Friday, April 05, 2013

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1)    Better get ready for some whining this week. First, let me start with that hideous new book, Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg. In an interview with Jon Stewart this week, she talked about how women executives are more unlikable when they behave like alpha male executives than men are. Lemme sum it up for you, Sher: What a load of horseshit.

That’s not to say that women don’t have it worse than men, or that they aren’t repressed and held back by an old boy’s network. They certainly are, and I’ve seen it first hand and close up. It’s also not to say that an aggressive women is not less popular for being aggressive or bitchy. They are. What I am saying, is nobody likes a douchebag, full stop, and to say that somehow, aggressive men are perceived better than aggressive women is to completely ignore labor history of the past 5,000 years.

If you are looking to make friends at work, go work with animals. The pure, unadulterated truth of corporate America is NO ONE likes ANYONE ELSE. Yes, there are some small exceptions to be found, anecdotes about life-long friendships growing out of a co-worker relationship and even long term marriages. But perform a simple experiment and you will see what I’m talking about.

Think back over your work career. It doesn’t matter if it’s been nearly 40 years like mine, or only 5 years. Think of how many hundreds, thousands, or as in my checkered work history, tens of thousands of people you’ve worked with, and ask yourself this question: How many of them could you pick up the phone and call right now, and pick up a conversation you had the last time you saw them? Me, I can’t count that low and while I’m not the easiest person to friend, I’m not hard to talk to or find.

That’s not to say you should go out of your way to be unlikable in order to further your ambitions. You do need to grease the wheels of the culture you are in. What it does say is that all those carefully cultivated contacts and your network are good for work only, and if you try to treat them as “friends,” if you even believe them to be friendly, you’re deeply in denial about who you are and who they are and why you are there. Corporate America is a zero sum game. There are no friends, there are only enemies and enemies-in-waiting who masquerade as allies as convenient for them.

2)    If, as I posited yesterday, the North Korean bellicosity is a staged dance for his domestic purposes, then this is performance art trolling of the finest kind.

3)    There’s a disturbing trend in America this week: white supremacists gunning down local officials in assassinations. But hey! We need more guns, right, because these folks were not armed or trained in the…I’m sorry, what’s that? The victim was armed. And trained. And adept? Oh.

4)    Listen, if your deadly and dangerous –  and proven unsafe, by the way – nuclear power plant can be brought down by rats? Maybe you should shut the damn thing down.

5)    One possible side effect of the North Korea dance could be the destruction of the global economy. Again. But hey! Let’s outsource jobs to tiny nations that we can bully which are located in really unstable sections of the planet! You know, for profit!

6)    I’ve played in a lot of sports leagues and on a lot of teams. I’ve run into this kind of coach, and have quit teams because of them. The most delicious vengeance is to sign up with a rival and beat the crap out of his team when I’ve faced them. College athletes are slaves, and while some are well-compensated and looked after – illegally, I should point out – the vast majority are struggling to stay on the team, stay in the school, and because they’re on scholarship and subject to NCAA rules with respect to transfers out (they have to sit out a season of eligibility), they’re stuck on the plantation, even if Massa whips them.

And we should keep in mind that this is the same school that just emerged from the Tyler Clementi tragedy. That the coaches bullied and harassed players, especially using homophobic slurs, at a school that was so sensitized to homophobia speaks volumes to a cover up.

7)    It took 1600 years to build. It took 25 to melt. But hey, let’s ignore renewable energy because Solnydra!

8)    I can see the erectile dysfunctions ads in Best Buy already.

9)    Dude. Ur doin’ it rong.

10) Chris Hayes had a great piece on this last night on All In with Chris Hayes. Fast food workers barely make $150 a week, and while you might think that’s not bad for a school kid, many of these folks are adults trying to support families.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

North Korean Agonistes

A true test of a nation’s mettle comes not in how it deals with “existential threats” (i.e. a force equal to or greater than its own) but with the niggling trouble-makers.

Thus enters North Korea:

SEOUL, South Korea — South Korea’s defense chief said on Thursday that North Korea had moved to its east coast a missile with a “considerable” range, but that it was not capable of reaching the United States. The disclosure came as the Communist North’s military warned that it was ready to strike American military forces with “cutting-edge smaller, lighter and diversified nuclear strike means.”

That last likely should be taken with a grain of salt, but clearly not discounted completely. We know they’ve been working on a nuclear capability for some time now, they have a reactor that is not hooked up to the power grid (so we know it’s not for energy), and they had been in touch with our old fiend, Abdul Qadeer “A. Q.” Khan, who likely advanced their ambitions by several decades.

Too, North Korea has been gearing up for some time to “battle” the United States and South Korea.

I put “battle” in quotes for a reason: there’s significant cause to believe that Kim Jong-Un is sabrerattling not for international purposes but in order to clamp down dissent domestically. Precious little news of the North ever really gets out, so we have to infer a lot, but here’s my thinking in support of this notion.

Periods of transition after long-term dictatorships, or even benevolent monarchies, creates turmoil and chaos, opportunities that dissidents will seize upon. See, like it or not, a moron like Saddam Hussein or Hosni Mubarak might be the worst thing to happen to a people, but he stays in office as long as he does precisely because he brings a form of stability to a nation. Take away that brutal reality, and the people will flex their muscles.

While Kim did inherit his office from his father, history teaches us that is no guarantee of stability among a people. We have only to look into the past of one of our closest allies, England, to see that any transition in a monarchy, even the most placid ones, can cause instability in a culture.

Say what you will about democracy and term limits on a President, we never see this kind of radical behavior, mainly because we select our next leader, like him (or her) or not.

There is no reason to expect that North Korea would be any different, so we can make an assumption here that, indeed, Jong-Un ran into a little dissent after he assumed power.

I should point out that there are no known dissident groups to Kim’s government and any political parties that do exist (three, if memory serves) are all controlled by the Kim family. That doesn’t change the fact that there must be some form of dissent. After all, we have Teabaggers here in the greatest nation on the planet.

Plus, tens of thousands of North Koreans cross the borders into China and South Korea annually. You don’t risk your life, literally, to leave a country until you’ve exhausted your efforts at carving out something safe at home.

Kim is very young, as well, which might lead a dissident to assume that he’s weak and foolish. Which he may very well be, if this amounts to anything more than sabrerattling.

It’s conceivable that this posturing is an attempt to whip up patriotic feelings among his people, who are trained from early on to hate and fear America and Americans. Claim they are about to attack you, your people ramp up their patriotism, and start turning against dissent.

Think it won’t work? Then you haven’t been paying attention, even to your own nation. Hello, PATRIOT USA Act!

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

From The Frying Pan Into the Fire

I guess Malcolm Smith (nominal D-NY) can be forgiven. After all, he watched as Michael Bloomberg purchased the mayoralty three times.

Smith’s problem is, he tried to buy the office of the Mayor at the five-fingered discount:

At one stage, Mr. Smith was part of a Democratic power troika that lavished goodies on an openly crooked state senator, Pedro Espada Jr., in the process of getting Mr. Espada to vote with them. Mr. Smith himself recently jumped with a small group of Democratic senators to shift power to the Republican minority. Along the way, an inspector general’s report said he had finagled a casino land deal in Queens. The F.B.I. was also investigating nonprofit groups that he helped obtain government funds.

Undaunted, Mr. Smith set his ambitions on becoming the Republican candidate for mayor of New York City. Strictly speaking, as a Democrat, Mr. Smith had no business on a Republican ballot, but, understandably for a person practiced in the customs of Albany, that seemed like a small obstacle. In fact, he could get a spot on the primary ballot by special dispensation from three of the city’s five county Republican leaders.

These not-so-longish-shot hopes brought him into a series of negotiations that, a federal complaint charged, moved beyond the horse-trading of ordinary legal-graft politics into the realm of outright bribery.

What it seems to boil down to is that federal authorities claim that Mr. Smith swapped road improvements in Rockland County for a spot on the ballot in the Republican primary for mayor in New York City.


For the record, Rockland County is not near the city by a good stretch. It does give one pause.

It sort of boiled down to this, so bear with me, because it gets a little convoluted, but is an interesting read for those who want to read up on the machinations of local government.

There’s a real estate developer. He owns a project in Rockland County. That project could stand an infrastructure upgrade to make his gated community a little more attractive.

This developer, he has the ear of many in the state Republican party, because, you know, rich and Republican buys you a lot of access, even in a state as hostile to the GOP as New York.

Unfortunately, that’s not enough to buy the necessary permits to buy the road improvements. Luckily, there’s a guy in Albany who’s got his eyes on a bigger prize who would be willing to help: former State Senate Leader Malcolm Smith.

Smith wants to run for mayor of NYC, but the Democratic field is packed, from current City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, among several others, all of who are term limited out of their current jobs.

The Republican field, however, is pretty wide open, and the only serious threat to Quinn et al has abandoned the race.

Sounds like a marriage of convenience to me!

On the face of it, not the worst thing in the world, however. I mean, you know, tit for tat, nothing illegal about asking for a favor in exchange for another favor and I’m sure the developer would behave above board in approaching his friends for the favor to Smith.

It’s just how the developer got the favors done. After all, favors don’t come for nothing.

It’s a fascinating story, and points out the need for campaign finance reform up and down the government, but also much more oversight in how deals are developed.

But ponder for a moment this: in an age when more and more governance is pushed down the ladder to the states and local governments, how many Malcolm Smiths are out there, hiding in the woodwork, who will never ever be caught because there’s no oversight and the local newspapers are often in cahoots with the corruption?

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

More Right Wing Scare Tactics

So, next year, the Affordable Healthcare Act fires up in earnest. Yesterday, Vermont released its proposed healthcare exchange rates for 2014, the first state to do so.


Guess what? There’s great news:


After years of anticipation, Vermont became the first state Monday to publish proposed 2014 individual health insurance rates under the federal health law. Despite Republican and insurers’ predictions, there was no “rate shock” in the new premiums, according to the Vermont governor’s office and insurance representatives.

That state may not be the best barometer of the impact of the heath overhaul on premiums, however, because it already prohibits insurers from using health status to determine an individual’s premiums. It is one of only seven states in the country which have so-called community rating regulations.

Vermont also requires prices to be the same regardless of person’s age. Two of the health law’s biggest changes include prohibiting insurers from using health status to determine premiums and prohibiting insurers from charging older people more than three times the rates of younger people.

Now, the caveats in those last two paragraphs should be noted: Vermont already had tight reins on some of their insurance carriers. So much for “Live Free or Die,” I guess.

But here’s the thing: the right wing is terrified of the free market coming to one of the most lucrative plutocracies known to so-called “free” enterprise. The ACA expands coverage to encourage young people and others who don’t have health insurance to pick some up or be subject to a tax. This will have all sorts of good ripple effects for the rest of us who have insurance and are getting older and sicker by the minute.

Our insurance rates will first stabilize and then come down. This is how free markets work. This is why conservatives are a) hypocrites and b) terrified of Obamacare. It will force doctors to do actual work, instead of jetting off to Boca on Wednesday and returning Sunday night to see a few patients, whom they can massively overbill for procedures and testing that are unnecessary and futile.

How desperate are conservatives? This desperate:

A challenge filed by the Pacific Legal Foundation contends that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional because the bill originated in the Senate, not the House. Under the Origination Clause of the Constitution, all bills raising revenue must begin in the House.

Yup. You read that right: the originalists are going to go all originalist (after putting away their muskets, I’m sure) on the Constitution. This is what conservatives believe.