, the "gate rape", and the rest of the security theater to which the TSA has subjected us, it remains so easy to get utility knives ("box cutters") on to planes that you can do it by accident. According to the AP, the TSA is sending three screeners at Kennedy airport (in New York) back for remedial training after they let a passenger carry three knives onto a JetBlue flight: "The box cutters fell out of the passenger's carry-on luggage as he was stowing it in an overhead compartment on Flight 837 to Santiago de los Caballeros, Dominican Republic, on Saturday night, authorities said. Police evacuated the flight and questioned the passenger, who said he used the box cutters for his work and had forgotten to take them out of his bag."

You know what? One guy with a utility knife -- hell, six guys with utility knives -- are no match for a plane full of passengers. In the post-9/11 world where letting attackers take over the pilot's seat is no longer an option, nobody's hijacking a flight with anything sharp and pointy. Can we please get over The Fear, direct our screening efforts at explosives and illegal firearms, and stop harassing people for carrying legitimate tools on their person or in their carry-on?

Ezra Klein: "Why Unions Are Worth Fighting For"

Posted on: Mon, 02/28/2011 - 13:40 By: Tom Swiss

Over at The Daily Beast, Ezra Klein weighs in on why unions are worth fighting for:

That means higher wages, but it also means that workers can go to their managers with safety concerns or ideas to improve efficiency and know that they’ll not only get a hearing, they’ll be protected from possible reprisals. Second, unions are a powerful, sophisticated player concerned with more than just the next quarter’s profit reports—what economist John Kenneth Galbraith called a “countervailing power” in an economy dominated by large corporations. They participate in shareholder meetings, where they’re focused on things like job quality and resisting outsourcing. They push back on business models that they don’t consider sustainable for their workers or, increasingly, for the environment. In an economy with a tendency toward bigness—where big producers are negotiating with big retailers and big distributors—workers need a big advocate of their own. Finally, unions bring some semblance of balance to the political system. A lot of what happens in politics is, unfortunately, the result of moneyed, organized interests.... One of the few lobbies pushing for the other side is organized labor—and it plays a strikingly broad role. The Civil Rights Act, the weekend, and the Affordable Care Act are all examples of organized labor fighting for laws that benefited not just the unionized.

police decide not to evict protesters from Wisconsin Capitol

Posted on: Sun, 02/27/2011 - 23:40 By: Tom Swiss

Despite a previously announced 4 p.m. deadline, the AP reports that Wisconsin Capitol Police police have decided not to forcibly remove protectors from the capital building. As members of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association have joined the demonstrators, this eliminates (for now) the possibility of the spectacle of cops dragging cops out of the building.

Wisconsin, well done.

some cops join Wisconsin protesters, while other are ready to bust 'em

Posted on: Sat, 02/26/2011 - 15:06 By: Tom Swiss

Things may get very interesting in Wisconsin over the next 24 hours or so.

Wire reports say that Wisconsin police plan to clear protesters out of the Wisconsin Capitol on Sunday at 4 p.m. In the words of one protest organizer, "I'm pretty sure there will be people unwilling to leave the building on their own two feet."

The president of the Wisconsin Law Enforcement Association (WLEA)'s executive board, Tracy Fuller, says that police would "absolutely" carry out any order given to them, even using force against peaceful protesters, whether they agree or disagree policies being protested.

The very very interesting part comes from the fact that some of those protesters are cops. The Wisconsin Professional Police Association (WPPA)'s Executive Director, Jim Palmer, has requested members from across the state to come to the Capitol and join the occupation. "Law enforcement officers know the difference between right and wrong, and Governor Walker’s attempt to eliminate the collective voice of Wisconsin’s devoted public employees is wrong...That is why we have stood with our fellow employees each day and why we will be sleeping among them tonight."

According to Ryan Harvey, yesterday "Hundreds of cops have just marched through the center of the capitol to show solidarity. Massive applause. So much for the 4 pm deadline." Rainforest Action Network's "The Understory" has more info and video of a police union spokesman rallying protestors.

USAToday reports that today, hundreds of off-duty officers and deputies joined protests against Walker's attempt to strip unions of collective bargaining rights.

(Background on Walker and his billionaire backers, the Kochs, attempt to kill unions here.)

So what's going to happen if the order comes down to clear the protesters? Will pro-union cops try to talk other pro-union protesters into walking away? Will "I was only following orders" cops drag fellow LEOs out of the building?

What happens tomorrow at 4 p.m. in Madison may determine America's future.

Wisconsin, unions, and the billionaire Koch brothers

Posted on: Tue, 02/22/2011 - 18:00 By: Tom Swiss

If you haven't been following developments in Wisconsin, this article at Mother Jones will get you up to speed. But to recap: the first thing you need to know is that Scott Walker, the state's newly elected governor, is in the pocket of the Koch Brothers. (And this is not a new revelation, it came out during the campaign.)

If you've been asleep for the past year or so, the Kochs are the oil billionaires whose company has been described by Greenpeace as a "kingpin of climate science denial". Their family fortune -- built, ironically enough, on seed money obtained from contracts with Stalin's USSR -- is a major part of the bankroll behind Reason magazine, the Heritage Foundation, and the Cato Institute. And more importantly, they funded the astroturfing of the whole "Tea Party" farce. As one GOP Republican consultant who has done research on behalf of the Koch brothers said of the Tea Party, "The Koch brothers gave the money that founded it. It’s like they put the seeds in the ground. Then the rainstorm comes, and the frogs come out of the mud—and they’re our candidates!"

Reagan roundup

Posted on: Sun, 02/20/2011 - 14:56 By: Tom Swiss

The recent centenary of the birth of Ronald Reagan has had conservative pundits pouring on the hagiography in their usual ahistorical manner, and ignoring the inconvenient fact that decades of Reganomics -- tax cuts for the rich, deficient spending, anti-union tactics, deregulation of the financial industry, and a shredding of the social safety net -- are responsible for the economic mess in which the nation finds itself.

Here, then, a few clearer looks at the legacy of the President whom one wag -- I wish I could remember who -- described as doing for the U.S. what anabolic steroids do for athletes: big muscles, sure, at the cost of withered testicles.

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