Friday, May 13, 2005

Pope Dream

I am climbing up a ladder from some underground place. I open a trap door from underneath and emerge, shoulders above ground level; in some open space that at times is the Plaza Mayor in Madrid, at other times the Plaza Mayor in Burgos, and also a large parking area near Chicago’s McCormick Place. A procession is moving from the Lake Side Center McCormick Place building through the enclosed, elevated walkway toward the North and South buildings. I see it is Pope John Paul II’s procession. “Maybe he’ll come over here” I think. Lo and behold, the Pope is walking across the parking lot toward me. He reaches me. I am still standing on the ladder, head and shoulders above the cobble stoned surface. I hold my hands in prayer, exactly as they taught me when I was preparing for my first holy communion. “He’ll like this,” I think. Up close the Pope is very young, tanned, healthy and handsome, like he looked when he was skiing. He glows. He bends over and pats me on the head. Smiles beatifically down at me. The tanned skin around his eyes crinkles. Then he turns and starts to head back to McCormick place. But he only takes a step or so and then turns and says “make a wish.” I am trying to think fast of a good wish. I know I don’t have much time. He’s a busy man. “I wish for my granddaughter’s health,” I say. “This will make him think I’m a good guy,” I think. The Pope smiles and nods and turns away. The dream ends.

Do you think I should send this to the folks in the Vatican who are looking for evidence of the Pope performing miracles?

Low Hanging Fruit

The Pocono Record has a front page article about parking meters today. Specifically, the article is about certifying each meter’s accuracy. There are about 800 meters in Stroudsburg and 300 in neighboring East Stroudsburg.

This year Stroudsburg expects $320,000 and East Stroudsburg $104,000 in meter revenues.

Some fruit just hangs too low.

A few years ago the Stroudsburg Chief of Police, who sported a near shoulder length black hair piece and sometimes called the local news photographer out of bed to shoot the dramatic chief on a ladder as the chief was about to climb into a second story window during a midnight drug raid (this was in the Miami Vice era), was arrested and charged with stealing meter money. He was acquitted by an out of town jury bused in for the job. According to the story the Chief’s girlfriend supposedly brought large amounts of coins to the bank to be deposited and/or changed into folding money. Some of the coins were marked quarters that were part of an investigation into decreasing meter revenues.

My friend Rex, of thirty years ago, an average sized, average looking guy you’d never notice, wouldn’t have made the mistake of sending the girlfriend to the bank with the coins. Rex made a fine living as a parking meter thief. He plied his trade in large towns and small cities throughout the South. Going on tour, he called it.

Shortly after he arrived in town, usually on a Friday, he went and, with a pipe cutter, cut down a meter. Then he brought the meter back to his motel room. Rex was a skilled locksmith. He took the meter apart and made a key. The key to the city, he called it. Key in hand he headed to town in the evening, preferably with a temporary female accomplice.

One man hanging out attracts attention, Rex said. Two men do too. But a man and a woman lingering and moving slowly down a street or through a lot don’t usually attract a second look. The best time is when there are people on the street, but not many.

Rex emptied the meters into a milk shake cup and from there into deep coat pockets or his helper’s bag. When the pockets and bag filled he transferred the money into a pillow case in the trunk of a car. On a good weekend he could pick up $5000 even $7000 dollars. (That’s 1970’s dollars.)

The best time to work a town, Rex said, was not when the meters were full, right before they were emptied by the town, and certainly not right after they were emptied. Best time was half way through the cycle, when they were about half full. Coins would be there when the meter was emptied by city employees and suspicions would not be aroused. In fact, nobody would notice the theft until after all the money was counted and the amounts compared to previous takes. By then Rex would be long gone.

Back in the motel room Rex rolled the coins and stamped the rolls with “Ace Vending Company”. In the morning he donned his blue Ace Vending Company shirt, packed up and drove at least a couple of hundred miles before asking a bank to change the rolls into folding money.

Never, he said, never change the coins in the same town you’re robbing and never rob the towns where you change the money.

Years later, when I was on tugboats I again came across parking meters. I was on an oceangoing tug which meant there was plenty of time to bull shit. The engineer was a huge Irish guy. He and I were bull shitting about our Jersey City roots. Turns out he was once a Jersey City cop who didn’t last too long on the job.

While a brand new rookie cop he was given a one day job of emptying parking meters. It was also his birthday. At the end of the day he dutifully brought in all the money. A couple of days later he was called in by a sergeant who began cursing him out as a dumb fuck mick. He had no idea what he had done.

You brought in more money than anyone ever has, the sergeant said.

I can’t help it, the engineer said, that’s what was there.

You nearly ruined it for everyone, the sergeant said. You weren’t supposed to bring all the money in; it was your fucking birthday, the sergeant nearly screamed.

Thursday, May 12, 2005


Krugman, in today's (Friday) NY Times column, Always Low Wages. Always, compares the past prosperity of automotive industry workers and the sorry state of today's Walmart employees.

In 1968, when General Motors was a widely emulated icon of American business, many of its workers were lifetime employees. On average, they earned about $29,000 a year in today's dollars, a solidly middle-class income at the time. They also had generous health and retirement benefits.

Since then, America has grown much richer, but American workers have become far less secure.

Today, Wal-Mart is America's largest corporation. Like G.M. in its prime, it has become a widely emulated business icon. But there the resemblance ends.

The average full-time Wal-Mart employee is paid only about $17,000 a year. The company's health care plan covers fewer than half of its workers.

Krugman leaves out something very important. The UAW. Unions have been beaten down so badly that we forget it was unions and sometimes simply the threat of union organization that supported the wages for everyone who worked. Now, powerless workers are barely paid substance wages while Walmart's CEO makes an unimaginable $17.5 million.

Unions are not perfect but we are in sorry shape since we peacefully let the cheap wage conservative Republicans destroy the one structure that gave us the power to negotiate.

Krugman owes the working people that read him at least a nod to the unions that made automotive industry jobs good enough to fund a decent middle class life.

Wolcott Appreciation

I usually go to Wolcott several times a day, hoping to find a new post. Here he is today mouthing off.

What a confluence. Last night Steve Gilliard was on Air America's Majority Report. Tonight I will be a guest in the studio, where I'm sure the mice will be happy to see me again. Possible topics: Did John Bolton sample the buffet at Plato's Retreat, or did he "brownbag it"? Or perhaps the craven spectacle of those Washingtonians running for their lives yesterday in a fifteen-minute false alarm that CNN treated all day as if it were The War of the Worlds.

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Bolton Swings II

Larry Flynt has the full news release on his web site, posted here, including a link to the divorce court papers.

Bolton Swings

UN nominee Bolton paid to go to group sex clubs and dragged his first wife along, according to Larry Flynt as posted at The Raw Story.

...Corroborated allegations that Mr. Bolton’s first wife, Christina Bolton, was forced to engage in group sex have not been refuted by the State Department despite inquires posed by Hustler magazine publisher Larry Flynt concerning the allegations. Mr. Flynt has obtained information from numerous sources that Mr. Bolton participated in paid visits to Plato’s Retreat, the popular swingers club that operated in New York City in the late 1970s and early 1980s...

Free Press

I saw this referenced in a post yesterday at Eschaton (Atrios) and meant to link it. The author is Molly Bingham, photojournalist who has covered the Iraq war. You should read the entire article, but here's a sample.

...I could go into a long litany of the ways in which the American military has treated journalists in Iraq. Recent actions indicate that the U.S. military will detain and/or kill any journalist who happens to be caught covering the Iraqi side of the militant resistance, and indeed a number of journalists have been killed by U.S. troops while working in Iraq. This behavior at the moment seems to be limited to journalists who also happen to be Arabs, or Arab-looking, but that is only a tangential story to what I'm telling you about here....

Go here to read the editorial.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Paper Ballots

Monroe County, Pennsylvania, where I live, is in the process of replacing lever type voting machines with some as yet undecided or unannounced electronic voting system.

I agree with those wise people who advocate a return to paper ballots. They’re simple. They can be recounted and verified and the actual counting can be witnessed. There is no real need to automate this process and get votes counted in a hurry. A day or two more or less, though it would probably only add hours to the count, won’t matter nearly as much as another stolen national election. Here's a post by a guest on Eschaton

…As regular readers of The Sideshow are aware, I join with tech-savvy supporters of democracy everywhere in saying that there is only one appropriate means of making elections secure: Paper ballots, hand-counted on the night, in public.

Receipts are no use. A paper receipt can be emitted by a machine confirming that you voted for the candidate of your choice even as it tallies a vote for someone else or no one at all. There is no natural rule that prevents coding a machine to send one electronic message while printing out a different one.

For true transparency, you don't do anything that isn't visible to the naked eye, I want to be able to watch people counting ballots and see that they are tallying the real votes. I want the ballot I marked to be counted by another human being, watched by still other human beings, in the most openly non-partisan manner possible.

Receipts are meaningless unless there is a recount. You can easily avoid a recount by ensuring that your machines never allow the tally in a significant district to come close enough to trigger a recount. With no recount, no one ever knows that the receipts don't match the official tallies.

Machines can be fiddled, so don't let them count your vote. …

And this post from the same site
…One reason I don't think it's at all paranoid to suspect that the Republicans have deliberately taken over the voting system in order to cheat is that they keep doing things that don't otherwise make sense. There's a rather long list of things you just wouldn't expect them to think they could get away with unless they really thought they could control the ballot box, because otherwise they would have to expect that the public would kick enough of them out to not only end some political careers but also make impeachment - and prison - a distinct possibility….


When the housing bubble breaks it could very likely begin with a puncture here in the Poconos. We continue to overbuild for a market mostly fueled by long range commuters. As gas and heating oil prices continue to go up, which they certainly will, steadily and for as long there is oil left, that growth will stall and then stop. Foreclosed homes will stand empty. The underpaid, non union construction workers that built them will be unemployed and their families will find it increasingly difficult to scrape by. The new roads and school construction rushed to keep up with unlimited growth forever will prove unnecessary and abandoned projects will leave behind only the bills to be paid by increased property taxes.

I expect my two small houses, side by side and a four mile walk to the nearest store, to lose value all the way to worthlessness.

You can’t fuel growth infinitely with a finite resource. You would think, sooner or later, someone would include this obvious fact in planning the future.

As far as I can figure, the Bush/Cheney plan is to seize control of all the world’s energy resources, not for you and me, but for the everlasting comfort and enrichment of a very few elitist buddies at the top. We’ll get what trickles down.

For more gloom and doom you can visit one of the crown princes of gloom and doomdom here.

For a calmer, but no less pessimistic overview, go here.

Monday, May 09, 2005


Daily Kos makes some good points today about supporting our troops. Since so many our neighbors, I'm sure you know at least one, including the middle aged and family breadwinners, have been called to active duty, and since the maximum age to enlist is now 38, those that think this war is a good thing can best support those National Guard men and women called away from their families and jobs, by enlisting themselves. There’s even plenty of room for religious right extremist ministers.

Now that's great and all, but hey -- the armed forces are in crisis. Recruitment is down and falling by the month. We have a critical personnel shortage that is not solving itself. Our recruiters are being forced to lower their standards, letting just about any scrub in to meet impossible quotas.

So how about these preachers, who think this war is oh-so-just, put their words in action and encourage their flock to enlist? But I couldn't find any such proclamations from these two preachers. Lots of boilerplate about "supporting the troops", but nothing encouraging their followers to put words to deeds.

It's the hallmark of the American Right, whether it's the American Taliban or the 101st Fighting Keyboardists -- cowardice masked by tough words and no action.

Land of Make Believe

From today’s Krugman column from the editorial page in The New York Times
Let's consider the Bush tax cuts and the Bush benefit cuts as a package. Who gains? Who loses?

Suppose you're a full-time Wal-Mart employee, earning $17,000 a year. You probably didn't get any tax cut. But Mr. Bush says, generously, that he won't cut your Social Security benefits.

Suppose you're earning $60,000 a year. On average, Mr. Bush cut taxes for workers like you by about $1,000 per year. But by 2045 the Bush Social Security plan would cut benefits for workers like you by about $6,500 per year. Not a very good deal.

Suppose, finally, that you're making $1 million a year. You received a tax cut worth about $50,000 per year. By 2045 the Bush plan would reduce benefits for people like you by about $9,400 per year. We have a winner!

I'm not being unfair. In fact, I've weighted the scales heavily in Mr. Bush's favor, because the tax cuts will cost much more than the benefit cuts would save. Repealing Mr. Bush's tax cuts would yield enough revenue to call off his proposed benefit cuts, and still leave $8 trillion in change.

The point is that the privatizers consider four years of policies that relentlessly favored the wealthy a fait accompli, not subject to reconsideration. Now that tax cuts have busted the budget, they want us to accept large cuts in Social Security benefits as inevitable. But they demand that we praise Mr. Bush's sense of social justice, because he proposes bigger benefit cuts for the middle class than for the poor.

Sorry, but no. Mr. Bush likes to play dress-up, but his Robin Hood costume just doesn't fit.

It’s not the only time Bush has played dress-up. In Bush world appearance is always the opposite of truth. Remember the warrior flight suit costume? The reality was he lost his flight status. The facts are here.

How about the rugged, Texas rancher costume? Truth is he was a prep school graduate and a Yale cheerleader.It would be nice, for old time’s sake, if he cut some brush in his cheerleaders suit.

Cheney too likes to play dress-up. "Sportsmen for Bush/Cheney will remember the outdoorsman/hunter look. The costume is great but when it actually comes to hunting Cheney gets delivered to upscale private preserves and blazes away at pen raised birds released in front of him. One day he shot seventy tame pheasants.

And of course for both there's always the hawk costume concealing the chickenhawk reality.

Europe is Cool

The day after tomorrow

CLIMATE change researchers have detected the first signs of a slowdown in the Gulf Stream — the mighty ocean current that keeps Britain and Europe from freezing.

They have found that one of the “engines” driving the Gulf Stream — the sinking of supercooled water in the Greenland Sea — has weakened to less than a quarter of its former strength.

The weakening, apparently caused by global warming, could herald big changes in the current over the next few years or decades. Paradoxically, it could lead to Britain and northwestern and (sic) Europe undergoing a sharp drop in temperatures....

If we believe God won't let environmental disasters happen, we don't have to do anything to prevent them.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Election Theft

Evidence of the theft of the 2004 election continues to be ignored by the mainstream media. But there is too much evidence to ingore forever. The issue has not gone away and those that were pissed off about it are still pissed off.

Go here. And then follow the links in the article.

Old Fashioned Democrat

I am 61 years old, a former tug boat captain and former member of the New York longshoremen's union. I was proud of the liberal, New Deal Democrats that surrounded me most of my life. I'm for socialized medicine, welfare, free college tuition for all needy but academically qualified applicants, higher taxes on the wealthiest individuals and corporations, support of international, world court based justice. I am opposed to unilateral wars. I am in favor of multi national intervention to stop genocide and aggression. I am pro choice and for strict separation of church and state.

I believe Democrats should not compromise these positions to appease the now extremely right wing Republican Party. I would prefer it if elected Democrats refused to cooperate in any way with the neo fascist right wing congressional majority and election stealing president. Right leaning Democrats like Lieberman and Miller and those who voted for the bankruptcy bill (as good a litmus test as any) should be shunned.

I want an energized party unified around the traditional Democratic positions I mentioned above. If it is too far left for some, let them become Republicans. Forget the center, we need to seize and energize the left.

An altruistic, ethical course usually turns out to be the most practical.