Monthly Archives: February 2017

And the Oscar Goes to “La La Land”

radnerOops.

Saying “No” to Blackmail

We’ve seen it many times: a professional sports team that blackmails a city or state into building it a new stadium or arena or helping it build a new stadium or arena by declaring that if the city doesn’t, it’ll leave town. Almost everywhere it happens, city officials back down and give the millionaire and billionaire owner of the teams whatever he wants because heaven forbid their town not have a baseball/football/basketball team.

But not Seattle.

In 2009 Seattle lost its professional basketball team because even though that team sold out every seat for every game, the team’s owners wanted fancy and highly lucrative luxury boxes. When state and local officials wouldn’t help them get those fancy and highly lucrative luxury boxes, the team’s owners sold their team to a group that found another town, Oklahoma City, more than happy to give them those fancy and highly lucrative luxury boxes. The team picked up and moved out of town, leaving behind a forlorn Seattle.

After a few years a movement started in Seattle to upgrade the departed team’s arena so it could have those fancy and highly lucrative luxury boxes. The project was to be financed mostly with private money but of course sought some public support, but when the issue came before the Seattle city council that body rejected the proposal.

What makes this worth noting are two things: first, The Curmudgeon loves it, because he thinks millionaires and billionaires should build their own damn palaces because the financial benefits they bring to the city in which they’re located just aren’t worth the investment of taxpayer money; but the second thing is something that absolutely tickles him: the city council voted down the measure by a vote of 5 to 4 – and all five of the “nay” votes came from women.

How about that!

So why’d they do it? Do they hate basketball? Hate sports?

Hardly. The New York Times reports:

The women on the Council, in their comments before the vote, all said that financial arguments had swayed them. They said that giving over city resources for the project without any promise that a National Basketball Association team would come — and with recent comments by league officials that no new franchise was likely — made the arena terms questionable, and that another location, already owned by the city, should be considered.

The Curmudgeon doesn’t know about you, but he thinks that’s a damn fine reason.

The men of Seattle, however, didn’t see it that way. Again, as reported by the Times:

The resulting backlash was ugly, and swift.

In hundreds of email messages and social media posts, the female Council members were attacked by people — practically all apparently men — who said they lacked intelligence and an understanding of the importance of sports because they are women. One Twitter poster simply used a four-letter graphic insult to define them. Another man, in a signed email, suggested they should all kill themselves and “rot in hell.” Other critics, in less violent but equally demeaning terms, addressed them as “ladies,” who should “go back to the kitchen.”

In a way, The Curmudgeon likes that, too: likes it because it shows what morons some people can be and likes it because he applauds public officials, regardless of gender, who stand their ground and do something even if they know it won’t be popular because they know they’re doing the right thing.

And if the thing they’re doing right is saying no to government handouts to billionaires offering nothing of value in return, then that’s just frosting on the cake.

The Curmudgeon suspects that at some point something will be done in Seattle to upgrade the city’s current arena. The drive to do so there continues and projects like this one seem to have inevitable outcomes, but he also suspects that as a result of the actions of these five wise and courageous city council members, the city’s taxpayers will get a much better deal in return for their contribution to the project.

So at the risk of being labeled sexist, The Curmudgeon will just say…

You go, girls!

No False Modesty Here

narcissus-caravaggio_1594-96_edited

Narcissus was a character in Greek mythology. His nemesis, a fellow named Nemesis, lured Narcissus to a pool of water, where Narcissus fell so in love with his own reflection and was so full of himself that he was unable to stop staring at himself and did so until he died.

The Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus will be awarding ten $1000 college scholarships.

To apply, applicants must have a 2.5 grade point average.

They must write a 250-word essay on their academic plans and career goals.

And they must write another 250-word essay about, to quote the formal process established by the group, “…why you admire your state representative.”

That’s right: to win a scholarship awarded by state representatives applicants must write a brief essay explaining why they admire their state representative.

Nope:  no false modesty here.

Consorting With the Enemy?

greta

Why?

Surely The Curmudgeon isn’t the only occasional – and really, it’s only occasional – viewer of MSNBC who finds it uncomfortable and even unpleasant that former righty Greta Van Susteren has joined the lefty talk/news network.   She doesn’t belong: when you watch you can see that her heart’s just not in it. It’s hard to understand why the folks at MSNBC would think their viewers would accept the presence of someone who has been playing on the wrong team – and mocking yours – for so many years.

It’s hard to believe she’ll be there long.

One Class They Probably Shouldn’t Skip

If a tree falls in a forest and there’s no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?

That question, like “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”, has confounded and entertained generations of people.

Here’s a variation: if a city government offers ethics training to its elected officials and those officials don’t attend the training classes, is the training worth a damn?

History suggests that these folks really, really, REALLY need ethics training.

History suggests that these folks really, really, REALLY need ethics training.

That’s a reasonable question, and it’s a question that arose recently in Philadelphia when the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that members of Philadelphia’s city council, who are required by law to receive ethics training annually – as are all elected officials, all cabinet members, all department heads, and all board and commission members – are playing hooky instead.

Last year the city’s ethics board held four such training sessions but only five members of the council, all newly elected, bothered to attend. The other 12 council members decided they didn’t need any help discerning right from wrong.

When contacted by a reporter, the member of council who sponsored the requirement admitted he’d only attended once himself, and that was two years after his requirement became law.

Of 12 council members who have been in office at least five years, none have attended more than twice. Two haven’t gone in five years. One claims to be unaware of the requirement.

Oh boy.

While that’s pretty bad, the ethics board isn’t doing its part, either: it doesn’t take attendance, doesn’t remind those who haven’t attended that they need to do so, and didn’t even bother offering any training at all in 2015.

This isn’t a theoretical problem. We should expect public officials to know right from wrong, but there are arguably some situations in which logic doesn’t necessarily lead to the right action – hence the need for training, including opportunities for officials to ask questions about situations they’ve faced. But it’s especially a problem in Philadelphia because the ranks of city officials who’ve gone to prison for misdeeds in office is absolutely breathtaking.

Seriously breathtaking.

And just to prove that he’s not engaging in some kind of blogospheric hyperbole, The Curmudgeon is going to introduce you to Philadelphia’s elected officials hall of shame, office by office.

U.S. Congress

  • When the people bribing Ozzie Myers asked if he could really deliver for them, he infamously replied "Money talks and bullshit walks."

    When the people bribing Ozzie Myers asked if he could really deliver for them, he infamously replied “Money talks and bullshit walks.”

    Michael “Ozzie” Myers – convicted of accepting and offering bribes in the “Abscam” scandal (on which the 2013 movie American Hustle was loosely based) (1980)

  • Raymond Lederer – convicted of corruption, bribery, and conspiracy, also in Abscam (1980)
  • Chakah Fattah – convicted of bribery and racketeering (2016)

Pennsylvania State Senate

  • Henry Cianfrani – pleaded guilty to racketeering for padding his Senate payroll, bribery, and obstruction of justice and pleaded no contest to tax evasion charges and accepting bribes (1977)
  • Vince Fumo, referred to by some as the "Vince of Darkness."

    Vince Fumo, referred to by some as the “Vince of Darkness.”

    Vincent Fumo – convicted of 137 charges of defrauding the Senate and misappropriating millions of dollars of state money and money from two non-profit groups (2009)

Pennsylvania State House

  • Herb Fineman – convicted of obstruction of justice in a scheme to extort money from parents whose children sought admission to state medical and veterinary schools (1977)
  • Like Herb Fineman, John Perzel wasn't any ordinary member of the state House: he was the Speaker.

    Like Herb Fineman, John Perzel wasn’t any ordinary member of the state House: he was the Speaker.

    John Perzel – pleaded guilty to two counts of conflict of interest, two of theft, and four of conspiracy (2012)

  • LeAnna Washington – pleaded guilty to felony conflict-of-interest charges (2014)
  • Ronald Waters – pleaded guilty to nine counts of conflict-of-interest for accepting bribes (2015)
  • Michelle Brownlee – pleaded guilty to violating the state’s conflict-of-interest laws by accepting bribes (2015)
  • Louise Bishop – pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge for taking bribes (2015)
  • Harold James – pleaded guilty to one count of conflict of interest for taking a bribe (2015)
  • P. Miranda – pleaded guilty to false swearing and ethics violations for putting a ghost employee – his sister – on his office payroll (2015)
  • Leslie Acosta – pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit money-laundering (2016)

Common Pleas Court all judges)

  • Kenneth Harris – convicted of accepting bribes (1987)
  • Herbert Cain – convicted of two federal counts of extortion (1988)
  • Willis Berry – convicted of criminal conflict of interest for using his judicial chamber and staff to run his real estate business (2015)

Municipal Court

  • Judge Mario Driggs – convicted of accepting bribes (1987)

Traffic Court (all judges)

  • Warren Hoagland – pleaded guilty to fixing traffic tickets (2013)
  • Michael Lowry – convicted of perjury in a ticket-fixing case (2014)
  • Thomasine Tynes – convicted of perjury in a ticket-fixing case (2014)
  • Robert Mulgrew – convicted of fraud and tax evasion (2014)
  • Willie Singletary – convicted of perjury in a ticket-fixing case (2015)
  • Fortunato Perri Sr. – convicted of dismissing traffic tickets in exchange for bribes (2015)

City Elections Office

  • Renee Tartaglione: maybe her husband can give her tips on surviving prison life

    Renee Tartaglione: maybe her husband can give her tips on surviving prison life

    Renee Tartaglione – deputy commissioner – resigned when the city ethics board found her in violation of the city’s charter for actively engaging in partisan politics from 2007-2009. She currently awaits trial on charges of bilking a non-profit clinic out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Her husband, a Democratic ward leader, was convicted of bribing three Atlantic City council members.

City Treasurer’s Office

  • Corey Kemp – convicted of corruption (2005)

And there are others, too, like the city’s former sheriff – yes, the fifth-largest city in the U.S. still has, for reasons no one really understands, a sheriff – has been indicted for taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes; the Philadelphia Housing Authority fired its executive director in 2010 after spending more than a million dollars to defend itself from charges stemming from the director’s sexual harassment of members of his staff and hundreds of thousands more in damages to those he harassed; a Philadelphia school superintendent stepped down after it was discovered that he had required school district employees to make repairs and renovations on his beach house at the Jersey shore; and many, many more.

But this particular piece is supposed to be about Philadelphia’s city council, right? So let’s not forget them.

  • Isadore Bellis – convicted of misfeasance, malfeasance, and nonfeasance for accepting bribes (1966)
  • George Schwartz – convicted of conspiracy and extortion for soliciting and accepting bribes in the Abscam scandal (1980)
  • Harry Jannotti – convicted of accepting bribes in the Abscam scandal (1980)
  • Louis Johanson – convicted of accepting bribes in the Abscam scandal (1980)
  • Leland Beloff – convicted of attempting to extort $1 million from a developer (1987)
  • Once had an unofficial campaign slogan: "Don't be a baboon, vote for Tayoun." Really.

    Once had an unofficial campaign slogan: “Don’t be a goon, vote for Tayoun.” Really.

    James Tayoun – pleaded guilty to ten counts of racketeering, mail fraud, tax evasion, and obstruction of justice (1991)

  • Rick Mariano – convicted of conspiracy, bribery, money-laundering, fraud, and tax charges for accepting bribes from business owners in exchange for regulatory favors, tax breaks, low-priced city land, and a school district contract (2006)

In 1903, the crusading reporter Lincoln Steffens described Philadelphia as “corrupt and contented” in the pages of one of the most popular magazines in the country at that time. (The Curmudgeon’s first job as a writer was for a non-profit “good government” organization that was created in response to that charge.) But more than 100 years later, it looks as if little has changed.

The magazine that first labeled Philadelphia "corrupt and contented"

The magazine that first labeled Philadelphia “corrupt and contented”

So when The Curmudgeon says he believes Philadelphia city council members should attend their annual ethics training, that the city’s ethics board should act more forcefully to compel them to attend, and that there should be consequences for failing to attend, he thinks he’s on pretty solid ground.

And when that ethics board, in response to a newspaper article detailing its failures, insists it will do better in the future, he thinks he’s on equally solid ground when he says he’ll believe it when he sees it.

Philadelphia: well into a second century of corrupt and very contented.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Curmudgeon Wants to Know…

…where he can get one of those paid gigs showing up at rallies and protests and town hall meetings.

Because according to a growing number of Republicans and conservatives – including, just this weekend, his own congressman, Tom MacArthur – paid agitators are pretty much the only protesters showing up at their events and everyone else is perfectly happy with the recent job performance of the new administration and Congress.

The Curmudgeon wants one of those jobs; it would sure beat working for a living.

Hispanic Members of Congress Not Welcome at Briefing on Immigration Raids

In the aftermath of the raids that netted nearly 700 undocumented immigrants more than a week ago, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus asked the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement – ICE – to brief its members on what was going on. A meeting was quickly set up for two days later.

Right before the meeting the folks from ICE cancelled, saying they would only brief a bipartisan group (all of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus members are Democrats). The meeting was rescheduled – and the Congressional Hispanic Caucus was no longer involved in organizing it.

In fact, the administration, not Congress, was to decide who did and did not get to attend – and not a single member of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus was on the invitation list.

Thanks to some vigorous advocacy by House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, a few caucus members were added to the invitation list. A few who weren’t invited and showed up anyway were told tu no eres bienvenido aqui at the door. (According to a web-based translation site, that means “You are not welcome here.” If The Curmudgeon is wrong, he is sorry.)

That doesn’t make sense. In fact, it’s downright scary, both that Hispanic members of Congress were banned from a meeting they originally organized and that directly affects them and their constituents and that the administration rather than Congress decided who got to attend a briefing of members of Congress.

Even scarier: after those who attended the briefing were told that 176 of the 683 people targeted by the raids were listed as non-criminals, they were informed that this was not a problem in the agency’s eyes because under a new Trump administration executive order, ICE now has the authority to target all 11 million undocumented residents of the U.S., not just those known to have committed crimes or suspected of committing crimes, and that the only obstacle to getting all 11 million was lack of resources. (See last week’s piece on the math underlying the challenge of finding, arresting, and deporting all 11 million.)

You know those movies you see, set it France, where some supercilious French gendarme with a silly-looking pencil-thin mustache approaches someone and asks “Your papers, please?” It’s starting to sound as if that will soon be coming to your hometown, too.

And that, too, is pretty darn scary.

Thomas Jefferson on a Free Press

As our president threats to “roll back” libel laws, questions the integrity of the press, warns that even Jefferson, Jackson, and Lincoln complained about the press, and suggests that he and he alone should be the source of our news, let us hark back – this is probably the first time The Curmudgeon has ever used the word “hark” and he’s getting a real kick out of it – to the words of one of our founding fathers and one of those the president cited, Thomas Jefferson.

*            *            *

“Our liberty cannot be guarded but by the freedom of the press, nor that be limited without danger of losing it.” (1786)

“The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” (1787)

“I am persuaded that the good sense of the people will always be found to be the best army. They may be led astray for a moment, but will soon correct themselves. The people are the only censors of their governors, and even their errors will tend to keep these to the true principles of their institution. To punish these errors too severely would be to suppress the only safeguard of the public liberty. The way to prevent these irregular interpositions of the people is to give them full information of their affairs through the channel of the public papers, and to contrive that those papers should penetrate the whole mass of the people.” (1787)

“No government ought to be without censors, and where the press is free, no one ever will. If virtuous, it need not fear the fair operation of attack and defence. Nature has given to man no other means of sifting out the truth whether in religion, law or politics. I think it as honorable to the government neither to know nor notice its sycophants or censors, as it would be undignified and criminal to pamper the former and persecute the latter.” (1792)

“I am… for freedom of the press, and against all violations of the Constitution to silence by force and not by reason the complaints or criticisms, just or unjust, of our citizens against the conduct of their agents.” (1799)

“The press [is] the only tocsin of a nation. [When it] is completely silenced… all means of a general effort [are] taken away.” (1802)

“The only security of all is in a free press.” (1823)

 

 

A Moment of Silence, Please…

sweden-flag12…for the victims of the terrorist attack in Sweden Friday night.

Our thoughts and prayers are with our Swedish friends at this difficult time.

Insights on the President

More than any writer The Curmudgeon has observed, New York Times columnist Frank Bruni really seems to have a handle on the psyche of President Trump – and a terrific knack for sharing his insight with his readers again and again. See it for yourself below, or go directly to the Times web site for it here, in his February 4  column simply titled “Me, Me, Me, Me, Me.”

Me, Me, Me, Me, Me

Me, me, me, me, me.

There’s no topic that Trump can’t bring back around to himself, no cause as compelling as his own. And while I and many others have examined his outsize egomania before, its migration into his administration can’t be noted too often or overstated.

This isn’t just some random brush stroke in his portrait. It’s his primary color. It’s everything. It drives policy. It warps diplomacy. And it badly hobbles his leadership, because you can’t inspire others if nearly all of your energy goes so transparently and unabashedly into inflating yourself. At the least you have to do a pantomime of altruism and self-effacement. Trump seldom even tries.

Consider last week’s telephone call with the prime minister of Australia. The news accounts of this rightly focused on Trump’s gratuitous combativeness with the leader of one of our closest allies, but I was equally riveted by another detail: The president spent a portion of the call reliving and reveling in his Electoral College victory.

He did the exact same thing at the start of his hourlong talk with about two dozen of us at The Times back in November — never mind that we were well aware of that triumph, having plastered it across our front page and atop our website.

He did it at those bizarre postelection rallies, billed as a thank-you tour though it was really a behold-me strut. I’m told that he did it, too, during interviews with prospective members of his administration.

By the time he got to his inauguration, his masturbatory reveries had morphed into the claim that he was the helmsman of “a historic movement, the likes of which the world has never seen.” The Bolsheviks might quibble, and I might point out that only 77,000 ballots in three states gave him that Electoral College win, in contrast to the nearly three million ballots by which he lost the popular vote. The math doesn’t flatter the movement.

But that’s the smaller problem with his assessment. The larger one is that when you’re selling a revolution and convincing yourself of it, you’re obliged to scale your actions to your exaggerations. They must be as sweeping as the supposed circumstances — it’s central to the delusion, integral to the illusion. Hence the wall. Hence the immigration ban. Hence all the executive orders signed and still to come.

The hyperbole trickles down and is taken up by Sean Spicer and, of course, by Kellyanne Conway. It is at this point that we should pause and bow our heads in remembrance of the victims of the Bowling Green Massacre.

Will Trump’s foreign policy be the Me Doctrine? Will Russia get love not because Moscow mirrors our ideals but because Vladimir Putin holds a flattering mirror up to Trump? This possibility persists, though United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley’s recent declaration that the United States wouldn’t lift sanctions against Russia until it pulled troops out of Crimea was a hopeful sign that Putin hadn’t entirely bedazzled Trump.

Trump’s analysis of people and situations hinges on whether they exalt him. A news organization that challenges him is inevitably “failing.” A politician who pushes back at him is invariably a loser. Middle-school cliques have more moral discernment.

He railed against executive orders until they were his. He denounced the coziness between politicians and Wall Street until he was doing the snuggling. He cried foul at presidential getaways that cost the taxpayers millions until Mar-a-Lago beckoned.

During the campaign he demonstrated no special concern for free speech, advocating looser libel laws and barring certain news organizations from events. But he took to Twitter on Thursday to register fury over the University of California at Berkeley’s cancellation of an appearance by the far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos.

Could this be explained by Yiannopoulos’s affiliation with Breitbart News and professed lust for Trump? (“I call myself a Trump-sexual,” Yiannopoulos once said.) I somehow doubt that Trump would have threatened “NO FEDERAL FUNDS” for Berkeley if the school had nixed Sarah Silverman.

And Trump’s copious tweeting is about self-aggrandizement and instant gratification. You know how some animals spread their wings, broaden their chests or stand extra tall to impress mates and intimidate rivals? That’s Trump with the “caps lock” key.

All in all it was some last week for President Me. At the National Prayer Breakfast, he recommended prayers for Arnold Schwarzenegger, which was a way to remind everyone — yet again — that his own ratings on “The Apprentice” were much higher.

Thus commenced an exchange on Twitter in which Schwarzenegger cleverly offered to swap jobs with Trump and Trump responded by saying that he was rubber, Schwarzenegger was glue and everything Schwarzenegger said bounced back and stuck to him. I jest, but barely. Trump tweeted, oh so presidentially, that Schwarzenegger had been a terrible California governor.

Still, Trump’s performance with black supporters in the Roosevelt Room was his masterpiece of me-ism.

He slipped in a thank you to Fox News because it “treated me very nice.” He shared his belief — no, his fantasy — that black voters so liked his campaign message that they voted for him in unexpectedly high numbers. (He got 8 percent of the black vote.)

“In the entirety of his opening remarks,” wrote Chris Cillizza in The Washington Post, “Trump said absolutely nothing that didn’t tie directly back to him in some way, shape or form. His election results. His views on the media. His election results again.”

The meeting, Cillizza added, was fresh proof of “how different this president and presidency is from every one that has come before it.” Trump probably managed to divine a compliment in that statement.