Saturday, March 29, 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoons--South Park parodies Monty Python's "Dead Parrot" sketch

I found this over at Americablog, and it is just fricking brilliant!  Seems like the creators of South Park created a parody of Monty Python's famous Dead Parrot sketch--one of the best of the series. 

From YouTube:


And here is the original Monty Python's Dead Parrot sketch:

I'd like to see how South Park parodies other Monty Python sketches, such as the Spanish Inquisition, or Spam, or even the Upperclass Twit of the Year Games.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Supreme Court hears arguments in Hobby Lobby case for corporation's religious rights

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc, where Hobby Lobby is challenging the Affordable Care Act's insurance coverage for birth control is violating the religious beliefs of the owners of Hobby Lobby, and that the company should be exempt from this birth control requirement.  This is from CBS
Two privately-held, for-profit companies -- Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. -- are suing the United States government over a provision in the Affordable Care Act that requires large employers to offer their workers comprehensive health coverage, including contraception, or pay a fine. Hobby Lobby's owners, David and Barbara Green of Oklahoma, say they have strong objections based in their Christian faith to providing health care coverage for certain types of contraception. The Pennsylvania-based Hahn family, the Mennonite owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties, have the same complaint.

For Christian conservatives, the cases represent the threat of government overreach.
"This case will decide whether a family gives up their religious freedom when they open a family business," Lori Windham, a senior counsel for the Becket Fund, which is representing Hobby Lobby, told CBS News. "The question here is whether the Green family can be forced to do something that violates their deeply held religious conviction as a consequence of the new health care law."
Reproductive rights advocates, meanwhile, consider the notion that some businesses could pick and choose which contraception methods to cover "out of touch [and] out of line," Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro Choice America, told reporters.
Contraception is "integral with our economic security and our ability to hold jobs for our lifetime," Hogue said. "We've had enough of this idea our reproductive health is somehow separate from our economic well being... Our bodies are not our bosses' business."
The two cases, however, have implications that go well beyond the so-called "wars" on women or religion. If Hobby Lobby and Conestoga prevail, it would prompt "a fundamental shift in the understanding of the First Amendment," David Gans, the civil rights director for the Constitutional Accountability Center, told CBS News.
That shift in thinking could open the floodgates for unprecedented protections for corporations that some say amount to a license to discriminate. The ramifications could be felt nationwide, in states that are enacting laws to shield businesses from regulations that may violate their "religious beliefs." Gov. Jan Brewer, R-Ariz., last month vetoed one such bill, which would have allowed Arizona businesses to refuse to serve gays on religious grounds. A number of other states across the country have been considering similar legislation.
The ramifications could theoretically go further than that. U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli argued in a brief to the court that siding with Hobby Lobby "would entitle commercial employers with religious objections to opt out of virtually every statute protecting their employees" -- such as laws that ban gender discrimination, minimum wage and overtime laws, the collection of Social Security taxes, or mandated health coverage for vaccinations.
This case certainly worries me.  The big question I would have to ask is, who defines a corporation's religious belief?  Hobby Lobby is a privately held company,  so I can see the Green family's religious argument against providing birth control.  But who defines a publicly-held corporation's religious belief?  The CEO?  The Board of Directors?  The shareholders?  Will such religious beliefs have to be placed up for a shareholder vote on the next shareholder meeting?  How does such religious beliefs in God, Satan, Original Sin, birth control, relate towards selling of shoes by Nike Corporation?  Wait--Jesus Christ wore shoes.  How does religious beliefs relate towards the selling of  iPhones and iPads by Apple Computer Corporation?

There have been a lot of arguments that I've read criticizing Hobby Lobby, and their arguments for corporate religious beliefs--Talking Points Memo, Huffington Post, Daily Kos has multiple postings on their site, and Americablog has four postings.  What worries me is that if the Supremes rule in favor of Hobby Lobby, then we may see that floodgate of corporate protections on taxes, discrimination, exemption on regulations on everything--all based on religious beliefs.  Corporations only believe in one God--and that is the God of Money!  They will say anything and do anything they can to accumulate even more of their God. 

And one more thing, the Supreme Court will rule 5-4 in favor of Hobby Lobby, with Justice Kennedy being the swing vote.  Because corporations are people too, my friend.

Jack Daniels faces Tennessee "Whiskey Rebellion"

I found this story through the Yahoo Food Section, with the source story from the Wall Street Journal.  Starting with the Yahoo Food Story:
There’s a whiskey brawl going on! Not the typical post-drink brawl, but a brouhaha that was born before the whiskey even made it to the people. Let us elucidate the details.
Jack Daniel’s Whiskey: Whiskey made (1) in Tennessee (2) from at least 51% corn, (3) filtered through maple charcoal and (4) aged in new, charred oak barrels.
Tennessee Whiskey: Whiskey made (1) in Tennessee (2) from at least 51% corn, (3) filtered through maple charcoal and (4) aged in new, charred oak barrels.
See the similarity there? That’s because Jack Daniel’s—or rather, Brown-Forman Corp., the company that owns Jack Daniel’s—urged Tennessee lawmakers to require anything labeled “Tennessee Whiskey” to fit that bill. (The bill that Jack Daniel’s fits.) This is important because that “Tennessee Whiskey” label sells bottles—it’s part of why the American liquor business is booming—and without, it, the Other Guys have less of a chance in the marketplace.
Tennessee Whiskey, According to the Other Guys: Whiskey made (1) in Tennessee (2) from at least 51% corn, (3) filtered through something (maybe?) and (4) aged in some kind of barrel. This is what both small Tennessee distilleries and Diageo, the company that owns top-selling George Dickel “Tennessee whiskey,” want—looser terms—so that they can experiment with grains and woods and use family recipes, if they have them.
"If you don’t want to use new barrels or charcoal filtering, you can’t call it ‘Tennessee Whiskey.’ You can call it ‘whiskey from Tennessee’ or ‘whiskey made in Tennessee’ or any other combination,” Phil Lynch, a Brown-Forman spokesman, told Yahoo Finance.
You just have to love this ridiculous fight going on here.  Jack Daniels used the Tennessee state government to pass legislation requiring any whiskey labeled "Tennessee Whiskey" to be produced according to Jack Daniels' requirements.  Jack Daniels wants to use the term "Tennessee Whiskey" for themselves as a marketing term, and shut the rest of the distillers out.  According to the Wall Street Journal, Jack Daniels sells about 90 percent of Tennessee's whiskey, with Diageo PLC's George Dickel's Tennessee Whiskey in a distant second place.  There are also some small craft distillers in Tennessee that want to experiment in creating specialty whiskies, and are complaining about the stringent requirements and short supply of new wood barrels.  Ironically, Jack Daniels makes its own, oak barrels.  Legislators in Nashville are planning to debate the possible rule changes and amendments to roll back some of these requirements.

In one sense, I can see what Jack Daniels is doing for "Tennessee Whiskey," in imposing regulations for the term is similar to such regulations for terms of  "Scotch," and "Champagne."  Unfortunately, I would say that they've gone a little too far in imposing their production requirements for the term.  Jack Daniels covets the therm "Tennessee Whiskey," as it is prominently displayed in their label.  Now that competitor distilleries are coming into Tennessee to produce their own whiskeys, Jack Daniels is fighting to maintain their own monopolistic market share.  And one way is to keep the "Tennessee Whiskey" term for themselves. 

It is rather ironic, because Jack Daniels is okay--but it is not the best tasting whiskey out there.  To me, it is good as a mixing drink, but I would prefer the more subtle tastes of micro-brewed whiskies or bourbons.  To me, Makers Mark is a better tasting whiskey than Jack Daniels--and Maker's Mark is supposedly an inferior bourbon.  According to the WS Journal:
Brown-Forman—which is based in Kentucky (And maker of Jack Daniels)—is casting the debate in near-apocalyptic terms, saying in a news release Friday that Tennessee Whiskey was "under attack."
It accused Diageo of trying to undermine the designation by watering down regulations that would "dramatically diminish the quality and integrity'' of Tennessee Whiskey and make it inferior to bourbon.
Bourbon, the most famous type of American whiskey, is made with a recipe similar to Jack Daniel's. Under longstanding federal regulations, any whiskey labeled "bourbon'' must be distilled in the U.S. using at least 51% corn and aged in new oak barrels that have been charred. Unlike Tennessee Whiskey, bourbon doesn't require maple charcoal filtering. It can also be made in any state, although more than 90% of bourbon is produced in Kentucky.
There is no federal regulation governing the term "Tennessee Whiskey.''
Part of what makes bourbon and Tennessee Whiskey unique is the substitution of barley and other grains with corn, typically making them sweeter than other whiskies such as Scotch. Brown-Forman says new barrels are another important difference, delivering unique flavor and turning the spirit orange-brown without caramel coloring. Charcoal filtering produces a smoother sip, it says.
To me, the best-tasting whiskey would have to be a single malt Scotch.  And there are a wide variety of single malt scotches out there, with so many different flavors, aromas, and subtleties.  Unfortunately, single malt scotches have gone up in price.  So I've switched over to the next best thing in bourbon.  Go into a BevMo store, you'll find a number of interesting bourbons--each with their own subtleties in their distillation and production process.  Half the fun is trying out different bottles of scotches and bourbons and comparing them to each other.  Apparently Jack Daniels is saying that watering down the regulations would '"dramatically diminish the quality and integrity'' of Tennessee Whiskey and make it inferior to bourbon.'  I've tasted unique bourbons in Makers Mark, Knob Creek, Elijah Craig, Woodford Reserve (Which is OWNED by Brown-Forman), Rock Hill Farms, and a few others that have a better taste and complexity than Jack Daniels.  There are plenty of whiskies and bourbons that are superior to Jack Daniels.

The term "Tennessee Whiskey" is not under a "near-apocalyptic" attack.  Jack Daniels use of the term "Tennessee Whiskey" is. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoongs--Top Ten Worst Nostalgic Cartoons

For today's Saturday Morning Cartoons, how about the Top Ten Worst Nostalgic Cartoons?  Presented by Pause / Break Reviews, it appears these are reviews for cartoons shown in the 1990s and 2000 decades.

From what I've seen on cartoons, Cow and Chicken was just too weird of a story for me to watch.  I couldn't understand the show at all.  Sonic the Hedgehog was a bad rip-off of the video game.  In fact, quite a few of the cartoons were bad rip-offs of  video games, or movies, or who knows what toy tie-in.  Ghostbusters as a cartoon?

It is rather interesting about how much of a tie-in there is between cartoons and merchandise.  It doesn't matter whether the merchandise came out first, or the cartoon.  I will say that the Number One cartoon in this list is based on a Japanese trading card game (No, not Pokemon).  Hell, I even remember the blatant tie-in between the G.I. Joe cartoons of the 1980s and the rampant toy merchandising that came out the next day.  Seems like nothing has changed.

The one cartoon that I disagree on is his Number Four pic on the Fairly Oddparents.  It is not the best cartoon, but still somewhat entertaining.  The reviewer complains that each episode follows the same plot line structure:  Timmy makes a wish from his godparents, Timmy gets in trouble from making his wish, Timmy and his Godparents find a way to resolve the trouble and turn everything back to normal.  To me, it is not about the story or plot of the show--it is about the details and inside cultural and social jokes within the show that makes Fairly Oddparents entertaining.  I see Fairly Oddparents plot structure similar to the Road Runner cartoons of the 1950s--Coyote wants to catch Roadrunner.  Coyote invents schemes with gadgets in attempt to catch Roadrunner.  Each attempt fails, and Coyote goes back to drawing board to invent new scheme with new gadgets.  The fun part here is seeing the design of the scheme, the gadget, and how the Coyote will fail in the attempt.  I'll take watching Fairly Oddparents over the rest of these cartoons in this list.

Then again, maybe I grew up in a different time in watching cartoons.

From YouTube, Top Ten 10-6:

From YouTube, Top Ten 5-1:

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Target's new, anti-union video

I found this Gawker story, via Daily Kos.  From
Target is America's third-largest retailer. It is also as staunchly anti-union as they come. In 2011, we showed you the cheesy anti-union video all Target employees were shown. We now bring you the new cheesy anti-union video all Target employees must endure.
The existence of Target's new anti-union employee training video (entitled "Think Hard: Protect Your Signature") was first reported today by Josh Eidelson at Salon. And we have obtained the actual video, which is above. It features Dawn and Ricardo, a cool, knowing, multiracial pair of Target employees who are here to talk to you, the Target team member, about the dangers of unions. "Someday, someone you don't know may approach you at work, or visit you at home, asking you to sign your name to an authorization card, petition, or some other union document," Ricardo warns.
Stranger danger!
"At Target, an open door policy isn't just a catchphrase," clarifies Dawn, in her smirky, Rachel Maddow-esque way. "It's a policy." She's referring to the sort of policy that caused a former Target manager to tell us, of the store's HR policies, "on paper it sounds great but the reality is a horror story."
"Unions want what we have" the video declares. How so? Ricardo explains, as if speaking to a child: "We're a target, because unions are threatened by us. And here's why: when we take business away from retailers that are unionized, those companies may downsize, reducing the number of employees. And that means the union loses members, which is a big problem for the union business. Did you notice how I just called it a business? Because that's what it is."
Target, which posted $73.3 billion in revenues in 2012, is presumably not a "business." Businesses sound bad.
The video can be found on the Gawker website, here.

Listening to this video, I'm struck by how much Target doesn't really trash the unions, but attempts to compare the unions as a business that is only interested in building membership and collecting dues--but not doing anything else.  There was a lot of corporate propaganda Target presented in a fast-paced manner that I had trouble to process, and keep straight.  I would imagine a young, new, Target employee would be instilled with fear that the big, bad unions would take away their wages, their jobs, or even Target's business.  Besides, unions are not needed, because the federal government take care of everything that the unions used to take care of.   So the new Target employee doesn't look into joining the union, or is afraid to be fired by management for talking about unions.  Target continues its successful anti-union crusade. 

Time Warner CEO to get $80 million golden parachute for two months work

Robert Marcus, chief executive officer of Time Warner Cable, could receive a "golden parachute" pay package worth up to $79.9 million if Comcast's take-over of Time Warner Cable is approved. (Andrew Harrer / Bloomberg / June 11, 2013LA Times

There is not much to comment on this LA Times story:
Robert Marcus, the chief executive of Time Warner Cable, is up for a compensation package worth as much as $79.9 million if the sale of the company to Comcast Corp. closes.

The cable giants said in February, when Marcus had been in the job of CEO for less than two months, that Comcast would buy its rival for $45.2 billion. 
According to a regulatory filing, the "golden parachute" pay package for Marcus includes $20.5 million in cash and $56.5 million in stock and options. He's also up for a $2.5-million bonus depending on the company's performance until the closing of the deal.
His equity compensation will consist of $40.3 million in restricted stock and $16.2 million in unvested options.
Comcast's takeover of Time Warner Cable, which will allow it to provide television, telephone and Internet service to nearly 30 million homes across the country, requires approval from the Federal Communications Commission and U.S. Department of Justice.
Media watchdogs and politicians have expressed concern over letting one company have so much control. 
Marcus isn't the only executive coming out of the deal with a substantial sum. Time Warner Cable's chief financial officer Arthur Minson Jr. is up for $27.1 million in compensation, including $7 million in cash, $19.3 million in equity and a $675,000 bonus.
So Robert Marcus has only been on the job as CEO of Time Warner Cable for less than two months, and he's getting an $80 million paycheck.  


Welcome to Just-In-Time Retail--Otherwise known as On-Call Scheduling

I found this Nation story:
A century ago, the misery of New York’s urban poor was embodied by the iconic scene of the morning shape-up at the docks, where rough-hewn longshoremen lined up anxiously to see if the boss would pick them for that day’s crew or turn them back empty-handed. These days, the city has a different kind of shape-up—a less visible mill of workers staffing its bustling boutiques and vendors. Instead of assembling at the waterfront, they call the manager to find out how many hours they can get on a given day—stressing about whether they’ll clock enough hours this month to make rent, or hoping their next workday doesn’t interfere with their school schedule or doctor’s appointment.
This anxiety of living not just paycheck to paycheck but hour to hour is the focus of a new policy brief on the impact of unfair schedules on wage workers. The report, published by the progressive think tank Center for Law and Social Policy and the worker-advocacy groups Retail Action Project (RAP) and Women Employed, reveals the flipside of the “flexibility” and “dynamism” of twenty-first-century retail: the tyranny of the daily schedule.
On top of the economic hardships of working a part-time job that does not pay living wage, retail workers are often further burdened by the stress of the on-call schedule: They have to call in first to see if hours are available, wait for word from the boss and, sometimes, end up with just a four-hour shift. The labor of the whole ordeal might then be offset by the financial costs of commuting and the disruption of their entire day. Ironically, while this scheduling structure brings chaos to workers’ lives, it stems from a hyper-mechanized system of computerized staffing configuration. Under huge employers like Walmart and Jamba Juice, this Tayloristically efficient programming often leaves workers at the mercy of variables like the weather (a hot day demands reinforcements for a lunchtime juice rush) or consumer whims (a slump in sales means temporarily downsizing sales-floor staff). Even full-time workers might get saddled with erratic shifts, or are pressured to work extra hours on short notice.
These strenuous schedules reflect the “Just-in-Time” business model and the parallel “need it now” consumer culture. Ever-fluctuating schedules are designed to react instantly to every fad and seasonal spasm of the market, which ties into a frenetic global manufacturing system, stretching from sweatshops in Bangladesh to Fifth Avenue show floors.
Welcome to "Just-In-Time" Retail Sales--Otherwise known as On-Call Scheduling.

 Just-In-Time is a production process in controlling just the right amount of inventory at the right time and right place to manufacture the right amount of a product for sale.  The system was created in Japan in the 1970s, with American manufacturers starting to adopt the system in the 1980s.  If done right, you can achieve incredible efficiency and reduced costs through the reduction of excessive inventory, and controlling waste--you are only producing enough product to satisfy demand.  The hard part is determining how much demand is needed.

 In a sense, it is not surprising that retailers are looking into the Just-In-Time process.  Brick-and-mortar retail stores will always have higher labor and store costs in selling retail goods over that of online stores.  In order to compete, such brick-and-mortar stores will cut costs as much as they can, in order to sell their goods in the lowest price--and labor is a huge cost.  Employee wages for retail positions are already starting at minimum wages.  Hours are being reduced to part-time, possibly as a means to avoid paying any benefits to employees.  But employee work schedules still need to be created to staff the retail stores--you still need warm bodies to man the fort!  And you need those bodies in the store, irregardless of whether the store gets busy with customers, or slows down for the day.

So in the endless quest for efficiency, the retailers have come up with this variation of Just-In-Time production, only renamed On-Call Scheduling.  The employees have become nothing more than inventory parts, to be used in the last minute of production, when the company needs such inventory parts.  Employees have to call the company to see if they are working on a shift that day, or wait for the employer to call them in.  In a sense, the employee has become a slave to a company's computerized staffing programs, waiting each day to see if they will be needed for work.  The company has complete control over their employees lives--both in the workplace, and away from the workplace.  According to The Nation:
The erratic labor structure robs workers of control over their lives. Being constantly on call, without set hours, makes it extremely hard to budget for basic living expenses, like housing and childcare, and sometimes near-impossible to plan ahead for, say, saving for college. And for the working poor, irregular schedules could undermine access to safety-net programs and benefits, which is, sadly, a key resource for many low-wage retail workers who earn so little that they must rely on public welfare programs. Working too few hours, according to the report, “may limit their eligibility to claim firm-provided benefits like health insurance and sick days.” And paradoxically, if they do cobble together enough hours to pay the bills, they might then wind up earning too much to qualify for Medicaid benefits
A RAP survey of New York City retail workers found that about 70 percent did not know their schedules more than a week in advance. According to a nationwide workforce survey cited in RAP’s latest report, “approximately 50 percent of low-wage hourly workers reported having limited control over their work hours.” Moreover, millions nationwide have been forced into “underemployment,” working part-time because they cannot secure full-time work. Many join the burgeoning temp-work sector, where a $10-an-hour, no-benefits gig can morph into a long-term, miserable livelihood.
It is more than just the low or erratic pay here for employees.  If employees do not know their work schedule in advance, they may not have the ability to plan for their personal lives--not if they have to keep calling the company each day before they may or may not be working, and may or may not get paid.  The employee's personal life is placed on hold, at the whim of the company.  The budget life is completely at the whim of the company, as the employee may not know if they'll have enough work to make enough money to pay for the monthly living expenses.  

 How much more control can companies get from their employees? 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

J.C. Penny worker fired for telling truth about "fake" prices

Oh my.  This is just a scandalous Huffington Post story:
J.C. Penney is going to war against a former employee who outed the department store for its questionable discounting practices.
The department store was drastically hiking prices on items, cutting them back and then advertising huge "discounts," the former employee, Bob Blatchford, told the Today show last July. In one case, a "rack of $7 shorts became $14, and then they were 50 percent off," a separate J.C. Penney worker told the Today show.
"I saw a lot of pricing teams going through the store, raising the prices, mostly doubling -- towels and clothing," Blatchford told NBC's Jeff Rossen. "Then they would go on sale, and they wouldn't always go on sale for 50 percent off. Not only was it a fake sale, but they were actually paying more than they would have been previously."
Ominously, Blatchford told Today, "I don't think Penney's will survive if they keep doing this."
Now it's Blatchford who is fighting for survival. Two days after his appearance on the Today show, he was fired from J.C. Penney in St. Petersburg, Fla., where he was a custom decorating studio coordinator. When he filed for unemployment benefits, J.C. Penney contested his claim, he said. J.C. Penney also recently filed an arbitration petition to get Blatchford to give back any company documents that he might have. But Blatchford thinks the arbitration is really just an attempt to discourage him from speaking out about the company.
J.C. Penney declined to comment on Blatchford's situation or its pricing strategy.
The fight between Blatchford and J.C. Penney belies an open retail secret: Discounts, sale prices and big promotions are largely a game of smoke and mirrors. But until J.C. Penney ousted its CEO last year and his predecessor reinstated old pricing strategies, it was a largely unconfirmed open secret.
Strangely enough, I'm not surprised at this J.C. Penny sales tactic. Walk through any retail store over a long period of time, and you'll discover what the basic prices are on merchandise.  It doesn't matter what the merchandise is--clothes, computers, electronics, books, music, cars, appliances, jewelry, groceries.  In addition, there is a wealth of pricing research on the internet for everything.  Retailers have been playing this "sales" game for decades, trying to lure shoppers into stores with sales and discounts, but not dropping prices low enough on merchandise, or only dropping prices on a few items to tease shoppers into the stores.  Or the sales prices were reduced only a few percentage points below the regular retail price, but not enough to make the sale as a "deal" for shoppers..  All the retailers play this game--they want to manipulate customers into thinking they're getting a great deal.

The issue here is that J.C. Penny got embarrassed for engaging in this open secret, and now the company is going after Bob Blatchford in revenge for confirming this retail open secret.  If J.C. Penny is performing this smoke-and-mirrors sales game in their stores, what other retailers are also performing this game?  

Nothing new here, except that J.C. Penny's got caught with their pants down.

New measure allows Michigan students to get free college tuition

This is an interesting Raw Story article:
Students in Michigan could receive free college tuition in exchange for a fixed percentage of their future income under a new proposal under consideration by lawmakers.
More than 20 states are studying similar proposals, reported the Detroit Free Press, but the Michigan bill would set up a pilot program.
Under the measure, students would agree to pay a fixed percentage of their post-college income for a specified number of years into a special fund to help pay tuition for other students.
The measure calls for a rate of 2 percent for community college students and 4 percent for university students, and each would be required to pay into the fund for five years for each year they attend school under the program.
So, for example, a student who attended the University of Michigan for four years would be asked to pay 4 percent of her income back for 20 years after graduation.
That would work out to $100 a month for graduates who earned $30,000 a year.
“The goal is to remove every financial barrier to high education,” said state Rep. David Knezek (D-Dearborn Heights). “We’ve increasingly place the financial burden of college on the backs of the students. This is a no-interest plan that allows you to pay back as you go and as you can afford it. It takes the monkey off the student’s back.”
The Michigan bill would establish a $2 million fund for a pilot program that involved 200 students, and the state’s treasury department would track the money and verify income.
The interest rates on federal student loans currently range from 3.86 percent for newer loans to 6.8 percent on older loans.
Susan Dynarksi, a University of Michigan professor and expert on higher education finances, said spreading payments out over 20 to 25 years and linking them to income “ensures borrowers against hard times.”
But, she said, borrowers who expect to earn high salaries after college have a disincentive to participate.
“If the future starving artists flood into pay it forward and the future engineers shun it, the program will spiral into insolvency,” she said.
But Dynarski said this flaw could be easily fixed by denominating the debt in dollars, instead of years, so borrowers could stop paying into the system once they’ve paid back their loans.
The measure has not yet been scheduled for a legislative hearing.
It is a step in the right direction, but there are some big problems with this program.  First and foremost, this program seems to be a voluntary program.   Students who already have the means to pay for college would not want to enter this program.  Such students who opt out of the program may have much higher salaries that would not be paid into this fun--unlike the "future starving artists," who may or may not make the $30,000 a year salary.  What if the students move out-of-state, after they graduate?  They are not using their skills, or spending their salary to help contribute to Michigan's economy in the long term?  Finally, while this appears to be a pilot program, what if a greater number of students request applying for this program than the amount of funds the state has to pay for such education?  Will the state turn away students from getting their education?  What if the students actually get their degree, but still can't find a decent paying job, and end up working in the minimum wage McDonald's crap jobs?

Ironically, in the 1950s and 60s, there used to be a program to help students pay for a low-cost, college education.  It was called taxation, where everyone paid their fair share of taxes.  The state taxed its citizens to provide funds to help invest in college students' education, and help make them productive members of society within the state. 

How many types of orgasms can a woman really have?

I'm not sure I have a comment on this story from  But it is rather interesting:
 The elusive female orgasm has been the subject of much scientific debate over the last century.  Some researchers have argued that women can have two types of orgasms through external clitoral stimulation and vaginal penetration, while others believe both orgasms are the same type accessed through different parts of the female anatomy.
In a bid to settle the dispute once and for all, a recent study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine claims to have solved this age-old scientific mystery, revealing that there are indeed two types of female orgasms … well kind of.
Two French gynecologists carried out ultrasound scans on three “healthy volunteers” by measuring variations in their blood flow patterns to decipher just how their sexual organs moved during different types of sex.
These women were asked to arouse themselves through manual self-stimulation of the external clitoris and through vaginal penetration using a wet tampon. Say what? Both examinations measured the changes in blood flow patterns in the area to ascertain just how the clitoris and vaginal complex responded.
The outcome? The study discovered there is a “functional difference” in orgasms depending on the type of sexual contact.  Specifically, researchers found that only the top of the clitoris responds to external stimulation, while during vaginal penetration both the “root” of the clitoris and the whole clitoral and vaginal complex respond. This affected the flow of blood and therefore produced different sensations in the body.
The study concluded: “Despite a common assumption that there is only one type of female orgasm, we may infer, on the basis of our findings, that the different reported perceptions from these two types of stimulation can be explained by the different parts of the clitoris (external and internal) and clitorourethrovaginal complex [the system of clitoral nerves] that are involved.”
In other words, as Jezebel explains, both types of orgasms are clitoral, but the parts of the clitoris that respond are different depending on the type of stimulation.
So, are these doctors going to further continue this important line of research?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Scientists discover new "Chicken from Hell" dinosaur

I found this story through
Chicken from Hell Dinosaur.  From

The newly discovered species, Anzu wyliei, is part of the oviraptorosaur group of dinosaurs, but has been unofficially dubbed the "Chicken from Hell."
Scientists found fossil specimens of the new species in in a sedimentary rock layer called the Hell Creek Formation in North and South Dakota, which helped inspire the nickname.
The four scientists who helped discover the new species published a paper on the "Chicken from Hell" in the PLOS Journal on Wednesday.
The dinosaur was five feet tall and eleven feet long, with a very long tail and feathers on the arms, according to the Smithsonian. It lived at the end of the Cretaceous period -- from about 68 million to 66 million years ago.
"This group of dinosaurs looks really bizarre even by dinosaurian standards," Hans-Dieter Sues, one of the paleontologists who wrote the paper on the new species, told the Washington Post.
I have four pet chickens.  They are free-ranging little omnivores, eating grass, dandelions, bugs, slugs, worms, and even these little blue-bellied lizards I have in the back yard.  There are times I'll watch them for an hour in a chicken-zen bliss.  I'm wondering if, someday, my ladies are dreaming of becoming this aspiring role model? 

My own little Dinosaurs from Hell

Mediocre coffee for $50 a pound

I found this story off the Los Angeles Times:
Much about the art and science of the consumer market is mysterious, but nothing's stranger than the seeming popularity of those coffee-pod brewing contraptions sold under brand names such as Keurig
Here's what's strange about them: First -- speaking with the authority of a coffee devotee with my own genuine Italian espresso machine at home -- the coffee they make is horrible. Second, it's ridiculously expensive.
Keurig uses plastic and foil pods filled with about 10 grams of ground coffee each (some are less, some "bold" brews are a little more), which are placed in the brewing device, automatically pierced with a needle, and inundated with hot water. The coffee-making process is mess-free. That's the good news, but once you've said that you've said everything. The result is typically a flavorless brew of brown hot water. The pods are discarded after a single brew, creating a detestable volume of non-recyclable packaging waste.
Keurig's single-serve pods, or K-Cups, sell on its website in packs of 24 for about $16.50. That's about $30 per pound of coffee; the price for some blends licensed from Starbucks can approach $50 per pound.
For comparison, at Peet's you can get a pound of top-flight fresh Italian or French roast for $15. For the same sum, Keurig will sell you half a pound of Folgers, which you can find in canisters at Wal-Mart for less than five bucks per pound.
How do you spell "sucker"? 
 Keurig Coffee Maker, from Bed Bath and Beyond.

My sister has one of these Keurig coffee makers in red.  Every morning she makes her one cup of coffee from this ridiculous machine.  It takes her less than a minute to make a cup of coffee.  As with myself, I'll use the old fashioned Mr. Coffee 12-cup coffee maker, or the smaller Mr. Coffee 4-cup coffee maker.  It takes me around five minutes to make a cup of coffee--perhaps two or three minutes, if I want to pull the pot out for that first cup while brewing.  I know it is more convenient to run a Keurig machine for a single cup of coffee, over that of a 4-cup Mr. Coffee maker, but is it worth the time, price or taste quality of your coffee? 

I'm sticking with the Mr. Coffee machine.  It makes great tasting coffee, at a cheaper price than Keurig.

McDonald's workers file suits over wage theft in three states, McDonald's settles for $500,000

This DKos story came out last week.  Apparently McDonald's workers filed lawsuits against the company and several franchise owners in California, Michigan, and New York asserting the company conducted wage theft against the workers.  According to the source story in The New York Times:
In two lawsuits filed in Michigan against McDonald’s and two Detroit-area franchise owners, workers claimed that their restaurants told them to show up to work, but then ordered them to wait an hour or two without pay until enough customers arrived.
Those lawsuits also argued that a McDonald’s requirement that employees pay for their uniforms illegally reduced their pay below the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.
“Our wages are already at rock bottom,” Sharnell Grandberry, a McDonald’s worker in Detroit, said in a news release announcing the suit. “It is time for McDonald’s to stop skirting the law to pad profits. We need to get paid for the hours we work.” 
In three lawsuits brought in California, the workers claim that the McDonald’s restaurants employing them did not pay them for all hours worked, shaved hours from pay records and denied them required meal periods and rest breaks.
Several McDonald’s workers also filed suit in New York, contending that they were not reimbursed for the cost of cleaning their uniforms.
 That was the lawsuit, which the NY Times story was published on March 13th.  In the NY Times story, the lawyers for the McDonald's workers stated that "McDonald’s should be considered a joint employer and share liability with its franchisees, although the (McDonald's) company, like many other fast-food chains with franchises, has argued in the past that it is not a joint employer and should not be liable for its franchisees’ misdeeds on the ground that the franchised restaurants are independently run businesses."  One of the seven lawsuits were filed against the 100 McDonald's restaurants that are owned and operated by the corporation.  The lawyers for the workers were planning to make this into a class action lawsuit, representing around 27,000 current and former McDonald's employees.

And that is why McDonalds Corporation is settling so quickly.  According to The Huffington Post:
New York state has reached a settlement with the owner of seven McDonald's franchises that will give nearly $500,000 to fast-food workers who claimed they were shorted on pay, according to state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.
The attorney general's labor bureau found that cashiers regularly performed off-the-clock work before and after their shifts at the Manhattan restaurants owned by Richard Cisneros. Workers weren't given an allowance for the time and costs associated with cleaning uniforms they had to wear, nor did they receive an extra hour of minimum-wage pay after shifts in which they worked 10 consecutive hours -- requirements of New York law.
The settlement money will go to more than 1,600 current and former McDonald's employees.
None of the restaurants were operated directly by McDonald's, which franchises the majority of its locations.
This works out to around $300 per employee--probably less when you subtract the attorney fees.   And so far, this lawsuit was settled against the franchises, and not McDonald's Corporation.  But the lawsuits are still going on in California and Michigan.

I worked in a fast food restaurant for a number of years, at a place called Fosters Freeze in Campbell California.  I started cooking lunch rush hour french fries at a minimum wage, and worked my way up to supervising night and closing operations at the store.  The work was hot, physically hard, greasy, with long hours and low pay.  It was a small business franchisee, which owned around four Fosters Freeze stores in the South Bay area.  In all the years working at Fosters Freeze, I never had the managers ask me to perform off-the-clock work, nor did I have to pay for, or clean, my uniforms--the company installed a stackable washer / dryer in the store to clean the employee uniforms each night (First time I have ever seen a stackable washer / dryer).  Looking back, it was probably one of the more better run, better managed companies that I've worked at--and this was around 20 years ago. 

Fast forward to today, and you've got a McDonald's franchisee store that is requiring employees to purchase and clean their uniforms? 

Probably the more damaging allegations are of McDonald's workers working off-the-clock, or their waiting for work.  If I ever had to come in for work in Fosters Freeze, I punched in for work.  I did not sit and wait around for enough customers to come in to pay for my time.  In terms of wage theft, one scheme an employer could use is force an employee to perform too many tasks in an eight-hour shift, then force the employee to complete the tasks off-the-clock under the threat of firing--all under the "Do more with less" mantra.  Walmart was famous for engaging in wage theft.  I can't say what schemes McDonald's played in their wage theft against employees, but there is an interesting detail in the NY Times story on the McDonald's lawsuit filing:
The lawyers said most McDonald’s franchisees used software provided by the company that calculates employee-to-sales ratios and instructs restaurants to reduce staffing when sales drop below a certain level in any given hour. As a result, the lawyers said, some McDonald’s workers in the suit were ordered, upon reporting to work, not to clock in for an hour or two and instead wait until more customers arrived.
In several lawsuits, workers contend that they were at times told to clock out but remain in the restaurant or parking lot for an hour to two after business slowed down — perhaps when business slackened after the breakfast rush — so they could be on hand to clock back in when hourly sales picked up.
Jason Hughes, a McDonald’s employee in Fremont, Calif., said sometimes he was ordered to punch out soon after starting work and to hang around unpaid. “I’d have to be ready to punch in as soon as the store gets busy,” he said. “When the store is understaffed, our management would tell us we can’t take our breaks.”
So the McDonald's franchisees uses a corporate software program to calculate employee-to-sales ratios, which instructs the franchisee owner to reduce employee labor when sales drop below a required hour.  I'm guessing this corporate software program looks at the employee-to-sales ratio at a given hour, and not on an eight-hour-per-day shift ratio.  At a given McDonald's store, there would be a breakfast rush, which would then slow down for a time period until the lunch rush crowd shows up.   The corporate software would push this employee-to-sales ratio to the absolute minimum per hour, or there would probably be some kind of corporate punishment against the franchisee owner.  Thus, the franchisee owner would engage in such practices of employees to show up for work without clocking in, or clocking out, but remain on company premises during the slow time, so they could clock back in when the rush started.  When I worked at Fosters Freeze, we had our lunch and dinner rushes, and our slow periods.  When it was slow, we would perform all the prep work of cleaning, and restocking food for the next rush.  When all those tasks were completed, there were certainly times we would wait on company time for the next rush.  The managers knew what happened.  If it was too slow, the managers would let some employees home early, or take longer lunch breaks--but never force the employees to wait on company premises. 

This company software program could be especially damaging to McDonald's corporate.  It really depends on how far reduced the employee-to-sales ratio is that the corporation is forcing on the franchisees.  If it is an impossible ratio, then the individual franchisees can't adapt to the ratio, depending on their individual hourly store sales and rushes.  Any direct relationship between this corporate software program and the franchisees direct actions of wage theft could clearly show that McDonald's corporation is also responsible for employee wage theft, as it is their corporate software that is forcing such unrealistic demands on their franchisees.  

I wonder if McDonald's corporate is trying to sweep these lawsuits under the fast food floor mats?

There is only so far that you can push efficiency--push the "Do more with less" meme.  Beyond that point, you run the risk of failing to adapt to the random, daily changes that may occur.  Or you run the risk of engaging in illegal practices to keep up with this endless efficiency quest.  As fast food workers are continuing to fight for higher living wages against McDonald's and other companies, something tells me we're not going to see the end of these lawsuits. 

Wall Street is buying up U.S. farmland

I found this story off Daily Kos, and was fascinated by it.  The original source story is through Mother Jones:
A recent report by the Oakland Institute documents a fledgling, little-studied trend: Corporations are starting to buy up US farmland, especially in areas dominated by industrial-scale agriculture, like Iowa and California's Central Valley. But the land-grabbing companies aren't agribusinesses like Monsanto and Cargill. Instead, they're financial firms: investment arms of insurance companies, banks, pension funds, and the like. In short, Wall Street spies gold in those fields of greens and grains.

Why are they plowing cash into such an inherently risky business with such seemingly low profit potential? For Wall Street, farmland represents a "reassuringly tangible commodity" with the potential for "solid, if not excellent, returns," the Oakland Institute notes—something clients are hungry for after being recently burned not long ago by credit-default swaps and securities backed by trashy mortgages. As the saying goes, you can't make more land; and as the Oakland Institute notes, "over the last 50 years, the amount of global arable land per capita shrank by roughly 45 percent, and it is expected to continue declining, albeit more moderately, going toward 2050."

Nearly 40 percent of US farmland is rented—and more like 50 percent in ag-heavy regions. 
Financial institutions and food-strapped countries like China and United Arab Emirates have already been snapping up land in the developing world, where prices are low and labor is cheap. But now, the Oakland Institute reports, pricey US land is also looking attractive, because it "boasts some of the world's most fertile soil, advanced industrial farm technology, strong private property rights, [and] federally subsidized crop insurance."

And Wall Street likes a good bubble. Farmland prices have soared to all-time highs in recent years, pushed up by the government-mandated corn ethanol boom. The average per acre price of Iowa land surged about 60 percent in real terms between 2007 and 2012, and rents have jumped in lockstep.

The report notes that over the next 20 years, nearly half of US farmland—about 400 million acres—will be up for sale as our aging base of farmers moves into retirement. So far, Wall Street cash is moving onto US farms like a stream; financial firms own just about 1 percent of total acreage, and most farmland is still bought by farmers, not institutional investors, the report states. But as more prime land enters the market, the hot money could soon flow like a gusher. By mid-2013, farmland was such a hot commodity that institutional investors were complaining of a tight market for prime farmland—that is, they had more money committed to buying farmland than they could find attractive deals for. But the supply of prime farmland for sale will expand as farmers retire in the coming decades, and Wall Street looks poised to move into the market.
In a sense, it doesn't surprise me that Wall Street financial firms are buying up U.S. farmland here.   For Wall Street, it is all about finding the next profit-making scheme.  Goldman Sachs was caught stockpiling over a million tonnes of industrial metals, stashing the metals into warehouses over a long time to drive the price of such metals up that the financial firm is trading on commodities markets.  Wall Street has already shown its willingness to hoard grain in its rampant speculation for profit.  Now Wall Street is buying up the farmland to grow the crops, which Wall Street speculates and trades on the the commodities markets.  It is a heavenly, profit-making match.  The financial firms control the farmland, which they can rent out to grow the crops.  There is profit in the rent payments for the farm.  The financial firms then speculate in trading the crops on the commodities markets, making more profit.  If the financial firms want to raise prices on crops, they can always cut back on the amount of land being farmed for a particular crop, thus decreasing the supply of the crop and increasing the price and profit for the financial firms.  The money just flows upward.  Meanwhile, we are going to get socked with higher prices due  to the rent payments sent to these financial firms. 

The Wall Street Casino Game continues to play on.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Saturday Morning Cartoons--All the monsters in Scooby Doo--Where Are You?

Time to return to Saturday Morning Cartoons.  This is an interesting video featuring all the monsters in Scooby Doo--Where Are You television series.  From YouTube:

Quiznos files for bankruptcy

The headline says it all.  From CNN
First, Sbarro. Now, Quiznos.
Quiznos has filed for bankruptcy protection, five days after the Sbarro pizza chain did the same.
Executives at the restaurant chain, known for its toasted sandwiches, agreed to a restructuring plan that will reduce its debt by more than $400 million, the company said in a statement Friday.
All but seven of Quizno's 2,100 restaurants in the United States and 30 other countries are independently owned franchises, and will remain open and operating as usual.
Quiznos once had more than 5,000 stores and could have threatened rival Subway's hold on the sub market. But now, Subway has nearly 20 times the number of stores, with about 40,000 locations in 100 countries.
When I was working in the blue printing industry, there was first a Quiznos shop nearby.  They were the first to offer the "toasted sandwiches," which Togos and Subway did not offer.  And their toasted sandwiches were tasty.  But they were also expensive--almost $8 or $10 per meal, compared to $5 - $7 meals for Togos and Subway.  Sometimes it seemed like I would be spending one hours worth of pay just to buy a Quiznos' lunch.  If I am really hungry, I could buy a Subway $5 footlong--without chips and soda--and that would fill me up more than a Quiznos sandwich or lunch deal, at the higher price.

No loss for me.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Wall Street bonuses just keep rising

I found this New York Times story via Daily Kos.  From The New York Times:
On Wall Street, profits are down and the number of workers is shrinking.
But bonuses continue to grow larger.
Cash bonuses paid to Wall Street employees in New York City rose 15 percent on average last year, to $164,530, according to estimates released on Wednesday by Thomas P. DiNapoli, the state comptroller. That was the biggest average bonus since 2007, the year before the financial crisis struck.
Over all, workers in the financial industry in the city made an estimated $26.7 billion in bonuses last year, a number that, again, was the highest level since the crisis. The bonus figures encompass everyone from the low-ranking employee to the chief executive, so high payouts to top managers can bring up the average.
That bonuses went up amid a challenging environment for the banks reflects a cardinal rule of Wall Street: Firms are willing to pay big for the top talent. This held true even as profits overall fell 30 percent to $16.7 billion, according to the comptroller’s report.
The cash haul included payments that had been granted in previous years. This was because Wall Street firms, since the crisis, have sought to keep a temporary lid on costs by deferring a portion of compensation. Some of what had been withheld is being paid out for 2013, making bonuses larger than they otherwise might be.
The comptroller’s estimate of bonuses is based on income tax withholding data, and it does not include stock options or deferred compensation for which taxes have not yet been withheld.
I don't know what else to say here.  An asteroid could slam right into Wall Street, wiping everything out, and still Wall Street would find a way to increase their bonuses.

For Wall Street, Greed is Still Good.

Monday, March 10, 2014

After losing $1 billion bet, hedge fund is now lobbying to bring a company down

This really should be defined as a WTF moment.  From The New York Times:
WASHINGTON — At a Midtown Manhattan steakhouse last June, William A. Ackman, the activist hedge fund manager who had bet a billion dollars on the collapse of the nutritional supplement company Herbalife, offered his latest evidence to a handful of other hedge fund managers about why the company’s stock could soon plummet.
Mr. Ackman told his dinner companions that Representative Linda T. Sánchez, Democrat of California, had sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission the previous day calling for an investigation of the company.
The commission had not yet stamped the letter as received, nor had it been made public. But Mr. Ackman, who had personally lobbied Ms. Sánchez and stood to profit if the company’s stock dropped as a result of the call for an inquiry, already knew what it said, and read from a copy of it that he had on his cellphone.

When Ms. Sánchez’s office ultimately issued a news release a month later, it was backdated as though it had been made public the day before Mr. Ackman’s dinner talk.

Continue reading the main story
Representative Linda T. Sánchez, Democrat of California, sent a letter to the F.T.C. asking it to investigate Herbalife. Mr. Ackman obtained a copy of the letter before it was made public.

The letter was a small hint of Mr. Ackman’s extraordinary attempt to leverage the corridors of power — in Washington, state capitols and city halls — for his hedge fund’s profit after taking a $1 billion financial position called a short, a bet that will pay off only if Herbalife’s stock drops.
Corporate money is forever finding new ways to influence government. But Mr. Ackman’s campaign to take this fight “to the end of the earth,” using every weapon in the arsenal that Washington offers in an attempt to bring ruin to one company, is a novel one, fusing the financial markets with the political system.
Others have criticized the business practices of Herbalife, a company that sells vitamins and other health supplements through independent distributors, many of whom are lower-income Latinos or African-Americans. But Mr. Ackman’s attack is unprecedented in its scale, and Herbalife officials strongly deny his accusations that the company is a pyramid scheme that stays afloat by constantly recruiting new distributors.
To pressure state and federal regulators to investigate Herbalife, an act that alone could cause its stock to dive, his team has helped organize protests, news conferences and letter-writing campaigns in California, Nevada, Connecticut, New York and Illinois, although several of the people who signed the letters to state and federal officials say they do not remember sending them, an investigation by The New York Times has found.
His team has also paid civil rights organizations at least $130,000 to join his effort by helping him collect the names of people who claimed they were victimized by Herbalife in order to send the leads to regulators, the investigation found. Mr. Ackman’s team also provided the money used by some of these individuals to travel to Washington to participate in a rally against Herbalife last month.
So, apparently this hedge fund guy Ackman decided to place a huge bet against Herbalife, hoping the company will collapse and probably make billions in profit for Ackman's hedge fund.  Herbalife does not collapse, and Ackman has lost a $1 billion dollar bet.  What does he do?  He calls on congressmen and lobbyists to persuade the federal government to investigate Herbalife, hoping such an investigation would shut down the company.  If Herbalife is shut down, Ackman's hedge fund still profits.  According to the Times:
 Yet Mr. Ackman’s staff acknowledges that this crusade is really rooted in one goal: finding a way to undermine public confidence in Herbalife so that his $1 billion bet will produce an equally enormous return. Mr. Ackman has said he will donate any profits he personally earns to charity, calling it “blood money.” The clients who invest in his hedge fund, however, would still benefit enormously.
This is too much power that Wall Street and corporations have.  It is not enough that they have power to make the rules and legislation favorable to profit from, or even to create "Get Out of Jail Free" cards to escape any consequences of breaking laws or harming society as a whole.  Now they need to be able to use the federal government to punish any opposition to their right to make profit--even to punish the opposition for their own incompetence or placing bad investment bets.  

There is so much more to this story that I have not gone through yet.  It is disgusting.

Democrats are abandoning the Middle Class

I found this Kevin Drum post, where Drum responds to this American Prospect story by Sean McElwee, on why the American voters vote against their self-interests, and whether the Democrats can use the environment as a centrist issue.  First, the American Prospect story:
For decades, thinkers on the left have wondered why the working class regularly votes against its own interests, upending what Marx believed would be an inevitable march from democracy to socialism. In his book, What’s the Matter with Kansas?, Thomas Frank argued that social issues obscure economic motives, and indeed the most salient non-economic one has always been race, at least in this country. In America, conservative politicians have exploited racism to their own benefit, first to disempower blacks with Jim Crow, then to undermine the union movement, and more recently to undercut support for welfare programs, as Ian Haney Lopez recently documented in Dog-Whistle Politics. Nixon’s “law and order campaign” played on racial fears, as did Reagan’s denunciation of “welfare queens.” Republicans played at race to win solid majorities for decades while actively working against the interests of the majority of Americans. The left has much to learn about this strategy. It needs to fundamentally re-align Americans around an issue with a deep and latent importance: the environment.

When asked about the most important global issue, 25 percent of Americans cite environmental degradation, while only 10 percent cite the economy. "Everyone studying American politics has been waiting for a new realignment because the last few decades have been marked by political apathy and the rise of a new voting bloc that is not strongly tied to either party,” says Dr. Benjamin Radcliff, professor of politics at Notre Dame and author of The Political Economy of Human Happiness: How Voters' Choices Determine the Quality of Life. “What is needed is some spark, either an event, like the Great Depression—or just a party capable of mobilizing this latent potential."

What I'm especially interested here is that Kevin Drum gets "peevish" at McElwee's story:
 Why is it that the working class often votes against its own economic interests? Well, let's compare the sales pitches of the Republican and Democratic parties when it comes to pocketbook issues:
  • Republicans: We will lower your taxes.
  • Democrats: We, um, support policies that encourage a fairer distribution of growth and....and....working of
There are two problems with the Democratic approach. First, it's too abstract to appeal to anyone. Second, it's not true anyway. Democrats simply don't consistently support concrete policies that help the middle class. Half of them voted for the bankruptcy bill of 2005. They've done virtually nothing to stem the growth of monopolies and next to nothing to improve consumer protection in visible ways. They don't do anything for labor. They're soft on protecting Social Security. They bailed out the banks but refused to bail out underwater homeowners. Hell, they can't even agree to kill the carried interest loophole, a populist favorite if ever there was one. 
And then Democrats will wonder yet again why a big chunk of the working class votes for Republicans. It's a stumper all right.
Apologies for being peevish. But honestly, Democrats have done virtually nothing for the middle class for three decades now. They're nearly as reliant on the business community for campaign funding as Republicans. Can we all stop pretending that there's some deep mystery about why lots of working and middle class voters figure there are no real economic differences between the parties, so they might as well vote on social issues instead?
If you want to know why the Democrats can't seem to win elections like the Republicans, this is it.  The Democratic Party no longer believes in policies to help the Middle Class, and barely advocates policies to help the poor and working class--Cat Food Commission anyone?  The Democrats will not "support concrete policies" in a no-compromising way that Republicans have done for three decades.  Instead, the Democrats cave and compromise to Republican demands on everything.  The Republicans know it, so they push their demands even further rightward into Crazyland, with the Democrats continuing to cave and shift rightward away from their core values.  Democratic congress critters are never primaried for compromising on their values the way that Tea Party voters primary their Republican congress critters.  And finally, both political parties have been purchased by corporations, Wall Street, and the ubber-rich.  Middle class policies and values will always be rejected for the interests of those who purchased their Democratic congressmen.

You can't expect voters to continue voting for you, if you don't give them something in return.  So far, the Democrats are not giving the Middle Class any policies to help them--not helping them with the lost jobs, improving education, bankruptcy, housing, crushing student debt, TBTF Banks, protecting Social Security, spiraling health care costs and single-payer insurance.  Social issues don't matter worth a damn--Not if people can't keep a roof over their heads and place food on their table.   And the "Vote-For-Us-We're-Not-As-Bad-As-The-Other-Guy" can only go so far--if you keep caving in and not standing for anything, then you're actually worst than "The Other Guy."  While I may know that the Republican policies are bad for the country, I also know that the Republicans are pretty consistent with their policies.  The Democrats?  They have no consistency. 

That is what's wrong with the Democratic Party.  I doubt that the Democratic Party can ever change--not with the way things are now.

McDonald's manager tells worker to "Put a bullet" in her head

I found this story through the Daily Kos, which links to an MSNBC story:

 Workers rallied at a Chicago McDonald’s Saturday afternoon after an employee claimed she was told to “put a bullet” in her head after asking to go home following a “diabetic episode.”

Fast food workers, members of the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago and Aldermen Bob Fioretti, John Arena, Scott Waguespack, and Ricardo Muñoz gathered at the flagship Rock N' Roll McDonald’s around 2 p.m. sporting stickers that read “respect” and “no more verbal abuse."
They also displayed a poster to McDonald’s management that said “You should just put a bullet in your head.”
Carmen Navarrette, a McDonald’s employee for more than nine years at the River North restaurant, claims she was told to “put a bullet” in her head after she asked her manager to go home and recover following a “severe diabetic episode," according to a release from the Workers Organizing Committee of Chicago.
Navarrette reportedly shared her experience with the Organizing Committee of Chicago Women Caucus during a meeting last weekend where other workers shared similar stories, prompting the Saturday rally.
"I'm here on International Women's Day to support my fellow workers, women, and stand with my union,” Adriana Sanchez, an employee of the Rock N' Roll McDonald’s, said in a statement. “We are the heart and soul of McDonald's and it's unacceptable for any worker to be yelled at and insulted."
I will be honest, and say that I don't know if this story is true or not, in that a McDonald's manager told this employee to "put a bullet" in her head.  But it is another example of the contentious fight that has been taking place between fast food workers and the corporate industry.  The work is hard, with long hours and very low pay.  It is about the only jobs left in this country, along with WalMart retail jobs--and both pay a minimum wage that has not kept up with inflation.  It used to be that fast food jobs were first jobs for high school and college kids.  Now the jobs are taken over by middle age, elderly, minorities, and just about anyone who needs a job that doesn't even pay enough to survive on.  I doubt that the McDonald's manager will be fired, or reprimanded for this abuse.  I doubt that McDonald's will do anything, but stay quiet and hope this scandal blows away. 

It will not go away.  As long as jobs are scarce, wages are low, and Americans are desperate for any type of work, companies will get away with this abuse.