The Wires

Public Service Announcement

New York Times (September 22): In March the Department of Justice described criminal cases involving nearly $700 million lost [to fraud] in the previous year by about two million people. The ones hit hardest by this kind of fraud are over 70, and they experience an average loss of $41,800, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau reports.... Some of the newer tactics for defrauding older people focus on Social Security, grandparenting and employment searches." ~~~

~~~ Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: I have received a number of calls recently warning me I was about to lose my Social Security card, an eventuality that is highly unlikely. I have always just hung up on these automated calls, but yesterday, I decided to bite. When the "real person" came on the phone, he identified himself as a Social Security officer, certainly breaking the law right there. "Really?" I said. "How are you going to prove you're a federal government official and not a scammer?" He immediately hung up. Maybe this gang of crooks will stop calling me (tho probably not).

New York Times: "Margaret Atwood and Bernardine Evaristo have both won this year’s Booker Prize, it was announced at a ceremony on Monday, after the judges for the literary award rebelled against its rules. 'We were told quite firmly that the rules state you can only have one winner,' Peter Florence, the chairman of the Booker judges, said at a news conference. But the 'consensus was to flout the rules and divide this year’s prize to celebrate two winners.' Evaristo, who won for her novel 'Girl, Woman, Other,' is the first black woman to win the Booker Prize. 'I hope that honor doesn’t last too long,' she said in her acceptance speech. Atwood, who won in 2000 for 'The Blind Assassin,' was considered a front-runner this year for 'The Testaments,' the sequel to her 1985 dystopian classic, 'The Handmaid’s Tale.'”

We are amused:

The Hollywood Reporter has a list of this year's Emmy Award winners.

The End of the Amtrak Dining Car. Washington Post: "Amtrak says it is reinventing its dining service on long-distance trains, killing the traditional dining car to create more 'flexible' and 'contemporary' dining options. The carrier says the change, starting this fall on the one-night routes east of the Mississippi River, is driven by the desire to save money and lure a younger generation of new riders — chiefly, millennials known to be always on the run, glued to their phones and not particularly keen on breaking bread with strangers at a communal table. With the transition, Amtrak is doing away with the traditional onboard kitchen, switching to serving prepackaged meals and easing restrictions on the traditional serving times. The change allows the railroad to cut costs associated with cooking aboard and keeping up with the white-tablecloth service that was once known to rival high-end restaurants and clubs." ~~~

     ~~~ Mrs. Bea McCrabbie: I realize many of you are too young to have experienced this, but once upon a time, traveling by train & plane was glamorous. People dressed up to travel, and those who had train roomettes dressed for dinner. My then-husband & I once had a roomette when we traveled from Juarez to Mexico City, & the experience was absolutely fabulous; so was the cuisine in the dining car. Now, it's sensible to dress in the most comfy clothes in anticipation of getting squished into a teeny "economy class" airline seat. The photos accompanying the WashPo story show people wearing casual dress in the white-tablecloth dining room, & the men are too gauche to remove their billed caps. P.S. to American tourists: nobody more messes up a photo of an historic site than a bunch of yahoo sightseers ambling around in their sloppy travel outfits. Then:

CNN: "The US Navy has finally acknowledged footage purported to show UFOs hurtling through the air. And while officials said they don't know what the objects are, they're not indulging any hints either. The objects seen in three clips of declassified military footage are "unidentified aerial phenomena," Navy spokesperson Joe Gradisher confirmed to CNN.The clips, released between December 2017 and March 2018 by To The Stars Academy of Arts & Sciences, appear to show fast-moving, oblong objects captured by advanced infrared sensors.In footage from 2004, sensors lock on a target as it flies before it accelerates out of the left side of the frame, too quickly for the sensors to relocate it. Two of the videos, both from 2015, contain audio from US fighter pilots attempting to make sense of what they're seeing."

New York Times: "A solid 18-karat gold toilet, titled 'America' by its creator, Maurizio Cattelan, was stolen early Saturday [September 14] from an exhibit at Blenheim Palace, the Oxfordshire birthplace and family home of Winston Churchill.... The artwork is based on a common Kohler toilet and was created by a foundry in Florence. The work’s value was not disclosed, but [Guggenheim artistic director Nancy] Spector described it as 'millions of dollars’ worth of gold.'... The police said in a statement that they were investigating the burglary and that a 66-year-old man had been arrested but not charged. The toilet has not been recovered. Jess Milne, a detective inspector, noted that the toilet had been plumbed to the building, so the theft 'caused significant damage and flooding.' He said the police believed a 'group of offenders' using at least two vehicles was behind the theft." the Hill's story is here.

Modern Art. CNN: "Hillary Clinton's emails ... have become art -- and the former secretary of state herself went to take a look.The 2016 Democratic presidential nominee looked through printed copies of her emails and sat at a replica of the Oval Office's Resolute Desk during a visit Tuesday to an art exhibit in Venice, Italy, titled 'HILLARY: The Hillary Clinton Emails,' according to the exhibit's creator and curators. 'Hillary Clinton spent an hour yesterday reading her emails at my exhibition of all 62,000 pages of them in Venice,' American poet and artist Kenneth Goldsmith tweeted Wednesday. 'She is pictured here at a replica of the Oval Office Resolute Desk, stacked with her emails.' Francesco Urbano Ragazzi -- the collective name for two men who are working as the exhibit's curatorial team -- told CNN that Clinton came in for a private tour of the exhibit Tuesday morning."

... Related Washington Post story here.

     ... Thanks to NJC for the lead.

Constant Comments


Mrs. Bea McCrabbie

Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. -- H. L. Mencken (probably)

Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one. -- A. J. Liebling


The Commentariat -- September 10

President Obama holds a press conference:

     ... Here's the transcript of the full presser.

New York Times: "The 'don’t ask, don’t tell' policy toward gay members of the military is unconstitutional, a federal judge in California ruled Thursday. Judge Virginia A. Phillips of Federal District Court struck down the rule in an opinion issued late in the day.... The plaintiffs, challenged the law under the Fifth and First Amendments to the Constitution, and Judge Phillips agreed." You can read the 86-page ruling here.

Greg Sargent on allowing tax cuts for the rich to expire. Dear Democrats, the public is already on board. Please, go for it: "This, of all things, is not an issue where Dems should conclude in advance -- as they often do -- that once Republicans go on the attack, it's game over and Dems can't possibly win the argument."

The don’t ask, don’t tell act infringes the fundamental rights of United States service members in many ways. ... Far from furthering the military's readiness, the discharge of these service men and women had a direct and deleterious effect on this governmental interest. -- Federal District Judge Virginia Phillips

Thom Shanker of the New York Times: "... Salvatore Giunta of Hiawatha, Iowa, who is now 25 and a staff sergeant, will become the first living service member to receive the Medal of Honor, the military’s most prestigious award, for action during the wars since September 11, 2001." Washington Post story here, with more details of Giunta's heroics.

Samuel Freedman: for years there was a Muslim prayer room on the 17th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center. The bombing by Muslim extremists in 1993 did not change that. ...

... Oh, What Will Newt & Mitt Do? Justin Elliott of Slate: Gingrich, Romney & some other big-name Republicans & conservatives will be sharing the stage next week with virulent Islamophobe Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association (such a nice name) at the Values Voters Summit (such a nice name) next week. Elliott thinks leaders have an obligation to call out Fischer of bigots.

Jonathan Salant & Kristin Jensen of Bloomberg: "At least 25 'super PACS,' including one linked to Karl Rove, are fueling a surge in money for this year’s elections following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down limits on corporate campaign spending. These political action committees can take unlimited company, union and individual donations and explicitly urge voters to support or oppose candidates, unlike ordinary PACs and nonprofit groups":

Americans are ... seeing a flood of attack ads run by shadowy groups with harmless-sounding names. We don’t know who’s behind these ads and we don’t know who’s paying for them. -- Barack Obama (view video here)

T. W. Farnum of the Washington Post : "Capitol Hill employees owed $9.3 million in overdue taxes at the end of last year, a sliver of the $1 billion owed by federal workers nationwide but one with potential political ramifications for members of Congress.... Ssome Republican members are pushing for the firings of government workers who owe the IRS...."

Nature Editorial Board: "There is a growing anti-science streak on the American right that could have tangible societal and political impacts on many fronts — including regulation of environmental and other issues and stem-cell research."

Guess I'd better start promoting this guy...

... or I'll be helping out these guys:


Burn This Book, Con'd.

With the Crazy Cap'n. Crunch pastor from Gainesville teetering from yes to no to maybe* on whether or not he'll light the Bonfire of His Vanities, the Ocala (Florida) Star-Banner reports, "Westboro Baptist Church, the small Topeka, Kan., church that pickets funerals of American soldiers to spread its message that God is punishing the country for being tolerant of homosexuals, has vowed to hold a Quran burning if Gainesville's Dove World Outreach Center calls its off." Here's the Gainesville Sun story. ...

* AP: "Negotiations between a local Muslim cleric and the leader of a tiny Florida church who had threatened to publicly burn copies of Islam's holy text left the heated debate in a state of confusion with the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks a day away."

He clearly, clearly lied to us. -- Terry Jones, on Florida Imam Muhammad Musri

And The Tennessean reports that the Rev. Bob Old, a "longtime-Baptist minister ... plans to set fire to a Quran on Saturday at his home and then post a video of the burning book online. And if he had his way, there would be no Muslims in America":

If they want to have their religion, they can have it somewhere else.
-- Bob Old

... Chip off the Old Blockhead. Gainesville Sun Update: "A leading national minister and the adult son of Dove World Outreach Center Senior Pastor Terry Jones said they do not expect him to burn copies of the Quran on Saturday at the church in northwest Gainesville.... The younger Jones appeared in front of reporters with a gun on his right hip Friday morning...."

Constant Weader
: am I the only one to think the real reason Terry & the Disciples won't be burning any holy books is this? -- Gainesville Sun: "The city of Gainesville ... will send Terry Jones ... a bill for the estimated tens of thousands of dollars it will cost to police the area if the church goes through with its plan...."

Damien Cave of the New York Times, on Gainesville: "... the people of this youthful city in central Florida are taking [Jones'] actions personally, with anger and heartbreak, as one of their neighbors drags their hometown into nearly nonstop news coverage and infamy. Gainesville, after all, is a university town that until a few months ago was best known for producing college football champions, Gatorade and rockers like Tom Petty. Educated and progressive, with a gay mayor and a City Commission made up entirely of Democrats, Gainesville is a sprawling metropolis of 115,000 people."

AP Standards guy Tom Kent sent a memo to staff outlining the Associated Press's policy on coverage of this story. Via Think Progress.

AP policy is not to provide coverage of events that are gratuitously manufactured to provoke and offend. -- Tom Kent, Standards Editor

Follow the Money

CBS News: "Terry Jones ... runs a church that spends most of its money on administrative expenses and operates a furniture business out his church.... The Dove World Church is for sale for 2.9 million." Terry & his wife Sylvia are the principals in several other businesses. And the church also lost a chunk of its local tax-exempt status this year. ...

... Reader Lisa pointed me to this more extensive post in the DailyKos that demonstrates how the church appears to be a front for the Jones' businesses. CW: I wouldn't go nearly as far as the exuberant poster does in her assumptions about the financial co-mingling & con-artist charges, but the raw data she (or he) provides make it pretty clear that the Rev. Terry has cheated on his local taxes & is way busier making money in various shabby enterprises than he is in ministering to his tiny flock.

Meaningless Aside. Matt Lewis
of Politics Daily: one of the Rev. Terry's high school classmates (Cape [Girardeau, Missouri- Central High, Class of '69) was Rush Limbaugh. CW: I'm sure Terry & Rush will have lots to chat about at the reunion.

News Coverage of the News Coverage

Brian Stetler of the New York Times signals that it's time for the media to commence its ritual self-analysis. Stetler looks at the media's role in promoting the Koran-burning story & examines how & why the story mushroomed into an international affair into which even the POTUS was drawn. CW: fortunately, the Westboro loonies will give Stetler a chance to write a follow-up piece.

Roy Greenslade of The Guardian takes about the same tack & comes to the same conclusion as does Stetler: it's not our fault.

James Poniewozik of Time is less forgiving. In his view, not only did the media go nuts over the nuts, they allowed Sarah Palin & Co. to promote a false equivalency between burning the Koran & building a religious center: "it's not as if there's an argument that Koran-burning would be more sensitive a few blocks away."

AND the Government Finds a Book to Burn. New York Times: "Defense Department officials are negotiating to buy and destroy all 10,000 copies of the first printing of an Afghan war memoir they say contains intelligence secrets, according to two people familiar with the dispute. The publication of “Operation Dark Heart,” by Anthony A. Shaffer, a former Defense Intelligence Agency officer and a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve, has divided military security reviewers and highlighted the uncertainty about what information poses a genuine threat to security."


Japanese Model Beats U.S. Rube Goldberg Mock-up

Paul Krugman: "Japan’s performance has been disappointing but not disastrous. And given the policy agenda of America’s right, that’s a performance we may wish we’d managed to match."

What the Japanese didn't have was John Boehner, Mitch McConnell & Jim DeMint. They've never had to look forward to Sen. Rand Paul or possibly even Sen. Sharron Angle.

Surely the main reason our own government did too little in early 2008 was the fault of Republicans. We all remember those closed-door sessions in which, presumably, President Obama tried to explain prudent fiscal policy to Sens. Collins & Snowe. We all remember the Party of No, with the exception of the somewhat confused Ladies of Maine (& then-Republican Sen. Specter), standing firm against sensible economic policy.

Ezra Klein wrote a good post the other day on how much better the stimulus package (& the healthcare bill) would have been if not for the filibuster. He used the apt term "legislating to the lowest common denominator," & there he referred to the Democratic leadership's having to kowtow to ConservaDems' every whim.

As for the handful of House Republicans who voted for the stimulus package, their party's membership rewarded them with threats of primary defeats in 2010.*

I'm surely happy to see that somebody in the Obama Administration figured out Democrats shouldn't be running against Bush, but against Boehner, McConnell, Ryan, Cantor, & the rest of the current crop of economic knuckleheads. Let's hope the Democrats can act like an organized political party for the next two months (okay, fat chance!) & show disengaged American voters the horrors and hardship they will bring down upon themselves if they reward the Party of No -- who brought on, then exascerbated the economic crisis -- with their votes.

* CW: Oops! Exactly zero Republican House members voted for the stimulus bill. It was the eight Republican House votes for a climate bill that engendered the backlash & threats: