Monday, July 20, 2015
Uber has begun televising a new ad today. Three individuals, one each from the South Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens, testify to the near-impossibility of finding a cab in their neighborhoods. At least until Uber rode (or drove) to the rescue.
These claims are straight-up lies.
As it happens, I live fairly close to the South Bronx and have good friends who rent an apartment near the Grand Concourse and East 167th Street. In addition, my wife and I often take the Bx19 bus from Broadway and E. 145th Street in Manhattan to the New York Botanical Gardens in the Bronx. The Bx19’s route traverses much of the South Bronx. I can thus testify, from personal experience, that the major streets in the Bronx are well-serviced by livery vehicles that readily accept street hails. In addition, a simple Google search for car services in the 10451 zip code revealed numerous companies willing to dispatch a cab upon receiving a phone call.
Over the past week or so, the livery company, Uber, has been running a television ad on both cable and broadcast networks in the New York region. The ad isn’t intended to attract new riders. It’s meant to galvanize public opinion against legislation pending in the New York City Council. Tellingly, however, the City Council is not the villain in this piece. Instead, Uber’s vitriol is reserved for Mayor Bill de Blasio.
This ad not only contains a remarkable number of lies of omission, but plays the race card in a heavy-handed manner.
Six Uber “driver-partners”, all recognizably African-American or Latino, speak directly to viewers. Jashiel addresses the audience first. “People,” he explains, “have access to an Uber in places where they never thought they’d be able to be picked up.” Joel follows: “We live in five boroughs. They should be able to go anywhere they want to.” Lassana then switches topics, telling us, “We don’t just pick up people. We pick ourselves up.”
But they can’t pick themselves up, or serve an underserved public, because De Blasio has surrendered to the taxi industry and is depriving people like Jashiel, Joel, Lassana, Luisa and Moises of the jobs they desperately need to better their lives.
The ad is so deceptive it’s hard to know where to begin, but let’s start with the outright deceptions.
New York City’s transportation needs, aside from the subway and bus systems, are served by the familiar yellow cabs, by the new green cabs that operate in northern Manhattan and the outer boroughs, and by livery cabs that are supposed to accept only radio calls, but have been picking up street hails for many decades. Two other categories, Black cars and limousines, are irrelevant here.
I live in the West Harlem neighborhood of Hamilton Heights, a neighborhood supposed ill-served by the current system, but I can assure that I have never waited more than two minutes without being picked up by a cab, be it yellow, green or livery. This is equally true in the outer boroughs wherever population densities are high enough to support cruising cabs. Uber, just another livery service at bottom, adds nothing to this mix. Beyond that, a map released by Uber reveals that Uber users are concentrated in lower Manhattan and the Brooklyn waterfront across the East River. Brooklyn’s interior, Queens and the Bronx are actually blank.
That brings me to the lies of omission. First, Uber would have you believe that drivers readily respond to calls from NYC housing projects like the Van Dyke House in Brownsville, Brooklyn. This is unbelievable on its face. It becomes even more unlikely when you factor in the first lie of omission: Uber drivers do not have to accept jobs. They can refuse a job for any reason at all, including pickups in dangerous neighborhoods.
But that brings me to the second lie of omission. Drivers really don’t have to worry about calls to housing projects because in order to use Uber, patrons must have a smartphone and a credit card on file with the company, two barriers the very poor are unlikely to overcome. Again, as Uber’s own figures reveal, Uber customers and Uber vehicles are tightly concentrated in the lower Manhattan and the mostly-gentrified neighborhoods of northern Brooklyn.
Two further lies of omission seal the deceptive deal.
First, Uber’s ad would have you believe that de Blasio, a slave to the “taxi industry”, is trying to destroy Uber, but the legislation limits the growth of the entire livery sector, and only for one year while the Taxi and Limousine Commission gathers data on traffic congestion.
Second, the spokespeople who appear in the ad claim that driving for Uber is the opportunity of a lifetime. In truth, Uber drivers throughout the country, far from lauding the company’s business model, have engaged in many protests against Uber’s practices. One common complaint is that Uber expands too rapidly, leaving drivers unable to make a living. Another complaint, that drivers are forced to accept discounts designed to increase volume, has gone unaddressed by Uber. Drivers further complain that although Uber tells its customers that the tip is included in price of a ride, drivers are only paid the amount of the fare, and that only after Uber deducts its twenty percent commission and the sales tax, another eight-and-a-quarter percent.
I could go further, but I don’t see the need. The ad is not only deceptive with its talk of underserved neighborhoods that are not, in fact, served by Uber, but as I’ve already written, there’s not a Caucasian or an Asian in the mix. Uber is playing the race card, and playing it over and over again. I must have viewed the ad ten times in the course of a Yankees game just last night.
The deception part would not have motivated me to write this posting. Nor would the racial implications. Travis Kalanick, Uber’s founder and CEO, is a self-identified libertarian whose online avatar reveals his head on the cover of Ayn Rand’s novel, The Fountainhead. For half-humans like Kalanick, winning is all that matters. As long as you don’t end up in prison, tactics, no matter how underhanded, are irrelevant. No, what bothers me, what motivated me to do the research and write the post, is the involvement of David Plouffe, Uber’s newly-appointed senior vice-president for policy and strategy.
Plouffe, you see, served as Barack Obama’s campaign manager and White House advisor. He witnessed the race card used again and again to bludgeon the President. That he should now use race to advance the interests of a billionaire mogul is truly, and absolutely, disgusting.
So, raise a glass, David, perhaps of a wine that set you back five figures. Enjoy the bespoke suits, too, and the private jet. Bathe yourself in all that money. You deserve it, bro, having paid with your soul.
Wednesday, July 8, 2015
Spot quiz: What do the following have in common?
The Telecommunications Bill
Repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act
Normalization of Trade Relations with China
The Defense of Marriage Act
All seven were Republican initiatives that could not have passed without the active support of President William Jefferson Clinton.
And yet Republicans, throughout his two terms, continually referred to Clinton as the most liberal president in American history.
Are you kidding me?
The Telecommunications Bill
Repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act
Normalization of Trade Relations with China
The Defense of Marriage Act
All seven were Republican initiatives that could not have passed without the active support of President William Jefferson Clinton.
And yet Republicans, throughout his two terms, continually referred to Clinton as the most liberal president in American history.
Are you kidding me?
Monday, July 6, 2015
“I have an opening statement,” he announced, his tone deep and steady.
“You not on trial here.” Boots waited a few seconds, then resigned himself. It was Smith’s show. “Great, go ahead.”
“The Europeans abolished slavery a century before the first African was taken from his home and carried off on European slave ships. This abolition was not the work of a single man, an Emperor or a Pope. Region by region, country by country, culture by culture the Europeans came to believe that the ownership of one man by another was sinful in the eyes of the God they worshipped. In 1102, the church in London denounced slavery. In 1315, Louis X decreed that any slave who set foot on French soil would be instantly emancipated.”
Smith’s eyes came fully open for the first time. “Should we pity these Europeans, trapped as they were in their own morality? They needed labor to suck out the wealth of the new world and Africa was the only place that labor could be found. Thus a justification for slavery had to be created, a fig leaf to cover Europe’s moral rot. Was there ever a possibility other than racial inferiority? Other than declaring Africans to be a sub-human species with, as Supreme Court Judge Roger Taney so delicately put it, `no rights which the white man is bound to respect’?
“And so it was passed on, from generation to generation, from century to century. Before the Civil War, the planters predict that the Africans, if freed, will slaughter all the white men and rape the white women. The same planters, after the Civil War, declare that unless Africans are suppressed, they will slaughter all the white men and rape all the white women. Fifty years later, D.W. Griffith dramatizes the myth in Birth of a Nation. A hundred years further on, a defense attorney tells a jury that a helpless white man named George Zimmerman had no option when attacked by a black savage named Trayvon Martin except to kill in self-defense.”
Boots’s hands tightened into fists. He didn’t begrudge Smith his opinions. But he didn’t appreciate being dragged seventy-five miles to hear them, either. Meanwhile, the prick wasn’t finished.
“Were the Pequot invited to live in that City on the Hill the Pilgrims wished to construct? Or the African slaves who would do the actual constructing? Or the Mexicans caught on the wrong side of the border after the Texas rebellion and the Mexican war? Or the Chinese who were excluded? Or the Japanese who were interned? The answer is no, of course. Racial inferiors could not be allowed to dwell in that holy city….”
Boots could stand it no longer. “C’mon, man, gimme a fuckin’ break.”
Kaven Smith rose to his feet, the rattle of his chains and cuffs sounding almost like applause. He raised his chin even further and his mouth curled into a sneer. “The Honorable Elijah Mohammed was right,” he finally announced. “The white man is the devil.”
Thursday, July 2, 2015
Yesterday morning, C-Span’s Washington Journal, a viewer call-in program, had Stephen Moore as a guest. A Libertarian economist, Moore has worked, at times, for the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute. He founded the Club for Growth, but after being ousted, was accused of stealing the group’s mailing lists.
At one point in his C-Span appearance, Moore railed against the inheritance tax. His father, he claimed, had put “sweat equity” into building a business for many decades and now, when he died, his estate would be taxed at a rate exceeding fifty percent. Surely, no sane human being would disagree with his (Moore’s) efforts to abolish this horrendous burden.
Somehow, Moore failed to mention that the first $5,430,000 of any inheritance is currently exempt from federal taxation, or that a parent may gift $14,000 per year to each of his/her children without any tax consequences. But Moore, as it turns out, is a professional liar. In 2014, Moore responded to a Paul Krugman column, claiming that economic growth in low-tax states was superior to growth in high-tax states. Moore’s piece was first published in the Kansas City Star, but after some investigation, when the paper discovered that Moore’s figures were entirely bogus, the Star resolved never to publish him again.
Yet, somehow, C-Span, in its endless quest to appear non-partisan, found him credible enough to give the man a forty-five minute platform.
Are you kidding me?
Friday, June 26, 2015
In King vs. Burwell, the suit challenging the Affordable Care Act and its system of subsidies, Justice Scalia, in dissent, insisted that the text of the law be read literally. He asked, “Do words no longer have meaning?” It does not matter how isolated the words. Five unguarded words in a document that runs to hundreds of pages are enough to sink the act.
A principled stand?
One year ago, in another case, Scalia quoted former Justice Sandra Day O’Connor: We “must do our best, bearing in mind the fundamental canon of statutory construction that the words of a statute must be read in their context and with their place in the overall statutory scheme.”
Later, in the same opinion, he wrote that “a provision that may seem ambiguous in isolation is often clarified by the remainder of the statutory scheme” because “only one of the permissible meanings produces a substantive effect that is compatible with the rest of the law.”
Wednesday, June 17, 2015
This morning, on C-SPAN’s call in show, John Sununu, restated the neocon position on Iraq. If only, he told us, we had left ten thousand soldiers in the country, ISIL would not now be in control of western Iraq. Leaving aside the question of whether ISIL would have been cowed by an American presence, this statement contains a lie of omission. In fact, the government of Iraq, a government we recognized – and continue to recognize - as legitimately elected, demanded that we leave. Presumably, John Sununu believes we should have spit in their faces. That would have made us, of course, occupiers by definition.
Tuesday, June 16, 2015
White, working class voters, those with a high school education or less, overwhelming oppose trade deals, including the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as they overwhelmingly oppose changes to Social Security and Medicare.
Republican politicians overwhelmingly support the Trans-Pacific Partnership, as they overwhelmingly support changes to Social Security and Medicare.
In 2014, 64% of white, working class voters supported Republican candidates for the House of Representatives. Yet these same voters, when given a choice, voted to raise the minimum wage, which Republican officeholders have consistently blocked.
Are you kidding me?
Friday, June 5, 2015
On today’s edition of National Journal, C-Span’s morning show, a caller told a story intended to demonstrate that Christianity is under attack. According to this man, a female employee at Abercrombie & Fitch was told, after five years of employment, that if she didn’t conceal the crucifix she habitually wore, she’d be fired. Rather than comply with this anti-Christian edict, she decided to sue the store, charging religious discrimination. Her suit worked its way through the federal court system, all the way to the Supreme Court, where she was finally vindicated. The only dissenting vote, the caller pointed out, belonged to Justice Thomas.
The caller got the name of the store and lawsuit part right, including the vote and the dissent. But the plaintiff wasn’t Christian. She was a Muslim and the conflict was between her headscarf and the store’s hipper-than-hip image. Somehow, this caller had taken a few facts and converted them to a familiar narrative, the war on Christianity. The level of denial necessary to accomplish this psychological feat is almost beyond imagining.
Are you kidding me?
Thursday, June 4, 2015
Ryan turns suddenly. He takes a step forward to rest his hand lightly on the center table and leans out toward his audience.
“I want you to imagine something for me. I want you to imagine that you’re God before the creation. That’s right. God before the creation. Now half of you are probably thinking, as Montgomery Thorpe, one of my old commanders, might have said, “The lad’s gone balmy. One too many blast injuries, no doubt.” Ryan uses his index finger to make a little circle near his right ear. “As for the rest of you? Well, you guys are probably saying, `Imagine God! Paul Ryan’s nothing but a Satan-inspired anti-Christ who should be burned at the stake before he brings on the end days.”
The line produces a short laugh from Ryan’s appreciative audience. They haven’t come to criticize.
“But the really hard part isn’t imagining God, but imagining at all.” Ryan taps his forehead. “You have to get this out of the way. I’m talking about the front part of your brain, the part that wants to file everything and anything in a proper slot where it can be conveniently forgotten. This is a neutering process – make no mistake. Just like horses and dogs are castrated to make them safe, the so-called intellect strips truth of its power, thereby rendering it meaningless.
“So pardon my persistence, but I’m asking you again. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and imagine yourself to be God before His creation. Imagine yourself alone, surrounded by an infinity as dark as it is empty. No time, no place, no here and now, no past, no future. Nothing there, not even you. And yet… and yet you feel yourself, you know that you must exist. But how? As what?
“OK, take a step back. Now, I want you to imagine something easier. Imagine that you’re a miner trapped in a cavern deep underground. The tunnels around you have collapsed and you’re the sole survivor. In this case, the mine owners have done the right thing and there’s enough cached food and water to last a hundred miners for six months, enough to last you for the next fifty years. But there are no flashlights or lanterns or candles. The darkness is absolute.
“In the beginning, of course, hope reigns supreme and you assume control of your new world. You take the measure of your supplies. You explore what’s left of the tunnels, despite numerous collisions with low hanging rocks. Most of all, you listen for the scrape of shovels or the whine of a drill, for your rescuers, for salvation.
“That eventually stops, all of it. At some point every single one of you will admit that nobody’s coming, that you’ve been given up for dead, that you’re permanently trapped in darkness, that you’ll never hear another human voice or see another human face. Never.”
Carter begins to tune out at this point. He likes the part of his brain that files things away until they’re needed again. That’s how you survive on the battlefield. That’s how you survive when you’ve carried the battlefield into your day-to-day life, when you’ve embraced it, warts and all.
But the men and women around him are enthralled. Most have their eyes closed, while a few rock in their chairs. So, what’s next? Amens? Hallelujahs? The peculiar thing, from Carter’s perspective, is that he’s been down in that cavern, that collapsed mine. As a foster child on an Indiana farm, he’d been about as alone as a boy can be.
“The years pass,” Ryan says, “although you have no way to count them. Night and day have no meaning. Winter? Summer? Give me a break. Where you are, the temperature never varies by as much as a single degree. And your state of mind? Well, its first name is loneliness. Followed by despair, followed by madness.”
Ryan straightens. “But your suffering – and you do suffer - is nothing alongside God’s. You can bang your head against a rock and feel the pain. You can scream into the void and hear your voice echoing back. You eat every day. You urinate and defecate. You have a body that makes demands. And when your food eventually runs out, or your body’s had enough, or you just stop eating and drinking… you’ll escape.
“Not God. No body for God and no escape. God’s on His own in an empty universe, contemplating an infinite amount of time. He yearns to know Himself. He yearns for something instead of nothing and the only raw material at His command is Himself. He must tear Himself apart, split into trillions upon trillions of infinitesimally small pieces. He must become His own sacred universe.”
The tearing apart image gets to Carter and his thoughts drift back to his years in the United States military, from raw recruit to Delta Force warrior. The Special Forces warriors he counted as his comrades were super patriots, Carter included. He’d believed himself part of a great moral tradition, heady stuff for a kid who’d never been part of anything.
That had ended when he left the Army to work for a private contractor in Iraq. To be sure, he’d carried his love of country to Coldstream Military Options, had even convinced himself that he hadn’t changed uniforms solely for the money. No, he was simply doing what he’d done before, escorting convoys, ambushing villains, executing the nation’s enemies.
An officer named Montgomery Thorpe too him aside when his comrades in arms eventually grew tired of his pitiful rationalizations. Coldstream, he told Carter, intended to extract as many dollars as humanly possible from the nation of Iraq and they didn’t give a flying fuck who they had to kill.
“Face it, Carter. You’ve graduated.”
“From what to what?”
“From a cog on a wheel to a warrior.”
Paul Ryan interrupts Carter’s train of thought when he slaps his hands on the table, causing the ex-military in his audience to jump to full attention. Some among them bear the scars of war on their faces. A woman seated off to his left has lost an arm. Crutches stand beside several chairs.
Not Carter, though. Carter journeyed from Afghanistan to Iraq to the bloody coast of West Africa without incurring a serious wound. A matter, in his opinion, of pure luck.
“I wonder how many of you have felt a longing….” Ryan pauses to draw a breath. His gaze climbs to the ceiling and he folds his hands at his waist. “How many of you feel that there’s something you’ve missed? Not something big, not necessarily. But just this one little…. Well, you don’t know what to call it. An idea, a fact, a detail, an element, a deed, an event. But something, a small item that would change your lives if you could only bring it to mind.”
Ryan doesn’t wait for a show of hands. He folds his arms across his chest and begins to pace the length of the aligned tables. “God creates the universe out of Himself. Now there’s something instead of nothing. A benefit, to be sure, but one that comes with a cost, especially to beings with the capacity to yearn. Where once we were one, now we are many. Through no fault of our own, we’ve been exiled, set adrift on an incomprehensible sea. And what we long for, when all the other wants and needs are stripped away, is simple reunion. We yearn for it as a baby yearns for its mother’s arms, for the smell and the taste of the breast, for the comforting lullaby. We yearn to be healed, to be finally made whole.”
Carter finds Ryan’s tone as sincere as it is soothing. Apparently, the man believes what he says. But Carter’s not buying Ryan’s reverent persona. Carter fought alongside Ryan. In Iraq where they killed for a paycheck. In Liberia, where they mowed down the boy soldiers for a sack of blood diamonds. Even then, Ryan was as much a talker as Carter a listener.
“There’s no one way,” Ryan explains, “and there might not be any way, back to God. So, beware. Maybe the whole seeking thing is a dumb-ass scavenger hunt with no prize at the end. Maybe the world’s restless pilgrims are mad treasure hunters following a map to nowhere. And there are treasure maps aplenty out there, everything from Tantric yoga to Opus Dei, from Salafist Islam to the spirit world of the Yorubas to the Ethical Culture Society. Oh, yeah. You want a map, you won’t have far to look. But which one do you choose? Careful now. Make a mistake and you’ll be wandering through the wilderness for the rest of your life.”
Ryan’s audience has become restless and he knows it. A shifting of chairs, a cough, a whispered comment, the indicators are obvious. He slows to a stop, standing once again behind the center table with his fingertips just brushing the surface. The expression on his round face becomes grave for a moment and he appears, to Carter, exhausted. But then he brightens, flashing a brilliant smile.
“Mama always told me I talk too much. Anyone for coffee and doughnuts?”
Wednesday, May 20, 2015
In 1948, after the Democrats inserted a modest civil rights plank into its platform, Senator Strom Thurmond of South Carolina led a walkout of southern delegates. Thurmond then formed the States Rights Democratic Party (aka Dixiecrats) and ran for president. He won four states: Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina. Though he received only 2.4% of the national vote, he garnered 87.2% of the vote in Mississippi. (African-Americans were unable to vote in most of the South.) Curiously, another independent candidate, Henry Wallace, who refused to disavow the endorsement of the Communist Party, and who campaigned with African-American candidates in the South, also received 2.4% of the overall vote. But Wallace’s votes were scattered and his effort was deemed a failure.
In 1964, Barry Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act, one of only six Republican Senators to do so. “We ought to forget the big cities,” he told his fellow Republicans. “I would like to see our party back up on integration.” That same year, the Republican National Committee created the Southern Strategy, a blatant appeal to southern segregationists, before Goldwater’s eventual nomination. Although Lyndon Johnson garnered 61% of the overall vote in the general election, Goldwater won six states. He won his home state, Arizona, along with five southern states: Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina. In Mississippi, where African Americans were still excluded from the polls, Goldwater received 87.1% of the white vote.
In 1968, George Wallace ran for president under the banner of the American Independent Party. As Governor of Alabama, Wallace stood in the doorway at the University of Alabama in order to prevent four black students from soiling that sacred institution with their presence. He was also the man who famously declared, “Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Wallace won five states: Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi. (More about Wallace in a future rant.)
In 1972, Richard Nixon employed a toned-down Southern Strategy to win seven southern and border states: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Virginia and South Carolina. At the nominating convention, he denounced an agreement between all-white construction unions in Philadelphia and Black Civil Rights organizations as a quota system antithetical to the American way, a quota system that his own administration brokered in 1969.
In 1976, the Dems made a southern comeback when they nominated Jimmy Carter, a born-again Georgian. That flirtation ended abruptly in 1980 when Ronald Reagan made an appearance at the Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi on August 3. Extolling the virtues of states’ rights to an appreciative audience, Reagan promised “to restore to states and local governments the power that belongs to them.” At the time, Neshoba County had only one claim to fame. Sixteen years before, the bodies of three civil rights workers, Michael Schwerner, James Cheney and Andrew Goodman, had been dug out of a levee. Ronald Reagan won nine southern states in the general election: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.
Game, set, match. The solid South was solid once gain.
Friday, May 15, 2015
Wednesday, May 13, 2015
How stupid do the creators of House of Cards think I am? Or we are?
Actually, the degree of their contempt for me and every other viewer seems beyond calculation. From the jobs program, American Works, to Petrov’s kissing the first lady, to the inclusion of the Russian protest group, Pussy Riot, at a State Dinner, to the convenient hurricane that appears after Frank appropriates the FEMA bucks, to the predictable veering away of said hurricane after Frank agrees to return whatever money’s left.
Michael Corrigan must have been the stoic of the age to slowly strangle without making enough noise to wake Claire. Claire’s outburst at the press conference made me cringe. No kidding, I wanted to take a bath.
Does anyone out there understand the Jordan Valley subplot? What did Frank hope to gain, even assuming the operation went smoothly? And why would anybody in the administration want Russian forces on the ground in the first place, must less give a damn if they pulled out? The U.N. has peacekeeping operations in 16 countries, to which the Russians have contributed 83 soldiers. Worst of all, the Jordan Valley – the border separating the West Bank and Jordan - has been occupied by Israel since 1967. There are now 26 well-established settlements in the Valley, but Willimon expects us to believe that Benjamin Netanyahu leave their security to a U.N. peacekeeping force.
I won’t bore you by continuing this tirade indefinitely, but I do want to have a closer look at one element the show asked us to swallow. Apparently, Frank intends to finance his jobs program by eliminating Social Security. What would that entail? At present, Social Security’s trust fund contains 2.6 trillion dollars in Treasury bonds guaranteed by the “full faith and credit” of the United States. You might think Frank aims to snatch the 2.6, but that wouldn’t work unless he somehow convinced the Congress to redeem them – they’re bonds, remember, - which would increase that year’s budget deficit by about 500%. But maybe Frank’s got his eye on the revenue generated by the payroll tax? Maybe he plans to use the revenue stream generated by the tax to create jobs. If so, he’d be, in effect, asking current workers who pay the tax to purchase their jobs through the federal government. But what would he, a Democrat, tell the voters who paid into the trust fund for decades and are now too old to work. Don’t feel bad, I’m takin’ your Medicare, too?
If it was only House of Cards, or one of those mindless network cop dramas where the resident computer geek waves his hand and a giant monitor appears in midair, I’d probably settle for a regretful shrug. Beau Willimon could have – and should have –done better. House of Cards - like The Wire or The Borgias, to cite just two examples - might have been convincing without sacrificing any of the drama. Willimon decided to go in another direction. The End.
But it’s not just House of Cards. In a recent speech, Rand Paul said, “When is the last time in our country we created millions of jobs? It was under Ronald Reagan.” In actuality, our economy has created more than two million jobs 13 times since Ronald Reagan left office.
When I read the quote in Paul Krugman’s NYT column, I felt like someone had spit in my face. I can live with people who try to get over on me, as long as they’re sneaky. But when the lie is so brazen that it speaks for itself, I know that I’ve been demeaned, that the speaker has claimed a superior status. I can disrespect you whenever I want, he or she proclaims, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Last night, I paused my DVR on a car commercial: Lease an Audi A3 for thirty-six months at a cost of $299 per month. Three hundred dollars a month? I can afford that, right? But then, in smaller letters, the ad when on to inform me that an additional $2,194 dollars was due upon signing the lease. This raised the total outlay from $10,764 to $12,958, or $359 per month. That’s a pretty steep jump, but it was only the beginning, because the next line informed me that “taxes, title and dealer charges” were still to be added. The first two slices go to New York State and New York City. This I know. But what exactly is a “dealer charge”?
I found the answer in a paragraph at the bottom of the screen. The print was so faint and tiny that I had to don my glasses and squat down a few inches from the screen to read it, but that paragraph was why I’d paused my TV in the first place. No human being could possibly have read it in the few seconds it appeared on the screen. That’s because it wasn’t meant to be read, despite the FCC deeming the paragraph to be full disclosure.
As it turns out, the dealer sets the actual price, which might be anything. And by the way, this is a low mileage lease, so if you drive your Audi more than 10,000 miles a year, it’ll cost you an additional twenty-five cents a mile.
Maybe I should stop playing the curmudgeon. Maybe I should settle down and get used to it. Nobody likes a grumpy old man and golden age theories are soooooooooo boring. Yes, there once existed a militant consumer movement. And, yes, they did convince the politicians to create full disclosure laws. But that’s soooooooooo history. Deception is part of the new game and nobody objects to the fake videos on YouTube as long as they’re well done.
The idea is to win, as all those bankers, those CEO’s who walked away from the crash with hundreds of millions of dollars surely did. As Rand Paul surely has. As Beau Willimon laughs all the way to the bank. And Ted Cruz wins, too, when he tells voters, despite there being, at most, 25,000 agents at the IRS, “There are 110,000 agents at the IRS. We need to put a padlock on that building and take every one of those 110,000 agents and put them on our southern border.”
Everybody loves a winner. Right?
Sunday, May 10, 2015
Friday, May 8, 2015
Believers get all the breaks. They’re comforted throughout their lives by their faith in a Supreme Being who will come to their aid in a crisis, and who, following their deaths, will reward them for their good behavior while alive. The best news, of course, is that if they’re wrong, they’ll never know it.
Compare this to the unenviable fate of the atheist. There are no comforts for atheists, no divine interventions, no omnipotent creator to heed their prayers. Instead, they’re offered the prospect of personal extinction. And if the atheists are wrong? Well, if the atheists are wrong, they’ll burn in hell forever.
Sunday, April 26, 2015
Years and years and years ago, when high-paying factory jobs were still available, my best buddy and I loaded up his ’55 Chevy and headed across the George Washington Bridge, our destination sunny California. We made the trip in five days, a journey that included fifteen hundred miles on Route 66, there being no completed Interstates west of St. Louis. This was our big adventure, undertaken at a time when airline trips were still a luxury. Mike and I were high school educated, but even though we had no specific plans and no connections, I don’t recall any discussion of what we intended to do after we settled in Los Angeles. The country was prosperous and jobs abundant.
We found lodging easily enough, affordable housing also being plentiful, and I landed a job in a Pasadena aircraft factory within a week. I no longer recall the name of the factory, or exactly what it manufactured beyond parts for other parts of commercial aircraft. I don’t recall exactly what the company paid, either, only that it was enough to cover the rent, put food in the fridge and repair a beat-up Packard that got me to work if I didn’t push it too hard on the Freeways. What I do remember, on the other hand, and quite clearly, is my first day on the job.
I received no training, not even an orientation. A factory foreman escorted me from a reception area onto one of those enormous spaces generally measured in football fields. The whistle signaling the start of my shift had already blown and the din was almost, but not quite, painful. The air smelled of lubricating oil, human sweat and, more vaguely, of scorched metal. We reached my station, a tiny space surrounded by tiny spaces, a few minutes later. I’d been assigned to man a drill press. To my left, as I stood before the press, a rolling bench held a metal box filled with…. I don’t actually know what the small metal items were, and the foreman saw no reason to give them a name. My job, which he did explain, consisted of a single task. I was to place one of these widgets into a depression on the press, drill a hole through the center of the widget by lowering and raising a lever, deposit the completed widget in an empty box on the rolling bench, fit a new widget onto the press and pull the lever again. If at the end of the day, I surpassed my drilled-widget quota, I would receive a bonus.
What’s the point?
I’m probably responding as much to a somber tone as I am to content, but when I hear pundits bemoan the permanent loss of high-paying factory jobs, as if they were observing those jobs cross an arbitrary divide separating the eastern and western hemispheres, I cringe. They seem to be implying that something about factory work, some special skill, justified the high pay. Sadly, this skill is not required for the service industry jobs that have replaced those factory jobs and lower wages are not only inevitable, they’re justified.
I worked in other factories as I passed through my twenties. At no time was I expected to show any more skill than on my first day in Pasadena. My bosses were looking for three traits. First, reliability. Would I show up every day, on time and sober? Then speed and stamina in equal measure, as the bonus system demonstrates. Productivity was determined by widget count, by how many widgets you drilled and not how well you drilled them.
The next time you’re standing on a supermarket checkout line, take a close look at the woman or man behind the register. Imagine that you’re managing the market. What do you need from this employee, other than speed, stamina and reliability, in order to do your own job? I would say nothing at all. I would say that the assembly line worker and the grocery checker are equally skilled. I would say that high-paying factory jobs are high paying because the pay is high. I would say that low-paying service industry jobs are low paying because the pay is low.
It is in the perceived interest of virtually any business to reduce every cost of doing business, and labor is an undeniable cost of doing business. And while there will always be a few “enlightened” employers – Costco immediately comes to mind – businesses generally attempt to reduce the cost of labor, whether by shipping those high-pay factory jobs overseas, or replacing human beings with factory floor robots, or busting unions in Wisconsin.
On December 30, 1936, auto workers, under the banner of the United Auto Workers, seized General Motors’ Fisher #1 body plant in Flint, Michigan, which supplied body parts for Buicks, Pontiacs and Oldsmobiles. They barricaded themselves inside and prepared for battle by amassing piles of bolts and door hinges at strategic locations. As a second Fisher plant in Cleveland that supplied parts for Chevrolets, was also on strike, the Flint occupation effectively shut down GM’s automotive division.
Twelve days later, in response to an injunction issued a by a local judge, the Flint police attacked. One might yawn at this point. Police from municipalities all over the country had been attacking striking workers for a hundred years. The difference here, the exception to the general rule, was that the workers inside the plant, fought off several assaults and final routed the police. They paid a price, of course – fourteen strikers were injured by police gunfire – but workers had been paying in blood for a hundred years by then, so….
General Motors had another card to play. It petitioned Governor Frank Murphy to call out the National Guard. Unfortunately for GM, Murphy had a conscience and he called out the Guard, not to drive out the strikers, but to protect them from strikebreakers and the Flint police. With no options left, GM began negotiations with the UAW and the two parties reached a limited agreement on February 11th that accepted the UAW as the sole bargaining agent for unionized GM workers. That was all the UAW needed. Within six months, it signed up 100,000 workers and those factory jobs, which paid subsistence wages at the time, were on track to support a middle-class way of life.
A word to the wiseguy.
Tuesday, April 21, 2015
I admit that it wasn’t what I expected. I admit that I tried to believe that Eric Holder’s Justice Department orchestrated a cover up, no matter how unlikely that seemed. Then I read the 86 page report on the Michael Brown shooting, then I read it again, then I read it for a third time, taking notes as I went along
Plainly writ, the physical evidence recovered at the scene broadly, and convincingly, supports Darren Wilson’s overall version of the events as they unfolded on August 19, 2014.
Michael Brown did lean into Wilson’s SUV - Brown’s DNA was recovered from the vehicle’s interior and from Wilson’s uniform – and he did assault Darren Wilson. Although Wilson’s injuries were minor, those injuries were documented in a hospital emergency room.
Blood evidence recovered from the interior of Wilson’s SUV proves that Brown’s hand was inside Wilson’s SUV when he was shot for the first time.
Blood evidence recovered from the roadway clearly demonstrates that Michael Brown, although he may have initially raised his hands, was moving toward Wilson when the fatal shots were fired, despite being repeatedly ordered to freeze and get on the ground.
Michael Brown was not shot in the back, either while running away from Wilson or after he fell to the ground. Three autopsies, including an autopsy done at the request of the family by Dr. Michael Baden, failed to uncover any injuries to Brown’s back.
The credible witnesses – those witnesses whose versions are supported by the physical evidence – all described Brown as moving toward Wilson before Wilson opened fire. They were not, as some have claimed, prejudiced white people. One of them, Witness 103, is an African-American with a felony conviction whose own son was shot by the police.
Finally, it’s simply impossible to read this report and conclude that Darren Wilson is legally responsible for the death of Michael Brown. But legally responsible and morally responsible are two different things.
Some years ago, I was interviewing an NYPD detective when I happened to mention that I’d run into Hurricane Jackson on the street. A prizefighter, Tommy `Hurricane’ Jackson once challenged Floyd Paterson for the heavyweight championship of the world. The detective smiled – a rueful smile to be sure – when I mentioned Jackson’s name. Hurricane Jackson, he told me, was a notorious cop fighter when drunk and he, my detective, had been forced to deal with the boxer on more than one occasion. As had many of the patrol officers in that South Jamaica precinct.
If Darren Wilson’s killing Michael Brown was justified, then my detective would certainly have been justified if he’d gunned down Hurricane Jackson. As a general rule, a prizefighter’s hands are deemed to be lethal weapons. That would be true even of a smaller man. What’s more, Hurricane Jackson’s nickname paid tribute to his incredible hand speed, which generated hurricane force winds. Or so his manager, Whitey Bimstein, liked to claim.
Hurricane Jackson died in a car accident, and not by a fusillade of cop bullets. That’s because, forty years ago, the cops in that precinct never considered drawing their service revolvers when they confronted him. Instead, they took advantage of Jackson’s inebriated state to crack him across the shins with their nightsticks. Once on the ground, they subdued him, dragged him to the precinct and confined him to the drunk tank until he sobered up. The Hurricane was a really nice guy, I was assured, when he was sober.
What am I getting at? Wilson claims that he felt like a child confronted by Hulk Hogan when he stared into Michael Brown’s eyes. Brown had the eyes of a demon and Wilson just knew Brown would kill him if he didn’t pull that trigger twelve times. You’d never guess that Wilson stands six-four and weighs more than 210 pounds, or that he, like all cops, was trained in hand-to-hand combat. Or that he had a canister of police-grade pepper spray on his belt, or that he carried a steel ASP tactical baton, which extends out to 26 inches with a snap of the wrist.
Did Wilson ever consider using less than deadly force? Not according to his many statements. And who can blame him? You can’t stop a demon with a steel club, no matter how many times, or where, you hit him.
The basic craft of policing has radically changed since my detective confronted Hurricane Jackson on the streets of South Jamaica. Now it’s all SWAT Teams. It’s a boot on the neck, a knee in the back, grind the asshole’s face into the pavement. Get on the ground! Get on the ground! Get on the ground! Wilson, himself, according to his statement, alternated “Get on the Ground “with “Freeze”. Leaving aside the obvious, that his demands were conflicting, screaming at the top of his lungs was far more likely to escalate the tension than to produce the result Wilson desired. Assuming he hoped for a peaceful resolution.
Excuse my novelist’s instincts, but I can’t help imagining a different outcome if Wilson had, as hostage negotiators universally do, initially attempted to ease the tension. If he’d tried to talk the suspect down.
Wilson leaves his SUV and chases after Brown, whose lost his flip-flops and is now running in his socks. He orders Brown to stop and Brown finally complies after traveling approximately sixty yards. Brown then turns and briefly raises his hand before lowering them. Bad news, because Wilson can see that Brown’s close to losing control, to deciding that he no longer gives a damn. Brown’s standing about 25 feet away from Wilson, which gives the cop some wiggle room. He tells Brown to take a breath, to give him a few seconds. Then he lowers his weapon until it’s pointed toward the roadway. Right now, he says, his tone as calm and soothing as he can manage, what’s happened here is minor. We need to keep it that way. All you have to do is place your hands where I can see them. That’s all you have to do. Take a second to think about what you’re doing, to consider your family. Because my backup’s on the way and you can’t escape. There’s no reason to make it worse than it has to be.
Would it have worked? Maybe not, but the end result could not have been more fatal than what happened that afternoon on the streets of Ferguson, Missouri.
There’s more here. According to Wilson, Brown was leaning forward, in a “tackling” position, and still a threat to Wilson’s life when the last, instantly fatal, shot was fired. Wilson had pulled the trigger eleven times by then and his bullets had struck Brown at least six, and as many as eight, times. They were not without effect.
From the Justice Department Report: “In addition to the thumb wound and the fatal shot to the head, Brown sustained a gunshot wound to his central forehead, with a corresponding exit wound of the right jaw. The bullet tracked through the right eye and right orbital bone, causing fractures of the facial bones. Brown sustained another gunshot wound to the upper right chest, near the neck. The bullet tracked through the right clavicle and upper lobe of the right lung, and came to rest in the right chest. Brown sustained another entrance wound to his right lateral chest. The bullet tracked through and fractured the eighth right rib, puncturing the lower lobe of the right lung.”
The fatal shot, the one that killed Brown instantly, was fired into the top of his head, almost at the center of his skull. Wilson claims that Brown was about to tackle him, but it’s highly probable, given his injuries, that Brown was falling to the ground and posed no threat.
I’ll leave you to make your own judgment of Darren Wilson’s actions after a final comment. At six-four, Darren Wilson, if we should ever meet, would tower above this writer.