Tag Archives: Mother Jones

A Really Weird Comparison

The lefty magazine Mother Jones, one of The Curmudgeon’s favorites, recently published an extensive report on U.S. defense spending.  To give readers a sense of the size and scope of the Pentagon’s mission, the article listed how much it spends on certain categories of items.  For example, totally aside from spending on, you know, guns and bullets and warheads and all those weapons of mass destruction that we’re allowed to have but other countries that fear us are forbidden to have, upon threat of annihilation, it spends $4 billion a year on dairy and eggs; $1.2 billion on meat, poultry, and fish; $738 million on bakery and cereal products (surely we all understand feeding our troops their Wheaties for breakfast); and $294 million on sugar, confections, and nuts.  And of course, the magazine reports that the U.S. spends more than the combined total of the next ten biggest-spending countries when it comes to national defense.

But at least one of the article’s analogies falls seriously, profoundly short:  Mother Jones reports that the $137 million cost of one F-35 fighter plane is the equivalent of forty-two million cupcakes.

That’s right, cupcakes.

The magazine notes that it assumes, for the sake of this comparison, that cupcakes cost $3.25.

Now The Curmudgeon considers himself a bit of an expert when it comes to baked goods, but still, he wonders:  $3.25 for a cupcake?  A cupcake?

That must be one fantastic cupcake to be worth $3.25.

And The Curmudgeon would love to know where he can find a cupcake worth that kind of money.

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Guns Don’t Kill; People Kill

Some interesting facts and figures about Americans and their guns, courtesy of Mother Jones magazine.

Think life is safer in states like yours where it’s easier to get a gun?  Think again:  the gun murder rate is 114 percent higher in states with the highest gun ownership rates.  In other words, the more guns, the more gun murders.  Seems logical, doesn’t it?

Disturbed by aggressive driving?  You shouldn’t be disturbed – you should be scared.  Drivers who carry guns are 44 percent more likely to flip you the bird and 77 percent more likely to follow you aggressively.

Nothing like a Smith & Wesson in the glove compartment to give a guy a little courage.

But the National Rifle Association helps address problems like these through extensive training of gun owners – something it’s long claimed to be one of its most important missions.  Well, if the NRA is so good at what it does and so dedicated to training gun owners to be responsible, how come 43 percent of homes with guns and kids have at least one unlocked gun?

Looks like the NRA needs some remedial gun education itself.

The NRA also points to video games as a cause of gun violence.  If that’s true, how come the Japanese spend more per capita on video games than Americans ($55 to $44) and there were 11,030 gun murders in the U.S. in 2008 and only eleven – that’s ten plus one – in Japan that year?

That’s all fine and good but you’ve got a gun and you know, absolutely, that having it makes you safer.  The thing is, what you think you know and the facts aren’t necessarily related; in fact, it turns out they’re not even kissin’ cousins.  A study in Philadelphia, for example, found that if you’re an assault victim carrying a gun, you’re four to five times more likely to get yourself shot and more than four times more likely to get yourself shot and killed than if you were unarmed.

So much for your gun protecting you.

But ladies, surely you’re safe if the man in your life has a gun, right?  Actually, that would be wrong:  you’re six times more likely to be shot by that same gun-totin’ husband, boyfriend, or ex than you are by a total stranger.

With friends like these, who needs enemies?

The NRA spends a lot of time and a lot of money telling us – and telling us and telling us and telling us – how things should be, so maybe it just ran out of energy when it came to giving us the complete picture:  like how 74 percent of gun owners support background checks for all gun buyers; like how 67 percent support background checks for ammunition buyers; like how 55 percent support a ban on high-capacity clips; like how 45 percent support a ban on assault weapons; and like how 30 percent take a dim view of the NRA.

And finally, for you gun owners out there who are worried about the government coming to take your guns – you know, the latest NRA/Fox News-fueled craze – worry not:  you’ve got the government seriously, seriously outgunned.   The government – including all four branches of the military and all police departments – has about four million guns; youse guys – you god-fearing, flag-waving, gun-toting, second amendment-defending civilians – have 310 million.

Yeah, guns’ll keep you safe.

Or maybe not.

Have You Heard the One About the Election That was Stolen?

No?

That’s because no one can recall the last time an election was stolen in this country (except perhaps by the Supreme Court, in 2000).  The truth is that election fraud is extremely rare in the U.S.  Even rarer still is vote fraud:  the specific act of unqualified voters illegally casting ballots at polling places.

The way some people are acting, though, you’d think election fraud in general, and vote fraud in particular, was running wild and undermining the very foundation of American democracy.  That’s the only reasonable conclusion to draw in light of the heated passion and sense of urgency with which some state legislatures across the country are frantically passing new laws to combat vote fraud.

They’re determined to stop fraud at the ballot box – even if there’s no such fraud.

Their solution:  require people to present a photo ID when they show up at the polls to vote.

That’s bad news for people who don’t have any kind of photo ID.

Who doesn’t have photo ID?  Poor people who don’t drive and don’t go to college or work for great big companies that issue photo ID cards to their employees.

Also without photo IDs are older people who no longer drive and don’t go to college or work for great big companies that issue photo ID cards to their employees.

And then there are people who live in cities who, because public transportation is all the transportation they need, never learn to drive and also don’t go to college or work for great big companies that issue photo ID cards to their employees.

See a trend here?

Of course you do:  all of the kinds of people who are most likely to lack the kind of photo ID required by these new laws also are more likely to be registered Democratic than Republican.  And the state legislatures passing the new photo ID laws?  They’re all led – surprise, surprise – by Republicans.

This is not a coincidence.

Although proponents of such laws claim they will affect very few people, not everyone is buying this claim.  An analysis performed by the Philadelphia Inquirer, for example, found that nearly ten percent of Pennsylvania’s qualified voters do not have a state-issued photo ID card (whether a driver’s license or a non-driver’s license photo ID that’s also available).  The Inquirer launched its investigation after Pennsylvania state officials pegged the ID-less rate state-wide at about one percent of registered voters.  The U.S. Justice Department, sensing something amiss – you can’t get anything by those keen-eyed legal eagles – is now investigating.

Some numbers support the assertion that photo ID laws will be especially disadvantageous to minorities and the poor.  According to the Brennan Center for Justice, twenty-five percent of African-Americans lack valid photo ID cards; twenty percent of Asians also don’t have them, along with twenty percent of seniors, eighteen percent of Latinos, and fifteen percent of people who earn less than $35,000 a year.

Whites?  Only eight percent don’t have valid photo IDs.  (By the way:  that’s still an awful lot of potentially disenfranchised voters.)

The truth is that very, very few people have even been charged with vote fraud in recent years and convictions are extremely rare.  Even if you were going to try to fix an election, sending people to the polls to impersonate registered voters is the last thing you’d try and the absolutely dumbest way to go about it.

Why?

Because it’s the hardest way to change an election’s outcome.

Think about it.  To change an election’s outcome, you’d have to convince hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of people – how many depends on the election you’re trying to fix – to commit crimes in front of a bunch of witnesses.  Who’s going to do that?  No, the way you rig an election is to tinker with the voting machines or get your own people involved in the vote-counting process so they can miscount or misreport votes in your candidate’s favor.

What some people call “vote fraud” usually involves someone who moved and failed to register at his new address voting instead at his old polling place.  Is that illegal?  Yes.  Is it vote fraud?  Technically, yes.  But is that what these new laws were created to stop?  No.  It’s also someone who hasn’t voted in six years showing up at a polling place, being told there’s no record of his registration, insisting that he voted just last year, swearing before a judge or magistrate that he voted last year, and being permitted to vote.  Is that illegal?  Yes.  Is it vote fraud?  Technically, yes.  But is that what these new laws were created to stop?  No again.

Some more numbers support the notion that vote fraud at the polls is a fabrication (courtesy of Mother Jones magazine.  See the sources for these figures here; The Curmudgeon knows better than to ask skeptical readers to trust Mother Jones):

  • Federal convictions for election fraud from 2002 to 2005, after the Bush administration – yes, the same Bush administration that urged its U.S. Attorneys to crack down on such crimes ­– added up to eighteen convictions for voting while ineligible, five for voting multiple times, and three for registration fraud – nation-wide!
  • When the state of Indiana was hauled before the Supreme Court to defend its photo ID law, the state’s lawyer couldn’t point to a single case of someone impersonating a registered voter – in the state’s 200-plus year history.
  • Between 2000 and 2010, 649 million votes were cast in American elections at the local, state, and federal levels.  During that time, 441 Americans were killed by lightning.  Credible cases of in-person voter impersonation?  Thirteen.

The reality is that there’s very little individual vote fraud at polling places.  The best way to steal an election is to attempt to subvert the counting or reporting of votes cast and the most publicized forms of vote fraud involve absentee ballots and voter registration fraud.  Compelling people to present valid photo IDs so they can vote won’t prevent people from subverting the counting or reporting of votes cast, tinkering with absentee ballots, or fraudulent registration.

So really, why all the fuss?  Why all the new laws?

A Republican leader of Pennsylvania’s state legislature recently put it best when he told an audience that his state’s voter ID law will “allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania.”  See it for yourself here.

Early in his professional life, The Curmudgeon spent six years working for the Committee of Seventy, a prominent, non-partisan, highly respected election watchdog organization in Philadelphia.  In the City of Brotherly Love, allegations of election fraud are common – some of them as recent as just last week, in fact.  Virtually none of it is actual fraud.  Why are people so fixated on election fraud?  The Committee of Seventy’s executive director during The Curmudgeon’s tenure there always had a ready answer:  because to the candidates, he would explain, “No one ever lost an election.  It was always stolen from them.”

Well, if there’s one thing that’s not happening in Philadelphia, or anywhere else in the U.S., it’s elections being stolen from anyone because of vote fraud.

With so many important issues on the public policy agenda that need serious consideration and attention from elected officials, it’s unfortunate that those officials are wasting their time on this even though it’s clear that vote fraud is non-existent in anything even remotely approaching meaningful numbers.  Public officials need to ensure that the election process has integrity and inspires confidence in the legitimacy of the final tally, but at the same time, they should be tearing down barriers to voter participation, not erecting new ones.

Mini-Rumination: Liberal Lunacy on the Loose

Did you know that the sweater you bought on sale at Marshall’s recently is why people in Africa are starving?

According to an article titled “What Not to Wear” (and subtitled “Are your skinny jeans starving the world?”) in the July/August issue of the magazine Mother Jones, writer Tom Philpott blames your shopping sprees – yes, YOURS – for the suicide epidemic among farmers in India and the 200 million residents of sub-Saharan Africa who are “chronically malnourished.”  Apparently, we’re buying more clothes than ever because clothing has gotten less expensive over the past twenty years and farmers have responded by planting more cotton to meet the demand for more clothing.

The nerve of those farmers!

Farmers who could be growing food – or who should be growing food, in Philpott’s mind – are growing cotton instead because it pays better than growing food.  (Kind of like Philpott writing columns for Mother Jones instead of uttering “Would you like fries with that?” forty times an hour at McDonald’s, come to think of it.)

Philpott’s solution “for a guilt-free closet?”  “Vintage and secondhand, of course, are good options,” or even – are you ready? – “products made from organic cotton” because organic cotton is grown with fewer chemicals and less water.  His real suggestion, though, is “to give up the supermarket sweep approach to clothes shopping and buy a few durable pieces.”

The Curmudgeon happens to enjoy Mother Jones immensely.  It features plenty of solid, credible reporting, but it’s also sprinkled with a generous dose of opinion ­– some of it not so…rational.  The Curmudgeon, readers may notice, takes particular pleasure in shining a light on idiocy from the right, but the truth is that he’s an equal opportunity shiner and takes just as much pleasure shining his light on idiocy from the left.

It’s just that there’s less of it.  But for now, this will do.

“In This Economy”

“Excuse me, waiter, but I ordered my hamburger medium rare and this is well-done and I’m pretty sure this is regular Pepsi and not diet.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but what do you expect in this economy?”

No no no no no.

The Curmudgeon has grown weary of the phrase “in this economy.”  While at times it’s relevant, it’s being used more and more as an excuse for some people either to treat other people badly or to rationalize how badly they’re being treated – and even to rationalize things that have nothing to do with the economy.

Having trouble finding a job, or a new job?  “In this economy” is appropriate, as in “I’m having a tough time finding a job in this economy.”

Have an underwater mortgage?  “In this economy” is never appropriate.  You took out the mortgage, so presumably, the economy didn’t stop you from buying the house and you could afford what you paid.  You overpaid?  This economy isn’t responsible for that, either.  Man up and pay what you owe.    If, on the other hand, you can’t pay your mortgage because you’re unemployed, or because you were unemployed at one time but had to take a job paying much less money just to keep the lights on and the kids in Fruit Loops, then yes, “in this economy” is reasonable.

Unhappy about the price of gasoline?  That has nothing to do with “in this economy,” so put a sock in it.

Lousy programming on NBC?  It was lousy before the economy went south, it’s lousy now, and it’ll be lousy five years from now, in this or any other economy.

Employer making you pay more for your health insurance or telling you there won’t be raises this year because business is bad?  It depends.  Take a look at your company:  how’s it doing?  If it’s not doing well, “in this economy” may be appropriate.  If, on the other hand, your company is doing well – and many, many companies have continued to do well throughout the recession – then your employer is taking advantage of the times to make more money at your expense and “in this economy” is not a valid explanation.  “Getting screwed by the boss” is the valid explanation.

The most insidious use of “in this economy” comes from companies that tell their employees they shouldn’t ask for raises, shouldn’t ask for benefits, and shouldn’t complain when they’re asked to take on a lot more work, or the work of two people, because they should just be grateful they have jobs at all “in this economy.”  Attention, those of you who put in your time and more, do great work, and show continued loyalty to an employer who returns your loyalty by giving you more work and asking you to work more hours without more money and hear this from your employer:  you work for a creep.  No one – no one – has any business trying to make you feel that you should be grateful that you have a job at all.  If anything, they should be grateful to have you on their team.

While many companies – some of them legitimately – insist they are going through hard times, corporate profits in some sectors are at record highs; some businesses have never made more money than they have in the past few years.  Despite this, they continue to lay off employees, reduce benefits, withhold raises and bonuses, pay generous dividends to shareholders, and demand more work for no more money.  These are the same kind of parasites who quadruple the price of plywood and bottled water twenty-four hours before a hurricane is expected to strike; the same kind of people who put nicotine in cigarettes to get you hooked; the same kind of people who brag about how their nutritious new cookies have plenty of fiber and vitamins but never mention that they’re also incredibly high in calories, sugar, and fat and are made with palm kernel oil and hydrogenated cottonseed and coconut oil.  Come to think of it, they’re just like the Wall Street people whose greedy and irresponsible behavior led to the need to coin a term like “in this economy.”

In its March/April edition, one of The Curmudgeon’s leftist magazines, Mother Jones, has an interesting article about how one company is taking advantage of “this economy” to work its employees to the bone.  Many of your internet purchases are shipped by a company called Amalgamated Product Giant Shipping Worldwide, and a Mother Jones reporter went semi-undercover to work there.  When she gets the job, someone she meets warns her that “They have to break you down so they can turn you into what they want you to be” and admonishes her never, if told she’s not meeting her productivity goal, to say she’s doing her best.  Why?  “Because if you say ‘This is the best I can do,’ they’ll let you go.  They hire and fire constantly, every day.  You’ll see people dropping around you.”

The author’s experience on the job matches the warnings.  On the first day of work, new employees are told to show up at five a.m. but are warned that they don’t go on the clock until six.  Most are hired as temps and never lose that status – some can be temps for years – saving the company money on benefits.  “Management” at Amalgamated (by the way – doesn’t the company’s name sound like something they chose because Wile E. Coyote made “Acme” unfeasible?) consists of constantly telling workers they’re doing a bad job; setting next-to-impossible productivity goals and then raising them if an employee manages to achieve them (one worker notes that those who consistently exceed their quotas are occasionally entered into drawings for a gift card – worth $15 or $20); and making overtime mandatory.  The company acts this way – like its workers are as disposable as paper towels – because it knows there are so many people looking for work.  Some people are willing to be treated like garbage, its philosophy seems to be, so if you’re not one of them, it’ll happily and without conscience toss you aside and look for someone a little more desperate and a little more amenable to a daily dose of humiliation.  (It’s a really eye-opening article; read it here.)

“In this economy” is real, it’s unfortunate, and it’s hurt a lot of people, but it’s not a one-size-fits-all explanation for everything bad that’s happened over the past four years.  It doesn’t explain why the Phillies haven’t won another World Series; it doesn’t explain why “The Artist” won all those Oscars; and it doesn’t explain why the people who hire “The Millionaire Matchmaker” don’t smack that piece of trash in the mouth because of how she talks to them.  It should be used guardedly and realistically, and not overused to the point where it loses all meaning.

It’s just the kind of adjustment we all need to make in this economy.

Mini-Rumination: Red States and Green Money

There’s a scene in the late, great television series The West Wing in which Martin Sheen’s Jed Bartlet, essentially Bill Clinton without the zipper problem, is debating his challenger for re-election, Florida Governor Rob Ritchie, played by James Brolin channeling W at his disengaged worst.  The debate format allows the participants to ask questions of one another – yeah, like that’s ever gonna happen – and after Ritchie complains about the growth of the federal government, Bartlet responds as follows:

There are times when we’re fifty states and there are times when we’re one country, and have national needs.  And the way I know this is that Florida didn’t fight Germany in World War II or establish civil rights.  You think states should do the governing wall-to-wall. That’s a perfectly valid opinion.  But your state of Florida got $12.6 billion in federal money last year – from Nebraskans, and Virginians, and New Yorkers, and Alaskans, with their Eskimo poetry.  12.6 out of a state budget of $50 billion, and I’m supposed to be using this time for a question, so here it is:  Can we have it back, please?

(See a clip of this part of the debate here; the debate itself begins around the two-minute mark in the clip.  Find the screenplay here.)

The Curmudgeon thought of this recently when he read a report in Mother Jones magazine that pointed out that despite all their blustering about the growth of the evil federal government, the red states are not shy about taking that evil federal government’s money.  According to the magazine, the fifty states and the District of Columbia receive an average of $1.29 for every dollar they pay in federal taxes (ah, the insidious benefits of deficit spending).

Red states, though, are big winners in this grab for the federal gold:  of the ten biggest winners, half are pretty much red states that enjoy a handsome haul courtesy of the satan-worshipping communists in Washington:  West Virginia ($2.57), Mississippi ($2.47), Alabama ($2.03), Sarah Palin’s Alaskan welfare state ($1.93), Montana ($1.92), and South Carolina ($1.92).

So in the spirit of Jed Bartlet, The Curmudgeon now asks this of the residents of red states:  In light of how you feel about the growth of the federal budget and the federal government, can we have this money back please?

The Liberal Cell Phone

Sure, you’ve got a great cell phone plan that gives you unlimited dialing, texting, and data for a terrific low price.  And yes, it seldom drops your calls and it can show you how to get to that party at your boss’s house, where to get the best kosher dim sum in town, where to buy blank VHS tapes because you refuse to join the TiVo generation, and what was the top song on the Billboard charts the day you graduated from high school (in The Curmudgeon’s case, “Love Will Keep Us Together” by the Captain and Tennille), but is it a pro-choice cell phone?  Does it care about what’s going in Darfur?  Does it share your contempt for Rush Limbaugh?  Does it drive a Prius?

It does if it’s a Credo Mobile cell phone.

As described in past posts, The Curmudgeon’s politics are pretty far to the left of center, and to feed his interests, he subscribes to a number of leftist publications.  He’s noticed in recent months that a cell phone company – Credo Mobile – advertises in some of those magazines.  The following is part of an advertisement he found in Mother Jones:

Take a close look at your phone company and ask yourself this:  Does my phone company care about industrial pollution, or the assault on women’s rights, or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, or Wall Street crimes, or other pernicious problems of the day?  More importantly, does your phone company fight [italics in original] to help put an end to them?

No, this isn’t rhetoric from Act Up, Move On, Occupy Wall Street, or a Keith Olbermann rant.  It’s a sales pitch for a cell phone company.

A cell phone company!

Credo Mobile’s web site prattles on, describing the company as “More than a network.  A movement.”  The way the company works is that one percent of customers’ charges are donated to non-profit organizations selected by customers – groups like Oxfam America, Amnesty International, Jobs With Justice, Friends of the Earth, and many others.  Meanwhile, Credo Mobile’s web site has a link that asks “Does your phone company play on the same team as the Koch brothers?”

The Curmudgeon would think this is cute if it were a high school booster club trying to sell soft pretzels to buy new jocks straps for the football team or new laptops for the computer lab, but for a business, he thinks it’s kind of silly.  And rest assured, Credo Mobile is a profit-seeking business, not a “movement” and not a charitable enterprise.

The Curmudgeon likes and supports liberal causes.  He doesn’t buy gasoline at Exxon for the obvious reason, never did business with a now-defunct bank in Philadelphia called First Pennsylvania because of its reputation for anti-semitism, and never, ever crosses a labor union’s picket line.  In general, though – and there certainly are exceptions – he prefers to select his products based on their merits and then to make his charitable giving decisions separately, based on the causes themselves.  He doesn’t eat any “Newman’s Own” products because he’s yet to find one he finds even remotely palatable – he still can’t figure out how a company can so profoundly botch lemonade and salad dressing – and he’ss never swayed by a company exhibiting a pink ribbon in its advertising or on its products because he knows that’s just a cynical marketing ploy in which the company invests next to nothing, rakes in huge new profits by associating with a popular cause, and then contributes a miniscule portion of those profits to the cause.

No, while The Curmudgeon will remain a card-carrying member of the ACLU, he doesn’t need his cell phone company – or, for that matter, his bookstore, his auto repair shop, his favorite barbecue joint, or his favorite chocolatier (See’s, by the way, a California company) to help him with his charitable giving.  He’s perfectly capable of making those decisions without help.

All he wants from his cell phone company is a reliable, clear signal and a decent price – even if that company isn’t in the right place on matters like a woman’s right to choose, the minimum wage, and prayer in public schools.

(A programming note:  Notwithstanding the views presented above, The Curmudgeon will have a few choice four-letter words about his current cell phone provider in a future post.  Stay tuned.)

Mini-Rumination: Hey There, Georgy Girl

Remember “Georgy Girl”?  There was the movie, with Lynn Redgrave and James Mason, about a dowdy woman who through a very circuitous path ends up marrying her parents’ wealthy and much older employer (ewwww) and raising a baby.  More memorable than the movie, at least to The Curmudgeon, was the song – a great tune and memorable lyrics that began:

Hey there, Georgy girl
Swingin’ down the street so fancy-free
Nobody you meet could ever see the loneliness there – inside you
Hey there, Georgy girl
Why do all the boys just pass you by?
Could it be you just don’t try or is it the clothes you wear?

You’re always window shopping but never stopping to buy
So shed those dowdy feathers and fly – a little bit

As 2011 draws to a close, Republican voters are reminding The Curmudgeon of Georgy Girl:  they’re always window-shopping but never stopping to buy.  Trying desperately not to concede the inevitability of attending the 2012 big dance in a Mitt Romney design, at various times this year they’ve peered into the window to check out Sarah Palin, Haley Barbour, Mitch Daniels, Ricky Santorum (still the subject of one of the best sites on the web), Michele Bachman, Tim Pawlenty, Herman Cain, Ron Paul (actually, everyone tries this one on but no one seriously considers wearing it), Rick Perry (remember Rick Perry?  It seems so…long ago), Jon Huntsman, and Chris Christie and ultimately found them all wanting in one way or another.  Right now, some of them are pretending they want to try on Newt Gingrich, but that’s pretty clearly a brave attempt at self-delusion that either will fade when people come to their senses or explode when Gingrich reverts to form and does something characteristically stupid.  (For fun reading, see this Mother Jones feature entitled “13 Reasons Why Newt Will Never Be the GOP Nominee”).

In the end, Georgy got what she wanted – or at least what she thought she wanted.  Republican voters may enjoy a similar happy ending – but first, they’re going to have to figure out what they want.