Stormy Monday, 5/26/14

StormyMondayAfter his invigorating Memorial Day weekend trip to Afghanistan, the President leaves the storied delights of Bagram Airfield behind for the shilling fields of DC. No wonder he’s planning to get out of town again by midweek, when he’ll head to West Point to deliver a commencement address focused on foreign policy, advocating what one Administration official calls “interventionism but not overreach.”

But before he gets that far, on Tuesday the President plays host to the fifth annual White House Science Fair. This year’s edition celebrates the achievements of women and girls in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) competitions nationwide.

Speaking of the President, Senator Ted Cruz, intrepid Texan-Canadian-Cuban defender of all things he considers Constitutional, warned last Thursday that the wily Kenyan Usurper and his Senate henchmen are goiing to repeal the First Amendment. Will it happen this week? You never know. Stay vigilant, and keep a bag packed in case you have to flee the house ahead of the secret police coming to haul you off to that FEMA camp you heard tell was being built out there in the woods past Transit Road.

Tuesday, voters will decide whether veteran Congressman Ralph Hall – 91 years old and a lurid example of that weirdest of political creatures, a Democrat turned Republican – should get another kick at the can, or whether he has already done sufficient damage to the Republic and should be replaced by the even more odious John Ratcliffe. If you’re a voter in the Texas 4th, well, to paraphrase Simon and Garfunkel, “any way you look at it, you lose.”

Edward Snowden’s first interview with US mainstream media appears Wednesday, when NBC airs a sit-down he taped with the oleaginous Brian Williams in Moscow last week. I reckon the odds of Williams eliciting anything probative are roughly the same as Snowden’s chances of returning home to a tickertape parade and a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

With John Conyers’ name back on the primary ballot by order of US District Court Judge Matthew Leitman last Friday, all eyes are on Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson, who has until June 6 to appeal the reinstatement before the ballot is officially certified. With Conyers on the ballot or as a write-in candidate, the primary will be held on August 5. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 5/26/14

Take Five (Zero Worship edition)

ONE: I Just Can’t Quit Her

She might be an obscure political footnote waiting to happen, but Michele Bachmann will always be heroic to me. Even among her fellow House Republicans, few would even try to yearn to aspire to attempt to emulate her straight-up weirdness, seemingly involuntary lying, and relentless misunderstanding of pretty much everything about everything. Unlike wannabes such as the suspiciously non-contiguous Sarah Palin or the implosion-primed Nikki Haley, Bachmann is truly the GOP’s current It Girl.

As I mentioned a few weeks back, Bachmann kicked off the 113th Congress by unsuccessfully trying to repeal Obamacare. Yes, that’s something the House Majority does compulsively at this point, like meth or knuckle cracking, but Bachmann brought a whole new level of earnest sincerity to this nasty habit:

That’s why we’re here because we’re saying let’s repeal this failure before it literally kills women, kills children, kills senior citizens. Let’s not do that. Let’s love people, let’s care about people. Let’s repeal it now while we can…

ThinkProgress managing editor Igor Volsky covered himself completely with dust and glory in his enviably nimble reporting on Bachmann’s speech:

Moments after calling for the complete repeal of a law that will extend health care coverage to 30 million Americans, Bachmann claimed that her belief in Christ inspires her to care “for the least of those who are in our midst.” After she completed her remarks, fellow Republican Rep. Michael Burgess (TX) observed that the Minnesota Congresswoman “has a way of stating these things that none of us are capable of.”

Yes, she certainly has a unique way of going about all kinds of things, so unique that the Office of Congressional Ethics has apparently developed something of a fascination with it:

The Daily Beast has learned that federal investigators are now interviewing former Bachmann campaign staffers nationwide about alleged intentional campaign-finance violations… investigators have allegedly asked about allegations of improper transfer of funds and under-the-table payments actions by Bachmann’s presidential campaign…

In a piece last weekend, Charles M. Blow of the New York Times insisted:

People like Bachmann represent everything that is wrong with the Republican Party. She and her colleagues are hyperbolic, reactionary, ill-informed and ill-intentioned, and they have become synonymous with the Republican brand. We don’t need all politicians to be Mensa-worthy, but we do expect them to be cogent and competent.

Sorry, but please speak for yourself, Mr. Blow. I expect no such thing, at least from Republicans.

As for you, Michele Bachmann, long may you run, be it for office or from the law.

TWO: Pride and Prejudice and Piss and Vinegar

Bachmann isn’t the ’12 cycle’s only failed Republican hopeful still attracting headlines. Two of her primary rivals are at the center of a fascinating new story by Joshua Green of Businessweek:

As Mitt Romney struggled in the weeks leading up to the Michigan primary, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum nearly agreed to form a joint “Unity Ticket” to consolidate conservative support and topple Romney.

Damn. As much as I loved seeing Barack Obama and Joe Biden beat Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, I reckon I’d have loved seeing Obama and Biden beat Gingrich and Santorum just a little more. Or should that be Santorum and Gingrich?

… the negotiations collapsed in acrimony because Gingrich and Santorum could not agree on who would get to be president.

Poor bastards should have called me; I could have told them the only one who would get to be President was the guy who already had been for four years.

Like Gingrich, Santorum has fallen back on public speaking gigs, continuously augmenting an already lengthy record demonstrating why he’s unfit to hold any elected office, of any kind, anywhere, ever. Santorum, essentially, is very hard to distinguish from a vile little bigot:

… during a speech in Naples [Florida]… Santorum… said he found that Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama lacked leadership in defending the U.S. against the threats of radical Islam.

“I’m not talking about all Muslims, just like I’m not talking about all Christians and all Jews. The Christian faith, the dominant religion in the west, and the Islamic faith, come down to two men, Jesus Christ and Mohammed,” he said.

“Jesus did not fight, rule or reign. Mohammed fought, killed, ruled, conquered and governed,” Santorum said.

In a clear indication that Santorum slept through every stinking thing that happened in the world from his regrettable birth in 1958 right up until the moment he took the stage, his grubby little stem-winder included this astounding pseudo-observation:

“We are about to hand off to our children, grandchildren, the most destabilized, threatening world we’ve ever seen,” he said.

Ironically, he would have been eloquently correct had he been talking about catastrophic climate change, but Santorum is on record as a stalwart climate change denialist, who once sneered on the campaign trail:

“… an absolute travesty of scientific research that was motivated by those who, in my opinion, saw this as an opportunity to create a panic and a crisis for government to be able to step in and even more greatly control your life.”

Vexing as you and I might find it, Santorum’s refusal to go away is a timely morale boost for the vile little bigot wing of the Republican Party (often referred to simply as “the Republican Party”) since said wing might soon have to adjust to the tragedy of life without vile little bigot Gary Bauer. Bauer might be irrelevant now to all but three or four other Republicans – who are probably related to him – and he quite possibly spends most of his time floating in a jar of formaldehyde on a shelf in a dark K Street basement, but he spoke Tuesday at a DC march organized by the National Organization for [some] Marriage, waving his stunted little saber valiantly at the Republican Party and the spring sky over the National Mall, and declaring the preservation of marriage inequality his personal line in the litmus:

“… if you bail out on this issue, I will leave the party and I will take as many people with me as I possibly can.”

I guess I’m a sentimental fool, but somehow I find it touching that Gary Bauer is still out there on the front lines of the 21st century, fighting to keep a Republican Party recklessly flirting with the 20th stuck firmly in the 19th. And the Unhappy Warrior has company, such as the equally post-relevant Mike Huckabee:

When asked by the website Newsmax “if he sees the GOP ever pivoting and backing gay marriage,” Huckabee admitted they might.

“And if they do, they’re going to lose a large part of their base because evangelicals will take a walk…”

As someone who’s been suggesting they take a walk for years now, I for one can’t wait.

THREE: Neighborhood Watch

Speaking of raging bigots, the festering sore on the body politic known as the Westboro Baptist Church is still widely acknowledged as an on-point answer to the question: What’s the matter with Kansas? But Fred Phelps’ hatemongering Topeka “church” couldn’t deter a decorative new neighbor from settling in right across 12th Street, a gay-rights center, complete with rainbow-painted clapboard and a conspicuous Pride flag:

The center is the work of a roving do-gooder named Aaron Jackson, a 31-year-old community-college dropout whose other projects have included opening orphanages in India and Haiti and buying a thousand acres of endangered rain forest in Peru. This year, his charity, Planting Peace, also intends to de-worm every child in Guatemala.

While Planting Peace works for a worm-free Guatemala, the folks across the street will be equally busy. Currently, they’re gearing up to picket not only the Final Four at the Georgia Dome, but Kansas City concerts by Bon Jovi (who apparently “stood by silently” while gay people “took over this nation”), Itzhak Perlman (for killing Jesus), Carrie Underwood (for “promoting sin and shame”) and Fleetwood Mac (because “singer Stevie Nicks proudly joins fellow sodomitical harlots Lady Gaga, Cher and Madonna as a well known ‘gay icon’”).

Is it just me or is Sodomitical Harlots the greatest band name ever? Oh, and call me petty, but why, when I simply want to know what the Westbores are up to, do I have to wander around 10 of their deeply hideous websites? Why can’t they just put everything together under one convenient URL, like GodHatesEveryoneButUs.com? Continue reading Take Five (Zero Worship edition)

Take Five (Summer of Shove edition)

ONE: Piggies

Summer began yesterday, and with both the weather and election campaigns heating up, intelligent public discourse and basic civility continue to decline at alarming rates.

Dearborn’s 17th Arab International Festival last weekend drew thousands of Arab Americans and a dozen bigoted morons. The “Bible Believers” are a group of so-called Christians who staged a missionary event on Friday evening near the festival site. One of them carried a pig’s head on a pole. Others carried signs with sentiments like “Muhammad… is a… liar, false prophet, murderer, child molesting pervert.”

The goal was to convert Muslims in attendance to Christianity. Now, I’m no psychic, but my guess would be that the effort was pretty much one-hundred-percent unsuccessful. The thuggish spectacle was not repeated on Saturday, but only because the “Bible Believers” evidently had other fish to fry:

… they’ll be protesting a gay festival in Ohio, said Arab Festival organizers.

So much hate, so little time.

Speaking of pigs, the Montana GOP convention was also held last weekend, featuring the dubious delights of an appearance by Newt Gingrich and a raffle for a shotgun, a shovel and a roll of duct tape. Also on display was a splendid example of the right wing’s idea of humor:

… an outhouse labeled “Obama Presidential Library” parked outside Missoula’s Hilton Garden Inn, where the convention took place…

The outhouse was painted to look as though it had been riddled by bullets.

Inside, a fake birth certificate for Barack Hussein Obama made reference to the disproven controversy over the president’s origins. It was stamped “Bull––.” A graffito advised “For a Good Time call 800-Michelle (crossed out), Hillary (crossed out) and Pelosi (circled in red.)”

State GOP Chairman Will Deschamps of Missoula said he didn’t know who’d brought the outhouse, but dismissed it as “a sideshow.”

Actually, sir, it’s your entire party that is the sideshow, and I hope someday soon American voters in the millions will finally decide that they’re sick of the damned circus. Speaking of circuses, some dull-witted clown named Barbara Espinosa recently had a few things to say about President Obama:

A radio talk host based in Arizona referred to President Obama last week as “the first monkey president.”

Barbara Espinosa made the remark on her show, “Hair on Fire,” after a caller described Obama as a communist with “rabbit ears.”

“Well, I don’t call him ‘rabbit ears,’ I call him a monkey,” she told the caller. “I don’t believe in calling him the first black president, I call him the first monkey president… I voted for the white guy, myself,” referring to Obama’s 2008 opponent, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)

Espinosa later doubled down on her remarks:

When outrage erupted over her racist comments, Espinosa wrote a post on her website entitled “YES! I Did Use the Word Monkey and Obama in same sentence.”

On the website post, she wrote: “To set the record straight I did use the word monkey and Obama in the same sentence. Yes I did say I voted for the white guy. Unless there has been a takeover of America and free speech is no longer allowed and I can be put to death for making a remark, I refuse to take the fifth.”

Strangely enough, I just went over to the sewer that Ms. Free Speech calls her blog and there’s not a trace of the post. Did I miss “a takeover of America” or is it possible that Espinosa actually found a shame reflex somewhere in the murky shallows of her reptile brain?

TWO: “If we appear to seek the unattainable…”

Last Friday marked the 50th anniversary of the Port Huron Statement, the foundational manifesto of the Students for a Democratic Society. After half a century, what’s most striking about the Port Huron Statement is its undiminished immediacy, and while that is partly attributable to the timelessness of its themes, it is also because so many of its goals are as dauntingly beyond reach now as they were then.

The document’s main author, Tom Hayden, was 22 at the time. Looking back, he notes that 1962 was not at all representative of the Sixties as they are generally remembered:

The chronology is important to bear in mind. This was all before the assassination of John F Kennedy, before the publication of Silent Spring, before The Feminine Mystique, before the Beatles, before black power, before LSD and, above all, before the decision to send American combat troops to Vietnam, in 1965. An old world was cracking open and we were the first to try defining what we called “an agenda for our generation”.

In another reminiscence, Hayden links the Port Huron Statement directly to current activism:

Recently, I saw the same spirit… in the actions of undocumented undergraduates risking deportation to stand up for the [DREAM] Act. I saw it in the Wisconsin movement to recall Gov. Scott Walker, and in Occupy Wall Street’s insistence that 1% of the population shouldn’t control such a vast portion of the country’s wealth. (In fact, that felt like a direct echo of the Port Huron Statement, which complained in 1962 that 1% of Americans owned 80% of all corporate stock, and that their percentage of all wealth had remained constant since the 1920s, in spite of the New Deal reforms.)

These new movements have grown up because courageous people saw wrong and decided to push for what was right. And if they should begin to grow cynical or discouraged by how difficult it is to make change, they might consider how things looked to us in 1962. As we put it in the final words of the Port Huron Statement:

“If we appear to seek the unattainable, as it has been said, then let it be known that we do so to avoid the unimaginable.”

Hayden also sounds a cautionary note:

… we turned on ourselves in mad sectarian squabbles. Having once reached a membership of 100,000 with virtually no budget, SDS was finished as an organization just six years after it was born.

THREE: V for Vagina

I can’t imagine what the SDS founders would have thought about the “vagina” controversy unfolding 50 years and 100 miles away in Lansing. For starters, they would might shocked to see the word “vagina” appearing in print outside a medical textbook, but of course a lot of things have changed in half a century. Or have they?

It began Wednesday of last week with Democratic legislator Lisa Brown’s now-famous comments about Michigan Republicans’ newest scheme to rob women of their reproductive rights:

Michigan State Rep. Lisa Brown (D) made her comments during a Wednesday debate on proposed legislation that critics say could effectively ban abortions in the state. ”I have not asked you to adopt and adhere to my religious beliefs,” she said. “Why are you asking me to adopt yours? And finally, Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but no means no.”

The legislation, contained in three separate bills, would limit abortions by restricting procedures past 20 weeks of pregnancy, imposing new insurance and licensing requirements on clinics, limiting access to abortion drugs and placing new requirements on the tissue disposal process.

For the temerity of speaking her mind as a woman and a legislator on an issue affecting all women in Michigan, Brown was barred from participating in floor debates, on any topic, for a day. A fellow Democrat, Barb Byrum, was given a similar penalty for “shout[ing] at the presiding officer after she was not recognized to speak”:

Ari Adler is the spokesman for the House Republican leadership.

“It is the responsibility of every member who serves in the House of Representatives to maintain decorum on the House floor and when they do not do that, there can be actions because of that. And the action today is to not recognize either representative to speak on the House floor,” he said.

Last Saturday, Brown penned an eloquent op-ed for the Detroit News, noting:

One of my counterparts, Rep. Mike Callton, R-Nashville, said “vagina” is such a disturbing word that he would never deign to use it in the presence of women or “mixed company.” This, from a man who earned a bachelor’s degree in biology…

These lawmakers — predominantly men — have no problem passing laws about my vagina. But when I dared mention its name, they became outraged.

You know what? I am outraged, too.

I am outraged that this legislative body wants to dictate not only what women can do, but also what we can say. I am outraged that the leaders of the House want to rob me and my constituents of their voice in Lansing. And I am outraged that they think they can do these things with impunity.

Vowing “I am going to speak out anyway,” Brown did just that on Monday, appearing in a reading of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues outside the Capitol building alongside other state legislators and the playwright herself. The event was a great success:

At least a few thousand women and at most a few hundred men thronged the state Capitol lawn Monday evening in an event that was equal parts angry political protest of the Legislature’s push to tighten abortion law and playful celebration of women and what was once called their private parts.

Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing, was the first speaker of the evening, announcing: “Welcome to all of you and your lady parts!”

The event was a lesson in creative signage. Angela Ash, 25, of Grand Rapids held aloft “Keep Your Mitts off my bitts.”

… Another hand-painted sign in the middle of the crowd said: “I Didn’t Come From Your Rib. You Came From My Vagina.”

For all the poker-faced denials, all the smokescreens, all the misleading doubletalk and all the sanctimony, the War on Women is real, it’s dangerous and it’s getting worse by the day, and despite the magnificent fighting spirit of Lisa Brown and her allies, they need to watch their backs. There are 64 Republicans in the Michigan House, but the first of the three anti-choice bills passed by a vote of 70-39. Continue reading Take Five (Summer of Shove edition)

Take Five (Wild, Wild Life edition)

ONE: “Turkeys are bad enough.”

Not that there had been much suspense about it beforehand, but Arizona Governor Jan Brewer made her loyalties in the Republican Party’s War on Women abundantly clear when she suffered mild friction burns in her haste to sign the Women’s Health and Safety Act into law.

The bill has nothing to do with women’s health and safety, of course. It’s just another iteration of the standard Republican end-run around women’s reproductive rights, comparable to those already implemented in various other states:

… the law includes education in public schools prioritizing birth and adoption, signs throughout health-care facilities warning against abortion “coercion,” and an order for the state health department to create and maintain a website touting alternatives to abortion and displaying images of fetuses. Also required is abortion counseling for women aiming to abort pregnancies due to fetal abnormalities, and if the abnormality is certain to be fatal, the counseling incorporates perinatal hospice information before ending the pregnancy. It reaffirms existing barriers to access, like the requirement of a notarized parental consent form for minors and a mandatory ultrasound screening within 24 hours of having an abortion.

Brewer’s stance on another issue, however, was a little more surprising. She vetoed for a second time a bill that would have allowed firearms to be carried on public property, although the veto was motivated by fiscal and consensus concerns rather than ideological ones:

“The decisions to permit or prohibit guns in these extremely sensitive locations — whether a city council chamber or branch office staffed with state workers — should be cooperatively reached and supported by a broad coalition of stakeholders, including citizens, law-enforcement officials and local government leaders,” Brewer wrote in her veto letter…

House Bill 2729… proposed making it legal for people to enter public property with a weapon unless the property was secured by either a state or federal certified law-enforcement officer or an armed security guard and metal detectors…

Cities, counties, law-enforcement agencies and business organizations opposed it, saying they would have had to either let guns into buildings where the public would rather not have them or pay millions of dollars to provide the security required to keep them out.

A study conducted by legislative staff estimates that security costs for a government entity to ban guns could have ranged from $5,000 to $113,800 per public entrance in the first year with ongoing costs of $54,400 to $108,800 per year.

Hey, scoff if you must, but if you want smart policy from an administration like Brewer’s, it’s invariably going to be unintentional.

Elsewhere on the gun (out-of-) control front, an Oklahoma legislator recently offered up a novel rationale for the open-carry bill that recently passed out of committee and is headed for a legislative vote. Ralph Shortey, a – surprise! – Republican, treated fellow members of the Senate Committee on Public Safety to this harrowing anecdote:

“I was in oil and gas,” Shortey said. “I was out on a lease at one time and I got attacked by a turkey. Wait until you get attacked by a turkey. You will know the fear that a turkey can invoke in a person. And so I beat it with a club. That was all I could do.

“I wish that I had a gun with me,” he said. “And I started carrying a gun in my truck after that without a license because I didn’t want to get attacked by a mountain lion. Turkeys are bad enough.”

Maybe I’m naïve, but it seems to me that all this proves is that Oklahoma should consider an open-carry law for clubs. If they’re good enough for Shortey, they should be good enough for everyone else.

TWO: “… one of these massive, nuclear submarine-type sturgeon.”

It’s a pleasure to report that, despite Scott Walker’s worst intentions, at least one part of Wisconsin’s government is still functional, the Department of Natural Resources.

Near Shawano, DNR wardens recently discovered a sturgeon reckoned to be 125 years old. The fish was laying eggs in the Wolf River, over 30 pounds’ worth. The sturgeon’s length was measured at seven feet, three inches, and its weight at 240 pounds.

Said Wisconsin DNR sturgeon biologist Ron Bruch: “I knew they were out there and I thought, ‘We finally got one of these massive, nuclear submarine-type sturgeon.’”

The wardens kindly tagged and released the fish before Wisconsin Republicans could take a cleaver to it like they have everything else in the state.

THREE: Do you know the way to San Jose? And could someone please turn up the heat in here?

Two recent incidents indicate that the TSA might finally have succeeded in its apparent mission to drive air travelers completely bonkers.

On April 10, a woman lit up a cigarette in a nonsmoking area of the B Concourse at Denver International. Asked to extinguish the cigarette, she complied. Then she removed her clothing. Whatever the relevance may be to the smoking and/or the stripping, the woman told Denver police officers that she hadn’t slept the night before (the incident occurred at about 8:45 in the morning). She was later taken to an area hospital for a medical assessment.

You’re probably thinking this was just a weird, one-off occurrence, worthy of a smile but not a second thought. Not so fast, gentle reader. Consider a question recently posed by Gothamist:

So is naked TSA protesting now a trend?

Well, maybe. A week after the Denver incident, one John Brennan, bound for San Jose, California, was going through security screening at Portland International. At some point in the process, Brennan decided to – whoops! – take his clothes off, too:

Police charged John E. Brennan with disorderly conduct and indecent exposure after he disrobed while going through the security screening area at the airport Tuesday evening.

“When interviewed about his actions, Mr. Brennan stated he fly’s (sic) a lot and had disrobed as a form of protest against TSA screeners who he felt were harassing him,” a police incident report said…

“Mr. Brennan’s actions caused two screening lanes to be closed and while some passengers covered their eyes and their children’s eyes and moved away from the screening area, others stepped out of the screening lanes to look, laugh and take photos of Mr. Brennan,” the police report said.

Which, for the latter group mentioned, at least, put a little fun back into the reliably crappy experience of modern air travel.

Gothamist didn’t venture into woo territory searching for a connection between the two incidents, but there’s no reason why I shouldn’t. Who’s to say that there isn’t something nefarious afoot here? Some plot to destabilize America via inconvenient nudity? Some weird George A. Romero scenario, but instead of becoming zombies, the infected attack an unsuspecting world by jiggling their jiggly bits at them in inopportune settings? Or maybe Brennan was just on something?

He was not intoxicated or under the influence of drugs at the time, police said.

Until further data is available, I guess I’ll just go with the Romero scenario, then. I hope at least the judge remembers to thank Brennan for not smoking. Continue reading Take Five (Wild, Wild Life edition)

Take Five (Dejection Year edition)

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)

Take Five (Rapture-Almost-Ready edition)

ONE: 21 is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.

Back in 1942, the University of California at Berkeley awarded a Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering to Harold Egbert Camping. That wouldn’t be unusual, except that Camping seems to have no mathematical aptitude whatsoever. And/or he’s just a liar.

Camping, a self-taught Bible instructor, runs Family Radio International, which broadcasts on 66 stations, but he’s become much more famous for recurrent predictions about Armageddon. Most recently, he claimed May 21 was the drop-dead date. It was not:

The day after his prediction that the world would end on May 21, 2011 failed to materialize, Harold Camping told the San Francisco Chronicle he was “flabbergasted.”

Which is sort of an odd reaction, since he’s had egg on his face before:

Camping had previously predicted the Rapture would occur back in 1994. When it didn’t, he explained that an error in his mathematical computations from clues in the Bible were to blame, and he later revised his forecast.

This go-round, however, Camping was sure he had it sussed, and when it became clear that he didn’t, he embarked on a brief spiritual retreat:

Camping… said he felt so terrible when his doomsday message did not come true that he left home and took refuge in a motel with his wife.

Sufficiently cheered by a couple of days at the motel, he returned to the spotlight to announce that the correct, can’t-miss, this-time-for-sure date is October 21. He also managed to spin his May 21 prediction thus:

Through chatting with a friend over what he acknowledged was a very difficult weekend, it dawned on him that instead of the biblical Rapture in which the faithful would be swept up to the heavens, May 21 had instead been a “spiritual” Judgment Day, which places the entire world under Christ’s judgment, he said.

Ah, well, that must be it.

Camping’s problem with numbers was demonstrated once again when the topic shifted to money:

Camping offered no clues about Family Radio’s finances Monday, saying he could not estimate how much had been spent on getting out his prediction nor how much money the nonprofit had taken in as a result. In 2009, the nonprofit reported in IRS filings that it received $18.3 million in donations, and had assets of more than $104 million, including $34 million in stocks or other publicly traded securities.

But of course this isn’t about money. It’s about faith:

The globe will be completely destroyed in five months, he said, when the apocalypse comes.

“We’ve always said May 21 was the day, but we didn’t understand altogether the spiritual meaning,” he said. “The fact is there is only one kind of people who will ascend into heaven … if God has saved them they’re going to be caught up.”

I have no proof, but I suspect the motel already has a room reserved for two for October 22. Continue reading Take Five (Rapture-Almost-Ready edition)

ENOUGH!

To the Republicans: ENOUGH! Enough with the great over-reach of 2011 (hat-tip to Rachel Maddow). Enough with the union-busting, land-grabbing, kick-the-people-when-they’re-down crap.

What is happening in Benton Harbor, Michigan, is a prime example of land-grabbing and people-kicking. Thanks to Governor Rick Snyder’s actions, Joseph Harris, the Emergency Manager there, has “seized control over the duties and responsibilities held by Benton Harbor’s elected officials, its commissions, and its financial resources.” One of the specific things Harris has done is take an area on the lakefront, part of which is a public park that was deeded to the city “in perpetuity”, and handed it over to a group called Harbor Shores, which plans to turn it into a high-end golf resort with annual dues of $5,000. This in a city with an average annual income of $10,000.

Oh, and did I mention that the majority of the population of Benton Harbor is black? I’m sure that’s no coincidence.

Enough with giving more and more tax breaks to corporations and their rich buddies, while the rest of us have to carry the majority of the burden of those tax breaks on our backs. I think you believe we all live in Wonderland, where down is up, back is forward, and the Tea Party is running things. Most of us, except those who drink the swill you serve them daily, live in the real world. Most of us live paycheck to paycheck. Most of us don’t have lobbyists to fight for us (hat-tip to the President). Enough!

To the “news” outlets: ENOUGH! Enough with the infotainment you serve up daily as “news.” It’s not news. It’s scandal-mongering. It’s misleading headlines and stories full of lies. It’s paying a whole lot of attention to a gathering of a few hundred Tea Baggers and mostly or completely ignoring large protests against the Great Over-reachers of 2011. Enough with giving the Republicans and Teapublicans significantly more time on the air than you give Democrats and other sane people.

Don’t believe me? Check out the line-ups for most of the Sunday talk shows (This Week, Meet the Press, and Face the Nation). On February 13, 2011 alone, there were 7 Republicans spread among those three shows, and zero Democrats. Harry Reid was supposed to be on Face the Nation, but was bumped for the umpteenth appearance by John McCain (a Republican, in case you weren’t aware). I won’t even bother with Fox; they are blatantly anti-Democratic. Continue reading ENOUGH!