Politicians Are Poody Heads

and they're not the only ones…


Tornadoes devastated towns in Kansas, Illinois, Kentucky and Missouri last night. See this and this. The video of the nighttime tornado near Hutchinson, Kansas is particularly scary, and I cannot remember a similar nighttime tornado. I grew up in the Midwest, in “Tornado Alley.” Tornadoes were not infrequent, and caused a whole lot of death and destruction. I remember as a young child, my family down in the basement, as a tornado roared over our house, missing it and hitting the building much less than half a block away (and yes, it really does sound like a freight train going by overhead). I remember, also as a child, being sent home from school early because of tornado warnings. I was a “walker,” living not too far from the school, and I remember seeing the funnel cloud way off in the distance (and can you imagine a school dismissing its kids nowadays in similar circumstances?). I extend my heartfelt condolences to those who lost loved ones and were otherwise affected by these storms. And I also always remember that, no matter how omnipotent humans may think they are in their arrogance, Mother Nature will show you up. Respect nature, respect the planet.


Warehouse Slave

A lot of people I know have long argued in favor of buying local versus ordering online.  On the one hand, buying local is usually more expensive, but on the other, it keeps the local economy moving.  In some cases, the money saved by buying online can make the difference between having something and not having it.  In other cases, the argument that the online seller often buys from third-world sweat shops is powerful. But the local stores buy their products from the same places.  One thing I haven’t heard is an argument that buying online actually creates jobs, but it does.  The question is: what kind of jobs does it create?  For the most part, it creates low-paying, non-union jobs.

The best argument I know for combatting cheap overseas goods is the tariff.  If companies want to pay slave wages, then force them to make up the difference in price at the border.  That would level the playing field.  Then it will be cheaper to manufacture goods in this country and would do the other countries no good to set up sweat shops.  But the Corporations prefer to fight cheap overseas goods by lowering the standard of living here until you can’t distinguish our population from that of any other third-world country.

I thought we hadn’t reached that state yet, but I was wrong.  The most recent Mother Jones issue contains Mac McClelland’s story of working undercover at a giant distribution warehouse in Mississippi — the kind of place where your mail order stuff comes from.  She had previously written about another, similar place in Ohio, and her editors felt readers might think that the problems there were unique to Ohio.  So Mac went to Mississippi and got a job pulling orders for shipment.  And discovered that they’re not.

It wasn’t that difficult to get hired.  All she had to do was show up and truthfully state that she’d never been to prison (they check).  And for about seven bucks an hour, she was allowed to work at a neck-break speed, be constantly told that she was a failure, and basically be treated like a Chinese factory worker for 12 hours each shift.  Overtime was mandatory.  Mac quickly learned to dose up on ibuprofen every day.

She found out that a lot of the workers were “temps” — that is, they were hired by a temporary employment agency, not by the warehouse itself.  That way, the warehouse isn’t obliged to offer any overtime pay, benefits, unions, etc.  Some workers aren’t even paid hourly; they’re paid by the finished piece.

The list of rules was endless: anyone a minute late to work was fired, anyone a minute late back from either of the two breaks was fired, lunch was 29 minutes, not thirty (at the thirty minute mark you had to already be working or you were fired), miss work for a doctor’s appointment and you’re fired, leave the work area without permission and you’re fired, complain and you’re fired and sent home without pay, there were no bathroom breaks (bathrooms were in the break areas — you go to the bathroom on your own time), no telephones allowed in the work area, no food allowed in the work area, no metal could be carried out of the work area (not even a belt buckle), no objects that the warehouse stocked (and they carried everything) could be taken out of the work area.

You had to keep moving fast because you carried a little machine that told you where everything was and how much time you had to retrieve it .  Miss your time goals too often and you’re fired, but make your goals and the machine gets re-set — congratulations: you now have a new goal. Oh, and cry, whine, or say you’re doing your best and you’re fired.

All the while, in the background, there are videos and loudspeakers giving you “motivational” talks: the customer is counting on you; the customer is waiting on you; when you slow down, you hurt others; be safety conscious – lose a finger in the machinery and you won’t have a job; and if someone files a false worker’s comp claim and you know it, report them and get a reward.

The article is both fascinating and horrifying.  Our Corporate overlords want us to be treated like the third-world slave laborers we’re competing against, and people put up with it because they need the jobs.  Just like the bosses planned when they started shipping jobs overseas.  Unfortunately, people are lining up for these soul-crushing jobs, and staying in them because their families have to eat.

At least McClelland was able to quit after a few days.  The experience will stay with her, however.

I wince when I unintentionally imagine the types of Christmas lore that will prevail around my future household. I feel genuinely sorry for any child I might have who ever asks me for anything for Christmas, only to be informed that every time a “Place Order” button rings, a poor person takes four Advil and gets told they suck at their job.

This is a story that deserves to be told.  Please, before you buy another thing through the mail, go over to Mother Jones and read it.  Then see if you still want that mail order trinket quite so badly.


When what’s left isn’t right

Most voters feel certain that their political party is, in general, one that represents their particular outlook on life.  Republicans, after all, lean to the right and are conservatives.  Democrats lean left and are liberal.  Correct?  Perhaps in theory, but not in reality.  Unfortunately, issues are not conservative or liberal — those labels make good headlines, but are completely interchangeable in practice.  Politicians, it seems, tend to ignore labels, except when they’re using them to insult their counterpart across the aisle.

Ezra Klein at The Washington Post gives the following examples of how our fearless leaders in Washington, D. C. hold steadfast to their “left” and “right” labels:

— 2009: Republicans supported a temporary, deficit-financed payroll-tax cut as a stimulus measure; Democrats were against it.  2011: President Obama decided that was a good idea; Republicans were instantly against it.

— 1990-2009: Republicans wanted large cuts to Medicare to help reduce the national deficit; Democrats claim it will kill our parents.  2010: Democrats supported large cuts to Medicare as part of universal health-care reform; Republicans claim it will kill our parents. 2011-2012: Republicans want large cuts to Medicare to help reduce the national deficit; Democrats claim it will kill our parents.

— 1991-2007: Republicans pushed for an individual mandate as a way to solve the health-care system’s free-rider problem.  2010: Obama made the individual mandate part of his healthcare plan; Republicans said it would destroy the Constitution.

— 2000-2008: Republicans wanted a “cap and trade” system where carbon emissions would be capped and permits traded as a way of moving toward clean energy using the power of market pricing. 2009: Obama got behind the idea; the GOP decried it as “cap and spend”.

— 2001-2008: Only Democrats cared about short-term deficits. 2008-2012: Only Republicans care about short-term deficits.

— 2001-2008: Republicans favored an expansive view of executive authority. 2009-2012: Obama has clearly made it his own agenda.

— 2001-2008: Both parties favored a lower tax rate for the poor, at least around election time.  2009-2012: tax breaks for the poor fall completely within the Democrats purview.

— 2001-2008: Republicans wanted to stop overuse of the filibuster; Democrats say it’s an integral part of the American Political System. 2009-2012: Democrats want to stop overuse of the filibuster; Republicans…well, you get the idea.

You’ll notice that each time one side stopped being against something, the other side stopped being in favor of it.  All these role-reversals were necessary, not because the facts changed,  but because it became politically convenient to claim the opposing viewpoint.

So the next time you hear a politician wailing about an issue being to the right or left, don’t concern yourself.  Odds are, that same politician will be saying the exact opposite soon enough.

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We need a new word

A Luddite is someone who is so afraid of change that s/he is against all technology.  We need a word like that to describe someone who is scared to death of political change.  No, wait, we already have one – Conservative.

Never mind…

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Another cruise ship problem

The Costa Allegra cruise ship (sister ship to the cruise liner that ran aground and capsized off the Italian coast last month) had a fire in its generator room, which knocked out the power to its engines, lights, and air conditioning.

Helicopters ferried food, phones and flashlights Tuesday to more than 1,000 passengers and crew stuck aboard a disabled cruise ship that was being towed to the Seychelles Islands through waters prowled by pirates.

Those aboard the Costa Allegra, a sister ship of the cruise liner that capsized off Italy last month, faced more stifling days and nights before the vessel docks in the tropical paradise.

The stricken liner was expected to reach the main Seychelles island of Mahe on Thursday, the Italian cruise operator said.

This, on top of the capsized ship, and also on top of three American cruise ships stricken with norovirus earlier this month makes you kind of wonder just how safe these ships are. It’s not just one cruise ship company involved. I don’t know about you, but I think I’ll pass on any thought whatsoever of taking a cruise, at least for the foreseeable future.


Terrorists-0, Federales-[put your own number here]

There have been several high-profile cases in the last year where the FBI recruited, armed, then arrested “terrorists”.  The latest is Amine El Khalifi, a 29-year-old Moroccan citizen who didn’t have a clue what was going on.  It makes for good press, but I’m not all that certain how safe it keeps us.  Given that any average high school kid should be able to make bombs using plans off the Internet, how stupid do these terrorists have to be that they need the FBI to do all the work for them? (And how dangerous would they be if the FBI didn’t?)

It seems the only terrorists our politicians are able to find are the ones they create, just in time to keep us all cowering under our covers and not complaining while they shred the Constitution.  I’m waiting for an FBI undercover agent to get approached by a CIA undercover agent so that they all wind up arresting each other.   Federales – what a bunch of poody heads!

[Am I the only one left who remembers David Greenberg and Robert Hantz?]

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My turn at Anonymous…

I just finished reading Epic Win for Anonymous by Cole Stryker.  It was a rather long read, by my standards.  It should have taken me a couple of hours, but instead, I spent two months on it.  Part of the reason was the style of the writing.  It read more like a textbook than an exposé — not exactly exciting stuff.   I found that I could only read a paragraph or two before setting the book aside.  But I labored through, and, in the end, I found the information, if not the actual writing, quite interesting.

For someone who spends all his time on the Internet, I was woefully uninformed on the Anonymous phenomenon, how it came about, and how it functions.  This book explained it all, in excruciating detail.  It’s rather complicated, but basically, in the early days of the web, a site evolved called 2chan.  It insisted that for true freedom of expression, web users should remain anonymous (with a lower-case a).  The modern site 4chan built on 2chan’s basic philosophy.  This anonymity led to a group of talented people, whose population constantly changes, deciding to hack the sites of some obnoxious people just for fun (“lulz”). They called themselves Anonymous (with an upper-case A), and the Guy Fawkes mask, popularized in the movie “V for Vendetta”, has become their trademark.

Anonymous has done some things that you might classify as good and some things that are horrifying to read about.  They took on Scientology, hacked Sara Palin’s emails, brought down web sites of security firms claiming to be hack-proof, and much more.  This grew until the government started feeling challenged by the group.  So every once in a while, authorities will arrest someone just to show that they’re on the ball.  But nothing can stop a group that has no leaders and whose membership constantly changes.  The weak link of Anonymous is that it really doesn’t care what happens to the information it exposes — it just wants to show what it can do.   Eventually, that led to the growth of sites like Wikileaks who want to utilize that info.

Because no story is simple, Stryker tends to wander.  In order to explain one thing, he has to explain four others.  So you’ll also find stories about how memes got started, where the “lol cats” and “cheezburger kats” came from, and lots more non-Anonymous data.  He warns that 4chan is no place for the casual viewer (“noob”).  Much of the content seems geared towards 12-year-old boys, which is boring, and some towards what society would call “very sick bastards”, which is scary.  However, the site users seem to police themselves so that really nasty stuff doesn’t stay up long – it gets booed off stage, so to speak.

You should know that experienced users of 4chan (“/b/tards”) universally panned this book.  But /b/tards tend to be a bit snobbish.  They pan everything, so that’s not necessarily negative.  If you’ve never been on 4chan or if you’re interested in how Anonymous works or where it came from, this book will be useful to you.  But if you’re looking for a good read with juicy bits of underground gossip, don’t bother.

If you’re a /b/tard, you’re going to say two things: (1) Stryker got it all wrong, and (2) my synopsis is even more wrong.  That’s okay, I know I’m a noob, so I don’t mind.


The City of Samba

A video of Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, 2011. The filmmakers Keith Loutit and Jarbas Agnelli, used a photographic technique called tilt-shift to make everything appear to be happening in miniature (as well as very, very fast). Agnelli also composed the music.

Their short film “The Sound Of Samba” is made of real footage from the city’s 2011 festival, but a trick of lens-tilting creates the illusion that each object is dramatically smaller than it actually is. From what looks like a tiny helicopter to ant-like hordes of revelers, the miniaturized details get across both how extensive and contained the city’s networks are.

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St. Paul Peters Out…

So this is how it ends — not with a bang, per Eliot’s prediction.  Occupy London at the Cathedral of St. Paul is history.  Of course we all knew it couldn’t last forever.  It initially got a lot of support from the British population, but, people’s attention span being what it is, I’m surprised it lasted this long.

The police moved in quietly after midnight (early Tuesday morning) while the city slept.  After four months of protest, police bailiffs peacefully removed the four dozen tents that remained.  A few protesters resisted, but riot police arrested about 20 people and the rest left the camp voluntarily.

“We haven’t got any choice, and I’d rather protect the tent for another day without it being destroyed by the bailiffs,” said Gary Sherborne, 50, speaking to The Press Association news agency.

Kai Wargalla, a 27-year-old student from Germany, said he had been part of the protest since it began in mid-October. “It’s really sad what’s happening today, but I think we can be proud of what we have achieved.”

In a way, it was time.  They’d accomplished what they set out to do — bring attention to the incredibly unbalanced distribution of wealth in Britain’s collapsing economy, and people had stopped paying attention to them at this point.  The novelty had worn off.  Time to move on to the next shiny object.

Of course, little has been done to fix the reason for the protests, but that’s not Occupy’s job.  The purpose of a protest is to bring light to a subject.  It’s up to the population to fix the problem.  It’s really a shame, though, that more people don’t care enough to work in their own interest.  But that is the nature of sheep, isn’t it?


Lover’s spat outs GOP Sheriff

I guess I’m just an old-fashioned sort of bear, but I’m always amazed at how many gay-bashing Republicans suddenly become all in favor of human rights for everyone once their closet gets opened.  For example, consider Paul Babeu, Republican Sheriff of Arizona’s Pinal County, Congressional candidate, and, until recently, a co-chair of Arizona’s Mitt Romney for President campaign.  You remember Arizona — the anti-immigrant capital of the world.  Anyway, Paul’s been accused by his illegal-immigrant ex-boyfriend of abuse of power.  The “friend” says that Paul told him he’d be deported if he told anyone about their affair.  Paul denies it, but, unfortunately, there seems to be quite a bit of evidence to support the lover’s claim.

The huge irony is that Jose, Babeu’s ex-boyfriend and a Mexican national, says threats of deportation came because he refused to sign an agreement not to disclose details of his relationship with the sheriff. (New Times is withholding Jose’s last name because of these threats.)

Jose’s attorney, Melissa Weiss-Riner, who received phone calls directly form Chris DeRose, Babeu’s attorney and congressional campaign consultant, confirms that DeRose claimed Jose’s visa was expired, as well as warned that Jose shouldn’t bring attention to himself or he could be deported.

Paul also sent threatening emails to Jose — which Jose gave to his lawyer.  There’s nothing quite like putting your threat in writing to back up your claim of innocence.  But Paul isn’t letting this get him down.  Although he’s resigned from Mitt Romney’s campaign, he’s continuing to hope he’ll be able to hold onto his job.

Paul also has changed his stance on gays, at least publicly.  In the past, he took his queues from his GOP leaders, but now he’s speaking out.

Babeu said he supports gays in the military, that he was in fact a homosexual in the military. He danced around the question of gay marriage, but finally said he supports it personally — a view in stark contrast to the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party that he appeals to. In fact, Ron Gould, one of his opponents for the GOP nomination for Congress, is running on a strong family-values ticket.

“Legal contracts absolutely should be allowed for anybody,” he said. “Anyone who wants to see a loved one in the hospital, to be able to enjoy an inheritance, any of those rights I believe are basic human rights and privileges.”

He said while gay marriage may be illegal, he “can be a supporter and get out there and articulate, as we progress as a culture and a society, that there should be individual liberties and there should be individual freedoms,” he said. “For any other person to define somebody else’s relationship and to say that it’s not okay, that is not who we are as Americans.”

This is not Babeu’s first brush with negative publicity.  He used to run the DeSisto School, a private boarding school for troubled teens in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.  During his tenure there he racked up a record of using physical abuse to “correct” the teens’ behavioral problems.  He also got caught living with a 17-year-old male students.  (Because that is the age of consent in Mass., no charges were filed.)  Babeu left in 2001 and the state closed the school soon after that.

I can’t help but wonder what drives a person to seek to deny rights to individuals one day, and then promote them the next?  Oh, that’s right — the public discovered he was one of the people he previously wanted to suppress.  There’s nothing quite like finding out the rules do apply to you to make one want to change the rules.  At least that’s the way it usually works for poody heads!

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