Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Last Call For Jersey Bob

Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey officially got the hammer dropped on him this afternoon by the feds.

New Jersey U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez has been indicted on federal corruption charges in connection with an ongoing investigation into his business dealings with a Florida doctor, according to a district court clerk familiar with the case. 
Menendez, a Democrat, has held office since 2006. Specific charges in the grand jury indictment weren't immediately available and Menendez's office couldn't immediately be reached for comment. 
Previously, both Menendez and the doctor, Florida optometrist Salomon Melgen, have denied wrongdoing. It wasn't clear if Melgen was also charged in the indictment. Representatives for the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI declined comment.

The expected indictment of Menendez follows a months-long investigation into his relationship with Melgen. The senator has admitted he accepted free private plane trips from Melgen, including a 2008 trip to the luxury resort of Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic. Menendez claimed to have later repaid almost $70,000 for his trips on the doctor’s jet.

Doesn't look good for him at this point, although it's a bit harder to shame a US Senator into resignation rather than a mere Representative (Hey, David Vitter's still going strong, right?)

We'll see what happens, but with Gov Chris Christie itching to pull the ol' "Appoint a Republican then wait as long as possible to hold a special election" trick again and a GOP controlled Senate, I'm betting there's not going to be a deep well of support for keeping Menendez in office on the part of Republicans with a federal indictment hanging over his head, especially an indictment from a Democratic administration.

I expect things will happen quickly.

But We Would Never Do That

In a press conference yesterday, Indiana GOP Gov. Mike Pence blamed the media and Obamacare for the backlash against the state's new religious freedom law, vowing that Hoosiers would never discriminate openly like that.

Gov. Mike Pence pledged Tuesday to "fix" Indiana's controversial religious freedom law to clarify that it does not allow discrimination against gays and lesbians. 
But he insisted the problem isn't the law itself but how it's being perceived, saying a fix is needed only because of "frankly, the smear that's been leveled against this law."
And he said the fix won't involve statewide anti-discrimination protections for LGBT Hoosiers. 
The first-term Republican governor sought to tamp down the backlash Indiana has faced since he signed the law -- which its in-state supporters had claimed would allow businesses to turn away LGBT customers -- last week. He said he's asking state lawmakers to send him a followup measure before this week's end to ensure that's not the case. 
"It would be helpful to move legislation this week that makes it clear that this law does not give businesses a right to deny services to anyone," Pence said in a press conference in Indianapolis on Tuesday.

See, we don't need to protect gays and lesbians from discrimination they'll never face in Indiana, right?

A small-town pizza shop is saying they agree with Governor Pence and the signing of the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The O'Connor family, who owns Memories Pizza, says they have a right to believe in their religion and protect those ideals.

“If a gay couple came in and wanted us to provide pizzas for their wedding, we would have to say no,” says Crystal O'Connor of Memories Pizza.
She and her family are standing firm in their beliefs.

The O'Connor's have owned Memories Pizza in Walkerton for 9 years.

It's a small-town business, with small-town ideals.

“We are a Christian establishment,” says O'Connor. 
The O'Connor family prides themselves in owning a business that reflects their religious beliefs. 
“We're not discriminating against anyone, that's just our belief and anyone has the right to believe in anything,” says O'Connor.

Refusing to cater a gay wedding because the people getting married are gay isn't discrimination at all, see.  Memories Pizza says it would never refuse service to a gay customer, just refuse to cater a gay wedding.  So the new law doesn't allow discrimination.  Case closed!

Good job, Indiana!

National (Job) Security Agency

In a post-Dudebro Defector world, nobody wants to work for the NSA anymore because ILLEGAL SPYING.

Daniel Swann is exactly the type of person the National Security Agency would love to have working for it. The 22-year-old is a fourth-year concurrent bachelor's-master's student at Johns Hopkins University with a bright future in cybersecurity. 
And growing up in Annapolis, Md., not far from the NSA's headquarters, Swann thought he might work at the agency, which intercepts phone calls, emails and other so-called "signals intelligence" from U.S. adversaries. 
"When I was a senior in high school I thought I would end up working for a defense contractor or the NSA itself," Swann says. Then, in 2013, NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked a treasure-trove of top-secret documents. They showed that the agency's programs to collect intelligence were far more sweeping than Americans realized. 
After Snowden's revelations, Swann's thinking changed. The NSA's tactics, which include retaining data from American citizens, raise too many questions in his mind: "I can't see myself working there," he says, "partially because of these moral reasons."

Partially, huh.  And what's the rest of the reason?

Ever since the Snowden leaks, cybersecurity has been hot in Silicon Valley. In part that's because the industry no longer trusts the government as much as it once did. Companies want to develop their own security, and they're willing to pay top dollar to get the same people the NSA is trying to recruit. 
Students like Swann. Last summer Microsoft paid him $7,000 a month to work as an intern. The company even rented him a car
"It was actually really nice," Swann says. "It was a Subaru Legacy."

Oh.

Well then.

Yeah, I mean if Microsoft is going to offer you six figures and a Subaru to be a student intern in InfoSec, it's not like the NSA is going to be able to compete with that.  Kinda nice then that the whole morals thing isn't quite as important as that Silicon Valley paycheck so you can afford that place in San Francisco down the line.

Conveniently neat how that works out in the absolution department considering how big companies want their white hats to figure out how to use all that customer information as best they can.  You know, totally unlike the NSA.

Once again, if your major goal was long-term, lasting, amybe even generational damage to the US intelligence community and to the NSA in particular, you could not have done a better job than what Dudebro Defector did.

StupidiNews!

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Last Call For Go Home Dinosaur Steve, You're Drunk

Gov. Steve Beshear has done a lot for Kentucky, frankly.  But the one issue where he has absolutely embarrassed himself and the state on repeatedly has been same-sex marriage, and he did it again this week.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear says the state's ban on gay marriage should be upheld in part because it is not discriminatory in that both gay and straight people are barred from marrying people of the same gender
In an argument labeled absurd by gay marriage advocates, Beshear's lawyer says in a brief filed last week at the U.S. Supreme Court that "men and women, whether heterosexual or homosexual, cannot marry persons of the same sex" under Kentucky law, making the law non-discriminatory. 
The argument mirrors that offered by the state of Virginia nearly 50 years ago when it defended laws barring interracial marriage there and in 15 other states, including Kentucky, by saying they weren't discriminatory because whites were barred from marrying blacks just as blacks were barred from marrying whites. 
The Supreme Court in 1967 rejected that argument in the historic case of Loving v. Virginia, in which Richard Loving, a white man, and Mildred Jeter, a black woman, were charged with a crime for marrying.

If this sounds like that this is the most mind-numbingly stupid defense of same-sex marriage bans that you've ever heard, well that's because it is.  The man took this idiocy to the Supreme Court on behalf of his constituents.  You know, like me.

Steve, you're a moron.  Jack Conway cannot replace you quickly enough.

Sit down.

Giving Them The Iran Around

Americans want a nuclear deal with Iran, they just don't trust Iran to hold up their end of the bargain.

By a nearly 2 to 1 margin, Americans support the notion of striking a deal with Iran that restricts the nation’s nuclear program in exchange for loosening sanctions, a new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds. 
But the survey — released hours before Tuesday’s negotiating deadline — also finds few Americans are hopeful that such an agreement will be effective. Nearly six in 10 say they are not confident that a deal will prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, unchanged from 15 months ago, when the United States, France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia reached an interim agreement with Iran aimed at sealing a long-term deal.

Naturally, party affiliation plays a big role here.

Popular sentiment among Republicans is more in line with GOP lawmakers on the issue of whether Congress should be required to authorize any deal with Iran. A Pew Research Center survey released Monday found 62 percent of the public believes Congress, not President Obama, should have final authority over approving a nuclear agreement with Iran
Republican Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.), the Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, and other lawmakers are building bipartisan supportfor a bill that would require Obama to submit an Iran agreement for congressional approval blocking the removal of sanctions on the Islamic republic for 60 days. The bill would require a veto-proof majority to force Obama’s hand. 
Americans’ views on Iran have been shaped by deep worry over the prospect that it could develop nuclear weapons but also a hesitance to employ military force in an attempt to prevent that outcome. A February Gallup poll found more than three-quarters of the public thinks the development of nuclear weapons by Iran would pose a “critical threat” to the United States over the next 10 years. Yet fewer than three in 10 said Iran’s nuclear program — which it insists is for peaceful purposes — requires military action now in a CBS News poll last week; more than four in 10 said the threat can be contained for now and just under two in 10 said Iran is not currently a threat.

So Iran's a major threat and will have nukes in ten years but nobody wants to send their kids to fight and die to stop them, even though a diplomatic deal is something that most Americans believe is impossible.

Yeah, that sounds about right.

Indiana Pence And The Backlash Of Doom, Con't

Republicans and pundits alike are arguing that Indiana's "religious freedom" law is no different from the federal law that a Democratic Congress and President Clinton passed in 1993, and no different from the Illinois state law that Democrats, including State Senator Barack Obama, voted for and passed in 1998.

But as Judd Legum at Think Progress points out, that is false.  Indiana's bill goes much further than the 1993 federal law or any other state law:

There are several important differences in the Indiana bill but the most striking is Section 9. Under that section, a “person” (which under the law includes not only an individual but also any organization, partnership, LLC, corporation, company, firm, church, religious society, or other entity) whose “exercise of religion has been substantially burdened, or is likely to be substantially burdened” can use the law as “a claim or defense… regardless of whether the state or any other governmental entity is a party to the proceeding.” 
Every other Religious Freedom Restoration Act applies to disputes between a person or entity and a government. Indiana’s is the only law that explicitly applies to disputes between private citizens. This means it could be used as a cudgel by corporations to justify discrimination against individuals that might otherwise be protected under law. Indiana trial lawyer Matt Anderson, discussing this difference, writes that the Indiana law is “more broadly written than its federal and state predecessors” and opens up “the path of least resistance among its species to have a court adjudicate it in a manner that could ultimately be used to discriminate…” 
This is not a trivial distinction. Arizona enacted an RFRA that applied to actions involving the government in 2012. When the state legislature tried to expand it to purely private disputes in 2014, nationwide protests erupted and Jan Brewer, Arizona’s Republican governor, vetoed the measure
Thirty law professors who are experts in religious freedom wrote in February that the Indiana law does not “mirror the language of the federal RFRA” and “will… create confusion, conflict, and a wave of litigation that will threaten the clarity of religious liberty rights in Indiana while undermining the state’s ability to enforce other compelling interests. This confusion and conflict will increasingly take the form of private actors, such as employers, landlords, small business owners, or corporations, taking the law into their own hands and acting in ways that violate generally applicable laws on the grounds that they have a religious justification for doing so. Members of the public will then be asked to bear the cost of their employer’s, their landlord’s, their local shopkeeper’s, or a police officer’s private religious beliefs.”

Again, the bottom line is that every other state version of this law, and the federal law Clinton signed in 1993, protects private citizens' religious beliefs from the government.  The Indiana law is the only one that applies to disputes between private citizens.  It's that second part, the aforementioned Section 9 of the law, that specifically opens up the Pandora's Box of discrimination and says that a private citizen's religious beliefs can trump another private citizen's actions and allows them to use the law as legal cover to do so.

That's the difference.  The law is a blanket permission to discriminate, plain and simple.  It's effectively a Stand Your Ground defense law for bigotry.  If you choose to discriminate against someone, you can claim the law as a defense if you feel your "exercise of religion is substantially burdened."

Oh, and Section 9 also defines person in this case as "not only an individual but also any organization, partnership, LLC, corporation, company, firm, church, religious society, or other entity" as Legum mentions up there.  You can imagine what this can mean.  If Indiana's Hobby Lobby locations wanted to refuse to serve LGBTQ customers on religious grounds, then they could theoretically claim this law as a defense and say that allowing them to shop there would "substantially burden" their "exercise of religion".

Indiana's law is particularly awful, hence the backlash.  The legal difference is the clause that allows the law to be claimed as a defense in disputes between private citizens.

I'm expecting that part to be challenged in court.  For now, it's being challenged in the court of public opinion. The front page of the Indianapolis Star:

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We are at a critical moment in Indiana's history. 
And much is at stake. 
Our image. Our reputation as a state that embraces people of diverse backgrounds and makes them feel welcome. And our efforts over many years to retool our economy, to attract talented workers and thriving businesses, and to improve the quality of life for millions of Hoosiers. 
All of this is at risk because of a new law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, that no matter its original intent already has done enormous harm to our state and potentially our economic future. 
The consequences will only get worse if our state leaders delay in fixing the deep mess created. 
Half steps will not be enough. Half steps will not undo the damage. 
Only bold action — action that sends an unmistakable message to the world that our state will not tolerate discrimination against any of its citizens — will be enough to reverse the damage. 
Gov. Mike Pence and the General Assembly need to enact a state law to prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, education and public accommodations on the basis of a person's sexual orientation or gender identity.

Good luck with that, Indiana.  You elected Republicans.  This is what Republicans do.

StupidiNews!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Last Call For The Daily Grinder

WaPo Wonkblogger Chico Harlan introduces us to Right-to-Work minimum wage America.

Shanna Tippen was another hourly worker at the bottom of the nation’s economy, looking forward to a 25 cent bump in the Arkansas minimum wage that would make it easier for her to buy diapers for her grandson.When I wrote about her in the Post last month, she said the minimum wage hike would bring her a bit of financial relief, but it wouldn’t lift her above the poverty line. 
She called me the other day to say she didn’t get to enjoy the 25-cent hike for long. After the story came out, she says she was fired from her job for talking to the Post
I spend a lot of time writing about people at the low end of the economy, and I see up close how narrowly they get by day-to-day. In this case, writing about Tippen’s plight may have made her situation worse. 
Tippen says she was fired by her boss, hotel manager Herry Patel. Earlier that day, Patel had called the Post to express frustration that he had been quoted giving his opinion about the minimum wage hike. (He objected to it.) 
It was soon after, Tippen says, that Patel found her in the lobby and fired her. 
He said I was stupid and dumb for talking to [the Post],” Tippen said. “He cussed me and asked me why you wrote the article. I said, ‘Because he’s a reporter; that’s what he does.’ He said, ‘it was wrong for me to talk to you.'”

So unless there’s an Arkansas law that forbids people from getting fired for talking to a Washington Post reporter, Ms. Tippen is basically screwed. It used to be that collective bargaining and unions would give a worker a fighting chance against situations like this.

Those days were effectively over before I left elementary school and St. Ronnie rid the Shining City on the Hill of air traffic controllers.

Oh well, her fault for being poor, right? If she was a worthy human being, she would have worked her way up to hotel franchise owner.

The Gunited States Of Gunmerica

There's something that bothers me about this story about gun shops teaching kids to shoot from the Chicago Tribune.

GAT Guns in East Dundee started offering these classes about a year ago because parents wanted to bring their kids in to shoot, manager Randy Potter said.

Another store — On Target Range and Tactical Training Center in Crystal Lake — offers a class to children ages 7 to 11 on firing .22-caliber rifles. At GAT, the children are trained on pistols.

“We couldn’t allow them to come in cold, not knowing what the parent and the child’s shooting ability was like,” Potter said. “Well, now what we do in the class is put them through and give them a card that fits in a wallet. They can show it at the counter, and the people at the counter will know that kid has been trained in safety and gun handling so it’s OK to let them shoot.”

The sound of gunfire is constant from the two shooting ranges inside the store, pistols upstairs, larger weapons downstairs. LED lights illuminate paper targets that glide back and forth at the command of the shooter and a touch-screen computer.

On the second floor, rifles line the walls and handguns fill display cases. To the side is a door leading to the classroom, which can hold a few dozen students. The first floor is taken up mostly by display racks of ammunition.

Before the children arrived, Wayne Inzerello sat in front of the room with a roster and a collection of bullets, ranging in size from bigger-than-your-thumb to smaller-than-a-fingernail.

In walked Sergio Meilman with his 12-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter, carrying a gun case, a box of ammunition and two sets of ear protection like airport workers wear.

Inzerello checked the kids in and made sure their names were spelled right, then asked them to take a seat up front. He repeated the routine as the room filled, trying to put the nervous ones at ease.

More than half of the four girls and 13 boys had fired guns before.

I grew up in western North Carolina, where rifles especially were tools that signified you were a responsible person.  The implicit understanding growing up in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains was that you learned to care for the rifle, clean it, load and unload it, and all the "boring" safety stuff before you ever were allowed to actually fire one, and that's what the NRA stood for.





Young learners   

Here's my question.  Imagine all the kids and the instructors in the above picture were black and/or Latino.  Would you still feel the same way about kids in suburban Chicago having firearms class?

I'm thinking the answer is no.

That's what's bothering me about the fetishization of firearms.

More Serious Problems In Syria

Via Juan Cole at Informed Comment, while the world has been paying attention to developments in Yemen with the Saudis settling in for a long airstrike campaign, developments in northwest Syria have taken a definite turn for the worse.

The provincial capital Idlib, a city of 165,000 in the old days and administrative center of the northwestern Idlib province, appears to have fallen completely to a Muslim fundamentalist coalition spearheaded by Ahrar al-Sham (Free Men of Syria) and the al-Qaeda affiliate, the Support Front (Jabhat al-Nusra). Most of the Idlib countryside has long been in rebel hands, and some of it was held by pro-Western, relatively secular-minded forces until last fall, when they were preyed upon and defeated by the Support Front, which is loyal to Ayman al-Zawahiri’s core al-Qaeda (responsible for the 9/11 attacks).

One fundamentalist Islamist coalition is bad enough, but if they are teaming up with AQ's Support Front, things are even worse than we imagined.  These guys know what they are doing, showing tactical and strategic discipline necessary to take and hold ground.

Aron Lund seems to argue that the fall of Idlib city is not terribly consequential. It was already nestled in the midst of rebel-held territory. The chief strategic danger to al-Assad’s forces is that the Sunni fundamentalists could use it as a launching pad to move against the Alawite Shiite populations around Latakia and to attack Latakia port to the west. The latter is important to resupply for the regime, which still controls the roads from the capital of Damascus up to Homs and over to Latakia. So far, however, the regime has managed to hold about two-thirds of the country population-wise, and these advances of rebels have sometimes been reversed, albeit with the help of Lebanon’s Shiite militia, Hizbullah. Al-Hayat also mentions the danger that the fall of Idlib could further isolate regime-held areas in the major northern city of Aleppo.

So this Terrible Twosome now have a base of operations to hit both Aleppo to the northeast, and the al-Assad regime's major resupply port to the southwest at Latakia. Again, this seems like a pretty solid strategic move on the part of the rebels, and that's bad news.

But here's Cole's real point:

Some Syrian and Western supporters of the rebel forces are annoyed to have it pointed out that Free Men of Syria and the Support Front are extremist fundamentalists or that the latter, which is al-Qaeda, played a leading role in the past week’s Idlib campaign. But for those of us in the US who lived through 2001, it is unforgivable that the Support Front pledged fealty to the mass murderer of Americans Ayman al-Zawahiri. That is not to say that al-Assad’s forces are preferable. In my own view, it is a shame both cannot lose to some sane group. But the revolution and war have erased sanity from all sides, and the secular or even just non-Salafi rebel forces have been targeted and wiped out by al-Qaeda, Daesh and so forth. Those who support the rebel side should reach out to the Support Front and let them know that until they repudiate al-Qaeda and declare for democracy, they have no cheering sections in the West and they are de facto helping al-Assad by their stance.

There are no "good guys" in Syria with military power right now.  This is a battle between the horrific guys and the truly horrific guys and the latter has made a big victory this week, and this gives the former the excuse to try to flatten a city of 150,000 in order to retake it.

Fun times, huh.

StupidiNews!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Last Call For Cop Cameras Can Work Both Ways

A gentle reminder that while cop cameras are definitely a tool to record obvious police brutality in action...

Fighting back tears, a Detroit man and longtime auto worker with no criminal history, described how Inkster police officers dragged him from his car one night in January, choked him, beat him and Tasered him during a traffic stop that was caught on patrol car video.

"He was beating me upside the head," Floyd Dent, 57, told a horde of reporters and TV crews during a press conference at his attorney's office Wednesday afternoon, as tears trickled his cheeks. "I was trying to protect my face with my right arm. I heard one of them say, 'tase the M...F. '"

The Jan. 28 incident was caught on police video cameras and is making national news. It shows Inkster police pulling over Dent in his 2011 tan Cadillac near South River Park Drive and Inkster Drive shortly before 10 p.m. The two officers approach with their guns drawn. As Dent opens the door, they pull him out and shove him to the ground. Dent does not appear in the video to be resisting arrest.

...it can also record incidents where police are not engaged in harming civil rights and are in fact doing their jobs correctly.

Taraji P. Henson was roundly applauded on social media this week over actions she took after having claimed that police in Glendale, Calif., racially profiled her son, Marcell, during a traffic stop.

In a recent interview with Uptown magazine, she said she was sending her son to Howard University after he was profiled on the campus of the University of Southern California.

Turns out the Empire star says she overreacted, according to the Los Angeles Times, which obtained a 40-minute video of an officer’s encounter with her 20-year-old son. She apologized to police Friday in an Instagram message with the hashtag #TurningANegativeIntoAPositive #LoveTarajiPHenson.

“I would like to publicly apologize to the officer and the Glendale Police Department,” she wrote. “A mother’s job is not easy and neither is a police officer’s. Sometimes as humans WE overreact without gathering all the facts. As a mother in this case, I overreacted and for that I apologize. Thank you to that officer for being kind to my son.”

In the lengthy video recording of the traffic stop, Marcell, whose last name is Johnson, is shown running a yellow light at a crosswalk where a pedestrian is attempting to cross. The officer then pulls him over.

After a series of questions from the officer, including if he’s ever been arrested, Johnson tells the officer he has marijuana in his backpack.

“I appreciate you being honest with me about the weed,” the officer says. “I do appreciate that because I do smell weed.”

Johnson complies with the officer’s request to step out of the car and wait on the sidewalk. After running checks and searching his car, the officer, who was joined by several others, issued Johnson a citation for possession of marijuana, but let him go for running the yellow light.

“I’m gonna give you a citation for the marijuana,” the officer says in the video. “Listen, I’m not gonna give you a citation for running that yellow, because that’ll actually put a moving violation on your driver’s license, and you’re gonna have to do traffic school and all that stuff. So I’m helping you out by not giving you a violation on that. All I’m gonna do is take the weed.”

Evidence is evidence, it's neither good nor bad, but a record of what actually happened.  It's by no means a panacea for controlling police brutality, any more than having police is a panacea for stopping all crime.  But police departments should be embracing cop camera and dash cams as much as the public should be demanding them for precisely that reason.

Sunday Afternoon Long Read

Today's long read comes from San Francisco Magazine, a story about how even in arguably the most liberal large city in America, there's problems with wage theft for service workers.  The good news is that these workers banded together and fought back to the tune of $4 million.

Even after Zhen Li leads a rousing chant—“Workers organize, everybody wins!”—no one else wants to step up to the microphone. Tiny and bespectacled, her hair in a jet-black bob, Li has the look of a Chinatown matron, one of those tenacious hagglers who elbows her way through the crowds on Stockton Street to purchase jade-green gai lan and silvery carp. Wearing jeans, sturdy black shoes, and a puffy striped jacket, she exhorts her fellow proletariats to join her up front and holds out the mic to a nearby woman. The woman tries to beg off, pleading, “I’m sick—my throat hurts,” but cheers draw her to her feet, and she sheepishly echoes Li’s rallying cry.

On this rainy evening in early December at the Chinese Cultural Center, Li and dozens of workers—mostly women, mostly middle-aged and older— are celebrating with greasy takeout, cake, a slideshow, and speeches. While some are clearly shy about speaking in public, they are no longer scared. They’ve already achieved the impossible: Their solidarity has won them an astonishing sum—$4 million—from a powerful employer that had systematically undercut their wages, pocketed their tips, and forced them to work under brutal conditions. And it wasn’t just any business that Li and her comrades had taken on: It was Yank Sing, San Francisco’s most lucrative and popular purveyor of dim sum, those small plates of har gow, siu mai, and other doll-size delicacies that the restaurant serves to more than 1,200 customers a day (and that’s a slow day).

The journey to restitution for Li and her coworkers began two years ago, when Li discovered that she wasn’t alone in feeling abused and underpaid. Her official work hours were 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but often, she says, her bosses forced her to stay, unpaid, an hour or two longer to prepare food and take care of her station. Unbeknownst to Li, a few coworkers had been meeting with the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA)—a scrappy and strategic advocacy group that’s been organizing low-income laborers for decades—in an effort to bring change to Yank Sing. One of her coworkers approached her, saying, “We need your help.” When Li discussed the idea with her husband, he tried to stop her from joining the nascent campaign. “What if you don’t win? What if you lose your job?” he asked. “Your employer is so wealthy, so powerful.”

Despite his resistance, Li persisted. “I was pretty scared. It was just a few of us going to meetings,” she tells me, speaking in Cantonese through a translator. “But with all the support and encouragement, I started to have more courage.” Before long, she would prove her mettle, becoming one of the insurgent group’s most stalwart leaders.

While you read Zhen Li's story, think about how the vast majority of America views organized labor in 2015: as an economic disease that must be eradicated, and that poor working conditions, low wages, and wage theft are 100% the fault of the people who choose to work these service jobs.  If you wanted a better job, a better life, you would be a good enough person to earn a better job.  The fact you're working for minimum wage in a kitchen, the argument goes, is proof you are unskilled, lazy, stupid, uneducated, and most of all, undeserving of dignity.

Organized labor upsets this natural balance of the Invisible Hand of the Free Market.  It gives these "undeserving" people hope that they matter, that they are worth something more than the wage they get per hour where in America your sole measure of worth is your paycheck.  These people, the story goes, get more than they deserve by stealing from the rest of us when they form those evil unions.  Most of all they force our most precious resource, Business Owners, to spend money on greedy union workers when they could be hiring more of us for cheaper wages instead.  Unions cost jobs, you see.

Never mind that the mythical American middle class doesn't get paid enough these days to be able to afford to buy products we make or sell, and business owners are sitting on billions in profits in cash used to prop up share prices through stock repurchase plans and trillions in offshore profits that never get taxed in the US.

Funny how businesses are making the greatest profits in American history, but somehow can't afford to pay taxes or raise wages.

Surely that's the fault of kitchen workers in San Francisco.

Sunday Right-Wing Conspiracy


Scott wrote here about Harry Reid’s announcement that he will not run for re-election, a decision which, Reid was quick to say, was not the result of his “elastic exercise band” accident. In January, I wrote OK, So What Really Happened to Harry Reid? I noted the injuries that Reid suffered on New Year’s Day, in Las Vegas: multiple broken bones around his right eye, damage to the right eye, severe facial bruising, broken ribs, and a concussion. Was all of this really the result of losing his balance because an elastic exercise band broke? That seems unlikely, to say the least.

Oh it gets more hysterical.

When a guy shows up at a Las Vegas emergency room on New Year’s Day with severe facial injuries and broken ribs, and gives as an explanation the functional equivalent of “I walked into a doorknob,” it isn’t hard to guess that he ran afoul of mobsters. Yet the national press has studiously averted its eyes from Reid’s condition, and has refused to investigate the cause of his injuries. To my knowledge, every Washington reporter has at least pretended to believe Reid’s story, and none, as far as I can tell, has inquired further.
Wait for it....

A friend of mine was in Las Vegas a week or two ago. He talked to a number of people there about Reid’s accident, and didn’t find anyone who believed the elastic exercise band story. The common assumption was that the incident resulted, in some fashion, from Reid’s relationship with organized crime. The principal rumor my friend heard was that Reid had promised to obtain some benefit for a group of mobsters. He met with them on New Year’s Day, and broke the bad news that he hadn’t been able to deliver what he promised. When the mobsters complained, Reid (according to the rumor) made a comment that they considered disrespectful, and one of them beat him up.

Says a lot about Assrocket's "friends" doesn't it.  Then again, they don't believe in evolution or climate change or basic macroeconomics, so of course "Harry Reid was really beaten into retirement by mobsters."

Is that what really happened? I have no idea, but it is a more likely story than the elastic exercise band yarn.

What happened to Reid is not just a matter of curiosity. Everyone knows that the Reid family has gotten rich, even though Reid has spent his entire career as a public employee. It is known that a considerable part of his fortune came from being cut in on sweetheart Las Vegas land deals that included at least one person associated with organized crime as a principal. Was the Senate Majority Leader in the pocket of the Mafia? That seems like a question worth exploring, and yet, to my knowledge, not a single investigative reporter has chosen to look into the matter, even with the obvious clue of Reid’s face in front of them.

The deliberate blindness of Democratic Party reporters hasn’t stopped people from speculating about what really happened to Harry Reid, but so far, at least, it has prevented the story from exploding into a major scandal.

"Everyone knows" Harry Reid is "involved with mobsters" and yet nobody has reported on it especially nobody on the right.

Weird how that works. It's almost like Assrocket has no actual evidence and is full of shit as usual.
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