Monthly Archives: September 2015

September News Quiz

  1. President Obama announced that he is changing the name of Mt. McKinley, the highest mountain in the U.S., to “Denali” because: a) the president is a Democrat and Mt. McKinley is named after President William McKinley, who was a Republican; b) the mountain was known as Denali by the locals for centuries before it was named after a dead president and he thought it was appropriate to honor their tradition; c) any chance to do something that will annoy Sarah Palin doesn’t really need a reason; or d) the Interior Department gently steered him away from his suggestion that he rename the peak “Mt. Kenya”?
  2. During the Republican presidential debate, candidates rejected concerns about climate change and refused to acknowledge that vaccines don’t cause autism because: a) they’re stupid; b) they think pandering to stupid Republican voters is the best way to get nominated; c) they think all science is just a liberal conspiracy; or d) they’re hoping to get lucky with Jenny McCarthy?
  3. Actress Kaley Cuoco is divorcing her husband of just twenty-one months because: a) it turned out to be just infatuation and not love; b) she realized she’s too young to get married; c) it doesn’t make sense to get married in Hollywood because everyone there sleeps with everyone else anyway; or d) it turns out that her husband’s big bang was a big bang in theory only?
  4. The Dalai Lama said he canceled an October trip to Philadelphia because: a) he’s eighty years old and travel isn’t as easy as it used to be; b) Philadelphia? Seriously?; c) the pope gets the whole city and all you’re offering me is Independence Mall? Nobody puts Dalai in the corner; or d) he’s afraid that once he gets there the city won’t let him leave and then Dalai could never go away again?
  5. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders doesn’t take any SuperPAC money because: a) he thinks “SuperPAC” is an updated version of the 1980s video game; b) he believes the Supreme Court was wrong to make SuperPACs legal; c) he won’t allow himself to be bought off by special interests; or d) seriously, what kind of special interest would make campaign contributions to a seventy-four-year-old socialist whose has about as much a chance of becoming president as Kim Kardashian has of winning a MacArthur “genius” grant?
  6. To curb the practice of Palestinians throwing rocks at Israelis during public demonstrations, Israel has authorized police to shoot at rock-throwers because: a) shooting live ammunition is a pretty sure way to get people to stop throwing rocks; b) just because people have no voice in the rules governing where they live doesn’t mean they have a right to protest; c) the protesters are all Palestinians and Israel really doesn’t care whether they live or die; or d) stick and stones really do hurt but bullets hurt a lot more?
  7. Fox News personality Elisabeth Hasselbeck questioned why the “Black Lives Matter” movement isn’t classified as a hate group because: a) she doesn’t know the difference between a movement and a group; b) her bosses at Fox News urged her to suggest it’s a hate group just to get attention; c) she can’t imagine any protest by people of color not automatically being violent; or d) after six years of working with Whoopi Goldberg she just doesn’t give a damn about Black lives?
  8. The number of anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic hate crimes in London has soared in the past year because: a) the English have always hated Jews; b) the English hate Muslims; c) the English are, despite their sophisticated veneer, a hating kind of people; or d) frustration over the decision of the Emmy Awards people not to give a lifetime achievement award to Benny Hill?
  9. The newly elected prime minister of Australia is: a) Tony Abbott; b) Malcolm Turnbull; c) Crocodile Dundee; or d) it’s a trick question: Australia is a continent, not a country, right?
  10. John Boehner resigned as speaker of the House because: a) he knew he was about to be voted out as speaker; b) he’s sick and tired of trying to lead the current crop of Republican wingnuts and zealots in Congress; c) he’s all cried out; or d) his favorite Washington tanning parlor closed?

More About the Trump-eters

trumpA few weeks ago The Curmudgeon posted a brief excerpt from a New Yorker magazine article about the views of one supporter of lunatic presidential aspirant Donald Trump. The Curmudgeon hadn’t even finished reading the article but thought what he read was so alarming, so disturbing that he wanted to share it at once.

He should have waited – because that article had a lot more interesting observations about people who believe Donald Trump is the leader they’ve been waiting for.

So here are more excerpts from the New Yorker article “The Fearful and the Frustrated,” which you can find here.

In Hampton, I dropped by Fast Eddie’s Diner for the breakfast rush. “He has my vote,” Karen Mayer, a sixty-one-year-old human-resources manager, told me. Already? “Already,” she said. Her husband, Bob Hazelton, nodded in agreement. I asked what issue they cared about more than any other. “Illegal immigration, because it’s destroying the country,” Mayer said. I didn’t expect that answer in New Hampshire, I remarked. She replied, “They’re everywhere, and they are sucking our economy dry.” Hazelton nodded again, and said, “And we’re paying for it.”

*            *            *

When the Trump storm broke this summer, it touched off smaller tempests that stirred up American politics in ways that were easy to miss from afar. At the time, I happened to be reporting on extremist white-rights groups, and observed at first hand their reactions to his candidacy. Trump was advancing a dire portrait of immigration that partly overlapped with their own. On June 28th, twelve days after Trump’s announcement, the Daily Stormer, America’s most popular neo-Nazi news site, endorsed him for President: “Trump is willing to say what most Americans think: it’s time to deport these people.” The Daily Stormer urged white men to “vote for the first time in our lives for the one man who actually represents our interests.”

*            *            *

Richard Spencer is a self-described “identitarian” who lives in Whitefish, Montana, and promotes “white racial consciousness.” At thirty-six, Spencer is trim and preppy, with degrees from the University of Virginia and the University of Chicago. He is the president and director of the National Policy Institute, a think tank, co-founded by William Regnery, a member of the conservative publishing family, that is “dedicated to the heritage, identity, and future of European people in the United States and around the world.” The Southern Poverty Law Center calls Spencer “a suit-and-tie version of the white supremacists of old.” Spencer told me that he had expected the Presidential campaign to be an “amusing freak show,” but that Trump was “refreshing.” He went on, “Trump, on a gut level, kind of senses that this is about demographics, ultimately. We’re moving into a new America.” He said, “I don’t think Trump is a white nationalist,” but he did believe that Trump reflected “an unconscious vision that white people have—that their grandchildren might be a hated minority in their own country. I think that scares us. They probably aren’t able to articulate it. I think it’s there. I think that, to a great degree, explains the Trump phenomenon. I think he is the one person who can tap into it.”

*            *            *

After years of decline, the League [from elsewhere in the article: the “Alabama-based League of the South, a secessionist group that envisions an independent Southern republic with an “Anglo-Celtic” leadership”) has recently acquired a number of younger members, including Brad Griffin, a thirty-four-year-old who writes an influential blog under the name Hunter Wallace. Short and genial, he wore Top-Siders, khaki shorts, and a polo shirt. As we talked, Griffin’s eyes wandered to his two-year-old son, who was roaming nearby. Griffin told me that he embraced white nationalism after reading Patrick Buchanan’s “Death of the West,” which argued, in Griffin’s words, that “all of the European peoples were dying out, their birthrates were low, and you had mass immigration and multiculturalism.”

*            *            *

The longer I stayed, the more I sensed that my fellow-attendees occupied a parallel universe in which white Americans face imminent demise, the South is preparing to depart the United States, and Donald Trump is going to be President. When Hill took the stage, he told his compatriots that the recent lowering of the Confederate flag was just the beginning. Soon, he warned, adopting the unspecified “they,” they will come for the “monuments, battlefields, parks, cemeteries, street names, even the dead themselves.” The crowd was on its feet, cheering him on. “This, my friends, is cultural genocide,” he said, adding, “Often, as history has shown, cultural genocide is merely a prelude to physical genocide.”

*            *            *

As people turned up in Oskaloosa, I encountered some of the fearful. A construction worker named Ron James, wearing a T-shirt that said “Every-Juan Illegal Go Home,” told me that the “invasion of illegals” is eroding American culture: “We’re getting flushed down the toilet.”

*            *            *

When Trump started emphasizing the mortal threat posed by undocumented immigration, America’s white nationalists rejoiced. “Why are whites supposed to be happy about being reduced to a minority?” Jared Taylor, of American Renaissance, asked me. “It’s clear why Hispanics celebrate diversity: ‘More of us! More Spanish! More cucaracha!’ ”

*            *            *

Taylor, who calls himself a “racial dissident,” was slim and decorous in gray trousers and a button-down when we met. For years, he and others have sensed an opportunity on the horizon to expand their ranks. When Obama was elected in 2008, Stormfront, the leading white-supremacist Web forum, crashed from heavy traffic. The Klan, weakened by lawsuits and infighting, barely exists anymore, but the Internet draws in young racists like Dylann Roof, who is accused of the June 17th massacre of nine people at a church in Charleston. The attack inspired a broad effort to remove the Confederate flag—from the state capitol and from the shelves of Amazon and of Walmart and a host of other retail stores. Defenders of the flag were galvanized, and they organized more than a hundred rallies around the South, interpreting the moment, months after racial unrest in Ferguson and Baltimore, as a sign of a backlash against political correctness and multiculturalism. Trump’s language landed just as American hate groups were more energized than at any time in years. Griffin, the blogger for the League of the South, told me that the removal of the flag had crystallized “fears that people have about what happens when we become a minority. What happens when we have no control over things? You’re seeing it play out right now.”

Over sandwiches in the dining room of Taylor’s brick Colonial, with views of a spacious back yard, a half-hour from downtown Washington, D.C., five of his readers and friends shared their views on race and politics, on the condition that I not use their full names. They were white men, in white-collar jobs, and each had a story of radicalization: Chris, who wore a pink oxford shirt and a tie, and introduced himself as an employee of “Conservativism, Inc.,” the Republican establishment, said that he had graduated from a public high school where there were frequent shootings, but he felt he was supposed to “ignore the fact that we were not safe on a day-to-day basis because of all of these blacks and the other immigrants in our schools.”

Jason, a muscle-bound commercial-real-estate broker in a polo shirt, said, “I’ve had personnel—in strict, frightened confidence—just tell me, ‘Hey, look, we’re just hiring minorities, so don’t appeal, don’t come back.’ ” This sense of “persecution,” as he called it, is widely held. In a study published in 2011, Michael Norton, a professor at Harvard Business School, and Samuel Sommers, a professor of psychology at Tufts, found that more than half of white Americans believe that whites have replaced blacks as “the primary victims of discrimination” today, even though, as Norton and Sommers write, “by nearly any metric—from employment to police treatment, loan rates to education—statistics continue to indicate drastically poorer outcomes for Black than White Americans.”

The men around the table, unlike previous generations of white nationalists, were inspired not by nostalgia for slavery but by their dread of a time when non-Hispanic whites will no longer be the largest demographic group in America. They uniformly predicted a violent future. Erick, who wore a Captain America T-shirt and unwittingly invoked one of Trump’s signature phrases, told me, “The American dream is dead, and the American nightmare is just beginning. I believe it’s that way. I think that whites don’t know the terror that’s upon us.”

All the men wanted to roll back anti-discrimination laws in order to restore restrictive covenants and allow them to carve out all-white enclaves. Henry, a twenty-six-year-old with cropped blond hair, said, “We all see some hope in Donald Trump, because it’s conceivable that he could benefit the country in a way that we feel would be helpful.”

*            *            *

In early August, the Republican candidates convened in Cleveland for their first debate. I watched it on television with Matthew Heimbach, the young white nationalist in Cincinnati, and some of his friends. Heimbach, whom anti-racist activists call “the Little Fuhrer,” for his tirades against “rampant multiculturalism,” founded the Traditionalist Youth Network, a far-right group that caters to high-school and college students and pushes for the separation of blacks and whites… Like many ultraconservatives, Heimbach had largely given up on the Republican Party. He said, “We need to get the white community to actually start speaking for the white community, instead of letting a bunch of Republicans that hate us anyway, and don’t speak for our values, be the unofficial spokespeople.”

*            *            *

When Trump leaped to the head of the Republican field, he delivered the appearance of legitimacy to a moral vision once confined to the fevered fringe, elevating fantasies from the message boards and campgrounds to the center stage of American life. In doing so, he pulled America into a current that is coursing through other Western democracies—Britain, France, Spain, Greece, Scandinavia—where xenophobic, nationalist parties have emerged since the 2008 economic crisis to besiege middle-ground politicians. In country after country, voters beset by inequality and scarcity have reached past the sober promises of the center-left and the center-right to the spectre of a transcendent solution, no matter how cruel. “

Trump’s candidacy has already left a durable mark, expanding the discourse of hate such that, in the midst of his feuds and provocations, we barely even registered that Senator Ted Cruz had called the sitting President “the world’s leading financier of radical Islamic terrorism,” or that Senator Marco Rubio had redoubled his opposition to abortion in cases of rape, incest, or a mortal threat to the mother. Trump has bequeathed a concoction of celebrity, wealth, and alienation that is more potent than any we’ve seen before. If, as the Republican establishment hopes, the stargazers eventually defect, Trump will be left with the hardest core—the portion of the electorate that is drifting deeper into unreality, with no reconciliation in sight. 

The Volkswagen Debacle

In case you missed it, the folks at Volkswagen recently got caught giving the middle finger to the people and laws of the United States.

If you haven’t been following this scandal – and it IS a scandal – Volkswagen hatched a scheme to circumvent U.S. emissions laws to make its diesel cars (and its diesel Audis) appear environmentally friendly yet still powerful. To do this, the company built cars that emitted waaaaay too much nitrogen oxide – forty times the legal limit – and were, in part because of those illegal emissions, more powerful than cars of that type should be. It then embedded software in the cars’ electronics that, when the cars were tested for emissions, showed that the emissions were within legal limits. It sold nearly a half-million such cars in the U.S.

That’s nasty. Really nasty.

volkswagenSo far, all the company has been ordered to do is recall the cars, remove the software, and fix the engines so their emissions meet legal standards. It’ll cost the company thousands of dollars to fix each car, plus a fine of up to $18 billion, or $37,500 a car.

That’s a lot of money, to be sure, but it just doesn’t seem like enough.

And The Curmudgeon isn’t talking about money.

Somewhere in the Volkswagen company, someone came up with this idea, a bunch of people talked about and presumably debated it, and someone – maybe the CEO, maybe someone else – exercised the ultimate authority and declared “Yes, let’s do it. Let’s do this thing that helps us make money even though we know we’ll be breaking American laws” (or words to that effect).

Why shouldn’t the “Yes, let’s do it” person (or people) be prosecuted?

And if the company can’t help U.S. investigators identify that ultimate authority or authorities, why should the U.S. permit that company to continue selling its cars in this country when it has made such a willful, deliberate decision to violate our laws?

What about banning the sale of those cars in the U.S. – for a year? Maybe three years? Maybe five years?

That’ll probably get them to turn over the guilty party.

Personal accountability is essential. The resignation of the company’s CEO isn’t enough – not when the person or people who made the decision get away with that decision and the company, not the decision-maker, pays the financial penalty. The decision-maker needs to pay a penalty, too – not just losing his or her job – and the message needs to be loud and clear: treat U.S. laws with such blatant contempt and disdain, mess with us like that, and it won’t just be your company that pays a serious price – it’ll be you, too.

Taking Care of Business (chapter 25)

For an introduction to the novel Taking Care of Business, links to all chapters posted so far, and a list of characters who have appeared so far, go here, to the Taking Care of Business resources page. To see every part of Taking Care of Business posted so far in one place, go here.)

Chapter 25

Two days later Gilliam and Decker returned to the same hotel, where they again met with Francisco Estevez, the head of the city’s law department, and John Warren, a lawyer the city hired to lead its negotiating team. Warren had been negotiating labor contracts for the city, its school district, and its public transportation agency for more than twenty years.

“So, where were we?” Warren asked when the two labor representatives had poured themselves coffee and taken their seats.

“You were about to make us an offer that’s not an insult to my members,” Gilliam said defiantly.

“Fred,” Estevez started to say, but Gilliam cut him off.

“Don’t ‘Fred’ me, Cisco. Don’t sit there in your $700 suit and plead poverty. We know the city has money, and we want some of it.”

“You’re right, Mr. Gilliam,” Warren interjected. “The city does have money, and we’re prepared to give you a good deal of it. We’re offering all city workers raises of two percent a year for three years. That comes out to about $140 million in new money. So yes, we have money, and we’re offering it to you now. We’re not asking for any holiday give-backs or any new cost-sharing on benefits, even though cities across the country are asking for and getting both. We will ask for some work-rule changes, but nothing you’ll find terribly burdensome, I assure you. But understand this: I just put $140 million on the table, just like I did the other day, and if you get up and walk out again, the mayor will hold a press conference within an hour to announce to the entire city, including your members, that you walked away from $140 million without so much as even talking about it.”

Decker saw that Gilliam was about to speak and decided to interrupt.

“It’s a basis for further discussion, John.”

Gilliam stopped.

“Good,” Warren replied. “So let’s talk.”

And they did, but it did not go well. The city’s negotiator insisted that the mayor had put every available dollar on the table and that there was no more money; Gilliam insisted that past negotiations were proof that there was always more money, no matter how vigorously and vociferously the city argued to the contrary.

They went back and forth in this manner during four negotiating sessions over a period of ten days. John Warren did all of the talking for the city; Estevez was there to ensure that there was another body in the room and because he was formally a city employee. Fred Gilliam did almost all of the talking for the blue-collar workers. Decker’s primary role was to calm Gilliam when he lost his temper – which was often. Privately, Warren told Estevez that Decker was clearly out of his element, quite possibly even stupid – “a typical Widener law grad,” Warren joked, referring to a local law school well known for taking earnest, hard-working, ambitious, but mediocre people, putting them through years of unchallenging night school classes, and turning them into earnest, hard-working, ambitious, but mediocre lawyers. When Estevez suggested that this would undoubtedly work to the city’s advantage, Warren, experienced and ever-cautious, warned that it might not: Decker was so inexperienced in such negotiations and so utterly without the capacity to render reasoned judgments that he might be incapable of providing the rational, dispassionate counsel needed to offset Gilliam’s volatility. The key to a successful labor negotiation, Warren explained to Estevez – who was himself participating, albeit silently so far, in his first labor talks – was having at least one person on each side of the table who could recognize that his side had gotten everything there was to be gotten from the other side and that the time had come to settle. The other side in these negotiations, Warren feared, may not have that one person, which could mean endless negotiations with little hope of reaching agreement.

The sixth negotiating session demonstrated that the two sides remained far, far apart.

“Two percent a year for three years is a good offer, Fred,” Warren said. “We all know the city’s in a financial bind, so it’s somewhat of a miracle that we’re offering any raises at all. After all, you yourself were so certain that we’d offer you nothing that you put out a press release criticizing us for not offering you anything even though we did.”

Gilliam did not like being reminded of this blunder. Warren did not wish to dwell on it, but he had decided to mention it once a week as a counter-balance to the many times Gilliam rejected an offer and claimed it was “bad faith” – to remind Gilliam that when it came to bad faith, Gilliam was without peer.

“I don’t understand why you’re constantly seeking credit for putting money on the table,” Gilliam replied. “That’s what you’re supposed to do in contract negotiations.”

“And you’re not supposed to walk out when we do,” Warren said archly.

“John, you know the history of these negotiations,” Gilliam replied. “The city always ends up giving us more than its original offer. So why don’t you just cut to the chase and get to that part now and we can both go and tell our people that we’ve worked this thing out.”

“History is just that: history,” Warren said. “That was then and this is now, so let’s stay in the present. Two percent a year for three years. No give-backs. No additional cost-sharing on health care. And we won’t even ask you to give back that idiotic holiday.”

“How dare you!” Gilliam bellowed, slamming his palm violently on the table. “How dare you! One of my men gave his life in service to this city! How dare you begrudge us our negotiated right to remember him properly with a special day to pay our respects.” Decker, sitting alongside Gilliam, was both frightened and confused: frightened by the ferocity of Gilliam’s outburst and confused because he had no idea what his client was talking about.

Gilliam and Warren were sparring over Amos Wells Day, a paid holiday for the city’s blue-collar workers. In the mid-1960s, Wells, a city water department worker attempting to close an open fire hydrant that was blasting water into the street on a hot summer day, slipped on a wet pavement directly into the stream of water and was propelled by the sheer force of the jet of water into the middle of a busy intersection, where he was struck and killed by an ice cream truck. The city had given its employees a day off work to attend the funeral, and then, during labor negotiations a year later, a mayor facing a difficult primary election made it a permanent paid holiday for city workers when he realized that doing so would not cost the city any money but would help him reach a new contract agreement before that election, thereby helping him win the votes of satisfied city workers. That mayor won renomination by just a handful of votes and city workers had now enjoyed this paid holiday for more than forty years.

“First of all, I said we weren’t asking for it back, and second of all, I think it’s hardly begrudging your members to suggest that Amos Wells should not be mentioned in the same breath as Martin Luther King, George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln,” Warren said.

“It’s disrespectful even to mention it,” Gilliam replied. “Amos Wells gave his life for this city and deserves a day in his memory.”

“And what about all the police officers and firefighters who did the same?” interjected Estevez. The others looked at him, astonished that the heretofore silent city official had spoken.

“What about them?” Gilliam asked.

“Why a day off for a water department worker and not the dozens of cops and firemen who’ve died in the line of duty?”

Gilliam scoffed; Warren was not pleased with the possibility that Estevez might be giving Gilliam a new idea.

“If I was running their unions, you’d be damn sure we’d have paid days off for all of them – every single one. I can’t help it if the men they elect to run their unions were born with empty sacks.”

“Well, we’re not talking about that, Fred,” Warren said, “and we’re not asking you to give back Amos Wells Day. What we are asking you to do is to be serious about our offer: two percent a year for three years.”

“And I’m telling you that if that’s where you’re starting, it means there’s more you’re holding back and that all I have to do to get it is to wait you out.”

“There’s no more,” Warren replied. “You’ve seen the budget and you’ve seen the revenue projections. There’s no more.”

“There’s always more. Tell me: do you like the smell of trash piling up on neighborhood streets, John?”

“What?”

“Our contract expires June 30, and by the fourth of July, uncollected trash is going to be sitting on curbs for four days. Add a little heat and a little humidity and you’ve got bugs, you’ve got rats, and you’ve got stench. And if it rains, god help us all.”

“It’s April and you’re threatening a strike in July – now? Talk about bad faith.”

“Let’s not pretend it’s not a possibility, John, because we all know it is. And this time around, we’ve got a lot going for us that I think will put the public in our corner.”

“Surely you jest.”

“Do I look like I’m jesting?”

“You think the taxpayers are going to support giving you and your members more of their tax dollars?”

“Yeah, I do.”

“Would you care to tell me why?”

Gilliam smiled for a moment and decided that the time had come to unveil the negotiating strategy that he was certain would pay huge dividends for his members this year.

“Here’s why: the people love us.”

“They love you?” Warren asked, fighting hard to refrain from laughing.

“Yes, they love us. We all know the most publicly visible of my people are streets department workers, right?”

“I’m with you so far.”

“The trash is being collected. Street repairs are now being made almost as soon as a problem arises. And to top it off, the last time it snowed, we clearly every single city street – every last one of them.”

“So?”

“So we’re heroes. Read the newspaper. Watch the TV news. Or just ask your neighbors. People are happy with us, and we believe that when we take our case to the people, they’re going to be in our corner.”

Warren nodded.

“I see,” he said. “And you think one good winter is going to make up for years of the public hating you – a hatred, by the way, that we’ve never taken advantage of during past contract talks.”

“Oh, you’ve taken advantage of it. You don’t come right out and do it overtly, but you always count on the public backing your hard-line negotiating positions because you know they don’t like us. But now they do, and we’re going to take advantage of it.”

“How?”

“We’re going to take our case right to the people.”

Decker turned to look at Gilliam; he was hearing this for the first time.

“We’re going to tell them that we’re getting the job done like never before, that they’ve told us that they’re happy with our work, and that we hope they’ll contact the mayor and their council members and tell them to be fair to us.”

“And the past twenty or thirty years of failing to meet that kind of high performance level?”

“You see, that’s where you guys have really helped us. You gave us Shaniqua Watson, bless her heart – a gift from heaven above. We’re going to tell the public that our men and women have always been ready, willing, and able and that our past failures were the result of poor leadership and incompetent management, and Shaniqua Watson is proof. You finally put a good manager in charge and now look at how good our work is. So our argument is going to be that the problem has always been you, not us, and that the last few months are proof of that. People should support us because we’re willing to do the city’s dirty work, their dirty work, and we’ve proven that when we’re given the right tools and the right leadership, we can do a great job.”

“Really?” Decker asked, excited about his client’s speech.

Gilliam glared at him; Decker looked down.

“You have a very high opinion of people’s capacity to forgive and forget,” Warren said after a moment’s pause.

“The public has the attention span of a gnat,” Gilliam replied, smiling.

“Well, Fred, that may be true, but what happens when we tell the public that you turned down $140 million in pay raises? Do you think they’re going to be on your side then?”

“I think they will,” Gilliam said, suddenly sounding not quite as convinced by his own argument.

“And what about when we tell them that the only way to pay you more than the additional $140 million we already offered is to raise their taxes? Do you think the public will be in your corner then, when you’re asking them to reach into their own pockets?”

Gilliam did not respond.

“We’re trying to be fair with you, Fred,” Warren continued. “Two percent a year over three years is fair. We think the public would absolutely support no raises in the first year, and we think they would support more cost-sharing on your health benefits, probably even a lot more cost-sharing, since most people’s employers started requiring them to do that a long time ago. We also think they would turn out in huge numbers for a parade celebrating a give-back of Amos Wells Day. But we’re not asking for any of those things. The mayor has run a huge international corporation and he’s never asked his employees to give anything back, and his marching orders to us are to treat you with the same respect. But if you think the public is going to support raises for you even if it means higher taxes for them, I suggest that you hire a pollster and ask them yourself because I think you’ve got another thing coming.”

The talks went on like this for the rest of the session, and a few others as well, until Gilliam concluded that he had reached a stalemate and needed help. For that help, he would turn where the unions always turned, and where the public never suspected they turned.

(more next Sunday)

 

 

Not-So-Sweet Home, Alabama

The other day The Curmudgeon was listening to a little classic rock radio when he heard a familiar song with the following verse:

In Birmingham they love the Gov’nor, boo-hoo-hoo

Now we all did what we could do

Now Watergate does not bother me

Does your conscience bother you, tell the truth

You may recognize the lyrics: they’re from the Lynryd Skynyrd song “Sweet Alabama.”

lynyrd skynyrdBut more than forty years after the fact, you have to wonder:

Were they idiots?

Did they really think it was okay for the president of the United States to employ people to break into the offices of his political opponents – opponents, not enemies – to spy on them and then engage numerous public officials and employees in a massive cover-up of his criminal behavior? To accept suitcases full of illegal campaign contributions? To use the IRS to harass his opponents? To do all those other things he did?

Really? Watergate didn’t bother them?

How stupid could they possibly have been?

About This Planned Parenthood Business

The Curmudgeon thinks this whole Planned Parenthood kerfuffle is much ado about virtually nothing and that it’s yet another example of a certain political element in this country making mountains out of molehills and allowing itself to be distracted from much bigger and more important matters.

With that said, and despite his belief in the power of the written word, The Curmudgeon has no illusions about the power of his own words to change anyone’s mind about this. If you oppose abortion, he believes nothing he writes could possibly change your mind. If you think Planned Parenthood has done something terribly wrong, he believes nothing he writes could possibly change your thinking.

But he does wonder about one thing.

If those whose goal is nothing less than to destroy Planned Parenthood manage somehow to succeed, doesn’t that just mean that abortions will continue at pretty much the rate at which they’re performed today and that doctors and nurses, the primary providers of abortions today, will be replaced by sleazy backroom operators and that the primary instruments used in abortions today, the dilator and curette, will be replaced by the proverbially rusty coat hanger?

And doesn’t that mean that a lot more young and not-so-young women are going to die obtaining a service that, our individual views on abortion notwithstanding, is perfectly legal in our country today?

Is that what those seeking to destroy Planned Parenthood really want?

The Curmudgeon Goes to Shul

For lack of a better term, The Curmudgeon is a lapsed Jew.

While he is unquestionably Jewish and values his religion’s culture and traditions, the religious part – the whole g-d thing – leaves him absolutely cold. He is, depending on how you define it and his mood when you talk to him about it, either agnostic or an atheist.

He realizes that makes him a bundle of contradictions – something others have seldom hesitated to point out to him. He doesn’t believe in g-d but he observes Judaism’s major holidays and believes they’re important enough to use personal or vacation time rather than work on them. He has a high degree of disdain for reform Judaism, which he thinks is silly. On the other hand, twice in the last two paragraphs he has referred to his religion’s deity as “g-d” because that’s what the rabbis insist on and he believes they should be respected on this matter (although not on all matters).

The Curmudgeon’s negative feelings toward religion and faith are colored by specific things in his past, a combination of his childhood belief in science and the problem that poses when trying to contemplate and grasp the concept of faith; an orthodox religious school instructor whose teachings were wholly inappropriate for the impressionable children of the conservative congregation she had been hired to teach; and the incongruity of being compelled to participate in services in which you read and chant for two hours in a language you do not understand and the failure of those whose responsibility was to teach those children to make any effort at all to attempt to explain the meaning of those words and share and instill the sentiments they seek to express.

Part of being lapsed means not going to synagogue, or shul (but never “temple”: that word is part of the reform Judaism for which The Curmudgeon has such disdain). Sometimes, though, social necessity trumps matters of faith, so a few weeks ago The Curmudgeon found himself in a synagogue for the first time ever in a year that begins with the number “2” to attend a bat mitzvah.

And he has to admit he was pleasantly surprised.

The bat mitzvah was held in a part of Philadelphia where many people would be surprised to learn there even are any Jews, yet there they are, a visibly strong and proud and tightly knit congregation with a lovely facility that, while old, is immaculately maintained.

But what surprised The Curmudgeon was the service.

The first striking thing about the service was the number of people who participated directly in it. While the service was not especially well-attended, children were not segregated from adults, as was the case when The Curmudgeon was growing up, and they participated, they didn’t just observe: the rabbi called them to the front of the room to lead the singing of a few well-known prayers. As far as The Curmudgeon could tell these weren’t necessarily friends of the bat mitzvee: they were just kids, mostly girls, who attended the synagogue.

The second striking thing about the service was the physical location from which it was conducted: from the front of the room but not from the raised platform, or stage, that Jews refer to as the “bimah.” Historically the bimah is supposed to be used only for reading the Torah, Judaism’s holy scrolls, but over the years rabbis have taken up full-time residence on the bimah, a practice The Curmudgeon has always interpreted as symbolic of their belief in their moral and spiritual superiority over their congregants. This service, though, was led from the same level as the congregants, and it created a feeling of community even for The Curmudgeon, who was not a member of that community at all.

The real revelation – not a great word to use in this context, perhaps, but one The Curmudgeon will use nonetheless – was the rabbi. The Curmudgeon has attended services at numerous synagogues (okay, and temples) over the years and found that if there was one thing you could count on, it was a self-important and self-absorbed rabbi.

As a group, rabbis come across as pretty miserable people. The Curmudgeon once attended a new year’s eve gathering hosted by a husband-and-wife rabbi team and the husband half, who stationed himself at the door to greet his guests, was about as lively as a funeral director. The rabbi who presided over The Curmudgeon’s own bar mitzvah (November 21, 1970) was a miserable man who had no time for his congregants. He passed away less than a month ago at the age of ninety-six, and even his obituary, presumably written by a member of his family or based on information presented to a writer by his family, made not even a passing reference to his warmth or any positive personal feelings from or about the people in the congregations he led. Shortly before The Curmudgeon turned thirteen he was led to that rabbi’s study and had an audience with the man that lasted no longer than three minutes. The rabbi had nothing to say and acted like his visitor was an unwelcome interruption, an inconvenience. What The Curmudgeon remembers most about the visit was that the rabbi’s study was completely lined with books, and that’s the one quality his obituary mentioned, as if being a rabbi and immersing yourself in books instead of the spiritual life of your congregants is something worthwhile.

But the rabbi at this synagogue was amazing. He was warm and welcoming and engaging and even joyous, and his decision to conduct his service as a peer of his congregation and not from on high reflected a refreshing and most welcome egalitarianism. His interpretation of the week’s Torah passage was enlightening and positive and optimistic, his enthusiasm for his faith and his vocation and his congregants unmistakable and practically infectious.

This rabbi spoke of the bat mitzvah girl in a way that made clear that she was not someone with whom he’d had only a single, three-minute encounter: he knew her and her family well and he even revealed that he had communicated with her by Skype over the summer while he was overseas. Attending synagogue has always been an unpleasant experience for The Curmudgeon and that is never going to change, no matter how welcoming the rabbi is, but at least this visit was informative and interesting and optimistic and in some ways even satisfying.

At the reception following the service The Curmudgeon sought out the rabbi, introduced himself, and conveyed his high regard for what he had just witnessed. He described himself using the same term he used above – a lapsed Jew – and told the rabbi that if there were more rabbis like him, there might be fewer lapsed Jews like The Curmudgeon.

And The Curmudgeon meant it.

Lie, Carly

Some people thought the winner of last week’s Republican presidential debate – some seriously good television, by the way – was Carly Fiorina. Her debate performance, which The Curmudgeon found to be polished and forceful – including one of the best lines of the night – yet strangely ill-informed, was buoyed by two particular sets of remarks: one on how she lost a daughter to drug abuse and the other about her horror over the controversial Planned Parenthood tapes.

In graphic terms, Fiorina challenged her Democratic opponents to

… watch a fully formed fetus on the table, its heart beating, its legs kicking, while someone says we have to keep it alive to harvest its brain.

It was truly a touching story, told well. There’s just one problem: according to people who’ve watched every minute of every one of those Planned Parenthood tapes, there’s no such scene.

No. Such. Scene.

fiorinaNow The Curmudgeon realizes that Fiorina may have witnessed such a scene on some other tape or on something else someone showed her. He also allows for the possibility that she’s repeating something someone told her.

But it just didn’t happen as she said it happened.

So when Fiorina got caught stretching the truth she just ‘fessed up,’ right?

Wrong. She continues to insist that her account is accurate, all the evidence of the truth notwithstanding.

For someone who likes to claim she’s not a politician, Fiorina certainly has developed a politician’s capacity to lie, hasn’t she?

Donald Trump and Bankruptcy

When confronted with the four bankruptcies through which he has guided his companies over the years, Donald Trump declares that every great business leader uses bankruptcy laws to his or her financial benefit and he was just taking advantage of the laws available to him.

The Curmudgeon would like to offer three observations about this.

First, every great business person?

Not Warren Buffett.

Not Bill Gates.

Not Michael Bloomberg.

Not anyone in the Walton family that still controls Walmart.

Not Larry Ellison.

Not the infamous Koch brothers.

Not Steve Jobs.

The Curmudgeon could name dozens of others, but you get the point.

Second, if he were to be elected president – heaven help us – Trump would not have access to bankruptcy laws bail to him out of the kind of terrible decisions he apparently makes fairly often. That’s not how it works.

And third…

trumpTrump likes to brag about how rich he is – he seems almost pathologically incapable of resisting the impulse to brag about his wealth – but taking his companies through bankruptcy not one, not two, not three, but four times means, at its most basic level, that he has gotten so rich in part by stiffing people to whom he owes money.

Those people? Yes, he likes to point out that some of them are not exactly good guys, like banks. But banks have shareholders, including lots of ordinary people who own bank stock as part of mutual funds in their IRAs and 401K funds. Those burned creditors also probably include more than a few pension funds that invested in his businesses. Maybe your mutual fund or your pension fund? And what about the ordinary small businesses and small business owners who worked for his various facilities? You know: plumbers and electricians and carpenters, small companies that cater meetings, the flower shop on the corner, the mom-and-pop stationery store at which his businesses pick up odds-and-ends supplies between mega-orders from bigger suppliers, the garages that service his companies’ vehicles, the groundskeepers that had contracts to maintain his golf courses, folks like these?

Yes, he got so rich in part by stiffing these and many other people not once, not twice, not three times, but four times to bring his businesses out of bankruptcy, to compensate for his failure of leadership and business sense.

That’s how Trump got so rich.

And that’s something Trump also believes is worth bragging about.

 

 

 

Pope-Mania!!!

For nearly two months now the Philadelphia area has been inundated with information, news, and hype surrounding this week’s visit to Philadelphia by Pope Francis. It’s truly been non-stop and never-ending: information about the security surrounding the pope’s visit, how to get to where the pope will be appearing (sort of like he’s playing a nightclub), which roads will be open and which will be closed, where the security fences will be, how to get tickets to various events, and much, much more. So much of the commercial center of Philadelphia will be closed to traffic that many businesses are closing for the visit while those that are choosing to remain open are worried about how to get their employees and supplies in and out. Hospitals are rolling out cots and paying their employees extra to sleep over. The Curmudgeon’s sister is a Philadelphia public school teacher and she’ll have off the two days because the school district knows it can’t possible count on all of its teachers being able to get to their schools. The Curmudgeon’s brother has chosen to use two vacation days because he can’t figure out a way to get to his office, which isn’t even in Philadelphia, because of all the roads that will be closed.

Of course, even an event as spiritual in nature as the visit of the pope has its commercial aspects, and this event is no exception.

In June, the World Meeting of Families, which is sponsoring the pope’s visit, announced that it had chosen an “official retail vendor” for the occasion – because every religious event needs an official retail vendor, doesn’t it? That vendor is Aramark, a company you probably know best for the indigestion you get when you eat its food at ballparks, museums, and company and college cafeterias. That certainly qualifies the company to sell pontiff memorabilia, right?

nutterAt the announcement of the official retail vendor, Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter showed no shame, posing for photographers with the official plush pope doll ($20).   Other items introduced at the time ranged in price from five dollars to five hundred, and in the shopping area of the World Meeting of Families – because every religious organization’s web site needs a shopping area – you’ll find the Pope Francis World Meeting of Families Lenox Commemorative Ivory Bone China with 24 Karat Gold Gild plate ($60); the Pope Francis Antique Bronze Medallion ($50); the Blue Round Floral Pattern Glass-Beaded Rosary ($20); the Portrait Tote Bag ($10); assorted t-shirts, hoodies, polo shirts, and jackets; a life-size (apparently the pope, like The Curmudgeon, is 5’9” tall) cardboard cutout of the pope (great for selfies, the site boasts); various coffee mugs and drinking glasses; and of course, because every celebrity needs one, a pope bobblehead.
Yes, a bobblehead.

bobblehead

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But those are only the official Pope Francis souvenirs; there’s so much more – and so much more fun.

For example, for the well-dressed pope-watcher, a pope necktie.

pope tie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or for thirsty pope fans, a pope shot glass.

PopeShotG1-1000x700

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Philadelphia is a rabid sports town, so a pope Eagles t-shirt.

pope eagles t shirt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or a pope Phillies baseball card.

pope baseball card

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or a series of dolls depicting the pope and Rocky (and Benjamin Franklin).

pope with rocky

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking of Rocky, a gift shop at the Jersey shore featured this t-shirt with an expression out of Rocky’s limited vocabulary.

ocean city

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The folks who make those silly emojis have come out with a new line of symbols to celebrate the pope’s visit to the U.S., and among those emojis is one with his holiness eating – of course – a Philly cheese steak.

pope cheesesteak emoji

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And speaking of food, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that a distributor of pizza boxes has a new box with an image of the pope welcoming him to Philadelphia.

As if Francis is going to order one with pepperoni while he’s here.

There’s even an Etsy store dedicated to pope-in-Philadelphia memorabilia.

In another article, the Inquirer reported on pope-related offerings at Philadelphia-area restaurants, including:

  • a $45 prix fixe menu of cucina povera, or “cuisine of the poor”
  • a “bar-side confessional” discount on Peroni and Italian craft beers
  • a “Pope’s pasta hat” with sheep’s milk, ricotta, and beets
  • a “Basilicia” burger
  • a pope pub crawl
  • a pope milkshake: vanilla ice cream and shortbread butter cookies
  • 24 religious-themes beers (“Lost Abbey,” “Evil Twin,” “Firestone Walker,” and others
  • wines from Argentina, the pope’s birthplace
  • a meal called “The Epiphany” with tenderloin beef, homemade mozzarella, roasted tomatoes, grilled romaine, and Argentinean chimichurri sauce on focaccia bread
  • pope-blend coffee

And then there’s a new pope cheese: a six-inch, one-pound likeness carved from mozzarella that sells for $20.

pope cheese

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While not a material memento, the Philadelphia Inquirer decided Philadelphians might want a musical remembrance of the pope’s visit so yesterday it published its special “papal playlist.”

  1.  “Gloria: In Excelsis Deo,” Patti Smith.“Jesus died, for somebody’s sins … but not mine!” Those opening lines from this signature song by the punk-poet who spent her formative years in Germantown and Deptford might move some to label her a blasphemer. But not Pope Francis, who invited Smith to play at this Vatican Christmas concert last year.
  2. “Highway 61 Revisited,” Bob Dylan. A Biblical tale of the Old Testament variety. Religious imagery courses through Dylan’s work. This one makes the cut over the (underrated) songs on Slow Train Comin’ and Saved.
  3. “God Only Knows,” The Beach Boys. “A teenage symphony to God” is what Brian Wilson told people he was attempting with his unfinished 1960s opus Smile. This tune comes from 1966’s Pet Sounds, the masterpiece he did get done.
  4. “Like A Prayer,” Madonna. The title cut to a 1989 album by the Catholic pop star who will undoubtedly have a Pope week provocation in store when she plays the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday.
  5. “Badlands,” Bruce Springsteen. As with Dylan, there are many spiritual Springsteen avenues. But let’s go with the Boss gazing skyward in concert when he sings: “I believe in the love that you gave me/ I believe in the faith that could save me.”
  6. St. Matthew Passion, Anne Sophie von Otter and Baroque Concerto Copenhagen. Johann Sebastian Bach liturgical music of which Pope Francis has declared himself a fan.
  7. “Spirit In The Dark,” Aretha Franklin. Secular hymn by the Queen of Soul, who will sing on Saturday. From Oh Me Oh My: Aretha Live in Philly, 1972.
  8. “How I Got Over,” Clara Ward. Hymn written by the great Philadelphia gospel singer that became a civil-rights movement sing-along, and also inspired The Roots’ 2010 album of the same name.
  9. “Amazing Grace,” The Swan Silvertones. The enduring 18th-century hymn by the close harmony group led by the amazing falsetto of Rev. Claude Jeter.
  10. “Strong As Death, Sweet As Love,” Al Green. Underheard 1975 classic from one of Jeter’s ardent disciples, the Rev. Al’s voice soaring skyward as he hopes to find salvation “with the grace of God above.”
  11. “The Kneeling Drunkard’s Plea,” Louvin Brothers. The greatest of country sibling duos, expressing a belief that even the debased may be ultimately exalted.
  12. “Sisters Of Mercy,” Leonard Cohen. “They brought me comfort, and then they brought me this song.” Salvation in the form of a visit from the muse, from the Canadian Jewish Zen Buddhist.
  13. “Divine Intervention,” Matthew Sweet. Sweet must have felt that divine intervention was at play to have both Robert Quine and Richard Lloyd play on his 1991 album.
  14. “Jesus,” Velvet Underground. The Velvets were supposed to be all about decadence, but this quietly desperate prayer is a model of understated beauty.
  15. “Jesus Walks, Kanye West. Before he was Yeezus, West introduced the world to has ambition on this gospel rapper, with an assist from John Legend.
  16. “We Are Family,” Sister Sledge. The 1979 hit written by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of Chic, now perfectly repurposed for the World Meeting Of Families.
  17. Mass In C Minor, Claudio Abbado. Mozart, a Francis fave, with the Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by the late Italian maestro.
  18. Parsifal: “Amfortas! Die Wunde!,” Jonas Kaufman. The Pope is partial to Parsifal where Wagner is concerned, he told interviewers in 2013.
  19. “Sinnerman,” Nina Simone. Francis has said he identifies with the sinner Jesus points at in Caravaggio’s Calling Of St. Matthew. Simone recorded her definitive version of this African American spiritual in 1965.
  20. “After The Gold Rush,” Thom Yorke. The pope is an eco-warrior, and one suspects he would get along fine with Neil Young. But Young has pulled his music off Spotify, so this cover is by the Radiohead singer.
  21. “Get Right With God,” Lucinda Williams. Slide guitar roots boogie music that aims to get in the good graces of the Lord, from 2001’s Essence.
  22. “The Christian Life,” The Byrds. An unironic Louvin Brothers cover, from the 1968 Sweethearts of the Rodeo album, featuring Gram Parsons.
  23. “Gimme A Ride To Heaven,” Terry Allen. Otherwise known as the “hitchhiking Jesus song” from underrated West Texas songwriter. Comic relief.
  24. “Reason To Believe,” Rod Stewart. Tim Hardin’s soul-searcher, sung by a spiritually seeking Rod the Mod.
  25. “Spirit In The Sky,” Norman Greenbaum. A 1969 fuzz-rock smash for one-hit wonder Greenbaum, a Jewish psychedelic rocker who saw country star Porter Wagoner sing a gospel song on TV and thought he’d try his hand at writing his own tune about spending the afterlife with his “friend in Jesus.”

There’s only one thing missing. Those of you of a certain age may recall Father Guido Sarducci, a late 1970s/early 1980s Saturday Night Live character who once extolled the virtues of the ultimate pope personal care product: the “pope on a rope.”

pope on a rope

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Curmudgeon is not alone among those excited that the pope is coming to his hometown yet eagerly looking forward to putting this frenzy behind him.