Saturday, December 24, 2005

 

Merry Christmas...

...to one and all.

May God bless you all with health, strength & wisdom.

My readers are a gift for which I am eternally grateful.

Peace on Earth and Good Will to All.

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Friday, December 23, 2005

 

Rolling Once Again...

Dumbest strike in history is now over! More later...alas, I have to now catch up on the Christmas shopping I missed out on this week.

Grrrr....

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Thursday, December 22, 2005

 

STRIKE OVER?

Maybe.

After nearly 10 hours of talking, state mediator announced at 11:00 AM that TWU leaders recommend to Executive Board that workers return to work while negotiations continue. MTA doesn't pull pension issue off the table -- but does agree to seek greater savings from union on the savings side.


Stay tuned.

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Odd Democratic PATRIOT-ic Behavior

A temporary extension of the Patriot Act is a good thing. In theory, it would be nice if the legitimate civil liberties concerns that are, in fact, bipartisan, could be addressed apart from partisan sniping.

Yeah, right.

However, a Democrat must have to start wondering how the party got stuck with such politically inept congressional leaders. First, when the Senate managed to block a final vote on the PA re-authorization last week, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid led his Senate conference (including the apostate, Joe Lieberman) in a press appearance where he happily boasted that they had "killed" the Patriot Act.

A more savvy political leader might have said, "Out of concern for the infringement of constitutional rights, senators of both parties stood up to say that the Patriot Act should not be passed in its present form." Instead, the "killed" statement was the highlighted video clip when Reid went on Fox News Sunday. The president, as The Washington Post notes today, has, "At least twice...said that Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) has bragged about 'killing the Patriot Act.'"

Ya think that little bit of Reid video won't be part of Republican campaigns next year? The GOP would be foolish not to use it.

Which makes the six-month extension inexplicable. The three-month extension Democrats wanted makes sense from their point of view: Changes would have to be negotiated and -- with the four Republican senators also balking at the Act as passed in the House -- quite likely accepted. If it still died, they might have time to make a case through the spring, summer and fall.

However, a six-month extension means that a new Patriot Act will have to be debated and passed in both chambers by July. Given what it is claimed that Bush and the Republicans did to them in 2002 with the Department of Homeland Security, why would Democrats agree to an extension that expires four months before Election Day 2006? What's to stop the GOP from insisting on the Patriot Act in its current form (or House-passed version) -- blaming a filibuster on the Democrats and making this a "soft on terrorism" political debate in the '06 midterms (as DHS was in '02)?

By then, the
NSA wiretaps story -- which invariably complicates the Patriot Act debate -- will likely be an old memory. Instead, the issue can be framed, "Which party is committed to keeping the country safe?" For two consecutive elections, Republicans have won that debate. From here, it looks like the Democrats are setting themselves up for a third fall.

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Transit Strike Movement?

MTA and transit union officials arrived at Grand Hyatt around 1 a.m. Thursday morning and are reportedly, at 4 a.m. still in the same building and may be talking -- to each other.

If there is any agreement -- or even if the TWU just agrees to continue talking while ending the walkout -- it will take a minimum of 12 hours to get the system up and running. That means Thursday evening rush hour at the earliest for things to get back to normal.

And it was way too soon to be even thinking about that.

Given that the ugly specter of race raised its head on Wednesday, all New Yorkers have their fingers crossed that this situation ends before it gets really ugly.






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Balloon Juice "Smacks" The White House

John Cole gets angry:

This is the strongest indication to me that the [White House] did do something wrong, and they know it.

Why can this gang not shoot straight? Why can they not tell the truth? Why?

On days like this, the Bush administration reminds me of heroin addicts. Junkies will lie to you- about everything. Sometimes they lie intentionally, sometimes accidentally, sometimes they can’t tell truth from fiction. But they never have any long-range concepts of time- it is just say whatever they can to get out of the current mess, with no regard for what is going to happen tomorrow, or what is going to happen when this false truth is uncovered. It is just deal with the right here and the right now, get their fix, and deal with tomorrow when it comes.

They don’t respect themselves. They don’t respect you. And they just do whatever they have to do and say whatever they have to say to get by.

I don’t think Bush is personally a bad man or an evil man. But I wonder what the hell is going on in this White House, and I wonder what the hell is wrong with these people and why they keep setting Bush up for the fall like this. Why would his advisors clear this speech if it is bullshit? At some point, when you deal with junkies and addicts, you have to quit trying to convince yourself that they are telling you the truth and realize that they can’t help themselves- they are going to rob you, they are going to lie to you, and they aren’t going to remember why tomorrow.

If this latest piece in the LAT turns out to be true, I will be at that point. I simply will refuse to believe anything this administration says.

Cole is, in many ways, a moderate Republican. He is certainly not a social conservative and regularly criticizing the religious right part of the conservative movement. On the other hand, he is fiscally conservative, a military vet, supports the war and regularly deconstructs strident posts from the Daily Kos and Atrios types. He is part of the Republican group blog, Red State and also part of the, ahem, Pajamas Media collective (oh well, no one's perfect).

In short, he can't be in any way portrayed as a "Bush-hater" -- from either the right or the left. Which is a long, roundabout way of saying that the Bush team had better be careful. Cole is the last person they can afford to lose. And they shouldn't think that there aren't more Republicans like Cole out there.

The president's poll numbers have moved back up a bit -- partly because Republicans have "come home." But there is nothing to guarantee that they will stay there. More funny "explanations" about the NSA wiretaps or some other such issue and the White House could, as the above post suggests, lose the John Cole-type Republican for good.


UPDATE: This news from the 4th Circuit can't make John too happy either. Michael Luttig, on just about everybody conservative's Supreme Court short list rightly slaps the administration for its outrageous "enemy combatant" Jose Padilla bait-and-switch between military and civilian jurisdiction. As Kevin Drum notes, Luttig and the court seem furious at the administration's deceptive arguments in its earlier hearing before the 4th Circuit on the legality of Padilla's status:

They want to know why the government claimed it was absolutely essential to national security that Padilla be detained indefinitely and then suddenly changed their minds without so much as an explanation. They want to know why this change of heart came only two business days before Padilla's appeal was scheduled to be filed with the Supreme Court.
And that's not all. They also want to know why the government provided them with a completely different set of facts than they provided to the civilian court in Miami. They want to know why the government provided more information about the case to the media than they did to the court. And finally, they want to know why the government did all these things even though they must have known that these actions rather obviously undermined their own public arguments about the importance of the war on terror.


Presumably, Judge Luttig and the conservative 4th Circuit's chastisement of the administration is something that can't be summarily dismissed.


Tags: John Cole, George W. Bush, NSA

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

 

A Union Loses Its Base

David, A hard-core Democrat (whose worked on campaigns) told me last night that he respected the principle the Transport Workers Union Local 100 was trying to uphold: "The union is fearful that if they give up on the pension issue [creating different contribution levels for newer workers] it changes the basic dynamic of "us" [united workers] against "them" [management]. The leadership might fear that, years down the road, as the workers who come in after them take leadership roles, they would be willing to bargain away benefits of the now-retired generation that had given up pension benefits." Despite that observation, he nonetheless concluded, "The transit workers have managed the impossible -- to turn the corrupt MTA (and its president, Peter Kalikow) into victims."

Eowin, another strong pro-labor guy (who can barely stand Republicans) said, "The union screwed this up. The MTA's last offer was a reasonable one they should have worked with."


Some similar anti-TWU comments from friends of the decidedly left-of-center Dawn Summers trouble her mightily.

UPDATE: This is an archive of the comments section from the TWU blog. It was taken down sometime in the late afternoon Tuesday (with probably another couple hundred comments).


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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

 

The City That Never Sleeps...

...grinds to a halt.

For the first time in a quarter-century, New York City transit workers
walked off the job this morning.

Two points:

1) This is an illegal job action, in violation of the nearly forty-year old
Taylor Law that forbids New York state public employees from striking. Those who violate the law are susceptible to fines of two days pay for every one off the job. Last week, the state also won a preliminary injunction against a strike; the city filed for one as well (which it will be in court this morning to gain a ruling).

2) The Metropolitan Transportation Authority may be seeing years of chickens coming home to roost.
The MTA has been the subject of scorn for its "interesting" book-keeping over the years.

*Construction of a new headquarters became a multi-milion dollar debacle, rife with corruption and mob infiltration.
*Charges that it keeps "two sets of books" are common. Ironically, that 2003 report by State Comptroller Alan Hevesi and City Comptroller Bill Thompson was both repudiated and confirmed in subsequent years -- proving the main point that no one knows how much money the MTA has).
*After years-long warnings of imminent fiscal doom that mandated fare increases, the authority revealed several months ago a huge surplus -- one which is now over one billion dollars (cue Dr. Evil accent). Now, that figure is somewhat illusory because of outstanding long-term pension obligations (ironically one of the key stumbling blocks on the contract).

With this accumulated backstory, it's no wonder that -- as frustrated as the public will be because of the inconveniences that the strike imposes -- a lot of fury will be directed toward the MTA. Simply put, this is the least-trusted public agency in the state.

That might -- stress might -- embolden the union to stay out for a few days. Oh well, that toot of the horn means my colleague Tom is here! Operation Car Pool begins!


Happy Holidays!

UPDATE: Tom Elliott and I, plus Ryan Sager (another Post colleague) and Michelle (my apartment-building neighbor) provided the four-warm-bodies-per-vehicle that the city's strike contingency plan mandates. However, neighbor Michelle and I would not have had to wait long if Tom hadn't arrived. Standing on a Prospect Heights corner at Flatbush Avenue and Sterling Place for about 15 minutes or so, we were subject to at least seven offers for rides from people with only one or two folks in their cars. (In an economic sense, one starts to wonder: What is more valuable during this "crisis" -- someone with a car to go into Manhattan or the people needed to fill the car. Michelle and I could, arguably, have "rented" ourselves out to the highest car-bidder!). Anyway, once onto the main part of Flatbush Avenue, the trip went without too much drama; we were in our offices in a little more than an hour (Tom's part of the ride from East Flatbush, actually was the longest proportionally). The lovely and talented Michelle did however feel a little intimidated by the blogospheric testosterone oozing through the car.

More great strike coverage from Newscopy (the must-read blog on New York state politics), Karol, Michelle Malkin, Newsday, NewYorkology and many others.


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Monday, December 19, 2005

 

"The Apprentice" Wars

I thought the "outrage" over The Apprentice winner Randal Pinkett declining to share the honor with runner-up Rebecca was just another online "sturm and drang" signifying nothing.

Yeah, the MSNBC "reality" critic, Andy Dehnart,
stamped his feet and complained about "losing respect for Randal":

But then Randal, who’s perhaps played the game with more integrity than anyone else in four seasons of “The Apprentice,” and who earned the respect of basically every other candidate in the suite this season, surprised everyone.

“Mr. Trump, I firmly believe that this is ‘The Apprentice,’ that there is one and only one apprentice, and if you’re going to hire someone tonight, it should be one,” Randal said. “It’s not ‘The Apprenti,’ it’s ‘The Apprentice.’”

For some reason, this impossibly lame and aggressively selfish argument convinced Trump, who kind of shrugged and said, “Okay, I’m going to leave it at that then. I think I could have been convinced, but you feel that’s the way it should be, I’m going to leave it that way.”
("Lame and aggressively selfish"? Oh, please. Keep in mind that this is the second consecutive edition where Denhart concluded that Trump "should have hired both" finalists).

Yeah, some flakes decided to go to the trouble
to create a firerandal.com site.

But it's nothing short of stunning to see the show's
official Yahoo website go along with the BS. On Monday afternoon, visitors to the site could participate in a poll asking whether Trump should have "Hired Randal", "Hired Rebecca", "Hired Both", or "Fired Randal For Not Hiring Rebecca"! (Keep in mind that Yahoo! was the sponsor for the pediatric AIDS benefit that Rebecca ran as her final task. Yahoo! execs asked Rebecca not to do any fundraising at the actual event. Her decision to go along with that arguably hurt her standing at the end.) That poll has now been replaced by a simple one saying,

If you were Mr. Trump, who would you hire based solely on the final task?
Randal
Rebecca
Both candidates
View results without voting

(If anyone managed to capture the image of the earlier poll, please pass it along to me.)

If Trump had wanted to hire both candidates, he should have done so himself -- or asked both candidates the question before the final decision. To force an ex post facto choice on the winner is a cop-out of immense proportions. How many other reality shows have pulled something like that? Randal followed the rules as they have been played over three previous editions.

And then the official site goes along with a campaign to villify someone who won fair and square -- a campaign that, frankly, has some rather disturbing racial connotations. No, I don't make those statements cavalierly. But read the lengthy comment thread at firerandal.com and decide for yourself.

Ken Wheaton captured the dynamics of Randal's decision perfectly:


You don't get ahead in top organizations by being nice. You get ahead by knowing when to be an asshole and when to be nice. And when do you play the nice card--when it will get you something (either more loyalty, more business or more money). And keep in mind the decision was further complicated--not made easier--by the fact that this was a game show.

In Randal's spot I would have done the same thing precisely because it could have been a trick. Trump COULD have said, "My apprentice needs the confidence to take the prize when it's his to take. And Randall, you're passing up a clear chance at victory. That might work on the playground, but this is business. Randall. You're fired. Go start a blog."
In Season Two, Trump chose Army vet and entrepreneur Kelly Perdew over tough lawyer Jennifer Massey. The selection wasn't so bad, but the long drawn out finale was an embarrassment. Trump allowed Massey -- who had competed tough but honorably -- to be trashed by various execs and studio audience members. The margin of qualifications and project-manager "wins" between Massey and Perdew was nowhere near that of Randal and Rebecca.

But did Trump ask Kelly if Jennifer should be hired? Of course not, he just allowed her to be completely humiliated in front of millions of people. Yet, now he pulls this on Randal -- and the official site participates in a retroactive smearing of Randal's reputation?

Reprehensible, even by reality-show "standards."


UPDATE: The Yahoo poll with the "fire Randal for not hiring Rebecca" results.



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My Respect For Professor Bainbridge...

... grows everyday.

He weighs in
on the NSA story.

UPDATE: George Will on ABC's This Week, 12/18/05 (alas, no link):

[The president]'s on legal ground that strikes me as overreaching...[I]t looks as though he clearly broke [the 1978 FISA law]. What the president would say is there are implied powers, that is, he's rooting this in the constitution. There are implied powers of the commander in chief that enable this to be done and he says it's a vital tool that we do this because I assume of the internet and cell phones and all the rest that make communication rapid and hard to trace. Let's stipulate the technological grounds may be there. This president however has asserted a capacious doctrine of executive power and the war powers, I mean, literally unlimited, and it's hard for me to believe that that's true. This looks...like what is called in tennis an unforced error. That is, if it is necessary to do this, Congress would have given it to him, given the power in ten minutes.




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Sunday, December 18, 2005

 

Cash-U2 "Time"

Republican (though "disenchanted with the party direction and W") reader JBW writes:

Having a discussion last night about U2 made me recall your blog post a while back about their concert at MSG. I did not respond back at the time, but it struck me how the mention of Johnny Cash was so appropriate in an entry about the perceived contradictions in U2. This really does point out where we are when people assume black and white, one-to-one relationships between things like Christian and Conservative, or liberal and anti-war.

Johnny Cash was the same way. He was once described (I am paraphrasing) as a conservative, liberal, christian, anti-war, patriotic, dope smoker. Not surprising that he was able to be the most popular entertainer in the world with a hit TV show that appealed to mainstream America, but still book all the acts like Bob Dylan etc. Your description of U2 (and Bono in particular) struck the same chord.

Coincidentally, after thinking about this, Time magazine made its selections for
"Persons of the Year" (Bono & Bill & Melinda Gates). Someone needs to wake up and recognize that this type of supposedly contradictory message can actually find a winning coalition politically, while at the same time actually doing the right thing. (Caution: May require a third party.)
A couple of final points that make everything come full circle: U2 and Cash collaborated on "The Wanderer," (not a remake of either the Dion or Donna Summer songs of the same name) on U2's experimental 1993 album Zooropa. Written by the band, it is one of only two songs in which Bono does not at least share singing lead ("Numb" sung by The Edge on the same album is the other). [The song is available on the new career-spanning retrospective (which includes his late-90's "comeback" collaborations with producer Rick Rubin), The Legend of Johnny Cash as well as the older, The Essential Johnny Cash.]

Though written by the band, the song captures all the themes Cash touched upon -- Man's struggles between temptation, sin and redemption:
I went drifting
Through the capitals of tin
Where men can't walk
Or freely talk
And sons turn their fathers in
I stopped outside a church house
Where the citizens like to sit
They say they want the kingdom
But they don't want God in it

I went out riding
Down that old eight lane
I passed by a thousand signs
Looking for my own name

I went with nothing
But the thought you'd be there too
Looking for you
I went out there
In search of experience
To taste and to touch
And to feel as much
As a man can
Before he repents

Nearly a decade later, Bono contributed an essay to the Cash compilation God (available separately or in three-volume set with the Love and Murder collections). And, finally, within a brief couple of months, the biopic I Walk The Line featuring Cash (warts, inspired genius and all) becomes one of the best-received movies of the year -- and Bono is recognized (appropriately) as one of the "Persons of the Year."

(One notable difference between Bono and Cash, though, is the choices they make in demonstrating anti-establishment "rebellion." Cash had very public emotional breakdowns -- including a collapse on stage and subsequent arrest in connection with his addiction to prescription pain killers.

Arguably, Bono recognizes that, in the modern context, the "sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll" popular culture is the establishment -- though he rarely demonstrates a pro-drug sensibility. So, his anti-establishment activity comes forth in public flirtations with administration and congressional Republicans!)



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