This can’t go on

It’s just not normal. How can we go on pretending it’s normal? Or that it’s OK in any way? Are we so stunned by the rapidity of the change? Are we so ignorant of our own history and principles? Are we so consumed by partisanship that we must ignore the bizarre and outlandish, the inappropriate and outrageous, when it comes from our “team”?

The President of the United States tweeted this on Monday:

courts are political

He was upset because his “Travel Ban” has to be ruled on by a court before it can be made law, and he indulged in one of his now-standard early-morning “tweet storms”, or maybe “twitter tantrums”  describes it better.

tweets

These outbursts do not serve his interests in any way, and certainly do not serve our country’s interests. He is discrediting our system of justice. Who does that help?

The President of the United States has declared that the courts are “political”.

Is this what should now be taught to schoolchildren?

The President cannot, must not, say this. Even if it were true, which, God help us, it better not be, he cannot say this.

He is saying that our system of checks and balances is a sham.

He is saying the idea of an independent judiciary is a sham.

He is saying that any judicial appointment he makes is political.

He is saying that he expects “Republican” judges (there better not be such a thing!) will rule against Democrat plaintiffs, and vice versa.

He is saying he expects any judge he appoints to rule in his favor no matter what the law says.

He is saying that decisions made in his favor are also tainted, just as those that he doesn’t like.

He is saying that any decision passed down by the courts is made not on the basis of legal precedent or constitutional law, but on political grounds.

He is saying that no court decision is justice, but rather politics, so you are right to question decisions you don’t like, or to simply reject and ignore them. They do not carry the weight of “law”, but only “politics”.

He is saying the power of the presidency is not tempered or augmented by the judiciary, but that it is in opposition to it.

He is saying the courts do not function to protect us and our principles, but, like the media and any other institution that questions him, are the enemy. Until you co-opt them for your own team.

He is saying the rule of law is a fiction.

He is saying he does not like or trust our system of government.

He is saying that the authority of the courts and judges is not real.

The President said this. The sitting President of the United States.

Those who admire and trust him will certainly modify their thinking based on his “teachings”, and some will modify their behavior as well. There will be consequences.

FoxNews will “debate” the merits of these statements. They will repeat and support them, perhaps with minor modifications and explanations, rather than go against their “team”, thereby amplifying the effect and compounding the damage.

Those who see Trump for the impulsive, ignorant, narcissistic jackass he is can only shake their heads, yet again, in dismay and wonderment. Or possibly speak out, only to then be accused of God-knows-what by the other “side”. Liberalism? Political correctness? Defeatism? Anti-Americanism? Terrorist sympathies?

Where’s the outrage?

Obstruction of Justice + Treason = ?

A few days ago, the President of the United States admitted to the crime of Obstruction of Justice on national television. In an interview, he told NBC’s Lester Holt that he fired the Director of the F.B.I., James Comey, because he was frustrated by the investigation into Russian meddling in the election, which he said wasn’t real but rather made up by Democrats who lost an election they should have won.

This is Obstruction of Justice, an impeachable offense.

He left out the part about how it was the very same Comey’s timely revelations about the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails that tipped the scales of the election. It’s hard to remember now, but the reason everyone was so upset about which email account Clinton used was that she might reveal classified information to our nation’s enemies, e.g. Russia. Even though no such information was revealed, Trump repeatedly called for Clinton to be “locked up” for her imagined crimes.

But with Trump, Obstruction of Justice is like everything else. Nothing. Republicans in Congress said he had a right to fire whoever he wants (not if it’s Obstruction, he doesn’t), that it’s all smoke and no fire, and so on.

Only four days ago, I wrote,

By next week it will all be forgotten, replaced in the “news” by stories about the selection of the new F.B.I. director, who, by the way, will certainly be loyal to Trump. Or by some other craziness, maybe the new investigation into voter fraud, led by a proponent of Voter ID laws. Or more likely by something we just can’t see coming right now. Your assignment: come back here in a week and add a comment about what it turned out to be!

Well, don’t bother. It didn’t take a week and we already have the answer. Yesterday, we learned that the President revealed highly classified information to the Russians in that meeting that only the Russian news agency was allowed to cover. He was bragging to the Russians about all the “great intel” he gets every day (Really? Who’d have imagined?). The WaPo article says,

The information the president relayed had been provided by a U.S. partner through an intelligence-sharing arrangement considered so sensitive that details have been withheld from allies and tightly restricted even within the U.S. government, officials said.

The partner had not given the United States permission to share the material with Russia, and officials said Trump’s decision to do so endangers cooperation from an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State. After Trump’s meeting, senior White House officials took steps to contain the damage, placing calls to the CIA and the National Security Agency.

This is Treason, also an impeachable offense.

To summarize, Trump wanted to lock up Crooked Hillary Clinton because she couldn’t be trusted to keep our secrets out of Russian hands, and applauded James Comey for revealing that the F.B.I. was investigating her handling of emails, an investigation which ultimately resulted in nothing.

In a fit of petulance, he then fired Comey for investigating the Russian hacking of the very emails we’re talking about, because it might be revealed that his campaign staff colluded with the Russians. Such a firing is unjustified, improper, and completely without precedent.

He then disclosed highly classified information directly to our enemies on his own. Personally. To the Russians. While standing in the Oval Office. With the Russian State News Agency present.

Does any of this matter to the “No Regerts” crowd? Nah. As everyone knows, Trump is Draining the Swamp and Making America Great Again. Lock Her Up. That’s what matters. When his current 88% approval rating with those who voted for him starts to drop, then maybe something will be done about all this. But there’s apparently nothing that could ever have that effect, so don’t hold your breath.

Obstruction of Justice + Treason = Nothing.

hat3

Cox and Comey

Last night, our unhinged president fired the head of the F.B.I., James Comey, allegedly for his handling of the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s emails, something Trump had often praised Comey about even in the very recent past. Is there anyone who actually believes this nonsense?

Comey is currently leading an investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russian hackers, and everyone understands that the reason he was fired was to put a chill on that investigation.

It’s pretty funny that Trump was “acting on the advice” of the Justice Department, i.e. on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, one of the very Trump Campaign people who apparently colluded with the Russians (and then lied about it under oath). You may not remember that connection, because the whole “Obama tapped my wires” thing blew it right off the internet, and therefore off of all other news sources, as well.

The best part is the short letter Trump sent to Comey telling him he was gone. It contains just three paragraphs, the second of which is truly bizarre:

While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgement of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau. 

Huh?

Anyway, the entire world immediately saw the parallel here to the Saturday Night Massacre, in which Richard Nixon fired special prosecutor Archibald Cox, who was  leading the Watergate investigation. This led to the resignations of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus on October 20, 1973. This was the turning point for the Nixon Presidency and he resigned from office some months later, when he saw his impeachment was certain.

The hashtag #TuesdayNightMassacre blew up on social media with many people exulting that this was certainly the beginning of the end for the man-baby, and that, like Nixon, he would ultimately be on the road to impeachment.

trump-nixon

Not so fast, kids.

There is a huge difference between the Saturday Night Massacre and the Tuesday Night Massacre, and it is one that means Trump will not be impeached. Not until after 2018, anyway. At the time of the Cox firing, the Democrats controlled the House of Representatives.

Impeachment happens only if a simple majority of the House votes for “Articles of Impeachment”. And then a two-thirds majority of the Senate must vote for impeachment, after hearings presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. All of these offices are controlled by Republicans, and all their constituencies love Trump.

A second somewhat less important difference is that, back then, there were also a handful of Republicans who understood that our country and the rule of law are, in fact, more important that partisan politics. That’s not the case today. Virtually every Republican congressman who was asked about the firing last night, said something like it was “time for a change” or “the F.B.I. head serves at the pleasure of the President.”

Even the ones that have in the past demonstrated some independence, like Maine’s Senator Susan Collins, who said,

“The Justice Department was really understaffed for a long time, it took a while for the attorney general to be confirmed and his deputy was just confirmed I believe a week or so ago, and it’s the deputy who is a career prosecutor who had been designated to do the analysis so the FBI director’s actions and came up with the recommendation.

“The president did not fire the entire FBI. He fired the director of the FBI. And any suggestion that this is somehow going to stop the FBI’s investigation of the attempts by the Russians to influence the elections last fall is really patently absurd. This is just one person, it’s the director, the investigation is going forward both at the FBI and in the Senate Intel Committee in a bipartisan way. SO I don’t think there’s any link at all.”

But, on the bright side, assuming there is anything left to salvage of our government two years from now, and assuming Democrats can regain the House, Trump’s impeachment is now inevitable. Big assumptions.

The mid-term elections are more important now than ever before. I hope all the Bernie voters and Jill Stein voters can grasp all this and do the right thing.

 

Arkansas on a spree

So Arkansas has executed four people in the last eight days, after not executing anyone for twelve years. Wow.  This is really a disgrace.

lethal

Before I tell you why I think this is a disgrace, let me make most of you angry by telling you what my cousin Screwie Generis thinks. Screwie is a lot smarter than I am, and he thinks the death penalty is just fine. Here’s how he responds to some of the standard objections to the death penalty.

1.  “It’s cruel and unusual”.  Perhaps, but then almost everything about our prison system is cruel and unusual, starting with the absurdly high incarceration rate itself, and going all the way up to using prison as a warehouse for all our deinstitutionalized mentally ill. There is no logical basis for singling out the death penalty for its cruelty or unusualness.

2. “It’s used disproportionately against people of color”. This is not an argument to end the death penalty – it is an argument to use it more often on white offenders. The question isn’t what color the murderer is, but whether he committed a capital offense.

3. “It might make you feel better, but it won’t bring back the victim”. Exactly! Nothing can bring back the victim. Life imprisonment can’t do it. A slap on the wrist can’t do it. No punishment you can invent will bring back the victim. The point of capital punishment is that actions have consequences, and this is the correct price to be paid for ending someone’s life.

4. “It doesn’t deter crime”.  Nonsense.  It deters the shit out of the guy you’re executing. No more stabbing the corrections officers for you, sonny boy. Anyway, if deterrence was the main objective of capital punishment or any other punishment, we’re doing it all wrong.  You’d have to start by performing the punishment where those you’d like to deter can see it – in the public square or on TV, for example.

5. “It’s not justice, it’s revenge.” It’s both. But so what if it was just revenge? Why is that not an adequate justification? And, again, isn’t any other punishment also “revenge”?  The more important question is, did the guy commit the crime or not?

6. “It’s costly.” Quite beside the point. Everything we do as a society, both the right things and the wrong, has costs. This argument belongs somewhere else. Are you challenging me to think of a cheaper way to kill someone? Because I can do it if you are.

7. “The state has no right”. Hmmm.  What “right” does the state have to do anything at all? There are plenty of people out there who think the state has no right to collect income tax, to designate National Monuments, to seize land by eminent domain, or to do many other things that we now allow it to do. The state has whatever “rights” we grant to it.

8. “What if you execute the wrong guy?” OK, now you’re making sense. You cannot execute someone if there is any chance whatever that he is the wrong person. You just can’t do it. The Innocence Project has done some great work in this area, though I’m a bit puzzled by how Barry Scheck can use DNA to free both the innocent and the guilty (remember O.J.?)   It’s a really horrible thought that even one innocent person was ever put to death. But, again, this is less an argument against capital punishment than an argument against convicting innocent people. It would also be horrible (maybe even worse!) for an innocent man to spend his life in prison. But, yes, I get it: if you find out someone is innocent, and you haven’t yet executed him, you can release him. The standard for capital punishment cannot be the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard that got him convicted, but must be raised to “without a molecule of doubt”.

9. “The murderer is a changed man – he’s rehabilitated and no longer the same guy who committed the crime”. Again, so what? I’m no longer the same guy I was when I (did something) 20 years ago. But I still did it. It still has repercussions for someone else. Can you just murder someone and say, “Hey, that was last week – I’ve grown!” and be absolved?  Should we give Poland a call and tell them to leave this guy alone?

10. “The poor guy has the I.Q. of a dust mite – he doesn’t know right from wrong.” He doesn’t know right from wrong, but you want to let him go free? No thanks.

11. “You must take the perpetrator’s background into account – he had a terrible upbringing and it’s understandable why he did the things he did.”  Puh-leeeze! First, tons of people had rough upbringings and did not choose to kill anyone.  In making this argument, you are denying free will, and, well, we’ll just have to agree to disagree on whether we have free will. But more importantly, think of the implications if we go along with it! You’re saying we have to set the murderer free because his step-father put cigarettes out on his chest when he was nine, and he can’t be held responsible for his actions. Fine. Release him. And when he does it again, you have to release him again because the back-story hasn’t changed. You’ve made the punk into James Bond – he has a license to kill.

Whew. OK. Enough from Screwie. But at this point you’re probably asking why, if I think Screwie’s arguments defending capital punishment merit repeating here, did I start by saying that what Arkansas is doing is a disgrace.

Arkansas is executing these guys because their supply of the lethal drugs that they use for executions is nearing its expiration date, and they think they might have trouble getting more.

Screwie might be able to convince me that there are valid reasons to defend capital punishment, but I can’t be convinced that running low on poison is one of them.

 

The customer is never right

In corporate America today, the transformation is almost complete. The big ones are just about done eating the little ones. How many options does the consumer really have now when choosing a bank? Or an internet/cell/TV provider? Or an airline that flies a particular route? Even the grocery stores are coming under the the control of the increasingly few corporate parents.

As consumers have their choices reduced, and as companies who built their business on great customer service are acquired by companies that didn’t, the whole notion of trying to do right by the customer is becoming obsolete.

If you need to call Intergalactic Cable because they just added another $15 to your monthly bill for no apparent reason, you’ll soon realize the effort required to get that money back will cost you a lot more than $15 in time, effort and aggravation.

You wade through a maze of voice menus and finally arrive on “hold” listening to a recorded voice tell you repeatedly that your call is important to them. Your call is not important to them. It’s a giant pain in the rear end and they hope you just go away. But don’t forget to pay your bill promptly to avoid penalties.

When someone finally does answer, you soon realize they are entry-level employees in the Philippines or India or somewhere else where labor is cheap. They read from a script, often in an accent you have trouble comprehending. They have no authority to address your issue. They try to sell you additional “services”. Would you like to enroll in their auto-pay program? They’ll just go right into your account every month without you needlessly worrying about the details. So convenient!

You may be transferred and transferred again to other “customer service” people who also cannot help you. Sometimes you wind up back with the department you started with, but with a different person. Each step along the way requires you to provide extensive identifying information before you start all over trying to explain the problem. You’re fortunate if, after all this, you aren’t simply disconnected. And if you do achieve the goal you started out with – getting that $15 removed – you feel like you’ve won the lottery. But that $15 will reappear in two months and you can decide then if you’d like to repeat the experience.

If you’re dim enough to ask your insurance company to give you some money when you discover your car has been dented in the parking lot while you were shopping, your rates will be raised. The business model amounts to “you give us money, we give you nothing”.

The customer is not always right. The customer is a sucker to be fleeced.

The corporation has several constituencies that need to be served, and their interests conflict. First and foremost, management must be taken care of. The C-level few will get their obscene compensation packages whether the company does well or not, whether the products are faulty or not, and whether the customers complain or not.

After they’ve had their turn at the trough, the shareholders may or may not get some return on their investment, then the employees may or may not get some consideration, and then comes the customer. The customer gets nothing.

We’re supposed to feel good when we read a story like this one about Wells Fargo clawing back $75 million from two executives. Two! This is after six months of them  “investigating” themselves about the fraud which saw two million fake accounts created and 5300 employees fired. See it was the employees who were actually the guilty ones! Why did these two jokers get paid so absurdly in the first place? Why does it take a media firestorm to get rid of them, and another to get some of the loot returned?

Here’s a piece  from last July that puts the nine-figure compensation of failed Yahoo CEO, Marisa Mayer, “in perspective”. She’s gone now. What would they have had to pay her if she actually did what they hired her to, i.e. finally turn the company around?

You only get “accountability” from the guys at the top after they’ve exhausted all their other options. This weeks United Airlines fiasco is a case in point. First came the statements from the top about how procedures were followed and how proud they are of their employees. Then there was some talk about how they weren’t really the bad guys, because, see, it was actually law enforcement that screwed up. Then there was the obligatory blaming of the customer – he was “defiant” (as opposed to what?). Then there were some lukewarm “apologies” for having to “re-accommodate” some passengers (none of whom had actually been accommodated in the first place).

DC: Airline Industry CEO's Speak At Chamber Of Commerce

Only after it became clear that this isn’t going away, that there will be lawsuits, that the paying customer was assaulted (lost his front teeth and was concussed!), that CEO Oscar Munoz is finally using some more-or-less appropriate language. As part of this mea culpa, he also said “It’s never too late to do the right thing,” Actually, after you’ve knocked out your customer’s teeth, it is a little late.

But if you believe for a minute that any of this is sincere, that it’s anything other than pathetic attempts at damage control, well, you’re the perfect customer for United Airlines and all the other mega corporations for whom competition in our “free-market” economy is not a worry.

Anyway, I started writing this because today I read something about the airlines overbooking policies that bothered me. I wrote the other day that it seemed to me that, since you pay for your ticket when “reserving” it these days, the airlines will have their money whether you fly or not, and that the overbooking policy now is nothing more than an opportunity for them to sell the same seat twice. The article I read today said no, not exactly, because when people who purchased a refundable ticket don’t fly, they might get their money back and then the airline loses.

First of all, I’m not worried about the airline “losing”. They’re doing fine. Second, I’d need to see some statistics about how many of the no-shows actually bought refundable tickets, because they often cost twice as much or more than the non-refundable ones. And third, the airlines have already protected themselves against the possibility of losing money on no-shows. The full-fare customers who did fly have simply paid an insurance premium for something that didn’t happen. It’s all profit for the airline, and loss for the customer.

So what’s the takeaway here? Uh, I’m not sure. We’ve gone pretty far down the road of corporate consolidation to turn that ship around at this point. And I think we can rule out hiring Marisa Mayer to fix things, or anyone at Wells Fargo. But, beyond that?

Bernie for President in 2020?

 

 

OK, this time United is wrong

The other day we wrote about internet outrage, and how it has a life of its own, even when it’s based on incorrect information. It was about United Airlines making some teenagers change their clothes before boarding, and the story blew up before people realized that there was another piece to the puzzle and maybe United wasn’t really wrong.

Well, today United is in the news again, and this time it looks like they really screwed up. They overbooked a flight as is their practice, assuming that some passengers will be no-shows. The concept is that they should be able to sell the seats when this happens, rather than lose revenue on the no-shows. Every now and then, they get caught if there aren’t enough no-shows, and they have to bribe someone to wait for another flight.

This happened in Chicago the other day, and they had four more passengers than seats on a flight to Louisville. Three people agree to fly later, but one guy, who U.A. had determined should be the fourth, didn’t want to get off the plane. They would end up getting the police to come on the plane and physically drag the guy out of his seat and off the plane, literally kicking and screaming.

As we often say here at GOML, in the internet age there is usually more to the story than meets the eye. But there are three things about this whole deal that makes United look bad to me, if the story stands as is.

The first is the whole “overbooking” practice. In the old days, you used to be able to “reserve” a ticket and pay for it when you showed up at the airport. If you didn’t show, the airline didn’t get the money and the seat went empty. But now, you always pay for the ticket when you “reserve” it. In other words, you’re not reserving it at all – you’re buying it. If you don’t use it, the airline still has your money. Yes the seat goes unoccupied for that flight, but the airline hasn’t lost anything. Overbooking is now a way for the airline to get paid twice for the same seat. Am I wrong about this? Someone please correct me if so.

Second, the airlines’ ticketing agreement allows them to refuse boarding to passengers under lots of different scenarios, including overbooking. Fine, but they hadn’t refused boarding to this poor guy. He was already settled into his seat when the whole thing blew up. If you’re overbooked, you know it before boarding begins, and you can straighten it out in the gate area. No? You might have someone pitch a screaming fit there, but it beats a viral video of a guy being pulled out a seat that he paid for on a flight he needs to take. You would have thought they were taking him to the electric chair.

And third, this whole thing happened because United discovered they had four employees who they needed to get to Louisville. They were non-revenue-passengers (remember “nonrevs” from the whole dress-code incident?). So they throw off the paying customers to make way for their employees? This did not sit well with the other passengers who were seated near the “victim”, and they berated and shamed the U.A. nonrev employees who did fly.

Now there may yet be a twist that absolves United here – I have an open mind. Maybe the four employees were pilots who had to get to Louisville to fly a transplanted heart to its new owner. Maybe United knew that a plane-full of asthmatic orphans would be waiting on the ground for eight hours, or something, if they didn’t get this crew down there, and they figured “the greatest good for the greatest number”. I don’t know.

But, at first blush, this does seem like corporate greed and contempt for customers. To the barricades! Down with the Patriarchy!

You better start swimmin’

Or you’ll sink like a stone.

It’s all happening so fast, now. You don’t see it coming. Or maybe you do, but there’s nothing you can do about it. And the weird, dystopian reality is that millions of people think it’s a good thing.

Just yesterday, three huge steps in the wrong direction were taken while our attention was focused elsewhere.

Maybe you were busy watching the  Devin Nunes shit-show. Or maybe you were pondering Trump’s brazen abdication of responsibility to his daughter and son-in-law, neither of whom is any more qualified for any of it than the man-baby himself, and neither of whom was elected, vetted, or approved by anyone but daddy.  Or maybe you’ve been marveling at Trump’s voracious appetite for spending our money on golf. After criticizing Obama for playing too much golf and asserting he wouldn’t have time for it, he’s spending money on golf at a rate eight times that of Obama.

No, none of that. Here are three other outrages that took place virtually unremarked just yesterday, and I’m not even sure they are the only three.

1. President Trump Risks the Planet.

With a stroke of his pen, Trump undid all Obama’s climate change initiatives in the name of bringing back jobs to the coal industry. Oy vey. Where to begin on this one? I suppose you could start with my observations of just a few days ago.

As we’ve said before, those jobs aren’t coming back in any case. But at least now the operators won’t have to spend any money on compliance, so, you know, finally they’ll be able to afford those solid gold toilet seats on their Gulfstream G5’s. Nice, right?

jet

The miners that are still on the job can get back to work on that black lung thing they’ve got going, and, if Trump has his way, do it without health insurance. And the rest of us can laugh at how we didn’t fall for that Chinese hoax called “climate change”.

2. Congress blocks effort to get Trump’s tax returns.

Why? How does this make sense? Wouldn’t the Republican lawmakers want to assert just a little independence? Grab back just a little piece of the power assigned to the legislative branch that they’ve so eagerly abandoned? Clear the air on that Russia thing and other conflicts once and for all? Set and maintain a precedent that we’ve followed for decades so that future abuses, perhaps by their opponents, would be made less likely? Nah.

And all for fear of an attack-tweet from a toxic clown who’s going to drag them down anyway.

3. Your internet browsing history is now for sale without your permission or knowledge.

Huh? Wasn’t this something law enforcement needed a warrant to obtain? Wasn’t this the kind of thing the whole Snowden exposé was about?

It’s bad enough that all those lowly wage-slaves at your I.S.P. can chuckle about how you downloaded a movie illegally, or googled your high-school crush, or “anonymously” commented on some anti-Trump blog, or purchased sex-toys. Or whatever the hell you did that you assumed other people wouldn’t know about. Medical or financial information you thought was yours? No, it now belongs to them and anyone they sell it to.

Yes, they have every search term, every mouse click, every everything already packaged up and ready to go.  In the past, they couldn’t do it without your permission. Now they can. Now it’s a profit center for them to grow. Better think twice next time you press “enter”.

The Times They Are A-Changin’.