Stormy Monday, 3/9/15

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StormyMondayMonday, the Department of Justice will begin notifying approximately a million federal workers of their eligibility to join a class action suit against the government for being forced to work without pay during the Republican-engineered shutdown in October 2013. Eligible employees will have 105 days to sign on; voters will have 610 days until the 2016 election to decide that throwing Republicans out of all federal offices is an urgent priority for the health of the nation.

By next weekend, or so, the United States will have again exhausted its ability to borrow money. Fear not, though. Mitch “Old Lightnin'” McConnell promised Face the Nation Sunday that “the debt ceiling will be handled over a period of months.” He added that “hopefully, it might carry some other important legislation that we can agree on in connection with it,” which, on Planet Mitch, presumably means the repeal of Obamacare or the gutting of Social Security. The White House has meanwhile implemented “emergency cash measures” to forestall a possible collision with the debt ceiling.

Speaking of dysfunctionality and debt, the Eurogroup convenes in Brussels tomorrow to “discuss next steps” related to debt assistance for Greece. Tensions ratcheted up considerably today with the threat by Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis that Greece could hold an election or a referendum over what those “next steps” might entail.

Too bad Senator Inhofe won’t be in Fairbanks tomorrow for the competitive start of this year’s Iditarod. If he were, he’d learn that 350 dump-trucks’ worth of snow were needed to facilitate Saturday’s ceremonial start in Anchorage, where daytime temperatures flirted with 40 and the only thing falling from the late-winter sky was a thin rain.

Fires are still not totally extinguished following Thursday’s derailment of a crude-carrying BNSF train near Galena, Illinois. Ten more derailed cars remain to be cleared via a new temporary “haul road.” The railway says it anticipates the mainline to be back in operation Monday, which would clear the way – whew! – for the week’s usual 40 or 50 oil trains to run through the area. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 3/9/15

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Stormy Monday, 1/26/15

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StormyMondayThe President wants to extend wilderness designation and concomitant environmental protections to millions more acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a move opposed by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski and other Republicans, who would prefer to drill the crap out of ANWR. Showcasing her famed policy chops and keen intellect, Murkowski commented, “I cannot understand why this administration is willing to negotiate with Iran, but not Alaska.”

Speaking of negotiations with Iran, Republicans are hell-bent on screwing those up too. Tuesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will conduct what it risibly describes as a “hearing” on the status of the negotiations. As Congress lurches toward additional sanctions, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif warned the other day that such a move would “kill the joint plan of action that we adopted last year in Geneva.” In another odd development, Zarif has been summoned to explain to his nation’s parliament why he went for a “15-minute walk” with John Kerry in Geneva on January 14. Uh-oh…

“Winter Storm Juno” is bearing down on the Northeast, with blizzard conditions expected to affect up to 28 million people. Juno’s worst impact will last from Monday evening into Tuesday, with snowfall rates of two to four inches an hour and total accumulations of two feet or more forecast for some areas of New England. The suspiciously enthusiastic Henry Margusity, an Accuweather meteorologist, took to Twitter to announce, “It will be like a tidal wave of snow into New England tonight into Tuesday.”

Tuesday, the President will pass up a planned trip to the Taj Mahal and cut short his stay in India to head for Saudi Arabia for a meeting with its new king, Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, our latest staunch ally and wonderful, not at all duplicitous partner in the Middle East. Salman succeeds his recently deceased brother Adbullah, our previous staunch ally and wonderful, not at all duplicitous partner in the Middle East.

The legendary Ernie Banks will be honored by a public memorial Wednesday at Chicago’s Daley Plaza. The statue of “Mr. Cub” at Wrigley Field will be moved to Daley Plaza for the occasion. Banks, 83, died Friday following a heart attack. Funeral arrangements are still pending. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 1/26/15

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Stormy Monday, 8/18/14

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StormyMondayAt the behest of Attorney General Eric Holder, the body of Michael Brown will be autopsied for a third time this week as federal and state investigations into his fatal shooting by police officer Darren Wilson continue. Tensions between protestors and police in Ferguson, Missouri showed little sign of abating over the weekend, despite Governor Nixon’s declaration of a state of emergency and imposition of a curfew.

The President is still in Washington for a previously announced interruption in his Martha’s Vineyard vacation with the family. The White House announced Sunday that he will receive a briefing from the Attorney General on the situation in Ferguson, and another from the National Security Council on Iraq. He’s scheduled to return to the Vineyard on Tuesday, barring the undeniable possibility that someone somewhere will do what the President would probably describe as “stupid shit.”

Rick Perry will be busy this week insisting to every friend and family member, fellow Texas Republican, probing reporter, and/or pizza delivery guy he encounters that he’s innocent of any wrongdoing despite last week’s grand jury indictment on two felony counts. In a hilarious appearance on Fox News Sunday, Perry claimed:

This is not the way we settle political differences in this country. You don’t do it with indictments. We settle our political differences at the ballot box.

Which I guess explains his vigorous efforts in 2011 to disenfranchise minority and low-income voters, who favor Democrats, with a draconian voter ID law that, like Rick Perry, will soon be the subject of a court case.

In more than one sense of the term, Amanda Curtis hits the ground running this week as she begins an 11th-hour campaign to hold a Democratic Senate seat after incumbent John Walsh plagiarized himself out of the contest. Montana Democrats chose her over the weekend to replace Walsh, who was himself tapped to replace the mercifully retired Max Baucus. Curtis teaches high school math by day, and hasn’t yet secured a leave of absence from her school board for what virtually all observers consider to be a doomed campaign against Republican Steve Daines. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 8/18/14

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Stormy Monday, 2/24/14

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StormyMondayHouse Republicans return to Washington this week, and among a host of very bad things, will attempt to expedite the ALERRT Act. While it might sound like yet another example of famously bad rightwing spelling, “ALERRT” is an acronym for “Achieving Less Excess in Regulation and Requiring Transparency,” which means the bill is actually just another example of famously bad rightwing ideas.

Also on the GOP House agenda is a bill to improve (meaning hobble) the CFPB, and the equally craptacular Stop Targeting of Political Beliefs by the IRS Act, which of course is intended solely to stop what Republicans consider targeting of conservative political beliefs.

On Thursday, animatronic has-been Mitt Romney will be shipped to Boston and temporarily uncrated for a Republican Governors Association fundraiser. This is being spun as a show of support for the increasingly radioactive has-been-in-the-making Chris Christie, who chairs the RGA. How can you tell he’s radioactive? Because various fellow Republican governors are already making it a point to tell the press that he isn’t.

In a move almost comically emblematic of the term “military industrial complex,” on Tuesday the President will announce two new so-called innovation institutes, one in Chicago and one in Detroit. The institutes will be developed and funded through a partnership of private industry and the Department of Defense. Can’t see any downside to this. Nope.

Wednesday, the President heads to St. Paul’s splendidly refurbished Union Depot for another in his continuing series of speeches on the economy, this one focusing on “transportation and transit issues.” The White House website notes that he will “announce a new competition encouraging investments to create jobs and restore infrastructure as part of the President’s Year of Action.” Continue reading Stormy Monday, 2/24/14

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Take Five (Iron Lady Down edition)

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ONE: The 5.8-Percent Solution

Who better to eulogize the execrable Margaret Thatcher than the abysmal Sarah Palin? And so she has, in 1,002 suspiciously articulate words that appeared under Palin’s byline Monday courtesy of virtual fishwrap National Review Online. As Bob Cesca’s very entertaining dissection of the eulogy makes clear, Palin (or whichever staffer wrote this C-minus boilerplate on her behalf) is essentially paying tribute to Palin here, with telling lines about media persecution, ceilings (both glass and class), and misty-eyed praise for Thatcher’s supposed populism, her superhuman imperviousness to “childish attacks” from her political foes, her noble fetish for liberty, her salt-of-the-earth leadership, and her general maverickitudinous maverickosity.

With Thatcher now en route to meet her Maker for a lengthy and probably awkward discussion about the destructive effects of her policies, Palin seems to be banking on the dubious notion that conservatives everywhere yearn for a new Iron Lady. If she really aspires to assume the mantle, she might want to rethink her PAC, a widening sinkhole for the misdirected dollars of the faithful.

While SarahPAC describes itself as “dedicated to building America’s future by supporting fresh ideas and candidates who share our vision for reform and innovation,” its parsimony in supporting Republican candidates stands in garish contrast to its lavish disbursements on consultants and ancillary expenses, all of which adds renewed resonance to Palin’s longstanding reputation of pronounced carefreedom with other people’s money.

The PAC’s FEC filings for 2012 show that it spent $5,186,777, of which $80,000 was donated to Senate candidates, $213,500 to candidates in House races (including $10,000 to Allen West’s failed reelection bid and $2,500 to an Ohio Democrat, convicted felon Jeffrey Johnson), along with another $5,000 to the Romney campaign. If you’re interested in where the remaining $4,888,277 went, John Avlon provides some helpful details, after quoting Palin’s high-minded, cast-out-the-moneychangers rhetoric at this year’s CPAC:

“Now is the time to furlough the consultants, and tune out the pollsters, send the focus groups home and throw out the political scripts, because if we truly know what we believe, we don’t need professionals to tell us…”

Palin’s chief PAC consultant, Tim Crawford, pocketed more than $321,000 this election cycle in direct payments alone… Aries Petra Consulting was taking in between $6,000 and $8,000 a month for speechwriting and “grassroots consulting”—something that sounds like an oxymoron, but ended up costing north of $160,000. C&M Transcontinental racked up $10,000 a month in management consulting, which is hard to imagine for a PAC whose job is simply to raise money and spend it on candidates.

I do have to take issue with that last point. Given that this is Sarah Palin’s political action committee, it’s hard to imagine that things could have gone any differently.

TWO: Hanging Party

The Alaska GOP’s Anchorage headquarters, a building with all the curb appeal of a bait shack or a three-for-the-price-of-one taqueria, last week became the epicenter of what one insider described as a “civil war for the soul of the Alaska Republican Party.”


The war actually began back in January when chair-elect Russ Millette was ousted by the party’s executive committee a day before he was due to begin his term. The position was then assumed by vice-chair-elect Debbie Brown, whose political skills seem to fall just a tad short of making friends and influencing people. Whatever the machinations over the span of the last weeks, Brown eventually alienated a sufficient proportion of the executive committee that she felt it necessary to have the locks at 1001 West Fireweed Lane changed, while she hightailed it out of the state. The committee then organized an impromptu meeting in the parking lot of the shuttered HQ before deciding they looked too ridiculous there. After moving the meeting to the boardroom of an engineering firm, they deliberated for nearly five hours and finally voted Brown out.

But this isn’t over yet. Failed GOP Senate candidate Joe Miller yesterday posted a scan of a letter from Alicé Leuchte, party secretary, affirming that Brown’s April 8 removal was invalid. Meanwhile, in her capacity as state party chair, Brown is attending the RNC’s spring meeting in California, as is Peter Goldberg, whom the executive committee installed in her place. The new locks at 1001 West Fireweed Lane are apparently still virgo intacta, and the Alaska Republican Party is still reeling.

Isn’t it obvious what they need to do? If she’s not at home in Wasilla or Scottsdale, the executive committee might find Governor Palin speeding down the wrong side of the road somewhere between Land’s End and John o’Groats, stumping to overthrow David Cameron. The Alaska Republican Party’s Iron Lady awaits, unless of course the British outbid them.

THREE: Far Out

In a week where President Obama, with apparent seriousness, described Margaret Thatcher as “one of the great champions of freedom and liberty” and unveiled a budget that calls for the implementation of a chained CPI framework for future Social Security increases, I suppose nothing else should seem shocking. Yet I was shocked just the same to see WND’s Joseph Farah offer up an alternative to war on the Korean peninsula:

I say forget about talking to Kim.

I say forget about considering plans for invading North Korea.

I say there’s an alternative to bombing the country’s nuclear installations to prevent a future holocaust.

Let’s try bombing the people with support.

Let’s try carpet-bombing North Korea with food, with small arms and munitions and the instructions they need to overthrow the little despot who keeps them in chains.

Let’s try extending our hands in love to the people of North Korea…

Holy crap! Farah had better watch his step; if he ever advocates carpet-bombing poor, hungry Americans with food, WND’s zero-information readership will overrun his offices, brand his buttocks with the words “Filthy Hippie” and push him out of a helicopter somewhere over Marin County. Continue reading Take Five (Iron Lady Down edition)

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Take Five (Busyness as Usual edition)

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ONE: Brainy Nights in Georgia

In the wake of the Newtown massacre and other recent mass gun murders, the NRA helpfully busied itself with supporting secession for Wisconsin, decrying the “vicious, violent videogames” that they insist provoke (conveniently well-armed) people to indulge in vicious violence, and, um, rolling out their new videogame.

In vivid contrast, Georgia legislator Paul Battles, being a pragmatic guy, thought and thought and thought about how best to protect children, and after all that thinking came up with House Bill 35:

The Georgia House of Representatives Rules Committee will consider a bill this week that would let school systems arm their staff members. House Bill 35 allows school systems to designate administrators, teachers, or other staff members to carry concealed weapons.

Now, before you go making any mistaken assumptions about Battles, a – surprise! – Republican, he emphatically rejects the suggestion that he’s, you know, a gun nut or something:

“From the very beginning, I’ve said this is a school security piece of legislation,” said Battles. “It’s not about guns. It’s about securing our schools.”

House Bill 35 immediately made me think of Mrs. Hale, my 6th grade teacher, who had a pronounced esotropic strabismus. Forgive me, Mrs. Hale, but I’m very glad you were never packing in our placid Savannah classroom. That I know of, anyway.

The bill passed out of the Public Safety and Homeland Security Committee last week. And Rep. Battles says that was the biggest hurdle, adding, “I’m sure we’ll have a lively debate on the floor, but I feel like it has great momentum.”

Oh. Great, then.

But inane legislation in Georgia is often a bipartisan thing. State Rep. Earnest Smith, a – crap! – Democrat, is all riled up about Photoshop, especially when it’s used to make fun of Earnest Smith:

… Smith pointed, as proof of the problem, to a picture of his head that was recently edited onto a porn star’s body. That image was created by a blogger who used the image to mock Smith.

Last word to Andre Walker of Georgia Politics Unfiltered, the pixel surgeon responsible for the digital transplant:

“I cannot believe Rep. Earnest Smith thinks I’m insulting him by putting his head on the body of a well-built porn star.”

TWO: “Nothing has changed.”

Attendees at this year’s Conservative Political Action Conference can expect to see the likes of Rand Paul, Scott Walker, Allen West and Marco Rubio whip up the sort of rank gumbo of exaggerations, distortions, outright falsehoods and nutrition-free bromides that has kept previous CPAC crowds in drooling thrall.

But wait, there’s more!

Someone named Mitt Romney, who apparently once ran for President, will speak, as will someone named Sarah Palin, who apparently once ran for Vice President.

Of course, I’m being facetious. While I really have no idea who Mitt Romney is, I do remember Sarah Palin. She’s the former mayor of Wasilla who burdened the town with astonishing municipal debt, before going on to become the former Alaska governor who resigned halfway through her term, after burning through many thousands of dollars of public money for no good reason. She did leave her successor a tanning bed, though.

Indications are that Alaska voters have put down their bongs and would now prefer Hillary Clinton over Palin by a 16-point margin in a hypothetical presidential election cage match. Even better, Public Policy Polling also asked respondents to choose their preference of Congress or Palin, and Congress, for all its legendary disapproval ratings, beat Palin 50% to 35%.

And wait, there’s less!

AMERICABlog pointedly notes that CPAC 2013 will again feature the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre, a man determined to live the rest of his wretched life being less popular than gonorrhea, but the conclave has once again barred GOProud, a high-profile gay conservative organization.

“We got kicked out last year because we are gay,” tweeted GOProud Executive Director Jimmy LaSalvia. “Nothing has changed. We won’t be at CPAC.”

However unintentionally, Mr. LaSalvia has just given CPAC a perfect new slogan. “Nothing has changed,” indeed.

THREE: Squawking Heads Redux

In light of recent news that Palin and Fox News have parted company, followed shortly after by the network axing Dick Morris (the World’s Wrongest ManTM), you might be concerned that Fox is going to suffer an acute stupidity deficit. Fear not. They’ve announced with great fanfare that both Herman Cain and Scott Brown have joined the Fox conservative commentator crew.

Proving that he has never actually watched the network, Cain enthused:

“I’m excited about joining the FOX family as a contributor because it is an opportunity to be one more voice for intelligent thinking in America.”

Cain hit the ground running, which is to say he ran aground, in his first appearance with Bill O’Reilly. When the discussion turned to President Obama’s popularity, Cain gave viewers this taste of his intelligent thinking:

“We have a severe ignorance problem with the people who are so mesmerized by his popularity that they are not looking at the facts…

“Martin Luther King Jr. said 50 years ago in 1963 something that is so appropriate to today… There is nothing more dangerous than serious ignorance, and that’s what we have and he gets away with it with the help of establishment media.”

Really? Cain’s new employer has spent more than a decade atop the cable news network heap, which strikes me as pretty much about as establishment as you can get, but maybe I just have a severe ignorance problem.

As to Brown, his first appearance was with Sean Hannity, who asked him why he didn’t want to run for John Kerry’s vacated Senate seat:

Brown… told Hannity that the pace of special elections would have put him in five campaigns in six years and that he might have had to raise another $30 to $50 million, only to “participate in a Congress that’s really dysfunctional and extremely partisan.” Instead, he said, “I felt I could make a difference being on this show…”

Mm-hmm. Far better to participate in a “news” network that’s really dysfunctional and extremely partisan than a Congress that is. Presumably, the Fox gig pays better. Continue reading Take Five (Busyness as Usual edition)

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Take Five (The Boys of Bummer edition)

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ONE: “It’s all dudes.”

The most indelible quote from a week full of indelible quotes came from Senator Patty Murray of Washington, who remarked that seeing a photo of the all-male panel giving testimony at Congressman Darrell Issa’s hearing on contraception coverage was “like stepping into a time machine and going back 50 years.”

Beyond the sorry specifics of the Issa hearing, Murray’s comment is an on-point description of the bedrock philosophy underlying the modern Republican Party, although in some cases a 50-year regression is insufficient; 100 or even 150 years might be a more appropriate number, depending on the issue.

Issa indulged in some of his usual obfuscation – oh, hell, let’s just call it what it is: bullshitting – when it came to explaining why a woman put forward by Democratic members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform was denied the chance to testify:

… Issa Thursday said Democrats could not add their witness because she was not a member of the clergy, but a student at Georgetown. He also faulted Democrats for not submitting the name of the witness, Georgetown Law Center student Sandra Fluke, in time.

Issa’s staff sent a letter to the Democrats, saying, “As the hearing is not about reproductive rights but instead about the administration’s actions as they relate to freedom of religion and conscience, he believes that Ms. Fluke is not an appropriate witness.”

Got that? The Democrats’ witness wasn’t eligible because she’s not a member of the clergy. Oh, and also her name wasn’t submitted in time. Oh, and the hearing about reproductive rights wasn’t really about reproductive rights. Or all of the above. Yeah, that’s it, all of the above.

Issa’s little farce prompted a senator’s grandson to provide the week’s runner-up in the indelible quote department:

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., said her 16-year-old grandson saw the photo and instantaneously knew something was off. “It’s all dudes,” Boxer said, quoting her grandson.

House Democrats heard testimony from Fluke today, but the Republican majority on the Committee on House Administration would not allow the testimony to be televised.

TWO: Speak Loudly and Carry a Big Stick

Twice this week, the Republican-dominated House of Delegates postponed voting on a measure to require Virginia women seeking an abortion to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound, involving the insertion of a metal imaging probe into the vagina.

A scathing Dahlia Lithwick piece last week in Slate put the proposed legislation in sharp perspective:

… the law provides that women seeking an abortion in Virginia will be forcibly penetrated for no medical reason. I am not the first person to note that under any other set of facts, that would constitute rape under state law.

What’s more, a provision of the law that has received almost no media attention would ensure that a certification by the doctor that the patient either did or didn’t “avail herself of the opportunity” to view the ultrasound or listen to the fetal heartbeat will go into the woman’s medical record. Whether she wants it there or not. I guess they were all out of scarlet letters in Richmond.

So the problem is not just that the woman and her physician (the core relationship protected in Roe) no longer matter at all in deciding whether an abortion is proper. It is that the physician is being commandeered by the state to perform a medically unnecessary procedure upon a woman…

Throughout the controversy, Republicans availed themselves of the opportunity to indulge in some of the more revolting political rhetoric in recent memory:

[Deputy House Majority Leader C. Todd] Gilbert [(R-Shenandoah)], who opposes abortion rights, shocked opponents of a bill that would require women to undergo an ultrasound before an abortion when he said: “In the vast majority of these cases, these are matters of lifestyle convenience.”

Gilbert later apologized, but only after video of his comments went viral. Even worse, another legislator, whose exact identity seems to have eluded scrutiny so far:

… suggested that women who consent to sex also consent to vaginal probing.

Yesterday, the House of Delegates approved the bill, albeit with revisions suggested by Governor Bob McDonnell, who, although an idiot, is not stupid:

… under pressure from pro-choice activists, as well as stinging ridicule from late-night television comics, McDonnell tweaked the bill to require only non-intrusive abdominal ultrasounds…

Well, maybe a little stupid. McDonnell commented:

“Mandating an invasive procedure in order to give informed consent is not a proper role for the state… No person should be directed to undergo an invasive procedure by the state, without their consent, as a precondition to another medical procedure.”

In McDonnell’s Virginia, a proper role for the state is to mandate pointless, potentially humiliating and fiscally wasteful procedures, not invasive ones.

THREE: Warrior within What, Now?

Wasilla High School last appeared in Take Five when then-principal Dwight Probasco first barred the school’s “symphonic jazz” choir from performing the Queen classic “Bohemian Rhapsody” following a purported complaint from a parent about composer Freddie Mercury’s sexual orientation, and later permitted them to sing an abridged version which omitted the lines about the song’s narrator killing a man.

Probasco has since retired, and I’m sure new principal Amy Spargo hoped her administration could get underway without controversy. Guess again, Ms. Spargo:

Jim Dault and Shala Dobson are proud to display their artwork at Wasilla High School. After all, the Meadow Lakes artists are Valley residents and have a familial connection with the school.

That’s why Jan. 29 was an exciting day, Dault said. That’s the day they installed their sculpture “Warrior Within” in front of the Mat-Su Borough School District’s largest high school. Three days later, however, the $100,000 work of art, contracted through the state’s Percent For Art Program, was covered by tarps and has remained under wraps since.

The reason? Some students think the stone and concrete sculpture that features a pair of shields surrounded by feathers resembles female genitalia…

Spargo ordered the sculpture covered pending review by a committee of parents, teachers, students and admin staff. The piece, though, had already been reviewed and approved by a committee convened under Alaska’s Percent for Art program (which mandates that one percent of capital construction costs of public buildings be devoted to public art). It had also been approved in advance by the Mat-Su Borough school district. The principal, however, is determined to pursue the matter her way, although she doesn’t exempt herself from criticism:

Spargo said she welcomes all opinions to the debate, but those who cry censorship “never had to run a school before. This is my judgment on how to move forward. The artists have been delightful people, they’re wonderful professionals, they delivered what the contract says. … But the (negative) response was large, and it was pretty consistent that there wasn’t a lot of appreciation; however, I don’t think there was any prep work on my part to prepare the student body for it. It’s a great concept about thinking about what it really means to be a warrior.”

I’ve always assumed being a warrior had something to do with strength, courage and resolve, even when confronted with something (very vaguely) reminiscent of female genitalia. Continue reading Take Five (The Boys of Bummer edition)

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Take Five (Dejection Year edition)

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ONE: Deck the halls with boughs of folly…

This is the 43rd edition of Take Five, which celebrates its first anniversary next Monday – or would, were the world not perched perilously on the precipice of a moral abyss unprecedented in the majestic sweep of the last, say, six and a half months.

Back in May, I commented on a decision by Dwight Probasco, principal of Wasilla High School, to drop Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” from the school’s graduation ceremonies repertoire following a parent’s complaint that the song was inappropriate due to its composer’s sexual orientation. An abridged version of the song ended up being performed by the school’s “symphonic jazz” choir, though, and so legendary Wasilla – proud crystal meth capital of Alaska and the place where Sarah Palin reads, oh, pretty much all the newspapers and magazines that have been in front of her over all these years – forfeited its claim to being the Last Bulwark against the Gay AgendaTM.

That daunting mantle had to be picked up 2,756 miles southeast, in Traverse City, Michigan, where Cherry Knoll Elementary School has been gearing up for this year’s Christmas concert. As the program came together, the school’s music teacher boldly decided to alter the lyrics of “Deck the Halls” to avoid having the children sing about “gay apparel,” as the term purportedly caused the kids to giggle.

Following widespread criticism, school principal Chris Parker has since decreed that the young warblers revert back to the original lyrics. America’s desperate search for the Last Bulwark against the Gay AgendaTM continues.

TWO: Panic in Detroit

Elsewhere in Michigan, another city seems poised to fall under the fiscal control of the state government. Michigan’s Emergency Financial Manager Act of 1990 was updated last March, a change which:

… allows the state to review local governments’ fiscal standing sooner and take more actions to prevent bankruptcy…

Under the new law, Michigan’s emergency financial managers have extensive authority. They can reject, modify or terminate any collective bargaining agreement, recommend dissolution of the local government or recommend bankruptcy as a last resort. However, the courts can revoke a manager’s control if the court finds it to be based on insufficient documentation and evidence, or if the decision to assert emergency control is found to be arbitrary and capricious.

That this legislation occurred under Governor Rick Snyder is reason enough to think it’s a bad thing. “Arbitrary and capricious” pretty much sums up Snyder’s entire approach to governing. It’s not much of a stretch to believe that it’s simply another way to erode public sector workers’ rights and subvert municipal self-determination. Of course, there are alternative views:

… Tom Wieczorek, director of the Washington-based International City/County Management Association’s Center for Public Safety Management and a retired city manager from Michigan, says the new Michigan law is designed as a better alternative to bankruptcy…

Although they too smell just a little off:

… Wieczorek says other states could pass similar laws, just as the idea of placing limitations on public employees’ collective bargaining rights spread from Wisconsin to other states. “It just seems lately to be a trend, what starts in one state moves across [to others],” he says.

In April, Benton Harbor became the first municipality in Michigan affected by the revised act, later joined by Flint and Pontiac. This week, Snyder’s government began a review of Detroit’s financial situation. Depending on the outcome, Detroit might be next.

Detroit Mayor Dave Bing, a Democrat, has already incurred the wrath of public employees by proposing to lay off 1,000 city employees and negotiating 10 percent pay cuts with those who would keep their jobs. AFSCME has declared its willingness to cooperate with the city government, but reaching a compromise is bound to be difficult and painful. Without one, though, it’s a safe bet that Lansing will step in.

So how might state control of Detroit work? If Pontiac and Benton Harbor are any indication, it wouldn’t be pretty:

As Benton Harbor’s emergency manager, Joe Harris has ordered firefighter cross-training for police officers, which reduced public-safety costs by a third.

He also negotiated new collective-bargaining agreements with many unions, forcing Benton Harbor employees to pay 20 percent of their health care premiums and contribute 10 percent of their wages to pensions.

In Pontiac, emergency manager Lou Schimmel dismissed the city clerk, the city attorney and the head of public works. He’s also taken smaller steps, such as removing parking meters that cost too much to maintain. And he hopes to save $3 million by having the neighboring community of Waterford take over fire protection.

Legal challenges against the revised act on grounds of unconstitutionality are pending. I hope they get expedited. Any day now, Snyder might decide that Michigan can no longer afford courts. Continue reading Take Five (Dejection Year edition)

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Take Five (Who'da Thunk It edition)

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ONE: Scumhog Millionaire et al.

Donald Trump wrapped up his latest and most Rococo exercise in crass, self-aggrandizing buffoonery on Monday with the altogether unsurprising announcement that he has decided not to vie for the GOP Presidential nomination after all.

Trump used the opportunity both to pat himself vigorously on the back and to indulge in some rank untruths, all of which was also altogether unsurprising:

“This decision does not come easily or without regret, especially when my potential candidacy continues to be validated by ranking at the top of the Republican contenders in polls across the country.”

What Trump should have said is “ranking down there with ditch water,” since his Icarus-like fall from political favor has been swift, despite most Republican voters being unable to distinguish Shineola from, let’s say, um, Santorum:

Trump’s support for the Republican nomination fell from 26 percent in April to just eight percent in early May in surveys done by Public Policy Polling.

The announcement came hot on the heels of Mike Huckabee’s admission a couple of days earlier that he doesn’t particularly feel like getting his ass kicked by Barack Obama next year either:

“All the factors say go, but my heart says no.”

Trump was quick to offer up this ludicrous tidbit of congratulation and commentary on the Huckabee announcement:

“Mike Huckabee is not going to be running for president. This might be considered by some people, not necessarily me, bad news because he is a terrific guy — and frankly I think he would be a terrific president. But a lot of people are very happy that he will not be running, especially other candidates. So, Mike, enjoy the show. Your ratings are terrific. You’re making a lot of money. You’re building a beautiful house in Florida. Good luck.”

Now, you might be thinking at this point that the race for the Republican nomination just got a little more rational. And you would be dead wrong:

Rep. Michele Bachmann said Tuesday she’s close to deciding whether to jump into the 2012 presidential race, and she suggested that Mike Huckabee’s and Donald Trump’s exits from the field make it more likely she’ll get in.

Huckabee’s and Trump’s decisions have “changed the grass roots and what they’re looking for,” the Minnesota congresswoman said on Fox News Channel on Tuesday. “Our phones have been ringing off the hook, our Facebook has been lit up, our donations are pouring in. People are saying ‘Michele jump in, we want you to run.’’

Bachmann has decided to utilize a two-tier approach to campaign fundraising:

… asking supporters to choose to donate small amounts if they want her to stay in the House, or larger amounts if they want her to pursue the presidency.

No word yet on how big a donation is required if one simply wants her to shut up and disappear, but I have my checkbook handy. Continue reading Take Five (Who’da Thunk It edition)

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Take Five (governor-free edition)

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ONE: Silent treatment.

Years ago I heard a (probably apocryphal) story about the only two cars in Pennsylvania colliding with each other in the very early years of the 20th century.

In an odd sort of inverse version of the tale, it seems the last two remaining speakers of the Ayapaneco language are not on speaking terms:

The language of Ayapaneco has been spoken in the land now known as Mexico for centuries. It has survived the Spanish conquest, seen off wars, revolutions, famines and floods. But now, like so many other indigenous languages, it’s at risk of extinction.

There are just two people left who can speak it fluently – but they refuse to talk to each other. Manuel Segovia, 75, and Isidro Velazquez, 69, live 500 metres apart in the village of Ayapa in the tropical lowlands of the southern state of Tabasco. It is not clear whether there is a long-buried argument behind their mutual avoidance, but people who know them say they have never really enjoyed each other’s company.

A last-ditch effort to preserve something of the language has thus become a battle against not only mortality, but stubborn human nature.

“They don’t have a lot in common,” says Daniel Suslak, a linguistic anthropologist from Indiana University, who is involved with a project to produce a dictionary of Ayapaneco. Segovia, he says, can be “a little prickly” and Velazquez, who is “more stoic,” rarely likes to leave his home.

As a registered Democrat, I can sympathize with Professor Suslak. Nineteen months out from the next election, Democrats can’t seem to resist shunning each other. When they’re not colliding, that is. Continue reading Take Five (governor-free edition)

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