Friday, February 26, 2010

Why You Don't Make Enough Money

Despite being the Greatest Country in the World™, the United States usually lags far behind Japan and most European nations in measures of well being, things like health, income, security, etc. One of the biggest gaps is in labor -- most European nations average at least 4 weeks of paid vacation a year, with fewer hours worked for higher wages. Contrast that to the U.S., where even a week of paid vacation is seen as something that must be earned after years of work, and wages continually plummet, in both real dollars and compared to inflation.

There are many reasons for this, but the Christian Science Monitor has a good quick hit piece this morning that points to a big piece of the puzzle: union activity. As you can see form the chart below, major work stoppages in America have pretty much become a relic of the past as unions offer more and more concessions to employers and refuse to deploy their most valued asset. To be fair, much of this is due to shits in employment patterns and threats of outsourcing, but a good counter-example is Greece, where the entire country is on strike right now.

Sure is a far cry from the good ol' US of A...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Steel Cage Matchup: Duluth vs. Madison

Minnesota and Wisconsin fight over a lot -- which state is home to Paul Bunyan (Minnesota), which state has the better football team or hockey team (Minnesota), which state is most irrelevant on the national stage (Wisconsin).

But we can now add another chapter to this long and pointless border grudge: alt-country rock legends Wilco.

After the Mayor of Duluth made Tweedy and company an official honorary Duluth band, the Madison city council has introduced a motion to recognize "America's shiniest rock object" as honorary citizens of the Wisconsin capital.

Ah snap, the shit is on...

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Unemployed? Now You've Got Your Own Unionw

U cubed, the new union for the unemployed started only a few months ago and already has representation in 49 states.

The idea is that much like unions (at one point in time, at least) brought some semblance of power to working people by bringing them together to bargain and politic as one unit instead of thousands of individuals, so too should the unemployed attempt political reforms as one.

It's a pretty young organization, but it has a pretty solid model. Members are organized by zip code and form small cells to elect leadership and set local priorities. All of these groups are then linked up in broader local networks and national networks on line.

Obviously it's far too early in the campaign to see if it will be successful or not, but it's certainly an exciting development. And given that it now has the backing of over a dozen major trade unions (with more to come), it could actually turn out to be a pretty powerful vehicle for expressing the concerns of one of the most underrepresented sections of American society.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Too Say The Powerful Never Pay for Their Crimes Is Insane!

I often try to explain to my students that the reason they think criminals are poor people of color is not because poor people of color commit more crimes than anyone else, but because they are prosecuted more than anyone else. If you actually look at the numbers in terms of money lost, injuries/illnesses, and deaths caused, white collar crime is by far more harmful to our society than are all other crimes combined.

Yet we rarely prosecute white collar crime, and when we do, the punishment is rarely proportional to the crime. The example I always use is that the CFO of Enron, who stole in the billions of dollars and destroyed thousands of lives and was convicted of 109 felony counts, for which he received 10 years in prison. In contrast, in California under their three strikes rule, a poor Hispanic man named Leandro Adrande stole two VHS tapes from a K-Mart and received a 50 year sentence. Why? Well, one was rich and powerful, and one was poor and of color. Hopefully you can fill in the dots from there.

Well, another great example of this is unfolding right now. Dick Cheney has come out of his secret hiding spot to hit the political talk show circuit and has been proudly touting his support for and instigation of the use of torture. The problem is, torture or conspiracy to torture is a federal offense punishable by death.

Yet we all know Dick Cheney is in no trouble of ever coming in front of a judge, let alone facing the death penalty (we tend to reserve that kind of thing for the poor people of color we're all so afraid of). Yet here he is, going on national television to repeatedly talk about the federal crimes he committed and how proud he is of them.

But I suppose only a crazy radical leftist could see any injustice in that...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

We've Always Got Money For Political Grandstanding

One point I always try to get across to my students is that our laws and criminal justice priorities usually have less to do with stopping the most dangerous crimes or offering citizens the most protection, but instead tend to be more abut what is politically popular or in the interests of those who create the rules.

Pedophiles are one of the best examples of this. Obviously, the sexual abuse of children is a horrible crime with often devastating consequences for those victimized. But what we do to pedophiles surpasses the harsh treatment of pretty much every other criminal.

Think about it -- people convicted of sex crimes have to register their homes, cars, employers, and often daily activities with the authorities. Though laws vary state-by-state, in most places they are required to actively identify their homes and vehicles as being used by a convicted sex offender. Many places make them take out ads in the paper announcing their arrival and even appear in front of the community at large events to out themselves and have scorn and abuse heaped on them. They usually can't live within a mile of where children gather, leading to the infamous cases like Miami where the only place sex offenders can legally live is literally under a bridge.

This is in no way to defend the actions of sex offenders or to argue that they're sympathetic characters; it's just to point out how harshly we treat them. Think about it -- we don't make murders do any of that, and I would argue they're at least as potentially dangerous as are sex offenders.

Well, with Minnesota's latest budget, you can see this over-the-top response in action. While facing a massive budget shortfall and gashing important social services, Tim "I Want To Be President Real, Real Bad" Pawlenty proposes throwing away $89 million on a facility to house sex offenders. As the article linked to points out, even if such facilities were effective (which research has found they really aren't) this would still only impact about 3% of the states sex offenders.

But it will pass, I can almost guarantee that. Why? Simple -- what politician is going to be the one that votes against punishing sex offenders? The only ones who can do it are those who have no intention of ever running for office again, as "being soft on sex offenders" ads would be the first thing run by any opponent they would ever face again.

And that is how laws that have absolutely nothing to do with protecting the populace or effectively fighting crime are passed, while the rest of us pray our bank doesn't jack up the rates on our mortgage and force us to share that bridge with the pedophiles...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A Good Morning Read

Remember the right wing hack who broke into a U.S. Senator's office to illegally bug her phone in Watergate level proportions of idiocy (seriously, what is with conservatives and wiretaps?)? Well, Talking Points Memo has gotten ahold of the affidavit filed by the FBI field agent who arrested the four ne'er-do-wells after their shenanigans.

Granted, they have yet to face a trial of any kind so it is possible they may not be guilty (unless they were Gitmo detainees, in which case guilt would have nothing to do with it). So it is possible they may be able to come up with some really crazy reason as to why this treason-level federal crime was understandable. But if you take the three minutes to read that affidavit, you'll see they're going to have a pretty damn hard time coming up with such an argument...

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Wan to Overthrow the Government in South Carolina? Not Without a License...

Under the state's "Subversive Activities Registration Act," passed last year and now officially on the books, "every member of a subversive organization, or an organization subject to foreign control, every foreign agent and every person who advocates, teaches, advises or practices the duty, necessity or propriety of controlling, conducting, seizing or overthrowing the government of the United States ... shall register with the Secretary of State."

Yep, you have to register to overthrow the state. And it costs you 5 bucks.

There's lots of questions surrounding this law, the most obvious being "aren't there already laws against overthrowing our government?" But other more pertinent questions also arise, such as, will this law be used against right wing militias that advocate overthrowing the government, or is it just another way to harass vaguely Muslim-looking people? SPOILER ALERT: I think it's the latter.

In reality, this is one of those classic double punishment laws. Many states, for instance, require you to register all money you made from illegal drug sales with the IRS so they can be taxed. Of course no one does this -- no one is really expected to do it -- it's just a way to charge someone arrested on drug crimes with another crime so you can put them away longer. This is called "being tough on crime" or, more simply, "being really fucking retarded."

In any event, I'm hoping for a follow up soon to see who all has registered their intention to overthrow the government. Because certainly any group looking to do that wouldn't dare violate a law requiring them to register their intentions...

Monday, February 15, 2010

It's a Man's World...

Something I talk a lot about with my undergrad students is that, contrary to what you might think from watching t.v. or reading most magazines, the white male is not under attack or a disadvantaged minority. In fact, the white male is still doing pretty well in the U.S. if you take income levels, wealth levels, standard of living, corporate power, academic power, political power, and several dozen other measures as proof of doing well.

But one thing the white male is being asked to do is share miniscule portions of his power with other people (mostly white women). Not give up his overwhelming power and advantages in life, mind you, just share a little bit with some other people.

This might not sound like too much to ask of a group of people who have more-or-less dominated much of the world by hook and by crook for the last 500 years or so. But then again, I don't suppose you violently colonize most of the world by learning to share, so maybe it shouldn't be too big of surprise they're not very happy about being asked to share a miniscule portion of what they have (most of which was, incidentally, stolen from these other folks in the first place, but that's another blog for another day).

Yet it remains that the poor white man is being asked to share. And if you saw this year's Super Bowl, you would think the white man has never been asked to do such a horrible thing in his entire existence. Take the above Dodge Charger ad for instance -- whereas car ads used to dance around the idea that you feel like having to give up any of your unearned advantages is horrible, they're now explicitly saying "stick it to the rest of the world with a shiny, noisy, polluting phallic symbol!"

Well, the good folks over at The Sexist made a nice little response ad to the good folks at Dodge, pointing out that maybe women don't have it as good (or men have it as bad) as they implied in their Super Bowl ad. Check it out:

Friday, February 12, 2010

Big Ups for Little Nicky!

Apparently, February 12ht has been unofficially declared Nick Punto day, with bloggers all across Twins nation chiming in on the little utility man who could. So it just wouldn't be right if your humble li'l blogger didn't throw in his $.02.

To me, Punto is a perfect example of everything that is simultaneously right and yet so wrong about the Minnesota Twins. He's a guy who plays with an intense love of the game, emphasizing speed, hard work, terrific defense, and mediocre (at best) hitting. Nick fits in in Minnesota only because no other major league team would start a man of his proportions and batting skills, but yet you can't help but love the guy.

Sure, he slides head first into first base. Now, this is possibly the stupidest thing a baseball player can do. For starters, it's far faster to continue running. In fact, baseball long ago recognized how much faster it is to keep running to first base and not have to slide so they allow you to over run that base. So not only does sliding into first actually slow you down, it also significantly increases your chance of injury.

Yet when Nicky does it, you can't help but feel he knows what he's doing. And even if it never works (and it doesn't), you've got to love the sight of a hustling little midget man sliding into first. He's just too lovable not to.

And sure, could the Twins find a better hitting third baseman who could still play good defense? Sure they could. But that's not their style. Their style is to find guys like Nick who make highlight reel catches at a rate of about one a game, and who then seem very confused by this long, cylandrical piece of wood they're forced to carry up to the plate several times a game. It may not be high scoring baseball, but it sure is fun to watch.

And now more than ever, as the Twins are actually making off-season moves and acquiring players who may actually be able to play the game of baseball at an above-average level (let's not jinx it yet), I think the Twins need to keep guys like Punto around to remind themselves of who they are. Because yes, I want them to win championships, but I don't want them to do it at the expense of their soul.

Can you win a championship with the likes of Nick Punto starting at 3rd base? I don't know, but I do know that win or lose it's a lot more fun than watching some steroidal jerk like Alex Rodriguez play homerun derby for you. And I'll take that...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

With All That Money, You'd Think They Could Afford Their Own Music

In case you don't follow this sort of thing, the military spends big dollars on advertising. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.4 billion (yes, with a B) has been budgeted to the Department of Defense for recruiting/advertising. I guess convincing people they should sign up for an organization that treats them like shit and then ships them halfway across the world to die for reasons that change every day requires a pretty slick ad campaign.

And of course, where do you launch a slick ad campaign but at the Super Bowl? The Air Force premiered a new ad showing how flying planes that drop internationally-banned cluster bombs (you know the kind, so deadly and horrific the rest of the world has agreed to stop using them) is really just like skateboarding. And you kids love the skateboarding, don't you?

To seal the deal, the Air Force hired 56-year-old Salt Lake City resident Kem Kraft to write a cool song for them. The only problem? He didn't write a song, he simply played "Fell in Love With a Girl" by the White Stripes. And they weren't too happy about it, releasing a statement saying: "the White Stripes take strong insult and objection to the Air Force Reserve presenting this advertisement with the implication that we licensed one of our songs to encourage recruitment during a war that we do not support."

Kraft claims he's never heard of the White Stripes (odd how a guy who makes his living writing music has never heard of possibly the biggest breakout band of the past decade), but his excuse sounds a lot more like a high school student who plagiarizes their homework and then claims they've never heard of this "Encyclopedia Britannica" of which you speak.

Compare for yourself -- Air Force ad (after the end of another and all):

Slightly more original White Stripes video for "Fell in Love With a Girl":

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How Do You Remember Your Core Principles?

This has been making the rounds of the interwebs, but I just wanted to chime in for a moment on it. Yes, Sarah Palin uses crib notes, which she ever-so-elegantly writes on her hand. And to make sure, I've cross-checked with a number of sources and it appears these photos are legit and photoshop free (multiple photographers have come forward with pictures showing the same thing, so it would have to be a pretty big conspiracy to have been made-up at this point).

And yeah, we all use notes to remind ourselves of things from time to time. But here's a few reasons why this is hugely different, and a great example of how Palin, like most of these hacks, doesn't seem to believe this crazy shit as much as she knows there are a lot of people who will give you large sums of money for talking about this crazy shit as if you believe it.

So why is this different than anyone else using notes? Well, for one, Palin is one of the chorus of idiots who constantly deride Obama for using a teleprompter during his speeches (as has every president since the invention of the teleprompter). If you're going to mock the guy for doing something, you probably should not then do the exact same thing in a far less graceful way.

But it's much bigger than that. This was a speech she gave at the Tea Party convention, and was supposed to be about her core beliefs. I don't know about you, but I don't have a super hard time remembering my core beliefs. In fact, you could say they are are the core of my identity. If you hired me to talk about what I believe in, I wouldn't need to write reminders on my hand, because I fucking know what I believe in. You know who does have to write reminders of what they believe in on their hand? People whose beliefs are a political expediency that is constantly shifting.

But this won't really do anything to Palin's growing cult, because it was never based on anything in the first place. All of the attraction to her that exists has always been based on the fact that she's a formerly-pretty white lady who won't take your guns away and wants to defend you from the possibly Muslim guy who talks about changes he never actually makes. And if you were on board that idea, a little direct evidence of her lack of sincerety is nothing to dissuade you now...

You simply cannot make shit this stupid up

Monday, February 08, 2010

taco bell grieves

Glen Bell, the founder of Taco Bell, died recently. In his honor, the company released this image:

Maybe this is the way the guy wanted to be remembered, maybe this is some sort of sick joke, or maybe that is the sweetes eulogy anyone could ask for: the hot sauce packet-based eulogy.

As always, I'm not making this up™

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Happy Super Bowl Sunday!

And don't forget the concomitant rise in prostitution and sex trafficking!

Enjoy thinking about that while stuffing your face!

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Good, Short Interview For Your Morning Perusal

Bill Watterson, the J.D. Salinger-esque creator of Calvin and Hobbes/professional recluse, just gave his first interview in over 20 years.

It's a nice, short, and interesting read in which Watterson sticks to the idea that he quit the strip at its prime and doesnt regret it at all. As he points out, had he continued to cover the same ground year-in, year-out, most of his fans would be wishing he went away. It's a refreshing take from an artist who could have easily coasted on his name for at least another decade while racking up piles and piles of money. Not that Watterson is hurting for money, given the continued popularity of C&H books and whatnot, but it's such a rare event to see someone not destroy every shred of their artistic credibility for another stack of dollar bills.

In other news, The Family Circus is still being published.

Monday, February 01, 2010

How To Become A Best-Selling Author

One good way is to keep buying your own book.

A lot was made of Sarah "I'm just an average person/beauty queen/vie-presidential candidate" Palin's book Going Rogue and its high number of sales. The numbers, which are big for a non-fiction memoir, have been touted as further proof of Mz. Palin's unstoppable popularity and the American people's hunger for her home-spun wisdom.

The only problem is that of the sizable amount of sales her book has pulled in, over $63,000 comes from Palin's own PAC, which was ostensibly founded to help Republican politicians. In contrast, that same PAC gave out $43,000 to people actually running for office. Or for those who can't do the math, this supposedly bold political action committee has spent over $20,000 less on political action than it has on copies of its founder's book.

This is actually a pretty standard conservative ploy -- find someone with a lot of money (either yourself, which is usually pretty easy for conservatives, or a crazy, rich backer) and have them buy thousands of copies of your book. This artificially inflates your sales numbers, causing the book to look popular and shoot up the best sellers lists, not to mention driving an increasing amount of media attention your way. Combine with some shoddy fake journalism on your side (like Fox News doctoring footage of the crowds at your book-signing to make you look a lot more popular than you are), and you create the fiction that your book is really popular and selling well, which in turn, drives people who otherwise wouldn't have paid any attention to buy a copy for themselves, thus further artificially inflating your sales numbers.

That being said, I don't really have a problem with her faux populism or artificial sales numbers, I'm just jealous because when I write my first book, there's no way I'll be able to fake the kind of numbers Sarah Palin can, even though my book will be full of actual text about real things instead of crazy babbling disguised as "straight talk."